Jesus Christ is Lord

41 But he said to them, “How can they say that the Christ is David’s son? 42 For David himself says in the Book of Psalms,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
43     until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

44 David thus calls him Lord, so how is he his son?”

45 And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 47 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Luke 20:41-47 ESV

Jesus’ last exchange with the Sadducees left them at a loss for words, but more determined than ever to rid themselves of this irritating thorn in their sides. Jesus had deftly handled their cleverly crafted question about the resurrection, easily exposing their poor understanding of the Scriptures. Their tendency to read God’s Word through the lens of their own earth-bound perspective had resulted in a gross misinterpretation of its content and a misapplication of its truths.

And the entire debate between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel revolved around the issue of authority. They believed themselves to be the God-ordained authority figures over the nation of Israel. Yet, Jesus had appeared on the scene, making radical claims to be the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. His self-proclaimed identification as the divine King of Israel easily trumped their claims of spiritual superiority and divinely mandated authority. And it didn’t help the cause of the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees that this Rabbi from Nazareth backed up His words with inexplicable miracles and powerful teaching.

As we read through the events surrounding the last week of Jesus’ life, we should begin to recognize that this is really about two kingdoms in conflict – the one the Pharisees and religious leaders had come to know, love and control; and the one that Jesus had come to establish. As John the Baptist began his ministry, paving the way for the coming of the Messiah, he had told the people of Israel, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2 NLT).

His call to repentance was not just an encouragement to change their behavior, but it was a demand that they change their minds. John was calling them to completely alter their preconceived notions concerning God, sin, the kingdom, the Messiah, and the means by which man can be restored to a right relationship with God. Repentance would require them to do an about-face concerning what they currently believed about all of those things. And that change of mind and heart would result in a change in behavior.

In the world into which Jesus came, the Jewish people had strong opinions about these matters, the byproduct of centuries of man-made decrees, religious doctrines, and dogma. They thought they had God figured out and were convinced that they knew what they had to do to deal with sin. But they had grown callous to God and carefree about their own sin, justifying their actions and downplaying their own guilt. They put a lot of stock in their status as descendants of Abraham and in their unique identity as God’s chosen people. But John the Baptist had come preaching a call to repentance. He had told them that the Kingdom of Heaven was close at hand. And Jesus came preaching that very same message, telling them, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17 NLT).

The Kingdom of Heaven was near – in the form of the King of Heaven – Jesus Himself. This was a statement of authority and divine representation. Jesus was Emmanuel – God with us. He was the one true King. But the Jewish people failed to recognize Him as such.

This brings us to today’s passage, where Jesus continues to spar with the religious leaders of Israel. He had weathered a relentless gauntlet of questions from these men, as they attempted to expose and entrap Him. But this time Jesus turned the tables on them by requiring them to answer a question from Him. In doing so, He reveals some Messianic misconceptions on their part. He exposes their faulty views of who the Messiah would be and what He would do when He came.

Matthew records that Jesus began this conversation with a very simple, yet revealing question: “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” (Matthew 22:42a NLT).

Jesus already knew what their response would be, and that answer would reveal much about their understanding of not only the Messiah but of His coming Kingdom.

“They replied, ‘He is the son of David.’” – Matthew 22:42b NLT

So, what does this answer tell us about their view of the Messiah? They believed this long-anticipated deliverer of Israel would be a descendant of David. But it also reveals that they viewed the Messiah’s kingdom would be of this earth and not heavenly in nature. In other words, they were anticipating a king just like David had been. They were expecting a ruler, a royal heir to David, who would wear his crown and sit on his throne, re-establishing Israel’s power in the region. They weren’t looking for a Savior from sin, but a deliverer from subjugation to Rome.

But this is where Jesus exposed their incomplete understanding of the Messiah’s identity and role. In Luke’s version of the story, he reports that Jesus posed the question: “Why is it that the Messiah is said to be the son of David?” (Luke 20:41 NLT). Then Jesus presented the well-educated religious leaders with a conundrum. 

For David himself wrote in the book of Psalms:

‘The Lord said to my Lord,
    Sit in the place of honor at my right hand
until I humble your enemies,
    making them a footstool under your feet.’” – Luke 20:42 NLT

Matthew records Jesus’ statement in the form of a question: “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’?” (Matthew 22:44 ESV).

At first glance, it sounds like Jesus is posing some kind of riddle or trick question. But He actually quoted a well-known Messianic passage found in Psalm 110:1. The Sadducees would have agreed that this passage referred to the coming Messiah or Davidic descendant. In fact, over the centuries, this psalm had been applied to each successive king in the Davidic dynasty and was used to refer to the ideal Davidic king. As a result, they would have been very familiar with the passage and its application to the coming Messiah. So, Jesus pointed out that in the psalm, David calls the Messiah his Lord.

If the coming Messiah was to be a “son” or descendant of David, the greatest king Israel had ever had, why would David call this man his “Lord?” To understand this question, you have to recognize that there are two different words used for “Lord” in Psalm 110. The first is Jehovah, a noun used to refer to God. It is the proper name of the God of Israel. The second word is adon, a noun that means “lord” or “master”. But when used in conjunction with Lord (Jehovah), it typically refers to God’s sovereignty or authority. So, you could read the line in Psalm 110 this way: The LORD (God) said to my (David’s) Lord (Messiah)

The point Jesus was making was that David knew something about the Messiah that the Pharisees did not. That’s why Jesus asked them a further question: “Since David called the Messiah ‘Lord,’ how can the Messiah be his son?” (Luke 20:44 NLT).

The Pharisees had a limited view of the Messiah. They believed He would be an earthly and fully human descendant of David – nothing more, nothing less. But Jesus’ point was that David seemed to know that the Messiah would be MORE than just his descendant. He would be divine and have God-given authority to rule and reign over God’s Kingdom. He would be David’s LORD and Master. He would be a divinely appointed ruler with power and authority far beyond anything David had known.

But the Pharisees couldn’t bring themselves to see or acknowledge this. Jesus was not what they had been expecting and, most certainly, not what they wanted. He didn’t look or act like a king. And the Israelites still wanted a king just like all the other nations. They wanted a royal ruler on their terms and according to their definition. It was the very same problem their ancestors had when they had demanded that the prophet Samuel appoint them a king like all the other nations.

They had rejected God as their King and, in response, God had given them Saul. Now, centuries later, they were demanding the same thing. But God was not going to give them another Saul. He was going to give them another David, an actual descendant of David, but a man greater than David had ever been. He would be the God-man, the Son of God, and the ultimate Savior of the world.

At this point in the conversation, Jesus turns His attention to His disciples but He spoke so all could hear what He had to say. The religious leaders, who had grown strangely silent, still had the capacity to hear Jesus speak, and what He had to say was aimed directly at them.

“Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. – Luke 20:46-47 NLT

Jesus was pulling no punches. He was calling out these men for their self-righteous and hypocritical displays of false piety. And in doing so, Jesus echoed the words from His own sermon on the mount, delivered some three years earlier.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:1 ESV

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. – Matthew 6:5 ESV

This was a recurring theme in Jesus’ teaching. Throughout His ministry, He regularly exposed the hypocritical nature of these self-righteous demagogues. Earlier in his gospel account, Luke records Jesus leveling the same condemning indictment against the Pharisees.

“What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you love to sit in the seats of honor in the synagogues and receive respectful greetings as you walk in the marketplaces.” – Luke 11:43 NLT

These so-called shepherds of Israel were fleecing the flock while they feigned a lifestyle of super-spirituality. They had no care or concern for the people of God. Instead, they used their power and position to benefit and promote themselves. This led Jesus to warn, “Because of this, they will be severely punished” (Luke 20:47 NLT). These men, who believed themselves to be the highest authority in the land, would one day stand before the One who wields ultimate authority over all the universe. They will have to answer to God. And, at that time, they will also have to explain their refusal to acknowledge and accept Jesus as the Son of God. While they stand opposed to Jesus now, there will come a day when they will bow before Him and confess, “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11 ESV).

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

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

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

Who Do You Think You Are?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rejecting Their Redeemer

41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Luke 19:41-44 ESV

Luke records that as Jesus made His way into the city of Jerusalem, seated on the foal of a donkey, the crowds greeted Him with shouts of praise and adulation.

“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” – Luke 19:38 ESV

Everyone seemed to be in high spirits as “the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen” (Luke 19:37 ESV). Yet, as Jesus descended from the Mount of Olives on the opposite side of the Kidron Valley and began the climb up Mount Zion toward the eastern gate of Jerusalem, the city was displayed before Him – and He wept.

The Greek word used to describe His emotional state is klaiō, and it conveys the idea of someone in mourning. As Jesus saw the glistening walls of the city and the temple of Yahweh sitting on the peak of the mount, He couldn’t help but be saddened. He knew exactly what lay in store for the inhabitants of the royal city and, despite their vociferous shouts of praise and their seeming acknowledgement of His kingship, He knew they would eventually reject Him as their Messiah. Their shouts of hosanna would soon turn to demands for His crucifixion.

Jesus put His feelings into words by stating,  “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42 NLT). He had begun His earthly ministry declaring the coming of the kingdom of God and calling the people of Israel to repent and believe. 

Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News. “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”  – Mark 1:14-15 NLT

But now, three years later, He couldn’t help but grieve over the fact that the people of Israel were going to refuse His call to repent and reject His claim to be their long-awaited Messiah. As the divine Son of God, Jesus was well aware of the fate facing the city of Jerusalem, but the people living within its walls were completely oblivious. Their shouts of praise had been directly tied to their belief that, as the Messiah, Jesus was going to bring salvation to the land of Israel. They had long been told that the prophets foretold of the coming of a warrior-king and deliverer, God’s Anointed One, who would defeat the enemies of Israel and restore them to power and prominence.

But when Jesus failed to accomplish the military mission they had all been expecting, they turned their backs on Him. This Rabbi from Nazareth did not live up to their expectations and they reacted with disappointment that quickly turned to anger and resentment. Jesus longed for them to see and understand, but He knew it was too late. With their eyes blinded by sin and their hearts darkened by pride and self-righteousness, they were incapable of seeing the truth of who Jesus was and all that He came to offer. The apostle describes them as having stumbled over “the stone” that God had placed in their path.

But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path. God warned them of this in the Scriptures when he said,

“I am placing a stone in Jerusalem that makes people stumble,
    a rock that makes them fall.
But anyone who trusts in him
    will never be disgraced.” – Romans 9:31-33 NLT

Jesus was that stone, and they “stumbled” over Him because He did not meet their expectations. And the apostle Paul goes on to describe God’s role in all of this.

So this is the situation: Most of the people of Israel have not found the favor of God they are looking for so earnestly. A few have—the ones God has chosen—but the hearts of the rest were hardened. As the Scriptures say,

“God has put them into a deep sleep.
To this day he has shut their eyes so they do not see,
    and closed their ears so they do not hear.” – Romans 11:7-8 NLT

So, based on their eventual rejection of Him, Jesus warned that God would bring judgment against the people of Israel in the form of the destruction of their great city and revered temple. 

“Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side.” – Luke 19:43 NLT

Jesus describes a siege. The day was coming when Jerusalem would experience the same fate that had accompanied its fall to the Babylonians centuries earlier. And Jesus is unsparing in the dramatic details concerning the city’s eventual destruction.

“They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.” – Luke 19:44 NLT

All of this brings to mind the words of the prophet, Isaiah, as, centuries earlier, he mourned over the coming destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar’s army.

My grief is beyond healing;
    my heart is broken.
Listen to the weeping of my people;
    it can be heard all across the land.
“Has the Lord abandoned Jerusalem?” the people ask.
    “Is her King no longer there?”

“Oh, why have they provoked my anger with their carved idols
    and their worthless foreign gods?” says the Lord.

“The harvest is finished,
    and the summer is gone,” the people cry,
    “yet we are not saved!”

I hurt with the hurt of my people.
    I mourn and am overcome with grief. Is there no medicine in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why is there no healing
    for the wounds of my people? – Jeremiah 8:18-22 NLT

Jesus was predicting a similarly devastating destruction at the hands of one of Israel’s enemies. But this time, it would be the Romans. After the Jews staged a rebellion against their Roman overlords in 66 AD, the emperor Nero dispatched his legions under the direction of General Vespasian. Two years later, Vespasian and his troops had just about quelled the rebellion, but Jerusalem remained under rebel control. That same year, the emperor Nero died and Vespasian took his place. He placed his son, Titus, over the Roman legions and the battle for control of Jerusalem continued unabated. The Romans laid siege to Jerusalem and in 70 AD, the walls were breached and thousands of the city’s inhabitants were slaughtered. Worse yet, the temple was ransacked and then burned to the ground. The Jewish historian, Josephus, describes the scene.

“…the rebels shortly after attacked the Romans again, and a clash followed between the guards of the sanctuary and the troops who were putting out the fire inside the inner court; the latter routed the Jews and followed in hot pursuit right up to the Temple itself. Then one of the soldiers, without awaiting any orders and with no dread of so momentous a deed, but urged on by some supernatural force, snatched a blazing piece of wood and, climbing on another soldier’s back, hurled the flaming brand through a low golden window that gave access, on the north side, to the rooms that surrounded the sanctuary. As the flames shot up, the Jews let out a shout of dismay that matched the tragedy; they flocked to the rescue, with no thought of sparing their lives or husbanding their strength; for the sacred structure that they had constantly guarded with such devotion was vanishing before their very eyes.” – Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, xi. 1.2

And Jesus explains the actual cause of this tragic event. The fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple would not be because a group of Jews decided to rebel against their Roman oppressors. No, it would be because of the people of Israel refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God and their Messiah.

“They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.” – Luke 19:44 NLT

But the author of Hebrews lets us know that God’s judgment against Israel would not be permanent. His plans for them remain in place and the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob concerning their descendants remain unchanged.

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

For the moment, Jesus wept over His people because He knew all that was going to happen to them in the foreseeable future. But He was also confident that the day would come when God would fulfill all His promises concerning the people of Israel because He is the covenant-keeping God who never fails to keep His word.

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? – Numbers 23:19 ESV

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

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

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

The Heart of a Child

15 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. – Luke 18:15-17 ESV

There are times when it appears as if the 12 disciples of Jesus are a few bricks short of a full load. And this is one of them. After reading this passage, it’s difficult not to draw one of two conclusions: Either the disciples are stubborn or simply stupid. They just don’t seem to get it. No matter how many times Jesus addresses an issue with them, the disciples fail to grasp His meaning. Even all His after-class, one-on-twelve tutoring sessions didn’t seem to help.

Before looking at the scene recorded in today’s passage, let’s revisit a few earlier exchanges between Jesus and His disciples that are closely related. First, while they were back in Galilee, Jesus had overheard the disciples arguing over which of them was the greatest. This debate came fast on the heels of Jesus’ announcement that He would soon be delivered into the hands of men and be killed (Mark 9:31). So, immediately after hearing Jesus announce that He was going to lay down His life, they had gotten into a heated argument over which of them was the greatest. This led Jesus to give them an object lesson.

And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” – Mark 9:36-37 ESV

Jesus used this small, seemingly insignificant child to drive home an important point. With the pride-filled disciples gathered around Him, Jesus stood in the midst of them holding this unnamed child in His arms. He placed the one with the least significance in the place of greatest prominence. The child had done nothing to earn this special favor extended to Him by Jesus. He was not powerful, impressive, gifted, or even capable of repaying Jesus for His kindness. But the child was trusting and willing to place his full confidence in Jesus.

Yet, immediately after witnessing this living object lesson, John had chosen to bring up what he believed to be a more pressing matter. He reported that there was an unnamed individual who had been casting out demons in Jesus’ name. The discovery of this unidentified competitor had bothered the disciples enough that they had repeatedly tried to issue him cease-and-desist orders. But their efforts had failed. And much to John’s dismay, rather than seeking to reprimand this rogue exorcist, Jesus rebuked His own disciples.

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. – Mark 9:42 ESV

The Greek word Mark used is mikros, which means “small” or “least.” Jesus seems to be referring to this unknown exorcist as one of His children. This man, while not one of the 12 disciples, was casting out demons in the name of Jesus. He was performing the same good deed that Jesus had commissioned His disciples to do. That’s why Jesus John, “Don’t stop him!…No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:39 NLT). This man was on their side. 

Yet Jesus refers to him as one of the “least.” He was so insignificant that the disciples didn’t even know his name. But he was important to Jesus. 

This brings us back to the scene taking place in chapter 10. Jesus and His disciples are back in the region of Perea, just east of Judea on the other side of the Jordan River. And Mark opened this chapter by indicating that Jesus’ arrival in the region had attracted the usual large crowds. While many hoped to see Jesus perform a miracle, others had come out of curiosity because Jesus was a 1st-Century celebrity. But Mark indicates that some “were bringing children to him that he might touch them” (Mark 10:13 ESV). Evidently, parents were bringing their young children to Jesus so that He might bless them. But Mark states that “the disciples rebuked them” (Mark 9:13 ESV). These men took it upon themselves to restrict their access to Jesus. They wrongly assumed that they had the authority to determine who was worthy to come into Jesus’ presence. And this whole scene makes even more sense when you consider Luke’s account. He provides some essential details that make the actions of the disciples even more egregious.

Luke records a parable that Jesus told “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9 ESV). In this parable, “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector” (Luke 18:10 ESV). The Pharisee stood before God, and in a blatant display of self-promotion, bragged about his superior righteousness as evidenced by his unparalleled fasting and tithing. But the other man stood before God, eyes lowered, declaring his abject state of sinfulness and desperate need for mercy. And then Jesus said, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14 ESV).

Superiority and inferiority. Pride and humility. Greatness and weakness. This parable set up the arrival of the parents with their children. And it explains why Jesus became so indignant with His disciples and demanded, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14 ESV). These little ones were being brought to Jesus by their parents. Too young to come on their own, they were completely at the mercy of others. These children represented complete dependency and trust. There was not an ounce of self-righteousness or moral superiority within them. But the disciples had decided that they were unworthy to come into Jesus’ presence. Had these men so quickly forgotten the scene of Jesus holding the young boy in His arms? Had the words Jesus had spoken to them simply gone in one ear and out the other?

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” – Mark9:37 ESV

Yet here was Jesus having to rebuke His disciples for their arrogant display of moral superiority. They didn’t get it. They were still harboring their own false conceptions about status in the Kingdom. In their eyes, these children were non-contributors. They had nothing to offer. They were takers, not givers. But Jesus had a completely different perspective. And to the shock and dismay of the disciples, Jesus “took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them” (Mark 10:16 NLT).

The disciples had been right. These “little ones” had nothing to offer Jesus. But Jesus had something to give them: His divine blessing. They came before Jesus as helpless and hopeless children, most likely carried in the arms of their parents. Some were probably too young to walk or talk. But each one, regardess of their age, intellect, family background, or future prospects of success; received the same undeserved gift from the hand of Jesus. Each was touched and blessed by the Son of God.

The Kingdom of God will not be comprised of the successful, gifted, morally exceptional, intellectually superior, or socially acceptable. In fact, Paul reminds every Christ-follower that their adoption into the family of God had nothing to do with them. They brought nothing to the table. They had done nothing to deserve the grace and mercy shown to them by God.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 NLT

Jesus had repeatedly shown His disciples that He had come to minister to the weak, the helpless, and the hopeless. He had gone out of His way to heal the sick and to minister to the outcasts and socially unacceptable. He had exposed the hypocrisy of the self-righteous religious leaders of Israel. He had willingly associated with tax collectors and prostitutes. And yet, His disciples still struggled with thoughts of their own superiority and harbored hopes of earning a place of honor and distinction in His coming Kingdom. But the lessons would continue, right up until the end. Even in the upper room on the night Jesus would be betrayed, He would provide them with yet another illustration of humility and service by washing their feet. And ultimately, Jesus would perform the greatest act of humility by offering His life as a ransom for many. The greatest of all would become the least of all so that the foolish, the powerless, the despised, and the unimportant might become children 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

An Alien and Undeserved Righteousness

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Luke 18:9-14 ESV

With His telling of the parable of the unrighteous judge, it appears that Jesus was taking a bit of a diversion from discussing the shortcomings of the Pharisees. But in many ways, the parable was just another in a long line of stinging indictments of these self-righteous men who had made a god out of their religion. While Jesus has begun to focus His attention on His disciples in an attempt to prepare them for what lies ahead, He has not stopped exposing the arrogant and uncaring nature of the Pharisees and their fellow religious leaders.

In His previous parable, Jesus told the story of “a judge who neither feared God nor respected man” (Luke 18:2 ESV). This man, by virtue of his role, was meant to be an unbiased arbiter, settling disputes between two parties. But how could he do so if he “neither feared God nor respected man?” And this man’s presence in the story was meant to reflect the attitude of the Jewish religious leaders. According to Jesus, they were guilty of the same thing. And by using the term “judge,” Jesus was not offering them a compliment. The Outline of Biblical Usage describes a judge as “one who passes or arrogates to himself, judgment on anything.”

The Pharisees were quick to judge, condemning others for their lack of religious zeal and their failure to keep all the man-made rules and regulations they had appended to the Mosaic Law. At one point Jesus had delivered a strong word of warning against these men.

“…what sorrow also awaits you experts in religious law! For you crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden.” – Luke 11:46 NLT

They had become self-appointed judges of the people who feared no repercussions from God. In fact, they actually thought they were doing God a favor by holding the people to such high moral and ethical standards. But like the widow in the parable, the poor and disenfranchised of Israel were longing for justice. They were seeking a judge who would act righteously and deliver justice on their behalf.

Consider closely verse 9 of this chapter. Luke records that Jesus “told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9 ESV). It seems obvious that Jesus was focusing His attention of the Pharisees who were still lingering on the edges of the crowd that followed Him. Despite all He had said against them, they had not gone anywhere. But Jesus was not just addressing the Pharisees. Their longstanding attitude of spiritual superiority and self-righteousness had infected others.  They had gone out of their way to teach their flawed philosophy of religion to others, something for which Jesus held them accountable.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!” – Matthew 23:15 NLT

As far as Jesus was concerned, self-righteousness was a dangerous and deadly heresy that led people to rely on their own efforts and merits to earn favor with God. It was a dead-end street that eventually terminated with eternal separation from God. As the prophet Isaiah wrote: “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT). The apostle Paul would later quote from the psalms in order to convey the same universal and inescapable reality:

“No one is righteous—
    not even one.
No one is truly wise;
    no one is seeking God.
All have turned away;
    all have become useless.
No one does good,
    not a single one.” – Romans 3:10-12 NLT

Self-righteousness is the greatest form of blasphemy because the one who practices it sets himself up as God. He elevates himself to the place of the Almighty, determining his eternal state based on his own biased judgment, rather than that of God. Anyone who believes he has earned a right standing before God has diminished the deadly nature of sin and devalued the righteous standards of God.

There is no way to get around the fact that in order for anyone to consider themselves to be righteous based on their own efforts, they must lower God’s standard for holiness. Which is really diminishing the holiness of God Himself, because He is the ultimate standard by which we are judged. So, rather than using God as the gold standard for holiness, men begin to compare themselves with one another. According to the apostle Paul, this horizontal matrix for measuring holiness is not only flawed but foolish.

…we wouldn’t dare say that we are as wonderful as these other men who tell you how important they are! But they are only comparing themselves with each other, using themselves as the standard of measurement. How ignorant! – 2 Corinthians 10:12 NLT

So, in His parable, Jesus relates the story of two men who have gone to the temple in Jerusalem to pray. One was a Pharisee, an icon of religious rectitude. The other was a tax collector, who represented the spiritual dregs of society. Yet, Jesus places both men in the temple courtyard where they are praying to God. But that is where the similarities end. Jesus portrays the Pharisee as a self-consumed man with an over-inflated sense of self-worth. He stands in the temple courtyard and boldly prays:

“‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.” – Luke 18:11-12 NLT

His words are the epitome of arrogance and pride. In a blatant display of self-righteous self-congratulation, he declares his moral superiority to the God of the universe. And he does so by comparing himself to the tax collector who is standing nearby. To the Pharisee, the differences between the two men could not be more obvious. Based on his religious zeal and faithful adherence to the smallest requirement of the law, he holds the moral high ground. He has earned the right to be heard by God.

Yet, Jesus quickly moves the focus from the fictional Pharisee to the tax collector, who “stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow…” (Luke 18:13 NLT). In starks contrast to the Pharisee, the tax collector epitomizes humility and a high degree of self-awareness. He knows exactly what he is and what he justly deserves.

“O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.” – Luke 18:13 NLT

Fully aware that his sin separates him from a holy God, this man pleads for mercy. He confesses his sinful state and, in a sense, places himself at the mercy of the court. He is more than willing to let the Judge decide his fate but he longs for justice coupled with mercy and forgiveness.

And then, Jesus dropped the bombshell:

I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God.” – Luke 18:14 NLT

Don’t miss the significance of Jesus’ statement. He is declaring that the tax collector, a self-admitted sinner, is declared to be righteous by God. This is a judicial act by which God, in His sovereign authority, deems the unrighteous to be righteous in His eyes. The apostle Paul would expand on this marvelous thought in his letter to the believers in Rome.

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. – Romans 3:21-25 NLT

Jesus was hinting at a reality to come. He was going to go to the cross and offer Himself as the sinless substitute for sinful mankind. And all those who were willing to recognize and confess their sins and place their faith in Him would be imputed His righteousness as a gift from God. Jesus would take on their sin and, in exchange, they would receive His righteousness. But this “great exchange” begins with the sinner’s willingness to confess his desperate need for a Savior. Like the widow who needed a judge to settle her case, sinners are dependent upon the Judge of the universe to rule in their favor. Not based on their own merit, but according to His mercy and grace.

The apostle Paul, who in his former life was a dedicated and zealous Pharisee, offered his radically altered understanding of how one is made right with God.

I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. – Philippians 3:9 NLT

At one time, Paul would have been that self-righteous Pharisee standing in the courtyard singing his own praises. But, mercifully, Jesus had appeared to him on the road to Damascus, blinding his eyes, but helping him see for the first time the sin that separated him from a holy God. He went from being a self-righteous Pharisee facing an eternity separated from God to a self-confessing sinner who received the righteousness of Christ and the assurance of eternal life.

So, Jesus wrapped up His little parable with the sobering statement:

“…those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Luke 18:14 NLT

The apostle Peter would reiterate the words of Jesus in his first letter:

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. – 1 Peter 5:5-6 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

Filling in the Blanks

20 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

22 And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23 And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. 24 For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. 25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. 26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, 29 but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— 30 so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. 32 Remember Lot’s wife. 33 Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. 34 I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. 35 There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” 37 And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” – Luke 17:20-37 ESV

This section contains a fascinating and somewhat confusing series of lessons on the kingdom of God. From the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus had declared the good news regarding the arrival of the long-awaited kingdom of God.

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

Jesus was declaring that He was the Messiah or Savior the prophets had written about. He was the son of David who would ascend to the throne and re-establish the Davidic dynasty in keeping with the covenant God had made with David (2 Samuel 7:11-16). And this message struck a chord with the people of Israel because they had been longing for the arrival of the warrior-king who would be their emancipator, releasing them from their subjugation to the Romans. For centuries, the Israelites had been waiting for God to send the next David, a man whom He would use to redeem His people and restore their fortunes as a nation. So, everywhere Jesus went, His words concerning the kingdom were met with joyous expectation and hope.

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread – Matthew 4:23-24 ESV

But the longer Jesus’ ministry went on, some of the people began to have doubts about His message. While they were amazed by His miracles and blown away by the power of His words, they were disappointed that He had not done anything to establish His earthly kingdom. If He truly was the long-awaited Messiah, when was He going to turn His attention to the Romans and clean house? How were they supposed to believe He was who He claimed to be if He never did the things the Messiah was supposed to do? This led many to demand that Jesus perform a “sign from heaven” to validate His identity. Yes, He had healed many people, but there were others who did the same thing – even His own disciples. He had cast out demons, but that was nothing new. Even the Jews had their own exorcists who were known for doing the same thing.

In fact, on one occasion, Jesus cast out a demon from a man and the people immediately proclaimed, “Nothing like this has ever happened in Israel!” (Matthew 9:33 NLT). But the Pharisees rejected their enthusiastic endorsement of Jesus, saying, “He can cast out demons because he is empowered by the prince of demons” (Matthew 9:34 NLT). And to prove their point, these men “demanded that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority” (Luke 11:16 NLT). Their refusal to accept Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah led them to constantly demand that He provide them with some kind of heavenly sign as irrefutable proof.

One day some teachers of religious law and Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority.” – Matthew 12:38 NLT

So, it should come as no surprise that Luke records yet another confrontation between Jesus and this religious leader where they demand that He perform a sign. But this time, their request is hidden behind a question regarding the kingdom of God. They ask Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” (Luke 17:20 NLT). This question wreaks of sarcasm. In essence, they are ridiculing Jesus for having declared that the kingdom had come, but they could see no signs of its arrival. He was still nothing more than an itinerant Rabbi wandering around the countryside teaching, preaching, and performing the occasional miracle. He spent more time in Galilee than He did in Judea, where Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel was located. He had many followers, but no army. And while He had cast out a handful of demons, He had done nothing to get rid of the Roman centurions who occupied the land of Israel from north to south. If He was the Messiah, they wanted proof. When was He going to do something to usher in the kingdom He claimed to have brought?

But Jesus saw through their ploy and understand the real focus of their question. They wanted some kind of sign that Jesus was the warrior-king who was going to conquer the enemies of Israel and re-establish the Davidic dynasty in Jerusalem. And it seems unlikely that these men were expecting Jesus to fulfill their demand for a sign, because they believed Him to be a fraud. To them, He was little more than a charlatan and anything but the Savior of Israel. Yet, Jesus responded to their question.

“The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” – Luke 17:20-21 NLT

Jesus knew what they wanted. They were demanding that He do something that would affirm His kingly role and prove that He had been ordained by God to be the next ruler over Israel. Like all the Jews, the Pharisees and scribes were expecting the Messiah to establish an earthly kingdom that mirrored the glory days of David and Solomon. And Jesus knew that they were looking for visible, tangible signs that would demonstrate He meant business. As far as they could see, there was absolutely no evidence that would suggest He was a king, by any stretch of the imagination. But Jesus informed them that the nature of the Kingdom of God was radically different than what they had been expecting. In fact, the kingdom was already in their midst. The King was standing right in front of them. But Jesus didn’t look like a king. He didn’t do kingly things. At least, not according to their understanding of the role.

But it is interesting to note what the psalmist wrote concerning David.

He [God]chose David his servant
    and took him from the sheepfolds;
from following the nursing ewes he brought him
    to shepherd Jacob his people,
    Israel his inheritance.
With upright heart he shepherded them
    and guided them with his skillful hand. – Psalm 78:70-72 ESV

The Jews were expecting another David, a warrior-king who would destroy the enemies of Israel. But God had spoken of David as the shepherd-king who cared for the people of Israel. Jesus had come to seek and to save that which was lost. His first advent to earth was intended to bring a different kind of victory over a completely different kind of enemy. Jesus had come to conquer sin, death, and the grave. His coming had inaugurated a different kind of kingdom that would not be of this world. What the Jews failed to understand was that the Messiah’s mission would come in two parts. There would be a first advent and, when the time was right, it would be followed by a second one.

And this is where Jesus turns His attention to His disciples, in an attempt to help them understand the full scope of the divine redemptive plan. Even they were beginning to have doubts about Jesus’ identity and role. They were just as anxious for Him to set up His earthly kingdom, and they were having a difficult time understanding the apparent delay in what they believed to be the primary point of His mission.

Jesus informs His disciples about future events that will need to take place before His earthly kingdom can be established. In the days ahead, He will die, resurrect, and return to His Father’s side in heaven. And after His departure, they will long for His return.

“The time is coming when you will long to see the day when the Son of Man returns, but you won’t see it. – Luke 17:22 NLT

With the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, the church age began. The kingdom of God will exist in its partial form through the lives of all those who, through placing their faith in Christ, become citizens of that kingdom. They will live their lives on earth as sojourners and strangers. But one day, Christ will return for His bride, the church. He will gather up all those are citizens of the kingdom and take them to be with Him in heaven. That will usher in the days of Tribulation – a period of great suffering and persecution on earth when the enemy will focus all his wrath on the nation of Israel. During that time, many will come to faith in Christ and even suffer martyrdom at the hands of Satan’s earthly proxy, the Antichrist. But at the end of that seven-year period of time, Jesus will return. This will be His Second Coming when He appears as the warrior-king with the armies of heaven beside Him, and He will defeat all the enemies of God and judge all those who have rejected God and His Son.

At that time, there will be two groups of people on earth: Believers and non-believers. And Jesus indicates that the destruction will be severe. But those who have come to faith in Christ during the days of the Tribulation will be spared. That is what He means when He says, “I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left” (Luke 17:34-35 ESV). People will be caught completely by surprise. They will be going about their lives, “eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building” (Luke 17:28 ESV), and then, suddenly, the King will return.

And it will be after this apocalyptic event that Jesus will set up His earthly kingdom and rule from the throne of David in Jerusalem for 1,000 years. The sign the Pharisees were demanding was one they really didn’t want to see. The kingdom for which the disciples longed would eventually come, but not during their lifetimes. God has a plan and He is working that plan to perfection. And the first phase of the plan required that His Son come to earth as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 NLT). It will be at His second advent that He comes as the Lion of Judah and conquers the enemies of God and re-establishes the rule and reign of God on earth.

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

Faith, Forgiveness, and Fruitfulness

1 And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” – Luke 17:1-6 ESV

Jesus has been unrelenting in His judgment of the Pharisees. He has castigated them relentlessly and even accused them of refusing the heed the words of their own Scriptures.

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

Their hatred for Jesus had reached such a fevered pitch that they had become incapable of recognizing Him as being the fulfillment of all that the law and the prophets foretold. Jesus was the Son of God, making Him not only the law-giver, but the perfect law-keeper. In His sermon on the mount, He declared of Himself:

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.” – Mathew 5:17-18 NLT

But while the Pharisees and their fellow religious leaders were outwardly committed to the law, they failed to recognize Jesus as its fulfillment. And their rejection of Him was causing others to question the validity of His identity and mission.  After all, if the religious leaders of Israel refused to accept Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, maybe He wasn’t really  who He claimed to be. Perhaps He did cast out demons by the power of Satan. Maybe He was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, leading the gullible and the innocent to fall for His cleverly disguised lies. But Jesus had refuted these accusations, arguing, “if I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you” (Matthew 12:28 NLT).

Jesus would later accuse the Pharisees of acting as road blocks to the good news of the kingdom. It was one thing for them to reject Jesus as the Messiah, but it was another altogether for them to persuade others to turn down God’s gracious offer of salvation and entrance into the kingdom.

“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

But as Luke begins this section of his gospel, he portrays Jesus focusing His attention off of the religious leaders and on to His followers. He wants them to understand that they too can become stumbling blocks to the gospel. They all ran the risk of losing hope in His identity as the Messiah. The days were coming when the pressure against Jesus would reach a fever pitch and He would become the focal point of the Pharisees’ rage and the enemy’s wrath. Satan was going to unleash his entire arsenal of weapons against the Son of God, all in a last-ditch effort to thwart the redemptive plan of God.

Even on the very night when Jesus would share His final Passover meal with the disciples, they would get into an argument over which of them was the greatest. This would take place after He washed their feet and described the death He was about to endure. And then, Jesus would turn to Simon and deliver what had to have come across as a rather a disturbing message:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” – Luke 22:31-32 NLT

Simon was going to be tempted. He would find himself faced with the choice of admitting His relationship with Jesus or denying it to save his own skin. He would choose the latter. In doing so, Peter sinned. He let his fear of men overcome His faith in Jesus. But in Luke 17, Jesus encourages His disciples by acknowledging the reality of the temptations they would face. He knew the days ahead would be difficult and filled with opportunities to turn their back on Him. Even on the night when Jesus was arrested, Mark records that “all his disciples deserted him and ran away” (Mark 14:50 NLT).

The days ahead would be filled with temptations to turn their back on Him, and all of them would dessert Him in some form or fashion. Only Peter and John would follow Him to His trials. Of all the disciples, only John is described as being at His crucifixion. But Jesus wanted these men to know that their abandonment of Him would be forgiven. Their loss of faith would not be held against them. But if their lack of faith caused another to reject Jesus, the consequences would be serious.

The context is critical to understanding this passage. Jesus had been hammering away at the religious leaders and their lack of compassion for the people. These arrogant and prideful men viewed themselves as spiritual superior to everyone else. And in their highly educated and religiously savvy opinion, they deemed Jesus to be a fraud and phony. He was a wannabe Messiah who lacked the proper credentials, pedigree, and education to serve in such a prestigious and prominent role. And these men were leading others to sin against God by rejecting His anointed Messiah.

So, Jesus was warning His disciples to not follow the example of the Pharisees. In the days, ahead, when things got dark and all looked lost, he wanted to them to remain faithful and not allow their doubts to cause others to dismiss Him as Savior. And He gave them some sobering words to consider:

It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin.” – Luke 17:2 NLT

He forewarns them: “So watch yourselves!” (Luke 17:3 NLT). Things were about to get dark and deadly. His earthly mission was going to culminate with His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. But it would be followed by His miraculous resurrection, ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit. And despite of His victory over death and the grave, the temptations would continue for the disciples. That is why He continues to encourage them to live in a constant state of preparedness, because the enemy was defeated but far from dead. Satan would continue to attack the disciples long after Jesus was gone. They would face ongoing temptations to sin and would need to avail themselves of the forgiveness Jesus made possible by His death on the cross.

Sometime after Jesus had returned to His Father’s side in heaven, the apostle John would later:

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. – 1 John 1:8-10 NLT

Forgiveness would be an ongoing commodity because sin would be an ever-present reality. Jesus’ death provided the payment for mankind’s sin debt, but it did not eradicate the danger of sin’s presence. That’s why Jesus warned His disciples:

“If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.” – Luke 17:3-4 NLT

When Jesus departed from earth, He left His disciples on their own, but He did not leave them defenseless and helpless. He provided them with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. He promised His disciples that He would not leave them as orphans, alone and on their own. No, He assured them, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you” (John 14:16 NLT). The Holy Spirit would provide them with all the power they needed to fulfill the Great Commission and survive in a hostile environment in which the enemy still “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 1:8 ESV). The tempter, though defeated,  would still be alive and well and working overtime to distract and destroy the followers of Christ. Temptations would come. Believers would sin. And forgiveness would need to be extended.

All this talk about temptation, trials, sin, and forgiveness left the disciples wondering if they were up to the task. In their simplistic way of thinking, they believed they would need additional faith in order to survive what was coming their way. They didn’t want to flake out or run the risk of causing a brother or sister to stumble. So, they asked Jesus to increase their faith. It was like asking for more energy to survive a particularly strenuous task. But Jesus pointed out that it was not the quantity of their faith that mattered. Nor was it a matter of quality.

“If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘May you be uprooted and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you! – Luke 17:7 NLT

To the disciples, faith was the missing ingredient. But in their defense, on more than one occasion, they had heard Jesus say, “O you of little faith” (Matthew 6:30; 8:26; 14:31). That sounds like a declaration of need or an accusation of lack. In their minds, they simply presumed that more faith was the answer. But the amount of faith is not the issue here. It is the object of our faith that matters. A little faith placed in the right source will produce staggering results. It was Paul expressed in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Jesus was going to ensure that they had all the strength they needed to endure what they were destined to face as His disciples. And Jesus would later assure His disciples that they would have all the faith, power, strength, wisdom, and words they needed to accomplish even greater works than He had done.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!” – John 14:12-14 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

Well Worth the Cost

25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:25-33 ESV

This entire chapter has dealt with the topics of eating and feasting. It began with Jesus accepting an invitation to dine in the home of a prominent Pharisee. At this invitation-only meal, Jesus was confronted by an unexpected guest who suffered from a debilitating disease. This man’s presence in the Pharisee’s home seems to have been a calculated ploy on the part of the host, intended to tempt Jesus into breaking the Mosaic law’s prohibition against performing any kind of work on the Sabbath. Of course, Jesus didn’t disappoint. He healed the man, and then promptly told two parables, both of which centered around a feast or banquet. Each of these stories involved the issuing of a highly coveted invitation to a prestigious social event, one a wedding feast and the other, a lavish banquet.

And yet, in the second parable, Jesus describes those slated to be guests at the banquet as indifferent and even reluctant to accept the host’s invitation. When the day of the banquet arrived, they each came up with a different reason for explaining their absence. And their reticence to accept the gracious and undeserved invitation of the host was met with anger and resentment. He quickly filled their empty seats with “the poor and crippled and blind and lame” (Luke 14:21 ESV). And Jesus ended His parable by stating the foreboding words of the offended host:

“…none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” – Luke 14:24 ESV

It’s likely that the Pharisees and scribes who reclined at the table as Jesus shared this story remained oblivious to its meaning. They probably failed to make the connection between themselves and the banquet no-shows in Jesus’ story. These men were far too proud to consider that Jesus might be talking about them. And yet, it was their refusal to accept His invitation to believe in the Gospel that would ultimately keep them out of the kingdom of God.

Luke immediately follows this banquet-focused pericope by Jesus with another message involving an invitation. But this time, the invitation is of a completely different sort. Luke records that “great crowds accompanied him” (Luke 14:25 ESV). The Greek word is symporeuomai and it means “to go with” or “to go on a journey together.”  As Jesus made His way to Jerusalem, He was accompanied by a large crowd of “followers” or disciples. This group would have been comprised of the curious, the cautious, and the committed. There would have been those who were seeking healing from disease or deliverance from demon-possession. Others would have been there hoping to see Jesus perform a miracle. And there was probably a handful who had come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel.

As this motley group of disparate individuals walked along with Jesus, He suddenly turned to them and said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26 NET). This rather obtuse statement, delivered in a blatantly blunt fashion, just have left His audience a bit stunned. Everyone in the crowd was “following” Jesus. But what most of them failed to understand was that, all along, He had been offering them an invitation. It took the form of His invitation to enjoy rest in Him.

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28 NLT

In Jesus, they could find fulfillment and refreshment.

“Anyone who is thirsty may come to me!” – John 7:37 NLT

Those who had a desperate desire for righteousness would find satisfaction in Him.

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

And all those who accepted His invitation to follow Him would find their lives marked by a new purpose.

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

But in Luke chapter 14, Jesus provides a somewhat surprising caveat that accompanies His invitation to follow Him. In a sense, Jesus is thinning the herd. He’s letting the crowd know that there is a far more required to being His disciple than simply getting in line behind Him. The path He was walking was going to be a difficult one that ultimately ended in death. One day, the miracles and the messages would end, only to be replaced by persecution and, in the end, His execution.

For most of the people in His audience, being a Jesus “groupie” was a low-cost, high-return investment. They got to witness Him perform miracles. They were privileged to hear Him speak. Some even benefited from His miraculous powers, enjoying healing from disease and deliverance from demon possession. But while following Jesus clearly had its perks, it could also come with a high cost.

Those who followed Jesus to the bitter end would discover that their commitment came with a price. They would be forced to make the uncomfortable choice between their family and following Jesus. This was a surprising message that Jesus had delivered on more than one occasion.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.  Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. – Matthew 10:34-38 ESV

For the time being, following Jesus was a rather easy pursuit that required little more than a commitment of one’s time. But the day was quickly coming when being His disciple would prove to be quite costly. As He got closer to Jerusalem, the intensity of the opposition toward Him would  increase exponentially. And His followers would soon find themselves facing the difficult decision between sharing in His suffering or enjoying the acceptance of their family and friends.

In time, the decision to follow Him would require great sacrifice. And Jesus wanted all those who were eagerly following in His wake to consider the cost of their ongoing commitment. The price to participate as His disciple was about to go up dramatically.

“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” – Luke 15:28 ESV

The vast majority of the people walking with Jesus had no idea what He was about to face in Jerusalem. They were innocently oblivious and completely clueless when it came to the intensity of the opposition mounting against Jesus. Even the 12 disciples were having a difficult time grasping just how bad things were about to get. At one point, Jesus informed them of the exact nature of the reception He was going to receive upon His arrival in the capital city.

“…we’re going up to Jerusalem, where 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 10:33-34 NLT

And yet, just minutes after hearing this devastating news, James and John approached Jesus with the following request:

“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 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 10:37-38 NLT

They had no idea what they were asking because they had no way of processing what was about to take place in Jerusalem. Despite Jesus’ clear disclosure of His fate, they were still convinced that He was about to set up His earthly kingdom and they wanted to ensure that they got at the head of the line when the rewards were handed out. Little did they know that Jesus would have to suffer crucifixion before He experienced exaltation. And these two brothers didn’t understand that they too would have to endure their own season of suffering.

“You will indeed drink from my bitter cup and be baptized with my baptism of suffering. – Mark 10:39 NLT

The path of Jesus was never intended to be the popular or pleasant way. As a matter of fact, the majority of the people who followed Jesus would soon abandon Him. As the animosity toward Him intensified, the number of His followers would rapidly diminish. And the truth of the message He conveyed in His sermon on the mount would become painfully apparent.

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it. – Matthew 7:13-14 NLT

Jesus uses two simple parables to drive home His message. The first involves the building of a tower. The second deals with the waging of a war. In both cases, the point is the same: One must consider the cost long before making the decision to begin. You don’t begin a construction project without the resources to complete it. And you don’t go to war unless you have the wherewithal to win it. To construct a building or win a war, you will have to make costly concessions. You will have to completely commit yourself if you want to reach the objective. And while that commitment will involve great cost, it will also ensure great dividends. The sacrifice will be well worth it.

“And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.” – Matthew 19:29-30 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 Different Kind of Kingdom

18 He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

20 And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.” – Luke 13:18-21 ESV

Luke seems to indicate that, immediately after healing the woman in the synagogue, Jesus began to discuss the nature of the kingdom of God. This comes across as a rather abrupt change in topic but, in a sense, Jesus is simply returning to something He had discussed earlier: The kingdom of God.

Throughout this section of Luke’s gospel, Jesus has been attempting to help His disciples understand the true nature of the kingdom. He had begun His ministry declaring that the kingdom of God was near at hand.

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

And once the 12 men whom Jesus had chosen to be His disciples became convinced that He was their long-awaited Messiah, they fully expected Him to set up His earthly kingdom at any minute. As the days passed, they began to question why Jesus was delaying the inevitable. What was He waiting for? When was He going to enter Jerusalem and declare Himself the rightful king of Israel?

Now, as He began to draw His earthly ministry to a close, Jesus was back in Judea and on His way to Jerusalem. This likely stirred the interest of His disciples, causing them to wonder if the moment they had been waiting for was finally here. Maybe this would be the time when He revealed Himself to be the Messianic deliverer the prophets had promised. But the closer they got to Jerusalem, the more Jesus talked about the kingdom, and what He had to say didn’t line up with what they were expecting. The disciples were expecting Jesus to establish an earthly realm located in the royal city of David. And that realm would usher in a time of renewed power and prosperity for the people of God. But Jesus had warned His disciples about storing up treasure for themselves in this life. Instead, they were to be “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21 ESV).

And Jesus had gone on to contrast an obsession with earthly, material possessions and a desire for the kingdom.

And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. – Luke 12:29-32 ESV

When Jesus told His disciples to seek God’s kingdom, He was not suggesting that they look for an earthly realm, but that they desire the rule and the reign of God. The term “kingdom” in Greek is basileia and it most often refers to “royal power, kingship, dominion, rule.” It should not be confused with an actual kingdom but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom. So, Jesus was encouraging His disciples to seek the rule of God – in their hearts and lives, not in a geographic location.

This message of the kingdom was central to Jesus’ ministry and mission, and He was declaring Himself to be the one who was ushering in that kingdom. Most Jews believed that when God’s Kingdom came to earth it would be in the form of an earthly king who ruled over the restored nation of Israel. They were expecting a descendant of David to arise from among the people and re-establish the Davidic dynasty. This human savior would be a warrior-king who would set them free from their enslavement and subjugation to Rome. He would restore the political, military, and financial fortunes of Israel, making them a force to be reckoned within the region.

But Jesus presents a much different picture of the kingdom than the one they held, and He describes it through the use of two simple parables. In both cases, His focus seems to be on the mysterious nature of the Kingdom. It was not going to come quickly or through the use of military power. Jesus utilizes agrarian imagery to make His point. His use of these rather bucolic descriptions of the kingdom must have seemed odd to people who were expecting something a bit more aggressive and revolutionary in nature.

Jesus gives the impression that He is searching for just the right metaphor to use and He lands on the image of the mustard seed. Mark records this same parable in his gospel and adds that Jesus referred to the mustard seed as “the smallest of all seeds” (Mark 4:31 NLT), a fact that everyone in the audience would have known. And Jesus points out that, when planted, this minuscule, seemingly insignificant seed became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches” (Luke 13:19 ESV).

Everyone in His audience knew what a mustard seed was and they all knew what kind of tree it produced. But they had no idea how the transformation from one to the other took place. It was a mystery. And that seems to be Jesus’ point.

Jesus is using the imagery of the mustard seed to illustrate the nature of God’s kingdom. And what He has to say stands in direct contrast to the expectations of the Jews. They were not looking for a small, insignificant kingdom that would ultimately grow into something more impressive and impactful. They wanted immediate results. They had been waiting a long time for God to make things right. It had been hundreds of years since Israel had been a powerful nation with its very own king. So, the thought of having to wait for the “seed” to take root and grow would not have been something they found attractive.

But again, Jesus had come to establish a different kind of Kingdom. Several years later, as He stood before Pilate, the Roman governor, Jesus would declare, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36 NLT).

Jesus had not come to sit on a throne, but to hang on a cross. He had not come to be exalted to the highest office in the land, but to take “the humble position of a slave” and be “born as a human being” (Philippians 2:7 NLT). Paul went on to state that Jesus  “humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 NLT). And as a result of His willing humiliation and sacrificial offering of His own life, “God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11 NLT).

And one day, the exalted King is going to return and set up His kingdom on earth. But Jesus wanted His disciples to know that now was not the time. Much to their shock and dismay, the kingdom was not going to show up as a result of military action and a revolutionary overthrow of the Roman government. It was going to begin small and grow over time. And to further stress the mysterious nature of the kingdom, Jesus used the metaphor of yeast or leaven.

Like a tiny mustard seed that eventually grows into a massive tree, the kingdom of heaven will start small but greatly expand over time. Its influence will be like that of a little bit of leaven hidden within a measure of flour. It would be invisible to the eye and impossible to distinguish from the flour. But with the addition of water, kneading, and time, the yeast will begin to permeate its way through the entire batch. While the yeast remains impossible to detect, its influence slowly becomes obvious for all to see. In the same way, the kingdom will begin as an invisible and seemingly inconsequential movement that appears doomed to failure. But in time, it will mysteriously permeate the surrounding society.

In these parables, Jesus is revealing an aspect of the kingdom that is far-distant in its focus. He is speaking of the millennial kingdom which will come at the end of the period of the Great Tribulation. It will be at His second coming that Jesus establishes His kingdom on earth and its influence will be all-pervasive. He will rule from David’s throne in Jerusalem and it will be a period marked by perfect righteousness and justice.

The day the disciples longed for was coming, but its arrival lies in the distant future. In the meantime, Jesus wanted them to understand the role they must play as they waited for that day to arrive. The present phase of God’s plan was going to allow the kingdom to remain relatively hidden, but far from inactive. Like yeast, it would continue to spread. Like the tiny mustard seed, it would slowly transform into something unexpectedly large and significant.

With His incarnation, Jesus had come to earth as the king, with the full power and authority of God at His disposal. But for time being, the form of the kingdom would remain a mystery. It would not be an earthly realm with a royal palace and a throne. As Jesus would later tell the Roman governor, Pilate:

“My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” – John 18:36 NLT

The king had inaugurated the kingdom, but its consummation lies in the future. In the meantime, the rule and reign of God were to permeate society through the lives of those who, by placing their faith in Jesus, had become full-fledged citizens of the kingdom to come. Their presence on this earth was to be like leaven in a lump of dough, slowly and imperceptibly permeating and spreading the good news of the kingdom. And in God’s good timing, the tiny seed planted by the Messiah, would eventually and mysteriously transform into a massive tree.

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

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

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

The Time of Salvation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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