Who Is This?

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  Mark 4:35-41 ESV

It had been a long and event-filled day for Jesus and His disciples, and as it came to an end, they sought to escape the constant pressure of the ever-present crowds. Jesus instructed the disciples to take Him by boat to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, but Mark indicates that “other boats were with him” (Mark 4:36 ESV). It seems that there would be no rest for the weary. Perhaps these additional boats were carrying home those who had traveled from other towns in the region to see Jesus. Or it could be that when some of those who had been following Jesus saw Him sail away, they decided to continue their pursuit by boat. They were not going to let Him out of their sight.

The interest in Jesus was at an all-time high. It’s obvious that His miracles had attracted many, but it’s also likely that His messages concerning the Kingdom had also proven to be a draw. There were already rumors circulating that Jesus might be the Messiah. And having witnessed Him heal the man with the withered hand (Mark 3:1-6), many had begun to wonder if those rumors might be true. These same people had seen Jesus heal those possessed by demons and had heard the demons shout, “You are the Son of God” (Mark 3:11) as He had cast them out.

But not everyone believed Jesus to be the Messiah. His own family members had claimed He had lost His mind (Mark 3:21), and the religious leaders declared that He was in league with Satan (Mark 3:22). The reviews were mixed. Yet the crowds continued to show up, day after day. And even as Jesus and His disciples made their way across the Sea of Galilee, there were those who followed in His literal wake.

But something significant took place as they made their way across the sea. As Jesus slept in the stern of the boat, “a great windstorm arose” that turned the placid surface of the sea into a boiling cauldron, with waves so high that they washed over the sides of the boats. The unique geography surrounding the Sea of Galilee makes it extremely susceptible to these kinds of sudden and violent storms. It was not uncommon for these kinds of extreme weather conditions to appear without warning leaving even the most seasoned fishermen fearing for their lives.

So, even though Simon, Andrew, James, and John were all professional fishermen, they were just as concerned as the other disciples. The boat was quickly filling with water and the risk of capsizing was becoming increasingly more likely. Yet, in the midst of all the chaos and confusion, Jesus remained in a deep sleep, a likely indication of His extreme weariness. But in the desperation, the disciples woke Him up and exclaimed, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38 ESV).

Whether they realized it or not, their reaction to the storm and their response to Jesus revealed much about the condition of their faith in who Jesus was. Notice that they addressed Him as “Teacher.” Unlike the demons, the disciples of Jesus didn’t address Him as “the Son of God.” They didn’t call out to Him as their Messiah. At that point, in the middle of a life-threatening storm, they saw Jesus as nothing more than a physically worn-out Rabbi who was sleeping while they were suffering.

But if you read the accounts of this event provided by Matthew and Luke, it becomes clear that at least a few of the disciples saw Jesus as something more than just a Rabbi. In the confusion of the circumstances, all of the disciples were shouting as they tried to make themselves heard over the howling of the wind and the crashing of the waves. But one of them cried out, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing” (Matthew 8:25 ESV). Another one shouted, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” (Luke 8:24 ESV). Those terms, “Lord” and “Master” do not indicate anything other than the fact that the men in the boat regarded Jesus as their official leader. They were turning to Him for guidance. They wanted to know what He thought they should do about their dire circumstances.

It’s important to remember that this whole scene began with Jesus making the rather innocuous statement: “Let us go across to the other side” (Mark 4:35 ESV). When He had spoken those words, the disciples had thought nothing of them. Most of these men had made the very same trip on countless occasions. But this time proved to be different. Yet, there was more to Jesus’ words than a mere suggestion. He was indicating a point of destination and, in essence, assuring their arrival at that destination. But the unexpected presence of the wind and the waves had caused the disciples to lose hope and to take their eyes off the objective of their trip. They no longer cared where they were going or why they had begun the trip in the first place. All they were interested in was their own physical safety.

Mark matter-of-factly states that Jesus “rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’” (Mark 4:39 ESV). And according to Matthew “there was a great calm” (Matthew 8:26 ESV). At the words of Jesus, the wind and the waves immediately subsided. The storm ceased. The danger faded away. The chaos and confusion were replaced by a great calm. Just picture the scene for a moment. The disciples stood in the boat, drenched to the bone. They were breathing heavily from all their efforts at rowing, bailing water, and trying to keep the boat afloat in the storm. But now, they were surrounded by placid waters that gently lapped on the bow of the boat. 

But these men were also dumbstruck by what they had just witnessed. When they had woken Jesus up, they had no idea what He was going to do. They had no preconceived expectations as to how He was going to get them out of their predicament. But He had spoken and the waves and the winds had immediately ceased.

But it would be the next words out of Jesus’ mouth that made the greatest impact. He looked at His disciples and said, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40 ESV). Luke seems to provide an interpretation of Jesus’ words by recording Him as saying, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:25 ESV).

Jesus was addressing a pre-existing condition. The storm had not caused their lack of faith, it had only exposed it. Jesus knew that they had been struggling over His identity since the day they had first met Him. In spite of all the miracles they had seen Him perform and the messages they had heard Him deliver, they were still unsure of who He really was. They were filled with doubts and questions. Could He truly be the Messiah? Was there a chance his family was right and Jesus was nothing but a lunatic? What about the religious leaders? Could these learned men be telling the truth? Had Jesus been doing miracles by the power of Satan? All of these thoughts must have crossed their minds at one time or another. But in the heat of the moment, when the storm was pressing in and their lives were threatened, the disciples had begun to have some serious second thoughts about Jesus. And Jesus had been completely aware of the thoughts that had filled their minds as they faced what they believed to be their certain deaths.

And at the rebuke of Jesus, Mark describes the disciples as being “filled with great fear” (Mark 4:41 ESV). The storm was over, but their fear remained. But this was a different kind of fear. They were awestruck by what they had just witnessed. In a matter of seconds, Jesus had completely eradicated a violent storm with nothing but His words. And this never-before-seen experience had left them dumbfounded, but not speechless. Mark records that they turned to one another and said, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41 ESV).

Who then is this? This response sheds light on the nature of their limited understanding of who Jesus really was. Matthew reports that they said, “What sort of man is this?” (Matthew 8:27 ESV). This man, whom they viewed as their Rabbi, teacher, Lord, and master, had just done the unthinkable and inexplicable. He had exhibited complete power over the elements of nature. He had done what no one else had ever done before. The miracle they had just witnessed and lived through had been like something from the writings of Moses. It was reminiscent of the day when God had parted the waters of the Red Sea so the people of Israel could pass through on dry ground (Exodus 14). It was like the time God delivered the people of Israel by destroying their enemies with hail and prolonging the battle by causing the sun to stand still in the sky (Joshua 10).

What Jesus had done had been God-like. It had the handprints of God all over it. But all they could manage to say was, “What sort of man is this?” Was He a teacher, a prophet, a holy man, or could He possibly be who He claimed to be: the Son of God?

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

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

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

The Danger of Self-Righteousness

13 He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:13-17 ESV

Jesus has just displayed His power and authority over the physical realm by healing the paralyzed man. But, more importantly, His astonishing ability to restore the man’s health was a demonstration of His God-given authority to forgive sin. As the Son of God, Jesus had come to earth in order to set men free from their slavery to sin and their condemnation of death. The formerly paralyzed man, while physically whole and forgiven, would still end up committing sins and face the ultimate penalty for doing so: physical death and eternal separation from God.

But Jesus had become a man so that He might serve as the substitutionary atonement, the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of mankind. His death on behalf of sinful humanity would satisfy the just and righteous wrath of God, and provide all those who placed their faith in His atoning work with a way to be restored to a right relationship with His Father. And, as a result of Jesus’ selfless sacrifice, they would enjoy forgiveness of all their sins – past, present, and future. The author of Hebrews describes it this way:

…he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. – Hebrews 9:26 ESV

And the psalmist provides us with a powerful reminder of the sin-forgiving power of the Son of God.

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
 – Psalm 103:12 BSB

Mark transitions his narrative from the crowded confines of Simon and Andrew’s home to the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. But will maintain his emphasis on Jesus’ power and authority to forgive sin, and continue to reveal the growing divide between Jesus and the religious authorities.

While walking along the seashore, Jesus continued to teach the crowds that continued to follow Him wherever He went. And as they made their way along the roadway that ran from Capernaum to Damascus and along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, they came across the tax booth of a man named Levi. This was not some chance encounter but a divinely-scheduled appointment. When Levi woke up that morning, he had no idea that his day would include a one-on-one meeting with the Messiah of Israel.

Luke describes Levi as a “tax collector” (Luke5:27). His chosen profession would have made Levi highly unpopular with his fellow Jews. He was an employee of Herod Antipas, the Roman-appointed puppet king of Israel. And his job was to collect all taxes having to do with trade and customs. Because Capernaum was located on a major trade route from Damascus, Levi would have been responsible for collecting export and import fees, sales and customs taxes, as well as tolls. But what made men like Levi particularly unpopular was their tendency to extort additional fees and surcharges from the fellow Jews. Tax collectors were seen as social pariahs who worked for the enemy and took advantage of their own people to line their pockets.

So, when Jesus issued Levi an invitation to follow Him, the Jews would have been shocked and appalled. In their minds, Levi was a traitor to his people and the epitome of a godless sinner. And to make matters even worse, Mark reveals that Jesus decided to share a meal with this social outcast. Luke records that Levi threw a party in Jesus’ honor and invited a large number of guests.

Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. – Luke 5:29 ESV

And Mark provides the added detail that “many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples” (Mark 2:15 ESV). It seems that Levi was forced to invite his friends, who like him, were considered to be the dregs of the community.

Yet, Jesus accepted Levi’s invitation to dine at his house and willingly chose to associate with those whom the Jews considered as unclean and unacceptable. And Jesus’ actions did not go unnoticed.

But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?” – Mark 2:16 NLT

They were shocked and disgusted by this shameless display of poor judgment on Jesus’ part. He should have known better. By entering Levi’s home and sharing a meal with this motley collection of sinners, Jesus had made He and His disciples ceremonially unclean. They had contaminated themselves.

There is a clear us-versus-them vibe going on. The Pharisees viewed themselves as righteous because of their meticulous adherence to both the written and oral laws of the Jews. They were the law-keepers and the law-enforcers. And, as far as they were concerned, Jesus had chosen to associate with the scum of the earth. By entering Levi’s home, Jesus had done the unthinkable and unforgivable.

The Pharisees had no compassion for people like Levi. They had no desire to reach out to those whom they considered sinners. They bore no sense of responsibility for the spiritual well-being less fortunate, whom they considered to be unworthy of mercy. In the minds of the Pharisees, it was the sin-prone common people who held back the nation of Israel and kept it from enjoying the full favor of God. To the self-righteous Pharisees, it was the sorry likes of Levi and his friends that kept Israel from being all that it could be. They were a blight on the nation and now, Jesus had clearly revealed His love for the unloveable and His heart for the irredeemable.

But Jesus knew exactly what was going on. He was fully aware of the disgust and distaste His actions had caused, and He chose to address the issue head-on.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Mark 2:17 ESV

With this simple statement, Jesus exposed the glaring difference between Himself and His accusers. They considered themselves to be spiritually healthy and whole. They were well and had no need of a Savior. But what they failed to understand was that their good deeds were of no value to God. As the prophet Isaiah had written hundreds of years earlier: “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT).

Jesus was not impressed by the Pharisees and their outward displays of righteousness. He would later call them out for their hypocrisy and lack of compassion.

“…they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” – Matthew 23:3-4 NLT

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either. – Matthew 23:13 NLT

These men considered themselves to be the cream of the crop, the religious elite of Israel whose unblemished behavior guaranteed them a place in God’s kingdom. But Jesus let them know that their self-confidence was misplaced and mistaken. He had come to minister to the sick – those who recognized their spiritual malady and sought help. Like the paralyzed man, the tax collectors and sinners gathered in Levi’s home were in need of assistance. They knew they were sinners and were fully aware that they lacked what was necessary to “heal” themselves.

It was the apostle John who wrote, “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). The sinners reclining around the table with Jesus were just the kind of people Jesus came to save. They were sinners in need of a Savior. And if they would only confess their sin, they would know the joy of having their sins forgiven and their spiritual sickness healed.

But the Pharisees, riddled with pride and a misplaced sense of self-righteousness, were unable to see their need and unwilling to confess their sins. But their self-confidence would ultimately result in their own self-destruction. Their stubborn insistence that they were well would be their downfall. And the apostle Paul describes the dangerous path they had decided to take and the deadly destination to which it would lead.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. – Romans 1:21-22 NLT

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

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

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

A Mission Validated, Tested, and Begun

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:9-15 ESV

Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark dedicates no part of his gospel to the birth of Jesus. Instead, he opens with very brief descriptions of Jesus’ baptism and His testing by Satan in the wilderness. Even when covering these two significant events, Mark is stingy with the details. He seems to use them as further proofs of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah but then moves quickly past them in order to focus on the actual ministry of Jesus.

Mark mentions, almost in passing, that Jesus was from Nazareth. Since Mark does not cover the birth of Jesus, there is no mention of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. For Mark, the most important details concerning Jesus began with His adult life. He is not negating the importance of the incarnation but is simply concentrating the focus of his gospel on the launch of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus had spent His life growing up in Nazareth, a nondescript town in Galilee. Even among the Jews, Nazareth was a town of little import and low estimation. In fact, when Philip met Jesus for the first time, he told his friend Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45 ESV). To which Nathanael sarcastically responded, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46 ESV). Yet, it was out of this unlikely and unimpressive town that the Savior of the world would come.

Luke reveals that Jesus was 30-years-old when He left Nazareth and made His way to the wilderness of Judea where John was baptizing (Luke 3:23). And Jesus chose to inaugurate the official launch of His ministry by being baptized. Now Mark has made it clear that John’s baptism was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4 ESV). It was intended to be a public expression of the individual’s admission of their sin and need for forgiveness. By submitting themselves to being baptized, they were indicating their willingness to repent and be cleansed of their sins, so that they might be ready for the Messiah and His coming Kingdom. 

But why was Jesus baptized? The Scriptures make it clear that He was sinless. The author of Hebrews states that Jesus “was tempted in every way that we are, yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 BSB). And Paul adds that “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT).

The author of Hebrews provides some much-needed insight into the motivation behind Jesus’ decision to be baptized that day.

…it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. – Hebrews 2:17 NLT

Not only had Jesus taken on human flesh and become one of us, He was willing to undergo the same ritual of baptism in order to associate Himself with sinful humanity. Even though He was sinless, He willingly submitted to John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It is the same reason Jesus allowed Himself to be crucified. Though He was sinless, He willingly died the death that we deserved. As Peter put it, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24 BSB). And Paul succinctly states that “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3 NLT).

Jesus became one of us – in every way – so that He might give His life on behalf of us. And in being baptized by John, Jesus was fulfilling the will of His Father. Matthew records that when Jesus showed up at the Jordan River and asked John to baptize him, John was reticent.

John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?” – Matthew 3:14 NLT

But Jesus insisted, telling John, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires” (Matthew 3:15 NLT). Everything Jesus did was in keeping with His Father’s will. He would later claim, “I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will” (John 6:38 NLT). And He described His faithful adherence to His Father’s will as a form of nourishment and sustenance.

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work.” – John 4:34 BSB

Another reason behind His baptism was that it foreshadowed another kind of baptism He would undergo as a part of God’s sovereign will. Sometime later, Jesus would have a difficult exchange with two of His disciples. He had just told all of His disciples about what was going to take place in Jerusalem.

“The Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans. They will mock him, spit on him, flog him with a whip, and kill him, but after three days he will rise again.” – Mark 10:34-35 NLT

And in response, the two brothers, James and John, asked Jesus to do them a favor.

“When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” – Mark 10:37 NLT

To which Jesus soberly responded:

You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?” – Mark 10:38 NLT

Jesus was going to be “immersed” in an overwhelming form of suffering that would no one else could have endured. And it would be the will of God for Him to do so. Jesus later described the unbearable nature of this baptism of suffering.

“I have a terrible baptism of suffering ahead of me, and I am under a heavy burden until it is accomplished.” – Luke 12:50 NLT

It was the Father’s will, so Jesus was determined to carry it out. It was also the Father’s will that the people of Israel come to John in the wilderness and submit to the “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John had clearly called them to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV). And they were expected to obey the will of God. So, in submitting to baptism, Jesus was providing them with an example of faithful obedience, even though He had no sins that needed forgiving.

And Jesus had fulfilled the will of His Father, Mark records that something incredible happened.

…when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” – Mark 1:10-11 ESV

An amazing, supernatural sign from heaven appeared. And it culminated with the sound of the voice of God, calling out from heaven and declaring His pleasure with His Son. This scene provided a divine seal of approval on Jesus. God the Father was validating Jesus’ identity as His Son and declaring His complete satisfaction with all that was about to happen. The next three-and-a-half years of Jesus’ life would have the full blessing and approval of God.

But this fantastic scene is followed by the rather strange statement: “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12 ESV). Yet, even what follows is to be clearly understood as the will of God for Jesus’ life. Jesus, the Son of God, was driven by the Spirit of God in order to do the will of God. And His destination was the wilderness where He would undergo a series of temptations by Satan over a period of 40 days. Mark doesn’t mention it, but Jesus went without food and water the entire time He was in the wilderness. He would have been weak and famished. His physical condition would have deteriorated. But, as Jesus told His disciples, His nourishment came from doing the will of His Father.

And the author of Hebrews reminds us, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV). And His suffering allowed Him to fully undertand and empathize with those whom He came to save.

Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. – Hebrews 2:18 NLT

Jesus survived His baptism by fire. He overcame the temptations of the enemy and emerged from the wilderness 40 days later completely sinless and fully obedient to His Heavenly Father. And now, His real earthly ministry could begin.

tEnglish 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

No Comparison

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

24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. – John 1:19-28 ESV

Beginning with verse 19, John provides a more detailed introduction to the life and ministry of John the Baptist. He first alluded to this important character in verses 6-8.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. – John 1:6-8 ESV

As John continues to establish the unique identity of Jesus as the God-man, he will use John the Baptist as a point of contrast. Like Jesus, John the Baptist was a man sent from God. But unlike Jesus, John the Baptist was just a man. He had been commissioned by God to prepare the way for the Messiah, by testifying to the people of Israel about His imminent arrival. The one for whom they had long waited had arrived. But as the text makes clear, John the Baptist was not the light. And John will confirm the contrast between the light and the witness to the light by using the testimony of the witness himself.

Unlike the three synoptic gospels, John’s gospel provides few details concerning John the Baptist’s ministry. He seems much more interested in using the testimony of John the Baptist concerning Jesus as proof of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God and the son of man. Yet a bit of background into John the Baptist’s unique ministry and message can be helpful. So, Matthew provides some essential details concerning this rather strange character who had suddenly appeared on the scene in Judea.

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
    make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. – Matthew 3:1-6 ESV

Luke records that the appearance of John the Baptist attracted large crowds of people who made their way to the Judean wilderness in order to be baptized by him. But there was tremendous speculation regarding his identity.

Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, and they were eager to know whether John might be the Messiah. – Luke 3:15 NLT

As John the Baptist proclaimed the imminent arrival of the kingdom of heaven, the people couldn’t help but wonder if he was the Messiah. And John records that even the Jewish religious leaders were curious about this strange-looking individual who was proclaiming the arrival of the kingdom.

the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” – John 1:19 ESV

Notice that John prefaces this exchange between John the Baptist and the religious leaders with the words: “And this is the testimony of John.”  What follows is the clear testimony from John the Baptist that clarifies the identity of the Christ (Greek: Messiah). First and foremost, John the Baptist wanted to squelch any rumors about himself.

He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” – John 1:20 ESV

John the Baptist had come to witness, not be worshiped. He had no interest in passing himself off as the long-awaited Messiah. But if he was not the Christ, then who was he? And why had he suddenly appeared on the scene preaching about the coming kingdom? The religious leaders were perplexed and continued their questioning by asking if he was Elijah or the prophet.

Their first inquiry had to do with an Old Testament prophecy found in the book of Malachi.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:5-6 ESV

Based on this passage, the Jews expected the long-dead prophet, Elijah, to reappear and his arrival would signal the imminent arrival of the Messiah. But John the Baptist confession that he was not Elijah led the religious leaders to ask whether he was “the Prophet.”

As students of the Hebrew Scriptures, these men were well-versed in those passages that were associated with the coming Messiah. And they were familiar with the promise that God had made to the people of Israel during their days in the wilderness, prior to the arrival in the land of promise.

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” – Deuteronomy 18:15-18 ESV

The Jews had long believed that the arrival of the Messiah would be accompanied by the return of Elijah and the appearance of the Prophet of God. And this threesome would usher in a period of great revival and renewal in Israel. They would lead the people of God and help reestablish the nation to its former glory. But John the Baptist denies being the Prophet.

John the Baptist’s inquisitors were perplexed and knew that they were going to have to give a report to their superiors back in Jerusalem. So, they simply asked John: “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” (John 1:22 ESV). If he was not the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet, then who was he? And John the Baptist gives them the only answer he knows.

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

Knowing that these men were highly knowledgeable of the Hebrew Scriptures, John the Baptist identifies himself by quoting from the writings of Isaiah. In doing so, he affirms that they were right in assuming that his arrival had something to do with the Messiah. He quotes from what the Jews considered to be Messianic passage and applies it to himself.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
    that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord‘s hand
    double for all her sins.

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all flesh shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” – Isaiah 40:1-5 ESV

John the Baptist was nothing more than a voice crying in the wilderness. He was the witness, testifying to the arrival of the glory of the Lord. He was not the Word but was simply the voice. He was not the Messiah but was the one who had been chosen to announce His arrival. And that led the religious leaders to ask the next logical question.

“Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” – John 1:25 ESV

This was a question regarding authority. If John the Baptist was not the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet, he had no right or authority to baptize anyone. The Jews understood baptism to be reserved for ritual cleansing. So, why was this unknown and unqualified individual “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3 ESV)? The Jews, because they were God’s chosen people, believed they had no need for repentance. They viewed themselves as already in right standing with God by virtue of their status as descendants of Abraham and as heirs of the promise.

But Luke goes on to record that John the Baptist saw through the over-confident self-righteousness of his audience, and he delivered a stinging indictment against the religious leaders.

“Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” – Luke 3:8-9 ESV

Their heritage was no guarantee of righteousness. And their identity as Jews was not going to preserve them from the coming wrath of God against all those who have sinned against Him. That is why John the Baptist had come on the scene preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV).

John confesses that his authority to baptize came from a source far superior to himself or the religious leaders of the Jews. And this supreme source was about to make Himself known.

“I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” – John 1:2-27 ESV

John was just a man who baptized repentant people with physical water. But there was another one who would follow who had the authority to offer true cleansing from sin and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The messenger was proclaiming the arrival of the Messiah.

“I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
” – Matthew 3:11 NLT

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

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

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

A Son Has Been Born

13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. 17 And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

18 Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, 19 Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, 20 Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, 21 Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, 22 Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David. Ruth 4:13-21 ESV

When reading the closing verses of Ruth’s story, it is essential that we not miss the statement, “and the Lord gave her conception” (Ruth 4:13 ESV). First of all, those six simple words reinforce the underlying theme of God’s redemption that runs throughout the entire book. Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi are nothing more than actors in the divine drama, written by the hand of God and directed according to His sovereign will. Nothing in this story has been the result of luck, fate, kismet, karma, or blind chance.

It all began with Elimelech’s decision to escape the famine in Judah by moving his family to Moab. But his plan had not included any thought of his unexpected death. He never dreamed he would leave his wife a widow living in a foreign land. But that’s exactly what happened. And Naomi’s two sons, unsure of when they might be able to return to Bethlehem, decided to find wives among the Moabites and begin their families. But little did they know that, ten years later, they too would suffer unexpected deaths, leaving two more widows in the land of Moab.

But eventually, the famine subsided in Judah, and Naomi was able to return home, accompanied by her daughter-in-law, Ruth. Now, through a series of divinely-ordained encounters, Ruth is married to a wealthy relative of Naomi’s, a man named Boaz, who rescued these two widows by faithfully executing his obligations as their kinsman-redeemer.

All the way back in chapter 1, the author recorded Naomi’s words to her two daughters-in-law, as she prepared to return to Judah. She fully expected that they would choose to stay in Moab, remarry, and begin their lives anew.

“The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” – Ruth 1:9 ESV

But Ruth had chosen to remain with Naomi, and now that blessing had come to pass. Ruth had found a husband, but not just any husband. By God’s gracious will, she had found Boaz, who proved to be Naomi’s kinsman-redeemer and a man of integrity, honor, and compassion.

Back in Moab, when Ruth had expressed her intentions to remain with Naomi and follow her back to the land of Judah, she had no idea what the future held. But she was willing to accept whatever came her way.

“…where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God…” – Ruth 1:16 ESV

And Ruth had proved true to her word. Now, God had rewarded her faithfulness with a loving husband, a home of her own, and a son. In buying Elimelech’s land, then marrying Ruth, Boaz had done far more than fulfill his responsibility as the kinsman-redeemer. Yes, he had redeemed Naomi and Ruth out of their helpless and seemingly hopeless predicament. But, unbeknownst to him, he had played a major role in God’s redemptive plan for the world.

The women in the city, upon hearing of Ruth’s delivery of her new son, pronounced a blessing that had far greater implications than they could have ever imagined.

“Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” – Ruth 4:14-15 ESV

They gave God glory. But little did they know just how much glory their God deserved. This birth was going to have life-changing ramifications, and not just for Ruth and Boaz. Their words were directed at Naomi and were meant to remind her just how blessed she was. She had found a redeemer, who had restored her life and given her hope in her old age. But more than that, she had found a daughter-in-law who loved her deeply. And now, she had a new son-in-law, who had given her a grandson and the assurance that Elimelech’s line would be continued.

But, in the midst of all the joy and celebration, we have to stop and ask a difficult question: How could God approve of and bless a union between an Israelite and a Moabite when the law seems to have prohibited it?

“No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever, because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.” – Deuteronomy 23:3-4 ESV

The answer can be found in the pledge that Ruth made to Naomi back in the land of Moab: “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16 ESV). Ruth was stating her intentions to become an Israelite, giving up her Moabite citizenship along with her allegiance to her god. With her words, Ruth was expressing her intentions to become a proselyte to Judaism.

The ancient Hebrews had no concept of “conversion”, although they did practice assimilation of non-Israelites into the Israelite community, either through marriage or acceptance of the beliefs and practices of the community. Having agreed to make Yahweh her God and the Israelites her people, Ruth would have been accepted into the faith community as one of their own. She would have been considered a gerim (Hebrew for “strangers”). And with her marriage to Boaz, a Hebrew in good standing, she would have become a permanent resident and given equal rights and responsibilities as a member of the community. The Israelites were commanded by God to love the gerim, for, at one time, they had been gerim in Egypt.

This inclusion of Ruth into the family of God is critical. And the author reveals its true significance by recording the following words: “A son has been born to Naomi.” Notice that it does not say, “A son has been born to Ruth.” The emphasis is on the lineage of Elimelech, the husband of Naomi. This son was going to carry on the family name. And the author goes on to state that “They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David” (Ruth 4:17 ESV).

Obed means “redeemer,” which fits in with the whole kinsman-redeemer motif found throughout the story. The goʾel or kinsman-redeemer was, in essence, “a guardian of the family interests.” And Obed, this brand new baby was named “Redeemer” because his birth had redeemed Naomi’s life and restored her husband’s lineage. But he would prove to be an even greater “Redeemer,” as the closing verses of the chapter make clear.

Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David. – Ruth 4:18-21 ESV

It seems a bit odd that the author chose to end his narrative with a genealogical record. But there is a divine method to his madness. It reveals God’s sovereign plan and makes clear that God does not operate according to man’s ways or in accordance to expected protocols. Dr. Thomas L. Constable points out the relevance of this genealogical record.

Why does the genealogy start with Perez? He was the founder of the branch of Judah’s family that took his name, to which Elimelech and Boaz belonged. Perez was the illegitimate son of Judah who, like Jacob, seized the initiative to stand in the line of messianic promise from his twin brother. This genealogy emphasizes how God circumvented custom and tradition in providing Israel’s great redeemer, David. Like Perez, Boaz was the descendant of an Israelite father, Salmon, and a Canaanite harlot, Rahab. Both Tamar and Rahab entered Israel because they believed and valued God’s promises to Israel, as Ruth did. David himself was the youngest rather than the eldest son of Jesse. (NET Bible study notes).

And if we fast-forward to the gospel of Matthew, we find within his genealogy of Jesus the same list of names.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. – Matthew 1:2-6 ESV

And Matthew goes on to point out that Jesus would be born a descendant of Abraham, through the line of David the king of Israel. The birth of Obed, “the redeemer,” would result in the birth of Jesus, the ultimate Redeemer of mankind. When the angel appeared to Joseph with news of Mary’s conception, he announced, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21 ESV). Jesus would be the ultimate kinsman-redeemer. He would serve as the Savior, the one who takes away the sins of the world. His redemption would provide far more than release from widowhood, poverty, despair, or rejection. He would provide the means by which sinful men and women could be restored to a right relationship with God Almighty.

The story of Ruth is the story of redemption. But it’s true significance reaches far beyond the borders of Bethlehem and the period of the Judges. The redemption of God spans borders, boundaries, time, and space. His plan for mankind is not limited to a single nation and is not limited by the passing of years or centuries. The pages of the book of Ruth are filled with the presence of God and the reminder of His unwavering promise to send His Son as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    are only a small village among all the people of Judah.
Yet a ruler of Israel,
    whose origins are in the distant past,
    will come from you on my behalf. – Micah 5:2 NLT

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

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

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

The Invisible Hand of God

1 Now Boaz had gone up to the gate and sat down there. And behold, the redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. So Boaz said, “Turn aside, friend; sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. And he took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down. Then he said to the redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. So I thought I would tell you of it and say, ‘Buy it in the presence of those sitting here and in the presence of the elders of my people.’ If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if you will not, tell me, that I may know, for there is no one besides you to redeem it, and I come after you.” And he said, “I will redeem it.” Then Boaz said, “The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.” Then the redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.”

Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel. So when the redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself,” he drew off his sandal. Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. 10 Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.” 11 Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, 12 and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the Lord will give you by this young woman.” Ruth 4:1-12 ESV

While Ruth had been busy bringing Naomi up to speed on her latest encounter with Boaz, he had made his way to the city gate of Bethlehem. In an Israelite city, the city gate functioned like a city hall or town square. This narrow opening through the city’s walls was where all official business took place. Men would gather there to conduct legal transactions, land sales, and any other commercial or personal transactions. Normally, the elders of the city could be found at the gate, which was essential because they played an official role in witnessing and approving all business transactions.

So, in an attempt to settle the matter regarding who would serve as Naomi’s kinsman-redeemer, Boaz headed to the gate to meet the only other man who could serve in that capacity.

The situation concerning Naomi and Ruth was complicated. Naomi was an Israelite widow and, as such, there were certain legal issues involved. Because her two sons had died, there was no legal heir to Elimelech’s land. And in the ancient economy and legal environment of Israel, a woman was not allowed to be a landholder. So, it was necessary that a kinsman of Elimelech purchase the land so that it could remain within the inheritance of that family and tribe. God had made this requirement perfectly clear when He gave His law to the people of Israel during their exodus from Egypt.

“The inheritance of the people of Israel shall not be transferred from one tribe to another, for every one of the people of Israel shall hold on to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. And every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the people of Israel shall be wife to one of the clan of the tribe of her father, so that every one of the people of Israel may possess the inheritance of his fathers. So no inheritance shall be transferred from one tribe to another, for each of the tribes of the people of Israel shall hold on to its own inheritance.” – Numbers 36:7-9 ESV

The kinsman-redeemer was obligated to purchase his deceased relative’s land so it might remain in the family. But in the case of Naomi, there was another aspect to the circumstance that complicated matters. Naomi was a widow without any male heirs to carry on the family name, and she was likely well past child-bearing age. But Naomi had a daughter-in-law, the widow of one of her deceased sons. According to the Mosaic law concerning levirate marriage, a kinsman was obligated to marry Ruth and ensure that she bore a male child so that Elimelech’s line could be continued.

The book of Deuteronomy provides detailed instructions concerning this matter.

“If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. And if the man does not wish to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him, and if he persists, saying, ‘I do not wish to take her,’ then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face. And she shall answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ And the name of his house shall be called in Israel, ‘The house of him who had his sandal pulled off.’” – Deuteronomy 25:5-10 ESV

In the book of Ruth, we are going to see Boaz acting as Ruth’s advocate and representative. As one of the two possible kinsman-redeemers, he feels a strong sense of responsibility for the well-being of Ruth and Naomi. And it seems quite clear from the previous three chapters that Boaz has strong feelings for Ruth.

In this story, the matter of the land and the marriage of Ruth are linked together. This was not a legally binding issue, but it seems that Boaz, as Naomi’s kinsman-redeemer, felt that both matters needed to be taken care of together. He felt a moral and legal obligation to see to it that Naomi and Ruth were cared for. In his mind, whoever agreed to buy the land should feel a moral obligation to take Ruth as his wife and ensure that she bear a male heir to carry on the line of Elimelech.

Once at the gate, Boaz spied the second kinsman-redeemer and called him over. He also invited some of the elders of the city. Boaz explained the nature of the situation.

“You know Naomi, who came back from Moab. She is selling the land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. I thought I should speak to you about it so that you can redeem it if you wish. If you want the land, then buy it here in the presence of these witnesses. But if you don’t want it, let me know right away, because I am next in line to redeem it after you.” – Ruth 4:3-4 NLT

Notice that Boaz withheld an important detail from the story: Ruth. He simply states that the land is available for purchase and the other relative agrees to purchase it. Then Boaz drops the bombshell.

“Of course, your purchase of the land from Naomi also requires that you marry Ruth, the Moabite widow. That way she can have children who will carry on her husband’s name and keep the land in the family.” – Ruth 4:5 NLT

That small bit of information proved to be a deal-breaker for the second kinsman-redeemer. So, he turned down the offer, stating, “this might endanger my own estate” (Ruth 4:6 NLT). The added obligation of marrying Ruth was more than he was willing to take on. So, he passed on his kinsman-redeemer responsibility to Boaz. Following the protocol outlined in the Deuteronomy passage above, “the other family redeemer drew off his sandal as he said to Boaz, ‘You buy the land’” (Ruth 4:8 NLT).

Having legally purchased the land, Boaz states his intention to take Ruth as his wife.

“You are witnesses that today I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech, Kilion, and Mahlon. And with the land I have acquired Ruth, the Moabite widow of Mahlon, to be my wife. This way she can have a son to carry on the family name of her dead husband and to inherit the family property here in his hometown. You are all witnesses today.” – Ruth 4:9-10 NLT

The elders of the city of Bethlehem seal the deal by giving their blessing to the transaction.

“We are witnesses! May the Lord make this woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, from whom all the nation of Israel descended! May you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. And may the Lord give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.” – Ruth 4:11-12 NLT

Little did they know how prophetic their words would prove to be. The prophet Micah would later write: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf” (Micah 5:6 ESV). Hundreds of years later, the wise men who arrived in Jerusalem in search of the newly born king of the Jews would quote the Hebrew prophets:

And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel. – Matthew 2:6 NLT

Little did those elders know how accurate their pronouncement of blessing on Boaz’s marriage to Ruth would be. Ruth would prove to be fruitful, eventually bearing a son named Obed. And Matthew records in his genealogy of Jesus how Obed would play a role in the lineage of Jesus.

…Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king… – Matthew 1:5-6 ESV

That Matthew goes on to list Jesus as the crowning fruit of that long genealogical line.

…and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. – Matthew 1:16 ESV

But Boaz knew none of this at the time. He was simply doing what he believed to be the right and honorable thing to do. But God was orchestrating his actions and directing every detail of his story in order to bring about His divine will and to set the stage for the arrival of His Son, the Messiah.

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

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

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

Down, But Not Out

55 There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, 56 among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ 64 Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. – Matthew 27:55-66 ESV

Jean_Jouvenet_Descent_From_The_Cross

Man’s sin debt had been paid, but the cost had been high. Jesus, the Son of God, had given His life so that those condemned to death might experience eternal life. He died so that others might live. But, as the apostle Peter reminds us, “God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God” (1 Peter 1:18-19 NLT).

But as the Roman soldiers removed the lifeless body of Jesus from the cross, He was anything but spotless. His body had been beaten and bruised. His face had been slapped repeatedly leaving it swollen and practically unrecognizable. And hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Isaiah had described just how badly Jesus would be disfigured by this tragic event.

But many were amazed when they saw him. His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man. – Isaiah 52:14 NLT

Jesus was covered with His own blood that had flowed from the wounds left by the large nails pounded into his hands and feet. He had a gaping wound in His side from the point of the spear that had been meant to ensure His death. The crown of thorns that had been mockingly pressed onto His head had caused blood to flow down His face and into His eyes. The sinless, spotless Lamb of God had been brutally and mercilessly murdered.

In the book of Revelation, John records a vision he received of Jesus in His resurrected and glorified state, standing in the throne room of God Almighty. And John’s description of Jesus is quite interesting.

…between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain. – Revelation 5:6 ESV

Jesus doesn’t appear in the form of a man but as a Lamb. And John adds the telling descriptor: “as though it had been slain.” The Greek word translated as “slain” is sphazō and was commonly used to refer to the slaughter of an animal for sacrifice. It can also be translated as “butchered.” Jesus was the sacrificial Lamb, offered for the sins of many, and the ordeal had left its marks on Him.

It’s interesting to note how Matthew describes those followers of Christ who had remained at Golgotha to the bitter end. He says they were looking on from a distance. Yet, he only mentions the names of women. Not a single one of the disciples is named. And among the women was “the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (Matthew 27:56 ESV).

One has to wonder what had been going through her mind as she watched Jesus being crucified between the two thieves. She is the one who had come to Jesus and begged Him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (Matthew 20:21 ESV). And Jesus had told her, “You do not know what you are asking” (Matthew 20:22 ESV). It’s likely that, as she watched Jesus die, she imagined her own two sons, James and John, hanging on the crosses to His right and left. Little had she shown that Jesus’ crowning as King was going to involve thorns, not gold. His entrance into His Kingdom was going to demand crucifixion, not a coronation. His exaltation would be proceeded by humiliation and death. And rather than taking up residence in a palace, Jesus would be placed in a borrowed tomb.

Joseph of Arimathea, a follower of Jesus, offered up his own tomb so that Jesus could have a proper burial. And once again, the prophet Isaiah spoke of this long before it ever happened.

But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. – Isaiah 53:9 NLT

As Joseph had the stone rolled across the opening to his own tomb, the entire scene has a sense of finality to it. Jesus was dead. The crowds had dispersed. The supernatural darkness had passed and the light had returned. And everyone in Jerusalem had gone back to their lives as usual. Only a handful of women stood by, watching as Jesus was buried. This sad and sobering scene was also foretold by Isaiah.

He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care. – Isaiah 53:3 NLT

But the religious leaders, still wary of the influence Jesus had over the people, took steps to ensure that nothing would happen that might resurrect the memory of Jesus. They knew that Jesus had predicted that He would rise again. So, in order to prevent His disciples from stealing the body of Jesus and spreading rumors that He was alive, they stationed guards at the tomb with orders to remain there until the three days had passed. Evidently, they had attempted to get Pilate to provide Roman guards, but he had refused. “So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard” (Matthew 27:55 ESV).

And they waited.

This chapter ends in sadness. Its tragic conclusion provides the reader with little in the way of hope. Jesus is dead. The disciples have scattered to the four winds. The mother of Jesus and the women who loved and followed Him are in deep sorrow, having not been given the opportunity to anoint His body for burial. Which makes the anointing of Jesus in Bethany so important. Matthew records that “a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table” (Matthew 26:7 ESV), and Jesus had clearly pronounced, “In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial” (Matthew 26:12 ESV).

As dark as this moment may appear, the invisible, yet sovereign hand of God is evident throughout the narrative. Everything is taking place according to His divine plan – down to the last detail.

…he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins… – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was beaten so we could be whole. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was whipped so we could be healed. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…He was oppressed and treated harshly. – Isaiah 53:7 NLT

…He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. – Isaiah 53:7 NLT

…Unjustly condemned, he was led away. – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

his life was cut short in midstream… – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

…he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. – Isaiah 53:9 NLT

All of this had been pre-ordained by the will of God. And Jesus had willingly played His role in the whole affair – out of obedience to His heavenly Father and as an expression of His love for mankind. And while the closing verses of chapter 27 present a dark and dismal scene, we know that the story was far from over. There was more to come. God’s plan was not yet complete. And Isaiah provides us with yet one more premonition of what lies ahead.

And because of his experience,
    my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
    for he will bear all their sins. – Isaiah 53:11 NLT

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

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

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

Your Will Be Done

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

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

Jesus described to them His state of mind: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38 ESV). His emotional state was one of deep and overwhelming sadness over what was about to happen. His sorrow alone was enough to kill Him. But what was it that caused such a drastic state of deep melancholy in Jesus? Was He afraid to die? Did He regret His decision to sacrifice Himself on behalf of sinful mankind? Was He having second thoughts? The text, along with the words and actions of Jesus, provide us with the answers.

Matthew relates that Jesus went off by Himself and immediately fell on His face before His Father in a state of prayer. He pleaded, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39 ESV).

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

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

The apostle Paul would put it this way:

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

Jesus never relinquished any of His divine attributes, but, in becoming a man, He combined His human and divine natures into one person. And as a man, Jesus felt pain, experienced hunger, grew tired, and, as we will see, became susceptible to death.

In His humanity, Jesus knew that what He was about to endure would be excruciatingly painful. He would be scourged mercilessly with a flagellum, a whip featuring multiple leather strands, each weighted with lead balls or pieces of bone. He would be beaten, spit upon, slapped, and degraded. And eventually, He would be nailed to a wooden cross and left to die by exposure and suffocation. Jesus’ human nature was repulsed by the prospect of facing such a painful and gruesome death. He longed for another way, a plan B.

But, in His divinity, He knew that this was all part of His Father’s sovereign will. This is why He stated, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39 ESV).

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

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

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

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

Only He was worthy to suffer for the sins of mankind. He alone could meet God’s demanding criteria for an acceptable sacrifice – an unblemished, sinless Lamb.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus was willing to face the fate God had planned for Him because He trusted His heavenly Father. He knew there was no other way. Salvation was only possible through His obedient submission to the sovereign will of God the Father. And the hour had come for Him to begin His journey from Gethsemane to Golgotha. Having finished His prayer time with the Father, Jesus turned to His disciples and said, “the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Matthew 26:45 ESV).

Judas was on his way, bringing with him the guards of the high priest. The darkness of that night was about to deepen as the forces of evil began their ill-fated attempt to snuff out the Light of the world. But as John would later write:

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

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

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

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

Jesus lived to do the will of His Father. And He died in obedience to the will of His Father. When Jesus had stated, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30 ESV), He had meant it. Their wills were united, and their love for sinful mankind was unified around the sole solution to man’s problem: The sacrificial death of the sinless Son of God.

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

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

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

Left in the Dark

” 1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” – Matthew 25:1-12 ESV

olive-oil-clay-ancient-lantern-lamp_n1srlxqq__F0000.png

Jesus has been trying to get His disciples to have a long-term perspective when considering the Kingdom of Heaven. While He was the Messiah, the one whom the people of Israel had long expected, He was not going to be establishing His Kingdom at that moment. Jesus has already told them that He was going to have to go to Jerusalem, be betrayed, falsely accused, tried, beaten, and eventually crucified. But He would also rise again.

As part of this, His first coming to earth, His primary mission was to serve as the sacrificial offering for the sins of mankind. But there was a day coming when He would return to earth a second time. But there was much that would have to take place before that return. And the date of His second appearance was a mystery. He told the disciples, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36 ESV).

And He had warned them, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44 ESV). The point Jesus seemed to be making had to do with preparedness. He wanted His disciples to live with a sense of eager expectation, anticipating that His return could happen at any moment. And this led Jesus to tell a few parables to drive home His point.

The first had to do with a wedding. It involved ten virgins who were anticipating the arrival of the bridegroom. The question that must be asked is, “Who are these ten virgins and what do they represent?” Based on the immediate context, it seems clear that Jesus has been addressing His second coming, which will take place at the end of the seven-year period called the Great Tribulation.

Since the church is to be raptured before the tribulation begins, these ten virgins cannot represent the church. It makes much more sense to see them as Jews who will be alive during the period of the tribulation. And, as the text will reveal, the ten virgins break down into two groups. Five of them are prepared, while five are not. This would seem to indicate that the first five represent Jews who will come to faith during the days of the tribulation, which the book of Revelation tells us will take place.

John was given a vision in which “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” He describes them as “standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9 ESV). Then John was told their identity. “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14 ESV).

There will be many who come to faith during the period of the tribulation, including Jews as well as people from every tribe, nation, and tongue. But the second group of five virgins represents all those Jews who will remain unrepentant and unbelieving during the tribulation, all the way up to the point of Jesus’ return.

In the story, all ten virgins share a common expectation of the bridegroom’s arrival. They are eagerly anticipating his coming. This is why the ten virgins appear to indicate Jews because they alone would have anticipated the arrival of the Messiah. During the days of the tribulation, Jews living at that time will long for the arrival of the Messiah. For believing Jews, they will understand it to be His second coming. For unbelieving Jews, they will view it as His first. But all will share a common desire for His arrival.

But again, the issue is one of preparedness. There is a delay. In the story, the bridegroom has not shown up as expected. But, as part of the welcoming party, they were to have been ready, because, as Jesus had said, the groom was “coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Sadly, the story reveals that half the group was foolish, failing to take oil for their lamps. They were unprepared. They thought they would have plenty of time. But when news of the groom’s arrival was made known, they had lamps, but no oil. They begged the first group to share their oil with them, but were refused and told, “Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves” (Matthew 25:9 ESV).

They were on their own. It’s likely that the reference to oil in the story was meant to be a symbol for the Holy Spirit. The believing Jews had the Spirit of God within them. The unbelieving Jews did not.

And when the groom arrived, the wedding feast began. But by the time the second group of foolish, unprepared virgins showed up, it was too late. The door was shut. They were left on the outside. And the wedding feast would seem to represent that Marriage Supper of the Lamb, revealed in chapter 19 of Revelation.

Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. – Revelation 19:7-8 ESV

One of the things that will happen at the end of the tribulation will be that Christ, the bridegroom, will hold a feast for His bride, the church. And John was told, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9 ESV). Those who come to faith during the tribulation will be participants in this great celebration. But those who fail to accept Jesus will be left on the outside, looking in. And as Jesus indicated, their destination will be “that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:51 ESV).

One of the saddest statements in the Scriptures is found in this parable. It is the words of the bridegroom, spoken to those virgins who showed up late and without oil for their lamps. He told them, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you” (Matthew 25:12 ESV). They had been invited. They even had lamps. But they were without oil. They did not have what was necessary to respond when news of the groom’s arrival was announced. They were left in the dark.

The apostle Paul would later tell the Ephesian believers: “In him [Jesus] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV). Those who lack the Holy Spirit will find themselves outside the feast. And, as Paul makes clear, the receipt of the Spirit is based on belief in the Son.

Again, the point of the parable is preparedness. How are the Jews living during the tribulation to prepare for the arrival of the Messiah? By placing their faith in Him as their Savior. He alone will be able to save them from the persecution of the Antichrist and the judgments of God. He alone will preserve and protect them. Carrying a lamp with no oil is similar to placing your faith in your church attendance or good behavior. It is not enough. Your good works cannot save you. Your membership in a local church does not guarantee you a place in the Kingdom of God. Without the oil of God’s Spirit, you will find yourself on the outside looking in, and hearing those sad and sobering words from Jesus: “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”

It’s impossible to read this parable and not reflect on the words of Jesus spoken years earlier in His sermon on the mount.

“On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you.’” – Matthew 7:22-23 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.

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

Remain Diligent and Vigilant

32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know 51 and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. – Matthew 24:32-51 ESV

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Jesus is attempting to open the eyes of His disciples and help them develop a long-term perspective regarding His Kingdom. They were focused on the here-and-now, and having trouble understanding that the talk of His coming death in Jerusalem was anything but bad news or something to be avoided at all costs. This entire chapter contains the surprising and difficult-to-comprehend words of Jesus as He reveals the bigger picture regarding God’s plan of redemption. Jesus’ death on the cross would be just the beginning of the much larger, comprehensive plan of God. It would also include His resurrection as well as His return to His Father’s side. But, even more importantly, it would require His eventual return to earth as the conquering King.

And while Jesus knew that there would be a long delay before His return would take place, He wanted His disciples to live with a sense of eager anticipation. If they expected it to happen and kept their eyes open, looking for the signs of its approach, they would be able to endure the struggles that were coming their way.

Jesus used the visual lesson of a fig tree in order to help the disciples understand that there would be visible, recognizable signs associated with His coming. The budding of a fig tree is a natural indication that summer is near. It is unmistakable and irrefutable. In the same way, Jesus stated that the signs of His return will be undeniable. He even assures His disciples that “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34 ESV).

But what does that mean? Was He saying that the events associated with the end times would take place during the lifetimes of His disciples? The answer would seem to be no. But while they were alive, they would begin to see the early signs of His return. The budding of a fig tree provides a premonition or portent of something to come. The buds do not mean summer has arrived, but that it is coming. In the same way, the disciples would live to see signs that would point to Jesus’ coming. They would be alive when He returned, but they would be given clear indications that it was going to happen.

Each generation of believers has been given signs that His coming is imminent and inevitable. These signs act as assurances of God’s faithfulness and are meant to encourage us to continue to wait eagerly and hopefully.

The earth would continue to go through all kinds of struggles, including earthquakes, famines, floods, disasters, and even wars. The apostle Paul reminded the believers in Corinth: “Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away” (1 Corinthians 7:31 NLT). The apostle John wrote, “this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave” (1 John 2:17 NLT). Even Jesus, earlier in this very same discourse, warned His disciples:

“…you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.” – Matthew 24:6-8 NLT

But while there will be clear signs along the way, the actual day and date of the Lord’s return will remain a mystery. We will be given assurances of its coming, but we will not know the exact time. Jesus indicated that even He did not know the day or the hour. God the Father alone has access to that information.

The second coming of Jesus will be a surprise. And it will catch the majority of people living on earth at the time completely off-guard and unprepared. Jesus used the days of Noah as an apt point of comparison. In a way, Noah’s building of the ark was a clear sign that something was coming. And Peter seems to indicate that Noah warned his neighbors of God’s coming judgment and the availability of salvation made possible by the ark.

[God] did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness… – 2 Peter 2:5 ESV

The New Living Translation reads: “Noah warned the world of God’s righteous judgment.” But the people in Noah’s day ignored the signs and refused the message of Noah. Instead, they busied themselves, “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark” (Matthew 24:38 ESV).

They went on with their lives, oblivious to the warning signs and ignorant of what was about to happen, until “the flood came and swept them all away” (Matthew 24:39 ESV). And Jesus made it clear to His disciples that the same thing was going to happen when He finally returned. It would catch the world unprepared and completely off-guard.

The next few verses have created a great deal of controversy over the ages. Some have attempted to use them as proof for the eventual rapture of the church. But it is important that we keep them within their context. Jesus has been talking about His second coming, not the rapture. And so the context is one of judgment, not salvation. When Christ returns the second time, He will be coming as a righteous judge to deal, once and for all, with sinful mankind. His coming will take place at the end of the Great Tribulation. During that time, there will be those who come to faith in Christ and endure intense persecution at the hands of the Antichrist. But when Christ returns, He will defeat the Antichrist and his ungodly followers, and He will cast Satan, Antichrist, and the false prophet into the lake of fire or hell.

Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 20:10 NLT

And all those who are living on the earth at that time will be judged as well, with their ultimate destination being hell.

It would seem that, based on the context of the second coming, that those whom Jesus describes as being “taken” are those who remain unbelievers. They will be judged and condemned, then sent to the destination God has prepared for them. And any who are “left” are meant to symbolize those who came to faith in Christ during the Great Tribulation.

Jesus appears to be stressing the need to remain prepared and fully expectant. This is why He said, “stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42 ESV). He added, “you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44 ESV).

We are to live our lives with a sense of eager expectation and conduct ourselves as if it could be today. The waiting is difficult. The delay can easily cause us to lose hope and take our eyes off the prize. And Jesus provided His disciples with a warning in the form of yet another parable.

A faithful and wise servant will stay vigilant and diligent while his master is away, conducting himself as if the master could walk in the door at any minute. But the wicked servant will use the delay as an excuse to sow his wild oats. His true, sin-prone, self-centered nature will manifest itself.  And Jesus warns that the servant’s master, like the Messiah, will return when everyone least expects it. And when he does, he will bring just judgment on the wicked servant.

Again, Jesus was trying to get His disciples to understand that there was much more to the Kingdom than they ever imagined. His first coming was just the beginning. And His eventual departure would not be the end. He was coming again. He had promised to do so, and they needed to live their lives as if it could and would happen. They were to stay diligent and vigilant. They were to remain faithful and wise. Unlike the wicked, followers of Christ are to stay alert and awake, fully prepared for His return.

“Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” – Revelation 22:11-13 NLT

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

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

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