Faithful In the Face of Death.

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” – Matthew 26:36-46 ESV

agony-in-the-garden-1-1024x768.jpgHaving completed the Passover meal, Jesus and His disciples made their way through the city of Jerusalem, out the eastern gate, and onto the Mount of Olives. They stopped at a place called Gethsemane, which means “an olive press.” Here, Jesus took three of His disciples, Peter, James and John, and found a secluded place where He could pray. These are the same three men He took with Him when He experienced His transfiguration. On this occasion, rather than seeing Jesus in His glorified state, they would watch as He agonized over His coming trials.

Jesus described to them His state of mind: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38 ESV). His emotional state was one of deep and overwhelming sadness over what was about to happen. His sorrow alone was enough to kill Him. But what was it that caused such a drastic state of deep melancholy in Jesus? Was He afraid to die? Did He regret His decision to sacrifice Himself on behalf of sinful mankind? Was He having second thoughts? The text, along with the words and actions of Jesus, provide us with the answers. Matthew relates that Jesus went off by Himself and immediately fell on His face before His Father in a state of prayer. He pleaded, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39 ESV).

One of the things this passage reveals is the human side of Jesus’ nature. He was 100 percent God, but also 100 percent man – a state often referred to as the hypostatic union. At His incarnation, Jesus, the eternal, second person of the Trinity, became the God-man. His assumption of a human nature was essential to the role He would play as the Savior of mankind. The author of Hebrews explains:

Because God’s children are human beings–made of flesh and blood–the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. – Hebrews 2:14 NLT

The apostle Paul would put it this way:

[God] sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. – Romans 8:3 NLT

Jesus never relinquished any of His divine nature, but, in becoming a man, He combined His human and divine natures into one person. And as a man, Jesus felt pain, experienced hunger, grew tired, and, as we will see, could suffer death. In His humanity, Jesus knew that what He was about to endure would be excruciatingly painful. He would be scourged mercilessly with a flagellum, a whip featuring multiple leather strands, each weighted with lead balls or pieces of bone. He would be beaten, spit upon, slapped and degraded. And eventually, He would be nailed to a wooden cross and left to die by exposure and suffocation. Jesus’ human nature was repulsed by the prospect of facing such a painful and gruesome death. He longed for another way, a plan B. But, in His divinity, He knew that this was all part of His Father’s sovereign will. Which is why He stated, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39 ESV).

But there is a second explanation behind Jesus’ intense sorrow and His cry for an alternative plan. He was fully aware that, upon the cross, He would be taking on the sin debt of the entire world. He who never committed a single sin would bear the weight of God’s wrath against all the sins of men for all time.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

Sin separates mankind from God. And Jesus knew that, when He took on the sin debt of mankind, He would become separated from His Father for the first time in all of eternity. Their fellowship would be broken. And, in His divine nature, that prospect was unfathomable and unthinkable to Jesus. But He knew it was all part of God’s plan and, therefore, necessary.

Jesus longed for this “cup of wrath” to pass. If you recall, back in chapter 20, Matthew recorded an encounter between Jesus and the mother of James and John, the two brothers who were with Him in Gethsemane that night. She had asked Jesus to allow her two sons to sit on His right and on His left when He established His kingdom on earth. But Jesus had responded to her two sons, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?” (Matthew 20:22 NLT). Only He was worthy to suffer for the sins of mankind. He alone could meet God’s demanding criteria for an acceptable sacrifice – an unblemished, sinless Lamb.

And it’s interesting to note that when Jesus stopped to check on Peter, James and John, He found them asleep. While He had been agonizing over His coming death, these three were obviously unconcerned with and unsympathetic to His pain. They slept while Jesus wept. And Jesus made an interesting observation, stating, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41 ESV). This was most likely aimed at Peter, who had been the one who had vehemently denied Jesus prediction that they would all bail on Him in His time of greatest need.

“Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” – Matthew 26:33 ESV).

And yet, here was Peter finding it difficult to even stay awake while His master suffered under the weight of His pending death.

Three separate times Jesus expressed His feelings to His heavenly Father, and three times He communicated His willingness to do His Father’s will. He was committed. Every ounce of His humanity longed to escape what was to come, but His divinity provided the strength He needed to do what He had been called to do.

In his commentary on the book of Matthew, D.A. Carson writes:

“In the first garden ‘Not your will but mine’ changed Paradise to desert and brought man from Eden to Gethsemane. Now ‘Not my will but yours’ brings anguish to the man who prays it but transforms the desert into the kingdom and brings man from Gethsemane to the gates of glory.” – D.A. Carson, “Matthew,” p. 545.

Jesus was willing to face the fate God had planned for Him, because He trusted His heavenly Father. He knew that there was no other way. Salvation was only possible through His obedient submission to the sovereign will of God the Father. And the hour had come for Him to begin His journey from Gethsemane to Golgotha. Having finished His prayer time with the Father, Jesus turned to His disciples and said, “the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Matthew 26:45 ESV). Judas was on his way, bringing with him the guards of the high priest. The darkness of that night was about to deepen as the forces of evil began their ill-fated attempt to snuff out the Light of the world.

But as John would later write:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. – John 1:5 NLT

God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants. – John 3:19-21 NLT

Jesus would end up buried in the darkness of a borrowed tomb. His life would be forcefully taken from Him, but as He had predicted, it would be on His terms.

“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:18 NLT

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

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

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

14 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, 15 said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 17 And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For 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 17:14-20 ESV

While Peter, James and John had been on the mountaintop witnessing the miracle of Jesus’ transfiguration, the rest of the disciples had been down in the valley trying to manufacture a miracle of their own. But they had failed miserably. While Jesus had been away, the crowds had not stopped showing up. A man had approached the disciples seeking help for his son, who was possessed by a demon that caused the young boy to have violent, uncontrollable seizures. The disciples had tried to help the boy, but had been unsuccessful. Now, the man had returned, bringing his need directly to Jesus.

This story sets up an interesting contrast between the three disciples who had been privileged to witness the transfiguration and the nine who had remained behind. The primary issue is that of faith. Peter, James and John had seen Jesus transformed into a glorified state. They had seen Moses and Elijah “who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure” (Luke 9:31 ESV). The word translated “departure” is actually the Greek word exodos, which refers to “one’s final fate” or “departure from life” (“G1841 – exodos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 7 Sep, 2018). Peter, James and John had heard Moses and Elijah discussing Jesus’ coming death and then had heard God say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5 ESV). But the rest of the disciples had experienced none of this and Peter, James and John had been sworn to secrecy by Jesus. 

So, when Jesus heard the report of the father regarding the disciples’ unsuccessful attempt to heal his son, Jesus was immediately faced with the lagging faith of the men He had chosen as His followers. This scene is reminiscent of the time Moses came down off Mount Sinai, holding the tablets containing the law of God in his hands. When he arrived in the camp of the Israelites, he had found them dancing before the golden calf. They had lost faith. In their minds, Moses had abandoned them, so they had turned to Aaron and said, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Exodus 32:1 ESV). Their creation of the false god was simply a sign of their lack of faith in the one true God.

And when Jesus returned from the mountaintop and heard His disciples had been unable to heal in His absence, He recognized it as a lack of faith. It’s important to note that these are the same men whom Jesus had sent out earlier and had empowered to preach the gospel and perform miracles in His name.

1 And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. – Luke 9:1-12 ESV

And according to Matthew’s account, Jesus had been very specific in what He expected them to do with the power He was giving them.

“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” – Matthew 10:6 ESV

Luke tells us that they did just as Jesus had commanded them.

And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere. – Luke 9:6 ESV

Yet, in this most recent case, they had been unable to heal the boy. They had tried, but failed. And the response of Jesus seems surprisingly harsh.

“You unbelieving and perverse generation! How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I endure you?” – Matthew 17:17 NLT

Jesus was constantly surrounded by unbelief. The Pharisees, scribes and Sadducees refused to believe in Him. The Jewish people, while enamored with His power, were unwilling to recognize Him as their Messiah. And now, He had to witness the lack of faith of His own disciples. What a letdown from His experience on the mountaintop. There, He had been encouraged by Moses and Elijah, who spoke to Him of the necessity of His coming death. He had been confirmed by His heavenly Father who spoke of His pleasure in Him. But to return from the mountaintop to the valley and find His disciples struggling with their faith was a rude reminder of the enormity of His task.

The words of Jesus echo those of God, spoken in regard to the people of Israel hundreds of years earlier.

“…they are a perverse generation,
    children in whom is no faithfulness…” – Deuteronomy 32:20 ESV

The disciples were Jesus’ hand-picked followers in whom He was going to place the responsibility to carrying on His ministry after His departure. They were to be His apostles, His messengers of the good news. But at this point, they were still struggling with a lack of faith. After they had watched Jesus heal the boy, they asked Him why they had been unsuccessful. And His answer was probably difficult for them to hear.

“Because of your little faith. For 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

It would seem that the disciples had divorced their ability to heal from their faith in Jesus. To them, the capacity to heal was nothing more than some kind of new power they possessed, in and of themselves. They must have seen themselves as permantly endowed with the same kind of miraculous powers that Jesus had. In a way, they had placed their faith in their ability to heal. They had experienced it before, so why not think they could do it again. But what was missing? Jesus. Or better yet, their faith in Jesus. They had tried to heal the boy in their own strength. And they had failed. The source of their miraculous powers was Jesus. In fact, it was their faith in Jesus as the Son of God that would enable them to do great things in His name. The apostle Paul would later explain the focus of his faith and the source of his strength.

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:13 NLT

Jesus would later tell the disciples, “whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Matthew 21:22 ESV). The disciples had lacked faith. And it was not the quantity of their faith that was the issue. It was the focus of their faith. A little faith properly placed in Jesus can move mountains. But great faith placed in something or someone other than Jesus will always prove powerless.

It’s likely that the disciples had tried to heal the boy in order to impress the crowds with their supernatural powers. They wanted everyone to know that they could do what Jesus could do. But without Jesus, they were impotent. Left to themselves, they had no power. And Jesus described them as faithless and twisted. They were without faith in Him. And they were actually twisted in their perceptions of why Jesus had come. It wasn’t about healing and miracles. It was about the kingdom of heaven. Their focus was on the wrong thing. Their minds were set on something other than what Jesus had come to do. And until they placed their fledgling faith fully in Jesus, they would continue to struggle.

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

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

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

A Glimpse of Things to Come.

1 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” 10 And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 11 He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. 12 But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. –  Matthew 17:1-13 ESV

It’s important to remember that there were no chapter designations in the original version of Matthew’s gospel. So the closing sentence of chapter 16 would have flowed directly into our passage for today.

“Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” – Matthew 16:28 ESV

Just six days later, Jesus would choose three of His disciples to accompany Him to the top of a nearby mountain. While there has been much speculation over the years as to the exact identity of the mountain to which Matthew referred, none of the gospel writers provide us with the identity. The location of the mountain was not the point of the story, but the details of event that took place on the mountain.

Jesus handpicked Peter, James and John to join Him on this particular occasion. They were given the unique privilege of witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime scene that was designed to confirm Jesus’ identity as the Messiah.

What the disciples witnessed must have blown them away. And the fact that this incredible scene took place on a mountaintop, accompanied by the presence of Moses and Elijah, would not have escaped them. These two men had also had mountaintop encounters with God. They’re described in Exodus 19 and 1 Kings 19 respectively. And in both cases, their divine encounters had taken place on Mt Sinai. So, for the three disciples, who would have very familiar with the stories of Moses and Elijah, God’s choice of location at which to appear would have made all the sense in the world.

But they were not prepared for what they witnessed. In fact, when they had gone up on the mountain they don’t appear to have been expecting much to happen, because Luke points out that the three of them had fallen fast asleep. But they woke up to find that Jesus had been transfigured. The Greek word is metamorphoō, from which we get our English word, metamorphosis. Jesus was literally transformed in His appearance.

…his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light… – Matthew 17:2 ESV

The change that came over Him was visible and undeniable. Mark describes the brightness of His clothes “as no one on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:3 ESV). But that’s not all that happened. Matthew states that the figures of Moses and Elijah appeared alongside Jesus. And Matthew and Mark both emphasize that these two men appeared before them – the disciples. Peter, James and John were given the privilege of seeing these two great patriarchs appear next to Jesus. We’re not told how they recognized them. Moses and Elijah had lived hundreds of years earlier and there would have been no photographic record of their appearance. But somehow, the three disciples knew that they were watching Jesus dialogue with these two long-deceased heros of the Hebrew faith.

And Luke includes the content of their discussion with Jesus. They “spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31 ESV). Remember what Jesus had told the disciples just six days earlier:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. – Matthew 16:21 ESV

The words of Jesus were confirmed for Peter, James and John as they overheard Moses and Elijah discussing the very same topic. This whole scene was for the benefit of the three disciples. This was a God-ordained event designed to fully confirm the disciples’ belief that Jesus was the Messiah. It’s important to consider the significance of the appearance of Moses and Elijah. Moses was synonymous with the law of God. Elijah was one of the premier prophets of God. And later, after Jesus had died and resurrected, He would appear to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and Luke records that “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 ESV).

Later on, in Luke’s account, Jesus appeared before all His disciples and told them:

44 “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” – Luke 24:44-47 ESV

Through the transfiguration of Jesus and the appearance of Moses and Elijah, God was letting the disciples know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus was the Messiah, in fulfillment of all that had been written in the law and the prophets.

But look Peter’s response. He immediately offers to build shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. In essence, he wants to prolong the moment and extend the stay of the two patriarchs. He completely forgot that Moses and Elijah had discussed Jesus’ departure, not his stay. But Peter didn’t want this little get-together to end. And Matthew reports that, while the words were still on Peter’s lips, “a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him’”  (Matthew 17:5 ESV). God wanted Peter to shut up and listen. Jesus had been telling them what was going to happen. He had tried to let them know what was going to take place next. But the news Jesus had shared had prompted Peter to rebuke Him.

God wanted Peter, James and John to know that He was pleased with Jesus. The coming suffering and death of Jesus was not a sign of God’s wrath or judgment. It was all part of His divine plan for man’s redemption. And the obedience of Jesus brought great joy to the Father’s heart. He knew His Son was committed to carry out His assignment. Now, God wanted the disciples on board. And long after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter would write of this incredible experience.

16 …we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts… – 2 Peter 1:16-19 ESV

His experience on the mountaintop that day had obviously made an impression. Watching the transfiguration of Jesus had had a life-transforming effect on Peter and the other two disciples.

But as they left the mountain and descended back to the valley below, Jesus told them to keep what they had seen to themselves, until He was resurrected. It was only then that they were to proclaim the King and His kingdom. And as good Jews, they were curious to know that, if Jesus was the Messiah, why He had appeared before the return of Elijah. According to Malachi 4:5-6, Elijah was to precede the coming of the Messiah. And Jesus informed them that he had – in the form of John the Baptist. Everything was happening according to God’s plan and in keeping with and in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

But Jesus still had to suffer and die. His resurrection could not take place until He had gone through the humiliation of death on a cross. The disciples had had the mountain top experience. They had seen Jesus in all His glory. But now that they were back in the valley, they would have to endure the slow, steady march of Jesus as He made His way to Jerusalem and the cross.

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

Salt and Light.

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:13-16 ESV

There are two important questions raised by this section of Jesus’ sermon. The first has to do with who He is addressing. We know that He is standing before a large crowd which Luke describes as “a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases” (Luke 6:17-18 ESV). But we also know that the 12 men He had recently chosen to be His apostles are also part of the audience. So, when Jesus uses the term, “you,” to whom is He referring, the entire crowd or just His 12 hand-picked followers? The answer is most likely both. Jesus intended everyone in the crowd that day to hear His words, but the application would differ depending upon the nature of each individual’s relationship with Him. The crowds were there out of curiosity or, in some cases, need. There were those who had showed up hoping to be healed. Others had come to see Jesus perform a miracle and to find out what all the excitement was about. The 12 apostles were there because they had been called by Jesus and were attracted to His ministry and message. At this early stage in their relationship with Him, they were still ignorant of His exact identity. It is clear from John’s Gospel that they believed Jesus to be the Messiah, but were probably not fully aware of what that meant. John records that Andrew, after having met Jesus, sought out his brother, Simon, and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ)” (John 1:41 ESV). Not long after this, Philip, having been called by Jesus, found Nathanael and told him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45 ESV). And Nathanael, upon meeting Jesus for the first time, would exclaim, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49 ESV). Their collective concept of Jesus’ identity was still cloudy and a bit unclear. And their understanding of the role of the Messiah would have been greatly influenced by their cultural expectations as Jews. They were looking for a king, a liberator who would restore the Jewish people to power and prominence, overthrowing the Roman yoke of oppression under which the nation had suffered for years. The kingdom for which they hoped and dreamed was an earthly one, similar to that of David’s, when he had reigned in Jerusalem. 

So, Jesus’ words were meant for all to hear, but they would have had different application depending upon the relationship each individual had with Him. Jesus was not ignoring the crowd and talking only to His 12 disciples. But His words would have a special significance for them because of the role they were to play in His earthly ministry – in the days ahead and long after He had gone.

The second question that is raised by Jesus words has to do with what it is He is trying to say. What does He mean and what is He looking for by way of response? There are those who believe that Jesus was simply giving a lesson outlining the expected behavior for one of His followers. They see this as little more than Jesus providing the moral and ethical guidelines for life as one of His disciples. But the problem with this interpretation is that it tends to present the Gospel as little more than an effort in behavior modification. This view overly simplifies the words of Jesus, making it sound like a life of righteousness is achievable through self-effort and personal discipline. But all that Jesus outlines in His message is unachievable through human means. The kind of life Jesus describes is impossible for men to carry out in their own strength. He is presenting a radical new way of living that will be made available only through His eventual death on the cross. He is presenting a brand of righteousness that is unattainable and unavailable apart from His sacrificial death on the cross. There was not a single individual in the crowd that day who could live up to what Jesus was describing as life in the kingdom of heaven. He was demanding of them something greater than they were capable of delivering. He was raising the bar of expectation for beyond their capacity to reach it.

When Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth,” He was describing an aspirational goal for all those who would become His followers. In some ways, Jesus is talking past His immediate audience and addressing all those who would later become His followers after having placed their faith in His atoning death on the cross. There is a sense in which Jesus is addressing two audiences: the one standing before Him on the hillside, and the much larger, universal one comprised of all those who would accept His sacrificial death on the cross as payment for their sins. They would be salt, agents of influence in the world, acting as His representatives and impacting all those around them through their very presence.

But Jesus was also indicating that every single Jew standing in the crowd that day, within earshot of His voice, had been intended by God to be an agent of change as well. They should have been salt. As God’s chosen people, they should have had a positive influence on the world around them. But they had failed. They had lost their saltiness, their distinctiveness, and were “no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (Matthew 5:13 ESV). The Jews were an oppressed people who lived under the heavy hand of Roman rule and had long ago lost their ability to influence the culture around them. But Jesus was saying that all those who are part of the kingdom of heaven will be people of influence, who dramatically impact the world around them. Their very presence in the culture will make a difference. And they will never run the risk of loving their saltiness.

And Jesus informs His audience that all those who are part of His kingdom will be like lights. They’ll make an impact. They’ll create a difference in the world around them. Light is not meant to be hidden. You don’t light a lamp and then stick it under a basket. Light is meant to illuminate and reveal. It is intended to repel darkness. God had chosen the people of Israel to be a light to the world around them, revealing to the Gentile nations what a relationship with Him should look like. They were to have been a model of righteous conduct in the midst of all the moral darkness of the world. But they had failed. Their light had gone out long ago. And John describes Jesus as the light that came into the darkness of the world, the world of Palestine, and the land of the Jews.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:9-11 ESV

The Jewish people should have been a light to the world, but they were living in darkness. The 12 men whom Jesus had called would eventually be lights in the world, but at this point in the story, they were still living with a darkened understanding of just who Jesus was and what He had come to do. Jesus was calling all those in His hearing to live lives of influence.

let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16 ESV

But what He was asking of them was impossible. They did not have the capacity to pull off what He was demanding. Even the 12 would find the kingdom life Jesus was about to describe as unachievable. It is so important that we recognize that Jesus is describing life in His kingdom that will only be made possible by His eventual death on the cross. The life Jesus describes in this passage will only become available when He completes the task assigned to Him by His heavenly Father and offers Himself as the payment for the sins of mankind. And it will not be until after His resurrection and ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit, that the 12 disciples will find themselves empowered to be the salt and light they were intended to be.

What Jesus is doing in this message is describing what is to come. He is setting the stage for what will take place after He has accomplished the will of His Father. The kingdom life is only possible because the Jesus did what He had been sent to do. The ability of the 12 to be salt and light was totally dependent upon Jesus being faithful to His calling. He did what He had to do so that we might do what we were intended to do. His death made new life possible. We can be salt and light because Jesus accomplished His Father’s will and paid the penalty for our sins. He has restored us to a right relationship with the Father and given us the Holy Spirit as the source of power that allows us to influence and illuminate the world around us.

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

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

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

Fishers of Men.

18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. Matthew 4:18-25 ESV

In Luke’s Gospel, he records that immediately after His temptation in the wilderness, Jesus had returned to Nazareth, His hometown. While there, He had attended the synagogue one day and was given the privilege of reading from the Old Testament Scriptures, as was the custom. He opened up the scroll containing the writings of the prophet, Isaiah, and read from a particular passage.

16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:16-19 NLT

Having read the passage, Jesus sat down and then stated in the hearing of all those in attendance: “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21 NLT). Jesus had taken an Old Testament prophecy concerning the Messiah and applied it to Himself. He was claiming to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophetic prediction of the coming of the anointed one – He who would bring good news to the poor. And as Matthew pointed out earlier, Jesus was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the great light that was to dawn, illuminating the spiritual darkness of the world.  

Jesus had begun His earthly ministry with the anointing of the Holy Spirit and was now prepared to take His message concerning the gospel of the kingdom to the world. But rather than begin His ministry within the confines of Jerusalem, the spiritual and political capital of Israel, Jesus had focused His attention on the region of Galilee, to the north. And instead of appealing to the powerful religious leaders of His day, Jesus took His message of good news to the peasants, even focusing His attention on common fishermen. Matthew specifically mentions two sets of brothers: Simon and Andrew and James and John. In his own Gospel account, John records that Jesus had actually met Simon, Andrew, Philip, and Nathanael some time earlier.

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).” – John 1:35-42 ESV

After their initial encounter with Jesus, it seems that Simon and Andrew had returned to their nets, having failed to sense any clear calling from Jesus to become His disciples. But when Jesus met them the second time, He made His intentions perfectly clear, commanding the two brothers to follow Him.

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” – Matthew 4:19 ESV

This statement must have sounded odd to the two men. What could Jesus have meant by the phrase, “fishers of men”? It seems unlikely that the men to whom Jesus uttered His command to follow Him understood what He was talking about. But Jesus’ wording was intentional and carried great significance. He was calling these men to a task that was far greater than anything they could have ever imagined. Their lives were about to be radically changed and the entire focus of their existence was to become irreversibly altered. Four common fishermen were about to become key players in a drama that would have eternal implications on not only the nation of Israel, but the entire world.

Jesus’ use of the term, “fishers of men” was a direct reference to another Old Testament passage in which God spoke of His plan to return His people from their captivity in Babylon. Because of the generations of unfaithfulness on the part of the people of Judah, God had allowed them to suffer defeat at the hands of the Babylonians and sent them into exile for a period of 70 years. But God had also promised to restore them to the land.

14 “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ 15 but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers.

16 “Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the Lord, and they shall catch them. And afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. – Jeremiah 16:14-16 ESV

The Hebrew word for “fishers” is dayag, and it refers to fishermen. God had promised to send fishermen to catch all those who were in exile, returning them to the land of promise. And while God had fulfilled this promise, eventually returning the people of Judah from their captivity in Babylon and restoring them to the land, they were still living in open rebellion to Him. Even at the time Jesus had begun His ministry, the nation of Israel was marked by spiritual darkness, living in the land, but still separated from God by their unrighteous and unfaithful behavior. What was missing was any kind of a right relationship with God. And Jesus was calling these four men to a task that would involve the seeking and searching for all those whom God desired to be returned to a right relationship with Himself. Simon, Andrew, James and John had spent their lives casting their nets in the waters of the Sea of Galilee, hoping to catch fish. Now, Jesus was calling them to assist in His mission to catch men.

These four unimpressive men from inauspicious backgrounds, were going to be used by God to accomplish something far greater than any of them could have ever imagined. They were to be part of a divine plan to restore sinful mankind to a right relationship with God. And these common Galilean fishermen would end up making an impact on the world that would have far-reaching implications for generations to come – on not only the Jewish people, but the nations of the world. Jeremiah wrote the words of God, promising to restore the lost and wandering people of God to a right relationship with Him.

Behold, I will bring them from the north country
    and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
    the pregnant woman and she who is in labor, together;
    a great company, they shall return here. – Jeremiah 31:8 ESV

Notice that God focused on the needy? He emphasized the blind, the lame, the helpless and vulnerable. And Matthew records that Jesus began His ministry by focusing on those who had needs, “healing every disease and every affliction among the people” (Matthew 4:23 ESV). Matthew emphasized that “they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them” (Matthew 4:24 ESV). The hurting, the helpless and the hopeless were the focus of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He enlisted the aid of the unimpressive and unqualified in order to minister to the unwanted and undesirable. And Jesus’ fame spread and His following grew.

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

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

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

A Light Has Dawned.

12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
    the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people dwelling in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
    on them a light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:12-17 ESV

It would appear, from a careful comparison of the other Gospel accounts, that at least a year passed before Matthew picked up the story of Jesus’ life after His temptation in the wilderness. Matthew mentions the arrest of John the Baptist, but provides no details regarding the facts behind his arrest. In fact, It isn’t until chapter 14 of his Gospel that Matthew sheds any light on the cause behind John’s arrest and ultimate death at the hands of Herod.

For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” – Matthew 14:3-4 ESV

Jesus had an active ministry during the time between His return from the temptation in the wilderness and the arrest and imprisonment of John. He traveled throughout Galilee, Judea and even Samaria, eventually returning to Galilee, His base of operations at the time. But why does Matthew seem to begin his chronicle of Jesus’ ministry with the arrest of John? For Matthew, the presentation of Jesus as the King was an essential purpose behind His Gospel account. And during the year period of time before John’s arrest, both Jesus and John were ministering simultaneously. John was the forerunner or herald of the coming King. He was responsible for preparing the way for the coming Messiah. By his own admission, he was nothing more than a precursor to the main act.

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” – John 1:23 ESV

And when the Jewish religious leadership sent representatives to John trying to determine exactly who he was and why he was attracting such large crowds, he flatly told them, “I am not the Christ” (John 1:20 ESV). Still confused as to his identity and role, they asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” (John 1:25 ESV). John was an anomaly to them. They couldn’t figure out who he was and why he was doing what he was doing. But they were intrigued by his message and the popularity of his ministry.

And according to John’s Gospel account, Jesus and John continued to minister simultaneously, but separately.

22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized 24 (for John had not yet been put in prison). – John 3:22-24 ESV

So, there was a period of time in which the ministries of these two men overlapped. John was still baptizing and preaching a message of repentance. But so was Jesus. And John’s disciples became concerned about what they perceived to be competition from Jesus and His disciples, eventually approaching John about the situation.

26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” – John 3:26 ESV

And John reminded them, “I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him” (John 3:28 ESV). And he let them know that his role as the herald of Jesus was destined to diminish in importance. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30 ESV). And that is exactly what was happening. John records that Jesus’ ministry began to overshadow that of John.

1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. – John 4:1-3 ESV

The arrest of John marks the end of his ministry. His days of proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven and offering baptism for the repentance of sins were over. God effectively removed him from the scene, leaving the way open for Jesus to begin His ministry with no chance of confusion or seeming competition. John had done his job and was now, in a sense, being decommissioned.

But Jesus was just beginning. He moved the base of His operations from Nazareth to Capernaum, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. And Matthew makes it clear that this was in keeping with Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. He quotes from the writings of Isaiah.

1 But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

2 The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone. – Isaiah 9:1-2 ESV

Capernaum was located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee and would play a significant role in the ministry of Jesus. From this vantage point, Jesus would minister throughout the region of Galilee, spreading His message of repentance and performing His many miracles and signs. And the apostle John emphasizes the illuminating aspect of Jesus’ ministry into the spiritual darkness of Israel at that time.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:4-5 ESV

Jesus was the light of the world, sent by God to illuminate and eventually eliminate the darkness of sin and death.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. – 1 John 1:5-7 ESV

A new light had dawned. A new day had begun. The Messiah had arrived on the scene with a new message of hope and an offer to provide those living in darkness with a way to live in the light of God’s love, free from slavery to sin and released from their hopeless attempt to earn a right standing with God through self-effort. Jesus picked up the very same message John had preached, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17 ESV). People were still going to have to change their mind about everything. Their view of sin was going to have to change. Their perspective on righteousness and how to earn it was going to have to undergo radical transformation. Their understanding of God and the true state of their relationship with Him was in need of serious re-examination. And Jesus, as the light of the world, was going to expose the true state of their spiritual health. He would display the truth about God and dispense with any preconceived notions they may have had about their own self-righteousness.

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

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

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

To Fulfill All Righteousness.

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Matthew 3:13-4:1 ESV

For three decades, Jesus had lived in relative obscurity in the region called Galilee. The four Gospels provide us with few details regarding his childhood and nothing regarding his formative years as a young man. Matthew picks up the story of the life of Jesus at His baptism by John in the wilderness. And John, while a relative of Jesus, evidently had no idea that Jesus was the one of whom he was speaking when he said, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6 ESV). John had been sent by God to act as a forerunner, a kind of herald whose job it was to proclaim the coming of the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. And evidently, there were those who wondered if John was the himself the Messiah. But John knew his role and clearly stated that there was one coming who would fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the promised Messiah.

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” – John 1:19-23

And again, John had no idea that Jesus was the one until God confirmed it for him at the baptism of Jesus.

32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” – John 1:32-34 ESV

But once John had seen the Spirit of God descend upon Jesus at His baptism, he had known without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was the Messiah, and he knew exactly why Jesus had come.

29 “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” – John 1:29-31 ESV

The baptism of Jesus acted as the inauguration of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It officially launched His campaign to take away the sins of the world. And it was marked by His anointing by the Holy Spirit and the verbal confirmation by God of His public ministry. John had been reluctant to baptize Jesus, feeling inadequate for the task and viewing Jesus as having no need of repentance. But Jesus persuaded John that this was a necessary part of God’s divine plan for His life.

“Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” – Matthew 3:15 ESV

Jesus was encouraging John to do what was right – that which was in keeping with the will of God. Matthew’s use of the word, “righteousness” has nothing to do with salvation or a right standing with God, but with conformity to the will of God. Jesus was letting John know that His baptism was God’s will and, therefore, they were morally or ethically obligated to do what God commanded. And the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus and the audible expression of God’s favor were both forms of God’s confirmation that this had all been part of His divine will.

Because Jesus was sinless, His baptism was not for the remission of sins or because He was in need of repentance. It was an act of submission to the will of His Father, and a means of identifying Himself with all those who had obeyed John’s call to baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Many had come to the wilderness to be baptized by John. But John warned them that their willingness to undergo water baptism had to be marked by true life change. He demanded that they, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:3 ESV). And when pressed by the people as to what that fruit should look like, John had given them specific examples.

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” – Luke 3:10-14 ESV

Their lives were to be marked by distinctively different behavior. Their repentance was to be characterized by life change. But what John was asking them to do was impossible. They did not have the inner capacity to live out what John was commanding. There was something missing. And John, whether he fully understood it or not, declared to the people what that missing ingredient was: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16 ESV). The water baptism John offered was insufficient to provide people with the power they needed to live truly repentant lives. But there was a baptism coming, made available by Jesus, that would include the Holy Spirit and fire, and empower all those who received it to fulfill all righteousness. Not only would they be able to do the will of God, they would find themselves in a right standing with God. And the baptism to which John eluded was that which took place years later in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples who had gathered in Jerusalem after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. – Acts 2:1-4 ESV

The power to live radically different lives was going to come from the Holy Spirit, But the Holy Spirit would not be made available until Jesus had fulfilled all righteousness, completing God’s plan for His life, which was to include His death on the cross. And it’s essential that we note that even Jesus’ earthly ministry was begun with the anointing of the Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit of God descended upon Him at His baptism, empowering Him for the task that lay ahead. All that Jesus would do in the coming days would be done in the power of the Holy Spirit. He would be led by the Spirit. And the very first verse of the very next chapter reveals that Jesus was now going to be under the guiding influence of the Spirit of God until He fully accomplished the will of God.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. – Matthew 2:1 ESV

Jesus had come to fulfill all righteousness – to do the will of His Father in heaven. And He made that point perfectly clear when He stated: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38 ESV). He would later tell His disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34 ESV). The baptism of Jesus was just the beginning of His willing submission to His Father’s plan for His life. And each step He took from that day forward, including His journey into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, was in order that He might fulfill all righteousness – doing all that God had planned for His life – so that He might be the means by which sinful mankind might have eternal life.

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

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

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

So What Was Spoken Might Be Fulfilled.

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene. Matthew 2:13-23 ESV

Matthew’s record of the coming of Jesus is not merely an historical recap of the birth of a highly influential individual like Napoleon, Gandhi, George Washington or Winston Churchill. He is not attempting to provide us with an account of how this obscure Jew named Jesus was born in Bethlehem and grew to be a seminal figure in the Jewish nation. He is out to prove that Jesus was the long-awaited and highly anticipated Messiah, the Savior of the Jewish people who had been promised by God and predicted in the Hebrew Scriptures centuries earlier. That’s why Matthew goes out of his way to fill his Gospel with references to the written Word of God found in Old Testament prophetic passages and the audible word of God, spoken by angelic messengers to Mary, Joseph and others. Unlike other men, the story of Jesus does not begin with His birth. That event marks His entry into the temporal world of mankind, as the Son of God took on human flesh and came to dwell among men. But it was not His beginning. As the apostle John reminds us:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – 1 John 1:14 ESV

And in his own Gospel account, John goes on to describe the eternal nature of Jesus.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV

We have already seen God confirm the deity of Jesus through His sending of angelic messengers to Mary and Joseph. He assured Mary that the child within her was the result of divine intervention, a miracle of God made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and confirmed that the child in Mary’s womb had been conceived by the Holy Spirit and was to be the Savior of the world. This was not going to be just another baby born to just another Hebrew couple. This baby was going to save His people from their sins. He was going to be Immanuel, which literally means “God with us.” And Matthew pointed out that, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken” (Matthew 1:22 ESV).

The wise men had traveled from a distant land in order to discover the one who would be born the king of the Jews, and they had discovered Jesus, living in obscurity in Bethlehem. But even His birthplace had been prophesied by God. Everything was happening just as God had said it would. The timing was perfect, a fact that the apostle Paul points out.

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. – Galatians 4:4-5 NLT

And because of the jealousy of Herod, the Roman-appointed king of Judea, God ordained that Joseph take his family and escape to Egypt. Once again, the divine plan of God was revealed to Joseph through a dream, warning him of Herod’s plans and instructing him to seek safety in Egypt. And Matthew points out, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’” (Matthew 2:15 ESV). This was a direct quote from Hosea 11:1 and Matthew used it to prove, once again, the radically distinctive nature of Jesus and His arrival on this planet.

Matthew points out that even Herod’s merciless and brutal execution of all the baby boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding vicinity was the fulfillment of prophecy.

17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:17-18 ESV

He quotes from Jeremiah 31:15, applying its words to the very events surrounding the life of Jesus. The Word had become flesh and His arrival was met with the worship of the wise men, but also the fury of the king. There were gifts given and innocent lives taken. His birth was marked by joy and sorrow. This was far from an ordinary birth of just another nondescript Hebrew boy. This was the God-appointed Savior, the Son of God, making His entrance into the darkness of the world. And His arrival was going to be anything, but ordinary.

In time, Joseph received another divine visit, with the angel of the Lord informing him it was now safe to return to the land of Israel. Herod had died. But rather than go back to Bethlehem, the angel told Joseph to take his wife and child to the region of Galilee. And this too, was in fulfillment God’s long-standing plans concerning His Son.

And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene. – Matthew 2:23 ESV

This is not a record of events as they happened, a mere recalling or retelling of the historical facts surrounding the life of Jesus told in chronological order. They are the evidence of God’s promise of the coming Messiah and the proof of Jesus being the fulfillment of that promise. Every scene that surrounds His life provides further evidence of His deity, not just His humanity. Yes, He was born, but for a very specific reason. From the place of His birth to the location of His childhood home, all had been predetermined by God. None of this was the result of luck, chance, happenstance or fate. It was the divine will of God the had been prepared from before the foundation of the world. Jesus was not a baby born to become the Messiah. He was the Messiah who was born as a baby. He wasn’t destined to become King of the Jews. He came into the world that way. So what was spoken might be fulfilled.

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

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

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

Come, Lord Jesus!

12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.  Revelation 22:12-21 ESV

For the second time in this passage, Jesus assures John of His imminent return. In verse 7, John recorded Jesus’ promise, “behold, I am coming soon.” And here, in verse 12, Jesus repeats that same phrase, but adds the warning, “bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.” He is coming back. For some that will be extremely good news, while for others it will mean payback time. In a sense, Jesus is promising a coming payday for all. The actual Greek word John uses is misthos, and it means “dues paid for work.” But it can also refer to the fruit that naturally results from our efforts. In other words, we reap what we sow. We get what we deserve.

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. – Galatians 6:7-8 NLT

The return of Jesus to the earth, in the form of His second coming, will be for the purpose of judging the nations. According to the prophet Jeremiah, Jesus alone has the capacity to discern the nature of each man’s heart, examining not only his outward behavior, but the inner condition of his character.

The heart is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it?

10 “I the Lord search the heart
    and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
    according to what their deeds deserve.” – Jeremiah 17:9-10 ESV

The judgment that Christ warns about will not be works-based or focused solely on outward behavior. He will judge the hearts of men, because, “from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander” (Matthew 15:19 NLT). The external actions of those whom Jesus will judge will simply indicate that their hearts are far from Him. They will have no relationship with the Son, so they will have no relationship with the Father. Jesus told His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is” (John 14:6-7 NLT). The presence of sin will not be the basis for Jesus’ judgment. It will be the absence of a relationship with the Father, made possible through faith in His Son.

Back in the gospel of Matthew, we have recorded the following statement by Jesus, regarding those who attempt to enter into His eternal Kingdom based on their efforts. Some will offer up examples of their “righteous” deeds done in the name of Jesus, but will be surprised to hear their confession of good works met with bad news.

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

In spite of them doing what appear to be good works, Jesus will expose them as workers of lawlessness, because they will lack a relationship with the Giver of the law. Psalm 50 provides us with a very stark reminder of how God views the deeds of the wicked and why Jesus will judge their behavior so harshly when He returns to the earth.

16 But God says to the wicked:
“Why bother reciting my decrees
    and pretending to obey my covenant?
17 For you refuse my discipline
    and treat my words like trash.
18 When you see thieves, you approve of them,
    and you spend your time with adulterers.
19 Your mouth is filled with wickedness,
    and your tongue is full of lies.
20 You sit around and slander your brother—
    your own mother’s son.
21 While you did all this, I remained silent,
    and you thought I didn’t care.
But now I will rebuke you,
    listing all my charges against you.
22 Repent, all of you who forget me,
    or I will tear you apart,
    and no one will help you.” – Psalm 50:16-22 ESV

Jesus gives John with a list of His divine credentials that provide Him with the authority and right to judge. First of all, He reminds John of His eternality: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13 ESV). He is the source of all things and, as such, He is sovereign over all things. Just a few verses later, Jesus states His royal pedigree and divine right to rule as King of kings and Lord of lord.  “I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star” (Revelation 22:16 ESV). He is the rightful King, not only of Israel, but of all the earth. He is the morning star, a sign of a new day coming on the earth. His Kingdom will be greater than that of David. His reign will be righteous and holy in every way. His domain will stretch throughout all the universe, and nowhere in His Kingdom will be found sin, rebellion, or unrighteousness of any kind.

In His Kingdom, only “those who wash their robes” will “have the right to the tree of life” (Revelation 22:14 ESV). They alone will be allowed to “enter the city by the gates.” Everyone else, all those whose hearts were found to be wicked and unrepentant, will find themselves outside of the Kingdom of God. “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Revelation 22:15 ESV). Their destination will be the lake of fire. Jesus made that point quite clear in the previous chapter.

“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” – Revelation 21:8 ESV

With this stark reality in mind, Jesus offers both an invitation and a warning. First He offers an invitation to “come.” He calls out to all those who will read John’s book, extending to them an incredible opportunity: “let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17 ESV). Jesus is offering eternal life. But it is available only through a relationship with Him. His words echo those recorded by the prophet Isaiah and written hundreds of years earlier.

1 Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    hear, that your soul may live. – Isaiah 55:1-3 ESV

Entrance into the Kingdom of God comes with a price, but not one that any human being can meet. Our money and our human effort cannot gain us entrance into God’s Kingdom. It is made possible only through the blood of Jesus Christ.

18 For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. 19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. – 1 Peter 1:18-19 NLT

All we have to bring is our thirst, and Jesus provides the living water. We simply bring our need and Jesus satisfies that need with His abundance. This is all in keeping with the words of Jesus found in His Sermon on the Mount.

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

They echo the words of Jesus, spoken to the legalistic, works-focused Pharisees.

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” – John 6:35 ESV

But Jesus also extends two warnings to all those who read the words recorded by John in his book. First of all, if they add to them in any way, they will experience all the plagues that John saw and recorded. Secondly, if anyone takes away any of the words written in John’s book, “God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city” (Revelation 22:19 ESV). These are serious warnings, and they convey the gravity of God’s attitude toward His prophetic word. No one is to tamper with the content of this book. No one is to add to it or take away from it. Jesus is so serious about it, that He warns that even if a believer should treat the contents of this book with contempt, they will forfeit their right to the tree of life. Remember, this is a warning. It is meant to dissuade anyone from doing what is being mentioned. The threat of losing access to the tree of life and, therefore, eternal life, should be enough to keep any believer from tampering with God’s prophetic Word. And yet, how often have well-meaning Christians attempted to add to the words of John through vain speculation and what amounts to be little more than idle conjecture. We must be careful to refrain from explaining away the truth of what God has revealed, by allegorizing its message or spiritualizing its meaning. While we may not fully understand all that is found on the pages of John’s book, we must treat it as the Word of God and nothing less.

Finally, Jesus offers John one final reassurance. “Surely I am coming soon.” It is a done deal, fully guaranteed by God and backed by the One who is trustworthy and true. He is coming. And John responds with the simple, yet profound words, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” Those should be the words that come from the mouth of every Christ-follower, each and every day of their lives, as they eagerly and expectantly wait for His return. May we be those who, like the apostle Paul, pray for the day when our Savior comes again.

“…our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  – Philippians 3:20 ESV

He is coming. Do you believe it? Better yet, are you ready for it?

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

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

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

 

Worship God.

And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”

“And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”

10 And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” Revelation 22:6-11 ESV

John’s vision, given to him on the island of Patmos, is quickly coming to a close. And as it does, he hears repeated some of the same words he heard when he began his incredible experience.

1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. – Revelation 1:1-3 ESV

The angel reminds John that every word he has heard is trustworthy and true. They can be trusted for their veracity and accuracy. The visions he has been privileged to see and the words of prophecy he has been commanded to write down have been given to him by the God of the spirit of the prophets. This phrase is meant to qualify the content of John’s visions as having been God-breathed. The same God who spoke through Isaiah, Zechariah, Micah and a host of other Old Testament prophets, had just spoken to and would be passing His message through John. Peter reminds us that God is the one who gave the prophets the words they wrote in their books. He was the author behind their predictions, many of which find their fulfillment in the future events John has just witnessed and chronicled.

For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. – 2 Peter 1:21 ESV

At the birth of John the Baptist, the final prophet of God, who heralded the coming of Christ, his father spoke spoke these words:

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us. – Luke 1:68-71 ESV

God, the author behind every word spoken by the prophets, has just spoken to John. And because God is trustworthy and true, His words can be relied upon.

And John is reminded once again that the things he has seen “must soon take place.” There is a degree of imminence to the angel’s words, but this does not necessarily mean immediacy. The Greek phrase John uses is en tachos, which means “with quickness or speed.” The angel is not saying that these things are about to happen, but that when they do, they will come in rapid succession. And there is another aspect to this warning that we are all to take to heart. None of us know the day of their coming. Jesus Himself told us, “no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows” (Matthew 24:36 NLT). But we are to live as if they could happen at any minute. As believers, we are to conduct our lives with an expectation that Jesus Christ could return for His church at any moment. Paul told the Philippian believers, “we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior” (Philippians 3:20 NLT). He encouraged the believers in Corinth to “eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:7 NLT). He told the church in Rome to “wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us” (Romans 8:23 NLT). He complimented the Thessalonian believers for their reputation for “looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead” (1 Thessalonians 1:10 NLT).

So, there is a sense in which we are to eagerly look for the return of Jesus for His bride, the church, because it will usher in the period of the tribulation and inaugurate the final days of judgment. And John hears the voice of Jesus, assuring him that His return is indeed growing closer with each passing day.

“And behold, I am coming soon.” – Revelation 22:7 ESV

When the time comes, Jesus will come quickly or without delay. Right now, He is in a holding pattern, waiting for the very moment in time when His heavenly Father commands Him to return for His church. But He is ready. And we should be as well.

And Jesus also reminds John that there is a blessing associated with the faithful reading and keeping of the contents of this book.

“Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” – Revelation 22:7 ESV

The Greek word John uses is tēreō, and it means “to attend to carefully, to take care of or guard.” The words contained in each and every prophecy given to John and recorded in his book are to be taken seriously and treated with reverence and awe. They are the words of God and, as such, come with a blessing. Knowing what God has planned for the future of the world should bring us hope and assurance. It should provide us with confidence and endurance. It should alleviate our fears and eliminate our uncertainties about the future. We don’t have to worry about which side wins. We don’t have to wonder if God has forgotten about us. There is a perfectly planned timeline in place and God will enact it at the very right moment. When He deems best. It has already been predetermined and its outcome preordained.

And in response to all that John had seen or heard during the course of his vision, John fell at the feet of the angel in worship. He couldn’t help but subjugate himself to the one who had provided him with such amazing news. But the angel refused John’s adoration, demanding that he worship God instead. And that is the point behind the entire book. What we read on its pages should drive us to our knees before God Almighty. It should remind us that our God is not only great, but good. He is just, holy, righteous, and in complete control of all things – in heaven and on earth.

And John is told to keep his book open. He was not to seal or close it, but to allow its content to be readily available for all to see, read, and heed. Because it is meant to be a constant reminder to the people of God that the events disclosed on its pages will happen before they know it – “for the time is near.” And then, Jesus utters some rather strange words that carry with them a certain degree of pre-determinism.

Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” – Revelation 22:11 ESV

The sad truth is that there are many who will never accept God’s free gift of salvation made available through His Son’s death on the cross. They will hear, but not heed. They will be offered salvation through faith alone in Christ alone, but refuse to accept this priceless gift. And Jesus is simply saying that they will continue to live as they always have, committed to a life marked by sin and open rebellion against God. And yet, there will be those who, in God’s plan, have heard and accepted God’s gracious gift, received forgiveness for their sins and been imputed the righteousness of Christ. And they are to live as who they are: Sons and daughters of God.

As John has seen and as his book reveals, there is an outcome in store for all. The righteous and the unrighteous have a future already reserved for them. Those who choose to reject God will receive the judgment they deserve. And as has been shown all throughout John’s vision, there will be many times within the seven years of the tribulation when people will be given ample evidence that God is bringing judgment upon sinful men, but they will refuse to repent, choosing instead to maintain their independent, autonomous lifestyle of self-determination. Even under the unrelenting, heavy hand of God, they will reject Him as God and choose instead to worship false gods, including the Antichrist himself. The evil will continue to do evil. Right to the bitter end.

 

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

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

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