Count It All Joy

1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:

Greetings.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:1-4 ESV

Many of the early church fathers ascribed the authorship of the book of James to the half-brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:53-55; Mark 6:1-3). Early in Jesus’ earthly ministry, His siblings had a difficult time reconciling Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God. In his gospel, the apostle John reveals that they enjoyed the notoriety of Jesus but remained unconvinced that He was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel.

After this, Jesus traveled around Galilee. He wanted to stay out of Judea, where the Jewish leaders were plotting his death. But soon it was time for the Jewish Festival of Shelters, and Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” For even his brothers didn’t believe in him. – John 7:1-5 NLT

According to Mark’s gospel, the family of Jesus eventually reached the conclusion that Jesus’ actions were the result of madness. In their estimation, He had lost His mind and needed to be taken into custody for His own protection (Mark 3:20-21). As the half-brother of Jesus, James would have been involved in the family’s debates over Jesus’ lofty claims and potential madness. But somewhere along the way, James came to believe that his older sibling was who He claimed to be: The Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world.

In the book of Acts, Luke records that not long after Jesus’ resurrection, the 11 disciples returned to Jerusalem just as Jesus had commanded them to do.

Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance of half a mile. When they arrived, they went to the upstairs room of the house where they were staying.

Here are the names of those who were present: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon (the zealot), and Judas (son of James). They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus. – Acts 1:12-14 NLT

After Jesus’ post-crucifixion appearances in His resurrected body, His brothers had been transformed from doubters to believers. The apostle Paul records that James, the half-brother of Jesus was among those who were visited by the resurrected Christ.

He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. – 1 Corinthians 15:4-7 NLT

And after the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, James would go on to be one of the leading figures in the newly established church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13-21). According to the first-century Jewish historian, Josephus, James died during the reign of Portius Festus who died in A.D. 62. So the date of this epistle has to be sometime before that. The audience to whom James wrote was made up of Jews who had been scattered because of ethnic and religious persecution in Palestine. These displaced Jews, who were official members of the 12 tribes of Israel, had come to faith in Christ and were now living as aliens and strangers outside the confines of the Promised Land. The book is distinctively Jewish in terms of its tone and contains references to Old Testament characters such as Abraham, Rahab, Job, and Elijah. James also makes repeated references to the Ten Commandments and the Law of Moses.

The book is highly practical in nature and attempts to correct potential misunderstandings regarding the role of faith and the need for outward transformation of one’s character. The recipients of the letter were Jewish Christians who were attempting to reconcile the role of the Old Testament Law with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. They were living as exiles from the land of Palestine and facing persecution for their membership in the Jewish community as well as their newfound identity as followers of Christ. Their non-believing Jewish friends and neighbors would have disagreed strongly with their acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. Their membership in the “cult” known as The Way would have turned off their fellow Jews and infuriated the Gentiles among whom they now lived. These Jewish converts to Christianity were facing the difficult task of living out their faith in Christ within a less-than-friendly environment. And James is trying to help them balance their reliance upon the Spirit’s indwelling power and their own need to live out their faith in practical and tangible ways.

“The purpose of this potent letter is to exhort the early believers to Christian maturity and holiness of life. This letter deals more with the practice of the Christian faith than with its precepts. James told his readers how to achieve spiritual maturity through a confident stand, compassionate service, careful speech, contrite submission, and concerned sharing. He dealt with every area of a Christian’s life: what he is, what he does, what he says, what he feels, and what he has.” – J. Ronald Blue, “James.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament

James opens his letter with a salutation in which he describes himself as “a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1 NLT). Rather than claiming his unique status as the half-brother of Jesus, James introduces himself as a lowly servant (Greek: doulos) of his Lord and Savior. As a bondservant, James was willing to place his will in submission to that of the Father and Son. He served at their discretion and was more than willing to play a subservient role when it came to accomplishing their will for the body of Christ and the continued spread of the gospel.

James opens up his letter with a rather strange admonition. He calls his readers to consider any trial they encounter as a believer as “an opportunity for great joy” (James 1:2 NLT). James knew they were facing all kinds of difficulties and he wanted them to recognize the God-ordained nature of those trials. As followers of Christ, their trials (peirasmois) were not indiscriminate and pointless. There was a purpose behind them. God was using those uncomfortable and unwanted difficulties to strengthen the faith of His children.

For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. – James 1:3 NLT

James invites them to reflect on their own experience with past trials. They have ample evidence from their own lives to prove the value of having their faith tested. And that is exactly what a trial does. It tests our faith in the goodness of God. It tempts us to doubt that God truly loves us and has our best interest in mind. When we are trying out best to live in obedience to the will of God and find ourselves facing unexpected difficulties, it’s easy to assume that God has fallen out of love with us and is punishing us. This can cause us to respond in anger and disappointment, and even tempt us to turn our backs on the will of God.

But James encourages his readers to remain steadfast, refusing to waver in their commitment to the cause of Christ and the transforming power of the indwelling Spirit of God. For James, the Christian life was a dynamic process, the ongoing transformative plan of God that had a specific end in mind: the believer’s sanctification and ultimate spiritual maturity. That’s why he encouraged them to embrace each trial as an opportunity to watch God work in their life.

So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. – James 1:4 NLT

The author of the book of Hebrews provided his readers with a similar reminder to find hope and comfort in God’s ability to use difficulties and divine discipline to produce holiness in the lives of His children.

God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. – Hebrews 12:10-11 NLT

To many Christians, the presence of trials and difficulties seems incongruent with the promises that Jesus made.

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10 ESV

When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” – John 15:10-11 NLT

There is an expectation among believers that faith in Christ should produce a trouble-free existence, devoid of difficulties, hurts, and heartaches. And yet, Jesus also promised, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NLT).

We live in a fallen world where troubles, trials, and tribulations are par for the course. They come with the territory. But, as Jesus said, because of our relationship with Him, we are not victims but overcomers. The apostle Paul would have us remember that our relationship with Christ makes us victors not victims.

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:33-39 ESV

We can rejoice in the difficulties because we know that, in God’s capable hands, they become tools of transformation. He uses them to purify and perfect us. Like tools in the hands of a master craftsman, trials become divine utensils in the hands of a loving God that He uses to sanctify and perfect His children. No trial is indiscriminate or unnecessary. No pain is wasted. No suffering is without merit or purpose. The apostle Paul reminded the believers in Corinth of the redemptive nature of difficulties and trials.

We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. – 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 NLT

Ultimately, James wanted his readers to experience the same confident assurance that Paul had. Trials tend to make us God-dependent rather than self-sufficient. They expose our weaknesses and provide opportunities to rely upon the power and promises of God.

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

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

Time is of the Essence

1 Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 2 Peter 1:1-2 ESV

At first glance and, if taken at face value, it would appear that this book is a second letter from the apostle Peter. After all, the opening salutation presents “Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1 NLT) as its author, and later declares this to be the second letter he has penned.

This is my second letter to you, dear friends, and in both of them I have tried to stimulate your wholesome thinking and refresh your memory. – 2 Peter 3:1 NLT

Yet over the centuries, there have been those who have argued that Simon Peter was not the author of this letter. They cite the paucity of references to the letter by the early church fathers. In fact, the earliest reference to Peter being the author comes from Origin in his commentary on the Gospel of John, written sometime in the third century.

The lack of external evidence to support Peter as the letter’s author does not invalidate the internal proof provided by the letter itself. Its content and style are very similar to that of 1 Peter and a comparison with the sermons of Peter found in Acts reveals the use of similar vocabulary and grammar.  The internal evidence alone is sufficient to conclude Peter as the author. In the opening section of the letter, Peter gives a personal testimony of his presence at the transfiguration of Jesus.

For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain. – 1 Peter 1:16-18 NLT

In verse 14 of the opening chapter, Peter reveals how Jesus had forewarned him of his own pending death.

…our Lord Jesus Christ has shown me that I must soon leave this earthly life. – 2 Peter 1:14 NLT

This is a clear reference to the conversation Peter had with Jesus not long after they had shared their last Passover meal together.

“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God.” – John 21:18-19 NLT

There are those who point out the dissimilarities between the two letters and draw the conclusion that Second Peter was written by an unknown author who used Peter’s name to give his letter authenticity. But there is no overly compelling proof to conclude that the letter was written by anyone other than the apostle Peter, the “servant and apostle of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:1 ESV).

Assuming Peter to be the author and considering his reference that this was his second letter, he appears to be writing to the same audience he addressed in his first letter. In his earlier epistle, Peter wrote a circular letter intended for congregations located in the cities of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, located in the region of Asia Minor. These small, fledgling flocks were made up of both Jews and Gentiles who had placed their faith in Jesus Christ. As a result of their decision to follow Christ, they found themselves suffering persecution and ostracization. The cities in which they lived were part of the Roman Empire and their neighbors and friends were primary Greek-speaking Gentiles who viewed Christianity as a strange and potentially dangerous religious sect.

There are indications within the letter that Peter was writing with a sense of urgency. It is believed that he wrote this letter from Rome sometime around 67-68 A.D. The writings of the early church fathers indicate that Peter spend the last decade of his life in Rome and was eventually martyred there. If their assessment is accurate, then Peter would have been in Rome during the reign of the emperor Nero, who launched his infamous and deadly persecution of Christians sometime around 64 A.D.

The letter has the feel of a last will and testament, almost as if Peter knows that this will be his final communication with his brothers and sisters in Asia Minor. He seems to know that the intensity of the persecution against them is going to increase. With the church’s continued growth and expansion, the enemy was going to intensify its opposition. So, Peter wanted to prepare his readers to remain strong, even in the face of his pending death and the inevitable increase in their suffering.

…our Lord Jesus Christ has shown me that I must soon leave this earthly life, so I will work hard to make sure you always remember these things after I am gone. – 2 Peter 1:14-15 NLT

Peter had been a faithful servant of Jesus Christ, having obeyed the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and taken the gospel of the Kingdom to “the ends of the earth.” Like Paul, Peter had made it is his life’s mission to tell the good news concerning Jesus Christ to as many people as possible. And, along the way, he had suffered greatly for his efforts. According to church tradition, Peter was eventually put to death by the emperor Nero, and his means of death was crucifixion – upside down.

Regardless of how Peter died, it seems evident that, as he wrote this letter, he was well aware that his days on earth were numbered. His words contain an urgency and unction that stress the need for watchfulness among the body of Christ. His greatest concern was the threat of false teachers, “who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1 ESV). As the original apostles of Jesus grew older, there was a pressing need for the next generation of godly leadership within the church to step up. Since Peter seemed to know that his mission was drawing to a close, he had a deep sense of concern for the ongoing well-being of the countless flocks that had sprung up around the world. Who would lead and care for them when he was gone? It was the philosopher, Aristotle, who opined, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” And Peter was smart enough to know that, with his departure, there would arise a host of individuals who would gladly fill the space he vacated. These “false teachers” would prove to have a dangerous and, ultimately, deadly influence on the church if left undetected and free to propagate “their evil teaching and shameful immorality” (2 Peter 2:2 NLT).

Peter’s opinion regarding these people is far from opaque. He is brutally honest in his assessment of their character and intent.

These false teachers are like unthinking animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed. They scoff at things they do not understand, and like animals, they will be destroyed. Their destruction is their reward for the harm they have done. They love to indulge in evil pleasures in broad daylight. They are a disgrace and a stain among you. They delight in deception even as they eat with you in your fellowship meals. – 2 Peter 2:12-13 NLT

Not exactly a flattering endorsement of their leadership or moral character. But Peter knew they would be influential and solicit a following among the uneducated and gullible. Their words, though false, would sound persuasive. Their promises, though empty, would offer hope in the midst of all the difficult circumstances facing these local congregations. That’s why Peter opened his letter with a reminder of their faith in Christ.

I am writing to you who share the same precious faith we have. This faith was given to you because of the justice and fairness of Jesus Christ, our God and Savior. – 2 Peter 1:1 NLT

For Peter, it was essential that his readers remain committed to their faith in Christ. They were going to be bombarded with other truth claims that would attempt to undermine the sufficiency of Christ. These false teachers were promoting new “knowledge” that was intended to supplement the insufficient teaching of the apostles. But Peter took the same stance as the apostle Paul.

But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent. You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed. – 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 NLT

These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve. – 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 NLT

All of the apostles found themselves battling these false teachers who were promoting half-truths and flat-out lies concerning Jesus and the gospel. Jude was merciless in his assessment of these people.

…some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. – Jude 1:4 NLT

So, as Peter began to pen his message to the churches in Asia Minor, he called his readers to seek an ever-increasing knowledge of God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son.

May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord. – 2 Peter 1:2 NLT

It was only as they focused their full attention on the Godhead that they would be able to recognize and withstand the onslaught of falsehood headed their way.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Don’t Lose Hope

1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. 1 Peter 4:1-6 ESV

Peter has pulled out the big guns, choosing to use Jesus as the consummate example of suffering for the sake of righteousness. In fact, according to Peter, Jesus Christ “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18 ESV). As the sinless Son of God, Jesus willingly laid down His life so that sinful humanity might be reconciled to God. He offered Himself as the unblemished Lamb of God and allowed His blood to be poured out as the once-for-all sacrifice that would offer permanent cleansing from sin. And because Jesus accomplished the will of His Heavenly Father by giving His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:8), He was resurrected back to life and now sits “at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1 Peter 3:22 ESV).

Jesus suffered and died but was resurrected and glorified. He paid the high price for mankind’s sin debt with His own life and, as a result, He was returned to His former glorified state and restored to His well-deserved position at His Father’s side. The fact that Jesus was resurrected and restored to His former pre-incarnate state is to be understood as proof of the effectiveness of His sacrifice. His death satisfied the just demands of His holy and fully righteous Father. The apostle Paul puts it this way:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. – Romans 3:23-26 ESV

Jesus’ suffering and death allowed God to remain just and loving at the same time. Because of His holiness, God had to punish sin. He couldn’t turn a blind eye or act as if it never happened. Mankind’s rebellion against His rule and reign had to be dealt with. But because God is love, He wanted to provide a way to acquit sinful men and women of their crimes against Him. That is where Jesus came in, and He described His one-of-a-kind role in unequivocal terms.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” – John 3:16-17 NLT

And Jesus went on to explain that all those who refused to accept Him as God’s substitutionary sacrifice on their behalf would find themselves remaining under the just wrath and condemnation of God Almighty.

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. – John 3:18 NLT

And Peter uses the selfless sacrifice of Jesus as a powerful source of motivation for his readers. He reminds them, “since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too” (1 Peter 4:1 NLT). Peter wanted them to know that their suffering for the sake of righteousness was actually proof of their reconciliation with God. They had aligned themselves with Jesus Christ and were suffering the consequences of their decision. They found themselves despised and hated by the world just as Jesus had been.

All throughout his letter, Peter has been very clear that the kind of suffering to which he is referring is that which is associated with doing what is right.

For God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment…if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. – 1 Peter 2:19, 20 NLT

For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:21 NLT

And when the believer suffers for doing what is right and responds in kindness, love, and patient endurance, he or she “has ceased from sin” (1 Peter 4:1 ESV). Rather than lashing out in hate and bitter remonstrations, the Christ-follower is to follow the example of Christ and “do good.” And that unexpected response to undeserved suffering serves as proof of the believer’s status as a redeemed and Spirit-empowered child of God. No longer a slave to sin, that child of God can “live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:2 ESV). In other words, the one who has placed their faith and hope in Christ and received the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit has the power to say no to sin and yes to God. While they still retain their sinful nature, they don’t have to give in to it. Paul spoke about this capacity to choose right from wrong in his letter to the church in Galatia.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. – Galatians 5:16-17 NLT

And Paul went on to point out the powerful influence the Spirit has over the life of the believer.

the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. – Galatians 5:22-25 NLT

And that is the very same message Peter is trying to convey to his readers. He wanted them to remember that they were new creations in Christ, equipped with a new capacity to live holy lives in the midst of an unholy and, oftentimes, unjust society. They were surrounded by “godless people” who “enjoy their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols” (1 Peter 4:3 NLT). But the believers who received Peter‘s letter were being reminded that they were free to live distinctively different lives. And when they did, their former friends would be shocked and surprised at their behavior. 

your former friends are surprised when you no longer plunge into the flood of wild and destructive things they do. – 1 Peter 4:4 NLT

But rather than seeking the source of the believers’ transformed lives, these former friends will slander and malign them. Good deeds don’t always produce good responses. Our acts of righteousness can often bring down the wrath of those who misunderstand and misjudge our actions. But Peter encourages his audience to live the fate of these kinds of people to God.

remember that they will have to face God, who stands ready to judge everyone, both the living and the dead. – 1 Peter 4:5 NLT

His reference to the living and the dead was meant to be a reference to all those who had heard the gospel message but had since died. There were many who had heard the gospel message, believed it, and then went on to experience the judgment of their flesh. In other words, like all human beings, they died. But Peter reminds his readers of the part of the gospel message that makes it “good news.”

…although they were destined to die like all people, they now live forever with God in the Spirit. – 1 Peter 4:6 NLT

Peter was emphasizing the reality that every human being will one day stand before God. His concern was that those to whom he wrote would remain faithful to their calling and committed to following the example of Jesus. Their future reward was secure. And while they might suffer in this life, they could remain confident in God’s promise of their eternal security.

Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. – 1 Peter 1:3-5 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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Anything But PC

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 1 Peter 2:18-20 ESV

Peter has encouraged his readers to view themselves “as people who are free” but also “as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16 ESV). Because of their relationship with Christ, they had been set free from their old way of life. Through placing their faith in Christ, they had experienced the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and been made sons and daughters of God. But their new status as God’s children required that they not “slip back into” their old ways living (1 Peter 1:14 NLT). They were no longer slaves to their old desires and passions. The Spirit of God living within them was a source of life-transforming power that made it possible to live distinctively different lives. That is why Peter charged them “you must be holy in everything you do” (1 Peter 1:15 NLT).

Peter knew that they needed a timely reminder of their new life in Christ because the difficult conditions in which they were living had begun to cast doubt on the efficacy of the “good news.” Their faith in Christ had actually produced some unexpected negative consequences that probably left them wondering where the abundant life was that Jesus had promised (John 10:10). Much of their trouble stemmed from the harsh treatment they received at the hands of the Roman government. Nero was emperor at the time, and he was cracking down on this radical and subversive sect that followed the martyred Jewish Rabbi. Christianity had begun to spread throughout the Roman empire and he viewed the growing number of its adherents as a threat to his power. The Roman historian, Tacitus, provided a graphic and unflattering description of Nero’s egregious treatment of Christians.

“Covered with the skins of beasts, [Christians] were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as nightly illumination when daylight had expired.”

Yet, surprisingly, Peter encouraged the Christians to whom he wrote to “submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, or the officials he has appointed” (1 Peter 2:13-14 NLT), and all for the Lord’s sake. Peter knew this admonition would be difficult for his readers to accept and even harder to pull off. It’s likely that these very same individuals had heard of some of the saying of Jesus and wondered if Peter was offering a contradictory form of teaching. After all, it was Jesus who had said, “if the Son sets you free, you are truly free” (John 8:36 NLT). They had accepted the truth regarding Jesus and Jesus had said, “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32 NLT). So, why was Paul now telling them to submit to an ungodly Roman government that treated them as worse than slaves?

So, what exactly did Peter mean when he told them to “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16 ESV)? Were they slaves or freemen? The interesting thing is that Peter refers to them as “servants” of God. The Greek word is δοῦλος (doulos), which can be translated as servant, slave, or bondman. It was often used metaphorically to refer to “one who gives himself up wholly to another’s will.” In a sense, Peter was informing his readers that while they had been set free from slavery to sin, they had actually become slaves to God.

Their new relationship with God, made possible through the atoning work of Jesus Christ, had freed them from the condemnation of sin and death, but it had not released them from their worldly circumstances. They were still living under Roman rule. They were still surrounded by unbelieving friends and neighbors who viewed their faith as strange and even dangerous. They were still experiencing pain and suffering, just as they had before they came to faith in Christ and, in some cases, things had actually gotten worse. But now they answered to a different Master. They were free, but in a completely different sense. That is why Peter drops the non-PC directive, “You who are slaves must submit to your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you—not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are cruel” (1 Peter 2:18 NLT).

This must have come across like a brick to the forehead. It would have been as shocking to them as it is to us living in the 21st-Century. How could Peter demand that slaves who had come to faith in Christ remain in their unjust and inhumane circumstances? Wouldn’t Jesus want them to experience the joy of physical as well as spiritual emancipation? And yet, what Peter was telling them was in keeping with the teaching of Paul.

Yes, each of you should remain as you were when God called you. Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it. And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ. God paid a high price for you, so don’t be enslaved by the world. Each of you, dear brothers and sisters, should remain as you were when God first called you. – 1 Corinthians 7:20-24 NLT

What both of these men were trying to convey was that freedom in Christ had nothing to do with earthly circumstances. Jesus had not come to set people free from physical, financial, or societal forms of slavery. In Christ, an actual slave was just as free as his believing master. His social status as a slave had no bearing on his standing before God. That is why Paul wrote:

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:26-28 NLT

Earthly conditions and circumstances do nothing to change a believer’s relationship with God. He shows no partiality and offers His free gift of grace to all who will believe, whether they are enslaved or free. This is made clear in Paul’s letter to his friend, Philemon. It seems that Philemon had a slave named Onesimus who had run away. But in God’s providence, Onesimus had come into contact with Paul and come to faith in Christ. When Paul realized that Onesimus was actually Philemon’s runaway slave, he sent him back with a personal letter to his friend. In it, he pleaded that Philemon accept Onesimus back, not as a slave but as a brother in Christ.

It seems you lost Onesimus for a little while so that you could have him back forever. He is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. – Philemon 1:15-16 NLT

Technically and legally, Onesimus was still a slave and Philemon had a legal right to discipline him for having run away. But Paul was stressing the change that had taken place in their relationship due to their common faith in Christ. Philemon and Onesimus were no longer to view themselves from the worldly perspective of master and slave, but as brothers in Christ. From the worldly point of view, nothing had changed. Onesimus was still a slave. But from God’s vantage point, the relationship between these two men had been radically and permanently transformed – forever.

Peter wanted his readers to understand that their faith in Christ was not meant to be a panacea for all their worldly problems. They would still face trials and tribulations. If they were a slave, they would still remain so even after coming to faith. If they were poor, their circumstances were not guaranteed to change just because they had accepted Christ as their Savior. Regardless of their earthly circumstances, they were children of God and heirs of the Kingdom of God. And nothing could change that. And Peter reminds them that “God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment. Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you” (1 Peter 2:19-20 NLT).

As long as they lived on this earth, they were to seek to live holy lives, regardless of their particular circumstances. Whether slave or free, they each had an obligation to live in a manner worthy of the gospel that had transformed them into sons and daughters 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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Living With the End in Mind

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:3-9 ESV

It is believed that Peter wrote this letter sometime around 64 A.D., and most likely while residing in Rome. This fisherman from the little village of Bethsaida, on the northern shore of the Sea Galilee, had come a long way. Three decades had passed since the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. During that time, Peter had spent his life faithfully carrying out the commission Jesus had given to him and his fellow disciples. Immediately after the coming of the Holy Spirit, Peter had proven to be a powerful witness for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, preaching boldly to the Jewish pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost.

“People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip. – Acts 2:22-24 NLT

His message proved to be convicting and convincing, leading to the conversion and baptism of more than 3,000 individuals. Through the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit, this man who had denied even knowing Jesus had been transformed into a bold and unapologetic messenger of the Kingdom of God. He would become one of the leading figures in the New Testament church, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom throughout Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Yet, as he wrote this letter, Peter was nearing the end of his life and, according to the words of Jesus, his own martyrdom.

“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God.” – John 21:18-196 NLT

According to the oral traditions of the early church fathers, Peter was put to death during the reign of Emperor Nero, and his manner of death was crucifixion. But it is believed that he chose to be crucified upside down, deeming himself unworthy to die in the same manner as His Lord and Savior. To his death, Peter remained a faithful follower of Jesus, dedicating his life to the proclaiming of the gospel but also to the ongoing edification of all those who came to faith in Christ. It was to that purpose he wrote this letter to the believers in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.

These people were living in difficult circumstances. They were most likely Gentiles who had converted to Christianity and were now suffering the unexpected consequences of their decision. Much to their surprise, the “good news” of Jesus Christ had produced some fairly bad outcomes. They were experiencing significant trials and persecution that had begun to produce doubt and despair. They were confused to find that their salvation had been accompanied by suffering. But Peter would remind them that “the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:9 NLT).

So, as he opens up his letter, Peter attempts to refocus their attention on the core message of the gospel.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation – 1 Peter 1:3 NLT

Their problem was that they had taken their eye off of the prize. They had become obsessed with their current circumstances and had lost sight of the future hope that Jesus died to make possible. Jesus had died, not to give them their best life now, but to guarantee the hope of eternal life to come. His death and resurrection had made possible “a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay” (1 Peter 1:4 NLT). That was to be their “great expectation.”

Peter’s letter is eschatological in nature. In other words, it focuses on the end times – the age to come. His readers were living in Asia Minor, but he wanted them to remember that they were “temporary residents and foreigners” (1 Peter 2:11), whose real home was somewhere else. They were having a difficult time understanding all that was going on around them and happening to them. The predominant culture in which they lived was pagan and antithetical to their faith. Many of them were suffering oppression and ostracism. Because of their decision to follow Christ, they had become social pariahs, facing the rejection of both family and friends.

But Peter wanted them to know that their salvation had a now, not yet aspect to it. Yes, when they had placed their faith in Christ, they had been immediately saved from their enslavement to sin and been provided full pardon and acceptance by God. But there was a future aspect to their salvation as well. And Peter reminded them that “God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see” (1 Peter 1:5 NLT). The resurrection of Jesus was the key to their salvation, but it would be His return that would fulfill its final phase. In the meantime, God was protecting them through His divine power. He would preserve them till the end. 

The trials they were suffering could do nothing to change the outcome of their salvation. Their current circumstances were a lousy barometer of God’s faithfulness and power. As the author of Hebrews wrote:

For God has said,

“I will never fail you.
    I will never abandon you.”

So we can say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper,
    so I will have no fear.
    What can mere people do to me?” – Hebrews 13:5-6 NLT

That’s exactly the message Peter was trying to convey. In fact, he provided his readers with some rather strange-sounding advice:

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.” –1 Peter 1:6 NLT

Peter’s counsel sounds eerily similar to the title of the 1986 song by the band Timbuk 3: “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.” But to people who were undergoing intense personal persecution, his words must have come across as insensitive and unhelpful. They were having a difficult time seeing anything remotely bright about their future. The day-to-day affairs of life were weighing them down, and the constant pressures of living in a fallen world were taking their toll.

Sound familiar? It should. Because that is the all-too-familiar lot of every follower of Christ. Even now, we find ourselves wrestling with a steady diet of trials and tribulations that can leave us disheartened and disenchanted with the “good news.” A global pandemic, ongoing world strife, a steady decline in moral standards, and a growing anti-Christian sentiment have left many followers of Christ disillusioned and questioning the veracity of their faith. But Peter’s words are meant for us as well. He wants us to understand that “These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold” (1 Peter 1:7 NLT). He encourages us to endure because the outcome of our faith will far outweigh any loss we may suffer in this life.

…when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. – 1 Peter 1:7 NLT

The problem is that we live our lives as if this world is the end game. We mistakenly assume that Jesus died so that we might experience heaven on earth. We take His promise of abundant life (John 10:10) and turn it into a guarantee of a joy-filled, trouble-free existence right here, right now. And when He doesn’t deliver on our expectations, we begin to waiver in our faith and waffle in our commitment to His calling. But Peter would have us remember that our faith is meant to be focused on the end that God has in mind – “on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world” (1 Peter 1:7).

And like the believers living in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia in the 1st-Century, we have not seen Jesus. Yet Peter states, “You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him” (1 Peter 1:8 NLT). We claim to believe in a man we’ve never seen. Yet we struggle believing in the future He promised to provide. And Peter reminds us that our trust in Him and our hope in the truthfulness of His promise will not go unrewarded.

The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls. – 1 Peter 1:9 NLT

Peter was not negating or dismissing the reality of our suffering. He was simply refocusing our attention on the joy to come. Our time on this earth is temporary but our future is eternal. That is why the believer must live with the end in mind. Our inheritance is secure. Our destiny is assured. And, as difficult as things may get in this life, we can rest on the words of the apostle John.

…we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure. – 1 John 3:2-3 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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Signs of the (End) Times

29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

37 And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. 38 And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him.  Luke 21:29-38 ESV

One can only imagine the look of shock and dismay on the faces of Jesus’ disciples as He continues to disclose the Father’s grand plan of redemption. Ever since they began to follow Jesus, these men had been driven by a shared hope that He was their long-awaited Messiah. Over time, they grew in their confidence that He was the anointed one of Israel, the seed of Abraham and the son of David who would ascend to the throne and re-establish the Davidic dynasty and restore the nation of Israel to power and prominence once again. But in His Olivet Discourse, Jesus seemed to dash their hopes by revealing aspects about the future that did not line up with their expectations. He had already told them that He would be arrested, tried, and put to death in Jerusalem.  But now, He was telling them that they too would suffer at the hands of the same men who would put Him to death.

“… they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake.” – Luke 21:12 ESV

Then He added insult to injury by declaring that the city of Jerusalem will be invaded and the house of God will be destroyed. He warned them that “there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people” (Luke 21:23 ESV). Then He added…

“…there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity…” – Luke 21:25 ESV

“…people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world…” – Luke 21:26 ESV.

“…the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” – Luke 21:26 ESV

But all of these devastating signs and disturbing events will culminate with His return.

“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” – Luke 21:27 ESV

We tend to read these pronouncements with a sense of apathy because we know how the story ends. We have the completed canon of Scripture and, thanks to the book of Revelation, have been given a glimpse into God’s plan for mankind’s future. We have been given additional details that help make sense of what Jesus was telling His disciples on that fateful evening. They found His words to be cryptic and difficult to comprehend because these cataclysmic events had not been part of their religious training. They were mentally and emotionally unprepared for such things.

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

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

After deluging His disciples with a tidal wave of disturbing news concerning future events, He gave them a brief respite by telling them a parable. In effect, it was a visual lesson. As they sat on the hillside on the Mount of Olives, there was likely a fig tree nearby. So, Jesus took advantage of its close proximity and said, “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees” (Luke 21:29 ESV).

By diverting His disciples’ attention to the tree, Jesus was using something from the temporal and natural world to convey eternal and spiritual truths. He used the visual lesson of a fig tree in order to help the disciples understand that there would be visible, recognizable signs associated with His coming. The budding of a fig tree was a natural indication that summer was drawing near. It was an unmistakable and irrefutable fact of nature. In the same way, Jesus stated that the signs of His return would be undeniable. He even assured them that “this generation will not pass away until all has taken place” (Luke 21:32 ESV).

But what does that mean? Was He saying that the events associated with the end times would take place during the lifetimes of His disciples? The answer would seem to be no. The appearance of leaves on a fig tree was a sign that summer was approaching. It did not mean that summer had arrived. It simply served as a presage or foreshadowing of what was to come.

Jesus is using this natural phenomenon to disclose that, while they were alive, they would begin to see the early signs of His return. The budding of a fig tree provides a premonition or portent of something else to come. The buds do not mean summer has arrived, but that it is coming. In the same way, the disciples would live to see signs that would point to His eventual and inevitable return. They would not be alive when He returned, but they would be given clear indications that it was going to happen.

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

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

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

But while there will be clear signs along the way, the actual day and date of the Lord’s return will remain a mystery. We will be given assurances of its coming, but we will not know the exact time. That’s why Jesus commanded them to “stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place” (Luke 21:36 ESV). The days ahead would be difficult. And while the years following Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension would be marked by great joy at the birth of the church and its global expansion, Christ’s followers would also encounter tremendous persecution and opposition.

His referral to “this generation” in verse 32 seems to be an indication that the disciples represent a new dispensation or age among mankind. They will become the first fruits of those who make up the church age. But they will also represent all those who live after the cross and who face the choice between salvation through faith in Christ alone or the condemnation and death that come through disbelief.

“This generation” includes all those who will witness Christ’s ascension and all those who will see His second coming. They and the world they inhabit will not be destroyed until all these things take place. Believers and unbelievers will inhabit this planet until the bitter end. And Jesus assures His disciples that they can trust His words. His word will prove more lasting and permanent than the universe itself.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” – Luke 21:33 ESV

The signs they saw along the way were meant to remind them that God’s plan was not yet done. There was more to come. Any persecution they encountered was intended to remind them that He would one day return and complete the redemptive work that God had given Him. In the meantime, while they waited, they were to live with their hopes firmly focused on the promises of the future and refuse to be distracted by the temporal cares of this world.

“…watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” – Luke 21:34 ESV

The signs would come. The difficulties would be real. But the return of the Lord would take place just as God had planned.

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

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

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

Your Redemption is Drawing Near

20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, 22 for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. 23 Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  Luke 21:20-28 ESV

As Jesus and His disciples sat on the Mount of Olives gazing across the Kidron Valley at the majestic temple gracing the pinnacle of Mount Zion, He broke the news to them that God’s house would one day be destroyed.

“As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” – Luke 21:6 ESV

Then He followed this distressing news with the disturbing revelation that the temple }s destruction would be accompanied by wars, famines, and earthquakes. Not only that, they could expect to experience persecution, suffering, and betrayal; even by their own family members. Some of them would even end their lives as martyrs for the cause of Christ.

And as if all that was not bad enough, Jesus announced that Jerusalem itself would be besieged and destroyed.

“…when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you will know that the time of its destruction has arrived. – Luke 21:20 NLT

The unexpected and disturbing nature of Jesus’ words left the disciples reeling. How could this be? Why would God allow His temple to undergo desecration and destruction at the hands of His enemies? Yet, that is exactly what Jesus announced would happen. And in 70 A.D., Jesus’ prophetic words of became a devastating reality. It was in August of that fateful year, after a five-month-long siege, that Titus and the Roman army entered Jerusalem and destroyed the second temple. Jesus predicted this event and warned that when it came, everyone in Judea and Jerusalem should make places to run for their lives.

“…those in Judea must flee to the hills. Those in Jerusalem must get out, and those out in the country should not return to the city…” – Luke 21:21 NLT

This tragic event would be a partial fulfillment of the  “days of vengeance” as foretold by the prophets of God.  But many of the Old Testament prophecies had a now-not-yet aspect to them. When Jesus prophesied about the destruction of the temple, His words also included a now-not-yet dimension. He was inferring far more than the disciples realized. Yes, within just a few decades, the nation of Israel would experience yet one more invasion by a foreign power that ended in the destruction of their capital and the demoralization of its people. But it would not spell the end of Israel. As bad as things would be in 70 A.D., Israel would rebound and survive.

But Jesus’ words contain a far more dire and long-term prognosis for Israel’s future. He describes a day when “there will be disaster in the land and great anger against this people. They will be killed by the sword or sent away as captives to all the nations of the world. And Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles until the period of the Gentiles comes to an end” (Luke 21:23-24 NLT). 

Both Matthew and Mark recorded this very same warning from Jesus in their gospel accounts. They both report that Jesus described the nature of this future event as unprecedented in scope and scale.

“For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again. In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones.” – Matthew 24:21-22 NLT

And all three gospel writers reveal that this future event will be accompanied by remarkable cosmic signs and supernatural environmental disasters.

“…there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides. People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” – Luke 21:25-26 NLT

But when the people on earth least expect it, they will suddenly “see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27 NLT). This is a reference to Jesus’ second coming, when He returns to earth as the King of kings and Lord of lords. This will take place at the end of the seven years of Tribulation that immediately follow the Rapture of the Church. The timeline goes something like this: As 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 indicates, the Lord will one day return for His bride, the church. This Rapture or “snatching up” up of God’s people will remove all believers from the face of the earth. This will also remove the restraining influence that God’s people provide. With believers no longer present to mitigate the devastating influence of evil, the world will become a place marked by unrestrained sin and rebellion against God. Yet, even then, God will redeem a remnant from among those living on earth in those days. They will end up as martyrs, the unfortunate recipients of the Satan-inspired wrath of the Antichrist. And while God will rain down a series of devastating judgments upon the world, most of those living in those days will refuse to honor Him as God. So, at the end of the seven years, God will send His Son to earth a second time. 

The apostle John describes the nature of Jesus’ second coming in vivid terms.

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 NLT

The disciples of Jesus will be long gone before this event takes place. Yet, Jesus told them, “…when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luk2 21:28 ESV). They were going to witness the “birth pains” that would preview the coming of His return, but they would not live long enough to see Him “coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27 ESV). But they could rest in the knowledge that God’s grand redemptive plan for the world was impeccable and unstoppable. His will would eventually be done on earth as it is in heaven.

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 End

7 And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.”

10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.  Luke 21:7-19 ESV

This was not what the disciples wanted to hear. After delivering the shocking news that the beautiful temple would one day be destroyed, Jesus led His disciples out of the city of Jerusalem and up the Mount of Olives. This location just across the Kidron Valley from the eastern walls of the city, provided an elevated vantage point from which to view the capital and its glorious temple. From this secluded spot, Jesus continued to teach His disciples and prepare them for the fateful days that lie ahead. His address to these men has come to be known as the Olivet Discourse.

As expected, the disciples were struggling with Jesus’ stunning pronouncement that the sacred house of God was going to be destroyed. This concept would have been unfathomable to the disciples, and would have caused them to consider the last time the temple of God had been destroyed. It had taken place more than six centuries earlier, when the Babylonians had conquered Jerusalem, leaving a path of death and destruction in their wake. In the process, they destroyed the majestic temple that Solomon had constructed. And for 70 years, the city and its once-magnificent temple sat abandoned until God orchestrated the return of a remnant of the people from their exile in Babylon. Under the leadership of Nehemiah, this ragtag group of former slaves had been able to rebuild and restore the temple and the city. But it would be more than five centuries later before Herod the Great orchestrated a massive remodeling project that would greatly enhance and expand the temple.

As the disciples looked back across the Kidron Valley, they could see the facade of this beautiful structure gleaming in the afternoon sun. This sight, coupled with Jesus’ words, led four of the disciples to approach Him for more information (Mark 13:3). James, John, Peter, and Andrew wanted to know more, so these two sets of brothers asked Jesus for an explanation.

“Teacher,” they asked, “when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to take place?” – Luke 21:7 NLT

Their questions reveal that they were focused on the destruction of the temple. They wanted to know when this horrific act of judgment would take place and if there would be any warning signs. Basically, they were wanting to know if it was going to happen soon and if they would have ample warning so they could be out of the city when it took place. But their full attention appears to have been on the city and the temple. Despite all of Jesus’ earlier warnings about His pending death in Jerusalem, these men were more concerned about the possible destruction of the temple than anything else.

In his gospel account, John records another Passover, three years earlier, when Jesus had cleared the temple of the moneychangers and vendors. The Jewish religious leaders had demanded that Jesus show them a sign that would prove His authority to do such a thing. And Jesus had responded:

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” – John 2:19 ESV

But these learned men failed to catch the symbolic nature of His answer. Instead, they took Him literally, viewing His answer as utterly ridiculous and impossible.

“It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”  – John 2:20 ESV

John goes on to explain, Jesus “was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21 ESV). But the disciples would not connect the dots until after Jesus had died and been raised back to life. So, as they sat on the Mount of Olives watching the rays of the setting sun reflect off the gold inlay of the temple, they were fixated on its destruction, but not on the fast-approaching death of their Lord and Master.

But Jesus, sensing their confusion and concern, provided them with a foretaste of things to come.

“Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and saying, ‘The time has come!’ But don’t believe them. And when you hear of wars and insurrections, don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place first, but the end won’t follow immediately.” – Luke 21:8-9 NLT

Jesus accelerated the narrative to a day in the far-distant future, when the end of the age was to take place. He compressed and combined a great many events into a single answer, providing His disciples with an overview of things to come. He knew they were fixated on the day in which they lived. They were wanting to know when the temple would be destroyed and what the conditions would be like when it happened. But Jesus was speaking of future events that would take place long after the disciples were dead and gone.

Roughly four decades later, the Romans would destroy the city of Jerusalem and its magnificent temple. Some of the disciples would live long enough to witness that fateful day. And yet, Jesus was speaking of events that still remain unfulfilled, even in our day. He described those who would show up in that future day, claiming to be Him and declaring themselves to be the messiah or savior offering deliverance. He warned of a future marked by wars, civil unrest, and natural disasters. But these “signs” would be nothing but the “birth pains” (Mark 15:8) that precede the fast-approaching climax of the redemptive history. They will merely preface the end of the age.

Jesus was providing James, John, Peter, and Andrew with a comprehensive overview of the eschaton or end times. But He didn’t do so in easy-to-understand terms that fall into a simple chronological sequence. The disciples had no idea what was about to happen. In just a matter of days, their world would be rocked by the death of Jesus. But then, three days later, He would rise again. Then, He would return to His Father in heaven and send the Spirit to indwell and empower the disciples for the work He had commissioned them to do. As a result, they would plan a major role in the dissemination of the gospel and the subsequent growth of the church.

But centuries would pass and, even as the church continued to grow, the spiritual state of the world would continue to decay. And it will continue do so until Jesus returns to the earth. The downward spiral of humanity’s spiritual condition will  accelerate and intensify, reaching its lowest point until the rapture of the church takes place. This mass exodus of all believers from the face of the earth will usher in a time of tribulation, “such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be” (Matthew 24:21 ESV).

Jesus was giving these four men a crash course in eschatology or the study of end times. While their minds were fixated on the temple and its possible destruction, Jesus was trying to get them to see the bigger picture. There was far more going on than they realized. The temple was not as important and integral as they believed it to be. Jesus’ emphasis on nations and kingdoms subtly reveals that the people of Israel will no longer be the focal point of God’s redemptive story. It is not that He will abandon them, but that He will use their rejection of His Son and their subsequent role in His death, as an impetus to include people of every tribe, nation, and tongue into His family.

And the apostle Paul reminds us that God has great plans in store for His chosen people. Their initial rejection of the Messiah did not permanently invalidate His covenant commitments to them. He will remain faithful and fulfill every promise He has made to them.

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. – Romans 11:11-12 NLT

But Jesus wanted these four men to understand that while much of what He just described was to take place in the distant future, they were to be on their guard. The days ahead were going to be filled with uncertainty and the very real threat of persecution.

You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” – Luke 13:13 ESV

With His death, resurrection, and ascension, their lives would get much more complicated. In the process of taking the gospel to the nations, they would face trials and difficulties of all kinds. But they would have the indwelling Spirit of God to guide, protect, and empower them. They needed to stop worrying about the temple of God and begin thinking about the will of God. What was He doing in their midst? What did He have planned for them to do in the days ahead? And Jesus told them that. while things would get far worse before they got better, they could rest assured that their lives were held securely in God’s hands.

“But not a hair of your head will perish! By standing firm, you will win your souls.” – Luke 21:18-19 NLT

According to Jesus, the future would be filled with all kinds of uncomfortable and settling signs.

Sign 1: False Messiahs

Sign 2: Wars, threats of wars, and insurrections

Sign 3: Global conflict

Sign 4: Natural disasters

Sign 5: Personal Persecution 

Sign 6: Denial of Christ and Spiritual Apathy 

Sign 7: The Perseverance of the Saints and the Spread of the Gospel 

But in spite of the fact that many would end up deserting and denying Jesus, there would be those who endured and persevered to the end. They would remain faithful, resulting in the spread of the good news about the Kingdom throughout the world. This includes the period of time from Jesus’ ascension all the way to the end. And it will be at that time that Jesus returns.

This incredible passage provides us with a glimpse into the future of not only Israel but the world. Jesus was preparing His disciples to think globally and eternally. He was attempting to move their point of reference from the here-and-now to the yet-to-be. These men had been obsessed with their own immediate context. They had hoped that Jesus was going to establish His Messianic Kingdom in their lifetimes. They had a difficult time accepting His repeated predictions of His death in Jerusalem. And the very thought of the temple being destroyed was unfathomable to them. That was inconceivable and unacceptable. But Jesus had a long-term perspective that was focused on God’s eternal plan of redemption. He was not done yet. He had to die. He had to rise again. He had to return to His Father’s side. And then, one day, when the time is right, He will return to earth and complete His Father’s will.

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

Justice Worth Waiting For

1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” – Luke 18:1-8 ESV

The topic at hand is the Second Coming of Christ. Jesus has just answered a rather tongue-in-cheek question posed by the Pharisees requesting a date for His coming kingdom. But Jesus saw through their little charade and knew that they were really demanding a supernatural sign that would prove His claims to be the Messiah. So, He responded by telling them, “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 17:19-20 NLT).

They were looking for a physical kingdom brought about by a physical revolution. but Jesus had come to restore the rule and reign of God to earth through the Spirit-transformed lives of sinful men and women. He was bringing about a spiritual revolution, not a military one. But even the disciples were having a difficult time grasping that concept. They too longed for Jesus to march into Jerusalem and bring about a dramatic change in the status quo. They wanted the Romans eliminated and the nation of Israel elevated back to its former glory. In a sense, they were hoping for a transformation of the social and political status of their nation. But while Jesus cared deeply for the Jewish people, He had come to redeem the world and not just a single people group. God was not abandoning the Jewish race, but instead, He was using them to accomplish His grand redemptive plan for the entire world. Through Jesus, He would fulfill His original mandate that the descendants of Abraham would be a blessing and a light to the nations.

Jesus continued to help His disciples understand the nature of God’s plan. He told them that there would be a second advent when He would come to earth and conquer all the enemies of God. What they were hoping for would actually happen, but not in their lifetimes. So, what were they to do in the meantime? If His first advent was not going to result in an earthly kingdom, how were they supposed to survive while the Romans continued to keep their entire nation under its iron fist? Luke answers these questions with his opening line of chapter 18:

“And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” – Luke 18:1 ESV

Jesus patiently and lovingly enlightened His confused disciples by sharing additional details regarding His current mission and further insights into God’s future plans for the world. Jesus has already warned the disciples that the day was coming when He would leave them. He was to suffer and die at the hands of the Romans but would rise from the dead and return to His Father’s side in heaven. And even after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the disciples would find themselves living in difficult days and longing 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. People will tell you, ‘Look, there is the Son of Man,’ or ‘Here he is,’ but don’t go out and follow them.” – Luke 17:22-23 NLT

Jesus wanted them to know that, after He left them, life would go on as it always has. He compared it to the days before the flood.

“In those days, the people enjoyed banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat and the flood came and destroyed them all.” – Luke 17:27 NLT

It would be like in the days of Lot, when the people of Sodom “went about their daily business—eating and drinking, buying and selling, farming and building” (Luke 17:28 NLT). And Jesus clarifies that “it will be ‘business as usual’ right up to the day when the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:30 NLT).

Mankind was going to continue down the very same path it had taken right after the fall. Nothing was going to change. Yet, the world would be radically different because it would contain millions of men and women whose lives had been transformed by the Gospel. By placing their faith in Jesus Christ, these people would become citizens of the kingdom of God, living as exiles and strangers on earth while they wait for their King’s second coming. This community of like-minded individuals would bring the rule and reign of God to earth through their very lives. Through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, they would live in obedience to the Father’s will and function as the King’s ambassadors on earth. Like Adam and Eve, they would be tasked with serving as His vice-regents, bearing His image, and serving on His behalf until He returns.

That is why Jesus told His disciples that persistent prayer would need to be a part of their survival strategy as they awaited His return. He told a parable about a poor widow who was in an ongoing dispute with another party. It seems likely that because of her status as a widow, this woman was being taken advantage of by this other individual. Unable to remedy the problem, the widow was forced to make an appeal to the court. But Jesus describes this judge as a man “who neither feared God nor cared about people” (Luke 18:2 NLT). In other words, he was godless and unrighteous.

But the woman, desperate for someone to come to her aid, repeatedly brought her case before the court. At first, the judge simply ignored her pleas. But the woman was persistent and insistent. She demanded that the judge rule in her favor. And Jesus reveals that the woman’s stubborn refusal to give up finally got through to the judge.

“…finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’” – Luke 18:4-5 NLT

She wore him down. Driven by her pressing need for justice, the woman would not give up until she received it. And her persistence paid off. But what is interesting is that Jesus makes the judge the point of the story.

Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. – Luke 18:6 NLT

Jesus does not focus the disciples’ attention on the persistent pleas of the woman, but instead, He tells them to learn a lesson from the godless and unjust judge.

“Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! – Luke 18:7-8 NLT

The judge finally gave in and did the right thing. Not because he wanted to do the right thing, but because he was tired of being badgered by the unrelenting demands of the widow. This fictional story was intended to encourage the disciples to keep their eyes focused on their just and righteous God. They were going to face difficulties in the days ahead. There would be many who would take advantage of them. The very religious leaders who would eventually put Jesus to death would come after them once He was gone. That is why He wanted them to know that they could appeal to God. But, like the widow, they would need to be persistent in their pleas.

With this parable, Jesus is not promising His disciples that God will remediate all their trials and conflicts immediately. When Jesus says, “he will grant justice to them quickly,” He is not suggesting that God will solve all their problems on the spot. He is simply stating that they can always know that they will receive justice from God. He will never ignore them. History tells us that most, if not all, of the disciples, died martyr’s deaths. During their lifetimes, they suffered greatly. Many were arrested, tried, imprisoned, and beaten. But God never turned His back on them. Just a few chapters later, Luke records another discussion Jesus had with His disciples, where He warned them about the dark days ahead.

“But before all this occurs, there will be a time of great persecution. You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me.” – Luke 21:12-13 NLT

We see this same scenario played out in the book of Revelation. The apostle John is given a glimpse into heaven during the time of the Great Tribulation. There he sees the throne room of God where a large gathering of individuals is calling out to God for justice. They are those who have been martyred by the Antichrist during the days of the Tribulation.

When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of all who had been martyred for the word of God and for being faithful in their testimony. They shouted to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” Then a white robe was given to each of them. And they were told to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers and sisters—their fellow servants of Jesus who were to be martyred—had joined them. – Revelation 6:9-11 NLT

They plead with God to do something. But He responds by encouraging them to “rest a little longer.” There are more who must be martyred before the end comes. But the end will come and when it does, it will come in the form of the Son of God returning to earth to bring judgment and mete out justice.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. – Luke 19:11 NLT

From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:15-16 NLT

But while God will not fail to answer every plea for justice, it may not come at the time or in the form we expect. We must wait for the end, trusting that God will accomplish His divine plan by sending His Son back to earth a second time. But Jesus takes this parable and uses it to encourage His disciples to not lose faith.

“But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?” – Luke 18:8 NLT

In a sense, Jesus is reminding His disciples that God will be faithful, but asking if they will remain so? Will they stop pleading and praying? Will they stop believing the promise of the Son’s eventual return? God will vindicate. God will mete out judgment and justice. But it will not take place until the end. How long are we willing to wait and how faithful will we remain as we do so? That is the question.

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

Fear God, Not Man

1 In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. 11 And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” – Luke 12:1-12 ESV

It seems that the closer Jesus got to Jerusalem, the intensity of the exchanges between He and the Jewish religious leaders increased exponentially. The Sanhedrin, the high council of the Jews, was headquartered in the capital city and they were particularly wary of this renegade Rabbi peddling His influence on their turf. And the religious leaders had reason to worry because Jesus was proving to be just as popular in Judea as He had been in Galilee. Luke reveals that wherever Jesus went, “the crowds grew until thousands were milling about and stepping on each other” (Luke 12:1 NLT).

And wherever the crowds gathered, the Pharisees and scribes tended to show up like carrion circling a corpse. They never let Jesus out of their sight and were constantly trying to trick Him into saying or doing something that they could use against Him.

…the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees became hostile and tried to provoke him with many questions. They wanted to trap him into saying something they could use against him. – Luke 11:53-54 NLT

But Jesus refused to shy away from the confrontation, choosing instead to warn His disciples about the true intentions of these well-respected religious leaders. To the average Jew, the Pharisees and Sadduccees were considered the spiritual upper class of society. They were wealthy, influential, and powerful. And they were also revered for their apparent religious superiority. But Jesus was not fooled by their outward displays of personal piety and fervent law-keeping. He knew their hearts and wanted His disciples to know the truth about these pseudo-spiritual elitists, which led Him to say, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees—their hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1 NLT).

This kind of talk must have shocked His disciples. Not only would they have viewed it as disrespectful, but they would have deemed it to be highly dangerous. It had already become clear to them that the Pharisees were not big fans of Jesus, so why would He poke the bear? What possible good could come from making such incendiary statements about such powerful individuals? But Jesus wasn’t out to win friends and influence enemies. He was preparing His followers for life in His absence. His earthly mission was quickly coming to a close and it would not be long before He had to leave the work of the ministry in the hands of His disciples. So, He wanted them to know the truth.

Jesus didn’t want His disciples to emulate the ways of men – even those who appeared to be the icons of religious virtue. According to Jesus, the Pharisees and their peers were nothing more than hypocrites. The Greek word He used to describe them is hypokrisis, which was commonly used to describe actors in a play. Jesus was exposing the Pharisees as nothing more than pretenders. Like thespians in a Greek drama, they wore masks to disguise their true identity and fool the audience into thinking they were someone else. It was all a cleverly orchestrated charade. But unlike actors in a play, the Pharisees had become self-deceived, believing that they were exactly who they portrayed themselves to be.

And Jesus wanted His disciples to know that this delusional mindset was contagious and dangerous. Like yeast that spreads through a batch of dough, the fake faith of the Pharisees had begun to permeate its way through the nation of Israel. The religion of the Jews had become all about outward displays of righteousness with very little emphasis on the true condition of the heart. And Jesus was fully aware that this mentality had already crept into the thinking of His disciples. They had a pharisaical outlook on life, measuring their spirituality by actions rather than attitude. But Jesus wanted them to know that behavior was always a byproduct of belief and not the other way around.

This led Him to state, “The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all” (Luke 12:2 NLT). Jesus is revealing that the true condition of the Pharisees’ hearts will soon be exposed. With His coming arrest, trial, and crucifixion, the disciples will get an up-close and personal glimpse into the dark recesses of these men’s hearts. Their true intentions will be put on display for all to see, and it will not be a pretty picture. 

The sinister and secretive planning of the high priest and his fellow members of the Sanhedrin will become readily apparent. Their obsession to eliminate Jesus will finally come to fruition and all their carefully crafted questions and well-orchestrated encounters with Jesus will be exposed for what they were all along: Hypocritical lies motivated by hate and emanating from sin-darkened hearts.

What the disciples needed to know was that the day was coming when the roles would be reversed. They had been living in fear of the animosity of the religious leaders. They knew these men were powerful and could make or break the ministry of Jesus. But according to Jesus, the disciples would soon be declaring the good news of the kingdom of God from the housetops. Despite the threat of persecution, they would carry the message of the Gospel to “Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NLT).

This led Jesus to encourage His disciples to live fearlessly and faithfully even in the present hour. They had no reason to fear the high priest or the rest of the Sanhedrin. Yes, these men were powerful, but they were nothing when compared with God Almighty.

“Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear.” – Luke 12:4-5 NLT

Jesus clearly acknowledges that the religious leaders had the power and authority to take a man’s life. He was well aware that they would play a major role in determining His own death. But He wanted the disciples to understand that God was sovereign. The influence of these men was purely physical and temporal. They could take a man’s life but had no power over his eternal life. They could kill but they couldn’t condemn. They could cast a man into the grave but had no authority to cast a man into hell. But God could. He was sovereign over all things, including a man’s death and the fate of his eternity.

The Pharisees could have cared less about Jesus and His disciples. They viewed them as little more than thorns in their side that needed to be removed and disposed of. But God placed a high value on Jesus’ followers. The Creator-God who cares for the insignificant sparrow cared for them. So much so, that He was aware of the number of hairs on each of their heads. The Pharisees didn’t know a single disciple’s name, but God knew everything about them, including their eternal state.

With that amazing reality in mind, Jesus encouraged His disciples to focus their attention on the mission at hand. They were not to be distracted or deterred by the threats of the Pharisees. Instead, they were to boldly proclaim the message of Jesus’ Messiahship to the ends of the earth.

“I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels.” – Luke 12: 8 NLT

Their faithfulness to follow through on their commission would reap significant rewards. And while the Pharisees and their fellow members of the Sanhedrin would threaten and oppose them, the disciples would one day hear the words of Jesus, saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!” (Matthew 25:23 NLT).

But the Pharisees faced a far different fate.

“But anyone who denies me here on earth will be denied before God’s angels. Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” – Luke 12:9-10 NLT

They refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. As a result, they would be denied access to God’s Kingdom. The very men who believed themselves to be at the pinnacle of the spiritual mountain would one day find themselves barred from God’s presence. These men would pay dearly for their refusal to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah and for attributing His Spirit-enabled power to Satan.

But Jesus encourages His disciples by telling them that the very same Spirit would indwell and empower them in the days to come.

“…the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said.” – Luke 12:12 NLT

He didn’t sugarcoat the future. He clearly warned them that persecution and literal trials were going to be a part of their experience. But they would find themselves empowered by the Spirit of God. Despite the threats of the Pharisees, the disciples would boldly confess Jesus before men. No pretending. No pretext. No play-acting. These men would discover the truth behind the promise Jesus made to them just prior to His ascension into heaven.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 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