Valley of Vision.

1 The oracle concerning the valley of vision.

What do you mean that you have gone up,
    all of you, to the housetops,
you who are full of shoutings,
    tumultuous city, exultant town?
Your slain are not slain with the sword
    or dead in battle.
All your leaders have fled together;
    without the bow they were captured.
All of you who were found were captured,
    though they had fled far away.
Therefore I said:
“Look away from me;
    let me weep bitter tears;
do not labor to comfort me
    concerning the destruction of the daughter of my people.”

For the Lord God of hosts has a day
    of tumult and trampling and confusion
    in the valley of vision,
a battering down of walls
    and a shouting to the mountains.
And Elam bore the quiver
    with chariots and horsemen,
    and Kir uncovered the shield.
Your choicest valleys were full of chariots,
    and the horsemen took their stand at the gates.
He has taken away the covering of Judah.

In that day you looked to the weapons of the House of the Forest, and you saw that the breaches of the city of David were many. You collected the waters of the lower pool, 10 and you counted the houses of Jerusalem, and you broke down the houses to fortify the wall. 11 You made a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the old pool. But you did not look to him who did it, or see him who planned it long ago.

12 In that day the Lord God of hosts
    called for weeping and mourning,
    for baldness and wearing sackcloth;
13 and behold, joy and gladness,
    killing oxen and slaughtering sheep,
    eating flesh and drinking wine.
“Let us eat and drink,
    for tomorrow we die.”
14 The Lord of hosts has revealed himself in my ears:
“Surely this iniquity will not be atoned for you until you die,”
    says the Lord God of hosts. – Isaiah 22:1-14 ESV

3d-map-israelGod has spent a great deal of time addressing the nations surrounding Judah. Now, He turns His attention to His chosen people and, particularly, their capital city of Jerusalem. In this chapter, God delivers yet another oracle, this one aimed at the City of David, the place where Solomon’s Temple was located. This impressive structure poised prominently on the Temple Mount, was to have been the heart and soul of the nation. It was there that God had promised to meet with His people, providing them with the sacrificial system as a means of receiving atonement for their sins. But when construction of the temple had been completed, and Solomon had dedicated it to the Lord, he had received a very pointed message from God.

“I have heard your prayer and your petition. I have set this Temple apart to be holy—this place you have built where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart.

“As for you, if you will follow me with integrity and godliness, as David your father did, obeying all my commands, decrees, and regulations, then I will establish the throne of your dynasty over Israel forever. For I made this promise to your father, David: ‘One of your descendants will always sit on the throne of Israel.’

“But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the commands and decrees I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, then I will uproot Israel from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name. I will make Israel an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations. And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled and will gasp in horror. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’

“And the answer will be, ‘Because his people abandoned the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and they worshiped other gods instead and bowed down to them. That is why the Lord has brought all these disasters on them.’” – 1 Kings 9:3-9 NLT

But Solomon had failed to keep his part of the covenant. He had not walked with integrity and godliness. Instead, he had surrounded himself with countless foreign wives, in direct violation of God’s commands, and had ended up worshiping their false gods. As a result, God had divided his kingdom in half, allowing the ten northern tribes to form the nation of Israel. The tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi, remained in the south as the nation of Judah.

And this oracle begins to address the coming destruction that God had promised would happen if His people abandoned Him and disobeyed His commands and decrees.

God opens the oracle by referring to Jerusalem as the “Valley of Vision.” This designation, while somewhat cryptic to our western ears, would have been very clear to Isaiah’s original audience. Jerusalem sat on what is known as Mount Zion. Zion was originally an ancient Jebusite fortress that David conquered and took possession of, eventually creating the city of Jerusalem. He constructed a royal palace there, and Zion/Jerusalem became the seat of power in Israel’s kingdom. In Psalm 2:6, God refers to Zion as His “holy hill.” Psalm 48 gives a further description of Zion’s status as God’s city.

How great is the Lord,
    how deserving of praise,
in the city of our God,
    which sits on his holy mountain!
It is high and magnificent;
    the whole earth rejoices to see it!
Mount Zion, the holy mountain,
    is the city of the great King!
God himself is in Jerusalem’s towers,
    revealing himself as its defender. – Psalm 48:1-3 NLT

And yet, in this oracle, God refers to Jerusalem, which sat on and was synonymous with Zion, as the “Valley of Vision.” The Hebrew word for “valley” is gay’ and conjures up images of a low, flat region, just the opposite of how the psalmist describe it. No longer a “holy mountain,” Jerusalem is fated to become a valley – an image of its coming humiliation and degradation. It will be the place where God’s vision or prophetic pronouncements will be fulfilled.

And the oracle describes the people of Jerusalem as running for their lives, in an attempt to escape the swords of their enemies. But while some will manage to escape, only to become fugitives living in foreign lands, many will find themselves captured. And there will be many who die, but not as a result of battle. They will die of starvation because of a long, drawn-out siege.

Isaiah describes his reaction to this future judgment on the city of Jerusalem.

“Leave me alone to weep;
    do not try to comfort me.
Let me cry for my people
    as I watch them being destroyed.” – Isaiah 22:4 NLT

As a prophet of God, he knows that this outcome, while inevitable and inescapable, is still avoidable – if only the people will repent and return to God. But the very fact that God is speaking this oracle against Jerusalem reveals that the people will not listen to Isaiah’s warnings. They will not give up their wicked and rebellious ways. And the oracle makes it clear that this future day of judgment will come at the hands of God Himself.

Oh, what a day of crushing defeat!
    What a day of confusion and terror
brought by the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies,
    upon the Valley of Vision!
The walls of Jerusalem have been broken,
    and cries of death echo from the mountainsides. – Isaiah 22:5 NLT

God describes a scene of chaos. The enemy’s chariots fill the valleys surrounding Jerusalem. They storm the gates and attempt to destroy the city’s fortifications. The people inside the walls busy themselves tearing down their own homes to repair the breaches made in the walls. They gather their weapons and attempt to ration their water supply, in hopes of surviving the siege. But Isaiah levels a serious charge against the people of Judah.

But you never ask for help from the One who did all this.
    You never considered the One who planned this long ago. – Isaiah 22:11 NLT

In the midst of all the suffering and threats of pending destruction, the people will party rather than repent. They will operate under the fatalistic assumption that all is lost and, rather than turn to God, they will turn to self-gratification.

you dance and play;
    you slaughter cattle and kill sheep.
    You feast on meat and drink wine.

You say, “Let’s feast and drink,
    for tomorrow we die!” – Isaiah 22:13 NLT

Not exactly the reaction God was looking for.

At that time the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies,
    called you to weep and mourn.
He told you to shave your heads in sorrow for your sins
   and to wear clothes of burlap to show your remorse. – Isaiah 22:12 NLT

God’s judgment was intended to bring repentance. It was meant as a wake-up call for His people, to jar them from their spiritual lethargy and moral stupor. But they would fail to listen. They would prefer to revel and die than repent and live. So, Isaiah delivers a powerful statement concerning the danger of unbelief.

“Till the day you die, you will never be forgiven for this sin.” That is the judgment of the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. – Isaiah 22:14 NLT

Persistent refusal to believe and trust in God is deadly. It is the unforgivable sin. The people of Judah were faced with a decision, trust in themselves or trust in God. Turn to pagan nations for help or turn to God for salvation. But if they refused to repent and place their hope and trust in God Almighty, they would never experience His salvation.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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To the End of the Age.

11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:11-20 ESV

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Of all the gospel authors, Matthew provides us with the most abbreviated version of the events associated with Jesus last hours on earth. For whatever reason, he chooses to leave out all the appearances Jesus made after His resurrection. We know from the accounts penned by John, Luke and Mark, that Jesus appeared repeatedly to His followers during the hours between His resurrection and His ascension. He had appeared to the two distraught disciples walking on the road to Emmaus discussing the recent death of their master (Luke 24:13-32). Those two had made a beeline to the room where the 10 of the disciples were gathered together, informing them of their encounter with Jesus. And at the very moment when they had shared the exciting news, Jesus had suddenly appeared among them (Luke 24:33-40). John records that Thomas had not been in the room that day, and when his fellow disciples told him what had happened, he had his doubts. So, eight days later, Jesus made yet another surprise appearance, telling Thomas, “Do not disbelieve but believe” (John 20:27). The apostle Paul gives us a succinct summary of all of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances.

He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. – 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 NLT

But Matthew chose to leave all of this out. Not only that, He doesn’t even mention the ascension of Jesus. Dr. Stanley Toussaint provides us with a compelling explanation for Matthew’s decision to leave out this seemingly vital part of the narrative.

The reason for Matthew’s diligence in approaching the resurrection in such an apologetic manner is evident since so much is dependent upon the resurrection of the Messiah. It authenticated His person. To the nation of Israel, His resurrection was the sign of the prophet Jonah (Matthew 12:38-39) attesting the fact that Jesus was the Messiah. The reason Matthew says nothing about the ascension is bound up in this point. If Jesus is the Messiah, then an account of the ascension is both unnecessary and self-evident to the Israelite. He would yet come in clouds of glory. What mattered to Matthew was that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah and the resurrection proved that fact; therefore he goes no further. – Toussaint, Stanley D. Behold the King: A Study of Matthew. Portland, Oreg.: Multnomah Press, 1980.

For Matthew, the resurrection said it all. If Jesus had been raised from the dead, which Matthew clearly believed, then His ascension would have been an undisputed fact. Matthew’s primary point was to prove the Messiahship of Jesus. That’s because, as a Jew, Matthew had aimed the content of his gospel on a Jewish audience. He had been ought to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God and the Savior of the world. And, for him, the resurrection was clear evidence and conclusive proof of that claim.

The tomb was empty and news of that reality had already begun to spread. In fact, the temple guards who tasked with protecting the tomb had made their way to the Caiaphas the high priest and his father-in-law, Annas, to break the bad news. These guards had been charged by the high council with the task of preventing the disciples from stealing the body of Jesus. The high priest and his fellow Sanhedrin members knew of Jesus’ claim that He would rise again and they feared His disciples would attempt to steal the body and boast that Jesus was alive.  And much to their surprise and chagrin, that exactly what the guards reported. And Matthew records that the guards told the high priest “all that had taken place.” That would have included exactly what Matthew had reported.

…there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. – Matthew 28:2-4 ESV

These men would have feared for their lives. They had no reason to lie and every reason to tell the truth – as crazy as it may have sounded. Not only had they failed to secure the tomb, but they had also fallen asleep on the job. So, they most likely told their bosses exactly what had happened, in great detail. But Matthew records that Caiaphas, having heard the unwelcome news from the guards, assembled the rest of the high council. Amazingly, Caiaphas determined that the best strategy was to pay off the guards and spread the rumor that the disciples had stolen the body – the very thing he had hoped to prevent. It seems clear that he knew something else had happened, and this decision was nothing more than a poor attempt at a coverup. The last thing he wanted was news spreading throughout the city that Jesus was alive.

And yet, that fact was Matthew’s primary point. Jesus was alive. He had risen from the dead, just as He had promised He would. He was the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world. Matthew had opened up his gospel with the encounter between Joseph and the angel.

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:20-21 ESV

He had followed that story with the one involving the arrival of the wise men who had asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?(Matthew 2:2 ESV). He recorded Herod’s attempt to eliminate Jesus as a threat by having all the male babies executed. He reported Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist and the divine pronouncement from God, stating, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 ESV).

Matthew had been out to prove that Jesus was Immanuel, when means, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23 ESV). And the resurrection of Jesus was the final, conclusive piece of evidence.

Jesus had directed His disciples to meet Him at a mountain in Galilee. We are not told which mountain, but it may have been the very place where Jesus had given His sermon on the mount recorded in Matthew 5-7. But regardless of the exact location of their place of rendezvous, Jesus appeared yet again to His followers. Matthew reports that while all 11 of the disciples worshiped Him, some still harbored doubts. He doesn’t explain what he meant by this. Were they doubting Jesus’ resurrection? That seems hard to imagine, based on the fact that He was standing right in front of them. Did they doubt that He was the Messiah? Perhaps. It could be that they were still harboring hopes that He would reveal Himself to be the king they had long hoped for.  The Greek word translated as “doubted” is edistasan and it refers to a spirit of hesitation. They were unsure of all that was going on. They were probably fearful of all that was going to happen next. What would Jesus’ next steps be? What would happen to them? The Sanhedrin had already proven just how far they would go to eliminate Jesus as a threat, and they were not going to give up easily.

But Jesus attempted to calm their fears and doubts by telling them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18 ESV). This statement was meant to assure His wavering, fear-focused disciples that He was in complete control of the situation. The very fact that He was standing before them alive and well was proof that He had authority from God Almighty. He had done what no other man had ever done before – He had conquered death and the grave. And they had no reason to fear.

But they did have work to do. And Jesus, according to His God-given authority, authorized His followers to continue His work in His absence.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20 ESV

No more hiding. No more fearing. They were to boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus’ Messiahship. He was the Son of God. He was Immanuel, God with us. He was the King of the Jews and the Savior of the world. And that news was to be spread around the world. While the temple guards and the Sanhedrin were busy spreading lies, the disciples were to spread the truth about who Jesus was and is.

And Jesus promised them that He would be with them. This promise was fulfilled when the Holy Spirit came to dwell in them at Pentecost. The Spirit would be their constant companion and source of divine power. And, while Jesus would soon depart and return to His Father’s side in heaven, the Spirit of God would remain with them all the days of their lives. And He will remain with the followers of Christ, His bride, the church, until the end of the age.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

I Do Not Know You.

” 1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” – Matthew 25:1-12 ESV

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Jesus has been trying to get His disciples to think of the Kingdom of Heaven with a long-term perstpective. While He was the Messiah, the one whom the people of Israel had long expected, He was not going to be establishing His kingdom at that moment. He has already told them that He was going to have to go to Jerusalem, be betrayed, falsely accused, tried, beaten and eventually crucified. But He would also rise again. His mission on this, His first coming to earth, was to serve as the sacrificial offering for the sins of mankind. But there was a day coming when He would return to earth a second time. But there was much that would have to take place before His return. And He told the disciples, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36 ESV).

And He had warned them, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44 ESV). The point Jesus seemed to be making had to do with preparedness. He wanted His disciples to live with a sense of eager expectation and anticipation that His return could happen at any moment. And this led Jesus to tell a few parables to drive home His point.

The first had to do with a wedding. It involved ten virgins who were anticipating the arrival of the bridegroom. The question that must asked is, “Who are these ten virgins and what do they represent?” Based on the immediate context, it seems clear that Jesus has been addressing His second coming, which will take at the end of the 7-year period of tribulation. Since the church is to be raptured before the tribulation begins, these ten virgins cannot act as representatives of the church. It makes much more sense to see them as Jews who will be alive during the period of the tribulation. And, as the text will reveal, the ten virgins break down into two groups. Five of them are prepared, while five are not. This would seem to indicate that the first five represent Jews who will come to faith during the days of the tribulation, which the book of Revelation tells us will take place. John was given a vision in which “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9 ESV). Then John was told their identity. “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14 ESV). There will be many who come to faith during the period of the tribulation, including Jews and people from every tribe, nation, and tongue.

But the second group of five virgins represents all those Jews who will remain unrepentant and unbelieving during the tribulation, all the way up to the point of Jesus’ return.

In the story, all ten virgins share a common expectation of the bridegroom’s arrival. They are eagerly anticipating his coming. This is why the ten virgins appear to indicate Jews, because they alone would have anticipated the arrival of the Messiah. During the days of the tribulation, Jews living at that time will long for the arrival of the Messiah. For believing Jews, they will understand it to be His second coming. For unbelieving Jews, they will view it as His first coming. But all will greatly desire His arrival

But again, the issue is one of preparedness. There is a delay. The bridegroom has not shown up as expected. But, as part of the welcoming party, they were to have been ready, because, as Jesus had said, the groom was “coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Sadly, the story reveals that half the group were foolish, failing to take oil for their lamps. They were unprepared. They thought they would have plenty of time. But when news of the groom’s arrival was made known, they had lamps, but no oil. They begged the first group to share their oil with them, but were refused and told, “Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves” (Matthew 25:9 ESV). They were on their own. It’s likely that the reference to oil in the story was meant to be a symbol for the Holy Spirit. The believing Jews had the Spirit of God within them. The unbelieving Jews did not.

And when the groom arrived, the wedding feast began. But by the time the second group of foolish, unprepared virgins showed up, it was too late. The door was shut. They were left on the outside. And the wedding feast would seem to represent that Marriage Supper of the Lamb, revealed in chapter 19 of Revelation.

7 Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. – Revelation 19:7-8 ESV

One of the things that will happen at the end of the tribulation will be that Christ, the bridegroom, will hold a feast for His bride, the church. And John was told, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9 ESV). Those who come to faith during the tribulation will be participants in this great celebration. But those who fail to accept Jesus will be left on the outside, looking in. And as Jesus indicated, their destination will be “that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:51 ESV).

One of the saddest statements in the Scriptures is found in this parable. It is the words of the bridegroom, spoken to those virgins who showed up late and without oil for their lamps. He told them, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you” (Matthew 25:12 ESV). They had been invited. They even had lamps. But they without oil. They did not have what was necessary to respond when news of the groom’s arrival was announced.

The apostle Paul would later tell the Ephesian believers: “In him [Jesus] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV). Those who lack the Holy Spirit will find themselves outside the feast. And, as Paul makes clear, the receipt of the Spirit is based on belief in the Son.

Again, the point of the parable is preparedness. How are the Jews living during the tribulation to prepare for the arrival of the Messiah? By placing their faith in Him as their Savior. He alone could save them from the persecution of the Antichrist and the judgments of God. He alone could preserve and protect them. Carrying a lamp with no oil is similar to placing your faith in your church attendance or good behavior. It is not enough. Your good works cannot save you. Your membership in a local church does not guarantee you a place in the Kingdom of God. Without the oil of God’s Spirit, you will find yourself on the outside looking in, and hearing these sad and sobering words from Jesus: “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”

It’s impossible to read this parable and not reflect on the words of Jesus spoken years earlier in His sermon on the mount.

“On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you.’” – Matthew 7:22-23 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Power of God.

23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”

29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching. –  Matthew 22:23-33 ESV

saducees-and-pharisees

Jesus is facing yet another confrontation with the religious leaders. This time it is the Sadducees. They were the religious liberals of their day who rejected the idea of an afterlife, the doctrine of the resurrection or the reality of angels. For them, this life was the only life and it was to be lived in strict adherence to the written law as found in the Torah. They were elitists who rejected the oral law of the Pharisees, the “traditions of the elders” that contained hundreds of additional laws or addendums to the written law. But while they were not exactly bosom buddies with the Pharisees, they shared one thing in common with them: A hatred for Jesus. So, we see them coming to Jesus posing a question that they intended to use to expose Jesus’ heretical views on the resurrection.

Their question is a lengthy one, in the form of a short story. It’s a fictitious scenario involving what was called the Levirate Law, part of the Law of Moses found in the book of Deuteronomy. This law ruled that when a man died, leaving his wife a widow with no children, one of the deceased man’s brothers was obligated to marry the woman. The intention behind the law was to carry on the deceased man’s name and keep any inheritance he might have had in the family.

The law states, “If two brothers are living together on the same property and one of them dies without a son, his widow may not be married to anyone from outside the family. Instead, her husband’s brother should marry her and have intercourse with her to fulfill the duties of a brother-in-law. The first son she bears to him will be considered the son of the dead brother, so that his name will not be forgotten in Israel” (Deuteronomy 25:5-6 NLT).

These Sadducees had purposely created a highly unlikely scenario where the woman ends up marrying seven different brothers, each one dying before they could father a son with her. And their story ends with the woman’s death, seven times a widow and without any children. This complicated and completely contrived tale had a purpose behind it. Matthew makes it clear that the real point behind their question was the resurrection. They were not really interested in Jesus’ interpretation of the law, but in His views on the resurrection. Which is why they ended their story with the pointed question: “So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her” (Matthew 22:28 NLT).

They think they have Jesus trapped. Because the Torah did not teach explicitly about the resurrection, they did not believe in it. Their little story was designed to expose the ridiculousness of the whole idea of the resurrection. In their minds, they had shown that the very concept of the resurrection would conflict with the law itself. How could a woman have seven husbands in heaven? But Jesus exposes the flaw in their thinking and the problem in their lives. He simply states, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God” (Matthew 22:29 NLT).

This would have been like a sucker punch to the stomach. Jesus had caught them off guard and had wiped the smug look of satisfaction off their faces with one simple sentence. They prided themselves on their knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures and here was Jesus accusing them of not knowing the Word of God or the power of God. They were intelligent, but ignorant. In all their study of the Scriptures, they had overlooked God’s power. They had relegated all they know about life to the here-and-now and rejected the idea of a hereafter. So, Jesus rocked their religious sensibilities by informing them that, in the resurrected state, there will be no marriage.

Their whole scenario was pointless and irrelevant. The woman would not be married to any of the brothers, “For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30 NLT). This statement by Jesus must have totally surprised the Sadducees, catching them completely off guard. And it may be just as shocking to many reading these words right now. Your concept of heaven has always included marriage. You have assumed that if you are married here on earth, you will be married in heaven. But what would be the purpose of marriage in heaven? As an institution, it was designed to illustrate the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church. It was intended to be a physical representation of a spiritual reality.

In heaven, the union of Christ and the Church will be complete. There will no longer be a need for a symbol of that union. And while we may find that idea disturbing and possibly disappointing, we have to remember that our condition in our resurrected state will be one of perfection. We will be like Christ and have perfect fellowship with God the Father. Our primary relationship will be with Him. There will no longer be the need for another person to complete or complement us.

But Jesus knows that the real issue behind their question is their view on the resurrection, so He cuts to the chase and takes it head on.

“But now, as to whether there will be a resurrection of the dead—haven’t you ever read about this in the Scriptures? Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, God said, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ So he is the God of the living, not the dead.” – Matthew 22:31-32 NLT

Once again, Jesus questions their knowledge of the Scriptures, letting them know that in spite of all their study, they had missed a key point. When referring to His relationship with the great patriarchs of the Hebrew people, God had spoken in the PRESENT tense. He had said, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” These words were spoken long after all three of these men were dead and gone, and yet God refers to His relationship with them in the present tense. Jesus made it clear that this was not a grammatical error, but a theological truth. There is an afterlife and there will be a resurrection. The Sadducees’ problem was that they tended to study the Scriptures with a biased view and a limited understanding of the power of God. The idea of the resurrection was impossible to them. It was inconceivable. So they simply refused to believe in it. In establishing their doctrinal views, they had unknowingly limited the power of God. Because they couldn’t understand something, they simply eliminated it from consideration. But Jesus made it clear that the resurrection was not only possible, it was undeniable and inevitable, because of the power of God.

For the Sadducees, life had become all about what they could see and explain. Their view was limited and restrictive. They had no room in their theology for an afterlife, because they couldn’t comprehend it. So, they put all their eggs in one basket, concentrating all their efforts on making the most out of this life. In doing so, they had missed the whole concept of the afterlife, of heaven and the resurrected state. For them, this earthly life was the only life. Nothing more, nothing less. And yet, there are many who live that way today. Even those who claim to be Christ-followers live as if there is no eternal life, focusing all their attention and energies on making the most of this life. They ignore what they can’t explain or understand. And yet, we are encouraged throughout the Word of God to run the race of life with the end in mind. We are to set our affections on things above, not the things of this earth. We are told to consider ourselves as strangers here, and to remember that this world is not our home, we are simply passing through on our way to somewhere better. There is an afterlife. There is a heaven. This is not all there is. And we should live with that reality in mind.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Blind to the Signs.

1 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed. – Matthew 16:1-4 ESV

After their brief foray into the Gentile region of Decapolis, Jesus and His disciples returned to Jewish territory. And as soon as they arrived, they were met by a delegation comprised of Pharisees and Sadducees, whose sole intent was to test Him. These two religious sects made up the Sanhedrin or high council of the Jews. Like modern-day Democrats and Republicans, these two groups were diametrically opposed to one another, but they found a common enemy in Jesus. They were willing to set aside their differences and join forces against what they believed was a growing threat to their power and prestige. Jesus was attracting huge crowds with His miracles and message about the coming kingdom. And the jealousy of these religious leaders was growing at pace with His reputation.

At first blush, their request appears somewhat innocuous. They simply asked Jesus to show them a sign from heaven, but He saw through their ruse, fully comprehending the motive behind the request. This was not the first time this had happened. Back in chapter 12, Matthew records another instance when the Pharisees demanded that Jesus perform a sign for them. But He had refused. And now, they add a caveat, asking that He perform a sign from heaven. In the Jewish way of thinking, demons could perform earthly signs, which is why they accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. But a sign from heaven required the power and approval of God. They could not deny that Jesus did miraculous signs. They were well aware of the many healings He had performed and the had witnessed His power over demons, but they still refused to believe that He was divinely anointed.

In essence, these men were demanding verifiable proof that Jesus was who He claimed to be. They were not convinced and would not be satisfied until He met their criteria for authenticity. But Jesus knew these men would never believe. There was nothing He could do that would change their opposition to Him. They were spiritually blind to the truth. Paul would later describe their sad predicament:

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. –  Corinthians 4:4 NLT

There was no sign that Jesus could do that would change the hearts of these men. Their hatred for Jesus blinded them. He had already given ample proof to His divinity, but they had stubbornly refused to accept the reality of His miracles and message. And Jesus had already made clear the issue at hand.

31 “If I were to testify on my own behalf, my testimony would not be valid. 32 But someone else is also testifying about me, and I assure you that everything he says about me is true. 33 In fact, you sent investigators to listen to John the Baptist, and his testimony about me was true. 34 Of course, I have no need of human witnesses, but I say these things so you might be saved. 35 John was like a burning and shining lamp, and you were excited for a while about his message. 36 But I have a greater witness than John—my teachings and my miracles. The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has testified about me himself. You have never heard his voice or seen him face to face, 38 and you do not have his message in your hearts, because you do not believe me—the one he sent to you.

39 “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life. – John 5:31-40 NLT

These men were experts in the Old Testament Scriptures and they knew well what God’s Word had to say about the coming Messiah. They were fully expecting His arrival, but were unable to recognize Him when He showed up in their midst. Because their hearts and minds were hardened.

14 But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ. 15 Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand. – 2 Corinthians 3:14-15 NLT

They could look at the sky and predict the weather, but they were blind to the clear and present signs taking place all around them. They remained unimpressed and unconvinced by all that Jesus had said and done. So, they demanded more. And Jesus gave them the same response He had the last time they demanded a sign.

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” – Matthew 16:4 ESV

This time around, Jesus didn’t bother to elaborate on His statement. But the first time they had demanded a sign, He had told them:

“For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” – Matthew 12:40 ESV

The day was coming when Jesus would die and be buried, remaining in the grave for three days. But He would be raised back to life by the power of the Spirit of God. And news of this miraculous event would spread all throughout the land of Israel. But the Pharisees and Sadducees would end up rejecting this sign as well. They would continue to discount the claims of Jesus and the testimony of the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead. The apostle Paul would clearly articulate the requirement for salvation.

…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. – Romans 10:9 ESV

But even when faced with the sign of Jonah, the Pharisees and Sadducees would remain stubbornly opposed to Jesus. His inexplicable resurrection would do nothing to change their minds about Him because their hearts and minds were hardened against Him. And Matthew simply records: “So he left them and departed.”

Matthew chose to use a very specific word when referring to jesus departure. It is the Greek word, kataleipō, and it can mean “to forsake or abandon.” In a sense, Jesus turned His back on these men, focusing His attention on His disciples and beginning to prepare Himself for His ultimate destiny in Jerusalem.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Great Is Your Faith.

21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

29 Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. 30 And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, 31 so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel. – Matthew 15:21-31 ESV

At the beginning of this chapter, Matthew presented an encounter between Jesus and a group of Jewish religious leaders who had traveled all the way from the capital city of Jerusalem to Galilee. The purpose for their journey had been to try to expose Jesus and His disciples as rebels and law breakers. They wanted to discredit Jesus and His ministry by accusing Him of teaching His disciples to disobey the tradition of the elders – the man-made rules and regulations passed own by the rabbis and religious scholars of Israel.

But their attempted assault on Jesus ended with Him accusing them of putting their own oral laws ahead of the written commandments of God. They were more concerned with outward appearances than they were with the inner condition of their hearts, and Jesus labeled them as nothing more than hypocrites or play actors. They were simply going through the motions, giving God lip service, but refusing to honor Him with their hearts. And their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah was the greatest proof of the condition of their hearts. Their verbal condemnation of Jesus and His disciples revealed the defiled nature of their hearts.

Now, Matthew reveals that Jesus left the predominantly Jewish region of Galilee and headed to Tyre and Sidon, on the coast of the Mediterranean. These two cities, while located within the land originally promised by God to the Israelites, were primarily occupied by Gentiles. This departure by Jesus from the land of the Jews to the land of the Gentiles is filled with symbolism and will provide Jesus with a unique opportunity to teach His disciples a powerful lesson about the kingdom of heaven.

As soon as they arrived in the district of Tyre and Sidon, Jesus and His disciples found themselves confronted by a Canaanite woman. This description is important, because it reveals her to be a descendant of the very people group who had occupied the land when Moses and the people of Israel had arrived from Egypt. The Canaanites were not only non-Jews, but pagans and the long-standing enemies of Israel. As Jews, the disciples would have had a strong hatred for this woman because of her ethnic background, and their animosity for her shows up quickly in the story.

Her purpose for confronting Jesus stands in direct contrast to that of the Pharisees and scribes. They were out to condemn Jesus, but she was looking for His help. She made her need known from the outset.

“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” – Matthew 15:22 ESV

It should not escape our notice that this woman referred to Jesus by His Messianic title: Son of David. Her she was, a Canaanite, acknowledging Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah, the long-awaited descendant of David. This woman had heard the rumors concerning Jesus and, even as a Gentile, had come to believe that He was who He claimed to be. And, most likely, she had heard about the miracles of healing Jesus had performed and sought to bring her own pressing need to Him, appealing to His mercy and compassion.

Her daughter was suffering from demon possession and she desperately desired that Jesus would use His miraculous powers to release her. But Jesus responded with silence. He said nothing. It seems that He was simply giving His disciples an opportunity to reveal their true opinions about this woman, and they did not disappoint. Annoyed by her incessant cries for mercy, they begged Jesus to send her away. And Jesus seems to have shared their view, telling the woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24 ESV). His somewhat caustic response must have made the disciples smile. As far as they were concerned, she was getting exactly what she deserved: Nothing. After all, she was a Gentile and, not only that, a despised Canaanite. In their minds she was no less than a dog in value and worth.

But the woman, persistent and undeterred by Jesus’ words, knelt at His feet and cried out, “Lord, help me.” She was determined. But, once again, Jesus responded in a way that must have brought great pleasure to the disciples., telling the woman, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” He seemed to be confirming their own views of this woman, relegating her worth to that of a dog. But what was Jesus doing here? Why was His response to this woman so harsh?

It is important that we recognize the key players in this little scene. We have Jesus, the Jewish Messiah and His 12 Jewish disciples. They were each proud members of the house of Israel, the chosen people of God. They were descendants of Abraham and recipients of all the promises made by God to Abraham. But this woman was a non-Jew, a Gentile from a pagan people group who, for generations, had been a thorn in the side of the people of Israel. God had made it perfectly clear to Moses how the people of Israel were to have handled the Canaanites and other pagan people groups occupying the land of promise.

1 “When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are about to enter and occupy, he will clear away many nations ahead of you: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These seven nations are greater and more numerous than you. When the Lord your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you. This is what you must do. You must break down their pagan altars and shatter their sacred pillars. Cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols. For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.” – Deuteronomy 7:1-6 NLT

But the Jews had failed to obey God. They never fully removed the Canaanites from the land, as this woman’s presence makes perfectly clear. And Jesus stressed that He had come to the house of Israel. He was the Hebrew Messiah, a descendant of Abraham and David. But, as we have seen, His own were methodically rejecting His claim to be their Messiah. The Jewish religious leadership saw Him as a renegade, not their Redeemer. The majority of the Jewish people, while enamored by His miracles, were not willing to recognize Him as their Messiah.

Yet, here was a Canaanite woman acknowleding Jesus as Lord and Messiah. And seemingly non-plused by Jesus’ responses to her, the woman simply said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Matthew 15:27 ESV). She didn’t take offense at Jesus’ words. She didn’t deny her own unworthiness. In fact, she was well aware that as a non-Jew, she had no right to come to the Jewish Messiah and beg for mercy. But her tremendous need drove her to do so. Her desperation overcame any feelings of unworthiness and undeservedness.

And notice what Jesus said in response: “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” (Matthew 15:28 ESV). This should bring to mind the words spoken by Jesus to Peter when he had stepped out of the boat and walked on the water, but began to sink when he took his eyes off of Jesus. “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31 ESV). Peter’s faith was little, but the Canaanite woman’s faith was great. Peter had doubted, but the woman had believed. And her faith was rewarded. Her daughter was healed.

Matthew follows this story with Jesus’ return to Galilee. As soon as Jesus and His disciples made it back into Jewish territory, they found themselves surrounded by crowds of people desiring to see Jesus perform miracles.

And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them – Matthew 15:30 ESV

But notice how Matthew describes the reaction of the people to what they witnessed. He simply says, “the crowd wondered.” They were filled with awe and admiration. And Matthew goes on to say that “they glorified the God of Israel” (Matthew 15:31 ESV). But they did not acknowledge Jesus as lord. They did not refer to Him as the Son of David. There was no recognition of Him as their Messiah. And there is no indication of anyone expressing faith in Jesus. He provided them with healing, but they refused to worship Him as their lord and Savior.

Jesus was slowly revealing to His disciples that, in the kingdom of heaven, faith was far more important than heritage. Belief in Jesus as the Messiah was going to carry far more weight than membership in the Jewish race. Remember what John the Baptist had said to the Pharisees who had come to him seeking to be baptized.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” – Matthew 3:7-9 ESV

The kingdom of heaven was going to be an all-inclusive kingdom, containing people from all walks of life and from every tribe, nation and tongue. And Jesus was slowly revealing this important news to His disciples, preparing them for what was to come.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Something Greater.

38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.” – Matthew 12:38-42 ESV

These events have been arranged by Matthew thematically, not chronologically. He is not following a hard-and-fast timeline, but attempting to place these stories in an order that allows him to continue his proof of Jesus’ divine nature and Messianic credentials. The word “then” is meant not as a link to the previous paragraph, but almost as if to say, “on another occasion.” Matthew is relating yet another confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees. These encounters were increasing in frequency and intensity.

On this particular occasion, the Pharisees were joined by the scribes. This was a group of learned me whose job it was to protect and preserve the law of Moses. As their name implies, they would scribe or copy the law, using painstaking methods to ensure that there were no errors in their transcriptions. They would count letters and spaces in a line of text to check for errors and guarantee accuracy. These men were considered experts in the law and were most likely invited by the Pharisees in order to spot any violations of the law that Jesus might be committing.

The request they made of Jesus was most likely not spontaneous, but prearranged. They wanted to see Jesus perform a sign. These men had seen Jesus perform many miracles, but they had concluded that He did so under the power and influence of Satan. Their request for a sign was something different altogether. The Greek word is sēmeion and it refers to a sign by which anything future is pre-announced (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). In essence, they were requesting that Jesus perform a particular type of miracle, something far more difficult than even a healing. In their minds, if Jesus was divine, He should be able to do something out-of-the-ordinary and impossible, predict the future. They were asking Jesus to make a prophetic prediction, knowing that the Scriptural command regarding anyone who prophesied by the name of God falsely was death.

20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. “ – Deuteronomy 18:20-22 ESV

But Jesus saw through the nature of their request and responded with a stinging indictment.

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” – Matthew 12:39 ESV

These were men who took great pride in their righteousness and faithful adherence to the law of Moses. So, for Jesus to address them as evil and adulterous was a nothing less than a verbal slap in the face. Not only that, Jesus refused their request for a prophetic pronouncement and, instead, announced a sign of coming judgment. The story of Jonah would have been very familiar to these men. But Jesus gave the story an intriguing new twist. He tied it to His future death, burial and resurrection. Just as Jonah was three days in the belly of the great fish, Jesus predicts His own 3-day long interment in the tomb. And just as Jonah had been sent by God to bring a message of repentance and salvation to the people of Ninevah, Jesus, by His death and resurrection, would make possible the salvation of all those who hear and accept His offer of justification by faith.

In a way, Jesus was answering the request of the scribes and Pharisees, but not in a way that they would have recognized. He was predicting the future, clearly indicating the manner of His own death and the means of salvation it would make possible. But He was also predicting the fate of the scribes and Pharisees, as well as all those who refuse to accept the salvation that Jesus’ death will make available.

The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it… – Matthew 12:41 ESV

The pagan, Gentile people of Ninevah heard and responded to Jonah’s message of repentance and were saved from destruction. But the scribes and Pharisees, like most of the Jews of Jesus’ day, would refuse Jesus’ offer of salvation, choosing instead to rely on their own self-made righteousness. And Jesus made it clear that, at the judgment, the people of Ninevah would stand as witnesses against the Jews for their refusal of God’s gracious offer of salvation made possible by Jesus’ death on the cross.

Knowing the great respect these men had for the Scriptures, Jesus made an interesting statement that would have further incensed them against Him.

something greater than Jonah is here – Matthew 12:41 ESV

He was referring to Himself and that fact would not have escaped them. Jesus was placing Himself on a higher plane than their own Scriptures. He was claiming to precedence over the stories of Scripture, because He was the ultimate fulfillment of those stories. Jonah had been nothing more than a foreshadowing of Jesus Himself. Jonah had been just a man, and he had fulfilled the command of God reluctantly. His “death” in the belly of the great fish had been a form of judgment for his own disobedience. But Jesus would prove to be a faithful and obedience Savior, willingly giving His life so that others might experience eternal life.

And Jesus used another familiar Scriptural account to drive home His point, claiming to be greater than the wisest man who ever lived: King Solomon. The queen of Sheba had traveled all the way to Jerusalem to see for herself the great wisdom of Solomon. But Jesus claimed to be greater and to possess a wisdom that far surpassed anything Solomon ever hoped to know.

The apostle Paul would later describe the superior nature of God’s wisdom as displayed in the life of His Son, Jesus.

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. – 1 Corinthians 30 NLT

Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. – 1 Corinthians 1:24-25 NLT

And Jesus predicted that the queen of Sheba would join the people of Ninevah in witness against the Jews when the coming day of judgment arrived. Jesus was going to die, be buried and rise again from the grave, and all those who placed their faith in His sacrificial death on their behalf would receive forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. But when that sign finally appeared, the majority of the Jews, including the scribes and Pharisees, would refuse to believe the truth. They would refute Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah and refuse His offer of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. And they would stand condemned.

The author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus became a man so that He could do what the law could not do. He was better than the law. He offered a better way, something the law was never intended to do.

14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. – Hebrews 2:14-15 NLT

And the author of Hebrews will go on to state that Jesus is better than Moses, greater than Abraham, and greater than the high priest. He surpasses all the characters of Scripture, acting as the final fulfillment of God’s promises to mankind.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Great Invitation.

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  – Matthew 11:25-30 ESV

After pronouncing a warning of pending doom on the cities of Bethsaida, Chorizin and Capernaum for their refusal to accept Him as Messiah, Jesus offered a brief prayer of thanks to the Father. The placement of this little prayer seems as strange as its content. Because of the flow of the narrative, it would appear that Jesus prayed this prayer within the hearing of His audience. It was a verbal aside that acted as a prayer to His Father in heaven, while at the same time offering His audience insight into the mysterious ways of God.

Jesus addressed God as His Father, a statement of their intimate relation. But He also addressed Him as the Lord of heaven and earth, indicating God’s sovereignty over anything and everything. God is all-powerful, all-knowing and in complete control of all things, including the mysteries of His will. And Jesus makes it clear that the inability and unwillingness of the Jews to accept Jesus as their Messiah was all within the divine will. God had “hidden these things from the “wise and understanding.”  The Greek word translated as “hidden” is apokryptō and it means “to hide, conceal, or keep secret.” The stubborn refusal of the Jews to accept Jesus as their Messiah was actually part of God’s redemptive plan.

In his Gospel, John makes it clear that Jesus came to the Jews but that they refused to accept Him.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. – John 1:10-11 NLT

The will of God was that Jesus would come into the world but that the vast majority of the people would refuse and reject His offer of salvation. And Paul provides us  with further insight into this mysterious aspect of God’s will.

1 I ask, then, has God rejected his own people, the nation of Israel? Of course not! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham and a member of the tribe of Benjamin.

No, God has not rejected his own people, whom he chose from the very beginning. – Romans 11:1-2 NLT

God had not rejected the people of Israel. In fact, Paul pointed out that he was a Jew who had accepted Christ, and he was not alone. There were others. But they were in the minority. And there decision to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior had been due to the grace and mercy of God.

It is the same today, for a few of the people of Israel have remained faithful because of God’s grace—his undeserved kindness in choosing them. And since it is through God’s kindness, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is—free and undeserved. – Romans 11:5-6 NLT

This small remnant of Jews who had accepted Jesus as their Messiah, had done so because God had chosen to open their eyes so that they might see the hidden mystery of His Son’s sacrificial death on their behalf. But Paul pointed out that the majority of the Jewish people had rejected Jesus.

So this is the situation: Most of the people of Israel have not found the favor of God they are looking for so earnestly. A few have—the ones God has chosen—but the hearts of the rest were hardened. As the Scriptures say,

“God has put them into a deep sleep.
To this day he has shut their eyes so they do not see,
    and closed their ears so they do not hear.” – Romans 11:7-8 NLT

Their hearts were hardened by God. He put them into a “deep sleep.” He “shut their eyes” and “closed their ears.” But that begs the question: Why would God do this to His own chosen people? Why would He send them a message of salvation, but then prevent them from hearing and accepting it? Paul provides us with insight into the answer to these questions when he quotes from a psalm written by King David.

9 “Let their bountiful table become a snare,
    a trap that makes them think all is well.
Let their blessings cause them to stumble,
    and let them get what they deserve.
10 Let their eyes go blind so they cannot see,
    and let their backs be bent forever.” – Romans 11:9-10 NLT

The Jews were convinced that they were safe and secure because of their relationship with God. They were His chosen people. They were descendants of Abraham and heirs to the promises God had made to Abraham. But if you recall, both Jesus and John the Baptist had arrived on the scene preaching a message of repentance. They were calling the people of Israel to change their minds regarding their beliefs about God and their own standing before Him. They were to radically alter their thinking about everything from sin and righteousness to justification and judgment. But they refused to do so. And God simply allowed them to remain in their state of rebellion by refusing to open their eyes to the truth. He didn’t make them rebellious, but simply chose to leave them that way. And Paul provides us with the why.

11 Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. 12 Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it. – Romans 11:11-12 NLT

The rejection of Jesus by the Jews had a divine purpose behind it. He was the Jewish Messiah and, as such, He was the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham. It would be through Jesus that all the nations of the earth would be blessed. God had told Abraham, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (Genesis 22:18 NASB). And Paul, writing to the Galatians, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, would provide the proper meaning of this promise.

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.
 – Galatians 3:16 NASB

Jesus was to be the means by which the nations of the earth would be blessed. And the rejection of Jesus by the Jews made possible God’s fulfillment of this promise as He opened up the offer of salvation to all people of all nationalities.

15 For since their rejection meant that God offered salvation to the rest of the world, their acceptance will be even more wonderful. It will be life for those who were dead! – Romans 11:15 NLT

God is not done with Israel. As a nation, they are still suffering from spiritual blindness, unable to see the mystery of God’s redemptive plan, but Paul makes it clear that their future acceptance of His offer of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone will be wonderful.

But Jesus makes it clear that the only means by which men can come to a true knowledge of God is through Him. He is the door. He is the access point through which a right relationship with God is obtained. Which is why He so boldly and flatly proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). The Jews, who believed that had a right relationship with God, would one day discover that their hope of justification before God would come through the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross.

And that is why Jesus offers His Great Invitation, and He extends it to all those who labor and are heavy laden. His focus is on those who find themselves burdened by the legalistic and moralistic requirements of the law. They are pressed down by rules and regulations that place on them a burden so great, they feel crushed by its weight. And Jesus offers them an attractive alternative: Rest. Notice that He does not promise them a cessation from work. He invites them into a yoke, a farming implement that would have been very familiar to His agrarian audience. Jesus was inviting them into a partnership with Him, joining Him in the yoke beside Him. It is only in a relationship with Him that we can find true rest and peace. It is only in partnership with Him that our burdens become light and our souls can find rest from the daily toils of life.

Jesus wasn’t offering them an escape from life or a panacea from all troubles and trials, but a source of strength found in the promise of His presence. Laboring alongside Jesus is a blessing, not a burden. And Paul would testify to the truth of that reality.

11 …for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

Jesus was grateful to God for revealing the truth of who He was to “little children” – those who were innocent and dependent. The prostitutes, tax collectors, pagan Gentiles and others to whom Jesus ministered tended to be the ones who accepted His message and placed their faith in Him. They were burdened by sin, weighed down with their own guilt and their hopeless circumstances. But they had turned to Jesus in faith. And Paul would remind the Corinthian believers that this state of weakness and hopeless is shared by all those who accept the Great Invitation offered by Jesus.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Unrepentant and Unforgiven.

20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” – Matthew 11:20-24ESV

This whole section of Matthew’s Gospel is intended to point out the Jewish nation’s rejection of Jesus as their Messiah. The primary focus of Jesus’ early ministry had been the region of Galilee. His sermon on the mount had taken place on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The miracles chronicled by Matthew up to this point have all taken place in the surrounding area. Even Capernaum, Jesus’ base of operations, was located in Galilee. But in spite of all the miracles He had performed and the message He had proclaimed, the people had refused to accept Him as their long-awaited Messiah. They were more than content to watch Him heal and cast out demons. They enjoyed the perceived benefits of His power, but had no intention of recognizing Him as the Son of God and the Savior of Israel. So, Jesus denounced the cities located in Galilee in which He had performed most of His miracles.

The Greek word translated as “denounce” carries a lot of emotion behind it. It can also mean “to reproach, to upbraid or revile.” The attitude of Jesus toward these Galilean cities was far from tolerant or indifferent. His words make it clear that He was displeased with their reaction to Him. Matthew states that they had refused to repent. This had been the call of John the Baptist. He had pleaded with the people of Israel to repent because the Kingdom of God was near. Even Jesus had begun His ministry with this same message. But the Jews had refused to repent. The call to repentance was a call to a change of mind, a radical realignment of the way one thought about God, the Kingdom, righteousness, sin and salvation. The people loved that Jesus offered physical healing. But they refused to admit their need for spiritual healing. Yes, there had been isolated cases of belief and faith displayed but, for the most part, the Jews in Galilee had been unbelieving and unrepentant. They maintained their old ways of thinking about everything, holding on to their long-held belief that, as Jews, they were God’s chosen people and safe from judgment. They also believed that their righteousness was self-manufactured through keeping the law and following the God-ordained rites associated with the sacrificial system.

But Jesus pronounced a woe upon the people of Galilee. This was an expression of denunciation that carried with it a warning of doom. Jesus specifically addressed His displeasure with the Galilean cities of Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida. But His real issue was with the inhabitants of those cities. They had been given the unique privilege of seeing His “mighty works” but had remained unrepentant because they had remained unbelieving. His miracles, while impressive, had not convinced them of His claim to be the Messiah.

So, Jesus contrasted these three cities with three other, more notorious and well-known cities: Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom. These more distant cities, located outside of Galilee, were renowned for their pagan influences and unrighteous reputations. Sodom had long been regarded as a mecca of sin and idolatry that had been destroyed by God for ts rampant unrighteousness. While Sodom was long gone, the cities of Tyre and Sidon were alive and well, but had not yet had the privilege of hearing the message of Jesus or witnessing His miracles. And Jesus insinuates that had they, their reaction would have been radically different.

“For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” – Matthew 11:21 ESV

Both of these cities had large Gentile populations, but Jesus insists that they would have responded more favorably and remorsefully than the Jews had. Not only that, Jesus prophetically announces that many from these three cities will escape the coming judgment because they will end up placing their faith in Him as their Messiah and Savior. Jesus would eventually remove Himself from Galilee and make His way to Tyre and Sidon (see Mark 7:24). He would perform miracles there, including casting out a demon of a young Gentile girl whose mother was a Syrophoenician. When the woman begged Jesus to help her, He had responded, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27 ESV). But the woman, non-plused by His response, simply said, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:28 ESV). And., amazed by the woman’s faith, Jesus told the woman, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter” (Mark 7:29 ESV). The woman believed and her daughter was healed. She did not defend her status or become offended that Jesus had referred to her as a dog. She simply expressed her belief that, in spite of her lowly status as a non-Jew, Jesus would extend mercy and grace to her. And He did.

One of the things that Jesus was looking for from those to whom He ministered was a recognition of their need. That is why He tended to minister to those who came to them with their disabilities, pains, brokenness and extreme sense of unworthiness. That is why Jesus had said:

“Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” – Mark 2:17 NLT

A major aspect of repentance is the acknowledgement of sin and the need of salvation – a salvation outside of oneself. The people who came to Jesus for physical healing did so because they had either exhausted all other avenues or their ailment was beyond the scope of human help. They were forced to turn to Jesus in the hope that He could do something about their problem. But the same would be true for those who suffered from the disease and destruction caused by sin. That is why Jesus would offer what has become known as the Great Invitation, which we will cover tomorrow,

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28 NLT

The city of Capernaum was filled with God-fearing Jews who believed they were the chosen people of God and so, in no need of a Savior. But Jesus asked them rhetorically, “will you be exalted to heaven?” And, just in case they they failed to understand that the question was rhetorical, He clarified the answer for them.

“You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.” – Matthew 11:23 ESV

They would end up rejecting His message and His offer of salvation. And the result would be judgment and eternal punishment. Their refusal to accept Him as Messiah would have dire consequences. They would remain unrepentant and sadly, unforgiven.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Word and Work of God.

1 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.  – Acts 4:1-4 ESV

Let’s recall how Peter ended his somewhat short sermon. He concluded with the statement:

“God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” – Acts 3:26 ESV

He reiterates the purpose behind Jesus’ coming. He appeared in human flesh, not just as any man, but as a Hebrew. But John would later restate what Peter said in his sermon:

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:11 ESV

We know that when He began His earthly ministry, Jesus preached a message of repentance. He picked up where John the Baptist had left off, after ha had been arrested and imprisoned by Herod.

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17 ESV

But as Peter made clear earlier in his message, that they were guilty of putting to death their very own Messiah.

14 You rejected this holy, righteous one and instead demanded the release of a murderer. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. – Acts 3:14-15 NLT

But Peter had also boldly proclaimed that God had raised Jesus back to life. This is made perfectly clear when Luke describes the reaction of the Jewish religious leadership to the words Peter had spoken.

These leaders were very disturbed that Peter and John were teaching the people that through Jesus there is a resurrection of the dead. – Acts 4:2 NLT

Peter’s message elicited at least two different reactions that day. First of all, the religious authorities of the day made their thoughts known, in no uncertain terms. They were perturbed. The word Luke chose to use means, “to be troubled, displeased, offended, pained, to be worked up.” To put it another way, they were not happy campers. But why? What was it that Peter said that so incensed them? After all, he had offered them times of refreshing and an opportunity to repent and receive forgiveness for their sins. But rather than responding with gratitude and humble submission, these religious leaders were put our and offended. And they had Peter and John arrested.

In order to understand just what is going on here, it is important that we take note of how Luke describes the religious authorities who got wind of Peter’s message and showed up at Solomon’s Portico that day. He writes, “And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them” (Acts 4:2 ESV). His mention of the Sadducees is important, because they were a powerful religious sect made up of Levitical priests. Their name derives from the Hebrew word, sadaq (tsahdak), which means to “to be righteous.” They were highly influential and usually came from the governing class of the Jews. It is believed that most, if not all, of the high priests were Sadducees. And, interestingly enough, the captain of the temple guard was also a Sadducee. These men viewed themselves as the orthodox keepers of Jewish religious faith, and one of their major distinctions  was their denial of the resurrection. The Jewish historian, Josephus, confirms that the Sadducees denied the resurrection, the immortality of the soul, eternal rewards, or the “world to come” (Josephus, Antiquities, 18.1.4 [16]; Wars, 2.8.14 [165]). So, we can begin to see why they were so upset at what Peter had been saying. His claims of Jesus being the Messiah and having been raised from the dead were a real problem for them, which is why Luke records that they were “greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2 ESV). Even Peter’s declaration that Jesus was the Messiah would have been hard for them to swallow, because they did not believe in a literal, human Messiah.

“For them the Messiah was an ideal, not a person, and the Messianic Age was a process, not a cataclysmic or even datable event.” – Richard N. Longenecker, “Acts,” in John-Acts, vol. 9 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, pp. 212

For them, Peter’s claims were without basis and totally unacceptable. He was nothing more than a heretic and a purveyor of false teaching who would end up causing them nothing but headaches. So, they broke up Peter’s impromptu sermon in the portico and had him put into custody until the next day. They most likely had the crowds dispersed in an attempt to restore order to the Temple grounds.

But there was another reaction that day. Peter’s words did not fall on deaf ears. While the religious authorities heard nothing but heresy, there were those in the crowd who heard truth, and they responded. And Luke matter-of-factly records, “But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand” (Acts 4;4 ESV). Notice that he says, “the number of the men.” That means the 5,000 figure did not include women or children who expressed faith that day. The actual number was most likely much higher, as much as double.  These people heard what Peter had to say and, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, repented and believed. His offer of forgiveness of sins and times of refreshing had struck a chord with them. They were ready to accept what he was offering and Luke tells us that they did.

What we see here is an example of the gospel’s polarizing potential. Whenever the truth concerning salvation through faith in Christ alone is preached, we will see these two reactions. There will be those who reject and refute it. Talk of sin and the need for a Savior will always turn off some. Discussions of repentance and the need for redemption because of man’s sinfulness will be offensive to many. Talk of resurrection and eternal life will come across as nothing more than wishful thinking or the superstitious and simplistic reasonings of the ignorant and uneducated. But there will also be those who hear the very same message and who respond in belief. What’s the difference? Is one group smarter than the other? Are some more spiritually aware and able to hear the gospel more clearly? Why did the religious leaders reject the words of Peter, while more than 5,000 others listened and believed?

There was another gathering that took place in Solomon’s Portico, back when Jesus was still ministering in His earthly body. The apostle John records that Jesus was confronted by a crowd of people, which included some of the religious leadership of the Jews.

22 Then came the feast of the Dedication in Jerusalem. 23 It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple area in Solomon’s Portico. 24 The Jewish leaders surrounded him and asked, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” – John 10:22-24 NET

Pay careful attention to the words of Jesus, recorded by John.

25 Jesus replied, “I told you and you do not believe. The deeds I do in my Father’s name testify about me. 26 But you refuse to believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.” – John 10:25-30 NET

What does Jesus say to these religious leaders? “You are not my sheep.” And the proof was that they didn’t listen to His voice as their Shepherd. When He called, they refused to come. And He goes on to say that it was because they had not given to Him by God. Later on, in His High Priestly Prayer, recorded by John in chapter 17 of his gospel, Jesus prayed to the Father, “I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word” (John 17:6 NLT). He was obviously speaking of the 12 disciples who had followed Him and participated alongside Him in His earthly ministry. But just a few verses later, we have Jesus expressing the following words to His Father: “My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory” (John 17:9-10 NLT). And then He provides further clarification, saying, “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message…Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!” (John 17:20, 24 NLT).

God gave. It was He who moved in the hearts of those who heard and caused them to respond that day. He opened their deaf ears to that they were able to hear and understand the truth of the gospel. He opened their blind eyes so that they might see the beauty of the Son of God and the reality of their own sin and their need for a Savior. Peter would later write in one of his letters:

1 I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 1:1-2 NLT

The apostle Paul write virtually the same thing in his letter to the believers in Ephesus.

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. – Ephesians 1:4-5 NLT

There were two reactions that day. Some believed, while others didn’t. They all heard the very same words spoken by Peter. They were all given the same opportunity to respond. But why did some believer while others became angry? The Sadducees weren’t the only ones in the crowd who found the concept of the resurrection difficult to understand or believe. They weren’t the only ones who had a hard time with the idea of Jesus being their Messiah and long-awaited Savior. So, what was going on? To put it simple, God was at work. He moved through the power of His Holy Spirit and “many of those who had heard the word believed” (Acts 4:4 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson