Future Glory Versus Present Suffering

13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17 ESV

The Thessalonians had been distracted. They had taken their eye off the prize and were focusing on their present circumstances, wondering if, as the false prophets had claimed, that the day of the Lord had begun. Their trials and tribulations seemed to support the idea that the end had begun. So, they began to believe they were living in the last days. But this thought was creating confusion and causing them to doubt the teachings of Paul and his companions.

Paul describes the last days as being filled with apostasy, rebellion, and the judgment of God upon all those who reject the truth concerning His Son. As bad as things may have been for the Thessalonian believers, their conditions were nothing like those that will accompany the final days. And the presence of trials in the life of a believer was not to be confused with the future day of Tribulation. In fact, Paul and the other New Testament authors encouraged believers to welcome trials as a vital part of God’s plan for their ongoing sanctification.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. – James 1:2-4 NLT

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. – 1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT

God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. – Hebrews 12:10-11 NLT

Suffering and sanctification are inseparable in the life of the believer. Just as Jesus suffered in this life and then experienced the joy of glorification, so will we one day. And Paul reminded the believers in Rome that their status as children of God, made possible through their faith in Christ, also made them co-heirs with Christ. And part of their inheritance was the glory to come. But, as with Jesus, their suffering must precede their glorification.

And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. – Romans 8:17-18 NLT

But as Paul states, their present suffering was nothing when compared with their future glorification. And in his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul stressed the example provided by the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus.

6 Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:6-11 NLT

And Paul reminds the Thessalonian believers that they had been chosen by God “to be among the first to experience salvation—a salvation that came through the Spirit who makes you holy and through your belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13 NLT). Their experiences of suffering were proof of their salvation and sanctification. They had been given the privilege of suffering on behalf of Christ and Paul reminds them that their suffering has a purpose. It is a God-ordained process for increasing their dependence upon His indwelling Spirit so that their lives might display His power in their weakness.

And Paul had learned this truth from firsthand experience. Three different times he had asked God to remove “the thorn” in his flesh. But each time God had answered: “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT). And this eye-opening lesson from God had radically altered Paul’s perspective on the role of suffering and weakness in the life of the believer.

So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT

Paul stressed to the Thessalonians believers that God’s ultimate goal behind their salvation was not their present happiness, but their future glorification.

To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 2:14 ESV

Their ultimate glorification would not come in this life, but in the life to come. In the meantime, God was using the presence of suffering and trials to expose their weakness and to encourage increasing dependence upon the Spirit’s presence and power within them. And Paul challenged them to stay the course. Not only were they destined to experience additional suffering in this life, but they would also find themselves bombarded by false teaching that contradicted the words of Jesus and His apostles.

So, Paul called them to “stand firm and keep a strong grip on the teaching we passed on to you both in person and by letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15 NLT). As he told the believers in Ephesus, his job was “to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12 NLT). And he was committed to doing just that.

This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. – Ephesians 4:13 NLT

His commitment was fueled by his belief in the transformative nature of the gospel message. Salvation was to result in sanctification. Faith in Christ was meant to produce those who bore the image of Christ. Spiritual infancy was to give way to spiritual maturity. And the spiritually mature are far less likely to be deceived and distracted by false teaching.

Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. – Ephesians 4:14-15 NLT

Paul closes out this part of his letter with a prayer that takes the form of a blessing. He asks God the Father and Jesus Christ His Son to provide the Thessalonians with comfort and strength in the midst of all their trials. Notice that he does not ask for the removal of their trials. His emphasis is on hope. This is a clear reference to their future salvation and glorification. God and His Son, Paul reminds the Thessalonians, “loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace” (2 Thessalonians 2:16 ESV). He stresses eternity and hope. His point is that the Thessalonians needed to quit being distracted by their current circumstances and the misguided teaching of the false prophets and refocus their attention on the finish line. 

If they kept their eyes on the prize, they would realize that “their present sufferings are not comparable to the glory that will be revealed” (Romans 8:18 BSB). And this future hope would provide the comfort and strength necessary to live transformed lives in the present.

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

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

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

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Confusion Over Christ’s Coming

1 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 ESV

At his point in his letter, Paul jumps into the deep end of the pool. No more paddling around in the shallow waters of easy believe-ism. The Thessalonians have had their faith shaken by some fairly significant doctrinal error brought to them courtesy of false teachers. These individuals had been propagating the idea that the Second Coming of Jesus had already begun and, it seems, they were using the intense persecution of the Thessalonians as their proof. And they could back up their belief with the teachings of Jesus.

While sitting on the Mount of Olives, just across the Kidron Valley from the city of Jerusalem, Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV). Their question had been prompted by a statement by Jesus concerning the temple in Jerusalem.

You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” – Matthew 24:2 ESV

They were wanting to know when this fateful day would take place. And, in an attempt to calm their concerns, Jesus told them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:4-6 ESV).

In other words, a be a great many things would take place long before “the end” occurred. In fact, Jesus included additional seemingly catastrophic events that would precede the end times and His Second Coming:

“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.” – Matthew 24: 7-8 ESV

Jesus was attempting to prepare His disciples to expect a great deal of suffering, civil unrest, wars, and even natural disasters. But those were simply the precursors of the end, not proof of its arrival. Things were going to get worse before they got better. And Jesus proves it by adding:

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” – Matthew 24:9-14 ESV

But it seems that the false teachers who were negatively influencing the believers in Thessalonica were guilty of cherry-picking the teachings of Jesus. They were proof-texting, pulling out certain phrases that supported their view that the end had come and as a result, the Second Coming of Jesus was just around the corner. But this errant view flew in the face of Paul’s teachings concerning the end times.

In chapter one, Paul had assured the Thessalonians that, concerning Christ’s Second Coming, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire,” He would inflict “vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 ESV). That had clearly not taken place yet. And it would not take place until the Rapture of the church occurred (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Paul and the other apostles clearly taught in the imminence of Christ’s coming. They wanted believers to know that Jesus could come at any time, but that did not mean that He would. Followers of Christ were to live with a sense of urgency and immediacy, conducting their lives in a manner that reflected their belief in His return and the reality of eternity. This world was not their home. They were to set their minds and hearts on heaven and the promise of their eternal state. And, in his first letter, Paul assured them that God would protect and preserve them for that future day.

Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful. – 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 NLT

What rankled Paul was the fear and doubt being fostered among the Thessalonians because of the shoddy doctrine of the false teachers. The motivation of these men was probably sincere and well-meaning, but they were doing serious damage to the cause of Christ by speaking about things they didn’t fully understand. And it was causing unnecessary anxiety among the Thessalonians concerning “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him” (2 Thessalonians 2:1 ESV) – a direct reference to the Rapture of the church.

And Paul warns his confused and fearful friends not to let this false teaching deceive and disquiet them.

Don’t be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don’t believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us. Don’t be fooled by what they say. – 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3 NLT

And notice that Paul did not give these false teachers the courtesy of treating their teaching as an alternate view or perfectly acceptable option to consider. They were wrong. Their teaching was false. And it didn’t matter if they claimed that it came with God’s Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

For Paul, the Gospel was far more than just the faithful presentation of God’s offer of salvation through grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone. His concept of the Gospel was all-inclusive, encompassing the full spectrum of God’s gracious plan for man’s redemption. Salvation was just the beginning, with the sanctification of the believer being just as much an integral part of God’s divine plan. And it would all culminate with the believer’s glorification when they received their new bodies, designed to last for eternity. Paul discussed this miraculous final phase of our Gospel transformation in his first letter to the Corinthians.

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. – 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 NLT

Salvation – sanctification – glorification. For Paul, that was the Gospel and anyone who deviated from and added to that three-fold plan was to be treated with contempt.

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. – Galatians 1:8 NLT

According to Paul, the good news regarding faith in Christ had to include all three phases of God’s redemptive plan, and he succinctly articulates it in his letter to Titus.

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation [salvation] to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures [sanctification]. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed [glorificatio]. – Titus 2:11-13 NLT

The believer’s glorification, the final phase in God’s plan, will take place when Christ returned for His bride, the church. Paul knew that the human body was not equipped for eternal life. It was, as he described it, a temporary tent in which we dwell until Christ returns.

“…our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.” – 1 Corinthians 15:50 NLT

But Paul firmly believed that God had a plan that included new bodies, divinely prepared for eternity.

“We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed.” – 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 NLT 

And as Paul told the Thessalonians in his first letter, the Rapture of the church will result in the gathering of all God’s saints, complete with their newly glorified bodies, so they can return with Him to heaven. And that great day will usher in the beginning of the end. With the removal of the church, God’s final plan of judgment for the unbelieving world will be poised to begin. And Paul will expound on that future aspect of the end times in the following verses.

For that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed—the one who brings destruction. He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship. He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God. – 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 NLT

Paul didn’t want there to be any confusion regarding these matters. The Thessalonians were not to worry or fret over the claims of the false teachers. They had not missed out. The Great Tribulation had not begun. There was much that had to happen before “the end” began. And all that they were experiencing was nothing more than the labor pains that naturally precede the delivery of God’s judgment on 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

God of the Living

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

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

saducees-and-pharisees

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

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

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

These Sadducees had purposely created a highly unlikely scenario where the woman ends up marrying seven different brothers, each one dying before they could father a son with her. And their story ends with the woman’s death, seven times a widow and childless. This complicated and completely contrived tale had a purpose behind it. Matthew makes it clear that the real point behind their question was the resurrection. They were not interested in Jesus’ interpretation of the law but wanted to expose His views concerning the resurrection. Which is why they ended their story with the pointed question: “So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her” (Matthew 22:28 NLT).

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

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

Jesus rendered their convoluted scenario pointless and irrelevant. In her resurrected state, the woman would not be married to any of the brothers, “For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30 NLT). This statement by Jesus must have totally surprised the Sadducees, catching them completely off guard. And it may be just as shocking to some who are reading these words right now.

Your concept of heaven has always included marriage. You have assumed that if you are married here on earth, you will be married in heaven. But what would be the purpose of marriage in heaven? As an institution, it was designed to illustrate the relationship between Christ and His Bride, the Church. It was intended to be a physical representation of a spiritual reality.

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

But Jesus knew that the real issue behind their question was their view concerning the resurrection, so He cuts to the chase and takes it head-on.

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

Once again, Jesus questions their knowledge of the Scriptures, letting them know that in spite of all their study, they had missed a key point. When referring to His relationship with the great patriarchs of the Hebrew people, God had spoken in the PRESENT tense. He had said, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

These words were spoken long after all three of these men were dead and gone, and yet God refers to His relationship with them in the present tense. Jesus made it clear that this was not a grammatical error but a theological truth. There is an afterlife, and there will be a resurrection. The Sadducees’ problem was that they tended to study the Scriptures with a biased view and a limited understanding of the power of God. The idea of the resurrection was impossible to them. It was inconceivable. So, they simply refused to believe in it. In establishing their doctrinal views, they had unknowingly limited the power of God. Because they couldn’t comprehend something, they simply eliminated it from consideration. But Jesus made it clear that the resurrection was not only possible, it was undeniable and inevitable, because of the power of God.

For the Sadducees, life had become all about what they could see and explain. Their view was limited and restrictive. They had no room in their theology for an afterlife because it made no sense to them. So, they put all their eggs in one basket, concentrating all their efforts on making the most out of this life. In doing so, they missed the whole concept of the afterlife, of heaven, and the resurrected state. For them, this earthly life was the only life. Nothing more, nothing less.

And sadly, there are many who live with that same restrictive mindset today. Even those claiming to be Christ-followers live as if there is no eternal life, focusing all their attention and energies on making the most of this life. They simply ignore what they can’t see or explain. And yet, we are encouraged throughout the Word of God to run the race of life with the end in mind. We are to set our affections on things above, not the things of this earth. We are told to consider ourselves as strangers here and to remember that this world is not our home. We are simply passing through on our way to somewhere better. There is an afterlife. There is a heaven. This is not all there is. And we should live with that reality in mind.

We worship a God of the living. The power of God assures us that the dead in Christ are not gone. They are experiencing the joys of heaven, and one day we will see them again. It is just as Jesus promised:

“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

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

High Cost. Great Value.

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” – Matthew 13:44-52 ESV

Jesus continues His use of parables to describe the true nature of the kingdom of heaven.  And while He had explained the parable of the sower, the soil, and the seed, these parables are presented without any further annotation or comment. Jesus has told His disciples that they were being given access to “secret” information regarding the kingdom of the Messiah that had been hidden from others. These men had been handpicked by God the Father and assigned the task of assisting Jesus in His earthly ministry.  Jesus made this point perfectly clear in His high priestly prayer recorded in John’s gospel.

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. – John 17:6-8 ESV

This grouping of kingdom parables was intended to prepare the disciples for what was to come. Presented in rapid-fire succession, these three parables each provide a different perspective concerning the coming kingdom. Yet they are all intended to provide the disciples with insight into the kingdom’s value, and the cost associated with its discovery. At this point in their relationship with Jesus, these men had no idea what was coming their way. They were oblivious as to the true nature of the kingdom Jesus had come to establish, and they were blissfully unaware of the personal price they would each pay for being a part of it.

And yet, when Jesus asked them, “Have you understood all these things?”, they responded, “Yes” (Matthew 13:51 ESV). Let’s face it, these men were drinking from the proverbial fire hose. They were being inundated with so much new and contradictory information that their capacity to take it all in was stretched to the max.

If they got anything out of Jesus’ collection of kingdom parables, it was probably the idea of cost. Jesus stressed that point in two of the parables by portraying someone willing to sacrifice all that he had in order to purchase something of greater value.

…a man…goes and sells all that he has and buys that field… – vs. 44

…a merchant…sold all that he had and bought it – vs. 45

The kingdom was worth any cost to obtain. That is what Jesus is trying to explain to His disciples. Yes, they will gain greatly from their participation in the kingdom, but not without cost. While salvation is free, made possible by the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross, it does require commitment.

In the first parable, Jesus described a man who found a valuable treasure in a field. But the field did not belong to him, so the treasure was not legally his to possess. So, greatly desiring to make the treasure his own, he sold all his earthly possessions and used the money to purchase the field. He had discovered something in that field that no one else knew existed. And he recognized that it was of far greater value and worth than anything else he possessed.

Jesus had already told His disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23 NLT). And Matthew will later record Jesus telling His disciples, “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25 ESV). The kingdom life is a rich and satisfying life, but it does require commitment and comes with high costs.

Jesus is trying to let His disciples know that the benefits of the kingdom of heaven are future-oriented. Unlike the kingdom the Jews were expecting, the full import of the Messiah’s kingdom will not be fully realized in this life. In fact, Jesus will later give the disciples some important details regarding life in His kingdom. Matthew records an encounter Jesus had with a young man who was very wealthy. This well-off and well-intentioned young man presented Jesus with a question: “what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:17 NLT). He was looking for the one thing he didn’t have and couldn’t buy: Eternal life. But he believed he could somehow earn it. So, Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21 NLT). But upon hearing these words from Jesus, the young man walked away dejectedly, “for he had many possessions” (Matthew 19:22 NLT).

What Jesus said next is very important. He told the disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very difficult for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 19:23 NLT). This statement blew the disciples away because, like all Jews, they believed wealth was a sign of a man’s righteousness and God’s blessing. So, Peter interpreted Jesus’ words as meaning that self-sacrifice was the key to reward, which is what led him to respond: “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?” (Matthew 19:27 NLT). Then Jesus replied:

“I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.” – Matthew 19:28-30 NLT

They would receive their reward in the future. The kingdom of heaven would not come to earth until the Son of Man was sitting on His glorious throne after His second coming. In the meantime, the sons of the kingdom would be required to sacrifice all in this life. Unlike the rich young man who refused to give up earthly treasures for a future heavenly reward, the disciples would find themselves sacrificing the temporal for the eternal.

Jesus’ second parable supports this point. A merchant in search of a pearl of great value finally finds what he has been looking for, and immediately sells all he has to possess it. He spares no expense to make this treasure his own. He considers his current possessions as expendable, and any price he must pay, justifiable. Again, Jesus seems to be emphasizing the future reward of the kingdom. In both parables, the men had to sell all they had before they were able to enjoy the treasure they sought. This would have taken time. It would have required a period of great sacrifice and incredible commitment as they slowly sold off all they owned. The enjoyment of the reward would have had a built-in delay. And in the meantime, they would have experienced the obvious ramifications that accompanied the selling off of all their earthly possessions. Until the first man had raised the full price for the land and the second man was able to afford the cost of the pearl, they would have done without. But they were willing. For them, future reward was worth the price of present sacrifice.

The third parable Jesus told, while slightly different in nature, continues to support His overall premise. In this story, Jesus used imagery familiar to His disciples. He described a fishing net being thrown into the sea. As any fisherman knew, this process would have taken time. The net would not immediately fill up with fish but would do so over an extended period of time. When the signs indicated that the net was full, the fishermen would have hauled it to the surface. At that point, there would be a process of sorting the catch, keeping some while throwing out others. And Jesus made His point perfectly clear, So it will be at the end of the age” (Matthew 13:49 ESV). At the present time, the net of the Gospel is in the “sea” of the world. One day, it will be slowly gathered in, but not all who find themselves within the net will end up as part of the kingdom of heaven. There is a future day coming when Jesus will differentiate between the good and the bad, the saved and the lost, the sons of the kingdom, and the sons of the evil one.

If you recall, Jesus has already taught His disciples that not everyone who calls Him “Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven. Not all who appear to serve Him will be accepted by Him in His future kingdom (Matthew 7:21-23).

But for those who are willing to sacrifice now, their future reward will be great. Those who are sons and daughters of the kingdom will discover this life to be one of great cost. It will require endurance. It will demand commitment. But it will be well worth it. Remember the words of Jesus in His sermon on the mount.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…” – Matthew 5:10-12 ESV

Those who are willing to sacrifice now, placing their hope and trust in the future reward promised to them in Christ will not be disappointed. One day, they will hear the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21 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

Encouraging Words For Discouraging Times

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ESV

In an effort to prepare His disciples for His coming death in Jerusalem, Jesus provided them with some encouraging news:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” – John 14:1-3 ESV

Jesus had repeatedly emphasized that His death was inevitable and unavoidable. It was part of God’s redemptive plan and, as an obedient son, Jesus was obligated to carry out the will of His Father. It was the reason behind His incarnation, a point that Jesus made perfectly clear when He said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 NLT).

Without Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, the sin debt owed by mankind would remain unpaid and a sentence of death would still hang over the heads of each and every man, woman, and child who has ever lived. But Jesus did die. He was buried. He rose again and was see in His resurrected state by hundreds of His followers. Paul emphasized these facts in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen… – 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 NLT

But the story of redemption didn’t stop there. We know from the gospel accounts that after Jesus appeared in His resurrected form to His disciples, He commissioned them to take the gospel message to the nations. And then He ascended back into heaven, right before their eyes. Luke gives us a glimpse of that moment in the book of Acts.

he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. – Acts 1:9 NLT

Jesus returned to His Father’s side in heaven. But the redemptive story doesn’t end there. As the disciples stood staring up into the sky, two angels appeared and gave them some very important words of encouragement.

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” – Acts 1:12 NLT

Jesus died. He was buried. He rose again. He appeared. He ascended. And, one day, He will return. This is the very event to which Paul refers in this section of 1 Thessalonians 4. He reminds His audience that there is another important event that looms on the horizon of redemptive history. The return of Christ for His bride, the church. This is the event commonly referred to as the Rapture. This word, while not actually in the Bible, is derived from the Latin translation of the Greek word, harpazō,  translated as “caught up” in verse 17. In the Latin Vulgate translation of the New Testament, this word became raptura, from which we get the term, Rapture.

The Rapture, while often confused with the Second Coming, is a completely separate end times event. It refers to the return of Christ for His bride, the church, and it will take place at the end of what is called the church age – a period of undisclosed length that includes the time in which we live. It began with the coming of Jesus and will end with His return for the church, when He takes all those who have believed in Him to join Him in His Father’s house in heaven.

All of this fits into the wedding imagery that Jesus used concerning He and the church. He is the groom and we are His bride. Technically, according to the traditional Jewish concept of marriage, we are the betrothed on Jesus. The marriage has yet to be consummated, but we are legally bound to Him, having been given to Him by His Father, just as in a traditional Jewish wedding (John 17:12). During the betrothal period, the bride and groom are legally married, but remain separated from one another.  It is only just before the actual wedding itself that the groom returns for His bride and takes her to his father’s house, where the wedding ceremony and feast are held. Jesus, having returned to His Father’s house, is preparing a place for He and His bride. Then, when the time is right, he will return for her and take her to His Father’s house, where the ceremony and the celebration  will take place.

That is the event to which Paul is referring and he appears to be bringing it up because there was confusion among the believers in Thessalonica. They had all be longing for and eagerly waiting on the Parousia or coming of Christ. The early church lived with a sense of immediacy and imminence when it came to Christ’s return. They expected it to happen any day. And Paul and the other apostles encouraged this outlook. Paul to the believers in Corinth:

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. – Philippians 3:20-21 NLT

But the Thessalonians were beginning to have second thoughts. Some of their fellow believers had died and Jesus had not yet returned. That raised some significant questions in their minds: Where did their deceased friends and relatives go? What was their eternal fate? Was Jesus ever coming back?

And Paul addresses these concerns by providing them with much-needed assurance of the coming of Christ. For Paul, the deaths of their friends and relatives was cause for mourning, but not despair. Sadness is a natural human reaction to loss but, for believers, our loss is to be accompanied with hope. Because we have the resurrection of Jesus as a constant reminder of our future destiny.  Jesus’ death was followed by His resurrection and, by virtue of our faith in Him, we have the same outcome awaiting us. Paul told the believers in Rome:

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. – Romans 6:5 ESV

And he told the believers in Corinth:

It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. – 1 Corinthians 15:52 NLT

Notice what Paul says here. Those who have died will be raised to live forever. And those who are living when Jesus returns for the church will also be transformed. That is the very same message Paul is delivering to the Thessalonians. The dead have not missed the boat. Their souls have gone to be with Jesus in heaven. Just as Jesus told the criminal on the cross, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43 NLT). Those believers who die prior to the Rapture go to be with Him. But the day is coming when they will return with Him and receive their new resurrected, glorified bodies. Again, Paul addressed the reality of this incredible promise in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

…our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! – 1 Corinthians 15:50-51 NLT

As Dr. Thomas L. Constable so aptly puts it: “the translation of living Christians and the resurrection of dead Christians will take place at the same time.” It is at the Rapture that all those in Christ, the living and the dead, will receive their glorified bodies, custom-made for the eternal state. As Paul puts it, “our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies” (1 Corinthians 15:53 NLT).

Paul wanted the Thessalonians to maintain their hope, even in the face of loss. Their loved ones were not gone, they had simply gone on ahead. And the day is coming when all believers, those who have died and gone to be with the Lord and those who are still living, will be reunited and will received their resurrected, glorified bodies. And the apostle John provides us with further words of encouragement regarding that day.

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. – 1 John 3:2 NLT

With this fantastic news in mind, encourage one another with these words.

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

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

All Things Are Possible With God.

23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” –  Matthew 19:23-30 ESV

It’s essential that we not separate the content of these verses from the encounter that Jesus had with the rich young man. Verse 22 ended with the sobering statement: “When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

When Jesus had instructed the man to sell all he possessed, give it to the poor and follow him, the man had simply walked away. He considered the cost too high. In his mind, the price Jesus seemed to have placed on eternal life was too steep to pay. This man couldn’t bear the thought of giving up all that he possessed in order to gain eternal life. So Matthew records that the man went away sorrowful.

But we must not miss two critical statements made by Jesus that help give clarity to what Jesus told His disciples after the man’s departure. Two different times in His exchange with the young man, Jesus addressed his desire to know what he had to do to gain eternal life.

If you would enter life… – vs. 17

If you would be perfect… – vs. 21

And in both cases, Jesus had followed up those statements with action steps:

…keep the commandments. – vs. 17

go, sell what you possess and give to the poor. – vs. 21

Jesus knew something the disciples didn’t know. It was not a case of whether the man would or wouldn’t keep Jesus’ instructions. It was that he couldn’t. It was impossible. While the young man claimed to have kept the five commandments Jesus outlined, there was no way he had done so perfectly. And it is painfully clear that the young man loved his wealth and possessions more than he loved God. In other words, he had broken the very first commandment because he had made a god out of material things. And he was willing to sacrifice the hope of eternal life with God in order to hold on to his false god of materialism.

So, as the disciples watched the man walk away, Jesus used the moment as a teaching opportunity. He made a statement that must have caught them by surprise.

“Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” – Matthew 19:23-24 ESV

For the disciples, this statement made no sense. As Jews, they had always understood a person’s wealth to be a sign of God’s blessing. They had been taught to believe that one of the primary ways in which God bestowed His favor upon men was through material possessions. When they looked at the lives of the patriarchs, like Abraham, Joseph, and David, they saw men who had been greatly blessed by God with great wealth. And they aspired to be blessed in the same way.

So, the words of Jesus caught them off guard. They were inconsistent with their understanding of how life worked. Which explains their astonishment and their question to Jesus: “Who then can be saved?”

Their train of thought had jumped the tracks. The words of Jesus were illogical and disturbing. Their question to Jesus might be expressed this way: “If those who are obviously blessed by God are going to have a difficult time entering the kingdom of heaven, then what hope do we have?”

The disciples were far from wealthy. They had little in the way of possessions. And nobody looked up to them or aspired to be like them. But their whole concept of God’s blessings was warped. They had not yet understood what Jesus had said in His sermon on the mount.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”

“Blessed are those who mourn…”

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth…”

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…”

“Blessed are the merciful…”

“Blessed are the pure in heart…”

“Blessed are the peacemakers…”

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…”

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely…” – Matthew 5:3-11 ESV

God’s standard of blessing or approval was not wealth. It was an attitude of spiritual poverty and complete reliance upon God. When it came to the kingdom of heaven, the self-reliant and self-sufficient would be denied entrance. Those who determine to make comfort and ease their goal in this life will miss out on the joys of eternal life.

This discussion left the disciples confused and led them to ask, “Who then can be saved?” It’s important to note that they were not using the term “saved” in the same sense we would. They were not tying salvation to the gospel, but to man’s entrance into eternal life. And their understanding was much like that of the rich young man. They believed that eternal life was a reward for the good things done in this life.

But Jesus shocked them when He said, “With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV). The word “this” ties back the idea of salvation or the earning of eternal life. It is impossible for any man to earn his way into God’s kingdom. And not only that, it was going to be particularly difficult for the wealthy. Why? Because, like the young man who had just walked away, they would find their wealth to be a barrier to saving faith. Materialism has a way of masking our needs. It keeps us from recognizing our true spiritual poverty. Money can buy us a false sense of peace and security. It can make us feel invincible and invulnerable. 

And if you believe that your wealth is a sign of God’s blessing, you will have little impetus to see yourself as someone in need of God’s forgiveness.

This whole exchange began with Jesus describing the need for childlike faith. The disciples had been arguing over who was the greatest. They falsely viewed prominence and position as a sign of favor with God. But Jesus had told them, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3 ESV). Now, He was expanding on this thought by saying it was impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Why? Because a rich man lacked the humble, innocent, and completely dependent faith that displayed his need for God.

And Jesus stressed the sheer impossibility of it all by using an extremely ludicrous illustration. A rich man could no more earn his way into God’s kingdom than a camel could squeeze through the eye of a needle.

Always quick to share his opinion, Peter asked, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?”

It’s obvious that Peter was thinking of the words Jesus had spoken to the rich young man: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor” (Matthew 19:21 ESV). In Peter’s mind, he had done what Jesus had asked. He had sacrificed greatly in order to follow Jesus so, he wanted to know what was in it for him. What would be his reward? Remember what Jesus told the young man. If he sold all that he had and gave it to the poor, he would “have treasure in heaven.” So, Peter wanted to know what he was going to get for all of his sacrifices.

Jesus answered Peter’s question, but not in the way that he had hoped.

“Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” – Matthew 19:28-29 ESV

Jesus assured Peter that he would have a reward, but it would be far different than what he was expecting. Jesus revealed that there was a day coming when He would establish His kingdom on earth. He would sit on the throne of David and rule from Jerusalem. But that day was in the far-distant future. He was speaking of His millennial kingdom, which will take place after His second coming. And in that kingdom, the 12 disciples will receive their reward. They will rule over the 12 tribes of Israel. They will have positions of power and prominence. They will rule alongside the Messiah in His millennial kingdom.

But in the meantime, they were going to be called to sacrifice. The disciples would be required to give up far more than could imagine. Most of these men would end up sacrificing their lives on behalf of the kingdom of God. They would face persecution and difficulty. And Jesus had already warned them of the reality of their future fate.

“But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me. When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”  – Matthew 10:17-20 NLT

Their reward would be in the future. And it would be tied to eternal life in the kingdom of God. So, rather than seeking their reward in the here-and-now, they were to focus their attention on the hereafter. In this life, they would be required to sacrifice. They would have to die to self and serve God, not material things. Their faith was to be based on the future reward promised to them by God through Christ. They needed to stop viewing the kingdom from a worldly perspective. Wealth, power, and prominence in this life were no guarantees of eternal life. Salvation is a work of God. And nothing is impossible for Him. While we can never earn our salvation, God has made it possible for all who place childlike faith in His Son to receive the unmerited reward of life everlasting.

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

Present Sacrifice for Future Reward.

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” – Matthew 13:44-52 ESV

The kingdom of heaven, while not quite what the Jews had anticipated, was of great value and worth. While it failed to live up to the expectations of the Jews, for those who had eyes to see and ears to hear, the kingdom was worth any cost to obtain. That seems to be the point behind this small collection of parables.

But not only does the kingdom of heaven have great value, it will require considerable cost from those who choose to be a part of it. While salvation is free, made possible by the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross, it does require commitment. In the first parable, Jesus described a man who found a valuable treasure in a field. But the field did not belong to him, so the treasure was not legally his to possess. So, greatly desiring to make the treasure his own, he sold all his earthly possessions and used the money to purchase the field. He had discovered something in that field that no one else knew existed. And he recognized that it was of far greater value and worth than anything else he possessed.

Jesus had already told His disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23 NLT). And Matthew will later record Jesus telling His disciples, “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25 ESV). The kingdom life is a rich and satisfying life, but it does require commitment and come with significant costs.

A big part of the message that Jesus is trying to make with these parables is that the full benefit of the kingdom of heaven is future-oriented. Unlike the kingdom the Jews were expecting, the full significance of the one Jesus is describing will not be fully realized in this life. In fact, Jesus will later give the disciples some important details regarding life in His kingdom. Matthew records an encounter Jesus had with a young man who was very wealthy. This well-off and well-intentioned young man presented Jesus with a question: “what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:17 NLT). He was looking for the one thing he didn’t have and couldn’t buy: Eternal life. But he believed he could somehow earn it. So, Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21 NLT). But upon hearing these words from Jesus, the young man walked away dejectedly, “for he had many possessions” (Matthew 19:22 NLT).

Now, what Jesus says next is very important, because He told the disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 19:23 NLT). This statement blew the disciples away because, like all Jews, they believed wealth was a sign of a man’s righteousness and God’s blessing. So, Peter interpreted Jesus’ words as meaning that self-sacrifice was the key to reward, which is what led him to respond: “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?” (Matthew 19:27 NLT). Then Jesus replied:

28 “I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.” – Matthew 19:28-30 NLT

They would receive their reward in the future. The kingdom of heaven would not come to earth until the Son of Man sat on His glorious throne after His second coming. In the meantime, the sons of the kingdom would be required to sacrifice all in this life. Unlike the rich young man who refused to give up earthly treasures for a future heavenly reward, the disciples would find themselves sacrificing the temporal for the eternal.

Jesus’ second parable supports this point. A merchant in search of a pearl of great value finally finds what he has been looking for, and immediately sells all he has to possess it. He spares no expense to make this treasure his own. He considers his current possessions as expendable and any price he must pay, justifiable. Again, Jesus seems to be emphasizing the future reward of the kingdom. In both parables, the men had to sell all they had before they were able to enjoy the treasure they sought. This would have taken time. It would have required a period of great sacrifice and incredible commitment as they slowly sold off all they owned. The enjoyment of the reward would have had a built-in delay. And in the meantime, they would have experienced the obvious ramifications that accompanied the selling off of all their earthly possessions. Until the first man had raised the full price for the land and the second man was able to afford the cost of the pearl, they would have done without. But they were willing. For them, future reward was worth the price of present sacrifice.

The third parable Jesus told, while slightly different in nature, continues to support His overall premise. In this story, Jesus used common imagery to which His disciples would have been highly familiar. He described a fishing net being thrown into the sea. As any fisherman knew, this process would have taken time. The net would not immediately fill up with fish, but would do so over an extended period of time. Then, when the signs indicated that the net was full, the fishermen would have hauled it to the surface. At that point, there would be a process of sorting the catch, keeping some while throwing out others. And Jesus made His point perfectly clear, So it will be at the end of the age” (Matthew 13:49 ESV). At the present time, the net of the Gospel is in the “sea” of the world. It will one day be slowly gathered in, but not all who find themselves within the net will end up as part of the kingdom of heaven. There is a future day coming when Jesus will differentiate between the good and the bad, the saved and the lost, the sons of the kingdom and the sons of the evil one.

If you recall, Jesus has already taught His disciples that not everyone who calls Him, “Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven. Not all who appear to serve Him will be accepted by Him in His future kingdom.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ – Matthew 7:21-23 ESV

But for those who are willing to sacrifice now, their future reward will be great. Those who are sons and daughters of the kingdom will discover this life to be one of great cost. It will require endurance. It will demand commitment. But it will be well worth it.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…” – Matthew 5:10-12 ESV

Those who are willing to sacrifice now, placing their hope and trust in the future reward promised to them in Christ, will not be disappointed.

“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” – Matthew 25:21 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

Worldly Pleasures and Treasures.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. – Matthew 6:19-24 ESV

The kingdom life is an other-worldly life. It is not of this world. It is not natural to this world. It is marked by…

…heavenly values, not earthly ones

…an eternal perspective, not a temporal one

For the average Jew, material prosperity was seen as a sign of God’s blessing. Affluence was a proof of God’s approval. To have much was to be loved much by God. But in these verses, Jesus refutes that mindset.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures in earth…but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:19, 20, 21 ESV

Jesus is attempting to shift their focus from earth to heaven. He is promoting an eternal mindset over a temporal one. Solomon, the son of David and the great king of Israel once wrote:

I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless. So I said, “Laughter is silly. What good does it do to seek pleasure?” After much thought, I decided to cheer myself with wine. And while still seeking wisdom, I clutched at foolishness. In this way, I tried to experience the only happiness most people find during their brief life in this world.

I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire!

So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. – Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 NLT

It was all meaningless in the end. You can’t take it with you. And it can’t deliver what it promises. Jesus told a parable with a similar lesson:

“Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”

Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’

“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” – Luke 12:15-21 NLT

A right relationship with God for eternity versus a rich lifestyle that ends at death. The problem is not with the temporal things themselves, but our affections for them.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. – Colossians 3:1-4 NLT

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life. – 1 Timothy 6:17-19 NLT

Money and materialism are not the problem. It is the love of them

Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.

But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. – 1 Timothy 6:6-10 NLT

The treasures of this earth bring short-term returns on investment. They are temporal, not eternal. We are to treasure that which is lasting. And we are to set our eyes on the things of God. Which is what Jesus reveals in verse 22:

Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. – vs 22

The word, “healthy” in the Greek is haplous and it means “single, whole, singleness of purpose, undivided loyalty.” Jesus is saying that your eye, like a lamp, is to have a single purpose. And the one who is approved by God is to have unswerving loyalty to God’s kingdom purposes. He is talking about heart fidelity toward God. The good eye is the one fixed upon God, unwavering in its gaze, and constant in its focus. We should not suffer from a “wandering eye.” An eye with a single focus will have a single byproduct: Light (purity).

…but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. – vs 23

The word “bad” in the Greek is ponēros (pah-ney-rahs) and it means “bad, blind, or wicked.” Jesus is referring to a spiritual blindness or inability to focus on the right things. It results in darkness (devoid of God’s precepts). A dim light is a light without focus or purpose. It results in darkness. The one who is approved by God will live a life of single-mindedness.

A stingy man [a man whose eye is evil] hastens after wealth and does not know that poverty will come upon him. – Proverbs 28:22 ESV

Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy; [a man whose eye is evil] do not desire his delicacies. – Proverbs 23:6 ESV

Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, “The seventh year, the year of release is near,” and your eye look grudgingly [be evil] on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. – Deuteronomy 15:9 ESV

In verse 25, Jesus sums up this part of his message with a warning about duplicity or divided allegiance.

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” – Matthew 6:24 ESV

This is about loyalty. It forces us to ask the question, “What do we love most? The things of this earth or the kingdom of God?” During trials, our true allegiances get revealed. When we face the potential loss of those things we love dearly, it shows. You can’t serve the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this earth equally. We are to have an eternal perspective. When we love the things of this world, it becomes obvious. Our love shows up in the form of anxiety. Worry is a common malady to all men, regardless of income level or social status. We worry about not having enough or losing what we already have. Five times in 10 verses, Jesus uses the word, “anxious” and He will tie it to temporal, earthly things:

  • Life
  • Food and drink
  • The body
  • Clothes
  • The future (on earth)

But Jesus reminds us that those who are approved by God trust Him for all these things:

  • For life
  • For food and drink
  • For our bodies
  • For our clothes
  • For the future

We are to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Our allegiance is to be undivided – focusing on Him and Him alone. God knows what we need and He can provide for those needs. But notice His emphasis on NEEDS, and not wants. We have a tendency to turn wants into needs. It is not enough to be clothed – we want to be richly clothed. It is not enough to be fed – we want to be well fed. It is not enough to have health – want to be immune to all illness. It is not enough to have life – we have to have abundant life (on our terms). So we want and we worry. But when we make the things of this earth our focus, the desire for them produces unwarranted worry and unnecessary anxiety.

The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced. – Matthew 13:22 NLT

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7 NLT

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. – 1 Peter 5:6-7 NLT

Worldly pleasures and treasures produce divided allegiance and result in worry and stress. But when we make God our focus and the treasures He has laid up for us our greatest desire, we will be truly blessed and find that there is no reason to worry. Our God will meet all our needs, both now and for eternity.

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 of the Matter.

Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. 10 The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.

11 The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. 12 My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. Ecclesiastes 12:9-14 ESV

As Solomon wraps up his book, he seems to do so by providing his credentials as proof of the veracity of his words. Referring to himself in the third person, he restates the well-known fact of his wisdom, given to him by God. But he claims to have put a great deal of effort and energy into enhancing that wisdom with further insight and knowledge through the use of diligent study and research. Solomon had collected the wise sayings of the sages, putting many of them in the book of Proverbs. But he had not been content to simply collect and edit these sayings, producing them in written form for others to read. No, he says that his effort included “weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care” (Ecclesiastes 12:9 ESV). Solomon had tested these truths, taking the time and energy to determine their reliability and truthfulness. Like a metallurgist testing the quality of gold, to assess its true value, Solomon had proven the accuracy and soundness of each proverb before passing them on to the people. His goal had been to find teachings that would prove beneficial to life.

Solomon compares proverbs or wise sayings to a goad, a sharp stick used to prod animals along. Like a goad, proverbs are simple in nature, but highly memorable and powerful in terms of their impact. Like a sharp stick to the rump of a wayward cow, a proverb can cause a person who is straying from the truth to quickly course correct and realign their steps. He also compares proverbs to firmly fixed nails that keep things the way they were meant to be. They hold things in place, providing a sense of security and stability to life. Someone who lacks these time-proven truths or maxims, is left to learn the lessons of life the hard way: Through painful trial and error. And one of the reasons Solomon seems to have written this particular book was to pass on to those under his care the life lessons he had learned. As we’ve stated before, Solomon wrote this book near the end of his life, and he had a great deal of wisdom, gleaned from personal experience, that he sought to impart. In one of his proverbs, Solomon expressed this same desire to teach others what he had learned from life.

1 My children, listen when your father corrects you.
    Pay attention and learn good judgment,
for I am giving you good guidance.
    Don’t turn away from my instructions.
For I, too, was once my father’s son,
    tenderly loved as my mother’s only child. – Proverbs 4:1-3 NLT

10 My child, listen to me and do as I say,
    and you will have a long, good life.
11 I will teach you wisdom’s ways
    and lead you in straight paths. – Proverbs 4:10-11 NLT

And Solomon firmly believed that the proverbs he had collected had been given to him by God, making them divine instructions, not simply the words of men. That’s why he refers to them as having come from one shepherd. While their human authors were many in number, the truths these proverbs contained came from God alone. He is the author of all truth. And that’s why Solomon warned, “My son, beware of anything beyond these” (Ecclesiastes 12:12 ESV). There are countless books available and you could spend your lifetime searching and studying the written wisdom of men, but you would be wasting your time. And no one knew that better than Solomon himself, because he had done it. He knew it was all vanity, a chasing after the wind. The apostle Paul would fully agree with Solomon. In fact, he described the wisdom of men in less-than-flattering terms: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God” (1 Corinthians 3:19 NLT).  Earlier in that same letter, Paul asked and answered his own question regarding man’s so-called wisdom. “So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish” (1 Corinthians 1:20 NLT).

As Solomon prepares to wrap up his book and his life, he can’t help but come back to the one truth that held all his thoughts together. It is the one point of clarity in a long life filled with perplexities and incongruities. He refers to it as “the end of the matter.” It’s the summary or synopsis of life.

Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. – Ecclesiastes 12:13 ESV

Now, the thing missing in Solomon’s summary is an understanding and awareness of God’s future plans for his life. Like many in his day, Solomon had no clear concept of or theology concerning the afterlife. It was all a mystery to him. As far as he could tell, what existed beyond the grave was nothing more than a black hole.

Life after death was as enigmatic to him as the unequal distribution of justice. His emphasis was on this life (‘under the sun’) and its opportunities for service and enjoyment; he thought life after death offered no such opportunities. – Donald R. Glenn, “Ecclesiastes.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament

So, while Solomon’s admonition to fear God and keep His commandments sounds like solid, biblical counsel to us, we have to keep in mind that he is placing all his emphasis on the here-and-now. He knows that God is sovereign over all. He realizes that God controls all things and is the distributor of all good gifts. He can give and He can take away. So, from Solomon’s limited, earth-bound perspective, it made sense to keep God happy by fearing and obeying Him. That way, you could hope to enjoy in this life some of the blessings that only He can bestow. And when Solomon speaks of God’s judgment, he seems to have in mind a judgment that takes place in this life. His rewards or punishments are based on thoughts and behaviors committed in this life. He is fixated is on present, not future rewards. He is expecting all of God’s blessings to show up in this life, not the one to come. Because as far as Solomon could tell, there was no guarantee of a life after death.

But as believers in Jesus Christ, we have been given additional insight into God’s redemptive plan. We have the entirety of God’s Word to guide and instruct us. We know that there is a life after death. Jesus promised it. Paul wrote about it. The New Testament goes out of its way to describe it. Yes, there is a judgment, but it’s rewards are not temporal in nature. They are eternal. In his first letter, the apostle John told those who read its contents: “I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13 NLT). Jesus Himself promised: “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life” (John 5:24 NLT).

There is much we can learn from Solomon. But we have to take all that he wrote and combine it with what we have come to know since the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus. We have been provided with the end of the story, something Solomon did not have. So, when he said, this is “the end of the matter; all has been heard”, he was not quite right. There was more to come. As a matter of fact, the Savior of the world was to come, and He has. And it was His arrival on this earth in the form of a man, His sinless life, His sacrificial death and bodily resurrection that remove all the vanity, meaningless, futility and frustration from life. This world, while a wonderful gift from God to be enjoyed, is not all there is. There is far more to come.

Qoheleth’s intent in his writing is to pass judgment on man’s misguided endeavors at mastering life by pointing out its limits and mysteries. He would prefer that man replace such false and illusory hopes with a confidence based on the joy of creation as God’s gift. – Robert K. Johnston, “Confessions of a Workaholic’: A Reappraisal of Qoheleth.”

But even more important than enjoying God’s gift of creation, is placing our faith and hope in God’s offer of new creation. New hope. New life. New joy and the promise of a never-ending, frustration-free, sinless future with God.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

When the Afterlife Becomes an Afterthought.

Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.

So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.

Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.

10 Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity. Ecclesiastes 11:7-10 ESV

For Christians, reading the words of Solomon found in the book of Ecclesiastes can be a bit disconcerting. After all, we place a high priority on eternity and heaven. The New Testament is replete with encouraging words regarding both. In fact, right before He ascended into heaven, Jesus told His disciples:

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” – John 14:1-3 NLT

The apostle Paul wrote a great deal about the afterlife and always in glowing terms and with a great deal of eager anticipation. He told the believers in Corinth:

51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

54 Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die – 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 NLT

In his second letter to the same body of believers, he compared life on this earth in our physical bodies with the life to come, when we receive new, glorified bodies.

While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5:4-5 NLT

And yet, all throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon seems to paint the afterlife in a negative light, almost as if it is something to be avoided at all costs. How could this man, who had been given wisdom by God, and who had been called to lead the people of God, have such a dim view of eternal life? Part of what we must understand is that the Hebrews did not have a well-developed theology of heaven. Their concept of rewards, for instance, tended to focus on this life. Their understanding of the covenant relationship between God and His people was tied to earthly rewards and blessings. That’s why they viewed those who were wealthy as somehow blessed by God, and those who were poor or sick, as having been punished by God for some hidden sin they had committed. The great patriarch of the Hebrew faith, Abraham, had been blessed by God with flocks and herds. His reward was in this life. Solomon himself had been blessed by God with great wealth. It is not so much that the Hebrews did not believe in the afterlife, it is that they had no consistent idea of what it looked like. That was God’s domain. He alone knew what life after death held. And since men cannot see into the future, they were left to experience and enjoy all that this life has to offer – for as long as they could. The Torah, one of the most revered of all Jewish sacred texts, has little or nothing to say regarding the afterlife. The emphasis is placed on this life. And that is how Solomon has treated this entire book.

Even in the closing verses of the final chapter of Ecclesiastes, Solomon returns to his fear-filled view of death. He states:

So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity. – Ecclesiastes 11:8 ESV

Notice that he believes in some kind of existence after death, but he describes it as “days of darkness” and concludes that whatever comes after death will be vanity or a meaningless existence. Solomon understood that life carried with it the undeniable reality of a future judgment. He knew that God was holy and just. He recognized that there would be a day when God would mete out His judgment on all mankind, and no one could be fully assured how that would turn out. Solomon would have fully concurred with the words of the author of Hebrews: “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27 ESV). But what Solomon didn’t understand was the hope that the author of Hebrews had because of his faith in Christ. He immediately followed the previous statement with the encouraging, hope-filled words: “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28 ESV). Solomon’s advice was:

Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. – Ecclesiastes 11:9 ESV

In other words, live your life. Have a good time. Enjoy all the pleasures and joys that life has to offer, but always remember that there will be a judgment. God will one day reward you for how you lived your life on this earth. That was Solomon’s perspective. We can only imagine how his theological thinking had been skewed by the influence of all the false gods he had embraced. His religious views had to have been a toxic blend of pagan beliefs and Jewish doctrine. He was a man who wasn’t really sure what he believed in anymore, other than what he could see, touch, and taste. For Solomon, the unknown was nothing more than unknown. The afterlife was a mystery whose secrets were hidden from mere men. So, Solomon placed his emphasis on this life. He embraced each new day with a sense of hope, which is why he stated, “Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun” (Ecclesiastes 11:7 ESV). Waking up was a positive to Solomon, because it meant you hadn’t died in your sleep. Remember what Solomon said earlier in his book: “There is hope only for the living. As they say, ‘It’s better to be a live dog than a dead lion!’” (Ecclesiastes 9:4 NLT). Solomon is an old man, sharing his views on life and all that he has learned during his many days under the sun. And his final words in this book are directed at the young. “ Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity” (Ecclesiastes 11:10 ESV). In other words, stop worrying so much. Take care of yourself. Enjoy your youth while you can, because it is going to be gone before you know it. Like everything else in life, it is a vapor, here one day, gone the next. Before you know it, your youth will have been replaced by old age.

So, what do we do with all of this? How are we to respond to the words of Solomon. It seems that, far too often, we attempt to take the book of Ecclesiastes and treat it like his other book, Proverbs. We read Ecclesiastes, picking and choosing those verses or statements that have some kind of positive application to them. We seek out the wise sayings of Solomon about diligence, hard work, prudent investing, and the avoidance of foolish behavior. And there is nothing inherently wrong with that strategy. But the question we must ask is why the Spirit of God inspired Solomon to write this book in the first place. Why Solomon? And why was he prompted to write this book at the end of his life, not at the beginning? The book of Ecclesiastes provides us with a unvarnished glimpse into the life of a man who had it all, including a relationship with God. He had been raised by a man whom God described as a man after His own heart. Solomon had been given every opportunity in life. He had been provided with the privilege of building the temple for God. He had been blessed with wisdom from God. But at some point in his life, Solomon walked away from God. He allowed himself to become obsessed with his possessions. He compromised his convictions. He made false gods of equal value to the one true God. And if we are not careful, we can fall into the same trap. Even as believers in Christ, we can allow ourselves to be lulled into a sense of spiritual complacency and moral compromise, searching for meaning and purpose in life from the things of this world. The book of Ecclesiastes was not meant to be a stand-alone reference for godly living. It is one book among 66 books that make up the entirety of God’s inspired Word. The Scriptures are to be read in their entirety, so that they can provide us with a well-balanced, Spirit-inspired understanding of God and our relationship with Him. It is essential that we take the views expressed by Solomon and compare and contrast them with those of the New Testament writers. When we read the words of the apostle John, found in his first epistle, we begin to get a clearer view of what it was that Solomon was missing in his book.

15 Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. 17 And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

This world is a wonderful place, created by God for our enjoyment. But it is fallen and suffering from the effects of sin. Everything has been marred by the fall, including mankind. God has provided us with tremendous blessings in this life. This planet provides us with incredible pleasures to be enjoyed as gifts from the hand of God. But we must never lose sight of the fact that there is something far greater to come. This world is not all there is. Our faith is in God and our hope is in what He has planned for us in the future. And that preferred future is available only through faith in His Son. And there is no better way to summarize the final words of Solomon than by listening to the words of Jesus Himself.

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. 20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” – John 3:16-21 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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