Self-Inflicted Suffering

15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. 1 Peter 4:15-19 ESV

As a student of human nature, Peter felt the need to address the topic of self-inflicted suffering. He knew from his own experience that not all suffering was for righteousness’ sake. His three-part denial of Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest had resulted in a period of prolonged emotional suffering. The shame and humiliation he bore for having denied the one very whom he had confessed to being the Messiah had left him devastated and demoralized. And he did not want his brothers and sisters in Christ to confuse suffering for the sake of sin with suffering for the sake of righteousness. That’s why he told them:

…remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time here as “temporary residents.” – 1 Peter 1:17 NLT

The whole point of Peter’s letter was to encourage godly living among those who were privileged to be called the sons and daughters of God. He had been very clear regarding his expectation of their behavior.

God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. – 1 Peter 2:21 NLT

To do good was to emulate the character of Christ Himself. It was to live as Christ lived. And that kind of selfless, obedient, and righteous lifestyle would result in suffering. It wasn’t a matter of if, but of when. Those who followed Christ would experience the same resistance and rejection that He did. Their attempts to spread the gospel of the kingdom and demonstrate its power through their own reconciled lives would be met with hatred and hostility. But Peter reminded them, “if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you” (1 Peter 2L20 NLT).

Suffering was inevitable. But Peter wanted his readers to know that there were two different causes for suffering and they were not to be confused. Living for Christ was a sure-fire way to experience suffering. The world hated Him and it would hate His own. But Peter reminded the recipients of his letter “if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats” (1 Peter 3:14 NLT). Righteous suffering in this life would be graciously rewarded in the next one.

But every minute of every day, believers are faced with the constant decision to choose right or wrong. They must decide whether they will live in the flesh or according to the power of the Holy Spirit. They can choose to live in obedience to God and suffer the rejection and ridicule of the world, or they can choose to compromise their convictions and live according to their old sinful nature. But that decision will also result in suffering.

Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong! – 1 Peter 3:17 NLT

Sinful decisions always produce sinful consequences. But when believers choose to live in disobedience to God’s will, their choices result in God’s loving discipline.

“My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and don’t give up when he corrects you.
For the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” – Hebrews 12:5-6 NLT

After quoting from the Old Testament book of Proverbs, the author of Hebrews went on to explain, “If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all” (Hebrews 12:8 NLT). The loving discipline of God can be painful but it is a reminder of His love. Yet Peter would prefer that his believing friends avoid that kind of painful discipline by staying away from such things as “murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs” (1 Peter 4:15 NLT).

It is not clear why Peter chose to list these four particular sins. But each of them reflects a decision to do harm to another individual. They are inherently selfish sins that show no care or concern for the other person. Peter seems to be describing four different ways of life: That of a murderer, a thief, a troublemaker, or a meddler. These four ungodly pursuits stand in stark contrast to the life of a Christian. Those who practice such behavior deserver to suffer and bring shame upon themselves – even among the unbelieving world. “But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian” (1 Peter 4:16 NLT). A murderer will not only suffer the penalty for his crime but he will have to endure the added pain of public shame. He will get what he deserves.

But while a Christian might suffer for doing what is good, he will have no reason to be ashamed. He can hold his head high because he is doing the will of his Heavenly Father. He is following in the footsteps of Jesus.

One of the things Peter wants his readers to understand is that their suffering is relegated to this life. As long as they live in this world, they will be “temporary residents and foreigners” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT), and they will experience the unpleasant reality of living as strangers in a strange land. But their eternal future will be suffering-free. Paul gave a similar admonition to the believers in Corinth.

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NLT

And Paul told the believers in Rome the very same thing.

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

And Jesus told His disciples, “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” (John 3:18 NLT). For the believer, the future holds no judgment or suffering. Yet, for all those who refuse to accept Jesus as their Savior, the future is one of judgment and eternal suffering. That is why Peter states, “what terrible fate awaits those who have never obeyed God’s Good News” (1 Peter 4:17 NLT).

Peter understood the reality of God’s coming judgment against sinful mankind. He alluded to the fact that we live in a time of judgment. As Jesus stated, mankind lives under the righteous wrath of God and already stands judged and condemned by Him. Their only hope is to be found in Jesus. But rather than turning to Him in faith, they were turning their hatred of Him on His followers. It was just as Jesus had said it would be.

“The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. – John 15:19 NLT

The world is “judging” God’s people. That is what Peter means when he writes, “the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household” (1 Peter 4:17 NLT). The sinful are judging the righteous. But the day is coming when the Righteous One will judge the sinful. All those who have refused to accept the gracious gift of salvation made possible through the sacrificial death of Jesus will face the Great White Throne Judgment and an eternity marked by suffering and pain.

Peter paraphrases Psalm 11:31 in an attempt to illustrate the difficulty with which the believer must navigate from this life to the next. It will not be easy. We are “barely saved” in the sense that our future glorification is preceded by suffering and pain in this life. Again, Peter’s emphasis is on present suffering and future glorification. This is exactly what Jesus was referring to in His Sermon on the Mount.

“For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” – Matthew 7:14 ESV

Peter is unsparing in his disclosure that this life will not be easy for the follower of Christ. It will be marked by pain and suffering. But we are to remember that all our suffering takes place this side of glory. For us, eternity is suffering and judgment-free.

“He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,’ and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:3-4 BSB

So, that is why Peter was able to provide his readers with the following words of encouragement.

So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you. – 1 Peter 4:19 NLT

You can suffer now or you can suffer later. For the believer, the choice is a simple one. It makes much more sense to suffer the momentary light afflictions of this life, knowing that there will be no more pain, suffering, or judgment in the life to come.

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

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

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

More Than Alive

50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God. Luke 24:50-53 ESV

What’s Up with the Ascension?Luke is a stickler for details. So, it’s not surprising that he adds a very subtle but significant factor when describing the final moments of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He points out that Jesus led His disciples “out as far as Bethany” (Luke 24:50 ESV). This was the same village, located just a few miles east of Jerusalem, where Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. He was returning to the very spot where He had earlier told Martha, the sister of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die” (John 11:25-26 NLT).

According to the apostle Paul, between the time Jesus walked out of the tomb to the moment He stood before His disciples in Bethany, He had appeared to hundreds of individuals in His resurrected form.

He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. – 1 Corinthians 5:4-8 NLT

So, as He stood among His disciples in Bethany, the scene of Lazarus’ death-to-life transformation, there was little doubt in their minds that He truly was “the resurrection and the life.” He was the literal epicenter for all hope of resurrection. Lazarus had been raised from death to life, but he had not been resurrected. His earthly body had been resuscitated, which is a miracle in and of itself, but he would live to die again. In other words, Lazarus’ new life was nothing more than his old one regained.

But what Jesus had said to Martha regarding the resurrection was something altogether different. He told her, “Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die” (John 11:26 NLT). To experience the resurrected life was to enjoy eternal life – a never-ending experience of life without pain, suffering, or physical death. It’s fascinating to consider that Jesus chose Bethany the point of departure for His ascension back to heaven. He had a new body that was prepared for its eternal existence with God the Father. Yes, He still retained the scars and visible wounds He had suffered during His crucifixion, but His “earthly tent” had been transformed into into its glorified state. The apostle Paul talked about this “eternal body” and its implications for all believers.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without 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… – 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 NLT

I don’t think it’s farfetched to consider that Lazarus was in the crowd that day. He was a faithful follower of Jesus and was eternally grateful for the miracle of new life that Jesus had given him. But as Lazarus looked on, he was still inhabiting his old earthly tent, while Jesus stood before him in His new “house,” a heavenly body prepared for the joys of eternal life.

For Jesus, the goal was not restored life, but resurrected life. While Judas was living proof that Jesus could raise the physically dead back to life, that had not been His primary objective. New life was not enough. What sinful man really needs is resurrected life.  The apostle Paul would drive home this point in his first letter to the believers in Corinth.

…if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. – 1 Corinthians 15:13-14 NLT

Belief in a reanimated of a formerly dead Jew was not going to be enough. Jesus wasn’t just another Lazarus – a dead man who had been restored to life. He was the resurrected and glorified Son of God. And it was His resurrection, not His resuscitation that made the difference. Consider what Paul wrote.

…if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. – 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 NLT

The point Paul was trying to make was that Jesus was not simply alive. He is the living hope for all those who have died. His resurrection was not an offer of renewed life on this earth but of eternal life in the coming Kingdom of God. And His resurrection was to stand as a guarantee of all the resurrections to come.

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

And then, Paul went on to compare Jesus to Adam.

So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.– 1 Corinthians 15:21-23 NLT

What’s important to consider is an often overlooked exchange that took place between Jesus and His disciples as they gathered together in Bethany. Luke records this conversation in the opening chapter of the book of Acts.

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” – Acts 1:6 NLT

As they stood looking at the resurrected Jesus, all they could think about was the fact that He was alive. Just days earlier, Jesus had been a corpse in a tomb. But now, He stood before them in the peak of health and what they hoped would be full fighting form. Their question reveals that they were still hoping Jesus was going to set up His kingdom on earth. They had not given up hope that Jesus would finally declare His Messiahship by overthrowing the Romans and establishing His reign over Israel. Now that He was alive, there was no time like the present.

But Jesus burst their bubble by announcing, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8 NLT).

They had their sights set on a display of military power that would put Israel back on the map. But Jesus promised them a far different kind of power – that which would come from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And the only way that kind of power would become available was if the resurrected Jesus returned to His Father’s side. And according to the gospels and the book of Acts, that is exactly what happened. 

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

and lifting his hands to heaven, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up to heaven. – Luke 24:50-51 NLT 

When the Lord Jesus had finished talking with them, he was taken up into heaven and sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. – Mark 16:19 NLT

In his gospel account, Luke records that they “worshiped him and then returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy. And they spent all of their time in the Temple, praising God” (Luke 24:52-53 NLT). But it seems that in between the time he wrote his gospel and then penned the book of Acts, Luke had gained further details concerning that fateful day. Through interviews or word of mouth, he discovered that the disciples had experienced one last divine encounter. Two angels had appeared and confronted them about their apparent delay in returning to Jerusalem.

“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 1:11 NLT

They were standing there, probably slack-jawed and dumbfounded, as their able-bodied, fully alive Messiah slowly disappeared from sight. They had been hoping He would stay and fulfill all their hopes concerning the Kingdom of God. But He was leaving so that they might one day experience the reality of their own resurrections and the joy of life in His eternal Kingdom. And it was news of His promised return that filled them with joy and sent them back to Jerusalem in a state of heartfelt worship and praise. And we too should rejoice and worship the King for the unwavering promise of His return.

“Surely I am coming soon.” – Revelation 22:20 ESV

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

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

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

A Powerful, Parenthetical Statement

33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”  Luke 23:33-43 ESV

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 9.10.59 AMThe crucifixion is a well-known and highly venerated part of Jesus’ earthly life. It is the fulcrum upon which the message of the Gospel balances. His sacrificial death on behalf of sinful mankind is what makes the Gospel good news. Had He not died, there would be no remission for sin. God’s righteous indignation for the rebellion of mankind against His sovereign rule would remain unsatisfied. The debt that sinful men owed to a holy and righteous God would remain unpaid. The penalty of death and the subsequent separation from God for all eternity would still loom large over the lives of every single human being, with no hope of a solution to their dilemma.

But Jesus died. And that scene, described by the gospel writers, has been illustrated in countless ways by a vast array of painters, sculptures, and artisans. And while most are familiar with the details surrounding this well-documented scene, there is one aspect that begs further examination and concentration. Matthew records, “two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left” (Matthew 27:38 ESV). John puts it this way: “they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them” (John 19:18 ESV). And Luke adds, “they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left” (Luke 23:33 ESV).

It is fascinating to consider what these statements reveal. While we’re familiar with the idea of Jesus being crucified alongside two common criminals, we probably haven’t given this aspect of His death much thought. After all, there is so much going on in the story that appears to be of greater importance, that the deaths of these two unknown criminals appear to have no significance. Other than the conflicting statements each of them makes to Jesus while they are being crucified, these men seem to be little more than side notes in this grand drama.

And yet the gospel writers, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, make it a point to include these two men in their descriptions of Jesus’ death. And John makes it clear that they were crucified on either side of Jesus. In a sense, their crosses bracketed that of Jesus. And, as has been depicted in so many artistic renderings of the scene, John describes Jesus as hanging on the middle cross. Don’t overlook the scene as it is presented by the gospel writers. On either side of Jesus was a criminal, an unknown and unnamed individual whose guilt had warranted his execution. Each of them deserved to die. In fact, one of these men would freely admit their guilt and the appropriate nature of their executions.

“We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” – Luke 23:41 ESV

Why is this important? It is because this scene depicts the sinless Son of God surrounded by two sinful men. He is innocent, while they are guilty. They are receiving the just punishment for their sins, while He is dying as a substitute for their sins and the sins of all mankind. In a sense, these two men form a kind of human parenthesis, with Jesus, the focal point of all human history, located between them.

One of the men, unrepentant and angry at his fate, shouts at Jesus, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39 ESV). While the other man, just as sinful and just as deserving of his death, cries out, “remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42 ESV). Two sinners, but two distinctly different responses to the Savior in their midst.

All three men were being executed for the crimes of which they had been accused. But one man, the one in the middle, was guiltless. The Jewish religious leaders had accused Him of blasphemy – of claiming to be the Son of God. Jesus had displayed the audacity and arrogance to declare Himself as divine. And they found His boasts unthinkable and unacceptable. 

But Jesus was the Son of God. He had been speaking truth, not blasphemy. He was innocent. Even the words inscribed on the sign attached to the cross of Jesus were intended to describe His crime: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

John records that the words on this placard had been placed there by the command of Pilate. And the charge it carried had been written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. The Jewish religious leaders had been incensed at the words inscribed on the sign and had demanded that Pilate have them altered. They wanted the statement amended to say, “This man said, I am King of the Jews” (John 19:21 ESV).

But Pilate had refused to change a thing. The sign remained, and the charge stuck. And of this particular charge, Jesus was guilty. He was the King of the Jews. He was guilty of being exactly who He had claimed to be all along. He was the Messiah of Israel, but His own people had rejected Him. He was the sovereign King of the nation of Israel, but they had refused to acknowledge Him as such. Just as the ancient Israelites had rejected God as their King and had demanded that He give them a king like all the other nations, the Jews of Jesus day had rejected the King of kings.

Three men, all accused of crimes. Two of them were guilty as charged, having broken the laws of the land. Their crimes were deserving of death, and they were simply receiving what the law required. But the man in the middle, Jesus of Nazareth, was only guilty of being who He claimed to be: The King of the Jews. He was dying because He was the Savior of the world. He was dying in order to save the world. He was sinless, and yet He would die a sinner’s death. He was completely blameless, and yet He would willingly take on the sins of mankind in order that the penalty for our sins could be marked “paid in full” by God.

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. – 1 Peter 2:24 NLT

God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. – Romans 3:24-25 NLT

It is no coincidence that as Jesus hung on the cross, He was bracketed by two guilty sinners who were experiencing the just punishment for their crimes. In-between them hung the Savior of the world. They both had access to Him. They could both see Him and hear the words He spoke. But one chose to curse and insult Him, while the other begged to be remembered by Him. In the midst of his pain and suffering, caused by his own sinful choices, this man called out to Jesus, and he received a response.

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 27:43 ESV

And that’s the way it has always been. The life of Jesus has always been bracketed by two parenthetical marks, in the form of two diametrically opposed responses made by equally guilty sinners. One sees Jesus as nothing more than a man, equally hopeless and helpless to do anything about the sinful condition of mankind. But the other sees the suffering, yet sinless Savior who has a kingdom and the power to restore life to all those who submit to His Lordship. Jesus came to the world, a place filled with darkness and mired in sin. He inserted Himself into the hopeless state that plagued mankind and provided a solution to man’s condition. And John puts it in terms that describe why Jesus’ death between two sinners forms the great parenthesis.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. – John 1:10-13 NLT

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

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

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

A Simple Story with a Sobering Message

18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” – Luke 16:18-31 ESV

At first glance, this section of Luke 16 seems to come out of left field. It appears to lack any context. There has been no change of venue or scene, and yet, suddenly and unexpectedly, Jesus starts talking about divorce, adultery, remarriage, and the law. But the key to understanding this apparent shift in topic is found in verse 15, where Jesus pointedly addresses His adversaries, the Pharisees, brusquely pointing out the nature of their problem:

You are the ones who justify yourselves in men’s eyes, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly prized among men is utterly detestable in God’s sight.” – Luke 16:15 NET

Jesus had just disclosed that it is impossible to serve God and money at the same time. Whoever tries will “will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Luke 16:13 NLT). And the Pharisees, whom Luke reports “dearly loved their money, heard all this and scoffed at him” (Luke 16:14 NLT). They found Jesus’ parable about the dishonest manager to be ridiculous and His comments concerning unrighteous wealth and true riches to be laughable. Obviously, his poor and uneducated Rabbi from Nazareth had not been blessed with great wealth as they had. They believed their superior social standing to be a direct reward for their faithful obedience to God’s commands.

But Jesus won’t let them take the high ground. He exposed them for what they really are: Men who love money, covet the praise of men, and pride themselves on being the spiritual elite of Israel. Their apparent allegiance to the law was simply a means to an end. It earned them the awe and reverence of the masses. They were looked upon as the religious rock stars of their day, holy men who lived in perfect obedience to the Mosaic Law. Yet Jesus knew the truth. These pious religious leaders spent far too much time justifying themselves in the eyes of men when they should have been worrying about what God thought about them.

Earlier, Jesus had given His disciples a sobering warning concerning the Pharisees.

“Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees—their hypocrisy. The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all.” – Luke 12:1-2 NLT

Their true natures would eventually be revealed for all to see. Their cleverly disguised hatred for Jesus would come to light when they forcefully arrested Him and dragged Him before Pilate, the Roman governor. There they would level false accusations against Him, demanding that Jesus be put to death for posing a threat against the Roman government. It was all be based on lies, but they would eventually convince Pilate to crucify Jesus. But Jesus, knowing exactly what the Pharisees had planned for Him, told His disciples, “don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear” (Luke 12:4-5 NLT). And that same warning applied to the Pharisees. That’s why they needed to show far greater concern about God’s assessment of their lives, rather than trying to impress their peers and the peasants.

Back to Luke 16. Beginning in verse 14, Jesus exposes the Pharisees’ lack of understanding of what is taking place right in front of their eyes. The kingdom of God that the law and the prophets predicted has appeared in their midst. Jesus, the Messiah of Israel has come to earth, and His arrival has inaugurated a new age.

“The law and the prophets were in force until John; since then, the good news of the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is urged to enter it.” – Luke 16:16 NET

In a sense, John the Baptist was the last of the old-school prophets. He came proclaiming the coming of the kingdom.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 3:2 ESV

But John, like all the prophets before him, added a message of judgment.

“Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:10 ESV

John called the people to be baptized, and he clarified that it was intended to illustrate their willingness to turn from their sinful ways. He even told the Pharisees to “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8 ESV). John believed that Jesus, in His role as the long-awaited Messiah, would be bringing judgment.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” – Matthew 3:11-12 ESV

But Jesus had come to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). He had told His disciples that His incarnation had been intended to make salvation available to those who already stood condemned before God.

“I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” – John 12:46-48 ESV

Jesus was offering sinful men and women a means of finding favor with God that was not based on human effort. The law of God had never been intended to provide salvation. According to the apostle Paul, the law was “given…to show people their sins” (Galatians 3:19 NLT). In his letter to the Romans, Paul expands on this thought by adding, “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins” (Romans 8:3 NLT). 

All of this helps us better understand what Jesus is saying in the closing verses of Luke 16. He is attempting to explain the significance of His incarnation. He is the king of Israel whom the prophets and the law foretold, and He has brought His kingdom or, better yet, His kingly right to rule. He is the Son of God and the anointed Savior of the world. And everything He is doing and will do is in fulfillment of the law and prophets. That is why He declared, “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void” (Luke 16:18 ESV). Nothing and no one was going to stand in His way – not even the Pharisees. Jesus was faithfully fulfilling the will of His Heavenly Father. And, even after His resurrection, He would tell His disciples:

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” – Luke 24:44 ESV

Yet, while Jesus was busy fulfilling the law, the Pharisees were doing it great harm. They were adding to it and creating loopholes for it. They were constantly coming up with ways to make its observance easier by designing clever workarounds. Even its clear teaching regarding divorce and remarriage had been diluted through their efforts. Adultery had become commonplace and the Pharisees had played a major role in justifying its ubiquitous existence among the Jews. This led Jesus to reiterate God’s unwavering outlook regarding divorce.

“Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. – Luke 16:18 ESV

Then Jesus followed this up with a rather interesting story. One of the first things we need to understand is that this story is descriptive and not intended to be prescriptive. In other words, Jesus is not teaching a doctrinal truth about heaven and hell, this life or the afterlife. He is simply telling a story designed to expose the erroneous beliefs of the Pharisees. They are represented in the story by the rich man who enjoyed great wealth in this life. But he proved to be uncaring and uncompassionate to the needy in his midst. In fact, every day he callously overlooked the sorry state of a poor man named Lazarus. In the story, both men die, and that’s where it gets interesting. Contrary to the common view among the Jews of Jesus’ day, the poor man ends up in heaven, while the rich man finds himself suffering in Hades. This would have been a shock to everyone that heard the story, and that was Jesus’ intent.

The rich man, stunned at this unexpected turn of events, begged God to show him mercy. And notice that he asks that God send Lazarus to do for him what he had refused to do for Lazarus all those years. Now that he was suffering, he wanted Lazarus to relieve his anguish. But God gave the rich man some very bad news.

“Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish.” – Luke 16:25 NLT

As stated earlier, this parable is not meant to be a treatise on heaven and hell. Jesus was not suggesting that there are lines of communication between Hades and heaven. Jesus does not tell us how the rich man knew that Lazarus was in heaven because that is not the point of his story. The point of the story is found in its closing verses, where Jesus brings back up the law and the prophets.

“Then the rich man said, ‘Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home. For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment.’

“But Abraham said, ‘Moses and the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read what they wrote.’” – Luke 16:27-29 ESV

The law contained all they needed to know about the treatment of the needy and oppressed. And the prophets had more than clarified what God would do to all those who chose to disobey His laws. The rich man’s brothers stood condemned because they refused to obey.

But, unswayed by the words of Abraham, the rich man continued to beg, stating, “if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God” (Luke 16:30 NLT). And this is where Jesus drives home the real point of his story.

“But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” – Luke 16:31 NLT

Subtly, but oh so clearly, Jesus reveals the underlying problem of the Pharisees. They were so arrogantly confident in their standing before God, that they refused to heed the warnings of Scripture. Jesus, the Son of God, stood before them and they refused to acknowledge Him. And even when He died and rose again, they would still reject His claims to be the Messiah.

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

Enter While the Door Is Open

22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” – Luke 13:22-30 ESV

Luke makes it clear that Jesus has a destiny in mind: The city of Jerusalem. He is slowly making His way to the city of David, where the disciples hope He will establish His kingdom, once and for all. But Jesus has a different destiny in mind. He has repeatedly revealed to His disciples that suffering, arrest, and execution await Him in Jerusalem.

And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” – Mark 10:32-34 ESV

Jesus had first introduced this unsettling topic while He and the disciples were in Caesarea Philippi.

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. – Mark 8:31 ESV

And He had reiterated the same depressing news while they were still in Galilee.

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” – Mark 9:30-31 ESV

And Mark revealed that the disciples “did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him” (Mark 9:32 ESV). Their inability to process this information is understandable because it did not fit their expectations of the Messiah. They had been anticipating a conquering king, not a suffering servant. And it seems that they were not the only ones who were perplexed by Jesus’ increasing use of strangely foreboding rhetoric concerning death, judgment, and the coming kingdom of God.

One of the things we fail to remember is that many of those in Jesus’ retinue had been with Him since His sermon on the mount. These followers had heard Him deliver countless messages on a variety of topics, and they had been trying to put all the pieces together. So, it is not surprising when Luke records, yet again, someone in the crowd asking Jesus a clarifying question: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (Luke 13:23 ESV). Perhaps this individual had been present when Jesus gave His sermon on the mount and had heard Him discuss the narrow gate:

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. – Matthew 7:13-14 ESV

Or they could have been an eye-witness to Jesus’ encounter with the rich man who had asked Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17 ESV). Jesus had told the man to “sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21 ESV), but the man walked away disheartened and disappointed because he had great wealth. Which had led Jesus to proclaim:

“How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” – Mark 10:23-26 ESV

Jesus seemed to be presenting a kind of salvation that was exclusive and far from universal. To the Jewish way of thinking, rich people were obviously blessed by God, so if they were restricted from entering the kingdom, what hope was there for everyone else. If the gate was narrow and only a handful would make it through, then what hope did the average Jew have of ever entering the kingdom of God? Yet Jesus responded to his questioner with words of encouragement.

“Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. – Luke 13:24 ESV

He picked up the same message He had delivered during His sermon on the mount, reiterating the exclusivity of the kingdom, but promoting the value of striving after it. While not everyone would be able to enter the narrow door, it was still worthy of pursuit. And the time to seek entrance was now because the day would come when that door was no longer open. Jesus infers that there is a limited opportunity and time frame during which access to the kingdom will be available.

Years later, the apostle Paul would urge the unbelievers in Corinth to understand the timeliness of the gospel and respond while they had the opportunity.

As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it. For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation. – 2 Corinthians 6:1-2 NLT

Jesus makes it clear that the day will come when the door of opportunity will shut. The day of salvation will come to an end and time will run out, leaving many standing outside the door begging, “Lord, open to us” (Luke 13:25 ESV). But it will be too little, too late. The Lord will answer them, “I do not know where you come from” (Luke 13:25 ESV).

Once again, Jesus reaches back into His earlier sermon on the mount, reintroducing the same concepts of exclusivity and accessibility regarding the kingdom of heaven.

“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. 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?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” – Matthew 7:21-23 ESV

Jesus reveals that the day will come when many will find themselves standing outside the kingdom demanding entrance. They will be shocked to discover that they lack the proper credentials for entrance into the kingdom. Their Hebrew heritage will not suffice. Their lengthy list of good deeds done in Jesus’ name will not be enough. Even their ability to emulate the works of Jesus will fail to help their cause.

Jesus even suggests that their good deeds done in His name will be exposed as nothing less than evil. The words of the prophet Isaiah will be proven true.

We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:6 NLT

And Jesus drops another truth bomb on His audience that must have left them shaking their heads in confusion and consternation. He reveals that not only will there be many who think they deserve entrance into God’s kingdom standing on the outside looking in, but their predicament will be permanent and painful. And His message seems to be directed at those Jews in His audience, like the Pharisees, who believed they were guaranteed a spot in the kingdom. He breaks the news to them that their destiny will not be what they were expecting.

In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. – Luke 13:28 ESV

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Jesus informs them that there will be others who occupy the places they thought would be reserved for them. People from outside the confines of Israel will be sitting alongside Abraham and the patriarchs, enjoying fellowship in the kingdom of heaven, while card-carrying Jews will find themselves unwelcome and unworthy to join in the festivities. And Jesus informs His audience that power, prominence, and prestige in this life are no guarantee for entrance into eternal life.

“…some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” – Luke 13:30 ESV

The apostle Paul would later reveal the only requirement for entrance into the kingdom of God, and it would have nothing to do with ethnicity, religiosity, or works of piety.

…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” – Romans 10:9-13 ESV

So, the answer to the question, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” is yes. But the good news is that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” As Jesus told His disciples, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved” (John 10:9 ESV).

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

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

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

The Time of Salvation

49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

57 “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. 59 I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.” – Luke 12:49-59 ESV

Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem where, according to His own words, “He will be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He will be killed, but on the third day he will be raised from the dead” (Luke 9:22 NLT). And as He and His disciples move closer to the capital city and His final fate, He continues to prepare them for what the future holds. The coming days will not turn out quite the way they had anticipated them. They were fully expecting Jesus to set up His earthly kingdom and restore the nation of Israel to its former glory.

Yet Jesus has been talking about the future kingdom in ways that made it sound as if it wasn’t coming any time soon. He even told them a parable about a master who went on a journey to celebrate a wedding feast. And the master’s servants were instructed to stay alert and prepared for his inevitable return. He could show up unannounced at any moment, and “The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded” (Luke 12:37 ESV).

And Jesus warned His disciples, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Luke 12:40 ESV). These words must have left the disciples scratching their heads in confusion. Here He was standing in their midst and yet He continued to talk about going away and coming back. They were perplexed by Jesus’ rhetoric and having a difficult time reconciling His words with their own expectations.

It would not be long before Jesus announced to them, “Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going” (John 13:33 NLT). And the always impulsive Peter will respond by asking, “Lord, where are you going?” (John 13:36 NLT). The answer provided by Jesus will leave them all more confused than comforted.

“You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.” – John 13:36 NLT

The closing days of Jesus’ earthly ministry were filled with insightful instructions for His disciples that were intended to prepare them for the inevitable but unexpected conclusion to His life. He had been slowly revealing the details concerning the true nature of His mission and trying to encourage them with words of comfort.

“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. And you know the way to where I am going.” – John 14:1-4 NLT

On this occasion, it was Thomas who spoke up, revealing his frustration and confusion over Jesus’ words.

“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” – John 14:5 NLT

Jesus had a way of mixing candor with cryptic-sounding statements that left His listener’s ears ringing. He could express something in easy-to-understand language and then follow it up with a statement that seemed to make no sense whatsoever. And this was just such a case. As His disciples listened with increasing anxiety and confusion, Jesus stated, “I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning! I have a terrible baptism of suffering ahead of me, and I am under a heavy burden until it is accomplished. Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other!” (Luke 12:49-51 NLT).

Even as we read these words from this side of the cross, we have a difficult time discerning what Jesus was trying to say. What did He mean when He said He came to set the earth on fire? And why did He claim that He had come to cause division? For the disciples, these words were particularly perplexing. They had no concept of the cross or of the Messiah’s sacrificial death as payment for the sins of mankind. They also had no way of knowing how divisive the message of the Gospel was going to become. The good news of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection was going to become a point of contention that divided the world into two opposing factions: Believers and unbelievers.

Jesus even quotes the Old Testament prophet, Micah, insinuating that He was about to fulfill what Micah had written centuries earlier.

From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against—or two in favor and three against.

‘Father will be divided against son
    and son against father;
mother against daughter
    and daughter against mother;
and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law
    and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’– Luke 12:52-53 NLT

Little did the disciples know that their future would be marked by division. Rather than witnessing the unification of the nation under the righteous rule of the newly crowned Messiah, they were about to see the splintering of society as people were forced to choose sides. Would they believe that Jesus rose from the dead and accept His offer of eternal life and forgiveness of sins, or would they turn their backs on God’s gracious gift of salvation?

The day was coming when all would have to decide for themselves. And Jesus turns His attention to the crowd who stood by listening to His words. He warned them to discern the times. They were adept at predicting the weather by looking at the clouds, but they were unable to recognize the unique nature of the days in which they lived. They were walking alongside the Messiah of Israel and watching Him display the power of God through His many miracles. But they remained blind and oblivious to the signs that pointed to His true identity. And the same could be said of the 12 disciples.

What is so important to understand in all of this is how Jesus was continually pointing His disciples to the final stage of His mission. He has already told them that it is the “Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32 ESV). And rather than wasting their time worrying over temporal things like food and clothing, Jesus had encouraged them to “seek his [the Father’s] kingdom” (Luke 12:31 ESV).

In just a few chapters, Luke will record an exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. they will ask Him, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” (Luke 17:20 NLT), and Jesus will respond, The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you” (Luke 17:20-21 NLT). Jesus understood that these men were demanding some kind of miraculous sign that would prove His claim to be the Messiah. And they weren’t expecting Him to heal or cast out a demon. They wanted something more substantial that would prove He had the power to defeat the Romans. But Jesus simply states the Kingdom of God was already in their midst. It was Him. He was all the proof they needed. And while He might not be doing the things they expected the Messiah to do, that did not invalidate His identity in any way.

What the Pharisees failed to understand was the divine timeline concerning the Messiah. There was a preordained sequence of events that must take place. First, Jesus had to die, be buried, then be raised back to life. That would be followed up by His ascension and the Holy Spirit’s coming, which would usher in the church age. At the end of that period of time, Jesus will return for His bride, the Church. Then the seven years of tribulation will begin, which will culminate with the Second Coming of Christ and the judgment of the world. That is exactly what Jesus alludes to when He says, “I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning!” (Luke 12:49 NLT).

His Second Coming will bring closure to this age. It will usher in the Kingdom of God, when all those who have rejected God’s offer of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone will be judged and condemned. But all those who have placed their faith in the Son of God will enter the eternal state, a time of everlasting peace, joy, and unbroken fellowship with God the Father and God the Son.

Jesus closes this section of His teaching by encouraging His listeners to make their decision quickly. If they can predict the weather by looking at the clouds, why can’t they look at the evidence standing right in front of them and judge for themselves what is right? Now was the time to decide. They were not to put it off. And the illustration Jesus used was designed to impress upon His audience the need for immediacy. While Jesus was with them, they needed to make up their minds and decide whether they were going to believe. Because if they waited until they stood before God at the Great White Throne judgment, it would be too late. And the apostle Paul picked up this theme of immediacy when he wrote to the church in Corinth.

For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation. – 2 Corinthians 6:2 NLT

Jesus had come as Savior, but there was another day when He would return as the judge of all mankind. And He wanted His disciples to understand that they were living in a day when salvation would be available to any and all who would accept it. His incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection would make reconciliation with God possible.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. – John 3:16-18 NLT

But the day will come when the offer of salvation will be revoked. The opportunity to believe will end. So, Jesus encouraged His followers to take advantage of the grace of God made available through faith in the Son of God. The time of salvation was now.

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

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

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

A Counter-Cultural Commitment

20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.

“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.

26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. Luke 6:20-26 ESV

There are some biblical scholars who have noted the discrepancies between Matthew’s record of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and what Luke describes in chapter six of his gospel. Based on this, they have titled Luke’s version as Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain.” One of the reasons for this is the location. Luke clearly states that Jesus came down from the mountain and “stood on a level place” (Luke 6:17 ESV), while Matthew indicates that Jesus delivered His message while “on the mountain” (Matthew 5:1 ESV). But then there is also an obvious difference in the content of the message. Luke records that Jesus’ sermon contained four beatitudes and an equal number of woes, while Matthew’s account has Him delivering nine beatitudes and no woes at all. Yet it does not seem necessary to conclude that these were two separate sermons delivered on two different occasions. Once again, each gospel author had a primary purpose behind his effort to chronicle the words and the works of Jesus. As a result, they chose to include or exclude different details in an effort to support their thesis and to better communicate with their particular audience.

Luke’s mention of Jesus standing on “a level place” could simply mean that Jesus found a more stable place from which to deliver His message. The Greek word is pedinos, and it derives from a root word that means “foot.” In a sense, the word pedinos refers to a place that is “easy on the feet.” Jesus was about to give a lengthy message and wanted to find a comfortable place from which to deliver it. So, He found a relatively level spot on the mountainside from which to address the crowd.

But Matthew and Luke are in agreement when they mention that Jesus focused His attention on His disciples. Matthew records that as soon as Jesus sat down, “his disciples came to him” (Matthew 5:1 ESV). And Luke adds that Jesus “lifted up his eyes on his disciples” (Luke 6:20 ESV) and began to speak to them. What He was about to say was primarily directed at His disciples, the twelve men He had just chosen to be His apostles. But there was a large crowd that had gathered to hear Him speak and His words would have relevance for them as well. It is important to recall that the audience contained two types of people: “a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon” (Luke 6:17 ESV). There were those who believed Jesus to be the Messiah and those who were there out of curiosity. Even since John the Baptist had begun his ministry in the wilderness of Judea, news had spread about the possibility of the coming of the Kingdom of God. Rumors had spread about the arrival of the Messiah. And as the news got out about Jesus’ miracles, more and more people were drawn to see if this Rabbi from Nazareth was the one who would deliver them from Roman oppression and restore Israel to power and prominence.

And Jesus begins His message with the provocative statement: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20 ESV). Right off the bat, He addresses the issue of the kingdom. But He does so in a way that must have left everyone in the audience baffled and surprised. He associated the Kindom of God with the poor, something no self-respecting Jew would have done. To their way of thinking, to be poor was a curse. It was a sign of God’s displeasure. But Jesus says that they are actually “blessed” (makarios). The Greek word conveys the idea of being fortunate or well off because of the favor of God. But to the Jews, the blessings of God were always associated with abundance and riches, not poverty and deprivation.

To those who were living in poverty, this message would have been encouraging and confusing at the same time. It made no sense. It went against everything they believed and understood about God. But what they probably failed to grasp was that Jesus was talking about a different kind of poverty. Matthew describes Jesus addressing “the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3 ESV). Jesus seems to have been focusing on spiritual poverty or humility. He is describing the individual who understands his or her total reliance upon God for all their needs. They are submissive and obedient, willing to place their hope and trust in the gracious hands of their loving and merciful God. And Jesus countered this mindset by pronouncing a woe on all those who viewed themselves as rich or self-sufficient.

“…woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” – Luke 6:24 ESV

Years later, the apostle John would record in the book of Revelation the words that he heard Jesus speak to the church in Laodicea. Jesus accused them of spiritual pride and arrogance, a condition that had left them with a lukewarm faith that Jesus found repugnant:

“You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” – Revelation 3:17 NLT

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus wanted His disciples to understand that the Kingdom of God was reserved for those who recognized their spiritual poverty and their need for a Savior. There was no place in God’s kingdom for the prideful, arrogant, and self-righteous.

Next, Jesus adds, “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied” (Luke 6:21 ESV), and He counters it with “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry” (Luke 6:25 ESV). Once again, Jesus is speaking in spiritual and not physical terms. But His words concerning hunger and blessedness would have been just as confusing to His audience as His mention of the blessing of poverty. Physical hunger was an everyday reality for many in Israel. The exorbitant taxes of the Roman government made it difficult for the average Israelite to make ends meet. So, where was the blessing in that. But Matthew reveals that Jesus was focusing on a specific kind of hunger.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. – Matthew 5:6 ESV

As Jesus had told Satan during His temptation in the wilderness, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4 ESV). And as Jesus would later tell His disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:4 ESV). According to Jesus, there was more to life than food and drink. The Kingdom of God was reserved for those who placed a higher priority on doing the will of God than on their own physical needs. His disciples were going to learn that deprivation and hunger would be part of their everyday experience as His followers. They would occasionally go without meals. They would sleep in uncomfortable conditions, endure many hardships, face trials, and find themselves despised by the religious leaders of israel. But in the end, they would find satisfaction in following Jesus.

And Jesus adds, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21 ESV). Which He counters with, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep” (Luke 6:25 ESV). Jesus wanted His disciples to know that life was going to be difficult on this side of heaven. His coming was not going to usher in an earthly utopia where Rome was defeated and Israel once again enjoyed a renewed period of peace and prosperity. The days ahead would be filled with trials, difficulties, and sorrow. But the future would be filled with joy and laughter. The days ahead would require great sacrifice, but the future reward was well worth it. But for all those who wanted to focus on living their best life now, to enjoy heaven on earth, Jesus warns that the future will be a time of weeping and mourning.

Finally, Jesus tells His disciples, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” (Luke 6:22 ESV). But He also warns them, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26 ESV).

These men were going to learn that following Jesus was a costly endeavor. There were hoping for immediate reward, in the form of positions of power and responsibility in His earthly kingdom. But they would soon discover that their alignment with Jesus was going to be anything but an earthly promotion. They would be hated, reviled, and slandered because of their association with Jesus. And the day would come when they had to watch their friend, teacher, and Messiah die on a cross as punishment for His crime of being the King of the Jews. If they were looking for the praise of men they had signed up for the wrong team. Their mission would face constant opposition. Their efforts would be ridiculed and their words would be rejected. But Jesus assures them that they will find favor with God and a place in His Kingdom.

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

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

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

A False Assumption and a Faulty Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Future Glory Trumps Present Suffering

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12 ESV

Paul has informed the Thessalonians that he uses them as an example for the other congregations to whom he ministers.

We proudly tell God’s other churches about your endurance and faithfulness in all the persecutions and hardships you are suffering. – 2 Thessalonians 1:4 NLT

But he knows this does not make their suffering any easier. He understands that they are confused by the difficult conditions they face and are questioning how their trials could be within God’s will for them. It all seemed to make no sense. Hadn’t Jesus said that He came so “that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV)? Didn’t He promise fulness of joy to those who kept His commandments (John 15:11)?

The presence of suffering in the life of Christ’s followers has always caused doubt and confusion, in spite of the fact that Jesus promised it would happen.

“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.” – John 16:33 NLT

Placing one’s faith in Christ is not a vaccine against suffering. It does not provide immunity from effects of living in a fallen world where the presence of sin permeates everything and impacts everyone. And Jesus was informing His disciples that following Him was going to set them at odds with the world around them.

“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” – John 15:18-19 NLT

Attempting to live as lights in a sin-darkened world was not going to be easy. Exposing the deeds done in darkness was not going to win them any friends. Even Paul had warned the believers in Ephesus:

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. – Ephesians 5:11-14 ESV

But Jesus had made it clear to His disciples that the majority of those living in darkness would prefer to remain right where they were, refusing His offer of salvation from sin and death.

…the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. – John 3:19-20 ESV

Yes, Jesus promised many trials and sorrows in this life, but He also provided His followers with the following assurance: “But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NLT). And Paul is attempting to explain to the Thessalonians that the presence of suffering and persecution in their lives should not come as a surprise. As followers of Christ, they were destined to suffer just as He had. But their present suffering had an upside.

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. – Roman 8:17-18 NLT

There was a method to God’s seeming madness. While to them, their suffering seemed nothing but painful and pointless, Paul wanted them to know that God had a purpose behind it all. There was an as-yet invisible part to God’s divine plan to which they were currently unaware. And while their trials might tempt them to question God’s goodness and justice, Paul wanted them to know that it was all part of God’s righteous and fully sovereign plan for them.

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering – 2 Thessalonians 1:5 ESV

And rather than complaining about their lot in life, they were to trust their all-knowing, all-wise God. He knew what He was doing. There was a divine purpose to their suffering that had both short-term and long-term ramifications. Which is what led James to write:

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 1:1-4 NLT

God uses our suffering to transform us. The presence of trials is meant to make us God-dependent rather than self-sufficient. That’s exactly what Peter meant when he wrote: “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). Trials require trust. When we are incapable of solving our own problems, it forces us to turn to the one who holds us in the palm of His hands. And that is exactly what David suggests that we do.

Give your burdens to the LORD, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall. – Psalm 55:22 NLT

God loves His children and, oftentimes, that love shows up in the form of troubles and trials that test our faith in Him. But when, through faith, we turn our cares over to Him, we experience an increasing level of perseverance that results in the further development of our spiritual maturity. We grow stronger and even more faith-filled, needing nothing. Which is what Paul meant when he wrote:

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

And another major factor behind Paul’s contentment with any and all circumstances in this life was his strong belief in God’s plans for the future. He understood that this life was not all there was. There was a life to come. For Paul, this life was a temporary environment in which he lived as an alien or stranger in an earth-bound body, but with the full assurance that there was more to come.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. – 2 Corinthians 5:1 1 NLT

And Paul wanted the Thessalonians to find hope and encouragement in the reality of their future glorification, but also in God’s future judgment of the wicked.

God will provide rest for you who are being persecuted and also for us when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven. He will come with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus. – 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 NLT

God was not blind or oblivious to what was going on the Thessalonica. He was fully aware of their suffering and knew the names of those who were responsible for it. And He had a plan in place to bring about the just and righteous judgment of those people for their acts of wickedness. And just as the future glorification of the persecuted believers in Thessalonica will be far beyond anything they could ever imagine, the future judgment of the wicked will be far worse than anyone could ever dream.

They will be punished with eternal destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power. – 2 Thessalonians 1:9 NLT

At His second coming, Jesus will right all wrongs and restore order and justice to the world. He will punish the wicked, but He “will receive glory from his holy people—praise from all who believe” (2 Thessalonians 1:10 NLT). And Paul includes the Thessalonians in that group. Yes, they might suffer in this life, but in the life to come they will enjoy an eternity with God the Son and God the Father, free from the effects of sin and completely separated from any form of suffering, sorrow, or shame.

The apostle John was given a vision of this future reality, which he penned in his Revelation. 

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” – Revelation 21:3-5 NLT

And with that amazing image in mind, Paul tells the Thessalonian believers, “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:11 NLT). Paul was asking God to show up in the midst of their suffering, providing them with the power they needed to live up to their calling as His children. And when they endured suffering well and walked worthy of their calling, the name of Jesus would be glorified because it would be evidence of God’s saving work in their lives.

Living the godly life was never intended to be easy. Jesus didn’t die so that we might live our best life now, but that we might one day experience eternal life in all its glory. But in the meantime, God has provided us with everything we need for living in obedience to His will and for displaying His divine nature through our lives.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. – 2 Peter 1:3-4 NLT

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

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

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