Leadership Is a Privilege, Not a Right

1 “And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it. So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the Lord of hosts. My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.” – Malachi 2:1-9 ESV

The tribe of Levi had been given the special privilege of serving God with the responsibility of overseeing the tabernacle and everything associated with it.

Then the Lord said to Aaron: “You, your sons, and your relatives from the tribe of Levi will be held responsible for any offenses related to the sanctuary. But you and your sons alone will be held responsible for violations connected with the priesthood.

“Bring your relatives of the tribe of Levi—your ancestral tribe—to assist you and your sons as you perform the sacred duties in front of the Tabernacle of the Covenant.

“You yourselves must perform the sacred duties inside the sanctuary and at the altar. If you follow these instructions, the Lord’s anger will never again blaze against the people of Israel. I myself have chosen your fellow Levites from among the Israelites to be your special assistants. They are a gift to you, dedicated to the Lord for service in the Tabernacle.” – Numbers 18:1-2, 5-6 NLT

But at the time Malachi penned his prophetic pronouncement, the Levitical priesthood was guilty of neglecting its duties and treating its priestly responsibilities as a burden and not a blessing. The men given the responsibility of caring for God’s house found their duties to be a drudgery, not a delight. They even claimed, “It’s too hard to serve the Lord” (Malachi 1:13 NLT) and rejected God’s commands as too difficult and burdensome. In a real sense, their hearts were not in their work, and that is exactly what God has to say about their behavior.

“If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart.” – Malachi 2:2 ESV

God expected heartfelt obedience to His commands, and His emphasis on the condition of their hearts was meant to reveal the true nature of their problem. This wasn’t a case of simple neglect or poor planning. Their failure to follow through on their commitment wasn’t due to overwork or lack of resources. They simply didn’t have the heart for it because their hearts were far from God.

“The word ‘heart’ (leb/lebab) denotes in Hebrew what may be called the command center of a person’s life, where knowledge is collected and considered and where decisions and plans are made that determine the direction of one’s life.” – Footnote 173: H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, p. 40.

These men were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of Israel but instead, they were setting a dangerous precedent for those under their care. If the restored remnant of Israel was going to survive their return to Judah and enjoy the blessings God had in store for them, it would only happen if the priests faithfully fulfilled their God-given responsibilities. But God’s priests were guilty of the very same sin that had led to Israel’s banishment from Judah in the first place.

“These people draw near to Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is but rules taught by men. – Isaiah 29:13 BSB

God holds spiritual leaders to a higher standard because, as His shepherds, they are responsible for the care of His flock. They serve as His undershepherds and must give an account for the way they have nurtured those under their care. And as for the Levitical priests, they were also responsible for the sacrificial system God had decreed.

“Tell Aaron and his sons to be very careful with the sacred gifts that the Israelites set apart for me, so they do not bring shame on my holy name. I am the Lord.

“The priests must follow my instructions carefully. Otherwise they will be punished for their sin and will die for violating my instructions. I am the Lord who makes them holy. – Leviticus 22:2, 9 NLT

Malachi delivers God’s stinging rebuke to these heartless and faithless priests, warning them that they were about to be cursed for their infidelity.

“I will punish your descendants and splatter your faces with the manure from your festival sacrifices, and I will throw you on the manure pile.” – Malachi 2:3 NLT

“The disgusting picture is of God taking the internal waste of the sacrificial animals and smearing it on the priests’ faces. Consequently both sacrifices and priests would have to be taken outside for disposal. This play on words communicates a double curse.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes of Malachi

God was threatening to use their defiled sacrifices to defile them. He would no longer allow them to defame His name by their failure to execute their priestly responsibilities with integrity and honor. In a sense, God was warning that He was about to clean house. He remained committed to His covenant with the tribe of Levi.

“They shall teach Jacob your rules
    and Israel your law;
they shall put incense before you
    and whole burnt offerings on your altar.” – Deuteronomy 33:10 ESV

But these particular men had forfeited their right to serve as God’s priests. And when God’s curse fell on them, they would finally understand the gravity of their sin and the sacredness of the priestly role they had once held. And God provides them with a much-needed reminder of how their forefathers had faithfully lived up to their job description, bringing God’s blessings upon the people.

“The purpose of my covenant with the Levites was to bring life and peace, and that is what I gave them. This required reverence from them, and they greatly revered me and stood in awe of my name. They passed on to the people the truth of the instructions they received from me. They did not lie or cheat; they walked with me, living good and righteous lives, and they turned many from lives of sin. – Malachi 2:5-6 NLT

God had kept His word and restored a remnant of His disobedient people to the land of Judah. Seventy years after Judah had fallen to the Babylonians, God had sovereignly arranged for King Cyrus to issue a decree that allowed a small band of exiled to make the long journey home and begin the restoration of Jerusalem. Under the leadership of such men as Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, the walls had been rebuilt, the gates rehung, and the temple had risen majestically from the rubble. And the priests had been given the opportunity to renew their role as the spiritual leaders of Israel, providing instruction in the law and overseeing the recently reinstituted sacrificial system. Yet, despite all the blessings God had poured out on the nation of Israel, the priests had dropped the ball.

“But you priests have left God’s paths. Your instructions have caused many to stumble into sin. You have corrupted the covenant I made with the Levites…” – Malachi 2:8 NLT

It’s essential to understand the serious nature of their sin. These men had not just led poorly, they had purposefully misled and misguided the people. Their teaching of the law had been inaccurate and confusing. They were guilty of misinterpreting and misrepresenting God’s commands, causing the people to unknowingly violate the will of God. Their propensity to offer unacceptable sacrifices meant that the peoples’ sins were never really atoned for. Unlike their forefathers, these men were liars and cheats, living unrighteous lives and causing the people to follow their example. And God was unwilling to allow their devastating actions to continue any longer.

“So I have made you despised and humiliated in the eyes of all the people. For you have not obeyed me but have shown favoritism in the way you carry out my instructions.” – Malachi 2:9 NLT

According to Numbers 18:32, their penalty should have been death, but God had chosen to punish them by diminishing their stature in the eyes of the people. Their fall from God’s good grace would be painful and swift. They had been set apart by God and given the responsibility of leading and feeding His flock. But they had ended up treating both their position and God’s flock with disdain. After 70 years in exile, the people of God desperately needed solid biblical instruction, godly leadership, and a sacrificial system that provided true atonement from sin. But these men provided none of the above. They twisted God’s words, misled His flock, and defiled the very sacrifices that should have brought atonement to God’s people.

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.

The Problem of Polluted Priests

“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts. And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts. 10 Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. 11 For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. 12 But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised. 13 But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord. 14 Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.” – Malachi 1:6-14 ESV

Malachi now turns his attention to the priestly leadership of Israel. These men had returned with the exiled from Babylon and, with the rebuilding of the temple, had been given the task of reinstituting the sacrificial system and the worship of Yahweh. As members of the tribe of Levi, their priestly responsibilities had been God-ordained and their role was vital to the overall well-being of the people. God had given them clear instructions regarding their job description.

“They shall teach Jacob your rules
    and Israel your law;
they shall put incense before you
    and whole burnt offerings on your altar.” – Deuteronomy 33:10 ESV

Levi was the third son born to Leah and Jacob, and he would become the father of the tribe of Levi, the tribe of Moses and Aaron. During the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to Canaan, God appointed Aaron and his sons as the first priests of Israel.

“You shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and wash them with water. Then you shall take the garments, and put on Aaron the coat and the robe of the ephod, and the ephod, and the breastpiece, and gird him with the skillfully woven band of the ephod. And you shall set the turban on his head and put the holy crown on the turban. You shall take the anointing oil and pour it on his head and anoint him. Then you shall bring his sons and put coats on them, and you shall gird Aaron and his sons with sashes and bind caps on them. And the priesthood shall be theirs by a statute forever. Thus you shall ordain Aaron and his sons.” – Exodus 29:4-9 ESV

These men had been set apart by God as mediators between Himself and the people of Israel. They were given the task of ministering in the tabernacle during their journey to Canaan and, later, in the temple Solomon built in Jerusalem. Their role was critical to maintaining the spiritual integrity of the nation, and their faithful allegiance to God was intended to establish a precedence for all the people of Israel. As the priests went, so did the people.

I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God. – Exodus 29:44-46 ESV

But post-exile, the priests had lost sight of their God-given responsibility and were treating their role with disdain and their God with disrespect. One of their responsibilities was to teach the people God’s law (Deuteronomy 33:10). And they were to serve as judges over the people (Deuteronomy 17:8-13). But Malachi points out that they had failed at both. It was almost impossible for them to teach the law when they regularly violated it themselves. And how were they to judge others when they were incapable of keeping God’s commands? They had become hypocritical and, therefore, ineffective models for the people of Israel.

As their Father, God demanded to know why they refused to honor Him. In doing so, He was accusing them of violating one of the foundational requirements found in the Ten Commandments.

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. – Exodus 20:12 ESV

God had created them and consecrated them for His service, but they refused to treat Him with the honor and respect He deserved. They enjoyed the distinct privilege of having been set apart by God to serve Him as His sons. But they showed their Heavenly Father little reverence and awe. Not only that, they refused to treat God as their Master and Lord.

“If I am your father and master, where are the honor and respect I deserve? You have shown contempt for my name!” – Malachi 1:6 NLT

As priests, these men bore the name of God, and their actions had brought shame on His name. They were His representatives among the people and their behavior was dishonoring His reputation and diminishing the worthiness of His character. As the people viewed the godless lifestyle of the priests, they were tempted to mimic their behavior. And since the priests were cutting corners in their worship of God, the people were prone to do the same thing.

But these pious men refused to acknowledge their guilt, choosing instead to question the charges God had leveled against them.

How have we ever shown contempt for your name? – Malachi 1:6 NLT

“How have we defiled the sacrifices?” – Malachi 1:7 NLT

In a sense, they were demanding that God prove His accusations against them. In their pride and arrogance, they refused to acknowledge that they had done anything wrong. But God pulled no punches when detailing the egregious nature of their sins.

“You defile them by saying the altar of the Lord deserves no respect. When you give blind animals as sacrifices, isn’t that wrong? And isn’t it wrong to offer animals that are crippled and diseased? Try giving gifts like that to your governor, and see how pleased he is!” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. – Malachi 1:7-8 NLT

They were guilty of using their priestly office for profit. It seems that these men were sacrificing lame and injured animals as sacrifices to God, in direct violation of His law.  It seems likely that the people were bringing unblemished animals to be sacrificed but the priests were substituting those healthy animals with injured ones. In doing so, they were able to keep the healthy ones for their own consumption. By offering unacceptable sacrifices on behalf of the people, they invalidated the whole sacrificial system. No sins could be atoned for by offering up an unacceptable sacrifice. God would not and could not be appeased. God had been very specific regarding this matter.

“Give Aaron and his sons and all the Israelites these instructions, which apply both to native Israelites and to the foreigners living among you.

“If you present a gift as a burnt offering to the LORD, whether it is to fulfill a vow or is a voluntary offering, you will be accepted only if your offering is a male animal with no defects. It may be a bull, a ram, or a male goat. Do not present an animal with defects, because the LORD will not accept it on your behalf.” – Leviticus 22:18-20 NLT

God expected His priests to be holy and He demanded that the sacrifices they offered be holy as well.

“They must be set apart as holy to their God and must never bring shame on the name of God. They must be holy, for they are the ones who present the special gifts to the Lord, gifts of food for their God.” – Leviticus 21:6 NLT

And Malachi picks up on this theme of presenting gifts of food for God by describing their blemished offerings as “contemptible food” that “defile the Lord’s table” (Malachi 1:12 NLT). They wouldn’t dare to serve the royal governor tainted meat but they had no problem offering God unacceptable sacrifices. And God displays His anger by declaring His desire to shut the doors of the temple to bring an end to their hypocrisy. It’s important to remember that the sacrificial system had just been reinstituted. It had been more than 70 years since the people had been able to have their sins atoned for, and now, they ran the risk of losing this vital opportunity once again. All because of the sins of the priesthood. 

But these men remain unrepentant, choosing instead to blame their behavior on the overwhelming nature of the entire sacrificial system. It is just too hard, they say. They find it all so wearisome and difficult to maintain. So, they treat God’s words with disdain and dismiss His commands as optional. But God will have none of it. He marvels at the sheer arrogance of these men, pointing out the mind-boggling audacity of their actions.

“Think of it! Animals that are stolen and crippled and sick are being presented as offerings! Should I accept from you such offerings as these?” – Malachi 1:13 ESV

Their behavior is unthinkable and their gifts are unacceptable. And God pronounces a curse upon these men.

“Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.” – Malachi 1:14 ESV

Their set-apart status would not protect them from the anger of God. He would judge and punish them for their actions. If they were unwilling to honor His name, God would do it Himself. Their refusal to live up to their responsibility as His priests and the peoples’ shepherds would bring down the wrath of God. Their failure to honor God by keeping His commandments would result in His just and righteous judgment of them. A returned people and a restored temple meant nothing if the priests of God refused to lead the people of God to repentance.

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.

Returned But Not Restored

1 The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi. – Malachi 1:1 ESV

Over the centuries, there has been much debate over the identity of the author of the book of Malachi. It would be simple to assume that the book bears the name of its author, but in Hebrew, “Malachi” is more of a title than a name. It means “my messenger.” The book itself contains no details regarding the author’s identity, providing no birthplace, ancestry, vocation, or tribal affiliation. Three of the gospel writers quote from Malachi 3:1 but do not reference Malachi by name (Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27).

The Targum, an ancient Aramaic translation and paraphrase of the Old Testament, credited Ezra as the author of Malachi. But the Talmud, a Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament, gave the honor of authorship to Mordecai, the uncle of Queen Esther (Esther 2:5-7). But the designation of either Ezra or Mordecai as the author of the book has garnered little validation or support over the centuries.

Another reason given for rejecting Malachi as the author of the book is the use of the Hebrew word, מַלְאָךְ (mal’āḵ), in chapter 3:1. It simply means “messenger” and seems intended as a wordplay on the title used in chapter one, verse one.

The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi (מַלְאָכִי mal’āḵî). – Malachi 1:1 ESV

While there remains no consensus as to the identity of the book’s author, there are still many biblical scholars who give the credit to an unknown man named Malachi. If he is not the author, the book of Malachi would be the first prophetic book in the Old Testament to be written anonymously, which seems highly unlikely.

But regardless of the author’s identity, the book claims to be a message from God to the people of Israel. Yet, a second problem arises when studying the book of Malachi: Its place in the timeline of Israelite history. There are no references to specific kings, historical figures, or datable events in the book, which makes it virtually impossible to establish an accurate idea of when it was written. The reader is left to determine a date based on inferences and implications garnered from the text itself. And the options that have been suggested range from as early as 538 B.C. to as late as 420 B.C.

Based on the content of the book, it is believed that Malachi, like Haggai and Zechariah, was a postexilic writing prophet. In verse 8 of chapter one, the term “governor” is actually the Persian word, peḥâ, and would seem to be a reference to the Persian king, Cyrus, who issued a decree allowing the exiled Israelites to return to the land of Judah.

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:

 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” – Ezra 1:1-4 ESV

Both Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, two Hebrews who helped lead the people back to Jerusalem and oversee the rebuilding of the city and the temple, each bore the same Persian title of “governor.” And because Malachi references worship at the restored temple, it would appear that he wrote sometime after the date of 515 B.C., when the temple restoration was completed.

There are a great many similarities between the Malachi and the book of Nehemiah. Both men dealt with issues regarding the poor state of the priestly order, the intermarriage of Jews with outsiders, and peoples’ neglect to pay the designated tithe. This would seem to indicate that Malachi penned his book sometime during the governorship of Nehemiah, which would place its date of authorship somewhere between 445-420 B.C. According to Thomas L. Constable, “Malachi’s place at the end of the twelve Minor Prophets in the Hebrew Bible and modern translations argues for a late date.”

As a prophet, Malachi expresses God’s disfavor with the people of Israel, concentrating most of his emphasis on their lax and less-than-faithful practice of worship. God had graciously allowed them to return to the land of promise, just as He had said He would do, but they have proven to be far from obedient and less than appreciative in their display of reverence for Him.

It is important to consider the timeline that precedes Malachi’s book. Sometime around 537 B.C., Zerubbabel led more than 50,000 Israelites back to Jerusalem with orders from King Cyrus to rebuild the city and the temple. Haggai and Zechariah ministered to this remnant of Israelites as they went about the task of restoring the long-abandoned city that had been destroyed by the Babylonians some 70 years earlier. In 458 B.C. an additional group of about 5,000 Jews made their way from Babylon under Ezra’s leadership. The temple having been rebuilt, Ezra attempted to reinvigorate the peoples’ worship of Yahweh. Then in 444 B.C., Nehemiah led a third contingent of about 42,000 exiles back to Jerusalem with the express purpose of rebuilding the walls and gates of the city.

The Israelites’ return to the promised land was anything but easy. They had been met with opposition and the work of rebuilding the devasted and long-neglected city was difficult and time-consuming. Over time they experienced success at their daunting task, having restored the temple, rebuilt the walls, and reinstituted the sacrificial system and temple worship. But their hearts were not solely dedicated to Yahweh. They were lax in their observance of the Mosaic Law and, as a result of their intermarriage with the Gentiles, they were guilty of practicing idolatry. They had allowed themselves to be become infected and influenced by the surrounding pagan cultures, which ended up diminishing their set-apart status as the chosen people of God. So, Malachi set out to address their spiritual, ethical, and moral weaknesses, in the hopes of revitalizing their worship and reinvigorating their allegiance to Yahweh.

“. . . Malachi and his contemporaries were living in an uneventful waiting period, when God seemed to have forgotten His people enduring poverty and foreign domination in the little province of Judah. . . . True the Temple had been completed, but nothing momentous had occurred to indicate that God’s presence had returned to fill it with glory, as Ezekiel had indicated would happen (Ezekial 43:4). . . . Generations were dying without receiving the promises (cf. Hebrews 11:13) and many were losing their faith.” – Joyce G. Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 211.

The purpose behind Malachi’s book was the same as any other Old Testament prophet: To expose the sins of the people and call them to repentance. Malachi understood that a restored temple, a reinstituted sacrificial system, and a rebuilt city were meaningless if the people refused to honor the God who had made it all possible. A reestablished kingdom was worthless if the people refused to honor Yahweh as their King and Sovereign.

For the people of Israel, return to the land and the re-establishment of their kingdom would mean nothing if they were not going to live as the children of God. He had sent them into exile 70 years earlier because of their disobedience and rebellion against Him. Now, He had returned them to the land and He expected them to repay His goodness and grace with faithfulness and an outward display of obedience. But years after arriving back in the land of promise they were just as stubbornly resistant to His laws as ever before. Their lives were marked by divorce, moral laxness, spiritual indifference, and a pervasive sense of religious apathy. In a sense, they had given up. The work of restoring Judah and Jerusalem had proven too difficult and they were ready to throw in the towel, spiritually speaking.

But Malachi would not allow them to do so. His job, as the messenger of God, was to call the people to repentance. They had a job to do. Their job to restore Judah would not be complete until they were restored to a right relationship with Yahweh. So, Malachi delivered God’s impassioned plea that they return to Him.

“I am the Lord, and I do not change. That is why you descendants of Jacob are not already destroyed. Ever since the days of your ancestors, you have scorned my decrees and failed to obey them. Now return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. – Malachi 3:6-7 NLT

And if they refused, they would face judgment yet again.

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.

The King of Righteousness

17 After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) 19 And he blessed him and said,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Possessor of heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,
    who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. 21 And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.’” Genesis 14:17-24 ESV

Having won a God-ordained victory over the four kings of Mesopotamia, Abram returned home with his nephew, Lot, and all the plunder that had been taken from Sodom by King Chedorlaomer. Upon his return, Abram was greeted by two kings. One was Bera, the king of Sodom, while the other was Melchizedek, the king of Salem. While Bera was introduced in verse two of this same chapter, Melchizedek makes his first appearance. It seems quite obvious why Bera would come out to meet Abram and his troops as they returned from battle. His city had been sacked and plundered by the coalition of kings from Mesopotamia and Abram had “brought back all the possessions” (Genesis 14:16 ESV) that had been taken. Abram has rescued all of the city’s stolen treasure and the citizens who had been taken captive, and Bera wanted to express his appreciation. He even offered to let Abram keep all the plunder as a payment for his efforts.

Give back my people who were captured. But you may keep for yourself all the goods you have recovered. – Genesis 14:21 NLT

But it seems that Abram wanted nothing to do with Bera or his treasure. He firmly, but graciously refused the offer, stating, “I solemnly swear to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will not take so much as a single thread or sandal thong from what belongs to you. Otherwise, you might say, ‘I am the one who made Abram rich.’ I will accept only what my young warriors have already eaten, and I request that you give a fair share of the goods to my allies—Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre” (Genesis 14:22-24 NLT).

Moses has already made it clear that “the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:13 ESV). Even the king’s name bore witness to his own immorality and evilness. In Hebrew, his name, בֶּרַע (beraʿ) means “son of evil.” This raises the question of how any parent could burden their child with such a harsh and almost prophetic name. And interestingly enough, the king of Gomorrah was saddled with a similarly unflattering name. His was בִּרְשַׁע (biršaʿ) which can be translated “with iniquity.” These two men ended up ruling over two of the most wicked and godless communities on the face of the earth. They were the epitome of the attitude that had pervaded the earth right before God destroyed it.

everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. – Genesis 6:5 NLT

So, Abram’s decision to refuse an offer from this corrupt king makes sense. He didn’t want anything to do with Bera or his treasure. And Abram had already made a vow to God that he would not accept any reward for his services. He knew that to do so would place him in a position of subservience to Bera. This godless, pagan king could claim that he was the one who made Abram wealthy and use that as a future bargaining chip to obligate Abram for additional help when needed. Abram would owe Bera.

The reward Bera was offering Abram must have been substantial because it would have made Abram wealthier than he already was. According to Genesis 13, Abram was well-off.

Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. – Genesis 13:2 ESV

But while Abram was unwilling to accept any compensation, he allowed his men to choose their share of the reward. He didn’t attempt to burden his men with the requirements of the personal vow he had made to God. Rather than force his convictions on them, Abram graciously allowed them to decide for themselves.

This now brings us back to the second king mentioned in the narrative: Melchizedek, the king of Salem. As if out of nowhere, this king shows up in the story without introduction and with no explanation as to who he was. His name appears nowhere in the opening verses of the chapter. He was not one of the nine kings involved in the battle. And his name appears in none of the genealogies recorded in the earlier chapters of Genesis. There are only three other places in Scripture where Melchizedek is mentioned. The first is in a psalm written by King David. In it, David states that God has declared him to be “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4 ESV). Jesus would later use this same psalm to prove His claim to be the Christ, the Messiah of Israel (Matthew 22:41-46). So, he believed this song of David to be a prophetic statement about Himself. He was that priest after the order of Melchizedek. The fact that Melchizedek appears on the scene with no apparent genealogy and then disappears with no mention of his death makes him a type of Christ. He was the king of Salem, the future site of Jerusalem. Melchizedek, which was likely his title and not his  name, means “King of Righteousness.” This appellation is meant to stand in stark contrast to that of Bera, the “son of evil.”

In the midst of the predominantly pagan Canaanite culture, this “righteous” king suddenly appears on the scene, offering bread and wine to Abram and his men. Moses describes him as “a priest of God Most High” (Genesis 14:18 ESV). In other words, he was far more than just another king. He was a servant of Yahweh, the God who had called Abram and who had promised to make of him a great nation. This would have been the first time that Abram encountered another human being who also worshiped El Elyon (God Most High).

Once again, Melchizedek receives little mention in the Scriptures, but where his name does appear, it is associated with Jesus. In the book of Hebrews, the author presents Jesus as the better high priest, stating:

…no one can become a high priest simply because he wants such an honor. He must be called by God for this work, just as Aaron was. That is why Christ did not honor himself by assuming he could become High Priest. No, he was chosen by God, who said to him,

“You are my Son.
    Today I have become your Father.”

And in another passage God said to him,

“You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” – Hebrews 5:4-6 NLT

In the very next chapter, the author declares that Jesus “leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary” and “has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:19-20 NLT. And then the author provides some much-needed explanation as to Melchizedek’s identity and his relationship with Jesus.

This Melchizedek was king of the city of Salem and also a priest of God Most High. When Abraham was returning home after winning a great battle against the kings, Melchizedek met him and blessed him. Then Abraham took a tenth of all he had captured in battle and gave it to Melchizedek. The name Melchizedek means “king of justice,” and king of Salem means “king of peace.” There is no record of his father or mother or any of his ancestors—no beginning or end to his life. He remains a priest forever, resembling the Son of God. – Hebrews 7:1-3 NLT

Melchizedek was meant to foreshadow the great high priest who would come to earth offering bread and wine in the form of His own body. In an upper room in the city of “Salem” (Jerusalem), Jesus would share a final Passover meal with His disciples and, just like Melchizedek, offer His disciples bread and wine.

As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.”

And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many.” – Matthew 26:26-28 NLT

Melchizedek fed Abram and his men, then pronounced a blessing.

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Possessor of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High,
    who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” – Genesis 14:19-20 ESV

In doing so, he confirmed Abram’s desire to honor God with his victory. Melchizedek emphasized the sovereign power of Abram’s God. It was God Most High who had brought about the defeat of the four kings. Abram had enjoyed victory over his enemies only because God had ordained it. This blessing was meant to encourage Abram in his faith. His God was great and fully capable of doing the impossible. This reminder was going to come in handy in the days ahead when Abram found himself doing battle with doubt rather than waging war with human kings. He was going to need constant reminding that His God was truly great. The days ahead were going to require great faith. And Jesus, like Melchizedek, would provide His followers with similar words of encouragement.

“…truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” – Matthew 17:20 ESV

And as a result of Melchizedek’s gracious gift of bread and wine and the comforting words of his blessing, “Abram gave him a tenth of everything” (Genesis 14:20 ESV). Once again, the author of Hebrews provides an explanation for Abram’s actions.

Consider then how great this Melchizedek was. Even Abraham, the great patriarch of Israel, recognized this by giving him a tenth of what he had taken in battle. – Hebrews 7:4 NLT

Abram recognized the superior nature of this priest/king and gave to him a tenth of all the spoil he had brought back from the battle. He honored this man as a servant of God and returned the blessing by sharing a portion of the riches that God had allowed him to recover. But as great as Melchizedek was, he stands in the shadow of the greater high priest.

…a different priest, who is like Melchizedek, has appeared. Jesus became a priest, not by meeting the physical requirement of belonging to the tribe of Levi, but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed. And the psalmist pointed this out when he prophesied.

“You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” – Hebrews 7:15-17 NLT

There is no mention of Melchizedek’s death. And the author of Hebrews states that “He remains a priest forever, resembling the Son of God” (Hebrews 7:3 NLT). He points to the one to come who will offer Himself as the bread of life and whose blood will be “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28 ESV). God blessed Abram through Melchizedek, but God would bless the nations through Jesus, the offspring of Abram.

But because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever. Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.

He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven. Unlike those other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices every day. They did this for their own sins first and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus did this once for all when he offered himself as the sacrifice for the people’s sins. – Hebrews 7:24-27 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.

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

The Peace of God’s Presence

1 In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet: “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people, and say, ‘Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.’” Haggai 2:1-5 ESV

Haggai began his letter with the time stamp: “In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month” (Haggai 1:1 ESV). It was on that fateful day that Haggai delivered his first message from Yahweh to the people of Judah. In it, the Almighty had revealed to Zerubbabel the governor, Joshua the high priest, and the remnant of the people that their 16-year delay in rebuilding the temple had resulted in judgment, and more was on the way. He expected them to honor and fear Him by obeying His word and fulfilling His command to restore the temple to its former glory. They had managed to build houses for themselves but had chosen to leave the house of God in ruins, and God was not pleased. Yet, despite their disobedience, God had assured His chosen people that He was still them and would not abandon them. And that promise stirred their hearts and motivated them to take immediate action.

And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king. – Haggai 1:14-15 ESV

Once again, Haggai provides a detailed timeline of the events surrounding this period of corporate repentance and obedience. For whatever reason, it took three weeks before the people began construction on the temple. No explanation is given for the cause of their delay. Perhaps they needed to gather construction material and prepare the sight. Verse 8 of chapter one reveals that they were going to have to harvest lumber for the project. This entire initiative had been delayed for 16 years, so it’s not surprising that a lot of preparation work was required before the actual construction could begin. But begin it did.

Chapter two opens with another important time marker: “In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month” (Haggai 2:1 ESV). Another month has passed by and God sends Haggai with a second message for the people. This time, He addresses those among the remnant who had been alive when the first temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians.

Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? – Haggai 2:3 ESV

God presents these elderly members of the community with three questions. The first seems to be intended to stress their small numbers. Not many of the original deportees had returned to the land. Nearly 70 years had passed since they had first been taken captive and they would have been small children at the time. Many of their friends, neighbors, and relatives had chosen to remain behind in Persia, rather than return to Judah. So, there were few in the crowd that could recall the glory of the original Solomonic temple.

And God asks this small remnant of elderly eyewitnesses what they think about the new temple. How does it compare? What are their impressions of the work that has been completed thus far? For those who had seen the grandeur of Solomon’s temple, this remodeled version must have been a great disappointment.

It was difficult for these older members of the community to imagine the temple ever being restored to its former glory. To them, the entire process appeared ill-fated and destined for disappointment. The book of Ezra reveals that, sixteen years earlier, when Zerubbabel had supervised the laying of the temple’s foundation, these very same people had wept while their neighbors rejoiced.

But many of the older priests, Levites, and other leaders who had seen the first Temple wept aloud when they saw the new Temple’s foundation. The others, however, were shouting for joy.  The joyful shouting and weeping mingled together in a loud noise that could be heard far in the distance. – Ezra 3:12-13 NLT

God knew that these individuals viewed the new temple “as nothing.” It was a disappointing shadow of the majestic building that had once graced Mount Zion. For them, it was all a sad reminder of all that had happened to the once-powerful nation of Judah. They believed their glory days were behind them. Upon their return to Judah, they had found the nation in disarray and its capital city of Jerusalem in a state of devastating disrepair. These poor people were having a difficult time imagining a rebuilt temple and a revitalized nation. But God had an opinion about the matter.

“But now the Lord says: Be strong, Zerubbabel. Be strong, Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people still left in the land. And now get to work, for I am with you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt. So do not be afraid.” – Haggai 2:4-5 NLT

This time, God addressed His message to Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the rest of the people. Despite the doubts and depressing outlook of the old guard, the people could have hope because God was with them. It had been 440 years, almost to the day, since King David had told his son, Solomon, that God had chosen him to build the original temple.

“Be careful now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be strong and do it.” – 1 Chronicles 28:10 ESV

Then David said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished. – 1 Chronicles 28:20 ESV

Now, almost five centuries later, God was raising up another man to rebuild the house that the Babylonians had destroyed. God had chosen Zerubbabel to complete the work and had assured him that it would be done.

“The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.” – Zechariah 4:9-10 ESV

God had been with Solomon and He would be with Zerubbabel. And God assured Zerubbabel and the people the promise of His enduring presence and power, just as He had done when the people of Israel had left Egypt.

“‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:4-6 ESV

God had repeatedly promised His people that He would be with them.

“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” – Exodus 33:14 ESV

Now, He was reiterating that promise again. Yes, the temple might have appeared to be less than glorious. The circumstances in Judah may have felt daunting and the hope of future restoration might have seemed unlikely. But as long as God was with them, they could have hope. In fact, rather than doubting the future, they should have been expecting great things because they served a great God.

The people suffered from a limited perspective. All they could see was what their eyes revealed. They saw nothing but hard work and disappointing outcomes ahead. Yet God had told them, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10 NLT). They had their part to play. And while they may have viewed their task as little more than wasted effort, God wanted them to know that the outcome was going to be spectacular. He had plans for them that were way beyond their ability to conceive or comprehend. While they were busy thinking about the impossibility of their immediate circumstances, God was busy orchestrating the details of His future plans for the future redemption of all things. Their return to the land and the restoration of the temple was just one more act in God’s grand redemptive plan. And He was about to give them a glimpse into the glorious future He had prepared.

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.

Their Eyes Were Opened

28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. Luke 24:28-35 ESV

The two disciples who had been making their way to Emmaus were joined by a stranger who seemed totally ignorant of all that had happened in Jerusalem. They had to inform Him all about Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion. But. to their surprise, this same man was extremely  knowledgeable about the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, Luke records that He “took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 NLT).

So, as they walked along the path from Jerusalem to Emmaus, this stranger unpacked the Scriptures, revealing how “the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory” (Luke 24:26 NLT). He provided them with an overview of the law and the prophets, opening their eyes to the many predictions concerning the Messiah’s role as the suffering servant. These prophetic pronouncements had been there all along but the Jews had chosen to ignore them or to rationalize them away. Yet, this unknown pilgrim seemed to know things that were hidden from the religious leaders of Israel. And it’s likely that this unknown scholar shared some of the following passages.

I gave my back to those who strike,
    and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
    from disgrace and spitting.

But the Lord God helps me;
    therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
    and I know that I shall not be put to shame. – Isaiah 50:6-7 NLT

See, my servant will prosper;
    he will be highly exalted.
But many were amazed when they saw him.
    His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human,
    and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man. – Isaiah 52:13-14 NLT

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:5-6 ESV

As they considered these familiar passages in light of all they had just witnessed in Jerusalem, they couldn’t help but connect the dots and understand that the death of Jesus had been preordained by God – down to the smallest detail – even foreshadowing Jesus’ death between two criminals and His burial of Jesus in a borrowed tomb.

He had done no wrong
    and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
    he was put in a rich man’s grave. – Isaiah 53:9 NLT

For the two disciples, time must have flown by as they listened to these exciting revelations from this unknown teacher. When they realized that they had reached their destination, they dreaded the thought of their conversation coming to an end, so they begged their new friend to stay overnight. Their curiosity had been peaked and they longed to hear more.

After making preparations, they reclined at the table to share the evening meal. And, surprisingly and rather presumptuously, the stranger took it upon Himself to play the role of host. He “took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them” (Luke 24:30 NLT).

This scene is reminiscent of three other occasions from the life and ministry of Jesus. The first took place at the feeding of the 5,000.

Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread and fish to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. – Luke 9:16 NLT

The second is the feeding of the 4,000.

Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to the disciples, who distributed the food to the crowd. – Matthew 15:36 NLT

The third is the final Passover meal Jesus shared with His disciples.

He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” – Luke 22:19 NLT

In all three cases, Jesus broke bread, blessed it, and then distributed it among His followers. And it was in keeping with His designation of Himself as the bread of life.

My Father…offers you the true bread from heaven. The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “give us that bread every day.”

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again.” – John 6:32-35 NLT

So, that evening, in a home somewhere in the village of Emmaus, Jesus broke bread, blessed it, and then handed it to His two disciples, and immediately, “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (Luke 24:31 ESV). For the first time since they had met this unknown traveler, they could see Him for who He really was: Jesus, the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. They not only recognized their friend and Rabbi, but they also comprehended the amazing truth about His identity as the anointed one of God. All those Scripture began to make sense for the first time in their lives.

Yet Luke states that, as soon as they recognized Him, Jesus “vanished from their sight” (Luke 24:31 ESV). One second He was there and, the next, He was gone. He simply disappeared from sight. But this time, His departure didn’t leave them saddened hearts. In fact, they immediately declared, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32 NLT). What a contrast to the depressed and demoralized state they had exhibited when Jesus first encountered them on the road. All their dreams had been crushed.

“We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel.” – Luke 24:21 NLT

But now, things were different. Their grief had been turned to joy. Their hope had been restored. And “within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem” (Luke 24:33 NLT). Since it was still evening, they must have made the trip back to Jerusalem in the dark, not exactly a safe thing to do. But this time they were motivated by the realization that their Messiah was alive. Nothing was going to stop them from returning to the “scene of the crime” and telling the rest of the disciples what they had seen and heard.

Upon their return, they found the 11 disciples gathered together along with some other of Jesus’ followers. They entered the room just in time to hear the exciting news that Peter had also seen Jesus alive. And they added to the joy of the occasion by announcing “how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread” (Luke 24:35 NLT). The room must have been electric with excitement as everyone asked questions and began to speculate as to the meaning of all these things. Jesus was alive! Did that mean He would finally set up His earthly Kingdom? Was He about to pay back the Romans for their brutal treatment of Him? Would He hold Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin responsible for their role in His arrest and crucifixion. Was the Kingdom they had longed for about to begin? But as they peppered one another with questions and shared their opinions about what lie ahead, an unexpected visitor suddenly appeared.

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

Your Redemption is Drawing Near

20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, 22 for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. 23 Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  Luke 21:20-28 ESV

As Jesus and His disciples sat on the Mount of Olives gazing across the Kidron Valley at the majestic temple gracing the pinnacle of Mount Zion, He broke the news to them that God’s house would one day be destroyed.

“As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” – Luke 21:6 ESV

Then He followed this distressing news with the disturbing revelation that the temple }s destruction would be accompanied by wars, famines, and earthquakes. Not only that, they could expect to experience persecution, suffering, and betrayal; even by their own family members. Some of them would even end their lives as martyrs for the cause of Christ.

And as if all that was not bad enough, Jesus announced that Jerusalem itself would be besieged and destroyed.

“…when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you will know that the time of its destruction has arrived. – Luke 21:20 NLT

The unexpected and disturbing nature of Jesus’ words left the disciples reeling. How could this be? Why would God allow His temple to undergo desecration and destruction at the hands of His enemies? Yet, that is exactly what Jesus announced would happen. And in 70 A.D., Jesus’ prophetic words of became a devastating reality. It was in August of that fateful year, after a five-month-long siege, that Titus and the Roman army entered Jerusalem and destroyed the second temple. Jesus predicted this event and warned that when it came, everyone in Judea and Jerusalem should make places to run for their lives.

“…those in Judea must flee to the hills. Those in Jerusalem must get out, and those out in the country should not return to the city…” – Luke 21:21 NLT

This tragic event would be a partial fulfillment of the  “days of vengeance” as foretold by the prophets of God.  But many of the Old Testament prophecies had a now-not-yet aspect to them. When Jesus prophesied about the destruction of the temple, His words also included a now-not-yet dimension. He was inferring far more than the disciples realized. Yes, within just a few decades, the nation of Israel would experience yet one more invasion by a foreign power that ended in the destruction of their capital and the demoralization of its people. But it would not spell the end of Israel. As bad as things would be in 70 A.D., Israel would rebound and survive.

But Jesus’ words contain a far more dire and long-term prognosis for Israel’s future. He describes a day when “there will be disaster in the land and great anger against this people. They will be killed by the sword or sent away as captives to all the nations of the world. And Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles until the period of the Gentiles comes to an end” (Luke 21:23-24 NLT). 

Both Matthew and Mark recorded this very same warning from Jesus in their gospel accounts. They both report that Jesus described the nature of this future event as unprecedented in scope and scale.

“For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again. In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones.” – Matthew 24:21-22 NLT

And all three gospel writers reveal that this future event will be accompanied by remarkable cosmic signs and supernatural environmental disasters.

“…there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides. People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” – Luke 21:25-26 NLT

But when the people on earth least expect it, they will suddenly “see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27 NLT). This is a reference to Jesus’ second coming, when He returns to earth as the King of kings and Lord of lords. This will take place at the end of the seven years of Tribulation that immediately follow the Rapture of the Church. The timeline goes something like this: As 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 indicates, the Lord will one day return for His bride, the church. This Rapture or “snatching up” up of God’s people will remove all believers from the face of the earth. This will also remove the restraining influence that God’s people provide. With believers no longer present to mitigate the devastating influence of evil, the world will become a place marked by unrestrained sin and rebellion against God. Yet, even then, God will redeem a remnant from among those living on earth in those days. They will end up as martyrs, the unfortunate recipients of the Satan-inspired wrath of the Antichrist. And while God will rain down a series of devastating judgments upon the world, most of those living in those days will refuse to honor Him as God. So, at the end of the seven years, God will send His Son to earth a second time. 

The apostle John describes the nature of Jesus’ second coming in vivid terms.

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 NLT

The disciples of Jesus will be long gone before this event takes place. Yet, Jesus told them, “…when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luk2 21:28 ESV). They were going to witness the “birth pains” that would preview the coming of His return, but they would not live long enough to see Him “coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27 ESV). But they could rest in the knowledge that God’s grand redemptive plan for the world was impeccable and unstoppable. His will would eventually be done on earth as it is in heaven.

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

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

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

The End

7 And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.”

10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.  Luke 21:7-19 ESV

This was not what the disciples wanted to hear. After delivering the shocking news that the beautiful temple would one day be destroyed, Jesus led His disciples out of the city of Jerusalem and up the Mount of Olives. This location just across the Kidron Valley from the eastern walls of the city, provided an elevated vantage point from which to view the capital and its glorious temple. From this secluded spot, Jesus continued to teach His disciples and prepare them for the fateful days that lie ahead. His address to these men has come to be known as the Olivet Discourse.

As expected, the disciples were struggling with Jesus’ stunning pronouncement that the sacred house of God was going to be destroyed. This concept would have been unfathomable to the disciples, and would have caused them to consider the last time the temple of God had been destroyed. It had taken place more than six centuries earlier, when the Babylonians had conquered Jerusalem, leaving a path of death and destruction in their wake. In the process, they destroyed the majestic temple that Solomon had constructed. And for 70 years, the city and its once-magnificent temple sat abandoned until God orchestrated the return of a remnant of the people from their exile in Babylon. Under the leadership of Nehemiah, this ragtag group of former slaves had been able to rebuild and restore the temple and the city. But it would be more than five centuries later before Herod the Great orchestrated a massive remodeling project that would greatly enhance and expand the temple.

As the disciples looked back across the Kidron Valley, they could see the facade of this beautiful structure gleaming in the afternoon sun. This sight, coupled with Jesus’ words, led four of the disciples to approach Him for more information (Mark 13:3). James, John, Peter, and Andrew wanted to know more, so these two sets of brothers asked Jesus for an explanation.

“Teacher,” they asked, “when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to take place?” – Luke 21:7 NLT

Their questions reveal that they were focused on the destruction of the temple. They wanted to know when this horrific act of judgment would take place and if there would be any warning signs. Basically, they were wanting to know if it was going to happen soon and if they would have ample warning so they could be out of the city when it took place. But their full attention appears to have been on the city and the temple. Despite all of Jesus’ earlier warnings about His pending death in Jerusalem, these men were more concerned about the possible destruction of the temple than anything else.

In his gospel account, John records another Passover, three years earlier, when Jesus had cleared the temple of the moneychangers and vendors. The Jewish religious leaders had demanded that Jesus show them a sign that would prove His authority to do such a thing. And Jesus had responded:

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” – John 2:19 ESV

But these learned men failed to catch the symbolic nature of His answer. Instead, they took Him literally, viewing His answer as utterly ridiculous and impossible.

“It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”  – John 2:20 ESV

John goes on to explain, Jesus “was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21 ESV). But the disciples would not connect the dots until after Jesus had died and been raised back to life. So, as they sat on the Mount of Olives watching the rays of the setting sun reflect off the gold inlay of the temple, they were fixated on its destruction, but not on the fast-approaching death of their Lord and Master.

But Jesus, sensing their confusion and concern, provided them with a foretaste of things to come.

“Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and saying, ‘The time has come!’ But don’t believe them. And when you hear of wars and insurrections, don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place first, but the end won’t follow immediately.” – Luke 21:8-9 NLT

Jesus accelerated the narrative to a day in the far-distant future, when the end of the age was to take place. He compressed and combined a great many events into a single answer, providing His disciples with an overview of things to come. He knew they were fixated on the day in which they lived. They were wanting to know when the temple would be destroyed and what the conditions would be like when it happened. But Jesus was speaking of future events that would take place long after the disciples were dead and gone.

Roughly four decades later, the Romans would destroy the city of Jerusalem and its magnificent temple. Some of the disciples would live long enough to witness that fateful day. And yet, Jesus was speaking of events that still remain unfulfilled, even in our day. He described those who would show up in that future day, claiming to be Him and declaring themselves to be the messiah or savior offering deliverance. He warned of a future marked by wars, civil unrest, and natural disasters. But these “signs” would be nothing but the “birth pains” (Mark 15:8) that precede the fast-approaching climax of the redemptive history. They will merely preface the end of the age.

Jesus was providing James, John, Peter, and Andrew with a comprehensive overview of the eschaton or end times. But He didn’t do so in easy-to-understand terms that fall into a simple chronological sequence. The disciples had no idea what was about to happen. In just a matter of days, their world would be rocked by the death of Jesus. But then, three days later, He would rise again. Then, He would return to His Father in heaven and send the Spirit to indwell and empower the disciples for the work He had commissioned them to do. As a result, they would plan a major role in the dissemination of the gospel and the subsequent growth of the church.

But centuries would pass and, even as the church continued to grow, the spiritual state of the world would continue to decay. And it will continue do so until Jesus returns to the earth. The downward spiral of humanity’s spiritual condition will  accelerate and intensify, reaching its lowest point until the rapture of the church takes place. This mass exodus of all believers from the face of the earth will usher in a time of tribulation, “such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be” (Matthew 24:21 ESV).

Jesus was giving these four men a crash course in eschatology or the study of end times. While their minds were fixated on the temple and its possible destruction, Jesus was trying to get them to see the bigger picture. There was far more going on than they realized. The temple was not as important and integral as they believed it to be. Jesus’ emphasis on nations and kingdoms subtly reveals that the people of Israel will no longer be the focal point of God’s redemptive story. It is not that He will abandon them, but that He will use their rejection of His Son and their subsequent role in His death, as an impetus to include people of every tribe, nation, and tongue into His family.

And the apostle Paul reminds us that God has great plans in store for His chosen people. Their initial rejection of the Messiah did not permanently invalidate His covenant commitments to them. He will remain faithful and fulfill every promise He has made to them.

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

But Jesus wanted these four men to understand that while much of what He just described was to take place in the distant future, they were to be on their guard. The days ahead were going to be filled with uncertainty and the very real threat of persecution.

You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” – Luke 13:13 ESV

With His death, resurrection, and ascension, their lives would get much more complicated. In the process of taking the gospel to the nations, they would face trials and difficulties of all kinds. But they would have the indwelling Spirit of God to guide, protect, and empower them. They needed to stop worrying about the temple of God and begin thinking about the will of God. What was He doing in their midst? What did He have planned for them to do in the days ahead? And Jesus told them that. while things would get far worse before they got better, they could rest assured that their lives were held securely in God’s hands.

“But not a hair of your head will perish! By standing firm, you will win your souls.” – Luke 21:18-19 NLT

According to Jesus, the future would be filled with all kinds of uncomfortable and settling signs.

Sign 1: False Messiahs

Sign 2: Wars, threats of wars, and insurrections

Sign 3: Global conflict

Sign 4: Natural disasters

Sign 5: Personal Persecution 

Sign 6: Denial of Christ and Spiritual Apathy 

Sign 7: The Perseverance of the Saints and the Spread of the Gospel 

But in spite of the fact that many would end up deserting and denying Jesus, there would be those who endured and persevered to the end. They would remain faithful, resulting in the spread of the good news about the Kingdom throughout the world. This includes the period of time from Jesus’ ascension all the way to the end. And it will be at that time that Jesus returns.

This incredible passage provides us with a glimpse into the future of not only Israel but the world. Jesus was preparing His disciples to think globally and eternally. He was attempting to move their point of reference from the here-and-now to the yet-to-be. These men had been obsessed with their own immediate context. They had hoped that Jesus was going to establish His Messianic Kingdom in their lifetimes. They had a difficult time accepting His repeated predictions of His death in Jerusalem. And the very thought of the temple being destroyed was unfathomable to them. That was inconceivable and unacceptable. But Jesus had a long-term perspective that was focused on God’s eternal plan of redemption. He was not done yet. He had to die. He had to rise again. He had to return to His Father’s side. And then, one day, when the time is right, He will return to earth and complete His Father’s will.

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

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

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

Righteous Indignation Against Unrighteous Indifference

45 And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, 46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”

47 And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words. Luke 19:45-48 ESV

Jesus clearing the templeThere are few scenes related to the life of Jesus that are more recognizable than the one of Him cleansing the temple. But the image of the Savior of the world wielding a whip in His hands and angrily clearing the temple courtyard is difficult for most of us to reconcile. It seems so out of character. Just a few verses earlier, Matthew described Jesus riding serenely on the colt of a donkey, basking in the adulation and praise of the crowd. People were shouting His praises, declaring Him to be “the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee” (Matthew 21:16 ESV).

But here we see the prophet doing what prophets were prone to do: Calling the people of God to account. He walked into the temple, His Father’s house, witnessed the unacceptable, carnival-like atmosphere, and was appalled.

It’s important to remember what the people had said about Jesus as He made His way into Jerusalem. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38 ESV). In his gospel account, Matthew adds that the enthusiastic crowd shouted,  “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matthew 21:9 ESV). They were acknowledging Jesus to be a descendant of David and the legal heir to his throne. And as such, He would have the God-given responsibility to protect the integrity of God’s house and name.

When Solomon, King David’s son and heir to the throne, had dedicated the newly constructed temple, God said to him:

“I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And this house will become a heap of ruins.” – 1 Kings 9:3-8 ESV

Solomon was responsible for the protection of the temple but, more importantly, he was charged with protecting the integrity of his own walk. He was to be a model son of God and a faithful king to the people of God. But he failed. And, as a result, God eventually brought about the destruction of the structure that bore His name. The book of 2 Kings tells us exactly how it happened.

In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. – 2 Kings 25:8-9 ESV

And here, in Luke’s gospel, we find Jesus walking into Herod’s temple, a far-less-luxurious version of the original temple, and seeing signs of Israel’s sordid spiritual condition yet again.

second_temple1.jpgThis scene most likely took place in the Court of the Gentiles. This was the only place on the temple grounds where non-Jews were allowed to gather. The religious leaders had turned this area into a marketplace filled with money-changing booths, as well as vendors selling doves and other sacrificial animals. You would have heard the bleating of goats and lambs, the bellowing of oxen, and been confronted with all the smells that come with large herds of domesticated animals. And to top it all off, there was graft and corruption taking place. The priests were responsible for approving the animals brought for sacrifice. And if someone brought an unacceptable animal, they would be sold a replacement, at a healthy profit. Then the priests would take the original “blemished” animal and recycle it for sale to another pilgrim.

It was this atmosphere of blatant sin and corruption that angered Jesus. Quoting from Isaiah 56:7, Jesus emphasized the glaring difference between God’s view of His temple and that of the religious leaders of Israel.

“…these I will bring to my holy mountain,
    and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
    for all peoples.” – Isaiah 56:7 ESV

God had been relegated to the background. The Feast of Passover, intended to commemorate and celebrate God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from Egypt, had been desecrated by the greed and avarice of men. And the sacred sacrificial system that God had ordained to provide atonement for the sins of men had become a man-made spectacle that had little or no bearing on its original intent. God had designed the temple as a place for the people to receive cleansing for their sins. Now, they were committing sins within the very gates where sacrifice and forgiveness for sins were to be found.

Hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Isaiah had recorded God’s anger against Israel for their blatant disregard for His holiness and their own unrighteousness.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’” – Jeremiah 7:3-4 ESV

The people of Israel were guilty of viewing the temple as a kind of security blanket, providing them with comfort and a sense of God’s approval, regardless of how they actually lived their lives. But God had bad news for them.

“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 7:8-11 ESV

God accused them of exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows. He described them as murderers and idolaters. And yet, they continued to come to the temple to offer their sacrifices to God, as if nothing was wrong. They were unrepentant and unapologetic, stubbornly clinging to their sinful behavior.

And, over the centuries, nothing had changed. There was a new temple, but they suffered from the same old problem. They were putting all their hope in a building. In their minds, it was the temple that assured them of God’s presence. Like their ancestors, they stood before God in the temple courtyard and said, “We are delivered.” But they were wrong. The temple’s existence was not a guarantee of God’s presence. And it certainly was not a sign of God’s approval of their lifestyle.

It is important to remember that Jesus had come to Jerusalem with a single objective in mind. He was on His way to the cross, to give His life as a ransom for the sins of mankind. He was to be the sacrificial lamb who, as John the Baptist had stated, “takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 ESV). We can only imagine the anger Jesus must have felt at the spectacle He witnessed. The priests, scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees had turned the sacrificial system of God into a farce. It had become nothing more than a ritualistic, holiday-like scene where the grace and mercy of God had been crowded out and long forgotten.

But Jesus had come to change all that. He came to give His life as a payment for man’s sins. And unlike the sacrifices that took place in the temple, His death would be a one-time, and once for-all-time sacrifice.

He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. – Hebrews 7:27 ESV

…so also Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. – Hebrews 9:28 NLT

What an amazing contrast. Here was the sinless Lamb of God having to cleanse the house of God, because the people of God had defiled it once again with their very presence. The place where atonement was to be found had become a spēlaion or hiding place for thieves, idolaters, liars, the immoral, and the ungodly. They felt no conviction for their sins. Instead, they viewed themselves as right with God. But they were sorely mistaken.

Earlier in this same chapter, Luke recorded how Jesus was impacted when He saw the city of Jerusalem as He made His way from the Mount of Olives.

“How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.” – Luke 19:42-44 NLT

Jesus was prophesying the future destruction of Jerusalem, when on August 10, 70 A.D., the Romans would quell a Jewish revolt by putting the city to the torch and destroying the temple. Jesus would later predict the devastating nature of this event, letting His disciples know that the destruction of the temple would be complete.

“Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” – Matthew 24:2 NLT

The people of Israel were not interested in a Savior. They viewed themselves as the chosen people of God and, therefore, protected by His hand. As long as they had the temple and the sacrificial system, they were safe. Or so they thought. They had long ago forgotten that the temple was to be a place of prayer, but a specific kind of prayer. Solomon, in his prayer of dedication of the temple, had been very specific about the kind of prayer that was to be prayed.

“…if they pray toward this place and acknowledge your name and turn from their sin, when you afflict them, then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel…” – 1 Kings 8:35-36 ESV

But the people of Israel remained unrepentant. Even now, with the Messiah standing in their midst, they would refuse to accept Him as their Savior. Yet, Jesus would go through with His God-ordained mission to provide a permanent solution for man’s sin problem. He would die. Not in spite of their sin, but because of it. And His death would do what no other sacrifice could: Provide sinful men with a means by which they could be restored to a right relationship with God.

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

Cheers and Jeers

28 And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’” 32 So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. 33 And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” 35 And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, 38 saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” – Luke 19:28-40 ESV

As Jesus departed Jericho, He continued His journey to the city of Jerusalem. The King was preparing to enter the royal City of David, just as the disciples had hoped He would do. Despite all Jesus’ warnings about the fate that awaited Him in the capital city, His disciples were still expecting Him to fulfill what they believed to be His messianic role. According to their understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus was destined to inherit the throne of His forefather, King David. The prophets had foretold of a day when the Anointed One would come who would usher in a new age marked by Israel’s return to power and dominance. So, for the 12 disciples, this was an exciting time filled with eager anticipation. Jesus’ dire warnings concerning His arrest, trials, and execution were far from their minds.

But Jesus was well aware of all that awaited Him in Jerusalem, and His emotions must have been conflicted as He considered all that was taking place around Him. He could sense the excitement of His disciples as they drew closer to the city. There was a festive mood on the roads and in the villages surrounding Jerusalem because of all the pilgrims who were making their way to the city in order to celebrate Passover. Joy filled the air as Jews from all over Israel made the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for this much-revered holy week.

But all the excitement was tempered by an underlying sense of doom. For Jesus this trip had a two-fold purpose: He would celebrate the Feast of Passover with His disciples one last time and He would present Himself as the sacrificial Lamb for the sins of mankind. It would be a time marked by joy and great sadness. There would be feasting and suffering, celebration and sacrifice, and cries of “Hosanna!” and “crucify Him!”

And while there were those anxious to see if Jesus would make an appearance, others were on the lookout for the Rabbi from Nazareth for much more clandestine reasons.

Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him. – John 11:55-57 ESV

Not long before Jesus began His trip to Jerusalem, He had performed yet another miracle in the city of Bethany, just two miles from Jerusalem. It was there that He had raised Lazarus from the dead. And that particular miracle had created quite a stir among the people, causing many to believe in Him. But the religious leaders remained vehemently opposed to Jesus. They saw Him not as a Messiah to be worshiped, but as a radical to be exterminated. The apostle John attempts to explain the growing hatred these men held for Jesus.

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. – John 11:45-53 ESV

We know from John’s gospel account that just six days before Jesus entered Jerusalem, He had returned to Bethany, where He shared a meal with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, the man He had raised from the dead. Ever since his miraculous restoration, Lazarus had become a celebrity. John tells us that “When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead” (John 12:9 ESV). But while Lazarus had become famous among the people, he had become infamous to the religious leaders. 

So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus. – John 12:10-11 ESV

So, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was filled with mixed emotions. There were cheering crowds who welcome Him as they would a king. And His 12 disciples were most likely elated at the reaction of the crowds. It would have been a good omen to them. Maybe this would be the day when Jesus declared Himself king of Israel. Perhaps Jesus would see the positive response of the people and give up all His talk about being mocked, flogged, and crucified.

But while the throng of people crowding the streets contained many who believed in Jesus, it seems that their belief was limited in scope. Yes, they cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” But when asked about the identity of Jesus, they simply responded, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.

They had high hopes. In their hearts, they wanted to believe that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, but they could not bring themselves to buy into His identity as the Son of God. In their minds, He was Jesus from Nazareth, most likely a prophet sent by God, and a man who possessed indisputable, supernatural powers. And the fervor of these “believers” was contagious, causing others to get caught up in the excitement of the moment. But the religious leaders remained filled with contempt and were anxious to capture Jesus before His presence and popularity stirred up any more trouble.

And it’s interesting to note that Jesus did not enter the city silently and clandestinely. He most certainly knew what the Pharisees and scribes were up to. He had already predicted His own betrayal and arrest. So, why did He choose to enter in such a blatantly conspicuous way? Jesus was providing His disciples with proof of His Messianic role by fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming king of Israel. Every one of the instructions He gave His disciples was intended to reveal and confirm His true identity to them. Even His request that they retrieve a donkey and its colt was evidence that He was the Messiah. It fulfilled the words of the prophet, Zechariah, recorded hundreds of years earlier.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
    righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey. – Zecharaiah 9:9 ESV

Everything that happened from this point forward was proof that Jesus was the Messiah, the one whom God had promised would come. And the people, either knowingly or ignorantly, confirmed His identity, when they shouted, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38 ESV). Both Mark and Matthew record that the crowds added the triumphant word, “Hosanna.” 

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” – Matthew 21:9 ESV

“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” – Mark 11:9-10 ESV

The word “hosanna” literally means “save us now.” Their designation of Jesus as the Son of David was a Messianic title. They were declaring Jesus to be the long-awaited Messiah and King of Israel. But did they really believe what they were saying? Were their cheers and words of declaration the result of true belief or wishful thinking?

Luke records that the Pharisees demanded that Jesus rebuke the crowds for what they were saying, but Jesus simply responded, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 11:40 ESV). This was a God-ordained event, designed to give further proof that Jesus was who He had claimed to be.

God was using the crowds to declare the glory of His Son. And, as Jesus stated, God could have chosen inanimate rocks to do the job instead. The glorification of His Son had begun and nothing was going to prevent that from happening. Yet, as Matthew records in his gospel account, the majority of the people who placed palm branches before Jesus and declared Him to be the Son of David would later cry out for His crucifixion.

Emotions were running high that day in Jerusalem. Matthew tells us that the city was “stirred up” because of Jesus. The Greek word he used is seiō, and it means “to be agitated, shaken, or rocked.” The arrival of Jesus was like an earthquake, shaking the entire city to its core. And, as we will see, Jesus was not done yet. This was not going to be a quiet or covert period of His life. Things were building up to a dramatic climax. The tension was mounting. His entire earthly ministry had been pointing to this moment, and the spiritual battle that began with His temptation in the wilderness three years earlier was coming to a final, decisive conclusion.

The event recorded in this passage is often referred to as the “Triumphal Entry.” And while His entry into Jerusalem was accompanied by cheering crowds and outward signs of acceptance and adulation, there was something sinister going on behind the scenes. The adoring multitude with their smiling faces would soon dissipate and disperse. The warm welcome would not last because a battle of epic proportions was about to take place. This entire scene serves as the preface for a spiritual confrontation that will rock the world. The Son of God is about to go to war “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV).

From the moment Jesus took on human flesh and came in the form of an innocent baby, Satan had been trying to eliminate this threat to his earthly dominion and rule. All the spiritual forces of evil were aligning themselves against Jesus, in one final attempt to thwart the will of God. But Jesus’ battle with Satan would not involve demons and angels wielding swords and spears. It would entail Jesus sacrificing His life as payment for the sins of mankind. He would defeat the enemy by offering Himself as the atoning sacrifice for the Satan-inspired rebellion against God. His death would be viewed as a defeat by His disappointed disciples. But the King would prove to be victorious over sin and death when He was raised back to life.

None of this was apparent to the disciples as they fetched the donkey and reveled in the shouts of the crowd. They were oblivious to what was about to happen. But in time, they would see the battle lines being drawn and the forces of evil aligning themselves against Jesus. It was the calm before the storm.

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