Who Do You Think You Are?

1 One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Luke 20:1-8 ESV

Not long after His unexpected and surprising display of righteous indignation in the temple, Jesus returned to the scene of the “crime” and began to teach. It was business as usual for Jesus as He entered the temple court and began to proclaim the gospel. But the chief priest, scribes, and elders had neither forgotten or forgiven Jesus for what they viewed as an unjustified and unauthorized display of authority. They were still fuming over the costly disruption Jesus had caused on their turf. This renegade Rabbi had entered the temple grounds, the domain of the Sanhedrin, the high court of Israel, and He had literally “cleaned house.”

Mark records that Jesus “entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons” (Mark 11:15 ESV). He accused the religious leaders of turning His Father’s house, a place of prayer, into a den of robbers.  While the temple was primarily a place of sacrifice, it was to be characterized by prayer. This harks back to the dedication ceremony conducted by King Solomon on the day the temple was opened. In his dedicatory prayer, Solomon asked God to graciously hear and answer the prayers that the people of Israel directed toward the temple, God’s dwelling place.

“May you watch over this Temple day and night, this place where you have said you would put your name. May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive.” – 2 Chronicles 6:20-21 NLT

But Jesus had entered the courtyard of the temple and found a carnival-like atmosphere where personal gain had taken precedence over piety. The religious leaders of Israel had turned the celebration of Passover into a moneymaking enterprise that lined their pockets and further inflated their out-of-control egos. Rather than serving as shepherds to the sheep of Israel, they acted as opportunists who fleeced the flock and fattened their wallets with the illicit gain.

According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus demonstrated just how antithetical His ministry was to that of the Jewish religious leaders. Even after cleaning out the money-grubbing vendors, Jesus stayed behind. And Matthew reports that “the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them” (Matthew 21:14 ESV). The Lamb of God demonstrated concern for  the sheep of God, while the so-called shepherds of Israel grew fat and happy by using and abusing those under their care.

But the disgruntled members of the Sanhedrin were furious with this upstart Rabbi from Nazareth and demanded to know by what authority He did the things He did. In their minds, He had no right to question their motives or criticize their behavior. They were the righteous ones. They held all the power and authority and answered to no one, especially an itinerant, unintelligent Rabbi from the god-forsaken region of Galilee. So, as Jesus taught in the temple courtyard, these men showed up and demanded that Jesus explain His actions from the day before.

“By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right?” – Luke 20:2 NLT

In their minds, Jesus was way out of bounds. He was out of His league and suffered from an unwarranted case of self-importance.  While He claimed to be the Messiah and had even blasphemed by declaring to be the Son of God, they considered Him as little more than a lunatic who had serious delusions of grandeur. According to Mark’s gospel, the Sanhedrin had already made up their minds about what to do with Jesus.

When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so amazed at his teaching. – Mark 11:18 NLT

Jesus was a walking dead man because the Jewish religious leaders had already placed a price on His head. It was just a matter of time. And their demand that Jesus explain Himself was just one more attempt to get Him to further incriminate Himself. They were looking for additional evidence to take before the Roman authorities so they could demand His execution.

But Jesus saw through their little ploy and answered their question with a question.

“Let me ask you a question first,” he replied. “Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human?” – Luke 20:3-4 NLT

Jesus stayed on the topic at hand, but He deftly returned service by lobbing the ball back into their court. It was an easy question, but it didn’t come with an easy answer.  Immediately, His interrogators were flustered and floundering around for an answer. They found themselves on the horn of a dilemma.

They talked it over among themselves. “If we say it was from heaven, he will ask why we didn’t believe John. But if we say it was merely human, the people will stone us because they are convinced John was a prophet.” – Luke 20:5-6 NLT

They knew full well the John to which Jesus had referred. It was the late John the Baptist, who had just recently been executed by Herod, the governor of Galilee. Until his death, John had been a popular and polarizing figure throughout Judea,. He and the religious leaders had enjoyed their fair share of confrontations. At one point, they  showed up in the Judean wilderness demanding that John baptize them. But John saw that their motives were less than sincere and he boldly confronted them for their hypocrisy.

when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire. – Matthew 3:7-10 NLT

John knew they were unrepentant and only seeking baptism as proof that they were prime candidates for the coming kingdom of God which John had proclaimed. Since everyone else was flocking to the Jordan River to be baptized, they didn’t want to be left out. But unlike the common people, the religious leaders didn’t believe in John or his message. That’s why Jesus’ question caused them so much concern. If they denied that John’s message concerning the coming kingdom was not from God, they would face the ire of the people. But if they were to agree that John had been sent from God, then Jesus would want to know why they refused to believe his message. John had also claimed that Jesus was “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” ( John 1:29 ESV). So, by rejecting the message of John, they had also rejected his identification of Jesus as the Messiah of Israel.

Caught in a trap, these highly educated men decided to plead ignorance.

…they answered that they did not know where it came from. – Luke 20:7 ESV

And because they unwilling to declare their true disdain for John and his message, Jesus notified them that He had no intention of answering their question.

“Then I won’t tell you by what authority I do these things.” – Luke 20:8 NLT

Jesus already knew that they had rejected His claim to divinity. They refused to accept Him as the Son of God or the Messiah of Israel. So, anything He said was destined to fall on deaf ears. He had already confronted them about their predilection for falsehood and their propensity to believe lies rather than embrace truth.

“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies. So when I tell the truth, you just naturally don’t believe me! Which of you can truthfully accuse me of sin? And since I am telling you the truth, why don’t you believe me? Anyone who belongs to God listens gladly to the words of God. But you don’t listen because you don’t belong to God.” – John 6:44-47 NLT

Jesus had cleaned out the temple based on His authority as the Son of God. Quoting from Isaiah 56:7, Jesus referred to the temple as “My house.” And this statement had not escaped the ears of the religious leaders. They knew that Jesus was claiming to be on an equal standing with God Almighty. He was declaring His divinity. And to them, that was nothing less than blasphemy. The whole point behind their original question was to get Jesus to reiterate that claim in front of the crowds. That way, they would have all the witnesses they needed to convict Jesus and demand His execution. But Jesus’ time of death was drawing close, it was not yet time. There was more for Him to do. And Jesus followed this tense encounter with His arch rivals with a simple parable, and its message would deal with the topic of authority.

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 King is Coming

11 As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 12 He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. 13 Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ 14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ 15 When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. 16 The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ 18 And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ 19 And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 20 Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ 24 And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ 25 And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ 26 ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 27 But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’” Luke 19:11-27 ESV

It’s amazing how quickly we can turn this parable into nothing more than a lesson on stewardship. In doing so, we make it all about us, while at the same time, missing the main point of Jesus’ message. Context is essential to understanding what Jesus is saying with this parable. He has just completed His encounter with Zacchaeus, the chief collector, who has shown through his repentant response to Jesus’ words that he has come to believe Him to be the Messiah. Jesus stunned the crowd when He proclaimed the following words over this notorious sinner.

“Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:9-10 ESV

For Jesus, Zacchaeus was the perfect example of those He had come to save. This man was a sinner and everyone knew it, including himself. And he had been willing to confess his sin and take whatever steps were necessary to display “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8 ESV). Zacchaeus had been willing to make restitution by returning the money he had stolen from his fellow citizens of Jericho. Unlike the rich, young ruler, Zacchaeus was ready to give up his vast wealth in order to follow Jesus.

The other important point of context that gets easily overlooked concerns the timing of this encounter. Luke indicates reminds his readers that Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. This brief stopover in Jericho provided a temporary delay in Jesus’ inevitable and unavoidable mission objective. And there were others in the crowd who knew that Jesus was headed to Jerusalem and were anxious that He arrive “because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately” (Luke 19:11 ESV). Luke does not identify who these individuals were, but it is safe to assume that the 12 disciples were among them. These men had become convinced that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 NLT), and were anxious for Him set up His kingdom in Jerusalem so that they might rule alongside Him. It was this enthusiastic but misguided expectation on the part of the disciples that led Jesus to tell this parable.

…he told them a story to correct the impression that the Kingdom of God would begin right away. – Luke 18:11 NLT

Don’t miss all the references to kings, kingdoms, rule, and reign in this parable. They reveal the primary point that Jesus was trying to make. Jesus began His parable by stating, “A nobleman was called away to a distant empire to be crowned king and then return” (Luke 18:12 NLT). This translation provides a much more accurate understanding of what Jesus actually said. The ESV states that the nobleman went “to receive for himself a kingdom and then return.” The key to understanding what Jesus is saying is the word, “kingdom.” When we read that word we think of a place or a realm. And while the Greek word, basileia, can also carry that meaning, it most often is used to refer to royal power, kingship, dominion, and rule. It has less to do with a realm than the right to rule. Notice that the nobleman went somewhere to receive his official designation as the king. He left where he was in order to go and receive His royal commission. But he always planned to return.

In this parable, the nobleman leaves his servants behind so that he might go and return as their king. The land in which they live already belongs to the nobleman, but upon his return, he will be more than their master. He will be their king. It is obvious that the nobleman represents Jesus, and He is attempting to inform His disciples that there will be a delay in the coming of the kingdom. He must leave and then return. But when He comes back, He will do so with all the power and authority of the King. And it will be at that time He sets up His earthly kingdom.

But according to the parable, all those who serve the nobleman were to stay behind and faithfully “engage in business” on his behalf until he returned. In other words, they were to serve as the faithful stewards of his domain until such time that he came back with the full right to rule as their king. The nobleman called ten of his faithful servants and awarded them with “ten pounds of silver, saying, ‘Invest this for me while I am gone’” (Luke 19:13 NLT). He left them in charge and delegated his resources to them so that they might invest them wisely in the management of his estate.

But while the nobleman was gone, those who lived in his land “sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We do not want him to be our king’” (Luke 19:14 NLT). These people had heard the reason for his departure and were unwilling for him to return as their king. Whatever coronation he was going to receive would be unacceptable to them. Not only were they unwilling to accept him as their king, but it seems they also rejected the idea of him returning at all. 

But the nobleman did return and with the full right to rule over these people as their king. Yet, the first people he called were those ten servants to whom he had entrusted his silver. And this is the part of the story we tend to focus on.

“After he was crowned king, he returned and called in the servants to whom he had given the money. He wanted to find out what their profits were.” – Luke 19:15 NLT

The new king calls for his servants and asks them to give a report of their actions during his absence. He wanted to see if they had been trustworthy and proven themselves to be good stewards of all that he had entrusted to their care. The first three servants to report are meant to represent the rest. One has proven himself faithful and highly industrious, by having taken the ten minas entrusted to his care and producing a ten-fold return to his master. He receives a hearty commendation and reward for his service. The second servant also proved faithful, having produced a five-fold return on his original ten pieces of silver. He too is rewarded for his efforts. But the third servant has done nothing with that which the master entrusted to him. He didn’t squander or lose it. He simply refused to do anything with it at all. Motivated by apathy and fear, the servant hid the treasure and was therefore unable to present the master any return on his investment. This servant, rather than receiving a reward, was given a stern rebuke from his master and king.

“‘You wicked servant!’ the king roared. ‘Your own words condemn you. If you knew that I’m a hard man who takes what isn’t mine and harvests crops I didn’t plant, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’ – Luke 19:22-23 NLT

This man had a distorted view of his master and yet, even that had not motivated him to do the right thing. If he truly feared the master, he would have done more with what he had been given. But it seems that he really never thought his master would return. He lived with a sense of false security, thinking that the master’s long absence would become a permanent one. So, rather than invest what he had been given, he simply hid it. He never thought he would have to give an account for his actions. But he was wrong. The master did return and he did so backed by the full authority given to him as the king.

While it is easy to focus on the rewards and the discipline portrayed in this parable, the real point is the return of the king. And that seems to be what Jesus is trying to convey to His disciples. He knows they are expecting Him to set up His earthly kingdom in Jerusalem. He is fully aware that they are expecting their rewards now. But He wants them to understand that there will be a delay in the establishment of His earthly kingdom. He will be leaving them soon and returning to His Father’s side in heaven. And in His absence, they will be expected to use the gifts He gives them to conduct business on His behalf. They will receive the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ departure and, as a result, the spiritual gifts He makes possible. And Jesus will expect them to use those gifts wisely, investing them on His behalf and producing an abundance of fruit for the kingdom. The apostle Paul reminds us of the expectation placed on each of those who call themselves disciples of Christ and children of God.

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 1:10-11 NLT

Jesus ends the parable by telling His disciples, “to those who use well what they are given, even more will be given. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away” (Luke 19:26 NLT). They will get their reward. But it will not be until the King returns to set up His earthly Kingdom. Their job is to stay faithful, hopeful, and fully committed to serving the King until the time comes for Him to return. And then Jesus a stern warning to all those who refuse to honor Him as their Messiah and who will still reject Him as their King at His return.

And as for these enemies of mine who didn’t want me to be their king—bring them in and execute them right here in front of me.” – Luke 19:28 NLT

Rejecting Jesus as King does nothing to diminish His power, rule, or reign. He will return and, when He does, all those who have denied His deity and sovereignty will receive their just reward.

“…and to those who use well what they are given, even more will be given.” – Luke 19:26 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

Harsh Words for His Harshest Critics

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. – Matthew 23:13-36 ESV

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Woe_unto_You,_Scribes_and_Pharisees_(Malheur_à_vous,_scribes_et_pharisiens)_-_James_Tissot

The Pharisees and teachers of religious law were not fans of Jesus. In fact, they despised Him and had been searching for ample cause to have Him eliminated. So, at this point in Matthew’s account, he portrays Jesus amping up His rhetoric in an unabashed attack on these so-called religious leaders. As He prepares to follow His Father’s will and head to the cross, Jesus goes out of His way to expose the truth about His enemies. But Jesus’ words are not intended to be a vindictive attack on those who disagree with Him. He is pulling aside the veil and revealing the long-hidden truth regarding these men. They are not what they seem. And, before He leaves this earth, Jesus wants to ensure that His disciples understood what true religion should look like.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. – James 1:27 ESV

At this point, Jesus makes His message much more direct by turning His attention directly to the Pharisees and teachers of religious law. This is the part where He pronounces His seven woes or warnings against them. It is important to recognize that this is all about two distinctly different ways to approach God. What Jesus has to say is less about their behavior than the focus of their ministry.

Woe #1: They had a false view of the Kingdom of Heaven and how to enter it. Not only was their errant view making entry into God’s Kingdom impossible for them, but it was also slamming the door in the face of every person under their influence. They had made the attainment of righteousness all about human effort. In their minds, entry into the Kingdom of Heaven was reserved for law-keepers, and they viewed themselves as the quintessential keepers of the law.

Woe #2: Their false view of the Kingdom of Heaven had deadly consequences. Their refusal to accept Jesus as the Messiah was condemning themselves and others to hell. They were eager to convert others to their way of thinking and to their view of the Kingdom, but the result was that these individuals ended up as lost as they were. By following the teaching of these men, the people of Israel were being deceived into believing a lie. They were placing their faith in the faulty confidence professed by these false teachers.

Woe #3: In spite of all their knowledge of the Mosaic Law, they were blind to the one to whom the law and the prophets pointed. Jesus had already told these men that He was the primary focal point of the Hebrew Scriptures.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” – John 5:39 NLT

But in their arrogance and prideful knowledge, they had missed the whole point. They had misunderstood what was of real value in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus points out that the temple, which God had set apart as His own, was holy, not the gold used to adorn it. The altar, the place God had set aside for sacrifice, was holy and anything that touched it became holy as well. Ultimately, it is God who makes heaven holy and gives it its value.

The religious leaders were focusing their attention on the wrong things. They were materially-minded, rather than spiritually-focused. Their whole practice of making and keeping oaths was little more than a series of man-made loopholes and escape clauses designed to give them an easy out from having to do what they swore to do. They could appear to be holy and righteous without having to accept any of the cost or consequences. And Jesus pointed out that they were really minimizing and trivializing the holiness of God.

Woe #4:They misunderstood the true nature of the Kingdom because they tended to major on the minors. Since they believed that entrance into the Kingdom was based on the keeping of the law, they ended up nitpicking the law to death. Jesus accused them of being meticulously observant of laws concerning the tithing of fruit, grain, and other produce – to the point of absurdity. But in doing so, they conveniently overlooked the more important commandments concerning justice, mercy, and faith.

Jesus borrowed from their own Scriptures to remind them of God’s own words concerning this matter.

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 NLT

In all their zeal to tithe unscrupulously, they were failing to keep the two greatest commandments: To love God and to love others.

Woe #5: They had a false understanding of what constitutes righteousness in God’s Kingdom. God was interested in the INSIDE, not the OUTSIDE. Yet their focus was solely on the externals. They made behavior modification their goal, rather than heart transformation. Yet Jesus had taught just the opposite.

“But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a person. For out of the heart come evil ideas, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are the things that defile a person; it is not eating with unwashed hands that defiles a person.” – Matthew 15:18-20 NLT

These men were all about appearances. They lived to impress and were addicted to the praise of men. As long as they looked good, they believed they were good. External appearances and outward behavior were the criteria by which they judged a man’s righteousness, but God looks at the condition of the heart.

Woe #6: This one supports the previous one. It reveals their false concept of what it took to become clean or righteous. Again, they had replaced heart transformation with behavior modification. They spent all their time obsessing about outward appearances while ignoring the internal state of their souls. Rather than heartfelt repentance, they focused on outward reformation. Rather than acknowledge their sin, they simply attempted to cover it up with good deeds and religious effort.

Jesus described them as painted tombs. Not exactly a compliment. Their outward display of righteous behavior was like putting makeup on a pig. It didn’t change reality. A well-manicured grave, covered with flowers and its tombstone meticulously clean, can’t change the fact that beneath the surface lies death and decay.

Woe #7: In failing to recognize their own sinful condition, they had become just like their ancestors – rebellious, stubborn, and resistant to God. The Israelites had built tombs and monuments to honor the prophets of God but had failed to listen to their words of warning. In fact, they had killed many of them. And Jesus made it clear that the religious leaders of Israel had done the same thing in His day, rejecting the most recent prophet of God: John the Baptist. And in just a matter of days, they would arrange to have the very Son of God put to death. After Jesus was out of the way, they would end up persecuting and killing the disciples as well.

“Therefore, I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers of religious law. But you will kill some by crucifixion, and you will flog others with whips in your synagogues, chasing them from city to city.” – Matthew 23:34 NLT

Misplaced passion

Why was Jesus so upset with these men? What drove Him to treat them so harshly? They were passionate. They were zealous. They were religious. BUT THEY WERE DANGEROUS! They had become obstacles to the Kingdom of Heaven. Their misplaced zeal had led them to become stumbling blocks.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Stumbling blocks are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him to have a millstone tied around his neck and be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.” – Luke 17:1-2 NET

These men DID NOT represent the way into the Kingdom of Heaven. They didn’t even know the directions. But where do we see this today? In the myriad of false and pseudo-Christian religions. We see it in anyone who denies that salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone. We need to learn to look for these characteristics.

  1. Posing as spokesmen for God, but denying people access to the Kingdom of God
  2. Giving people false hope by offering them a false gospel
  3. Providing easy workarounds to true holiness and commitment to God
  4. Judging righteousness based on their own standards, rather than God’s
  5. Refusing to acknowledge sin, while emphasizing self-righteousness
  6. Putting undue emphasis on the praise of men, rather than that of God
  7. Failing to see their status as enemies of God

The spirit of the Pharisees is alive and well today. It’s evident in every religion that refuses to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the only way. It’s prevalent in many main-stream denominations that preach a gospel of works, not grace. It can be found anytime legalism and rule-keeping replaces a love for God and others. It shows up whenever our religion becomes more important than our relationship with Christ. It takes the form of hypocrisy, when what we say we believe fails to impact the way we behave. When we love the praise of man more than pleasing God.

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

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

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

Entrance Into the Kingdom

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

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

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

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

If you would enter life… – vs. 17

If you would be perfect… – vs. 21

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

…keep the commandments. – vs. 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”

“Blessed are those who mourn…”

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

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

“Blessed are the merciful…”

“Blessed are the pure in heart…”

“Blessed are the peacemakers…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restoration, Not Revenge

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” –  Matthew 18:15-22 ESV

Jesus has just finished talking about the danger of causing another believer to stumble in his walk by demeaning or devaluing them. Pride has no place in the family of God. There is no reason for any follower of Christ to consider themselves to be better than anyone else. And the disciples would soon learn that all are equal at the foot of the cross. We are sinners saved by grace, “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:9 ESV). And the humility that accompanies our faith in Christ should prevent us from looking down on other believers and setting ourselves up as somehow superior and of greater value in the kingdom.

But that humility will also lead us to lovingly forgive those who sin against us, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we end up on the receiving end of someone else’s pride and arrogance, we are to approach them in humility, not anger, exposing their sin but with the goal of restoring the relationship.

One of the greatest sins we can commit against another believer is to cause them to stumble in their walk or stray from the path on which God has placed them. And if you should find yourself the victim of this kind of sin, Jesus encourages you to seek restoration, not revenge. The goal is not the exposure of the other person’s fault, but the healing of the relationship. And Jesus makes it clear that if you humbly and lovingly approach them and they repent, you will have “gained a brother.”

But, if they refuse to admit their culpability and confess their pride, you are to involve others in the fellowship who can speak to the matter from first-hand experience. Once again, the objective should be to lead them to conviction that results in restoration. This is not about making the other person feel bad. It’s not about exposing their faults before others, but about humbly seeking God’s best for them.

But if the one who has sinned against you remains unconvicted and refuses to repent, you are to bring the matter before the ekklēsia, a Greek word that eventually came to refer to the local body of believers or the local church. But at this point in Jesus’ relationship with His disciples, He had provided them with no insight or teaching regarding the coming church. So, more than likely, Jesus was referring to an assembly of believers who had been called together for an announcement. The disciples probably assumed He was talking about their own close-knit group.

Finally, Jesus told them that if the person remained stubbornly unrepentant, they were to “let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17 ESV). In other words, they were to exclude this individual from fellowship. If he or she remained unrepentant, they were to be unwelcome by those in the ekklēsia – the small circle of friends who had become privy to the sin. This individual would have forfeited their right to fellowship because they had refused to accept responsibility for their sin. Had they followed the advice of the apostle John, they could have been restored to fellowship and received forgiveness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9 ESV

Again, the objective behind all of this is restoration, not merely punishment. Our motivation in confronting the guilty party is to be love. As the apostle Peter taught:

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. – 1 Peter 4:8 ESV

In our loving confrontation of the brother or sister who has sinned against us, we are to understand that our treatment of them, when done in humility and out of love, carries weight. When the time comes for a decision to be made regarding the proper discipline of the guilty party, it should be made prayerfully and carefully. We are to see our decision as bearing the full weight of God’s authority. Jesus repeated the same words He used when speaking to Peter back in chapter 16.

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  – Matthew 16:19 ESV

The decision made by the local assembly would carry the same weight as if it had been made by God Himself. The binding and loosing have to do with the outward treatment of the one who has sinned against his brother or sister in Christ.

Verses 19-20, while often used as a proof text for corporate prayer, really has much more to do with the issue of one believer who has sinned against another. When the proper steps have been taken and the sinning individual has been confronted one-on-one and then with two or three witnesses, the next step is discipline. And we are to seek God’s will in the matter. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Jesus does not provide a singular prescription for discipline. We are to seek the will of God and then pronounce judgment in the name of God – fully trusting that He is intimately involved in the matter.

Finally, Peter has to get his two-cents in, following up Jesus’ words with a question that he hopes will shed light on the whole discussion. He appears to have a hard time with the idea of forgiving someone who has sinned against him. So, he asked Jesus how many times he was expected to forgive. He was looking for a limit. Surely, this would not be some undetermined number requiring unending forgiveness. But Jesus blew holes in Peter’s theory, by saying, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22 ESV). The number was not the issue. It was the motivation of the heart. Jesus wanted Peter to know that the kind of forgiveness He was talking about had no time limit or date of expiration. It is the very same kind of forgiveness we have received from God.

The apostle Paul would later explain it in terms that each of us can readily understand.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32 ESV

Again, the issue is restoration, not revenge. Our goal is to be reconciliation with our brother or sister in Christ and their ultimate restoration to a right relationship with God. For the disciples, all of this sounded so far-fetched and impossible. It made no sense. But Jesus was raising the bar, just as He has done all along the way in His interactions with these men. He was enlightening them to the reality of life in the kingdom. It would not be as they expected. There would be no place for pride. There would be no room for vengeance. The kingdom Jesus came to inaugurate would be comprised of humility, unity, and 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

One For All and All For One

“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. 

10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. 12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” –  Matthew 18:7-14 ESV

Jesus is in the middle of what began as a lesson on humility and its non-negotiable requirement for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. The disciples had been arguing about which of them was the greatest when Jesus intervened and, using a small child as a visual prompt, began to teach them about the need for humility, not hubris. But it’s important to understand that Jesus was not placing children in a higher position than adults. And it is unlikely that He was teaching that it’s easier for a child to be saved than an adult. His emphasis was the innocence, trust and natural humility found in a child.

When Jesus referred to “these little ones,” He was talking about those who willingly place their faith in Him, trusting Him as a child would – without guile, not driven by ego, or motivated by self-indulgence.

Jesus, knowing that His disciples were obsessed with status, reminded them that they were to accept these innocent believers in His name. They were not to categorize or rank them by outward signs of worth or treat some as more important than others. James, the half-brother of Jesus, had some strong words regarding this kind of prejudice practiced in the church.

My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?

For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?

Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear? – James 2:1-7 NLT

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t allow status or worldly signs of significance to deceive you. Christ’s kingdom was not going to be populated by the powerful, pretentious, the popular, or the prosperous. It isn’t that these people could not have a place in His kingdom, but they would first have to become as little children: Full of humility rather than being full of themselves.

The world is full of stumbling blocks. There are all kinds of natural impediments designed to keep people from coming to Christ. And for those who do place their faith in Christ, there would be no shortage of barriers along the way, intended to keep them from growing in their faith. So, Jesus warns His disciples about the danger of becoming a source of discouragement to another believer. By arguing over who was the greatest, the disciples were inadvertently discouraging one another. It had not escaped the other nine disciples that Peter, James, and John were favored by Jesus. They had been included in His trip to the mountaintop, while the others had been left behind. Peter had received a blessing from Jesus because he had been the first to speak up and declare Jesus as the Son of God. A natural and normal competitive factor had developed between the disciples, and it left some feeling less significant than others.

This led Jesus to stress the need for mutual care and concern. And He used hyperbole to drive home the seriousness of His point. Anyone who caused a fellow believer to stumble in their walk would be better off dead. Jesus is not teaching that someone can lose their salvation for tempting another believer to falter in their faith. He is simply stressing how serious we should take our role in another person’s faith journey. Anything we do to discourage another believer by looking down on them or making them feel inferior will have destructive consequences. And Jesus stresses the seriousness of this offense by saying, “it would be better for him to have a huge millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the open sea” (Matthew 18:6 NLT). 

Jesus does not want His disciples to be sources of stumbling for other believers. So, He warns them to set aside their pride and to humbly serve any and all who place their faith in Him, regardless of their status in life. Again, Jesus uses hyperbole to make His point. He warns His disciples that anything in their life that might cause a brother to stumble should be eliminated at all costs. That includes their pride.

It’s interesting to note that Jesus uses hands, feet, and eyes as examples. It is with our hands that we grasp the things of this world. It is with our feet that we stray from the path that God has set for us. And it is our eyes that cause us to lust after the things of this world. The apostle John provides us with a strong word of warning concerning these things.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. – 1 John 2:15-16 NLT

It’s important to remember that this entire exchange between Jesus and His disciples began with their argument over who was the greatest. The very fact that they were debating this topic reveals that they saw themselves as somehow superior to one another. So, Jesus told them, “See that you do not disdain one of these little ones” (Matthew 18:10 NLT). The Greek word Jesus used means “to think little or nothing of.” They were devaluing one another. They were assessing worth based on outward attributes. But Jesus stressed that God views all equally. He shows no partiality. Paul reminds us, “God does not show favoritism” (Romans 2:11 NLT). So, why should we? God cares for each and every one of His children. If one strays, He seeks them out. And when He finds them, He rejoices. So should we.

The sin-based pride of the disciples was destructive. Their obsession with self-importance and their need for recognition and status had no place in the kingdom of heaven. They were going to learn that the plight of the believer would be difficult enough in this world without having fellow believers placing roadblocks in the way. Unity was going to be essential to the success of the church. Mutual care and concern were going to be essential characteristics of the body of Christ. And the New Testament is filled with admonitions to model humility and to serve one another selflessly and sacrificially.

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV

Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. – Ephesians 4:29 NLT

So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up… – Romans 14:19 NLT

We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord. – Romans 15:2 NLT

Mutual edification, not self-glorification. Building up others, not pumping up ourselves. Putting others first and ourselves last. That is life in the kingdom. We are in this together. We are the body of Christ and each of us needs the other.

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

Like a Little Child

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. –  Matthew 18:1-6 ESV

This exchange between Jesus and His disciples provides a stark contrast between their two diametrically opposing visions concerning the kingdom. While Jesus has gone out of His way to inform them about His coming death in Jerusalem, they are obviously having a difficult time comprehending and accepting this radical alteration to their kingdom narrative.

At first glance, it appears that the disciples are asking a question about the hierarchical structure of heaven. It is doubtful that they were questioning the prominence of God in the celestial realm. Their question seems to be focused on the status of those who had already died and were now living as residents of heaven, such as Moses, Elijah, and David? Their obsession with status and recognition within the kingdom is well documented. And a quick look at the other gospel accounts of this very same scene sheds some light on what was actually going on. Both Mark and Luke reveal that, prior to this question being asked, the disciples had been arguing over which one of them was the greatest.

…on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. – Mark 9:36 ESV

An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. – Luke 9:46 ESV

Matthew’s version of the account presents the disciples a bit more favorably as if they were the ones who brought the matter to Jesus to settle. But Mark indicates that Jesus was the one who exposed the content of their squabble by asking them, “What were you discussing on the way?” (Mark 9:34 ESV). But they refused to answer His question. So Luke tells us that, “Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side” (Luke 9:47 ESV).

So, why the discrepancy? What would have caused Matthew to portray the scene differently? It is most likely a case of perspective. Matthew was revealing things as he had seen them. Perhaps he had not been part of the group that had been having the argument. He could have walked in on the scene as Jesus was addressing the issue and simply assumed one of the other disciples had asked Jesus the question. We are not told why his recollection of the event is different, but it is important to remember that each of the gospel authors was writing from their own particular viewpoint. It is not a case of contradiction as much as it is a matter of context.

But the fact that the disciples had been arguing over this point is revealing. We are not told what prompted their discussion, but it could have been the fact that Peter, James, and John had been selected by Jesus to view His transfiguration. While they had been sworn to secrecy by Jesus, that doesn’t mean they didn’t gloat in front of the other disciples, bragging over their membership in Jesus’ inner circle. Remember, it was James and John who had asked Jesus if they could sit on His right and left when He established His kingdom (Mark 10:37). Position and prominence were important to the disciples. These blue-collar members of the lower rung of Jewish society were constantly thinking about rank and privilege. They even argued amongst themselves as to who was the greatest.

While they had originally thought that Jesus was going to establish His kingdom on earth, they were slowly realizing that there was going to be something radically different about the Messiah’s rule and reign. It seems that they were now moving their focus from earth to heaven. If Jesus was not going to set up an earthly kingdom, then they wanted to know what roles they would play in His heavenly one. Yet, Jesus was about to burst their bubble and expose a feature of His kingdom that would contradict their expectations.

Jesus did something unusual. He placed a small child in their midst and then used this unnamed and seemingly insignificant child to drive home an important lesson on leadership in the kingdom of God. In that day and age, children were considered as inferior to adults. They had little or no rights. And for Jesus to use a child as an example for adults to follow would have been shocking. It should have been the other way around. And yet, He placed the child in front of His disciples and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3 ESV). 

But children had no power. They were helpless and in constant need of someone else’s care. Children could be ignored or abused. They had no authority. They could not demand their rights because they had none. So, while the disciples were asking questions about greatness, Jesus was emphasizing those who represent “the least of these.”

Notice what Jesus says. He tells His disciples that they must “turn.” The Greek word He used in strephō, and it means to change your course of conduct or to change your mind. At that point, the disciples were arguing and obsessing over the issue of greatness in the kingdom. But Jesus demands that they rethink their position and become like children. What did He mean? It seems clear from the context that Jesus is stressing the need for humility. He placed this young child in the midst of 12 adult men and told them to follow the child’s example. Mark indicates that Jesus took the child in His arms. This child’s innocence and trust of Jesus is clearly on display. There is no pride exhibited. The child does not demand his own way or fight to escape the arms of Jesus. And Jesus, carefully cradling the child in His arms, drives home a powerful message to His status-obsessed disciples:

Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:4 ESV

And to the shock and surprise of His disciples, Jesus then reveals that anyone who does not become humble like a child will never enter the kingdom of heaven. These men would have believed that their hand-picked status as followers of Jesus and their unique position as descendants of Abraham would have been more than enough to secure their place in the kingdom. The thought of not entering the kingdom of heaven had never crossed their minds. To them, it was all about status within that kingdom, not a question of whether they would be there. But Jesus wanted them to know that entrance into the kingdom would be based on humility and trust.

Jesus was not telling His disciples that heaven was off-limits to them. He was driving home their need for humility. There was no place for pride in the lives of His followers. They had brought nothing to the table. There had been nothing about them that had caused Jesus to choose them. The only reason they were HIs followers was that He had called them and they had humbly obeyed that call. And there would be other followers of Christ – those who humbled themselves and willingly placed their trust in Jesus as their Savior. And Jesus warned the disciples not to look down on those kinds of people.

“But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a huge millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the open sea” – Matthew 18:6 NLT

The very fact that the disciples had been debating over which of them was the greatest is an indication that they believed in a hierarchy within the kingdom. They were convinced that there were degrees of superiority and inferiority associated with Jesus’ kingdom, just like any other royal administration. But Jesus pointed out that His kingdom was to come and when it did come, it would be marked by humility, not pride. And if the disciples, through their pride, kept anyone from entering the kingdom, their fate would be marked by judgment, not greatness.

Mark added the following words from Jesus: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35 ESV). Luke puts it this way: “For he who is least among you all is the one who is great” (Luke 9:48 ESV). That day, the child Jesus held in His arms would have been considered “least” by the disciples. He had done nothing to earn favor with God or man. He had performed no miracles, healed no one, and had not even reached adulthood. He had no rights. He had no privileges. But Jesus said he was greater than any of the disciples. 

These men were going to learn that greatness in Christ’s kingdom was based on an attitude of humility and servanthood, not pride and position. And Jesus was going to be their greatest example of what it meant to be great.

“Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:26-28 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

Who Is Jesus?

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. – Matthew 16:13-20 ESV

Caesarea Philippi

In this passage we see Jesus traveling as far north as He will ever go in His earthly ministry. He and the disciples journeyed all the way to Caesarea Philippi. At this remote location, far removed from the capital city of Jerusalem and beyond the reach of the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus isolated Himself with His disciples in order to prepare them for the events that were soon to take place. It would not be long before He began a return trip to Jerusalem, but it would be in order to sacrifice His life on behalf of sinful mankind.

It appears that one of the objectives behind this excursion to the very borders of Jewish influence was to get the disciples alone and allow them time to process all that they had seen and heard. From the moment they had answered the call to follow Jesus, they had been on a whirlwind journey marked by head-scratching messages and mind-blowing miracles. They must have been confused by the confrontations between Jesus, a man they obviously admired, and the religious leaders, for whom they had deep respect. It had to have been disconcerting to see the Pharisees and Sadducees reject Jesus and to hear Jesus refer to these seemingly righteous men as hypocrites. If Jesus was the Messiah, as the disciples believed Him to be, why weren’t the religious leaders of Israel embracing Him with open arms?

Knowing that His followers were wrestling with all kinds of questions and their own doubts about who He was, Jesus removed some of the pressure by asking the disciples a fairly easy question:

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” – Matthew 16:13 ESV

And the disciples were more than happy to answer the question.

“Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” – Matthew 16:14 ESV

There were a lot of opinions out there. And notice that each of the three options provided by the disciples involves dead men. John the Baptist was the most recently deceased, but all three of the possibilities given by the disciples involved men who were no longer living. This provides a glimpse into the mindset of the average Jew. They believed that the miracles performed by Jesus were best explained as the byproduct of a resurrected prophet. They believed Him to be somebody of great renown who had been raised back to life and been given supernatural powers.

But notice that no one was claiming Jesus to be the Messiah. He was great, but not that great. At this point, Jesus turned His attention to His disciples. He wanted to know what they thought.

“But who do you say that I am?” – Matthew 16:15 ESV

This was the more important question of the two. Jesus knew full well that there were very few of the Jewish people who were willing to recognize Him as their Messiah. They had been blown away by His miracles and left wondering at the authority behind His teaching and the radical nature of His words. But He didn’t seem to measure up to their preconceived notions of how the Messiah would appear and act.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Peter was the first to speak up in response to Jesus’ query. He was an outspoken and sometimes rash individual for whom tact seemed to be a missing character trait. Peter was always quick to speak and sometimes His tendency to put his mouth in gear before His brain was engaged got him into trouble. But in this instance, Peter gave a commendable answer.

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” – Matthew 16:16 ESV

His response stood in stark contrast to the common perceptions of the people. Peter boldly and unapologetically proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah. The term “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of Messiah. So, Peter was unequivocally pronouncing his belief that Jesus was exactly who He claimed to be. And, if you recall, John used very similiar words when he opened up his gospel account.

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. – Matthew 1:1 ESV

But Peter refers to Jesus as the Son of the living God, not the son of David. This was an acknowledgement of Jesus’ deity. He was not just a man who had been sent by God, He was the actual Son of God. In other words, He was divine.

This statement by Peter was remarkable and Jesus acknowledged it as such.

“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 16:17 ESV

In this statement, Jesus chose to refer to Peter in a manner that emphasized his humanity. He called him Simon Barjonas or Simon, son of John. And then Jesus revealed that Peter’s answer had not been the result of human wisdom or teaching, but because of insight provided by God Himself. God had opened Peter’s eyes and helped him recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Peter wasn’t smarter than the scribes and Pharisees. He wasn’t more spiritual than the Sadducees. He didn’t possess more discernment than the rest of his Jewish neighbors and friends. But God had made possible Peter’s astounding insight into Jesus’ true identity. Remember what Jesus had stated earlier in Matthew’s gospel:

“No one truly knows the Son except the Father…” – Matthew 11:27 NLT

And so, it is God alone who can reveal the identity of His Son.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” – John 6:44 ESV

“This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” – John 6:65 ESV

Peter had been drawn to Jesus by God. He had been convinced by God that Jesus was the Messiah. And it was this confession that led Jesus to say:

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” – Matthew 16:18 ESV

In this statement, Jesus used a play on words. He refers to Peter’s name, which in Greek is Petros and means “rock.” But He used different Greek word when He referred to “this rock.” It was the word petra. Jesus was placing the emphasis, not on Peter, but on Peter’s testimony. It was what Peter had said about Jesus that was critical. In other words, the church of Jesus Christ would be built upon the testimonies of those who expressed faith in Jesus as their Messiah and Savior. Contrary to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, Jesus was not setting up a system of apostolic succession and establishing the office of the papacy. The real “rock” in this passage is Jesus Himself. He is what Paul later refers to as the cornerstone of the church.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. – Ephesians 2:19-21 ESV

And Peter echoed that same sentiment.

For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone…” – 1 Peter 2:6-7 ESV

Ultimately, the church is built upon the rock of Jesus Christ. He is our foundation and the one who holds all things together (Colossians 1:17). And to all those who build their lives on the solid rock of Jesus Christ, He promises to give “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19 ESV).

Jesus switched from talking about their present view of His identity to the future nature of their authority. He was referring to the millennial kingdom, not the temporal period commonly referred to as the church age. There is a day coming when all those who are children of God will experience the full power and authority available to them as heirs of the kingdom of God. And Jesus clearly articulates the nature of that power and authority when He says, “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19 ESV).

To a certain degree, the disciples were going to experience some of that power and authority in their earthly lives, as they proclaimed the good news and released people from captivity to sin and death. They would have God-given authority to cast out demons and heal the sick and the lame. But the greatest fulfillment of Jesus’ words are in the millennial kingdom to come when Jesus will sit on the throne of David, ruling in righteousness and justice. And all those who place their faith in Him as Messiah will rule alongside Him.

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 Temporal Versus the Eternal

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. – Matthew 16:5-12 ESV

After His most recent confrontation with the Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus and His disciples departed and sailed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He physically separated Himself from these men and their constant attempts to test and trap Him.

Having arrived on the other side of the lake, the disciples evidently expressed their hunger and the fact that they only had one loaf of bread among them (Mark 8:14). In their haste to get away from the religious leaders, they had forgotten to bring the necessary supplies for their journey.

And Jesus, realizing what the disciples were thinking, decided to use this moment as an opportunity to teach them. But it is readily apparent that He and His followers were on two different wavelengths. He was speaking in spiritual terms, while they were stuck on a physical plane, thinking about their lack of food.

He told them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” His use of leaven as a metaphorical device was not uncommon or unique. It was often used to refer to something that starts out small and insignificant, but that grows in size and influence. Earlier, Jesus had used leaven to refer to the kingdom of heaven.

“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” – Matthew 13:33 ESV

The apostle Paul would use leaven to refer to the false teaching of those who demanded circumcision as a requirement for salvation.

A little leaven leavens the whole lump. – Galatians 5:9 ESV

Jesus was simply trying to expose the dangerous nature of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Their outward displays of pietistic religious observance were masking a deadly tendency to teach falsehood. In fact, Jesus had accused them of “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9 ESV). So, Jesus wanted His disciples to see through the mask of respectability worn by these so-called religious leaders, and recognize them for what they were: Hypocrites.

But the disciples, driven by their hunger, misunderstood Jesus’ words. Their minds were stuck on food, and so they began to argue among themselves about their predicament. They were most likely pointing fingers and casting blame, debating over who had dropped the ball and forgotten to bring enough bread for their journey. But this little discussion revealed yet another problem and Jesus exposed it.

You have so little faith! Why are you arguing with each other about having no bread? Don’t you understand even yet? Don’t you remember the 5,000 I fed with five loaves, and the baskets of leftovers you picked up? Or the 4,000 I fed with seven loaves, and the large baskets of leftovers you picked up? – Matthew 16:8-10 NLT

Their lack of bread was not the issue. It was their poor memories and fledgling faith. Couldn’t they remember what Jesus had done before? Yes, they had one loaf of bread between them, but Jesus had more than proven that He could transform the insignificant into the all-sufficient. He could fully satisfy the needs of the many with what appeared to be inadequate resources. In the hands of Jesus, a few loaves and fishes had become like leaven or yeast, mysteriously increasing in number until all were satisfied.

The disciples had no reason to worry about food, but they still lacked faith. Even after all that Jesus had done, they were having a difficult time believing in who He was and what He had come to do. They lived in the moment, driven by their physical needs and temporal circumstances. These men had seen Jesus heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead, feed the multitudes, and walk on water. But at this particular moment, all they could see was one loaf of bread and the prospects of a less-than-satisfying supper.

When Jesus asked them, “Do you not yet perceive?,” He was questioning their lack of understanding. He was exposing their inability to think clearly. They had failed to put two and two together. Their reasoning was totally temporal in nature, and their obsession over and concern for bread was keeping them from hearing what Jesus was trying to say. They had obviously forgotten the words Jesus had spoken in His sermon on the mount and the portion of His model prayer that covered the need for daily sustenance.

Give us this day our daily bread. – Matthew 6:11 ESV

He had gone on to say,:

O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  – Matthew 6:30-33 ESV

The disciples were anxious. They were worried. But about the wrong things. Jesus had proven He could take care of their physical needs. He had assured them that their heavenly Father was fully aware of what they required to exist and fully capable of providing all they needed.

But their focus was to be on eternal matters: The kingdom of God and His righteousness. Which brings us back to the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. These men were obsessed with man’s righteousness. And rather than seeking the kingdom of God, they were busy building their own little fiefdoms and kingdoms, where they ruled and reigned. They were obsessed with what they ate, drank, and wore. And Jesus had some harsh words to say about them.

“Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. – Mark 12:38-39 NLT

“When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get.” – Matthew 6:2 NLT

These men were obsessed with the outward – how they looked and how they were perceived. They worked hard to display their righteous deeds for all to see so they could receive the praise of men. But God looks at the heart. He sees the inner motivation that determines the outer demonstration of our faith. The only faith the Pharisees and Sadducees had was in themselves. They had no need for a Savior because they truly believed they could save themselves. And Jesus wanted the disciples to know that kind of teaching was like cancer, that had spread and infected the people of Israel, to the point that they could not recognize their own Messiah when He showed up in their midst.

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