The Light of the World

1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  Genesis 1:1-3 ESV

Another way to translate the first three words of the book of Genesis is “when God created….” While God was “in the beginning,” this statement does not infer that He came into being at that moment in time. God is eternal and has always existed. His transcendent nature allows Him to operate free from the constraints of time and space. The “beginning” mentioned in the opening line of Genesis has to do with His creation of “the heavens and the earth.” According to His own divine prerogative, God made the executive decision to bring into existence that which had never existed before. And the opening chapters of Genesis record the amazing details of that epic and unprecedented event.

The opening two verses provide a summary statement of all that Moses describes in the verses that follow. Speaking of Moses, while there has been much debate as to the authorship of Genesis, I will be operating under the assumption that Jesus was right when He designated Moses as the one responsible for this book.

“But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” – Luke 20:37 ESV

Jesus repeatedly referred to Moses in association with the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. And it seems that Jesus shared the view of His Jewish contemporaries who believed Moses to have been the author of all five books.

As we shall see, Moses plays a key role in the evolving narrative of the Hebrew people. And his record of this seminal moment in humanity’s history will eventually reveal his decidedly Hebraic bias. While his creation record provides an explanation for the “beginnings” of all mankind, Moses was attempting to explain the unique relationship shared between the Creator-God and a particular group of human beings that would later become known as the people of Israel. The books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, commonly referred to as the Torah, form the first part of the Tanakh, the Hebrew term for their Scriptures. And throughout the pages of the Tanakh, the historical evolution of God’s chosen people is revealed in vivid and, sometimes, disturbing detail.

The book of Genesis, as its name implies, provides the genesis or beginning of the nation of Israel. Moses wrote this book to provide his own people with an explanation of their origins and to reveal to them the unique and unparalleled plan that God for them as a nation. The story of their birth as a nation was unlike any other. And while they shared a common heritage with the rest of humanity that dated back to the creation account, they enjoyed a privileged position as God’s chosen people. The question was, how had they acquired their unprecedented relationship with the God who made the heavens and the earth? What had they done to deserve such a favored position that set them apart from all the other nations of the earth?

The book of Genesis provides the answers to those questions and many more. It does so by returning its readers to the primordial darkness of the pre-creation age, long before anything existed including man.

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. – Genesis 1:2 ESV

This verse appears to describe God’s work of creation in mid-process. It is a summary verse that reveals that the earth had been created but was not yet fully formed or organized according to God’s well-designed plan. Moses paints a rather bleak picture, describing the a pervading and foreboding darkness “over the face of the deep.” The Hebrew word for deep is תְּהוֹם (tᵊhôm), and it means “the depths” or “a surging mass of water.” It was typically used to refer to the oceans. But in this case, it seems to be a reference to the earth itself, which, according to verses 9-10, was covered with water.

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. – Genesis 1:9-10 ESV

Up until that moment, the earth had been an undefined and uninhabitable mass, completely submerged under an impenetrable layer of water. But there’s hope in the midst of all the chaos and confusion: “…the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:3 ESV). The imagery is that of a mother bird brooding over her eggs as she waits for them to hatch. While the earth was “without form and void,” Moses describes the Spirit of God as lovingly brooding over this shapeless and humanly hostile environment. God had begun the creative process but was not yet finished. He had a divine plan in place that, when complete, would transform the earth into a literal garden of Eden.

It’s almost as if Moses is telegraphing a message to his people in an attempt to remind them that they worship a God of order, not confusion. And their God has a plan for their future. While there might be times when everything around them appeared dark and confusing, they could trust that God was not done. Hundreds of years after Moses wrote the book of Genesis, the prophet Jeremiah would record the following words from God. They were a reminder that, even after 70 years of forced captivity in Babylon, God would do something remarkable that would suddenly dispel the darkness of their current condition and replace it with light.

“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”  – Jeremiah 20:10-11 ESV

Verse 2 of the opening chapter of Genesis conveys the same sense of hope. God’s creation plan had only just begun. The image of the Spirit of God hovering over the waters was meant to convey a sense of eager anticipation. Something incredible was about to take place that would escalate and expand to such a degree that the as-yet-unformed world would never be the same again.

And at this point in the narrative, Moses discloses, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3 ESV). The opening verses paint the picture of darkness and gloom but that depressing imagery is quickly replaced by the sudden appearance of light. But what is remarkable about this light is that it comes from an as-yet-undisclosed source. If we fast-forward to verses 14-18, we see that God has not yet created the sun, moon, or stars, so the source of the light mentioned in verse 3 cannot be cosmic in nature.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. – Genesis 1:14-18 ESV

So, what was the source of this light? If it didn’t emanate from the sun, what could be the explanation for its sudden presence? God seems to have spoken it into existence but that does not necessarily mean the light had not existed up until that point. God simply said, “Let there be light…” and, as Moses states, there was light. It appeared. The former darkness and its concomitant chaos were suddenly penetrated and completely eliminated by the illuminating presence of this light from God. And it is essential that we recognize the undeniable fact that God was the source of the light.

Referring to God, the prophet Daniel stated that “light dwells with him” (Daniel 2:22 ESV). The apostle John would later declare, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV). And John would ascribe that same attribute of illuminating glory to the Son of God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV

As this passage illustrates, light and the Godhead go hand-in-hand. In both the Old and New Testament Scriptures, light was used as a metaphor for such concepts as salvation, joy, knowledge, righteousness, and life. As John stated, Jesus was life and that life was the light of men. With His incarnation, He began the process of bringing true light and life to sinful men and women. His appearance brought the light of God into the spiritual darkness that permeated the world. As the light of the world, Jesus made salvation possible, joy accessible, the knowledge of God available, righteousness achievable, and eternal life attainable.

What is fascinating to consider is how John references Jesus’ role in the creation account. He states that all things were made through Him. In fact, he goes on to declare that “the world was made through him.”

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him… – John 1:9-10 ESV

The apostle Paul adds further details that explain Jesus’ role in creation.

…for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see— such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. – Colossians 1:16 NLT

And it’s no coincidence that Moses records God the Father declaring, “Let there be light…” and the light appeared. At the very beginning of the creation process God brings His “light” to bear. It would not be a reach to suggest that God called on His Son to join Him in the next phase of creation. And with His entrance into the scene, Jesus brought His light to bear as He “created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth” (Colossians 1:16 NLT).

One of the keys to understanding the source of this light that illuminated and eliminated the darkness can be found in the book of Revelation. There, the apostle John once again describes “the light of the world,” but this time this divine light source  will illuminate the future Kingdom of God.

And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. – Revelation 22:5 ESV

Creation began with the light. Salvation was made possible by the light. And the light will be the source of illumination in the eternal state. As John put it so well, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4 ESV).

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

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

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

Shepherding Has Its Rewards

1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 1 Peter 5:1-4 ESV

At the end of the day, Peter was a highly practical man who knew that theology alone was not enough to help his readers navigate the uncertain cultural waters in which they found themselves. They were drowning in a sea of competing ideologies that stood diametrically opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And their status as followers of Christ made them a tempting target for all those who viewed them as a threat to the prevailing status quo. So, Peter went out of his way to apply the promises contained in the Scriptures with the theological lessons found in the life and ministry of Jesus. Peter was a faithful shepherd who cared deeply about the everyday needs of his flock and was determined to help them apply the hope of their future inheritance to their present circumstances.

At this point in his letter, Peter focused his attention on the elders whom God had appointed to shepherd the local fellowships to whom Peter had addressed his letter. All throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, there were individual gatherings of believers that were being shepherded by faithful men. These men played a vital role in guiding and protecting the men and women who were being “grieved by various trials” 1 Peter 1:6 ESV). Since many of these believers were still relative infants in Christ, they were not yet spiritually mature enough to understand and endure the difficulties they were encountering. And that’s why the elders were so vital to the health and overall well-being of each local church.

This rather brief parenthetical statement was aimed at those men who shared Peter’s role as a God-appointed elder in the church of Jesus Christ. He had even opened his letter with the salutation: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 1:1 ESV). He presented himself “as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 5:1 ESV.  Along with sharing their distinctive role as an elder, he brought the added weight of having been a personal eye-witness to the suffering and death of Jesus. In a sense, he was establishing his official status as an apostle of Jesus.

He had been there the day that Jesus had been crucified and killed. But, not only that, Peter had plenty of first-hand experience when it came to the topic of suffering. Ever since the Holy Spirit had come on the day of Pentecost, Peter had faithfully preached the gospel of the kingdom and been rewarded with arrest, imprisonment, interrogation, and even disciplinary beatings. He knew what it was like to suffer for the sake of righteousness. And he was calling the local elders to step up their game and lead by example. They too would one day be partakers “in the glory that is going to be revealed” (1 Peter 5:1 ESV). Any suffering they had to endure in this life would be well worth it once Jesus appeared in all His glory at the end of the age.

So, with that hope ringing in the ears, Peter challenges his fellow elders to shepherd well.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. – 1 Peter 5:2 NLT

Like any good shepherd, they were to do their job willingly and not out of some sense of heartless duty. Shepherding was to be viewed as a privilege and not a job. They were to care for the flock of Jesus Christ with compassion and love, not out of greed or for personal gain.

It was Jesus who used Himself as an example of the “good shepherd.” He was a caring and completely selfless shepherd who put the needs of the flock ahead of His own – even to the point of laying down His life for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep. – John 10:11-13 NLT

And Peter wanted these local shepherds to remain at their posts, refusing to run at the first sign of trouble. Their ministry as shepherds was to be marked by a deep desire to serve God, and it was to manifest itself in a determination to stand beside the flock even in the face of life-threatening circumstances. They must be willing to lay down their lives just as Jesus had done for them. By following His example, they would become examples to their flock. And Peter reminded them that there would be a reward for their faithful service.

…when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. – 1 Peter 5:4 ESV

All of this discussion of sheep and shepherds was near and dear to Peter’s heart because he couldn’t help but view it through the lens of his own experience. Even as he wrote these words, he must have had a fateful scene from his past in mind. It was after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead when Peter had a face-to-face encounter with the one whom he had earlier denied even knowing.

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”

“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.

Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”

“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.

 A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.” – John 21:15-17 NLT

Jesus had handed over to Peter the responsibility of caring for His sheep. And that was not something Peter took lightly or for granted. Peter had denied Jesus three separate times, but now Jesus had pressed him to confirm his love three times. And Jesus explained that the way for Peter to prove His love for Him would be by loving and caring for His sheep.  And that is exactly what Peter charged these elders to do.

Peter’s mention of the  “unfading crown of glory” seems to be for motivation. It is intended as an incentive to do their jobs well in this life because there is a reward to come in the next life. But it unlikely that Peter is referring to a literal crown. He is talking about the eschatological reward of eternal life in the Kingdom of God. It is the same reward he mentioned in the opening chapter of his letter.

an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. – 1 Peter 1:4 ESV

The greatest “crowning” achievement of these men will be their faithful carrying out of their role as God’s humble and obedient shepherds. And their reward will be the joy of living in the Kingdom of God – for eternity.

Even if their reward ends up being a literal crown, the book of Revelation reveals that, in the coming Kingdom, no one will stand before God glorying in their own achievements. Instead, they will recognize that all glory and honor goes to God alone.

Whenever the living beings give glory and honor and thanks to the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever), the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever). And they lay their crowns before the throne and say,

“You are worthy, O Lord our God,
    to receive glory and honor and power.
For you created all things,
    and they exist because you created what you pleased.” – Revelation 4:9-11 NLT

The greatest reward any of us can receive is to live in the presence of God forever. Anything else will pale in comparison.

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.

 

Work While You Wait

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:7-11 ESV

One thought that Peter and the other apostles couldn’t get out of their heads was the words Jesus had spoken to them not long before He left them.

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

While they didn’t fully understand the gist of His message at the time, the promise contained in it had stayed with them. And their eager anticipation of His return can be found throughout their writings. Peter clearly reveals his belief that Jesus’ return, which will signal the end of this age, could not be far away: “The end of all things is at hand” (1 Peter 4:7 ESV). But he was not alone in that estimation. James wrote:

You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near. – James 5:8 NLT

The apostle Paul, writing with equal intensity and eager anticipation, put it this way:

This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. – Romans 13:11-12 NLT

John understood that the Antichrist and the persecution he would bring would precede the return of Christ. He could sense the increasing intensity of persecution and suffering in the world and believed that the end was nearing.

Dear children, the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared. From this we know that the last hour has come. – 1 John 2:18 NLT

And the author of the book of Hebrews encouraged his readers to eagerly await the return of Christ.

And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, 28 so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him. – Hebrews 9:27-28 NLT

Each of these men lived with a sense of anticipation and expectation. They understood that that the return of the Lord was a vital part of God’s redemptive plan. As Paul put it, “the day of salvation” was tied directly to the second coming of Jesus. His return was an essential and non-negotiable requirement for the Kingdom to be restored, and each of these men still longed to see that happen in their lifetimes. Jesus’ departure had delayed but not diminished their hopes. He had promised to return and they believed Him.

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am. I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe.” – John 14:27-29 NLT

At the time Peter wrote his letter, the apostle John had not yet received his vision from God that eventually produced the book of Revelation. Late in his life, John found himself living on the desolate island of Patmos. He had been exiled there by the Roman Emperor as a punishment for his continued promotion of “the Way” – the derogatory name used by the Romans to refer to the Jewish sect that still followed the martyred Rabbi, Jesus. But as John sat imprisoned on Patmos, he was given a divinely inspired vision of the future, delivered to him by an angel of God.

This is a revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants the events that must soon take place. He sent an angel to present this revelation to his servant John, who faithfully reported everything he saw. This is his report of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. – Revelation 1:1-2 NLT

Notice that he too believed that the things he saw and later recorded would “soon take place.” John was not given a detailed timeline for the events described in the revelation he received from Jesus. But it seems clear that he believed he would live to witness their arrival. And, once again, he was given ample reason to reach that conclusion when he heard and wrote down the last words Jesus spoke in his vision.

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” – Revelation 22:20 ESV

John and his fellow apostles lived with a deep longing to see their Savior again. They had been faithful to fulfill the commission He had given them and had taken the gospel of the Kingdom to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The size of the church had increased significantly but so had the persecution. And these 1st-Century saints found motivation and determination in the promise of Christ’s return. They lived with the end in mind.

That’s why Peter told his readers to “be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7 ESV). According to Peter, the end of all things was close at hand. In other words, the return of Christ was imminent. It could happen at any moment. Peter knew that his readers were undergoing intense persecution and it would be easy for them to become fixated on their circumstances and lose hope. So, he called them to refocus their attention on the promise of Christ’s return. This was going to require that they think clearly and evaluate their circumstances soundly. The apostle Paul encouraged the believers in Colossae to have the same kind of attitude about life.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. – Colossians 3:1-4 NLT

A clear-headed understanding of Christ’s place of power and prominence at God’s right hand would result in a much-needed reminder of His sovereign control over all things, including their suffering and persecution. Nothing they would endure in this life would prevent their experience of eternal life. But, as Peter warns, the failure to think clearly about the present and the future would negatively influence their prayer lives. When believers lose sight of the goal, their prayers become focused on their present problems and their hope for the immediate gratification of their desires. This life becomes all there is. That’s why Paul said, “set your sights on the realities of heaven.”

It was Jesus who provided His disciples with a model prayer designed to refocus their petitions to God.

“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! Pray like this:

Our Father in heaven,
may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
as it is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:7-10 NLT

Even Jesus promoted a future-minded mentality. It is by focusing on the reality of the future, as prescribed by God, that believers can make sense of the present. Jesus went on to encourage prayers for daily provision, forgiveness, and protection from temptation. But all these requests are intended to provide the endurance necessary to survive in this world while waiting for the next. They are focused on the end.

But Peter went on to encourage a lifestyle marked by grace-based love, complaint-free hospitality, and a God-glorifying use of their spiritual gifts. They were to love as they had been loved by God. They were to open their hearts and homes, providing the same gracious and warm welcome into the family of God that they had received. And they were to use the gifts given to them by the Spirit of God in order to bless the people of God. As they waited for the return of the Lord, they were to remain busy about the business of doing good.

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. – Galatians 6:9-10 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.

 

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

I Will Restore

11 “In that day I will raise up
    the booth of David that is fallen
and repair its breaches,
    and raise up its ruins
    and rebuild it as in the days of old,
12 that they may possess the remnant of Edom
    and all the nations who are called by my name,”
    declares the Lord who does this.

13 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper
    and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
    and all the hills shall flow with it.
14 I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
    and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
    and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
15 I will plant them on their land,
    and they shall never again be uprooted
    out of the land that I have given them,”
says the Lord your God. Amos 9:11-15 ESV

From its opening chapter, the book of Amos has focused all of its attention on God’s pending judgment. Amos began his book with a revelation that the coming wrath of God would be global in nature, impacting such nations as Syria, Philistia, Phoenicia, Edom, Ammon, and Moab. But chapters 2-8 make it painfully clear that God has reserved His severest judgment for His own chosen people. And since Amos was a prophet to the ten northern tribes, the majority of his book has been a divine diatribe against the sins of Israel. Judah has been mentioned and will not escape punishment for its own transgressions, but the purpose of Amos’ mission has been to record God’s indictment against the northern kingdom of Israel.

Time and time again, God had sent His prophets with a message for His rebellious people. They were warned to repent and return to Him or face the consequences of their sin. But they had repeatedly refused His gracious and merciful offers of forgiveness by continuing to seek and serve their false gods. And even when God brought upon them famines, droughts, diseases, and disastrous military defeats, they remained stubbornly committed to their lifestyle of apostasy and idolatry. Each divine judgment ended with God declaring, “…yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:6 ESV).

They had repeatedly and persistently broken their covenant commitment to God, and now they were going to have to pay the price for their disobedience. They had no excuse. God had given them ample warning of what would happen if they chose to disobey His commands. All the way back in the days of Moses, long before the people crossed the Jordan River and began their conquest of the land of Canaan, God had told them what would happen if they broke their covenant commitment.

“But if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you:

Your towns and your fields
    will be cursed.
Your fruit baskets and breadboards
    will be cursed.
Your children and your crops
    will be cursed.
The offspring of your herds and flocks
    will be cursed.
Wherever you go and whatever you do,
    you will be cursed.

“The Lord himself will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in everything you do, until at last you are completely destroyed for doing evil and abandoning me.” – Deuteronomy 28:15-20 NLT

And now, centuries later, the ten northern tribes of Israel were facing the final stage of God’s judgment: Their destruction and deportation.

“The Lord will exile you and your king to a nation unknown to you and your ancestors. There in exile you will worship gods of wood and stone! You will become an object of horror, ridicule, and mockery among all the nations to which the Lord sends you. – Deuteronomy 28:36-37 NLT

And, as Amos begins to wrap up his book, he reinforces the unavoidable reality of God’s judgment.

For behold, I will command,
    and shake the house of Israel among all the nations
as one shakes with a sieve,
    but no pebble shall fall to the earth.
All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword,
    who say, ‘Disaster shall not overtake or meet us.’” – Amos 9:9-10 ESV

Even to the bitter end, the prideful and arrogant people of Israel will deny the possibility of their own demise. They will persist in believing that their status as God’s chosen people will somehow provide them with immunity from judgment. Despite their centuries of rebellion and spiritual adultery, they will cling to their belief that they are the apple of God’s eye and, therefore, untouchable. But they will soon discover that their assumption was sorely mistaken.

And yet, after all the doom and gloom of the last nine chapters, Amos wraps up his book on a surprisingly upbeat note. As a prophet, Amos has been addressing the present conditions in Israel by predicting the future ramifications for their actions. He is projecting out into the future and revealing exactly what God is going to do. But his record of what God has in store for Israel does not come with a timeline. There is no calendar providing specific dates on which these events will occur. The people of Israel were left to wonder when and how these predictions would take place. How would their fall come about? When would it happen and what nation would be the source of their demise? God doesn’t say. But He does reveal that “In that day…,” He will do something unexpected and totally undeserved. Somewhere in the distant future, God has a plan to restore and redeem His people.

“In that day I will restore the fallen house of David.
    I will repair its damaged walls.
From the ruins I will rebuild it
    and restore its former glory. – Amos 9:11 NLT

Yes, God was going to judge His people for their sins. But He would also restore them. The judgment would come first and it would take place when the Assyrians invaded Israel in 722 B.C. The forces of King Sennacherib would besiege the capital city of Samaria, eventually breaching its walls, and destroying everything within it. Those Israelites who were not killed were deported to Assyria as slaves. And the author of 2 Kings reveals the reason behind this devastating end to the ten northern tribes.

This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. They had followed the practices of the pagan nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of them, as well as the practices the kings of Israel had introduced. – 2 Kings 17:7-8 NLT

But in the closing verses of his book, Amos records the words of God as He predicts another day – “that day” when He will restore the fallen house of David. And that day remains, as yet, unfulfilled. God is letting His people know that His timeline extends far beyond the fall of Israel. The year 722 B.C. ushered in the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel. And, in 586 B.C., God used the Babylonians to destroy the city of Jerusalem and bring about the fall of the southern kingdom of Judah. But the destruction of those two cities and the demise of the two kingdoms did not mark the end of God’s interactions with His people. He had made a covenant with them and He was the covenant-keeping God. While they had proven to be unfaithful, He would keep every commitment He had ever made to them.

Back during the days of King David, God made a covenant commitment to him, promising to raise up a descendant who would rule on his throne forever.

“Furthermore, the Lord declares that he will make a house for you—a dynasty of kings! For when you die and are buried with your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, your own offspring, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for my name. And I will secure his royal throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son.” – 2 Samuel 7:11-14 NLT

That promise was partially fulfilled in David’s son, Solomon. But he proved to be less than faithful to God, ending his long reign by leading the people into idolatry and apostasy. He built a temple for Yahweh but also constructed shrines and altars for the false gods of his many wives. And for his many indiscretions, God divided his kingdom in two, creating the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

But Amos reveals that God intends to restore Israel. Despite the sins of Solomon and the long line of kings who followed him, God was going to keep His covenant commitment to David. The two kingdoms would end up destroyed and deported, but that did not mean God was done with them. The same God who would ordain their fall would be the one to redeem and restore them.

“I will bring my exiled people of Israel
    back from distant lands,
and they will rebuild their ruined cities
    and live in them again.
They will plant vineyards and gardens;
    they will eat their crops and drink their wine.” – Amos 9:14 NLT

God describes a time of great renewal. It will be a time of abundance and blessing. He promises to bring back His chosen people “from distant lands” and to return them to the land He had given to them as their inheritance. This promise was partially fulfilled in 445 B.C. when the people of Judah returned from their exile in Babylon. But while they would rebuild the temple, repair the walls of Jerusalem, and repopulate the city, they would remain under foreign control for centuries. Even during the days of Jesus, the Jews would be little more than a puppet state, operating under the heavy hand of Rome. And in 70 A.D. the second temple would be destroyed by the Romans, leaving the people of Israel with no place to worship or offer sacrifices to their God.

But God is not done. His will regarding Israel is far from complete. And Amos ends his book by recording the promise of Yahweh regarding His people.

“I will firmly plant them there
    in their own land.
They will never again be uprooted
    from the land I have given them,”
    says the Lord your God. – Amos 9:15 NLT

This promise remains yet unfulfilled. And the prophet Jeremiah echoes the words of Amos, confirming God’s plans to keep His covenant promises.

“For the time is coming when I will restore the fortunes of my people of Israel and Judah. I will bring them home to this land that I gave to their ancestors, and they will possess it again. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 30:3 NLT

And Jeremiah goes on to describe the unique nature of this future day.

“I will break the yoke from their necks
    and snap their chains.
Foreigners will no longer be their masters.
   For my people will serve the Lord their God
and their king descended from David—
    the king I will raise up for them.” – Jeremiah 30:8-9 NLT

This day remains unfulfilled, but it will happen just as God has said. The book of Revelation reveals the day when Christ will return to the earth and set up His kingdom in Jerusalem. For 1,000 years, He will reign from the throne of David in the restored capital city. He will conquer the enemies of God and bring righteousness and justice to the earth. And He will restore the fortunes of the people of Israel. God is not done. His plan is not yet finished. And because He is the faithful, covenant-keeping God, He will restore His people just as He has promised.

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

Jesus Revealed Himself

1 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. John 21:1-4 ESV

This concluding chapter of John’s gospel has bothered biblical scholars for centuries. Many have viewed chapter 21 as out of place and incongruent with the rest of the book. It does seem rather odd that John provides a conclusion to his gospel with the two closing verses of chapter 20, only to recount yet another appearance by Jesus to His disciples. This has led some to suggest that this chapter was added later, either by John or one of his disciples.

But just because the final chapter appears somewhat out of sync with the rest of the narrative it does not prove its inauthenticity. John’s entire gospel is unique in its style and content. He chose not follow the pattern established by the Synoptic gospels, but instead, charted a distincinctly different course in his effort to reveal the deity and humanity of Jesus. And he summarized his efforts by telling his audience:

…these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name. – John 20:30-31 ESV

For 20 chapters, John provided evidence that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. And his purpose in doing so was that his readers would continue to believe the Gospel message concerning Jesus’ incarnation, life, death, and resurrection.

But long before John began his defense of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God and the Savior of the world, he opened his gospel with a prologue, in which he introduced Jesus as the Word.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. – John 1:1-2 ESV

With these opening verses, John meant to clearly establish the deity of Jesus. He was the creator-God, the eternal one who existed from the beginning with God the Father and was instrumental in creation of all life, including mankind. But John added that the eternal Word chose to manifest Himself in human form.

…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14 ESV

The Word became flesh. God became a man. That is the theme of John’s entire gospel: Jesus the God-man. And he supports that theme for 21 chapters, including the final chapter of the book.

It is important to note that John concluded his prologue with the statement:

No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. – John 1:18 ESV

With His incarnation, Jesus made the invisible God visible (Colossians 1:15). The purely spiritual Son of God took on the physical body of a man so that humanity might perceive deity “in the flesh.” And for over three years, Jesus lived side-by-side with the very ones He had created. He lived with them and as one of them. He ate, drank, walked, talked, slept, cried, grew hungry, loved, and exhibited godliness as no man had ever done before. And the apostle Paul reminds us of the divine purpose behind the incarnation of Jesus.

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

And with the opening verses of chapter 21, John reveals the resurrected Son of God making one more appearance to His disciples. He had accomplished His Father’s will and sacrificed His life on the cross as payment for the sins of mankind. And three days later God raised His Son from the dead through the power of the Holy Spirit. The dead human body of Jesus was miraculously restored to life and rejoined with His spirit. And He made repeated appearances to His doubting and fearful disciples, assuring them that He had risen from the dead just as He said He would.

It helps if we understand chapter 21 to be the epilogue to John’s gospel. With it, he provides a fitting bookend that completes his narrative. In verse one, John states, “After this….” This is most likely a reference to the content found in chapter 20, but it also includes all that John has recorded in the rest of his gospel. It is a summarizing statement.

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. – John 21:1 ESV

The Greek word that is translated as “revealed” is phaneroō and it is used throughout John’s gospel. It means “to make manifest, to show one’s self, to reveal, or make known.” John used it repeatedly to refer to Jesus revealing His deity and glory.

This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested [phaneroō] his glory. And his disciples believed in him. – John 2:11 ESV

“I have manifested [phaneroō] your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. – John 17:6 ESV

Now, in the final chapter, John uses the same word to describe Jesus revealing or manifesting Himself to His disciples one last time. What is significant is that Jesus is the Word made flesh but His flesh has been resurrected. While it looks the same and still bears the holes made by the nails and the scar created by the spear that pierced His side, it has been dramatically altered. In His resurrected state, Jesus was able to pass through walls and enter locked rooms. His body had been glorified and made fit for eternity. And the apostle Paul assures us that, one day, we will have a glorified body just like Jesus had.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 NLT

Our earthly bodies are not made for eternity. They are temporary dwelling places that have limited shelf lives. They are susceptible to sickness and disease. They are designed to wear out, grow old, and, eventually, to stop working. But in one of his later letters, John provides us with the good news that a day is coming when we will be like Jesus. We too will be given glorified bodies that are designed to last for eternity.

Dear friends, 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. – 1 John 3:2 NLT

But in chapter 21, John recounts the scene when Jesus, the resurrected, glorified Son of God, revealed Himself to seven of His disciples, who were still stuck in their temporal, earth-bound bodies. The Word of God, who was in the beginning with God and was God, was going to manifest His glory one more time. He was going to reveal Himself in a practical and personal way that was meant to reinforce for His disciples the ongoing reality of His identity as the God-man. Nothing had changed. He was still God in the flesh. Fully deity and fully humanity.

And this scene is burned into the mind of John because he was one of the disciples who witnessed it. He was accompanied by his brother James, as well as Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, and two other unnamed disciples. Influenced by the ever-impulsive Peter, they had decided to spend the day fishing. One might ask what they were doing in Galilee. According to the angel who spoke to the women at the tomb, that was exactly where they were supposed to go.

“But go, tell his disciples, even Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” –Mark 16:7 NLT

But while they waited for Jesus to show up, they decided to occupy their time with some fishing. This doesn’t indicate that they were giving up on their new vocation as ambassadors of the gospel, but that they were simply bored. Most of them had been professional fishermen when Jesus had called them, and they were doing what came naturally – fishing.

This is reminiscent of another scene recorded by Matthew. It too involved the Word made flesh, the Sea of Galilee, and a few men who were occupied with fishing.

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” – Matthew 4:18-19 ESV

More than three years later, John describes Jesus walking on the shore of the Sea of Galilee as Peter and his companions fish. But John adds the not-so-subtle insight: “They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing” (John 21:3 ESV). Despite their combined years of fishing experience, they were totally unsuccessful. And it seems likely that John had in mind the words that Jesus had earlier spoken to His disciples.

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:4-5 NLT

Jesus was alive. He had been resurrected and had even revealed Himself to them. But now they found themselves alone and operating on their own initiative and according to their own agenda. And their efforts proved fruitless. They had spent the entire night casting for fish but had come up empty handed.

And then John adds the one line that dramatically alters the entire scenario.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. – John 21:4 ESV

As the rays of the sun began to penetrate the darkness of the night, the Light of the world (John 8:12) appeared on the scene and would soon illuminate the hearts and minds of the distracted and unsuccessful disciples.

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

I Will Do It

14 Shepherd your people with your staff,
    the flock of your inheritance,
who dwell alone in a forest
    in the midst of a garden land;
let them graze in Bashan and Gilead
    as in the days of old.
15 As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt,
    I will show them marvelous things.
16 The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might;
they shall lay their hands on their mouths;
    their ears shall be deaf;
17 they shall lick the dust like a serpent,
    like the crawling things of the earth;
they shall come trembling out of their strongholds;
    they shall turn in dread to the Lord our God,
    and they shall be in fear of you. Micah 7:14-17 ESV

Micah calls out to God, asking Him to intervene on behalf of His chosen people.

protect your people with your shepherd’s staff; lead your flock, your special possession. – Micah 7:14 NLT

While he is confident in God’s future plans for Israel, his desire is that God would act sooner and not later. He longs to see Israel restored to a right relationship with Yahweh, with Him serving as their Shepherd and King.

For Micah, the chosen people of God, the sheep of His pasture, were dwelling in the land, but not in rich and fertile pasture lands. They were stuck in a forest, unfit for sheep and incapable of providing for their needs. Bashan and Gilead represent the gentle hills covered in green grass and flowing with streams of water where sheep can thrive. It is an image of his longing for the spiritual ad physical restoration for his people. He had seen better days and was anxious to see them once again.

In verse 15, God responds to Micah’s request by promising to rescue His people.

“Yes,” says the Lord,
    “I will do mighty miracles for you,
like those I did when I rescued you
    from slavery in Egypt.” – Micah 7:15 NLT

Just as God had performed unprecedented miracles to bring about Israel’s release from captivity in Egypt, He would one day intervene on their behalf to bring an end to their latest round of suffering and subjugation. And when that day comes and God fulfills this promise, the people of Israel will respond with awe and amazement just as they did in the days of Moses.

“Who is like you among the gods, O Lord
    glorious in holiness,
awesome in splendor,
    performing great wonders? – Exodus 15:11 NLT

But Micah would not live to see this coming day. While he deeply desired to see God step in and remedy their immediate problem, God’s plans involved a much longer timeframe. His rescue of His people will not take place until the beginning of the Millennium, the thousand-year period of time when Christ returns to earth a second time in order to establish His Kingdom in Jerusalem. Only then will a remnant of the people of Israel be returned to the land of promise and enjoy a restored relationship with Him.

In the interim, Israel would be disciplined by God and dispersed among the nations.

You may no longer stay here in the Lord’s land.
    Instead, you will return to Egypt,
and in Assyria you will eat food
    that is ceremonially unclean. – Hosea 9:3 NLT

They would be removed from the land and suffer the loss of God’s protection and provision. But God would not completely abandon them.

I will not completely destroy Israel,
for I am God and not a mere mortal.
    I am the Holy One living among you,
    and I will not come to destroy.
For someday the people will follow me.
    I, the Lord, will roar like a lion.
And when I roar,
    my people will return trembling from the west.
Like a flock of birds, they will come from Egypt.
    Trembling like doves, they will return from Assyria.
And I will bring them home again,”
    says the Lord. – Hosea 11:9-11 NLT

When that day comes, the nations of the earth will stand and watch in amazement as God once again redeems His people “with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment” (Exodus 6:6 NLT).

All the nations of the world will stand amazed
    at what the Lord will do for you.
They will be embarrassed
    at their feeble power.
They will cover their mouths in silent awe,
    deaf to everything around them. – Micah 7:16 NLT

Just as Pharaoh and the Egyptians could only stand back and watch as God rescued His people with devastating demonstrations of His power, so the nations of the earth will one day witness the unparalleled majesty and might of Yahweh as He delivers His chosen people yet again. And the Jews who experience that future day of redemption will respond just as David had centuries earlier.

“O LORD, there is no one like you. We have never even heard of another God like you! What other nation on earth is like your people Israel? What other nation, O God, have you redeemed from slavery to be your own people? You made a great name for yourself when you redeemed your people from Egypt. You performed awesome miracles and drove out the nations that stood in their way. You chose Israel to be your very own people forever, and you, O LORD, became their God.” – 1 Chronicles 17:20-22 NLT

This amazing reversal of fortunes will be the work of God and all the nations of the earth will recognize it. And just as God promised through His prophet, Isaiah, the people of Israel will find themselves shocked to be on the receiving end of the veneration of the nations.

“Kings and queens will serve you
    and care for all your needs.
They will bow to the earth before you
    and lick the dust from your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord.
    Those who trust in me will never be put to shame.” – Isaiah 49:23 NLT

And Micah adds another dimension to this subjugation of the nations. While they had spent centuries repeatedly and persistently trying to destroy Israel, they will one day bow before the God of Israel.

Like snakes crawling from their holes,
    they will come out to meet the Lord our God.
They will fear him greatly,
    trembling in terror at his presence. – Micah 7:17 NLT

The apostle Paul reminds us that while Jesus subjected Himself to the humble state of a man and allowed HImself to be humiliated by death on a cross, He rose again. And then He ascended on high, returning to His rightful place at His Father’s side.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 NLT

Not every knee on earth has bowed at the name of Jesus. Not every tongue has confessed that He is the Lord. But there is a day coming when that will happen just as Paul described it. God’s plan is not yet complete. His promises have not all been fulfilled – for Israel or the Church. God’s creation, especially mankind, the apex of His creation, will one day confess the greatness and uniqueness of God. They will echo the words of the psalmist.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
and worship before you, O Lord,
and shall glorify your name.
For you are great and do wondrous things;
you alone are God.
– Psalm 86:8-10 ESV

And the apostle John was given a glimpse into the future in which he witnessed the second coming of Christ and all the events associated with it. In one of his visions, John peered into the throne room of God, where he saw “those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name” (Revelation 15:2 ESV). These will be the martyrs who will be put to death by the Antichrist during the Great Tribulation that precedes Jesus’ return.

John describes this great throng, standing before the throne of God, singing a song of praise to God, “the song of Moses” and “the song of the Lamb” (Revelation 15:3 ESV). They had given their lives because of their belief in Jesus and had suffered martyrdom at the hand of the Antichrist, but they were gratefully and joyfully praising God for all He had done and was going to do.

“Great and amazing are your deeds,
    O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
    O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord,
    and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
    All nations will come
    and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.” – Revelation 15:3-4 ESV

We live in a day when the nations refuse to acknowledge God as who He is. They reject His gracious offer of salvation by faith alone in His Son alone. And they continue to attack His chosen people, Israel, treating them with contempt and attempting to wipe them off the face of the earth. But there will be an end to all this because God is not done and His plan is not yet complete. And, as He declared through the prophet, Ezekiel, God will one day accomplish all that He has promised and planned.

“I am the LORD. I have spoken; it shall come to pass; I will do it.” – Ezekiel 24:14 ESV

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

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

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

A Remnant Reserved

1 Gather together, yes, gather,
    O shameless nation,
before the decree takes effect
    —before the day passes away like chaff—
before there comes upon you
    the burning anger of the Lord,
before there comes upon you
    the day of the anger of the Lord.
Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land,
    who do his just commands;
seek righteousness; seek humility;
    perhaps you may be hidden
    on the day of the anger of the Lord.
Zephaniah 2:1-3 ESV

The prophet has warned the people of Judah that the judgment of God is near. The righteous wrath of God was inevitable and inescapable, and they had no one to blame but themselves. They had sinned against Him and acted as if He would do nothing about. But they had been wrong.

Yet, the prophet provides a glimmer of hope. He delivers a message to the small contingent of the faithful who remain in Judah – “the humble of the land, who do his just commands” (Zephaniah 2:3 ESV). He calls on them to seek righteousness and humility. Though they found themselves surrounded on all sides by apostasy, unfaithfulness, and wickedness, they were to remain committed to God and His commands. All was not lost. The could still enjoy the mercy of God, but it was going to require that they remain untarnished by the spirit of rebellion that permeated the nation.

In a sense, Zephaniah is dividing the nation into two diametrically opposite contingents. On the one hand, he addresses the “shameless nation,” demanding that they gather together in a public assembly. As a nation, they are marked by pride, arrogance, and a stubborn reluctance to return to the Lord in contrition and repentance.  But Zephaniah warns them that they need to reconsider their hard-headed determination to reject God’s call before it’s too late. If they’re not careful, their opportunity to receive mercy will disappear like worthless husks of grain carried by the winds of God’s judgment. They will find themselves out of time and out of chances to enjoy the gracious forgiveness of God.

Zephaniah is calling for a solemn assembly, a public gathering of the people intended as an opportunity to confess their sins and call on God’s mercy. The prophet Joel described the nature of these communal gatherings.

Consecrate a fast;
    call a solemn assembly.
Gather the elders
    and all the inhabitants of the land
to the house of the Lord your God,
    and cry out to the Lord. – Joel 1:14 ESV

It was God’s desire that His people repent. He wanted to spare them the coming judgment, but it was going to require a radical change in their attitudes and actions.

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
    and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
    and he relents over disaster. – Joel 2:12-13 ESV

The sad reality was that the majority of the people of Judah would remain unrepentant. They would refuse to return to God. Their hearts would remain stubbornly resistant. Their lives would be marked by feasting rather than fasting, celebration instead of mourning, and sin-fueled happiness in place of repentance-based weeping. And yet, in the very next chapter, God reveals that He will ensure the persistent presence of a faithful few.

I will leave in your midst
    a people humble and lowly.
They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord – Zephaniah 3:12 ESV

No matter how bad things got, there would always be a remnant of God’s people who maintained their unwavering commitment to Him. Even though they would represent the minority camp, they would continue to seek security in their covenant relationship with God Almighty. And God offers them what sounds like a less-than-encouraging promise for their efforts: “perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the Lord” (Zephaniah 2:3 ESV).

God wasn’t guaranteeing their survival or promising them the complete absence of suffering. Their faith was not going to immunize them from the coming judgment. But there was always the possibility that God would allow them to escape the full brunt of His divine judgment.

Even during the end-times event known as the Great Tribulation, many of those who come to faith in Christ will end up as martyrs for the cause of Christ. Their lives will be marked by intense persecution at the hand of Antichrist, followed by the loss of their lives. They will represent a remnant, a portion of the entirety of humanity who will be alive at that time. But despite having placed their faith in Christ, they will not escape the wrath of the enemy. In fact, in the book of Revelation, the apostle John records the vision he received concerning this remnant of God’s people.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10 ESV

John goes on to provide further clarification as to the identity of these individuals:

“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

“Therefore they are before the throne of God,
    and serve him day and night in his temple;
    and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
    the sun shall not strike them,
    nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” – Revelation 7:14-17 ESV

God cares for His own. And in the case of the people of Judah, while God was going to bring judgment against them for their sins against Him, He promised the existence of a faithful remnant. And their ongoing presence would ensure the fulfillment of His covenant promises to Abraham. God would not completely destroy His chosen people because He had plans to make redemption available through His Son, who would be born into the tribe of Judah.

The prophet Isaiah records God’s promise of the remnant and how, even in the face of coming judgment, God would bring display His righteousness by sending His Son as the payment for mankind’s sin debt.

In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness. – Isaiah 10:20-22 ESV

And Paul

And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.

And as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
    we would have been like Sodom
    and become like Gomorrah.” – Romans 9:27-29 ESV

Judah deserved complete destruction. just as the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah had. But God would spare Judah so that He could preserve a remnant. And from that remnant would come the Savior of the world and the only possible means of redemption for a lost and dying world.

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

   

 

His Blood Be On Us!

24 So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” 25 And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.

27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him. – Matthew 27:24-31 ESV

Jesus mockedPilate washed his hands of Jesus. He wanted nothing to do with the death of this innocent man, but because of the growing anger of the mob that had gathered outside his home, he gave in to their demands and turned Jesus over to be crucified. Yet, he made his position on the matter perfectly clear: “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves” (Matthew 27:24 ESV).

According to Luke’s account, Pilate had attempted to set Jesus free. His own wife had warned him not to have anything to do with putting Jesus to death because she had experienced disturbing dreams about him. Upon discovering that Jesus was a Galilean, Pilate sent Jesus to Herod so that he might examine him.

“…after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him.” – Luke 23:14-16 ESV

The people could have cared less about what Pilate or Herod thought. Their minds were made up. They wanted Jesus dead, and the continued to cry out, “Crucify, crucify him!” (Luke 23:21 ESV). And Luke records that, for the third and final time, Pilate had responded:

“Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” – Luke 23:22 ESV

But the people would have none of it. They were not interested in the facts of the case. The guilt of Jesus had been established by the religious leaders, and that was enough for them. And Luke continues in his account:

But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. – Luke 23:23-24 ESV

Fearing a riot, Pilate gave in to the demands of the people, and handed Jesus over to his guards to begin the process of His crucifixion. The people responded with what would be a prophetic statement that would seal their own fates, as well as those of their descendants, for generations to come.

“His blood be on us and on our children!” – Matthew 27:25 ESV

With this rashly spoken vow, these people unknowingly admitted their culpability for Jesus’ death and included their children and grandchildren in their guilt. Sometime later, after Jesus was resurrected and had ascended back into heaven, Peter would remind the high priest and the Sanhedrin:

“The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross.” – Acts 5:30 ESV

Peter was simply restating what the crowd had declared. The blood of Jesus was on their hands. They would be held responsible by God for the death of His Son. And it would be because of their refusal to accept Jesus as their Messiah that God would turn to the Gentiles with the offer of salvation through His Son. The apostle Paul makes this fact perfectly clear in his letter to the Romans. But he also reminds us that, in spite of their blood-guilt, God was not yet done with Israel.

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

And just in case we fail to understand the weight of Paul’s words, he adds:

What does all this mean? Even though the Gentiles were not trying to follow God’s standards, they were made right with God. And it was by faith that this took place. But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path. God warned them of this in the Scriptures when he said,

“I am placing a stone in Jerusalem that makes people stumble,
    a rock that makes them fall.
But anyone who trusts in him
    will never be disgraced.” – Romans 9:30-33 NLT

The people of Israel had stumbled over Jesus. His arrival on the scene had left them disappointed and disillusioned. He was not the kind of Messiah they had been expecting, so they rejected Him. And their refusal to accept Him led to the gospel being sent to the Gentiles. But there is a day coming when God will refocus His divine will and His everlasting love on His chosen people, the Israelites. Paul goes on to state the unmistakable reality of that fact.

Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say,

“The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem,
    and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness.
And this is my covenant with them,
    that I will take away their sins.” – Romans 23:25-27 NLT

The crowd gathered outside Pilate’s residence had demanded the death of Jesus. They had rejected Him as their Messiah and demanded that a common criminal be released in His place. They would be complicit in the death of the Savior of the world. But it would be His death that made redemption possible for the world. Their rejection of Jesus made His offer of salvation available to the Gentile world. And since the day of Pentecost, when the church began, millions upon millions of Gentiles from all tribes, nations, and tongues, have come to faith in Jesus. But the day is coming when the full number of Gentiles that God has ordained for salvation will be complete. Then, He will turn His attention to Israel once again, extending His grace and mercy to a people responsible for the death of His own Son. The blood of Jesus, covering their heads as a sign of their guilt, will also be used by God to cleanse them from all unrighteousness. The one they crucified will be the one who will deem them fully justified.

But first, Jesus was going to have to suffer and die. And HIs suffering began at the hand of Pilate’s guards, who stripped Him, beat Him, and mocked Him by sarcastically proclaiming Him to be the king of the Jews. In this depressing scene, we see Jews and Gentiles alike rejecting the Savior of the world. They ridicule rather than revere Him. They spit in the face of the one who created them. They crush a hastily fabricated crown of thorns onto the head of the King of kings and Lord of lords. And in their ignorance, they jokingly, and prophetically cry out, “Hail, King of the Jews!”

Little did they know how true those words would prove to be. Jesus was the King of the Jews, and He was willingly laying down His life for His people. He was dying so that they might live. He was taking on their guilt and suffering the death they deserved so that they might receive His righteousness and God’s forgiveness. He was willingly shedding His blood so that the sins of mankind might be atoned for once and for all. The apostle John reminds us that “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 ESV).

And in the book of Revelation, John records a vision he was given into heaven during the days of the Great Tribulation.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar,

“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10 NLT

When John inquired as to who made up this vast crowd dressed in white, he was told:

“These are the ones who died in the great tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.” – Revelation 7:14 NLT

The precious blood of Jesus shed for the sins of men, will continue to provide atonement and salvation for generations to come, all the way up to the end. But when the crowd gathered outside Pilate’s home had boldly shouted, “His blood be on us and on our children!” they had no idea how prophetic their words would be. Because, as the author of Hebrews reminds us, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV).

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

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

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

Remain Diligent and Vigilant

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

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

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

fig-tree.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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