A Simple Story with a Sobering Message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The City and the Savior

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. 33 Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ 34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” – Luke 13:31-35 ESV

Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem, where He will fulfill the will of His Father by offering His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Jesus was the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29) through His substitutionary death on the cross. But ever since Jesus came into the world, Satan had been intent on derailing the divine plan for His life. At His birth, Satan had used Herod I, also known as Herod the Great, in a failed attempt to eliminate Jesus as a child. When wise men from the east had informed Herod the Great that a child had been born who was to be the king of the Jews, he had viewed this news as a threat because he considered himself to be the rightful Jewish king. In an effort to eliminate this potential usurper to his throne, Herod the Great had ordered the murders of all infant boys under the age of two who had been born in and around the vicinity of Bethlehem. But Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus, had been warned by God in a dream to take his wife and newborn son to Egypt.  Now, three decades later, Jesus is warned by Pharisees that another Herod is out to kill Him. This time, it is Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great.

But why would the Pharisees, who greatly despised Jesus, go out of their way to warn Him about Herod’s plans to kill Him? And was their message even true? Jesus appears to have taken the warning seriously but He also recognized that the Pharisees had ulterior motives. These self-righteous religious leaders wanted to keep Jesus from making His way to Jerusalem. This Rabbi from Nazareth had stirred up trouble everywhere He went and they had no desire to see Him bring His circus sideshow to their city. So, they decided to sow seeds of doubt in His mind by positioning Herod Antipas as a potential threat to His life.

From the moment Jesus had begun His earthly ministry, Satan had been attempting to thwart His plans. Immediately after Jesus had been baptized by John, He had been led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where Satan launched a full-frontal assault, attempting to dissuade Him from carrying out His Father’s plan. But He had failed. Yet Luke’s record of that event tells us that Satan did not give up.

When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came. – Luke 4:13 NLT

And Satan proved to be a resourceful and unrelenting enemy. He continued to use any and every resource at his disposal in his attempt to derail the mission of Jesus. And one of Satan’s favorite tools happened to be the religious leaders of Israel, including the Pharisees. And Jesus had been well aware that these men were not to be trusted. In fact, on one occasion, He had exposed them as sons of the devil.

“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.” – John 8:44-45 ESV

This less-than-flattering characterization by Jesus had so angered the Pharisees that they had tried to stone Jesus to death but He escaped unharmed. Yet, this exchange only fueled the growing hatred of the Pharisees for Jesus. So, their attempt to warn Jesus about Herod was anything but a goodwill gesture. They were simply trying to scare Him off. After all, Herod Antipas had put John the Baptist to death, so it only made sense that He would have it in for Jesus as well.

But Jesus is not intimidated or swayed by their words. In fact, He tells them to deliver a message to Herod on His behalf. His reference to Herod as “a fox” was not meant to be flattering. Unlike the lion, the fox was considered an insignificant and inconsequential predator that was forced to use deceit and cunning to survive. The fox was basically a scavenger and anything but the king of the beasts. So, in referring to Herod as a fox, Jesus was exposing the true nature of this power-hungry, self-possessed pawn of the Romans.

Jesus was not going to be dissuaded from His divine mission. He knew exactly what was going to take place in Jerusalem and was well aware that His death was part of God’s divine plan. Herod, like his infamous late father, was powerless to do anything to Jesus. He would prove to be nothing more than a pawn in the hands of God the Father. So, Jesus told the Pharisees to inform Herod that He would continue to “cast out demons and perform cures” (Luke 13:32 ESV) just as He had been doing. And when the time was right, He would enter Jerusalem and complete the assignment given to Him by His Heavenly Father.

Jesus probably surprised the Pharisees when He admitted that His future included His death in Jerusalem. That was the whole reason He had left Galilee and was making His way to the holy city. He was on a journey that would culminate with His death on the cross, and nothing would keep Him from fulfilling His God-ordained mission. Jesus even admits that it was essential that His death take place in Jerusalem.

“…it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” – Luke 13:33 ESV

Jesus was well aware of Jerusalem’s dark history. This capital city of Judah had a long and unflattering track record of treating God’s messengers with contempt and disdain. Throughout its history, the city of David had become a place where God’s prophets experienced rejection, ridicule, and even death at the hands of the chosen people of God. Over the centuries, God had repeatedly sent His prophets to deliver His message of repentance and warnings of pending judgment should His people refuse to obey. Now, God had sent His own Son, the last of the prophets, with a message calling the people of Israel to repent and believe.

Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:14-15 ESV

And Jesus would preach that same message within the walls of the city of Jerusalem. But rather than heed His call, they would cry out for His death. Which led Jesus to soberly reflect on Jerusalem’s long and sordid history of stubbornness towards the gracious message of God.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” – Luke 13:34 ESV

Jerusalem was the city of David, the capital of the once-great Davidic dynasty. And now, Jesus, the Son of David and the rightful heir to the throne, was returning to the capital to offer its citizens one final opportunity to repent and believe. But they would refuse. And Jesus shares His heart for the royal city by declaring, “How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me” (Luke 13:34 NLT). Jesus had a deep and abiding love for the people of Israel and, in particular, for all those who called Jerusalem home. The Son of David had a deep love for the city of David. But He knew that they would reject His heartfelt invitation to repent and believe. Rather than recognize Him as their long-awaited Messiah, they would cry out for His crucifixion.

The royal city would reject its King, and, as a result, God would forsake the city of David. Jesus makes a prophetic declaration concerning Jerusalem that has two fulfillments.

“I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” – Luke 13:35 ESV

Not long after this exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees, He would enter the city of Jerusalem at the head of a great procession. His triumphal entry would be marked by joy and celebration, with the people shouting His praises.

And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” – Matthew 21:9 ESV

Yet, those very same people would end up changing their minds. In time, their cries of “Hosanna!” would turn to shouts of “crucify Him!” In a matter of hours, they would turn from fans to foes. They would revert from shouting His praises to demanding His death. But Jesus was also predicting another day when the people of Jerusalem would once again shout, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” It will be at His second coming when He returns to the city of Jerusalem as the conquering King of kings and Lord of lords.

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

Herod would not stop Jesus. The Pharisees would not deter Him. And the unrepentant citizens of Jerusalem would disappoint but not dissuade Him. He would be faithful and accomplish His Father’s will. And because Jesus did what He had been sent to do, the day will come when the people of Israel and the citizens of Jerusalem will receive Him as their King. The prophet Ezekiel declares the coming day when God will restore the fortunes of Israel and bring joy to the streets of Jerusalem once more.

“This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am ready to hear Israel’s prayers and to increase their numbers like a flock. They will be as numerous as the sacred flocks that fill Jerusalem’s streets at the time of her festivals. The ruined cities will be crowded with people once more, and everyone will know that I am the LORD.” – Ezekiel 36:37-38 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

Enter While the Door Is Open

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fruit of Righteousness

And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” – Luke 13:6-9 ESV

At first glance, this parable appears completely out of place and irrelevant to the conversation Jesus had been having with the crowd. But the connection is found in verse 5:

I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” – Luke 13:5 ESV

Immediately after addressing the subject of the future judgment, Jesus warned all those in His hearing of their universal need to repent. The murders of the Galileans by order of the Roman governor Pilate or the deaths of the “eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell” (Luke 13:4 ESV) had not been the result of sin. In fact, Jesus rejects the idea that the slaughtered “Galileans were worse sinners” or the Jews killed at the pool of Siloam “were worse offenders.”

As the living Word of God, Jesus was intimately familiar with the written word of God. He was steeped in the Old Testament Scriptures and drew from them regularly. And in this case, it seems likely that Jesus had in mind the words of Solomon as recorded in the book of Ecclesiastes.

Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. – Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV

And Solomon had been taught this truth by his own father, the great King David, who declared the universal sinfulness of mankind in one of his psalms.

Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.
 – Psalm 143:2 ESV

Jesus had come to earth to settle the problem of man’s sin debt. As the apostle Paul would later put it:

For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” – Romans 3:10-11 ESV

In this passage, Paul is quoting from another psalm penned by King David.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
    there is none who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
    to see if there are any who understand,
    who seek after God.

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
    there is none who does good,
    not even one. – Psalm 14:1-3 ESV

Paul rightly concluded, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV).  And long before Paul had his Damascus Road experience, Jesus embraced the same unflattering, yet irrevocable truth. Every person on the planet was in need of repentance because they were stood guilty and condemned before a holy and righteous God. The whole reason Jesus had come to earth was to fulfill His Heavenly Father’s plan to provide redemption and release to all those who were held captive by sin and death. And that list included every single individual whether they were a Judean or a Galilean, a Pharisee or a prostitute, a Jew or a Gentile.

And to drive home His point, Jesus used a parable. He described a man who “had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none” (Luke 13:6 ESV). The story is a simple one involving the owner of a vineyard who, season after season, was disappointed to find one of his fig trees devoid of fruit. Despite his care and cultivation of the tree, it remained barren. In exasperation, the owner of the vineyard gave his gardener orders to cut the tree down.

“I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.” – Luke 13:7 NLT

The tree had been planted to produce figs. That was its sole purpose. But for three years, the tree had failed to deliver what the vineyard owner expected: Fruit. So, for its lack of fruitfulness, the tree was judged unworthy and unacceptable. Having failed to live up to its potential as a fig tree, the vineyard owner ordered its immediate removal. In his mind, the tree was simply taking up space.

But the gardener intervened. He begged the vineyard owner to give the tree one more season. During that time, he would do all he could to see that the tree received special attention and was given ample opportunity to fulfill its God-ordained purpose of bearing fruit. If the tree remained barren by the next season, the gardener agreed to cut it down.

“Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.” – Luke 13:8-9 NLT

Since the crowd to whom Jesus was speaking was made up primarily of Jews, His story about the fig tree would have been understood as a reference to Israel. The Hebrew Scriptures contain multiple references where the fig tree is used as a symbol for the nation of Israel.

Like grapes in the wilderness,
    I found Israel.
Like the first fruit on the fig tree
    in its first season,
    I saw your fathers. – Hosea 9:10 ESV

The prophet Jeremiah recorded God’s indictment against the “fruitless” people of Israel.

“Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?
    No, they were not at all ashamed;
    they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among the fallen;
    when I punish them, they shall be overthrown,
says the Lord.
When I would gather them, declares the Lord,
    there are no grapes on the vine,
    nor figs on the fig tree;
even the leaves are withered,
    and what I gave them has passed away from them.” – Jeremiah 8:12-13 ESV

God had expected Israel to be fruitful but instead, they had repeatedly proven to be barren. Rather than produce the fruit of righteousness, they had delivered nothing but sin and shame. Season after season, God had patiently watched to see if His chosen people would produce the fruit for which they had been set apart. Through His law, the sacrificial system, and His prophets, God had continued to cultivate His people. He had repeatedly disciplined and pruned them. Like rain from heaven, He had poured out them His gracious mercies. And yet, they had produced nothing but disappointment and disobedience.

In this story, Jesus portrays Himself as the gardener. It’s no coincidence that He mentions the three years of fruitlessness. At this point in Luke’s gospel, Jesus would have been well into the third year of His earthly ministry. He was nearing the end of His mission and was on His way to Jerusalem where He would sacrifice His life on the cross. But in the days remaining, He was going to continue to do all that He could to cultivate a remnant of God’s people so that they might bear fruit. It was for that purpose that Jesus had been sent by the Father. The people of Israel had proven themselves incapable of producing fruit on their own. So, Jesus was spending the last days of His earthly ministry cultivating the soil and fertilizing the fruitless tree of Israel so that it might one day produce the fruit of righteousness.

In the last months of His life, Jesus was pouring Himself into His disciples. He was preparing them for the inevitable end that was coming by unveiling the truth regarding the problem of sin and the need for repentance. The situation was far worse than they imagined. Israel’s fruitlessness had rendered it worthy of elimination. Everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, stood before God as sinners who deserved the full weight of His wrath and the full extent of His judgment. But Jesus had come to intercede on man’s behalf. As John the Baptist had put it, Jesus was “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV).

And ever since Jesus had begun His earthly ministry, He had proclaimed a single message:

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:15 ESV

He was the answer to humanity’s sin problem. He was the gardener who had come to cultivate the barren tree of Israel and restore its fruit-bearing capacity. But it would only happen through His death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus would die so that others might live. He would offer His life so that the spiritually dead and fruitless might be resurrected to new life. As the author of Hebrews put it: “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10 ESV).

And it would be during their celebration of the Passover meal, that Jesus would hold up a cup of wine and tell His disciples, “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28 ESV).

Jesus had come to die. The success of His entire mission was based on His sacrificial death. It would be the key to Israel’s future fruitfulness. But even more than that, it would be the means by which God would restore a fallen and condemned humanity to a right relationship with Himself. Jesus was going to offer His life as a ransom for many. And long after Jesus had accomplished His mission and returned to His rightful place at His Father’s side in heaven, the apostle Peter would write:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. – 1 Peter 2:24-25 ESV

The Gardener gave His life so that the barren tree might produce the fruit of righteousness. And Paul provides us with a wonderful reminder of just what that fruit should look like.

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God. – Philippians 1:9-11 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

The Time of Salvation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.” – John 14:1-4 NLT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Your Eye On the Prize

35 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! 39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

41 Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 44 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 45 But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. 47 And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. – Luke 12:35-48 ESV

Jesus is attempting to give His disciples a future-oriented mindset. He is not suggesting that they be so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good, but that they realign their priorities with those of God. That is why He told them not to allow their minds to become focused on temporal concerns like food and clothing. Those are the kinds of things that “dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world” (Luke 12:30 NLT). Instead, Jesus reminded His followers that since God already knows all their needs before they even ask, they can spend their time and energy focusing on the coming kingdom of God.

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.” – Luke 12:31-32 NLT

At this point, so much of what Jesus is revealing to the disciples is at odds with their expectations of the Messiah. They were expecting an immediate reversal of fortunes. Like the man who asked Jesus to intercede on his behalf and force his brother to divide the family inheritance with him, the disciples were expecting Jesus to enrich their lives by fulfilling all the promises of God – immediately. Once they had decided that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel, their hopes for national revival and political renewal had been energized. They fully expected Jesus to set up His earthly kingdom at any moment and were taken aback by His suggestion that it might not come for some time.

Yet, that is exactly what Jesus attempts to convey in this next section of His lecture. He warns His disciples to remain in a state of constant readiness, prepared for the future day when the kingdom comes in all its fulness.

Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast.” – Luke 12:35-36 NLT

Jesus packs a great deal of eschatological content into this one simple statement. With it, He begins to unveil some of the aspects of God’s divine redemptive plan of which the disciples were clueless. In their understanding of how the end times would work, the arrival of the Messiah would usher in the “last days” – a time in which the fortunes of Israel would be dramatically reversed. The Messiah would be a descendant of David who would reinstitute the Davidic dynasty by defeating all those who stand opposed to God and reclaiming the right to rule as Israel’s King. And they believed it was all going to happen in their lifetimes. That’s why James and John had asked Jesus to allow them to sit in places of honor next to Him, one on His right and the other on His left, when He sat on His glorious throne (Mark 10:37). They were fully expecting His earthly reign to begin at any moment.

But Jesus told them they were going to have to wait because what they were expecting was not going to come for some time. In fact, it would not happen in their lifetimes. Jesus provides His shell-shocked disciples with a parable that was intended to illuminate some of the details concerning the chronology of the end times. The “master,” clearly a reference to Himself, was going to go away but would one day return. As faithful servants, they were to live in a constant state of expectation and preparation, trusting in their master’s ultimate return. There would be other things that had to take place before He could come back, such as the wedding feast. This appears to be a reference to what has come to be known as the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. It is a key end-times event that involves Jesus and His bride, the Church. We read about it in the book of Revelation.

“Praise the Lord!
    For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.
Let us be glad and rejoice,
    and let us give honor to him.
For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb,
    and his bride has prepared herself.
She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear.”
    For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people.”

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” – Revelation 19:6-9 NLT

This event takes place immediately after the Rapture of the Church.

What John’s vision in Revelation pictures is the wedding feast of the Lamb (Jesus Christ) and His bride (the Church) in its third phase. The implication is that the first two phases have already taken place. The first phase was completed on earth when each individual believer placed his or her faith in Christ as Savior. The dowry paid to the bridegroom’s parent (God the Father) would be the blood of Christ shed on the Bride’s behalf. The Church on earth today, then, is “betrothed” to Christ, and, like the wise virgins in the parable, all believers should be watching and waiting for the appearance of the Bridegroom (the rapture). The second phase symbolizes the rapture of the Church, when Christ comes to claim His bride and take her to the Father’s house. The marriage supper then follows as the third and final step. It is our view that the marriage supper of the Lamb takes place in heaven between the rapture and the second coming (during the tribulation on earth). – http://www.gotquestions.org

Jesus is beginning to reveal aspects of God’s plan of which the disciples were unaware. They had no concept of the Church at this time. There was no way for them to understand that Jesus had come so that men of every tribe, nation, and tongue might come to believe in Him as their Savior. With His death, burial, and resurrection, salvation would be made available to all. And upon His ascension, the Holy Spirit would come upon the disciples, empowering them to take the Gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). That momentous occasion would usher in the church age, which will one day end with the Rapture of the Church. That will then bring about the seven years of Tribulation, at the end of which Jesus will return to earth as the conquering King of kings and Lord of lords.

It is to that event that Jesus wants His disciples to focus their attention. He was not suggesting that they would live long enough to witness it, but He wanted them to understand that His coming was tied to that future end-time event. Jesus continues to emphasize the idea of a reward, and that reward was the coming Kingdom of God. That’s why He told them, “it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32 NLT). They were to focus their attention on the future fulfillment of the kingdom, not on some temporal version of it that they hoped would come in their lifetimes.

Jesus didn’t want the disciples to waste their time pursuing earthy pleasures and treasures. Instead, they were to store up treasure in heaven, where “no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it” (Luke 12:33 NLT). The idea was to live with the end in mind. Jesus had come, but He was going to leave. And yet, He would also return, first for His bride, the Church, then at the end of the seven years of tribulation. And it was to His Second Coming that Jesus refers throughout these verses. Every disciple of Jesus Christ is to live with their sights set on His future return. That is the end goal, the point at which Jesus will fulfill all aspects of His Father’s will.

During the Tribulation, there were be many who come to faith in Christ. God will continue to extend grace and mercy to those living on the earth. And those disciples will need to live in a constant state of readiness, prepared for the master’s return – in spite of all the persecution and distress taking place around them. That is why Jesus states, “be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected” (Luke 12:40 NLT). During those future end-times days, the circumstances will appear grim. All will look lost. There will be countless individuals martyred for their faith in Christ. And it will be easy to think draw the conclusion that God has forgotten all about His people. There will be those who begin to believe that Jesus is not coming back. The apostle John even records the pleas of the martyred saints as they stand before the throne of God in heaven.

“O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” – Revelation 6:10 NLT

But God will not be done yet. His plan will not be fully fulfilled. And all those on earth who claim the name of Jesus will be encouraged to continue believing and trusting until the end. And that is exactly what Jesus is encouraging His disciples to do. He knows that when He ascends back into heaven, His disciples will find themselves facing unprecedented persecution. As they faithfully fulfill their commission, they will discover just how much the world hates them and how strongly Satan opposes them. At one point, Jesus warned His followers, “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22 ESV).

Endurance brings reward. This is not a promise of salvation based on works. It is simply an encouragement to remain faithful to the end. Jesus tells His disciples, “If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward” (Luke 12:43 NLT). Jesus is not suggesting that doing a good job ensures our future reward but that faithful service should be motivated by the promise of our future reward. If we keep our eye on the prize, we will run the race with endurance (Hebrews 12:1). The apostle Paul picks up this same racing metaphor.

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-26 NLT

Jesus wanted His disciples to understand the end game. There was a reward at the end of it all. The days ahead were going to be difficult. These men were going to have to stand back and watch their friend and Messiah be crucified. And even when He rose from the dead, He would eventually leave them. Yet He encouraged them to serve faithfully and live expectantly, keeping their eyes on the promise of His Second Coming and the final fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan.

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

Lumina Obscura

33 “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. 34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. 35 Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. 36 If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.” – Luke 11:33-36 ESV

Jesus has been falsely accused of casting out demons by the power of Satan. And, despite all the miracles He has performed, the people continue to ask that He perform some kind of sign that might prove His identity as the Messiah. It seems likely that they are wanting Him to do something that might fall in line with their expectations of the coming Messiah. Since the anointed one of God was to conquer their enemies and re-establish the independence of the kingdom of Israel, they were probably demanding that Jesus display His royal power through some kind of military exploit against the occupying Romans.

But Jesus had come to conquer sin and death, not the Romans. His mission was to set people free from their captivity to Satan and provide them with a means of escaping the sentence of eternal condemnation that hung over their heads. But they were missing the point. They had their eyes and their hopes focused on the wrong thing.

Their problem was their failure to believe that Jesus was who He claimed to be. They attributed His power to Satan. They deemed His miracles as inadequate proof of His Messiahship and demanded more. But Jesus warns them that there will be no more light than that which they have already received. To make His point, He reaches back into a lesson He had taught earlier in His sermon on the mount.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 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. 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 5:14-16 ESV

On that occasion, Jesus had placed the emphasis on His listeners. He had declared them to be the light of the world. They were the ones who were to shine before others, giving evidence of their relationship with God. But they had failed to do so. In fact, they were incapable of doing so because of their sin natures. The entire sermon on the mount was designed to describe life in the kingdom of God. Jesus was letting His audience know that the righteous requirement for godly living was far more demanding than they had ever expected. And without a relationship with Him, it would be impossible.

So here, Jesus seems to be placing the emphasis on Himself. In this scenario, He is the lamp, providing light to the inhabitants of the house.

“No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. – Luke 11:33 ESV

This fits in well with the declaration He made about Himself as recorded in John’s gospel.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 ESV

But the problem is that those in His audience are refusing to recognize the light. Jesus was sent into the world to illuminate the darkness of sin. But through their refusal to accept Him as their Messiah, the Jews were guilty of placing a basket over the light of life. They were attempting to obscure the very light that could eliminate the darkness of sin in which they were held captive. And the apostle John paints a less-than-flattering picture of their stubborn rejection of the light.

God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. – John 3:19 NLT

But  John also reminds us that man’s love affair with darkness cannot and will not overcome the light of the world.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:5 ESV

Jesus would not be put under a basket. His light would not be extinguished.

“As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” – John 9:5 ESV

But the day was coming when He would leave this world. His earthly ministry had a shelf life and He wanted all those who heard His message to understand that His light would not shine among them forever.

“The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.” – John 12:35 ESV

“I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” – John 12:46 ESV

But so many who stood in the light of His glory remained immersed in the darkness of sin. And Jesus infers that it was because they had an eye problem.

“Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.” – Luke 11:34 ESV

The human eye is not the source of light, but the means by which light enters the body. It is the lense through which the light flows and provides sight. That is why Jesus refers to a good eye and a bad eye. One allows light to enter, providing sight. The other, marred by cataracts or some other disease, prevents the light from entering, resulting in blurry or distorted vision. The word “healthy” in Greek is haplous (hah-ploos), and it means “single, whole, singleness of purpose, undivided loyalty.” Jesus is saying that your eye, like a lamp, is to have a single purpose. The one who is approved by God is to have unswerving loyalty to God’s kingdom purposes. Jesus is talking about heart fidelity toward God. The good eye is the one fixed on God, unwavering in its gaze, and constant in its focus. We should not suffer from a “wandering eye.” An eye that has a single focus will have a single byproduct: Light (purity).

but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. – vs 34

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

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

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

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

Those who were accusing Jesus of being in league with Satan were suffering from bad eyesight. They could not see the light shining in their midst. In a sense, they had placed a basket over the light of life, which left them living in darkness. Those who demanded that Jesus perform some kind of spectacular sign that would prove He was the warrior-king and emancipator from Rome they were expecting were blind to the truth. They were looking for the wrong kind of Savior. That is why Jesus warned them, “Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness” (Luke 11:35 NLT).

These people thought they knew what was right. They believed their understanding of the Messiah to be accurate and were having a difficult time accepting Jesus as the fulfillment of their long-held expectations. But Jesus wanted them to know that their faulty eyesight had left them with a severely distorted vision of who He was and what He had come to do. But all they had to do was remove the basket they had placed over His light.

“If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.” – Luke 11:36 ESV

Jesus had come to illuminate the darkness that filled the world and permeated their lives. He longed to shine the light of His grace and mercy into the hidden recesses of their hearts, exposing and expunging the last vestiges of sin and releasing them from the condemnation of death and eternal separation from God the Father. But to benefit from the light, they would have to allow it to penetrate their lives. They would have to believe that Jesus was who He claimed to be.

“I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.” – John 9:39 NLT

And in time, every person who had been exposed to the light would be forced to put it on a stand so that it might illuminate their life, or under a basket, so that they might continue living in the darkness they had learned to love.

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 Sign of Things To Come

29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. – Luke 11:29-32 ESV

Some in the crowd had accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. Others “to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven” (Luke 11:16 ESV). It is to this second group that Jesus now turns His attention. Both Matthew and Mark include their own descriptions of the same or a similar incident where Jesus addressed the peoples’ demands for a sign. And it would appear that their insistence that Jesus do some significantly spectacular sign to prove His identity was also the brainchild of the Pharisees.

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” – Matthew 12:38 ESV

The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. – Mark 8:11 ESV

Their demand was very specific. They wanted a sign from heaven. These men had stood back and watched as Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons. And, in an attempt to repudiate those miracles, they had accused Jesus of being in league with Satan. So, it seems unlikely that they are requesting Jesus to perform another miracle. The Greek word translated as “sign” is sēmeion, and it refers to a sign by which anything future is pre-announced (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). In essence, they were requesting that Jesus perform a particular type of miracle, something far more difficult than healing the blind or casting out demons. After all, there were others who claimed to perform miracles and even the Jews practiced exorcism.

No, it seems that they were asking Jesus to do the truly impossible. If Jesus He was divine, as He so claimed, then He should be able to do something out-of-the-ordinary and impossible, such as predict the future. They were asking Jesus to make a prophetic prediction. But the motivation behind their request was evil to its core. They knew what the law said regarding anyone prophesied falsely in the name of God.

But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. “ – Deuteronomy 18:20-22 ESV

Simply put, they were in search of an excuse to put Jesus to death. But He saw through their ploy and responded to their request with a stinging indictment.

This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. – Luke 11:29 ESV

Jesus knew the intentions behind this request. The hearts of those demanding that He do some kind of miraculous sign were wicked and unbelieving. He knew that no matter what He did, they would refuse to believe. So, not only did Jesus refuse their request for a prophetic pronouncement, but instead, He announced a sign of coming judgment.

“For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.” – Luke 11:30 ESV

The story of Jonah would have been very familiar to those in the crowd. They would have made the connection concerning Jonah’s influence over the Gentile city of Nineveh. After refusing to obey God’s command to deliver His message of repentance to the Assyrian capital, Jonah was reprimanded and then rescued by God. Jonah attempted to run from his divine commission but ended up being swallowed by a great fish. This life-threatening incident ended up getting Jonah’s attention, convincing him to follow through on his God-given assignment. And the result was a miraculous revival among the pagan Ninevites. The entire city repented of their sins and worshiped Yahweh.

Jesus infers that Jonah, the reluctant messenger, because a sign to the people of Nineveh. He had spent three days and nights in the belly of the great fish but then had been “resurrected” so that he might deliver God’s message of judgment and His call to repentance. Jesus is predicting His own 3-day-long interment in a tomb. And just as Jonah had been sent by God to bring a message of repentance and salvation to the people of Ninevah, Jesus, by His death and resurrection, would make possible the salvation of all those who hear and accept His offer of justification by faith.

In a way, Jesus was answering the request of the scribes and Pharisees, but not in a way that they would have recognized. He was predicting the future, clearly indicating the manner of His own death and the means of salvation it would make possible. But He was also predicting the fate of the scribes and Pharisees, as well as all those who refuse to accept the salvation that Jesus’ death will make available.

The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah…” – Luke 11: 32 ESV

The pagan, Gentile people of Ninevah heard and responded to Jonah’s message of repentance and were saved from destruction. But the scribes and Pharisees, like most of the Jews of Jesus’ day, would refuse His offer of salvation, choosing instead to rely on their own self-made righteousness. And Jesus made it clear that, at the future judgment, the repentant people of Ninevah would stand as witnesses against the unrepentant Jews. Jesus predicts that the Jews will refuse God’s gracious offer of salvation made possible by His coming death on the cross.

And then, Jesus adds another claim of superiority to His growing list.

something greater than Jonah is here – Luke  12:32 ESV

Jonah was a prophet of God and the only one who had been sent by God to the Gentiles. The scribes and Pharisees would have related well to Jonah’s initial reluctance to take God’s message of repentance to non-Jews. The story of Jonah attempting to get out of this undesirable assignment would have resonated with them. Now, here was Jesus was claiming to be superior to Jonah.  But, in reality, Jesus was placing Himself on a higher plane than their own Scriptures. He was claiming to have precedence over the stories of Scripture because He was the ultimate fulfillment of those stories. Jonah had been nothing more than a foreshadowing of Jesus Himself. Jonah was just a man, and yet he had fulfilled the command of God reluctantly. His “death” in the belly of the great fish had been a form of judgment for his own disobedience. But Jesus would prove to be a faithful and obedient servant, willingly giving His life so that others might experience eternal life.

And Jesus used another familiar Scriptural account to drive home His point, claiming to be greater than the wisest man who ever lived: King Solomon. The queen of Sheba had traveled all the way to Jerusalem to see the great wisdom of Solomon. But Jesus claimed to possess a wisdom that far surpassed anything Solomon ever hoped to know.

The apostle Paul would later describe the superior nature of God’s wisdom as displayed in the life of His Son, Jesus.

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. – 1 Corinthians 30 NLT

Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. – 1 Corinthians 1:24-25 NLT

And Jesus predicted that the queen of Sheba would join the people of Ninevah in witness against the Jews when the coming day of judgment arrived. They didn’t realize it, but Jesus was actually fulfilling their request. He was giving them “a sign by which anything future is pre-announced/.” He was predicting His own death, burial, and resurrection. And He was letting them know that all who placed their faith in His sacrificial death on their behalf would receive forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. But Jesus also predicted that when that sign appeared, the majority of the Jews, including the scribes and Pharisees, would refuse to believe it. They would refute Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah and refuse His offer of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. And they would stand condemned.

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

Blind to All the Blessings

A merchant, in whose hands are false balances,
    he loves to oppress.
Ephraim has said, “Ah, but I am rich;
    I have found wealth for myself;
in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin.”
I am the Lord your God
    from the land of Egypt;
I will again make you dwell in tents,
    as in the days of the appointed feast.

10 I spoke to the prophets;
    it was I who multiplied visions,
    and through the prophets gave parables.
11 If there is iniquity in Gilead,
    they shall surely come to nothing:
in Gilgal they sacrifice bulls;
    their altars also are like stone heaps
    on the furrows of the field.

12 Jacob fled to the land of Aram;
    there Israel served for a wife,
    and for a wife he guarded sheep.
13 By a prophet the Lord brought Israel up from Egypt,
    and by a prophet he was guarded.
14 Ephraim has given bitter provocation;
    so his Lord will leave his bloodguilt on him
    and will repay him for his disgraceful deeds. – Hosea 12:7-14 ESV

Once again, Hosea seems to differentiate between the kingdom of Israel, made up of the 10 northern tribes, and the original nation of Israel that had at one time included all 12 tribes. He does so by referring to the northern kingdom by the name of its largest tribe: Ephraim. When referring to both Israel and Judah, he uses the name of Jacob, the father of the 12 tribes, whom God had renamed, Israel.

In these verses, Ephraim (the 10 northern tribes of Israel) is described as overconfident, self-righteous, and proud. They displayed all the negative characteristics of Jacob, their patriarch. The book of Genesis records the life of Jacob in great detail, leaving little to the imagination. Even before he and his twin brother, Esau, were born, God had told their mother that the relationship between her two boys would be unconventional and strained.

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

Jacob would be the second-born son, but he would use trickery and deception to steal his older brother’s birthright. He would also deceive his father into rewarding him with the blessing of the firstborn. And none of this was necessary. God had already predicted that Jacob would be the stronger and more significant of the two. From Jacob would come the nation of Israel. And God later informed the people of Israel that He had displayed His love for them by choosing Jacob over Esau.

“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated.” – Malachi 1:2-3 ESV

The apostle Paul expounded on this idea of God’s sovereign election of Jacob over Esau.

But before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she [Rebekah] received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes; he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, “Your older son will serve your younger son.” In the words of the Scriptures, “I loved Jacob, but I rejected Esau.” – Romans 9:11-13 NLT

Jacob had done nothing to deserve God’s choice of him. It had been the sovereign will of God. And because God had made this divine determination, well in advance, the nation of Israel had come into being – all according to His providential plan. Despite Jacob’s use of deception and dishonesty, God had blessed him with great wealth. After he had been forced to leave home to escape his brother’s wrath for stealing his birthright and blessing, Jacob had ended up living in Aram. While there, he married Rebekah and became a wealthy man.

Jacob became very wealthy, with large flocks of sheep and goats, female and male servants, and many camels and donkeys. – Genesis 30:43 NLT

God blessed Jacob despite his dishonesty and deceitfulness. To a certain degree, Jacob probably viewed himself as a self-made man. All that he possessed he had earned through hard work or clever manipulation. But, in reality, it had been the handiwork of God. And the northern kingdom of Israel suffered from the same problem. They too failed to understand that their affluence was attributable to God.

Israel boasts, “I am rich!
    I’ve made a fortune all by myself!
No one has caught me cheating!
    My record is spotless!” – Hosea 12:8 NLT

But God knew. He had been an eyewitness to all their sins and transgressions. He had watched them run after false gods, make alliances with pagan nations, and continually violate His commands. He had been the one who had rescued them out of their slavery in Egypt, given them the land of Canaan as their own possession, and had protected and provided for them for generations. But now, they had no need for God.

But they were about to discover that their abandonment of God would prove costly. Their rescuer and redeemer was about to become their judge.

“But I am the Lord your God,
    who rescued you from slavery in Egypt.
And I will make you live in tents again,
    as you do each year at the Festival of Shelters. – Hosea 12:9 NLT

They would soon find themselves having to vacate their palatial homes in exchange for shelters made of branches and the bows of trees. Rather than living in luxury in the land of Israel, they would become slaves living in shacks in Assyria. All because they had refused to honor God and keep their covenant commitments to Him. On either side of the Jordan River, in Gilgal and Gilead, the people had erected altars to their many false gods. There they sacrificed bulls and made offerings to their lifeless and powerless idols. They constantly flaunted their apostasy and unfaithfulness in the face of God. And while God had sent His prophets to warn them and call them to repentance, they had repeatedly refused to listen. They turned their backs on the one who had redeemed them from slavery. Now, they would find themselves returning to their former state of poverty and oppression.

Then by a prophet
    the Lord brought Jacob’s descendants out of Egypt;
and by that prophet
    they were protected.
But the people of Israel
    have bitterly provoked the Lord,
so their Lord will now sentence them to death
    in payment for their sins. – Hosea 12:13-14 NLT

These people had long forgotten their humble beginnings. Like their patriarch, Jacob, they had begun with nothing. He had fled to Aram in order to escape Esau’s plans to kill him. But while there, God had blessed him with children and great wealth. Years later, Jacob would take his family and move to Egypt to escape a famine in the land of Canaan. And while living in Egypt, Jacob would find himself blessed by God yet again. Over a period of four centuries, Jacob’s descendants would grow in number. And while many of those years would be marked by slavery and subjugation, God would fulfill the promise He had made to Jacob.

“I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:13-15 NLT

God had kept His word. He had made of Jacob a great nation. But that nation had rebelled against Him. Now, they would lose their right to occupy the land He had given them as their inheritance. Their apostasy would result in their expulsion from the land of Canaan. And God had warned them that this would be the inevitable outcome should they choose to disobey His commands.

“So do not defile the land and give it a reason to vomit you out, as it will vomit out the people who live there now.” – Leviticus 18:28 NLT

“You must keep all my decrees and regulations by putting them into practice; otherwise the land to which I am bringing you as your new home will vomit you out.” – Leviticus 20:22 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Compassionate, Merciful God

How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
    How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
    How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
    my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
    I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
    the Holy One in your midst,
    and I will not come in wrath.

10 They shall go after the Lord;
    he will roar like a lion;
when he roars,
    his children shall come trembling from the west;
11 they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
    and like doves from the land of Assyria,
    and I will return them to their homes, declares the Lord. – Hosea 11:8-11 ESV

One of the problems we face as fallen human beings is trying to comprehend the ways of a holy and fully righteous God. The prophet Isaiah provides us with God’s explanation for why finite men will never grasp His infinite and inexplicable actions.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

But while we might agree with God’s assessment of the problem, we too often miss the circumstances surrounding our lack of understanding. Take a look at the verses that precede the Lord’s declaration regarding His unfathomable ways. What we have difficulty comprehending is His divine willingness to show compassion on those who least deserve it.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” – Isaiah 55:6-7 NLT

God specifically addresses “the wicked” and “the unrighteous.” He calls on sinners to seek Him while they still have the opportunity. He doesn’t require that they clean up their proverbial act and start living righteous lives before they seek Him. But He does ask them to turn from their wicked lifestyles and their unrighteous ways of thinking, and to seek Him instead. All so that He might shower them with His compassion and bless them with His undeserved pardon.

As sinful human beings, we find this kind of offer incomprehensible and inexplicable. It makes no sense. Because to our way of thinking, love is always conditional. Rewards must be earned. We have been raised on a steady diet of moral rhetoric that has convinced us that you don’t get something for nothing. Yet, the apostle Paul would remind us that it was for our sinfulness that Jesus came to earth and offered up His life.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:6-8 NLT

Even Jesus declared that His incarnation, call to repentance, and offer of redemption was aimed at the spiritually sick and hopeless.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” – Luke 5:31-32 ESV

On another occasion, Jesus reiterated this same sentiment, declaring His intention to show compassion on those who least deserved it.

“For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” – Matthew 9:13 NLT

So, when we read a book like Hosea, we can become confused by what appears to be apparent contradictions in the character of God. One minute we find Him castigating and condemning the Israelites for their immorality and idolatry. He declares His dissatisfaction with them and delivers warnings of His pending judgment. Then, almost out of nowhere, God declares His intention to show them mercy.

Take a look a verses 8-9. They stand in stark contrast to verse 7, where God just declared His intention to ignore Israel’s pleas for help. They will cry out, but “he shall not raise them up at all.”

Yet, in the very next verse, God reveals what appears to be a dramatic change of heart.

“How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
    How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
    How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
    my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
    I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
    the Holy One in your midst,
    and I will not come in wrath.”
– Hosea 11:8-9 NLT

While God is determined to bring judgment against His wicked and unrighteous people, He cannot bear the thought of destroying them completely. He mentions the cities of Admah and Zeboiim, which, at one time, had enjoyed a close physical and moral relationship with the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. According to Deuteronomy 29:23, God destroyed these two cities when He brought His judgment to bear on Sodom and Gomorrah.

And the thought of bringing that level of destruction on His chosen people caused God’s heart to soften. His compassion overwhelmed Him. He declares that “My heart recoils within me” (Hosea 11:8 ESV). That word “recoils” has a very interesting meaning in Hebrew. It is the word, hāp̄aḵ, and it can mean “to turn” or “overturn.” It also has a negative connotation, referring to the overthrow of someone or something. Hans Walter Wolfe provides a helpful explanation regarding what seems to be going on in the heart of God.

“Israel will not be completely ‘overturned’ as the cities mentioned here; rather, there will be an ‘overturning,’ that is, a change, in Yahweh’s heart.” – Wolff, Hans Walter. Hosea. Translated by Gary Stansell. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974

God is holy and must punish sin. But God also desires to extend mercy and compassion to sinners. The apostle Peter describes God as incredibly patient, and reminds us that “He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” (2 Peter 3:9 NLT). The same was true regarding His relationship with the people of Israel.

Israel would face God’s judgment, but would not have to undergo the full weight of His divine wrath.

“No, I will not unleash my fierce anger.
    I will not completely destroy Israel,
for I am God and not a mere mortal.
    I am the Holy One living among you,
    and I will not come to destroy.” – Hosea 11:9 NLT

Unlike fallen mankind, God is not motivated by sinful desires. Even in His anger, He always acts righteously and justly. He is never capricious or vindictive. According to the psalmist, “The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.” (Psalm 145:17 ESV).

This is not a picture of God relenting, repenting, or even changing His mind. He is simply stating that He is a God who is balanced and just in all that He does. He is going to punish Israel, but He is also going to keep every covenant promise He has made to them. His destruction will come, but it will not be complete and comprehensive. He will severely discipline them, but refrain from annihilating them. Why? Because He has promised to use them to bring a blessing to the nations, and He will accomplish that promise through His Son, Jesus Christ.

God’s ways are not our ways. His plans do not always make sense to us. But His grand plan for the redemption of mankind included His Son being born into the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Judah, as a descendant of Abraham, and the rightful heir to David’s throne. And one day, God will restore His people to power and prominence when His Son sets up His earthly Kingdom in the city of Jerusalem at the end of the age. Which is exactly what God promised to the rebellious people of Israel through His prophet, Hosea.

“For someday the people will follow me.
    I, the Lord, will roar like a lion.
And when I roar,
    my people will return trembling from the west.
Like a flock of birds, they will come from Egypt.
    Trembling like doves, they will return from Assyria.
And I will bring them home again,”
    says the Lord. – Hosea 11:11-12 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