A Resurrection and a Transformation

9 Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

12 After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

14 Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs. Mark 16:9-20 ESV

Over the centuries, there has been much debate among biblical scholars regarding the true ending of Mark’s gospel. Two of the oldest Greek manuscripts (4th-Century) of this book end with verse 8. But the majority of the extant manuscripts include an alternative ending, which is found in verses 9-20. While there are some of the early church fathers who fail to mention this alternative ending in their commentaries on Mark’s gospel, there are others who do. Since the vast majority of the ancient manuscripts do contain the longer ending and many of the early church father’s believed in its veracity, these verses are usually included in most modern translations. They are usually accompanied by a disclaimer or statement that qualifies their inclusion, but it would seem that the events included in this longer ending are of great value when studying the final hours of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Verse 8 ends with a statement regarding the fear of the women who had encountered the angels at the empty tomb. They had been given strict instructions to deliver the news of Jesus’ resurrection to the disciples, but the entire experience had left them in a state of shock. Mark reports that “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8 ESV).

But the angels had clearly told the women that Jesus had risen from the dead. The reason they had found the tomb empty was that Jesus was no longer in need of a grave. He was alive. And the angels had assured the women, “he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 16:7 ESV).

One of the first persons privileged to see Jesus in His resurrected state was Mary Magdalene. Mark states that “he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons” (Mark 16:9 ESV). John provides us with the details surrounding this unexpected reunion. Mary Magdaline had been one of the women who had gone to the tomb early Sunday morning. But she had been the first to arrive on the scene and discover the tomb to be empty and the body of Jesus to be gone. Rather than waiting on her two companions, she ran to tell Peter and John the devastating news. The three of them returned to the tomb, and when Peter and John had seen the truth for themselves, they returned home, leaving Mary Magdalene weeping outside the entrance. Mary finally mustered up the courage to look inside the tomb and was shocked to see two angels. When one of them inquired about the cause of her tears, Mary responded, “They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have put him!” (John 20:13 NLT). And when she turned around, she saw someone standing there. Unaware that it was Jesus, she asked the stranger, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will take him” (John 20:15 NLT).

But when Jesus spoke Mary’s name, she suddenly recognized Him. Evidently, Mary was so overcome with joy that she clung to Jesus in the hopes of preventing Him from ever leaving her again. Yet Jesus commanded her, “Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (John 20:17 NLT).

And Mark records that Mary “went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept” (Mark 16:10 ESV). Peter and John had returned from the empty tomb, but had not regaled their companions with news of Jesus’ resurrection. They had simply shared that the tomb was empty and the body of Jesus was gone. And this news had left the 11 disciples in a state of deep despair. Even the reports by Mary and the other women had left the disciples unconvinced. When they told these men all that they had seen and heard, their “words seemed like pure nonsense to them, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11 NLT).

The common denominator in all these scenes is doubt. None of the followers of Jesus were expecting to find Him resurrected. In their minds, Jesus was dead and buried, and any hopes they had of taking part in His earthly Kingdom had died along with Him. This defeatist attitude can be seen in the encounter Jesus had with two of His disheartened followers who were making their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Mark simply states that Jesus “appeared in a different form to two of them while they were on their way to the country” (Mark 16:12 NLT). Jesus evidently disguised His appearance so that these two disciples were unable to recognize Him. Luke reports that they were walking along the road “talking to each other about all the things that had happened” (Luke 24:14 NLT). 

Suspecting Jesus to be just another pilgrim making His way home after the Passover celebration, the two disciples struck up a conversation with Him. When Jesus asked them what they were discussing, one of them responded somewhat sarcastically: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have happened there in these days?” (Luke 24:18 NLT). Had this man been living under a rock? How could He be ignorant of all that had happened over the last 24 hours? But Jesus continued to play dumb, asking, “What things?”

And these two disheartened disciples began to regale this uninformed stranger with all the details concerning Jesus’ death.

“The things concerning Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied, “a man who, with his powerful deeds and words, proved to be a prophet before God and all the people; and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. Not only this, but it is now the third day since these things happened. Furthermore, some women of our group amazed us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back and said they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see him.” – Luke 24:19-24 NLT

Notice those three revealing words: “we had hoped.” These two individuals were leaving Jerusalem and headed back to Emmaus, filled with doubt and despair. Even the testimonies of the women regarding the news of the angels had failed to convince these two unbelieving disciples. And Jesus immediately confronted them for their refusal to believe.

“You foolish people—how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into his glory?” – Luke 24:25-26 NLT

And John reports that Jesus gave these two disciples an Old Testament survey class, revealing how the entirety of the Scriptures had all pointed to Him. He was the fulfillment of all that the Law and the Prophets had spoken about.

After having shared a meal with Jesus, these two returned to Jerusalem and told the 11 disciples all that had happened. But Mark indicates that “they did not believe them” (Mark 16:13 ESV). But they were about to have their disbelief shattered by the irrefutable presence of the resurrected Lord. Luke indicates that even while the two disciples were sharing their news, Jesus suddenly appeared in the room.

While they were saying these things, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” – Luke 24:36 NLT

Yet instead of peace, their hearts were filled with fear, believing Jesus to be some kind of apparition. But Mark reveals that Jesus “rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen” (Mark 16:14 ESV). Angels had declared His resurrection and these men had failed to believe their word. Then others had testified that they had seen Jesus alive, but these men had remained stubbornly doubtful. Now, as He stood before them, all they could come up with for an explanation was that He was a ghost.

But Jesus let these doubting disciples know that they were going to have a job to do. The time for disbelief and despair was over. He was alive and would soon be returning to His Father’s side, and the ministry of the Gospel would be their responsibility.

“Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.” – Mark 16:15-16 NLT

Jesus was leaving, but the work was far from done. They were to continue to preach the Good News. And their word would be backed by a divine power to perform supernatural signs and wonders. The followers of Jesus would be equipped with “power from on high” (Luke 24:49). They would have divine enabling that would empower and protect them. It would also validate their message by proving that they had been sent by God.

Luke records that Jesus would later take His followers back to Bethany, where He had raised Lazarus from the dead. There He would give them His final commission and then ascend back into heaven, returning to His Father’s side. And these formerly doubtful and discouraged disciples would go on to change the world.

Then Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. Now during the blessing he departed and was taken up into heaven. So they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple courts blessing God. – Luke 24:50-53 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.

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

He Has Risen

1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Mark 16:1-8 ESV

Jesus was entombed by Joseph and Nicodemus sometime on Friday evening before the official commencement of the Sabbath that began at sundown. And it would not be until early the following Sunday morning that three women returned to the tomb. According to the gospel writers, at least two of these women had watched from a distance as the body of Jesus had been buried, hoping to return once the Sabbath had passed. So, after sunrise on Sunday, morning, they made their way to the tomb. And Mark makes clear the motive behind their early morning expedition.

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. – Mark 16:1 ESV

Mark mentions that three women went to the tomb that morning. And the fact that they were carrying spices to anoint the body of Jesus reveals that they were fully expecting to find a corpse, not a risen Christ. They even discussed how they were going to gain access to the tomb because of the massive stone that blocked its entrance. But there were totally unaware of another obstacle that could put a damper on their plans. Matthew records that the Jewish religious leaders made an appeal to Pilate, requesting permission to post armed guards at the gravesite to prevent the disciples from stealing the body and claiming that Jesus had risen from the dead.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. – Matthew 27:62-66 ESV

But when the women arrived at the scene, the guards were long gone, and the entrance to the tomb was completely open. Matthew provides further details about what had happened just prior to the women’s’ arrival.

…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

Once the guards came to their senses, they must have fled from the scene. Matthew records that they ran straight to the Sanhedrin with news of what had happened.

…some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’” – Matthew 28:11-13 ESV

So, by the time the women got to the gravesite, they found the tomb unguarded and unsealed. According to John, Mary Magdalene was the first to arrive on the scene, and  “she went running to Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”  (John 20:2-3 NLT). But the other women were shocked to find an angel guarding the entrance to the tomb. Sensing their fear and apprehension, the angel spoke to them.

“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. – Matthew 28:5-6 NLT

Fearfully, the women entered the tomb and encountered a second angel who provided them further insight and instructions.

“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” – Mark 16:6-7 ESV

And Luke reveals that this very same angel gently chastised the women for their lack of belief. He reminded them that Jesus had clearly predicted that all these things would happen.

“Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.” – Luke 24:5-7 NLT

Their mournful trip to the tomb and the burial spices they carried in their arms provided ample evidence that they had not believed what Jesus had said. They had come expecting to find a dead body. But instead, they were greeted by two angels and the news that Jesus had risen from the dead. And it all proved too much for these frightened women to handle. Mark records that “they went out and ran from the tomb, for terror and bewilderment had seized them. And they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (Mark 16:8 NLT).

But Matthew reveals that it wasn’t long before the reality of what had happened set in. Their fear was turned to joy.

The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. – Matthew 28:8 NLT

And they were in for one more unexpected surprise. As they eagerly made their way to tell the disciples the good news, Jesus Himself appeared to them.

…as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.” – Matthew 28:9-10 NLT

The angel had reported that Jesus had risen from the dead. But up until this moment, the news was nothing more than a rumor. Other than the empty tomb, they had no evidence or proof. And John reveals that the women weren’t the only ones who would have a difficult time grasping the significance of what had taken place. He reports that Mary, upon finding the tomb empty, ran to tell the disciples what she had seen. And what she had to tell them was less-than-encouraging news.

“They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” – John 20:2 NLT

Peter and John made a mad dash to the tomb, with John arriving first. “He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings” (John 20:5-7 NLT). Eventually, John got up the courage to enter the tomb, “and he saw and believed—for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead” (John 20:8-9 NLT).

The two disciples left the scene, leaving Mary Magdalene alone at the graveside. With tears in her eyes, she peered into the empty tomb, only to find it occupied by the two angels. When they inquired about her tears, Mary replied, “they have taken away my Lord,…and I don’t know where they have put him” (John 20:13 NLT).

Even the presence of the angels did nothing to assuage Mary’s doubt and depression. Jesus was gone, and so were all her hopes. But as she turned to leave, she was confronted by another “stranger” who, noting her tears, gently asked, “Who are you looking for?”

And Mary, assuming this man might have had something to do with the missing body of Jesus, said to him, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him” (John 20:15 NLT). But much to her surprise, this man was not a gardener, but her resurrected Lord and Savior. Jesus had risen from the dead, and He revealed Himself to her. She was beside herself with joy and disbelief. This was all too good to be true. But it was also too good to keep to herself, so Jesus commanded her to take the news of His resurrection to the disciples, which she promptly did. And when she found them, she joyfully declared to them her exciting news: “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18 NLT).

Jesus was alive. And that unbelievable message would begin to spread among His followers, leaving some of them beside themselves with joy, while others wrestled with disbelief and doubt. The impossible had taken place. The one who had died and been buried had been restored to life. Their martyred Messiah had risen from the grave. Death had been defeated. And over the next few days, their risen Lord and Savior was going to repeatedly reveal Himself to them so that they might know and believe that He had conquered death and truly was who He had always claimed to be: The Son of God and the Savior of the world.

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 Beginning of the End

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

32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? 38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. 41 And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” Mark 14:26-42 ESV

As part of their Passover celebration, Jesus and the disciples closed their time together with a hymn. Then they made their way out of the city and back to the Mount of Olives, located on the opposite side of the Kidron Valley, just east of Jerusalem. There Jesus made yet another shocking announcement to His men: “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee” (Mark 14:27-28 ESV).

Jesus used a verse from the prophet Zechariah to predict the falling away of His disciples. Not only was one of them going to betray Him, but the rest would end up deserting Him. These men had been His closest companions for 3-1/2 years, yet Jesus was letting them know that the events of the next 48 hours would result in their abandonment of Him. Shocked and shamed by this less-than-flattering disclosure from Jesus, Peter spoke up and vehemently denied that it applied to him.

“Even though they all fall away, I will not.” – Mark 14:29 ESV

He refused to accept Jesus’ assessment of his loyalty, and boldly proclaimed his ever-lasting allegiance. But Peter was speaking from the point of ignorance. He had no idea what was about to take place. Even though Jesus had disclosed the fate that awaited Him in Jerusalem, the disciples had failed to grasp the full import of His words.

Jesus’ allusion to the scattered sheep ties back to His earlier declaration regarding His identity as the Good Shepherd.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” – John 10:11 ESV

What Peter refused to come to grips with was the pending death of Jesus. He could not bring himself to believe that Jesus was actually going to die in Jerusalem. With a sincere yet false sense of bravado, Peter declared that he would remain by Jesus’ side no matter what happened. But Jesus knew something Peter didn’t know: The future. And Jesus revealed to HIs well-intentioned friend that not only would he prove to be a deserter, but he would also end up being a denier.

“Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” – Mark 14:30 ESV

And, once again, the ever-eager and over-confident Peter rejected Jesus’ accusation, vociferously declaring his to-the-death commitment to Jesus.

“If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” – Mark 14:30 ESV

And Mark indicates that the other 10 disciples, not wanting Peter to get all the glory, voiced their own determination to stick with Jesus to the bitter end. But they, too, were unaware of all that was about to take place. Even that night, the intensity of the spiritual battle surrounding Jesus was going to intensify dramatically, causing each of them to scatter to the four winds.

With the words of Jesus still echoing in their ears, the disciples followed Jesus from the Mount of Olives back to the Garden of Gethsemane. In essence, they reversed their steps and headed back to the city of Jerusalem, where all the events of the next 48 hours would take place. But in the garden, Jesus took three of His closest disciples and sought out a secluded spot in which to pray. He handpicked Peter, James, and John, the same men who had witnessed His transfiguration on the mountaintop (Mark 9:2-3). On that occasion, they had seen Jesus conversing with Isaiah and Moses. This time, they would be given the privilege of listening in as Jesus spoke with His Heavenly Father. He shared with these three men the agitated state in which He found himself, declaring,  “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch” (Mark 14:34 ESV). Unlike Peter, Jesus didn’t attempt to cover up His apprehensions with bold-sounding rhetoric. He willingly shared exactly what He was feeling at that moment. In this scene, we are given a glimpse into the humanity of Jesus. He was the God-man, 100 percent God and 100 percent human. And nowhere else in Scripture do we see His human nature displayed with greater clarity.

The author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus, our High Priest, can empathize with our pain and suffering because He endured it all. There is nothing we will face that He did not encounter during His days on this earth.

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. – Hebrews 4:15-16 NLT

As Jesus knelt in the garden that night, He felt the full weight of the burden He was about to bear. He knew all that would happen that in the hours ahead, and He was fully aware of the pain and suffering that would accompany His crucifixion. So, He called out, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39 ESV).

Jesus found Himself in a state of inner turmoil. It was only natural for His human nature to find the physical suffering He was about to endure to be something to avoid. But, as the Son of God, He knew that His full obedience to His Father’s will was necessary. Again, the author of Hebrews describes the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ mission.

…when Christ came into the world, he said to God, “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings. But you have given me a body to offer.” – Hebrews 10:5 NLT

He had come to suffer and die, but that did not mean He had to enjoy the prospect of all that was about to happen. And, as Jesus prayed, He poured out His heart to His Father, displaying a deep sense of grief and foreboding. Luke records that God sent an angel to minister to Him in His agony.

…there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. – Luke 22:43-44 ESV

But as Jesus wrestled with the thought of His pending suffering and death, the three disciples slept soundly. And Jesus, finding them asleep, confronted the self-appointed ring-leader of the group.

“Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” – Mark 14:37-38 ESV

The one who had bragged that he would not fall away or deny Jesus couldn’t even manage to keep his eyes open while his Master agonized just a few feet away. On three separate occasions, Jesus returned to find His three proteges sound asleep. They meant well, but, as Jesus indicated, their spirit was willing, but their flesh was weak. They didn’t have the inner strength to counter their fleshly desires. Weariness made watchfulness impossible. And in a matter of moments, fear would overshadow any sense of faithfulness they had to Jesus.

His time of prayer having ended, Jesus woke His sleeping companions and announced that the end was about to begin.

“Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” – Mark 14:41-42 ESV

And the weary disciples, still wiping the sleep from their eyes, woke to find themselves amid a living nightmare. The darkness of the night was now pierced by the flames of torches and the shouts of men. Their peaceful slumber was replaced by a chaotic scene filled with armed guards carrying swords and spears. And there, in the midst of the crowd, stood their friend and companion, Judas.

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

Filled With Faith

22 And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Mark 14:22-25 ESV

With His unidentified betrayer seated at the table with them, Jesus and His disciples began to eat the Passover meal together. As each course of this sacred meal was served, these men would have found it difficult to take their minds off of Jesus’ earlier announcement. One of them was going to do the unthinkable and betray the Lord. And the only hint that Jesus had given as to who the culprit might be was that it was “one of you twelve who is eating from this bowl with me” (Mark 14:20 NLT). That meant it could be any one of them.

But, acting as the head of the family in their shared Passover celebration, Jesus administered the various rites associated with this traditional meal to His 12 “sons.” And on this night, this annual and highly familiar event took on new meaning for these men. Little did they understand at the time that their Lord and Master was standing before them as the Pascal Lamb. He was as John the Baptist had said, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 ESV). And He was “the bread of God…who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33 ESV).

These declarations concerning Jesus’ true identity were being illustrated right before their eyes. Jesus used the various elements associated with the Passover meal to point to His God-ordained mission as their deliverer. This meal, which they had eaten every year throughout their lives, had always been a foreshadowing of something greater to come. Yes, it was a commemoration of God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt. But it had also been given as a sign of the deliverance Jesus would bring when He came to earth as the sacrificial Lamb. Through the offering of His sinless body and the shedding of His innocent blood, Jesus would provide mankind with a way to be delivered from its captivity to sin and death.

So, during the meal, Jesus took some of the unleavened bread (a symbol of sinlessness) and “after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body’” (Mark 14:22 ESV). And Luke records that Jesus added, “which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19 ESV). He offered them the bread and invited them to consume it, as a symbol of their faith in the sacrificial offering He was about to make on their behalf. It seems likely that the disciples recalled an earlier statement made by Jesus concerning the bread from heaven.

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” – John 6:51 ESV

As they held the broken pieces of bread in their hands, the disciples had to wrestle with the significance of Jesus’ words and actions. But before they had tie to take in what Jesus was saying, He “took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it” (Mark 14:23 ESV). And according to Matthew’s account, Jesus told them, “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28 ESV).

Once again, the minds of the disciples must have been filled with memories of Jesus’ earlier teachings concerning the bread and the blood. At that time, His words had made little sense. But now, they were coming into clearer focus.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” – John 6:53-56 ESV

Just as the disciples consumed the bread and the wine that night, they would have to ingest the body and blood of Jesus. In order to benefit from what Jesus was about to do for them, they would have to make His life a part of their own. In an act of faith, they would need to take in the gift of His body and blood, believing that these sacred elements would provide them with eternal life. The eating of bread and wine is an act of faith, It is an outward demonstration of trust that their consumption will provide nourishment to the physical body, In the same way, the body and blood of Christ are “consumed” as an act of faith, a willful display of faith in the efficacious nature of Jesus’ death on our behalf. He becomes part of us. He comes to live within us. That is exactly what Jesus meant when He said, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:56 ESV).

In time, the disciples would understand the nature of Jesus’ words. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, they would be given the power to grasp and appreciate all that they had heard Jesus say to them. The apostle Paul would later describe the memorial aspect of what Jesus had done that fateful night. The church would go on to establish the eating of the bread and the drinking of the wine as a regularly occurring part of their corporate worship experience.

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” – 1 Corinthians 11:26 ESV

And the proclamation of His death is to continue until He returns again. It is His death that brings life. It was the sacrifice of His body and blood that made forgiveness of sin and freedom from death possible. But we must never forget that His death was followed by His resurrection. He was restored to life by the power of the Spirit of God. And He returned to His Father’s side in heaven. But, one day, He will return. And Jesus told His disciples, “I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25 ESV). Jesus was assuring His disciples that His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension would be followed by His return. When He comes back, He will establish His Kingdom on earth and once again share a cup of celebration with His faithful followers.

The apostle John provides us with a glimpse into this future day when Jesus will share another meal with His disciples. On this occasion, there will be no bread broken as a sign of death or wine consumed as a symbol of His shed blood. This will be a victory meal, a time of joyous celebration as the people of God rejoice in the finished work of the Son of God.

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
    the Almighty reigns.
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.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” – Revelation 19:6-9 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

Mixed Messages

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

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” Mark 14:1-9 ESV

It is Wednesday and, as Mark indicates, the celebration of Passover is just two days away. The events surrounding Jesus’ earthly ministry are quickly coming to a climax. Whether His disciples fully comprehend it or not, their Master’s days are running out. Mark makes special mention of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This particular feast, which accompanied Passover, was an important part of the annual celebration. It was to act as an additional reminder of the miraculous deliverance God had provided for the people of Israel.

And you shall offer the Passover sacrifice to the Lord your God, from the flock or the herd, at the place that the Lord will choose, to make his name dwell there. You shall eat no leavened bread with it. Seven days you shall eat it with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste—that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt. No leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory for seven days – Deuteronomy 16:2-4 ESV

Leaven represents sin. It has an invasive quality to it, that left unchecked, permeates and spreads, influencing everything with which it comes into contact. For seven days, the Israelites were to remove all leaven from their homes and eat bread made without leaven. While the original Passover provided the Israelites with divine deliverance from the bondage of slavery in Egypt, it foreshadowed an even greater deliverance to come. Jesus, by being sacrificed during the Feast of Passover, was offering Himself as the Bread of Life. He was the sinless Savior who was willing to lay down His life for the sheep.

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” – John 6:51 ESV

With the sacrifice of His life, Jesus would offer a way for sinful men and women to be delivered from their bondage to sin and death. But Mark’s mention of the Feast of Unleavened Bread had another purpose. It juxtaposes the actions of the religious leaders who were feverishly plotting the death of Jesus. During the seven days in which they were to remove all leaven (sin) from their homes, these men were devising a strategy to end the life of the Son of God.

And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.” – Mark 14:1-2 ESV

They didn’t view their actions as being sinful and, therefore, they saw no need to purge their lives of greed, anger, malice, jealousy, or hypocrisy. In their twisted minds, they were in the right and fully justified in their hatred for Jesus. They truly thought they were doing God and the nation a favor.

But with the image of the heavily “leavened” religious leaders fixed in our minds, Mark refocuses our attention on Jesus, the bread from heaven. He has joined His followers for a dinner hosted by Simon the leper. The location is Bethany, located just east of Jerusalem, the same town where Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. In the middle of the meal, an unidentified woman walks into the room, opens a flask containing expensive and aromatic oil, and begins to anoint the head of Jesus. While similar to the story recorded by John, this appears to be a different scene altogether. John’s story takes place six days before Passover and the woman involved is Mary, the sister of Lazarus.

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. – John 12:1-3 ESV

We are looking at two different anointings, one that took place on Saturday, at the beginning of the week, and the other on Wednesday. And because both Matthew and Mark leave the second woman unnamed, it is unlikely that it is Mary. In this case, an unidentified woman makes her way into the room and anoints the head of Jesus with a costly and highly aromatic oil. As soon as she broke the flask, the scent of the oil must have permeated the room, attracting the attention of all the guests, including the disciples of Jesus. And they immediately expressed their disapproval.

“Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” – Mark 14:4-5 ESV

Without realizing it, these men had responded after the manner of the Pharisees. In doing so, they exposed their own obsession with earthly rather than spiritual things. Appalled by what they believed to be a wanton display of wastefulness, they rebuked the woman. They were incapable of seeing the rich symbolism behind her actions. But Jesus reprimanded them, saying, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me” (Mark 14:6 ESV).

Just a few days earlier, when Mary had anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them dry with her own hair, Judas had expressed a similar disdain for her excessive waste of resources. But Jesus had told him, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial” (John 12:7 ESV).

In both cases, these women were anointing the one who was about to offer His life as a sacrificial offering for the sins of mankind. While they were unaware of the import of their own actions, both Mary and the unidentified woman were preparing the body of Jesus for burial. And Jesus makes this quite clear.

“She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial.” – Mark 14:8 ESV

The religious leaders were obsessed with putting Jesus to death. The disciples were preoccupied with temporal concerns. But this unnamed woman was focused on the Savior. Her love for Him was displayed by her willingness to make a tremendous sacrifice on His behalf. He meant far more to her than money or possessions did. And Jesus tried to help His disciples understand the vital lesson behind her actions.

“For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me.” – Mark 14:7 ESV

Time was running out. In just a matter of days, they would witness the crucifixion and death of their friend and Master. And not a single one of them had done anything to show their gratitude or appreciation for all that He had done for them over the last three-and-a-half years. They were hours away from eating their final Passover meal with Jesus. And at that event, He will take on the role of a slave and wash their feet. The Savior will sacrifice His glory for their good. He will humble Himself so that they might be made clean. The Son of God will offer His life as a ransom for many.

The Pharisees plotted His death. This woman anointed His head.  The disciples questioned her actions. But in the midst of it all, Jesus remained committed to His calling and fully prepared to fulfill His Father’s will.

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

Awake and Waiting

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

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

32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” Mark 13:24-37 ESV

Almost the entire focus of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse is the far-distant future. He is telling His disciples about events that will take place long after they are gone. But He uses language that conveys a sense of anticipation, almost as if these things could happen tomorrow. In a sense, He is trying to help them understand that, in just a few days, they will be eyewitnesses to one of the most significant parts of God’s grand redemptive plan.

With all the emphasis on things to come, it is easy to forget that Jesus is just days away from His own death. But that singular event will inaugurate a new age. With His death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus will usher in the church age. His return to His Father’s side will make possible the coming of the Holy Spirit. And on the day of Pentecost, His followers will receive the “power from on high” that He promised, transforming them into bold and powerful ambassadors of the Gospel. And their efforts will help give birth to the church. And for generations, the church will grow and prosper, spreading throughout the world and impacting every tribe, nation, and tongue. But one day, Jesus will return for His bride, the church, and take them to be with Him in heaven. And with the removal of all believers from the face of the earth, the stage will be set for the day of Tribulation, a seven-year-long period of divine judgment upon the earth and its inhabitants. And Jesus has warned that “in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be” (Mark 14:19 ESV).

Yet, even in those dark days, God will continue to redeem the lost, beginning with 144,000 Jews that will represent every one of the 12 tribes of Israel (Revelations 7:4). And they will become witnesses to the world, resulting in the salvation of countless individuals from every people group on the planet. And many of those believers will become martyrs, suffering death at the hand of Antichrist. But, according to God’s divine plan, the seven-years of the Tribulation will finally come to an end. And Jesus indicates that the end will be marked by cosmic disturbances.

“…the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,  and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” – Mark 13:24-25 ESV

These dramatic celestial displays will act as signs of another significant feature of God’s redemptive plan: The return of His Son.

“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” – Mark 13:26-27 ESV

This will be the long-awaited Second Coming of Jesus. Unlike His first advent, when Jesus came to earth in the form of a helpless baby, this time He will come as a mighty warrior and a conquering King.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

Jesus will return to earth in order to wage war against all the forces of evil on the earth. He will gather all His saints, both living and dead. And He will defeat the forces of Satan, capturing and imprisoning Antichrist and his associates (Revelation 19:19-21). And then Jesus will set up His earthly Kingdom, ruling from His throne in Jerusalem for a period of 1,000 years (Revelation 20:4-6).

All of these amazing events are included in the future events Jesus is describing to His disciples. It is as if He is giving them a highly condensed preview of all that is going to take place in the days ahead, and it will begin with His own death in Jerusalem.

So, Jesus tells them, “when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates” (Mark 13:29 ESV). He is not suggesting that they be around when these events take place. He is simply suggesting that before the end comes, there will be ample signs that will make its arrival clear. Like a fig tree that blooms and presages the arrival of summer, the various stages of God’s redemptive plan will have warning signs.

His referral to “this generation” in verse 30, seems to be an indication that the disciples represent a new dispensation or age among mankind. They will become the firstfruits of those who make up the church age. But they will also represent all those who live after the cross and who face the choice between salvation through faith in Christ alone or the condemnation and death that come through disbelief.

“This generation” includes all those who will witness Christ’s ascension and all those who will see His second coming. They and the world they inhabit will not be destroyed until all these things take place. Believers and unbelievers will inhabit this planet until the bitter end. And Jesus assures His disciples that they can trust His words. His word will prove more lasting and permanent than the universe itself.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” – Mark 13;31 ESV

But while all that Jesus has told them will take place, it will be according to the secret plans of God. No one knows the timing of God’s plan, not even Jesus Himself. That’s why Jesus told His followers, “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13:33 ESV). Jesus wanted them to live with a sense of urgency, with their eyes focused on the fulfillment of His mission. Jesus had not come just to die and rise again. He had come so that He might come again. His second coming will be the final act in God’s grand play of redemption and restoration. That is why Paul told the believers living in Philippi, “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior” (Philippians 3:20 NLT).

Jesus wanted His disciples to live with a sense of urgency and expectancy. So, He told them to “Be on guard, keep awake” (Mark 13:33 ESV). There is no room for complacency or laziness among God’s people. We are to live as if His Son’s return could take place at any moment. We are part of that “generation” that “will not pass away until all these things take place.” We may not live long enough to see any of these things take place, but we are to live with confident assurance that they will. And we are to eagerly wait for Him to return as our Savior.

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 End Will Come

14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, 16 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 17 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not happen in winter. 19 For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.” Mark 13:14-23 ESV

The disciples had asked what they believed to be a simple question for which they hoped to get a simple answer.

“…when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” – Mark 13:4 ESV

But Jesus rarely, if ever, gave simple answers. The four disciples, who had posited their question to Jesus while sitting on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, had been anxious to know the exact timing of the temple’s destruction. His earlier announcement of this event had left them stunned and more than a little bit concerned. But Jesus ended up providing them with a highly condensed overview of the eschatological future. He pieced together a host of end-times events that would culminate with His return to the earth.

The disciples believed Jesus to be their long-awaited Messiah, and they had fully expected Him to set up His Kingdom on earth in their lifetimes. That is why His repeated references to His death in Jerusalem had been so difficult for them to accept. And His mention of the destruction of the royal city of Jerusalem further frustrated their hopes of a restored and revitalized Israel. These men were living in the here-and-now, with their hopes fully focused on the immediate inauguration of His reign and their personal participation in His new Kingdom.

Yet, Jesus wanted them to know that there was far more going on they realized. He had not come to set up an earthly Kingdom – at least, not yet. There were other events that would have to occur before He took His rightful place on the throne of David in Jerusalem. And Jesus mentions one such event: “the abomination of desolation” Mark 13:14 ESV). Whether or not the disciples understood this reference is unclear. But Jesus, well acquainted with the Hebrew scriptures, reaches back into the book of Daniel and utilizes a prophecy from the book of Daniel.

“And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” – Daniel 9:26-27 ESV

This prophecy was partially fulfilled in 167 BC, when Antiochus Epiphanes, the king of the Seleucid Empire, profaned the temple in Jerusalem by erecting an altar to Zeus and slaughtering swine on it. This blatant desecration of the temple was followed by a series of other devasting decrees, including the criminalization of the rite of circumcision and the requirement of all Jews to offer sacrifices to Zeus. These unacceptable demands infuriated the Jews and ultimately led to the Maccabean revolt.

But like many Old Testament prophecies, this one had a now-not-yet aspect to it. While the actions of Antiochus had partially fulfilled Daniel’s predictions, Jesus was revealing that there was a future element to this prophecy that remained as yet unfulfilled. When Jesus had prophesied regarding the destruction of the temple, His words had also included a now-not-yet dimension. The temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed by Titus in 70 AD, but this would only be a partial fulfillment of Jesus’ words. The disciples were being given a glimpse into the distant future when the full scope of Jesus’ predictions would take place.

Jesus is revealing events that will take place in conjunction with His second coming. There will be another desecration of the temple, but it will not take place in the lifetimes of the disciples. This future event will precede His return and usher in a time of great tribulation on the earth. Jesus describes it as an unprecedented period of suffering, like nothing that has ever happened before.

“For there will be greater anguish in those days than at any time since God created the world. And it will never be so great again.” – Mark 13:19 NLT

He warns that those who are alive when it happens should do everything in their power to run for their lives.

“Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. And pray that your flight will not be in winter.” – Mark 13:14-18 NLT

The Daniel passage to which Jesus refers speaks of “one who makes desolate” (Daniel 9:27 ESV). This individual will wield great power and become “the prince who is to come” who  “shall destroy the city and the sanctuary” (Daniel 9:26 ESV). This future world leader will be the Antichrist, who will appear on the scene at the beginning of the seven years of Tribulation. He will rise to power, make a treaty with the nation of Israel, and use his great influence to coordinate the reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem. For three-and-a-half years, things will appear to be going well, but then all hell will break loose. He will end up breaking his treaty with Israel, turning his wrath against God’s people, setting up an idol of himself in the temple in Jerusalem, and launching an all-out offensive against all those who refuse to worship him. And this will begin a period of great tribulation like nothing the world has ever seen before.

Knowing that this information has left His disciples stunned, Jesus assures them that God will have everything in full control.

“But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.” – Mark 13:20 ESV

Even during those dark days, God will be choosing to redeem a remnant from among His people, setting them aside as His own. The church, made up primarily of Gentile believers, will have been removed from the earth just before the period known as the Tribulation. With the Rapture of the church, the only ones remaining on earth will be God’s chosen people, the Jews, and all the unbelieving Gentiles. Yet God will continue to redeem and rescue, resulting in the salvation of many from every tribe, nation, and tongue, many of whom will become martyrs at the hands of the Antichrist.

But those days will come to an abrupt end. They will last only as long as God has ordained, and they will culminate with the return of His Son to the earth and with the establishment of His earthly Kingdom.

So, Jesus warns His disciples to be wary. In just a few days, He will offer His life as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He will die on a Roman cross and then be raised back to life and return to His Father’s side in heaven. But He will return one day. And Jesus wants His disciples to know that they will be rumors concerning His return. Along the way, there will be those who claim to be Him, but they are to be ignored as liars and deceivers. These charlatans may even be able to perform signs and wonders, giving credibility to their claims. But they are to be rejected because the Tribulation will be the final sign that must happen before Jesus returns again.  And He tells James, John, Peter, and Andrew, “be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand” (Mark 13:23 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

A False Assumption and a Faulty Conclusion

18 And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, 19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. 21 And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. 22 And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. 23 In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.”

24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.” Mark 12:18-27 ESV

Driven by their mutual hatred for Jesus, the Pharisees and Herodians had set aside their long-standing differences and joined forces in a vain attempt to bring His ministry to an end. But they had failed. They had tried to expose Jesus as a political insurrectionist who stood opposed to the Roman government and its excessive taxation of the people of Israel. But these men had misunderstood the nature of Jesus’ Kingdom. It was not of this world. He had not come to free Israel from slavery to Rome, but from slavery to sin and death. And His mission was spiritual in nature and not political. 

When the Pharisees and Herodians returned to the Sanhedrin and reported the results of their less-than-successful mission, they were replaced by a contingent of Sadducees. These men would form the second phase of their well-orchestrated attack on Jesus. The Sadducees were a powerful religious/political sect made up of the wealthy and influential upper class of Israel. They held the majority of the 70 seats in the Sanhedrin and controlled much of what happened in and around the temple. Their aristocratic mindset caused them to disdain the common man and to elevate themselves as members of the religious and political elite.

In order to preserve their superior status within the nation, the Sadducees had become reluctant partners with Rome, willingly accepting their presence as a necessary evil. Compromise with Rome allowed them to maintain their control over the nation of Israel. The Sadducees were essentially a political party that dabbled in religion. And while they expressed strong belief in the books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy), they rejected many of the established doctrines of the Hebrew religion.

For instance, they denied any resurrection of the dead. And this led them to reject the concept of an afterlife. They had concluded that the soul perishes at death, so this eliminated any idea of rewards or penalties. Therefore, in their theology, there was no heaven or hell. And to top it all off, they discounted any belief in an invisible spiritual realm populated by demons and angels. In a sense, they were the religious progressives of their day, espousing liberal views on a wide range of important doctrines that put them at odds with the more traditional Pharisees.

But since the Pharisees and Herodians had failed in their mission to entrap Jesus, the more liberally minded Sadducees were given their chance. And they approached Jesus with a very carefully concocted and convoluted story that was meant to expose His more conservative and antiquated religious views. These men knew that the majority of the peasant class also clung to the more traditional views on the doctrines of the afterlife and resurrection. So, they made up a hypothetical story that was meant to reveal the absurdity of these beliefs.

But like the Pharisees and Herodians who preceded them, the Sadducees were going to meet their match in Jesus. While they viewed Him as nothing more than an uneducated peasant from the backwater village of Nazareth, He would prove to be far more knowledgeable of the Scriptures and more than able to defend the doctrines of the resurrection and the afterlife.

And it is important to remember that Jesus had made many comments about eternal life. In fact, Jesus had told Nicodemus, a member of the Pharisees, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). He had offered the Samaritan woman water that would permanently satisfy her thirst and provide her with eternal life.

“…whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4:14 ESV

And most recently, Jesus had told Martha, the sister of Lazarus, that her dead brother would rise again.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” – John 11:25-26 ESV

These statements, and others like them, would have made their way back to the Sadducees. Jesus’ persistent claims regarding eternal life and the resurrection of the dead would have infuriated them. So, they decided to use their superior intelligence and vast knowledge of the Scriptures to expose Him as an uneducated fool.

They set up their trap by recounting a well-known law of Moses.

“Moses gave us a law that if a man dies, leaving a wife without children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will carry on the brother’s name.”  – Mark 12:19 NLT

They were referring to the levirate law, as outlined in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. This law required that the brother of a man who died without a male heir was obligated to marry his brother’s widow. The primary purpose of the law was to preserve the name of the deceased and to prevent the widow from becoming destitute.

But in an attempt to expose the ridiculous nature of belief in the resurrection, they created a convoluted and highly unlikely story. It involved a woman who ends up marrying seven different brothers, each of whom dies unexpectedly and prematurely, leaving her a widow without a male heir. Their strange tale ends with the death of the woman who had the unfortunate burden of being widowed seven different times. And they summarize their story with a question:

“So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her.” – Mark 12:23 NLT

You can almost see the smug expressions on their faces as they drop this bombshell on the unsuspecting Rabbi from Nazareth. They had Him. There was no way He would be able to answer this confusing conundrum and maintain His naive belief in the resurrection.

Little did they know that their whole story was built around a false premise. Jesus was about to expose their ignorance regarding the doctrine of the resurrection and it was because they did not understand God”s Word.

“Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God. For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. In this respect they will be like the angels in heaven.” – Mark 12:24-25 NLT

Jesus gave them a one-two combination that must have been a devastating blow to their overinflated egos. First, He accused them of not knowing the Scriptures. Then He added that they had no idea of the nature of God’s power. Because they could not fathom the idea of life after death, they had simply discounted it. And in spite of all their careful study of the books of Moses, they had been unable to appreciate the fact that nothing was impossible for God. They worshiped a God of limited power whose only interactions with mankind were relegated to this life.

They were trying to take an earthly-oriented law and apply it to eternal matters. But it was as Jesus had told Nicodemus: “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12 ESV). These men were incapable of understanding eternal truths. They were trying to comprehend the ways of God by looking through the cloudy lenses of their earthly perspective. And, had he been around, the apostle Paul would have told them, “Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” (Romans 11:33 NLT).

Their limited understanding had led to a limited view of God. They could not conceive of an afterlife because they viewed it as implausible and impossible. They were intimately familiar with death and probably feared it. And since they could not see what lie beyond the grave, they simply refused to acknowledge that anything was there. This life was all there was. But the whole story they had concocted had been based on misconceptions and misinterpretations of the Scriptures. Jesus informed them that there would be no marriage in the afterlife. So, it really didn’t matter how many husbands the fictitious widow had in this life. There will be no marriage because there will be no need to procreate. By virtue of His vast power, God will give resurrected and glorified bodies to all those who live in His eternal Kingdom. Men and women will no longer be expected to bring new life into the world. Their God-given order to fulfill the creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply will no longer apply.

And Jesus adds another not-so-subtle point of clarification that was meant to blow holes in one of the Sadducees’ other errant beliefs. He states that, in their eternal state, men and women will be much more like angels than human beings. They will be divine creatures who have the capacity to live in unbroken fellowship with God the Father for eternity. And like the angels, they will focus all their time and energy on His glory and offering Him their ceaseless praise.

Jesus ends His response with a lesson on the Old Testament Scriptures. He takes them back to the writings of Moses, recounting the story of the burning bush as recorded in the book of Exodus. It was there in the Midianite wilderness, that God appeared to Moses and called him to be the deliverer of His people. Out of the burning bush, God had declared to Moses, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6 ESV). By the time Moses had come along, all three of these men had been long dead, and yet God refers to Himself as their God – present tense, not past tense. Jesus was trying to reveal to these so-called experts in the Pentateuch what they had missed. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not gone, they had just been relocated. They were in the presence of their God.

Like the Pharisees and Herodian before them, the Sadducees failed. They proved no match for Jesus, the Son of God. They had put all their hope in this life, so when Jesus appeared offering the gift of eternal life, they could not bring themselves to believe what He had to say. But the doctrine of the resurrection was a central tenet of Jesus’ teaching. And it would be His own resurrection from the dead that would give His offer of eternal life validity. The apostle Paul summed it up well.

…if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. – 1 Corinthians 15:13-20 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.

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

Render Unto God

13 And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. 14 And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” 15 But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” 17 Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him. Mark 12:13-17 ESV

Jesus’ ransacking of the temple courtyard had caused quite a stir. And, as a result, His already strained relationship with the Jewish religious leaders took a dramatic turn for the worse. These men questioned His authority as well as His sanity, having earlier claimed that Jesus was possessed by a demon and in league with Satan. But when they met Him face to face, they found that He was anything but crazy. Jesus proved to be a formidable debater who, although an educated Rabbi from Nazareth, could stand toe-to-toe with the best and brightest members of the highly trained Sanhedrin. These professional religious scholars and experts in the Mosaic law found Jesus to be no pushover. And in today’s passage, we find the Sanhedrin taking a tag-team approach, sending wave after wave of their best thinkers to do mental battle with Jesus.

In chapter 11, Mark records the first onslaught. He described the chief priests, scribes, and elders confronting Jesus in the Courtyard of the Gentiles. But their attempt to trap Jesus didn’t turn out so well. Which led the Sanhedrin to send another team made up of Pharisees and Herodians. Now, this was a particularly strange alliance because these two groups were normally diametrically opposed. The Pharisees were a highly conservative religious sect, while the Herodians were essentially a political party that, as their name suggests, supported Herod Antipas, the Roman puppet king of Israel. To the Pharisees, the Herodians were sell-outs, whose support of Herod and willing tolerance of Roman rule greatly compromised Jewish independence.

Yet, these two opposing groups found unity in their shared hatred for Jesus. So, they made an unholy alliance, joining forces in an effort to trap Jesus. And Luke adds that these “spies” were driven by a desire to find condemning evidence that would result in Jesus’ arrest.

The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. – Luke 20:19-20 ESV

As soon as the Pharisees and Herodians begin their questioning of Jesus, it becomes clear why the Sanhedrin had decided to pair these two groups together. The entire scene is a set-up that begins with false flattery. They try to lower Jesus’ defenses by attempting to stroke His ego.

“Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us—is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them, or shouldn’t we?” – Mark 12:14-15 NLT

Their reputation as enemies was well known, and that was part of their scheme. They led Jesus to believe that they had come to Him for help in settling a dispute. The issue was the Roman poll tax. This was an annual tax imposed upon the Jews by the Romans that the Pharisees found in violation of their own laws concerning the sabbatical year. This was a head-tax that every Jew was required to pay every year, with no break during the seventh or sabbatical year. To the religiously-minded Pharisees, this tax was unacceptable. But to the Herodians, who supported the Roman government, it was a cost they were willing to pay because it helped maintain the peace.

But this entire “debate” was a ploy. The Pharisees must have assumed that Jesus was conservatively minded, just as they were, and would side with them. If He did, this would provide the Herodians with more than enough evidence to accuse Him of fomenting revolution against the Roman government. Their ultimate goal was to get Him in trouble with the civil authorities.

But “Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, ‘Why are you trying to trap me?’” (Mark 12:15 NLT). He was not fooled for a second. Their motives were painfully transparent, and Jesus refused to step into their poorly conceived trap. Instead, He was that they show Him a denarius, which was a Roman-minted coin. Jesus was about to turn their question regarding taxation into a lesson on veneration.

When they presented Him with the coin, Jesus asked a simple question: “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?” (Mark 12:16 NLT). And they quickly responded, “Caesar.” And what Jesus said next would leave them in a state of amazement.

“Well, then,” Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” – Mark 12:17 NLT

This had not been what they expected to hear. With His response, Jesus neither favored nor opposed the poll tax. Instead, He turned the whole debate into a lesson on loyalty and spiritual faithfulness. The Herodians placed a high priority on keeping the law of the Romans. The Pharisees countered that the laws of God had greater precedence than those of men. But Jesus was driving home the point that both groups were guilty of worshiping the wrong thing.

“The denarius of Tiberius portrayed the emperor as the semi-divine son of the god Augustus and the goddess Livia and bore the (abbreviated) inscription ‘Tiberius Caesar Augustus, Son of the Divine Augustus’ on the obverse and ‘Pontifex Maximus’ on the reverse. Both the representations and the inscriptions were rooted in the imperial cult and constituted a claim to divine honors.” – Lane, William L. The Gospel According to Mark. New International Commentary on the New Testament

For Jesus, this had nothing to do with taxation or Roman occupation. It had to do with the focus of the heart. Both of these groups were guilty of false worship. In a sense, the Herodians worshiped Caesar because they believed he provided them with protection and allowed them to enjoy their relative power and freedom. On the other hand, the Pharisees worshiped their oral and written laws, treating them with greater veneration than the One who had originally given them to Moses.

In a sense, Caesar required coins that bore his image as payment for services rendered. His troops kept the peace. His government provided social order and stability. And those who benefited from these amenities were expected to pay for them.

Jesus had no problem with rendering unto Caesar what belonged to him. The coins bore his image, so they were rightfully his. But mankind bears the image of God and, therefore, rightfully belongs to Him. That is why Jesus said, “give to God what belongs to God.”

God doesn’t need our money. He doesn’t even need our feeble attempts at religious rule-keeping and pharisaical posturing. Jesus knew that the Pharisees were guilty of going through the motions and only pretending to revere and worship God.

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:7-8 NLT

In a sense, Jesus is taking the conversation back to the issue of authority. Because of his position and power, Caesar had every right to demand a tax from the people over whom he ruled. But God also had the authority to demand worship from those whom He had made. Every man and woman on the planet bore the Imago Dei (the image of God) and were expected to give God what rightfully belonged to Him: Their lives and their worship.

Yet, as the apostle Paul discloses, even since the fall, mankind has repeatedly refused to render unto God what is rightfully His.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:21-23 NLT

And for Jesus, the issue was the failure of the religious leaders to honor Him for who He was – the Son of God and the Savior of the world. To the Herodians, Caesar was like a god, worthy of their veneration and willing subjugation. And the Pharisees had made their religion their god,  placing all their hope in the rules and regulations that governed daily life, and provided any hope they had of salvation. But both had failed to recognize that God was in their midst. He had come to dwell with them. And all He asked was that they give Him what was due Him: Their lives and allegiance.

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

It Is Marvelous In Our Eyes

1 And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Have you not read this Scripture:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
11 this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

12 And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away. Mark 12:1-12 ESV

The chief priests, scribes, and elders of Israel had just confronted Jesus in the temple courtyard, demanding to know by what authority He had ransacked the place the day before. In an explosion of righteous indignation, Jesus had singlehandedly destroyed their little money-making venture of selling sacrificial animals and currency exchange. The greed and graft of these religious leaders and their total disregard for the holiness of His Father’s house had been more than Jesus could stand. And the fact that they had set up the entire operation in the Courtyard of the Gentiles had infuriated Jesus further.

The actions of Jesus had proved costly for these men – in more ways than one. The temporary shutdown of their sales operations had hit their bottom line. But it was their egos that had suffered the greater loss. Jesus had directly challenged their authority and, in doing so, He had diminished their standing among the people. That’s what prompted them to confront Jesus about His arrogant display the day before. But Jesus had refused to answer their question, choosing instead to remind them that they had refused to accept John the Baptist’s authority as well. These self-righteous and self-appointed leaders of Israel had a habit of rejecting anyone who spoke on behalf of God. In their minds, Jesus had no authority to do what He did. He was nothing more than a rural Rabbi from the backwater town of Nazareth. He had no education or credentials. He was not from a wealthy family and had no standing in their community.

But while Jesus refused to answer their question, He did take time to tell them a parable. In fact, according to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus told them a couple of different parables, each meant to address their question about authority. But more importantly, these two parables were designed to expose the religious leaders as rebels against God. Their refusal to accept Jesus was nothing less than a rejection of God Himself. It’s important to note that Jesus told this parable in the middle of the crowded temple courtyard, surrounded by foreign pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. But His primary audience was the religious leaders who had arrogantly questioned His authority.

Jesus begins His parable by describing a man who planted a vineyard, complete with winepress, protective fence, and watchtower. Once the vineyard was complete, the man rented it out to tenant farmers who were expected to cultivate and care for it. Since the landowner had incurred the cost of constructing the vineyard, he expected to receive a share of the production and profits. But when he sent his servant to collect his portion of the first year’s harvest, the tenants beat the servant and sent him away empty-handed. So, the landowner sent a second servant, who was treated just a violently and shamefully. And the rebellious tenants, unwilling to turn over any of the fruit of their labor, murdered the third servant whom the landowner had sent. And Jesus indicates that this scene went on for some time.

Others he sent were either beaten or killed, until there was only one left—his son whom he loved dearly.” – Mark 12:5 NLT

By this time, Jesus had the crowd hooked. They were totally enthralled with His story and anxious to know what the outcome would be. In their minds, they would have been debating what the landowner should do to the murderous tenants. And the thought of the man risking the life of his son would have been appalling to them. But, according to Jesus’ story, that’s exactly what the landowner did.

“The owner finally sent him, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’” – Mark 12:6 NLT

And it’s likely that the people in the crowd gasped at the father’s blatant display of naivete. After all these evil tenants had done to his servants, how could this man be so blind as to think they would show his son any respect? They knew exactly what was going to happen and probably wanted to scream at the landowner, “Don’t do it!” But as Jesus completes the story, their worst fears are realized.

“But the tenant farmers said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ So they grabbed him and murdered him and threw his body out of the vineyard. – Mark 12:7-8 NLT

And knowing that His audience has been blown away by the dark ending to His story, Jesus asks them, “What do you suppose the owner of the vineyard will do?” (Mark 12:9 NLT). Their minds had already gone there. They had already been to think about what they would do if they were the landowner. And their thoughts included nothing about forgiveness or clemency. They were focused on revenge and retribution, hoping that these wicked tenants were going to get exactly what they deserved. And much to their relief, Jesus finishes the story with the ending they were hoping for.

“I’ll tell you—he will come and kill those farmers and lease the vineyard to others. – Mark 12:9 NLT

The bad guys lost, and justice prevailed. The story, while sad, had a happy ending. Everything turned out okay. But what the crowd failed to realize was that the story had a far deeper meaning. And Jesus revealed the more spiritual dimension of its message by quoting Psalm 118:22-23.

The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord‘s doing;
    it is marvelous in our eyes.

This rather abrupt shift in topic was intentional. Jesus was quoting from the very same Psalm that the crowds had quoted from during His triumphal entry.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! – Psalm 118:26 ESV

That Psalm declares that the Messiah will come in the name of the Lord, but it also states that He will be rejected. Yet, it is all “the Lord’s doing.” It is all part of God’s plan. This rejected stone will become the cornerstone of a great house that will bring glory and honor to God. And not long after Jesus would be rejected and crucified, Peter and John would stand before the high priests, scribes, and elders of Israel, declaring:

“This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.” – Acts 4:11 ESV

The very same men who stood in front of Jesus in the Courtyard of the Gentiles would later hear a message from two of His disciples, telling them, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 ESV). And Peter would pick up this theme of the cornerstone in one of his later letters.

For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”

and

“A stone of stumbling,
    and a rock of offense.” – 1 Peter 2:6-8 ESV

Jesus would be rejected by the religious leaders of Israel. Just like the rebellious tenants in Jesus’ story, they would refuse to accept the Son sent by the Father. They would treat the Son with disrespect, rejecting His authority and claiming His inheritance as their own. In the parable, the vineyard was meant to represent Israel and the tenant farmers were the leaders to whom God had assigned the care of possession. Israel, as represented by the land, was always intended to be the inheritance of the Son. It did not belong to the leaders. They were merely its caretakers. But in their greed, they had treated Israel as their own, growing powerful and wealthy at the expense of God’s people. The servants in the story represent the prophets that God had sent throughout the centuries, calling His people to repentance. But the leaders of Israel had killed the prophets, refusing to relinquish their authority over the inheritance. And finally, God had sent His Son. But they would end up rejecting Him as well, putting Him to death in an effort to steal His rightful inheritance.

But their efforts would fail. They could kill the Son, but they would not end up taking what belonged to Him. The rejected stone would become the most valued cornerstone of a grand temple made up of those who placed their faith in Him. The apostle Paul reminds us that the rejection of Jesus has resulted in an incredible building made up of people from all walks of life and from every tribe, nation, and tongue.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. – 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 ESV

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. – Ephesians 2:19-22 ESV

The high priests, scribes, and elders could reject the authority of Jesus, but they could not put a stop to the redemptive plan of God.  As the psalmist stated, “This is the Lord‘s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”

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