Despised by the World

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’

26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” John 15:18-27 ESV

From the very outset of His public ministry, Jesus faced opposition. It began immediately after His baptism when the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan. Jesus, who had just received the blessing of His Heavenly Father, found Himself in a face-to-face confrontation with the prince of this world.

God had just pronounced Jesus as “my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy” (Matthew 3:17 ESV), but Satan saw Jesus as a powerful enemy who had to be distracted from His God-given mission or be destroyed. Satan attempted to disqualify Jesus by offering Him tempting alternatives to the will of God. He proffered a range of attractive options that were designed to distract Jesus from His ministry objective and render Him useless to God. But Jesus did not take the bait. As the author of Hebrews states, Jesus was “tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV). 

But while Jesus had won the battle over Satan in the wilderness, the war was far from over. Satan simply shifted his tactics. Almost immediately, the enemy implemented a new and less direct strategy that utilized guerrilla warfare tactics. He called upon all the weapons at his disposal to wage war against God and His Son. Satan knew that Jesus was the Messiah and had been sent by God to free humanity from their life of bondage under his merciless rule. This was, as Paul made clear, a spiritual battle of epic proportions.

…we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT

But that does not mean that the battle remained invisible and relegated to the spiritual realm. This spiritual conflict quickly spilled over into the natural world as the enemy put into play those human agents who were under his control. The gospels provide ample evidence that Jesus faced human opposition to His ministry. And His most formidable and vehement foes proved to be the religious leaders of Israel. It is no coincidence that Jesus labeled these men as the sons of Satan.

“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44 NLT

These men were revered by the common people as icons of righteousness and virtue. Yet, Jesus saw through their pious-looking facades and recognized them for what they were: deceptive hypocrites who stood opposed to His mission because they were enemies of God. Jesus exposed them for what they were.

“If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from GodAnyone who belongs to God listens gladly to the words of God. But you don’t listen because you don’t belong to God.” – John 8:42, 47 NLT

They may have fooled the people, but Jesus was fully aware of their true identity and intentions.

“You say, ‘He is our God,’ but you don’t even know him.” – John 8:52 NLT

And His exposure of them only enraged them further. The more they saw of Jesus, the more angry they became. His messages and miracles failed to impress or persuade them. Ironically, they accused Jesus of being demon-possessed and under the influence of Satan. And their growing revulsion to Jesus turned into an obsession to kill Him. They would stop at nothing to see to it that this madman from Nazareth was put to death.

Now, just hours from that perverted wish becoming a reality, Jesus informs His disciples that they could expect more of the same. As if all He has told them so far had not been enough, Jesus reveals that their relationship with Him has put a target on their backs. They were guilty by association, and they would find themselves hated for His sake. And while Jesus refers to the world as the source of that hatred, He is speaking of the same Jewish religious leaders who would orchestrate His death. And these men were representatives of the nation of Israel at large. That is why John opened his gospel account with the statement: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV).

Throughout this passage, Jesus uses the pronoun, “they.”

“…they will also persecute you…” – John 15:20 ESV

“…all these things they will do to you on account of my name.” – John 15:21 ESV

“…they do not know him who sent me.” – John 15:21 ESV

“…they have no excuse for their sin. – John 15:23 ESV

“…they have seen and hated both me and my Father. – John 15:24 ESV

Then, quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus reveals the identity of these individuals.

More in number than the hairs of my head
    are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
    those who attack me with lies. – Psalm 69:4 ESV

The “world” to which Jesus was referring was the nation of Israel. His own people hated Him without cause, and they were out to destroy Him. So, He wanted His disciples to know that they would suffer the same treatment because of His name.

“But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” – John 15:21 ESV

The battle that had been raging since the beginning had always been about the identity of Jesus. That is what He means by “my name.” Jesus was the Son of God and everything He had done from the day of His baptism until that very moment had been intended to reveal His identity as the Messiah, the Savior of the world. And the disciples, because they would continue to proclaim the name of Jesus in His absence, would find themselves facing the same level of animosity and opposition.

And because Jesus would later command them be His “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ESV), they would face even greater opposition as Satan turned the entire world order against them. The disciples would eventually take the Gospel to the non-Jewish world and discover that the enemies of God were made up of Jews and Gentiles. While they would find those eager to hear and accept the message of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, they would also encounter fierce opposition. It is believed that all of the disciples eventually died as martyrs, after having faithfully spread the good news concerning Jesus to the world.

But as the disciples stood in the darkness of the garden, listening to these foreboding words from Jesus, they must have been filled with fear and trepidation. Jesus had just told them, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20 ESV). This must have brought to mind an earlier warning He had given them.

“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

What Jesus was describing was unsettling and disturbing. It must have filled His poor disciples with despair and disillusionment. But Jesus wanted them to know that their relationship with Him had dramatically altered their lives for eternity. Nothing would ever be the same. Just three years ago, they had each been minding their own business, when an unknown and unimpressive Rabbi from Nazareth made their acquaintance. And their lives would never be the same. Little did they know at the time, that in choosing to follow Jesus they were leaving the world behind. Yes, they would still live in it, but they would no longer be part of it. By becoming friends with Jesus they had become enemies of the world.

“The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” – John 15:19 NLT

The Jewish religious leaders would turn their hatred for Jesus onto the disciples and any others who chose to follow Him. And as this small group of men and women grew in number and spread their influence from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria and the ends of the earth, Satan would throw everything in his arsenal against them. But little would he know that he was fighting a losing cause. The victory had been won. With Jesus’ death on the cross, He would bring an end to Satan’s vice-like grip on humanity. Jesus would conquer sin and death, bringing salvation to all those who would accept it.

And, anticipating His disciples’ sense of fear and foreboding, Jesus reminds them once again that they will not be alone.

“But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me. And you must also testify about me because you have been with me from the beginning of my ministry.” – John 15:26-27 NLT

They were going to face intense opposition, but they would do so in the power of God. The world would hate them, but the love of God for them would protect them and flow from them. They would pick up the mantel of ministry given to them by Jesus and proclaim His name with boldness and joy – even in the face of persecution and the threat of death.

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

All Part of the Plan

21 After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. 23 One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, 24 so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. John 13:21-30 ESV

What immediately followed Jesus’ washing is His disciples’ feet was His betrayal by Judas. But this shocking and unexpected event did not catch Jesus by surprise because He had always known it was part of His Father’s plan. In fact, all the way back in chapter six, John recorded Jesus’ first allusion to this fateful but necessary event.

Jesus had just finished delivering a very revealing yet confusing message regarding His pending death. He left the audience in the synagogue stunned when He described Himself as the bread of life and told them that their consumption of His body and blood would be the key to eternal life.

“For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” – John 6:55-58 ESV

As a result of this rather strange pronouncement, many of Jesus’ followers left Him. And once again, Jesus was not surprised by their reaction. He simply stated, “there are some of you who do not believe” and John added an aside, “For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him” (John 6:64 ESV). Jesus had always been aware that there would be unbelievers, even among His 12 disciples. And He reminded these men that true believers were those who had been called by His Father.

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

Even the ability to believe in Jesus was a gift from God. That is why Jesus had told them, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:63 ESV). 

So, as Jesus watched His former “followers” walk away, He asked His disciples if they wanted to leave Him as well. To which Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69 ESV). Peter, speaking on behalf of the 11 other disciples, declared their belief in Jesus as the Son of God. But Jesus knew something Peter did not know. One of the 12 was an imposter and an unbeliever.

Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him. – John 6:70-71 ESV

This news did not register with Peter or the other disciples. It is even possible that Judas was nonplussed by this announcement because he had yet to make his fateful decision to betray Jesus. But the point Jesus seemed to be making is that He knew exactly what was going to happen because it had always been a part of God’s sovereign plan. Even Jesus’ choosing of Judas had been for his future role as a betrayer, not as a believer. It was all part of the preordained will of God and it had been foretold by the prophets of God. Jesus made this point clear that evening in the upper room.

“I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ – John 13:18 ESV

The role Judas would play had been foreordained by God and would be in fulfillment of the prophecy contained in Psalm 41:9. And Jesus, as the Son of God, was fully aware of this aspect of His Father’s plan and unsurprised by what was about to take place.

Yet John described Jesus as being “troubled in his spirit” (John 13:21 ESV). It seems likely that Jesus’ was visibly moved by the thought of all that was about to take place and His outward demeanor was evident to the disciples. This would be His final meal with His disciples before His betrayal, arrest, trials, and crucifixion. And while Jesus was fully God and completely aware of how things would turn out, He was also fully human and impacted by the thought of all that faced Him in the hours ahead. He was about to be betrayed by one who had spent three years at His side. The rest of His disciples would end up deserting Him. And He would undergo a series of humiliating trials, brutal beatings, and an excruciating death on a Roman cross.

And Jesus, moved in spirit, announced to His disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me” (John 13:21 ESV). As expected, His disciples were shocked by this news and began to speculate who among them would dare to do such a thing. Matthew records in his gospel that the disciples were saddened by this news “and began to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I, Lord?’” (Matthew 26:22 ESV).

And Peter, anxious to know who the guilty party might be, got the attention of John, who was reclining at Jesus’ right side at the table. John, the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23 ESV), leaned back against Jesus and asked, “Lord, who is it?” (John 13:25 ESV). To which Jesus responded, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it” (John 13:26 ESV). This was in direct fulfillment of Psalm 41:9.

There are some scholars who believe that Judas was seated to Jesus’ left hand, a place of honor. So, all Jesus had to do was dip the morsel of unleavened bread into the paschal stew and hand it to His betrayer. And John reports that as soon as Jesus gave the bread to Judas, “Satan entered into him” (John 13:27 ESV).

Metaphorically, Jesus, as the bread of life, personally handed Himself over to His betrayer. In passing the morsel of bread to Judas, Jesus was symbolically offering His life to the very one who would reject His offer of eternal life in exchange for “the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:19 ESV). Judas was going to sell Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver.

In his first letter, John would warn of the danger of allowing a love of the world to replace our love for God and His Son.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. – 1 John 2:15 NLT

And he would go on to describe the destructive and unfulfilling nature of this love affair with the world.

For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. – 1 John 2:16 NLT

Judas was a sell-out. It seems likely that his decision to follow Jesus had been motivated by what he thought he could get out of it. And when Jesus failed to manifest Himself as the conquering warrior and made no effort to establish His kingdom on earth, Judas lost interest. He was driven by a love of the world and a desire for fame and fortune. And knowing that the religious leaders were anxious to arrest Jesus, Judas had decided to turn his wasted three years into a financial windfall. But Jesus warned that this decision by Judas would have deadly consequences, and not just for Him.

“The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” – Matthew 26:24 ESV

Both men were fated for death. Jesus would be betrayed by Judas so that He might fulfill the will of His Heavenly Father and suffer for the sins of mankind by His death on a tree. And Judas, after selling out the sinless Lamb of God, would also suffer an ignoble death by hanging himself from a tree. His crime and its punishment would be remembered throughout the centuries.

Jesus, after handing the bread to Judas, whispered to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly” (John 13:27 ESV). His hour had come and it was important that Judas fulfill his role. The betrayal of Jesus by Judas was going to set into motion the final phase of God’s grand redemptive plan. And John simply records: “after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night” (John 13:30 ESV).

Darkness descended. The night had come. With the last four words of verse 30, John reminds his readers of the words spoken by Jesus in regards to His pending death.

“My light will shine for you just a little longer. Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going. Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.” – John 12:35-36 NLT

The time had come for the light to be extinquished. The moment for Jesus’ death was fast approaching. But it was all part of the divine plan to bring salvation to sin-darkened 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

Faith in the Face of Affliction

1 Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain. 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5 ESV

We know from Luke’s account of Paul’s second missionary journey, recorded in the book of Acts, that Paul and Silas had been forced to flee Thessalonica because of threats against their lives. They left under the cover of night and made their way to Berea. Their initial reception in Berea was positive and Luke records that the Jews there “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11 ESV). But before long, the Jews in Thessalonica got word that Paul and Silas were in Berea and sent men to stir up the local Jews against them. Once again, Paul was forced to leave, but he asked Silas and Timothy to remain behind in Berea (Acts 17:14). Paul then made his way to Athens by boat. Once there, he immediately went to work sharing the gospel, even preaching in the Areopagus, an outdoor arena located on a small hill northwest of the city of Athens. The term,  Areopagus referred to the place and the council of rulers who met there to debate and discuss important topics. Paul addressed this learned group, using the local shrine to the “unknown god” to discuss with them the truth regarding Jesus Christ. And all went well until he mentioned Jesus being raised from the dead.

Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. – Acts 17:31-33 ESV

In spite of the negative response of the council, there were those who heard Paul’s message and believed.

In his letter to the Thessalonian believers, Paul picks up the recounting of his travel itinerary right at this point.

Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith… – 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2 ESV

Paul had left Silas and Timothy back in Berea, but a further decision had been made to have Timothy return to Thessalonica to continue the work of building up the local congregation there. In a series of letters he had written to Timothy, Paul provided his young friend and ministry partner with some specific instructions regarding his work among these fledgling congregations.

Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them. – 1 Timothy 4:12-13 NLT

Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. – 2 Timothy 4:2 NLT

Paul reminds the Thessalonian believers that Timothy had been sent to encourage and instruct them, but also to strengthen their faith as they wrestled with the persecution they were facing.

We sent him to strengthen you, to encourage you in your faith, and to keep you from being shaken by the troubles you were going through. – 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3 NLT

If you recall, a year earlier, when Paul and Silas had been in Thessalonica, a mob attacked the home of Jason, one of the members of the local congregation. He and a few other Christians had been dragged before the city council where they had been falsely accused of insurrection against the Roman government.

“They are all guilty of treason against Caesar, for they profess allegiance to another king, named Jesus.” – Acts 17:7 NLT

Jason and his companions were forced to post bond and released, but the pressure on this small congregation did not let up. The Jews living in Thessalonica saw them as a threat and continued to stir up trouble for them. The Gospel was having an impact, resulting in the conversions of some of the members of the local synagogue. And this resulted in a spirit of jealousy and resentment among the Jews. And the city council, answerable to the Roman government, was not about to tolerate anyone or anything that caused a spirit of dissent or discord in their community. So, this small congregation of Christ-followers was under increasing pressure and growing persecution.

But Paul reminds them:

…you know that we are destined for such troubles. Even while we were with you, we warned you that troubles would soon come—and they did, as you well know. – 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 NLT

He had warned them that trouble would come, and it had shown up as promised. Evidently, this had been the motivation behind Paul’s decision to send Timothy back to Thessalonica. He was concerned that the pressure being placed upon the believers there would cause them to consider reneging on their commitment to Christ.

Paul had a strong commitment to the spiritual well-being of the local church and, knowing that persecution was to be expected, he had sent Timothy to provide godly leadership in the face of opposition. And he had already provided Timothy with ample instructions regarding his role as an elder/shepherd of the people of God.

I am writing these things to you now, even though I hope to be with you soon, so that if I am delayed, you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God. This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth. – 1 Timothy 3:14-15 NLT

The church was to be the pillar and foundation of the truth. The local congregation in Thessalonica was meant to conduct itself in keeping with the truth of the Gospel, exhibiting its life-transforming power even in the face of persecution. Paul was well aware of the fact that Satan would do everything in his power to discourage and demoralize the young believers in Thessalonica. In fact, he confessed to them his fear that they would give in to the enemy’s attacks on their faith.

I was afraid that the tempter had gotten the best of you and that our work had been useless. – 1 Thessalonians 3:5 NLT

Paul had expressed similar concerns to the believers in Ephesus and had provided them with insights into the nature of the spiritual battle in which they were engaged.

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:10-12 NLT

Faith in Christ had resulted in salvation for the believers in Thessalonica. But it had also resulted in persecution. Their commitment to Christ had placed a bullseye on their backs and made them tempting targets for the enemy. And Paul knew that the constant presence of trials and tribulations would cause some to lose faith. Their strength to stand firm in the face of opposition would grow weak and the temptation to return to their old way of life would be great.

Paul had warned Timothy that this would happen, so he had encouraged him to “fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and thereby shipwrecked their faith” (1 Timothy 1:18-19 BSB).

The local church is meant to be the pillar and foundation of the truth. It is within the local fellowship that the miracle of the Gospel shows up in transformed lives and a loving community of Christ-centered people who love God and each other. But for that local church to be impactful, it will require individual believers who remain committed to the cause of Christ regardless of any persecutions or problems they may face.

Paul knew that the Thessalonian believers were suffering, but he also knew that they could survive and thrive. His answer to their problem of persecution was simple. It was the very same thing he had told the believers in Corinth.

Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love. – 1 Corinthians 16:13 NLT

And God had not left them ill-equipped or on their own. He had provided them with ample resources to fight the good fight of faith.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. – Ephesians 6:13-17 NLT

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

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

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

Well Worth the Effort

13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last! 

17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy. 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20 ESV

While there had been those who accused Paul and Silas of being in the ministry for what they could get out of it, Paul strongly denied their charges. He insisted that “we were not preaching with any deceit or impure motives or trickery” (1 Thessalonians 2:3 NLT). Their purpose had been “to please God, not people” (1 Thessalonians 2:4 NLT). And with God as his witness, Paul asserted “we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money!” (1 Thessalonians 2:5 NLT).

Now, Paul uses the Thessalonians themselves as witnesses to his defense. He recalls how they had gladly heard and received the message of the gospel.

…when you received his message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas. You accepted what we said as the very word of God—which, of course, it is. – 1 Thessalonians 2:13 NLT

They knew from their own experience that the message of salvation through faith in Christ alone was real and life-changing. Upon believing, they had received the filling of the Holy Spirit, which was proof that the words of Paul and Silas were from God and not from men. And Paul could not stop thanking God for the life-transforming power of the Gospel. He even reminds the Thessalonians that this power to change lives was still at work in them.

…this word continues to work in you who believe. – 1 Thessalonians 2:13 NLT

The word they had shared had worked. It had produced in them true and lasting life change. For Paul, that was the bottom line. It was all the proof needed to substantiate his ministry and message. The Thessalonians had gotten far more out of Paul and Silas’ ministry than they had. And before they considered listening to the false claims leveled against Paul and Silas, they needed to look at the fruit in their own lives. They were living proof of the validity of the ministry and the message of these two men.

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul provided them with a much-needed reminder of the transformation the Gospel had made in their lives. He wanted them to see and appreciate the stark before-and-after contrast of their encounter with Christ. The Gospel had been far more than just another message from the lips of men. It had been radically transformational and eternally significant.

Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NLT

This was true for the Thessalonian believers as well. They had each experienced a remarkable alteration to their habits and behaviors. Faith in Christ had resulted in the fruit of the Spirit. If they were ever tempted to question Paul’s motives, all they had to do was look at the impact of his message on their own lives. They had been cleansed, made holy, and restored to a right relationship with God.

And Paul adds another aspect of their experience that gave proof of the Gospel’s veracity and power.

…you suffered persecution from your own countrymen. In this way, you imitated the believers in God’s churches in Judea who, because of their belief in Christ Jesus, suffered from their own people, the Jews. – 1 Thessalonians 2:14 NLT

Their own persecution at the hands of their countrymen was proof of the Gospel’s power. Their lives had changed and their friends and neighbors had not been happy with the results. They had become lights in the darkness, exposing the sinful condition of their fellow citizens. And the result had been persecution. And Paul assures them that this was normal and to be expected. It was further proof of the Gospel’s power. Their suffering on behalf of their faith in Christ was exactly what the believers in Judea had experienced. It came with the territory.

Jesus Himself had warned, “everyone will hate you because you are my followers” (Mark 13:13 NLT). He had told His disciples that they could expect to be hated by the world.

“The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you.” – John 15:19-20 NLT

And this hatred by the world was nothing new. The message of God’s redemptive plan for mankind has always met with resistance. Paul recounts how the prophets of God, who had carried His message of repentance to His disobedient children, were met with rejection and even faced death at the hands of those they were trying to save. And the apostles of Jesus were having similar experiences as they took the message of God’s offer of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone to a lost and dying world.

To the world, the message of the Gospel was non-sensical. The claim that the God of the universe had sent His Son to take on human flesh and die on a cross to pay for the sins of mankind sounded ridiculous. And the very fact that the salvation offered by God required an admission of sin and the need for a Savior, made the Jews uncomfortable. Paul pointed out the incomprehensible nature of the Gospel in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. – 1 Corinthians 1:21-23 NLT

The Gospel has and will always face opposition. But Paul insists that those who stand opposed to God’s gracious offer of salvation made possible through His Son’s sacrificial death will fail. Paul flatly states that in their attempt to reject the Gospel message or its messengers they “fail to please God and work against all humanity as they try to keep us from preaching the Good News of salvation to the Gentiles” (1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 NLT). Sadly, their efforts do little more than anger God and add to their debt of sin. And, as Paul told the believers in Rome, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NLT).

For Paul, the physical separation from his spiritual children in Thessalonica was difficult. He longed to see them and to continue his ministry among them. It had been more than a year since he and Silas had first visited their city, and a lot had taken place during that time frame. He was proud of them, but his pastoral heart longed to be with them. But, Paul insists, he had faced some serious opposition that kept his desire from becoming reality.

we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. – 1 Thessalonians 2:18 ESV

Paul believed in spiritual warfare. He was fully convinced that his ministry was opposed by the enemy of God because his ministry had been ordained by God. His commission placed him on the front lines of a battle that was taking place in the spiritual realms but that had real-life implications.

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT

Paul was well aware that he faced human opposition, but he also knew that the primary force behind it all was Satan himself. And yet, he remained “strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” and he “put on all of God’s armor” so he would “be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11 NLT).

And, fully prepared for the battle in which he found himself engaged, Paul found the motivation to fight the good fight by focusing on the fruit of his efforts.

After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when he returns? It is you! Yes, you are our pride and joy. – 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 NLT

Doing battle with the enemy was well worth it because it meant the difference between souls being saved or remaining lost. Resisting the opposition was essential if the message of man’s reconciliation to God was to continue being spread. The joy of watching lives be transformed by the power of the Gospel is what kept Paul going. And while he may face opposition in this life, he knew the day was coming when all his efforts would be repaid with eternal life.

…what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. – Romans 8:18 NLT

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

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

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

And All Ends Well

1 Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops;
    siege is laid against us;
with a rod they strike the judge of Israel
    on the cheek.
2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
    to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace.

When the Assyrian comes into our land
    and treads in our palaces,
then we will raise against him seven shepherds
    and eight princes of men;
they shall shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword,
    and the land of Nimrod at its entrances;
and he shall deliver us from the Assyrian
    when he comes into our land
    and treads within our border. Micah 5:1-6 ESV

One of the things that makes reading this section of Micah’s prophecy so difficult is that his timeline seems to be all over the place. One minute he is talking about end times events that remain as yet unfulfilled, and then, suddenly, he seems to be refocusing the lens of prophecy on more recent, yet still future events.

In the Hebrew Bible, verse 1 of chapter 5 is actually the last verse of chapter 4. If you recall, chapter 4 ends with these words:

“Rise up and crush the nations, O Jerusalem!”
    says the Lord.
“For I will give you iron horns and bronze hooves,
    so you can trample many nations to pieces.
You will present their stolen riches to the Lord,
    their wealth to the Lord of all the earth.” – Micah 4:12 NLT

This is meant to be a message of comfort and joy, telling the people of Judah and Jerusalem that there is a day in their future when the table will turn and they will become the conqueror rather than the conquered. But before that can take place, something else must occur.

Mobilize! Marshal your troops!
    The enemy is laying siege to Jerusalem.
They will strike Israel’s leader
    in the face with a rod. – Micah 5:1 NLT

Before the good news can be experienced, the bad news will have to take place. It’s as if Micah is refocusing the lens of the camera and allowing the people of Judah to see what is much closer on the prophetic timeline. The enemy was close at hand. Babylon was going to lay siege to Jerusalem and their leader/judge was going to suffer ignominy at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and his forces. The prophet Jeremiah describes the end of Zedekiah’s reign.

Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon. So on January 15, during the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon led his entire army against Jerusalem. They surrounded the city and built siege ramps against its walls. Jerusalem was kept under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah’s reign.

By July 18 in the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign, the famine in the city had become very severe, and the last of the food was entirely gone. Then a section of the city wall was broken down, and all the soldiers fled. Since the city was surrounded by the Babylonians, they waited for nightfall. Then they slipped through the gate between the two walls behind the king’s garden and headed toward the Jordan Valley.

But the Babylonian troops chased King Zedekiah and overtook him on the plains of Jericho, for his men had all deserted him and scattered. They captured the king and took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath. There the king of Babylon pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. The king of Babylon made Zedekiah watch as he slaughtered his sons. He also slaughtered all the officials of Judah at Riblah. Then he gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him in bronze chains, and the king of Babylon led him away to Babylon. Zedekiah remained there in prison until the day of his death. – Jeremiah 52:3-11 NLT

This would be the beginning of the end. The Babylonians would destroy the temple of God, slaughter the priests, and take thousands of the cities inhabitants as captives back to Babylon.

But then, just as quickly as he has prophesied bad news, Micah shifts the focus back to the far-distant future and describes the coming of another king. From the small and relatively obscure town of Bethlehem, will come another, greater ruler.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days. – Micah 5:2 ESV

This king would be born in the town of Bethlehem (House of Bread) in the region formerly known as Ephrathah (Fruitful). Bethlehem was the birthplace of another king of Israel, David, the man after God’s own heart. But Micah is prophesying about a time in the future when another man who shares God’s heart will be sent by God to rule over Israel. And centuries later, Matthew would make the obvious connection between Micah’s prophecy and the coming of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
    are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
   who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’” – Matthew 2:1-6 NLT

In verses 3-5, Micah collapses thousands of years of history into three short lines. Writing while under the influence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Micah was being given a vision he could not fully comprehend. He was explaining future events that would span millenniums and include everything from Jesus’s first advent to His second coming.

The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies
    until the woman in labor gives birth.
Then at last his fellow countrymen
    will return from exile to their own land.
And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
Then his people will live there undisturbed,
    for he will be highly honored around the world.
    And he will be the source of peace. – Micah 5:3-5 NLT

The Israelites would find themselves living under the oppressive rule of their enemies all the way up until the point that Jesus was born. He would arrive on the scene at the height of Rome’s rule over Judah and the surrounding region. And even long after Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, the nation of Israel would remain like sheep without a shepherd. Many of the Jews would be scattered abroad, forced to live outside the land of promise. And even to this day, the vast majority of the Jews live outside the nation of Israel.

But Micah speaks of a day when they will return from exile to their own land. And they will be led by this future king, the Messiah, who will become their source of strength and peace. He will provide for them the security, safety, and significance for which they have longed. This will all be in fulfillment of the prophecy found in chapter 4.

“In that coming day,” says the Lord,
“I will gather together those who are lame,
    those who have been exiles,
    and those whom I have filled with grief.
Those who are weak will survive as a remnant;
    those who were exiles will become a strong nation.
Then I, the Lord, will rule from Jerusalem
    as their king forever.” – Micah 4:6-7 NLT

Micah is being given a glimpse into the Millennial Kingdom of Christ, a literal thousand-year period of time when Jesus will return to earth and establish His Kingdom in Jerusalem, where He will reign in righteousness from the throne of David. The book of Revelation provides a glimpse into this future day and how it will come about.

He seized the dragon—that old serpent, who is the devil, Satan—and bound him in chains for a thousand years. The angel threw him into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. Afterward he must be released for a little while.

Then I saw thrones, and the people sitting on them had been given the authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaiming the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They all came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

This is the first resurrection. (The rest of the dead did not come back to life until the thousand years had ended.) Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. For them the second death holds no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years. – Revelation 20:2-6 NLT

The Millennial Kingdom of Christ will be marked by peace, righteousness, justice, and mercy. He will rule over the world as the holy, God-appointed King of kings and Lord of lords. And it will be in fulfillment of the covenant God had made with David.

“Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:16 NLT

And with Jesus Christ, the Messiah, as their righteous ruler, the people of God will have nothing to fear. At the point in time when Micah was penning these words, the Assyrians were the greatest threat to the people of Israel. The Babylonians had not yet arrived on the scene, and the Assyrians were throwing around their weight in the region, and would eventually defeat the northern kingdom of Israel. But Micah speaks of another Assyrian conquest, far into the future, when invaders would attempt to defeat the nation of Israel once again, but their efforts would fail.

These invaders will find Israel being led by the Messiah, and the King will guide His people to victory over their enemies. They will have more than enough shepherds and princes to lead the people. And they will have the Son of God as their champion, leading them in battle against the nations of the earth.

Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations, as he has fought in times past. – Zechariah 14:3 NLT

And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day there will be one Lord—his name alone will be worshiped. – Zechariah 14:9 NLT

The story of Israel has a very happy ending. And while Micah was not privy to all the details, he was faithful to proclaim the good news concerning God’s future plans for the nation of Israel. And the apostle John was given the privilege of witnessing the final stage in God’s victory over Satan and his forces as Jesus, the Messiah and King, delivers the final blow.

When the thousand years come to an end, Satan will be let out of his prison. He will go out to deceive the nations—called Gog and Magog—in every corner of the earth. He will gather them together for battle—a mighty army, as numberless as sand along the seashore. And I saw them as they went up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded God’s people and the beloved city. But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them.

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 20:7-10 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.

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

Fulness of Joy

12 Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

13 The children of your elect sister greet you. – 2 John 1:12-13 ESV

Despite its abbreviated length, this letter packs a punch. John wasted no time or words in getting to the point he wanted to make. In fact, he indicated that, while there had been other topics he wanted to address with them, he had chosen to dedicate this letter to a single subject. And he let them know that it was his desire to come and visit them in person. It must have been difficult for John, Paul, and the other apostles to attempt to minister to so many churches spread over such a great distance.

These small and isolated congregations often lacked local leadership and were filled with people who had little knowledge of what it meant to live as a Christian. Beyond their initial exposure to the Gospel message and their acceptance of it, they had probably received scant details regarding their ongoing sanctification. That’s why these letters were so vital to the spiritual well-being of these local gatherings of new converts to Christianity. There was no completed canon of Scripture. There were no books available at the local Christian bookstore. They had no access to podcasts or online sermons and studies. Every day, they would find themselves bombarded by everything from false doctrine to the insults of their pagan friends and family members. The motivation to give in to temptation and to give up on the promises found in the Gospel would have been intense.

And the enemy knew that the compromise of their faith would be just as effective as their complete repudiation of it. A diminishment or diluting of their belief in the deity of Jesus would be just as damaging as if they denied Him altogether. That is why John wrote his letter. Finding himself physically separated from this fledgling congregation, he took advantage of the primary communications media of his day: The letter.

He penned a loving but stern warning to a group of people who he recognized as children in the faith. They were spiritual newborns who needed to be cared for and protected so they could reach full spiritual maturity. This was the same message that Peter expressed in one of his letters:

Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment… – 1 Peter 2:2 NLT

Both Peter and John recognized that everyone enters the faith as a spiritual infant, immature and ill-prepared for the journey ahead of them. Yes, they have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, but they require feeding and instruction. That is why Jesus commissioned His disciples to “Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” (Matthew 28:20 NLT). And beyond the initial group of men whom Jesus had sent, He had raised up other leaders to shepherd His flock. And the apostle Paul describes the job description of these individuals.

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-12 NLT

But despite the efforts of these Christ-commissioned leaders, the spiritual maturity of the church is not automatic or guaranteed. Paul expressed his concern for the lack of spiritual growth among the believers in Corinth, describing them as infants in Christ, rather than healthy, mature adults.

Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. – 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT

Spiritual growth is non-optional. Just as parents expect their child to grow into a fully functioning adult, so God expects His children to mature in their faith until, as Paul put it, “we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NLT).

But the sad reality is that some who claim to be followers of Christ fail to grow up. They remain spiritual infants, stunted in their growth and unable to contribute to the well-being of the body of Christ. The author of Hebrews had strong words for those who choose to remain in a state of spiritual infancy.

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. – Hebrews 5:12 NLT

John cared deeply for those to whom he wrote. He knew that they were susceptible to false teaching and faulty doctrine. And the enemy was attacking the foundational elements of their faith: The deity of Jesus and the reality of the resurrection. If those pillars of the faith fell, there would be nothing to support their further growth in godliness. That is why John was so adamant that they have nothing to do with those who taught lies concerning Jesus. They needed to remain committed to the truth. It was the key to their future glorification, but also to their present sanctification.

The enemy continues to attack the church by disseminating falsehood. He cannot stop anyone from coming to faith in Christ, but he can hinder their efforts to grow up into Christ. He does so by turning Jesus into nothing more than a good man whose life is worth emulating. He presents Jesus as an icon of virtue and a model for righteousness. Idolizing Jesus is fully acceptable. But worshiping Him as God is not. Seeing Jesus as a saint-like figure who did good deeds is preferable to recognizing Him as the Savior who died for the sins of man.

But John wanted his readers to know that the lies of the enemy, while subtle, were sinister and deadly. They needed to wake up and grow up. They needed to be alert to the dangers all around them. The promises concerning the Gospel were true, but the enemy was going to do everything in his power to confuse truth with lies. But John started out his letter by reminding his audience that the truth “abides in us and will be with us forever” (2 John 1:2 ESV). And he ended his letter by stating his desire to see them face to face so “that our joy may be complete” (2 John 1:12 ESV).

These words echo what John wrote in his first letter. The fulness of joy John described and desired was available only through a persistent and unwavering trust in the truth about Jesus.

We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy. – 1 John 4:1-4 NLT

The believers to whom John wrote had never seen Jesus. They had never had the pleasure of hearing Him teach or watching Him perform miracles. They had not been there when He rose from the dead and appeared to the disciples. But John wanted them to know that everything they had heard about Jesus was true. And he wanted them to experience the same degree of joy that he and the other disciples had felt when they saw their Savior in His resurrected state.

John knew that fulness of joy was directly tied to faith in Jesus. He would have recalled the words of Jesus

“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

And John’s emphasis on fulness of joy was borrowed from the lips of Jesus Himself.

“I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! – John 15:11 NLT

John knew that the key to joy was a commitment to the truth as proclaimed by Jesus. He was the vine and they were the branches. And as long as they remained in Him, they would produce much fruit. They would mature and grow, as the life-transforming power of God flowed through them and out from them to all those around them.

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

Another Gospel

Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. – 2 John 1:9-11 ESV

John, as an apostle of Jesus Christ, took his role seriously. He had high regard for the teachings of Jesus and a strong sense of responsibility when it came to the wellbeing of the body of Christ. Like Paul, his fellow apostle, John was always on the lookout for those who would do harm to the church of Jesus Christ. They were both very aware that the enemy was out to destroy what Jesus had created. And Jesus, on the very night He was betrayed into the hands of the Jewish religious leaders, had made a heartfelt request of His Heavenly Father:

“I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.” – John 17:14-19 NLT

Jesus knew His followers were going to face intense opposition. Satan was going to throw all his resources against those who aligned themselves with Jesus Christ. When his attempt to thwart the redemptive plan of God by murdering the Son of God proved an abysmal failure, Satan would ramp up his efforts to stifle the Gospel by diluting and distorting it with lies and half-truths. But notice what Jesus prayed that night. He asked that His Father would keep His followers holy or set apart by the truth of His Word.

The truth of the Gospel message was going to be the key to resisting the lies of the enemy. And John warns his readers that anyone who did not remain committed to the teachings of Jesus never really knew Him. If they ended up rejecting the claims of Jesus to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world, it would be because they never truly believed in Him, to begin with. And John bluntly states that the rejection of Jesus as the incarnation of God in the flesh was to reject God Himself.

Anyone who wanders away from this teaching has no relationship with God. – 2 John 1:9 NLT

It is interesting to note that John describes these deserters of the Gospel as “running ahead.” He used the Greek word, parabainō, which conveys the idea of passing over or stepping around something. It is often translated as “transgress.” Under the influence of the false teachers, these people would choose to walk around the truths regarding Jesus and pass on to something new and seemingly better. Convinced that they were hearing new and improved information regarding Jesus, they would leave the teachings of the apostles behind. But John warns that, in doing so, they would be turning their backs on God. And John was not making this up. He was simply repeating what He had heard Jesus say.

“If I were to testify on my own behalf, my testimony would not be valid. But someone else is also testifying about me, and I assure you that everything he says about me is true. In fact, you sent investigators to listen to John the Baptist, and his testimony about me was true. Of course, I have no need of human witnesses, but I say these things so you might be saved. John was like a burning and shining lamp, and you were excited for a while about his message. But I have a greater witness than John—my teachings and my miracles. The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he sent me. And the Father who sent me has testified about me himself. You have never heard his voice or seen him face to face, and you do not have his message in your hearts, because you do not believe me—the one he sent to you.” – John 5:31-38 NLT

The testimony of God verified the claims of Jesus. And no additional truth or new revelations from the lips of men were going to replace what God had declared about Jesus. “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him” (Luke 9:35 NLT).

John had no doubt as to Jesus’ deity and His claims of divinity. He had heard Jesus boldly claim, “I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me” (John 8:18 ESV). And John had been an eye-witness to not only the crucifixion of Jesus but also His miraculous resurrection. Everything had happened just as Jesus had said it would. He had risen from the dead, and John had seen it with his own eyes. 

So, John flatly asserts that if anyone suddenly decided that the truth as testified by God was false, they were the ones who were in error. John could well remember the extremely harsh words Jesus had spoken to the religious leaders of the Jews.

“Since you don’t know who I am, you don’t know who my Father is. If you knew me, you would also know my Father.” – John 8:19 NLT

A false understanding of Jesus and His identity will lead to a false understanding of God. If Jesus was just a man, then God is a liar. If Jesus did not resurrect from the dead, then God has provided no means by which men can be restored to a right relationship with Him. The apostle Paul pointed out the futility of faith in a Jesus who did not rise from the grave.

…if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. – 1 Corinthians 15:17-18 NLT

But Paul goes on to provide the truth regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection.

But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. – 1 Corinthians 15:19 NLT

And John fully supports Paul’s assertion when he states, “But anyone who remains in the teaching of Christ has a relationship with both the Father and the Son” (2 John 1:9 NLT). Those who remain committed to and dependent upon the promise of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone will not be disappointed. To know Jesus is to know the Father. That is why Jesus claimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” (John 14:6-7 NLT).

John wanted his audience to know that they were to have nothing to do with those who preached a different version of Jesus. If their teaching contradicted that of Jesus and the apostles, the church was to have nothing to do with them.

If anyone comes to your meeting and does not teach the truth about Christ, don’t invite that person into your home or give any kind of encouragement. – 2 John 1:10 NLT

When it came to the Gospel, there was to be no place for toleration of alternate versions or new insights into who Jesus was and what He had come to do. The apostle Paul accused the church in Corinth of happily putting up with all kinds of false messages, including “a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed” (2 Corinthians 11:4 NLT). He issued a similar condemnation to the church in Galatia.

I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News. – Galatians 1:6 NLT

This was a real problem in the early days of the church, and it remains so even today. And the warning John gave to the members of the church in Asia Minor is just as relevant for us as it was for them.

Anyone who encourages such people becomes a partner in their evil work… – 2 John 1:11 NLT

The Gospel is the Gospel. It is not to be added to, distorted in any way, clarified, or amplified. In fact, the apostle Paul warns that anyone who tampers with the Gospel message as testified by God, proclaimed by Jesus, and preached by the apostles was to be cursed.

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed. – Galatians 1:8-9 NLT

Serious and sober words because the message of the Gospel is the key to eternal life.

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

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

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

The Truth Vs. The Lie

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, people who do not confess Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh. This person is the deceiver and the antichrist! Watch out, so that you do not lose the things we have worked for, but receive a full reward. – 2 John 1:7-8 ESV

John is encouraging his readers to live their lives according to the truth of the Gospel. And at the core of the gospel message can be found the love of God. The “good news” is that God sent His Son to be the payment for mankind’s sin debt. Jesus Christ took on human flesh so that He might do what no other human being has ever been able to do: Obey every single law given by God. And Jesus did so willingly and perfectly.  The apostle Paul points out the necessity for Jesus to become a man so that He might obey God’s commands “in the flesh.”

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He 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

The author of Hebrews supports Paul’s point, adding that Jesus became like us so that He might become the acceptable substitute for us.

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

And Paul expands the scope of God’s actions by pointing out that it was Jesus’ sinlessness or purity that made Him an acceptable sacrifice to God. He paid for our sins with His life and provided a means by which we can be restored to a right relationship with God.

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

And all of this was done because God “so loved the world” (John 3:16). The truly amazing thing is that God’s love was despite us, not because of us. He loved us when we were at our worst. As Paul points out in Romans, it was “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 ESV). And it is that same kind of selfless, sacrificial love that we are to share with those around us, especially to those within the body of Christ. We are to live our lives according to the truth of the Gospel – in keeping with the love displayed through the Gospel.

But John had some words of warning for the local fellowship to whom he was writing. He wanted them to recognize the very real threat of those who would seek to distort the truth. John had been around long enough to know that the message of the Gospel was under constant attack, from without and from within. There were those outside the church who opposed the truth regarding Jesus Christ. They rejected the claims that He was the Messiah and the Savior of the world. They denied the reality of the resurrection. To them, Christianity was nothing more than just another cult or sect of Judaism. But even the Jews themselves took issue with this movement they labeled “the way.” To them, Christians were, at best, a nuisance and, at worst, a very real threat to their religious system. So, the Jews persecuted Christians wherever and whenever they could.

But the greatest threats to the faith usually come from within. And the agents behind these threats are subtle and sinister, disguising themselves as purveyors of truth and beacons of light. But notice that John describes these people as “deceivers.” They claim to be fellow followers of Christ, yet all the while denying His deity.  John pulls no punches when he states that they “do not confess Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh” (2 John 1:7 ESV). The New Living Translation puts it this way: “They deny that Jesus Christ came in a real body.

The truth regarding the incarnation of Jesus was under constant attack. And there were those who, while claiming to be followers of Jesus, regularly denied the teaching that Jesus took on human flesh. And you can see why this bothered John. If Jesus did not become a man, then the Gospel lost its power. It was the humanity of Jesus that made Him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of man. Yet these deceivers were eliminating the possibility of the incarnation. In fact, John talked about the impact of these false teachers in his first letter.

For there are many false prophets in the world. This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. – 1 John 4:2 NLT

So, what were these “deceivers” saying about Jesus? Obviously, they denied His humanity. They were claiming that Jesus, the man, had not been born of the Father and was, therefore, not divine. By denying the deity of Jesus, they were contradicting the testimony of God Himself, and John pointed this out in his previous letter.

All who believe in the Son of God know in their hearts that this testimony is true. Those who don’t believe this are actually calling God a liar because they don’t believe what God has testified about his Son. – 1 John 5:10 NLT

These false teachers denied that Jesus was God’s Anointed One who had come in the flesh. And John labels anyone propagating these lies as “the deceiver and the antichrist!” (2 John 1:7 ESV). In essence, John accuses these people of being Satan himself. John remembered how Jesus had described Satan: “He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44 NLT).

In his second letter to the believers in Thessalonica, Paul warned them about a future day when the Antichrist, the man of lawlessness, would appear on the scene.

This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. So God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies. Then they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth. – 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 NLT

This end-times character will show up on the world scene, exhibiting great power and utilizing deception to turn the world away from the truth of the Gospel. As a pawn of Satan, the Antichrist will convince people to reject the truth that could save them – the truth regarding God’s love as displayed through the incarnation of His Son, and demonstrated by His sacrificial death on the cross as the payment for their sin debt.

And while the Antichrist is not scheduled to appear until the period known as the Great Tribulation, his spirit is alive and well. Even in John’s day, this deceptive influence was making its way through the local church as these false teachers spread around the world, disseminating their half-truths and pious-sounding platitudes about Jesus. That is why John warned his readers to “Watch out, so that you do not lose the things we have worked for, but receive a full reward” (2 John 1:8 ESV). 

But what is John saying here? Is he inferring that the believers to whom he is writing can somehow lose their salvation? John refers to them losing “the things we have worked for.” He and the rest of the apostles had spent their lives spreading the truth of the Gospel all around the known world. They had diligently and faithfully preached the life-transformative power of the gospel to save and sanctify. John had fully believed and taught the words of Jesus: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV).

He wanted his fellow Christ-followers to experience all that Jesus had died to deliver to them. He longed for them to experience the abundant life Jesus had promised. But if they bought into the lies of the false teachers and began to question the very deity of Jesus, they would find themselves doubting the very truth of the Gospel and questioning their own salvation.

John is in no way suggesting that Christians can lose their reward. They are at no risk of missing out on eternity. In fact, it seems that John is warning that if you accept the lies of the false teachers, you never really believed the truth of the Gospel to begin with. Your faith was false all along. Which brings us back to love, the topic John covered in the previous verses of his letter. Love is the driving force of the Gospel message, as illustrated in God sending His own Son in the likeness of human flesh. The apostle Paul points out that Jesus…“gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8 NLT).

And He did it out of love. If you fail to believe that, you have failed to experience the love of God. And you will never experience the abundant life Jesus came to offer. And if you deny that Jesus was God in the flesh, you have no hope of ever enjoying the ultimate reward of eternal life.

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

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

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

The Calm Before the Storm

1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
    humble, and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” –  Matthew 21:1-11 ESV

jesus-christ-triumphal-entry-949744-wallpaperJesus was making His way to Jerusalem, a journey He had anticipated for some time and about which he had warned the disciples. It would be a trip with a two-fold purpose: To celebrate the Feast of Passover, but also to present Himself as the sacrificial Lamb for the sins of mankind. There was a festive mood on the roads and in the villages surrounding Jerusalem because of all the pilgrims who were making their way to the city in order to celebrate Passover. But there was another group who were excited for an entirely different reason. They were hoping to find Jesus.

Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him. – John 11:55-57 ESV

Not long before Jesus began His trip to Jerusalem, He had performed yet another miracle in the city of Bethany, just two miles from Jerusalem. It was there that He had raised Lazarus from the dead. And that particular miracle had created quite a stir among the people, causing many to believe in Him. But the religious leaders remained vehemently opposed to Jesus. They saw Him not as a Messiah to be worshiped, but as a radical to be exterminated. The apostle John attempts to explain the growing hatred these men held for Jesus.

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. – John 11:45-53 ESV

We know from John’s gospel account that just six days before Jesus entered Jerusalem, He had returned to Bethany, where He shared a meal with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, the man He had raised from the dead. Ever since his miraculous restoration, Lazarus had become a celebrity. John tells us that “When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead” (John 12:9 ESV). But while Lazarus had become famous among the people, he had become infamous to the religious leaders. 

So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus. – John 12:10-11 ESV

So, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was filled with mixed emotions. There were cheering crowds who welcome Him as they would a king. And His 12 disciples were most likely elated at the reaction of the crowds. It would have been a good omen to them. Maybe this would be the day when Jesus declared Himself king of Israel. Perhaps Jesus would see the positive response of the people and give up all His talk about being mocked, flogged, and crucified.

But while the throng of people crowding the streets contained many who believed in Jesus, it seems that their belief was limited in scope. Yes, they cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” But when asked about the identity of Jesus, they simply responded, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.

They had high hopes. In their hearts, they wanted to believe that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, but they could not bring themselves to buy into His identity as the Son of God. In their minds, He was Jesus from Nazareth, most likely a prophet sent by God, and a man who possessed indisputable, supernatural powers. And the fervor of these “believers” was contagious, causing others to get caught up in the excitement of the moment. But the religious leaders remained filled with contempt and were anxious to capture Jesus before His presence and popularity stirred up any more trouble.

And it’s interesting to note that Jesus did not enter the city silently and clandestinely. He most certainly knew what the Pharisees and scribes were up to. He had already predicted His own betrayal and arrest. So, why did He choose to enter in such a blatantly conspicuous way? Jesus was providing His disciples with proof of His Messianic role by fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming king of Israel. Every one of the instructions He gave His disciples was intended to reveal and confirm His true identity to them. Even His request that they retrieve a donkey and its colt was evidence that He was the Messiah. It fulfilled the words of the prophet, Zechariah, recorded hundreds of years earlier.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
    righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey. – Zecharaiah 9:9 ESV

Everything that happened from this point forward was proof that Jesus was the Messiah, the one whom God had promised would come. And the people, either knowingly or ignorantly, confirmed His identity, when they shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9 ESV). The word “hosanna” literally means “save us now.” Their designation of Jesus as the Son of David was a Messianic title. They were declaring Jesus to be the long-awaited Messiah and King of Israel. But did they really believe what they were saying? Were their cheers and words of declaration the result of true belief or wishful thinking?

Luke records that the Pharisees demanded that Jesus rebuke the crowds for what they were saying, but Jesus simply responded, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 11:40 ESV). This was a God-ordained event, designed to give further proof that Jesus was who He had claimed to be.

God was using the crowds to declare the glory of His Son. And, as Jesus stated, God could have chosen inanimate rocks to do the job instead. His Son was going to be declared as who He was, the Savior of mankind. And as we will see later on in Matthew’s record, the majority of the people who placed palm branches before Jesus and declared Him to be the Son of David would later cry out for His crucifixion.

Emotions were running high that day in Jerusalem. Matthew tells us that the city was “stirred up” because of Jesus. The Greek word he used is seiō, and it means “to be agitated, shaken, or rocked.” The arrival of Jesus was like an earthquake, shaking the entire city to its core. And, as we will see, Jesus was not done yet. This was not going to be a quiet, covert period in His life. Things were building up to a dramatic climax. The tension was mounting. His entire earthly ministry had been pointed to this moment, and the spiritual battle that began with His temptation in the wilderness three years earlier was coming to a final, decisive conclusion.

The event recorded in this passage is often referred to as the “Triumphal Entry.” And while His entry into Jerusalem was accompanied by cheering crowds and outward signs of acceptance and adulation, there was something sinister going on behind the scenes. The adoring multitude with their smiling faces would soon dissipate and disperse. The warm welcome would not last. Because a battle of epic proportions was about to take place. This entire scene serves as the preface for a spiritual confrontation that will rock the world. The Son of God is about to go to war “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV).

From the moment Jesus took on human flesh and came in the form of an innocent baby, Satan had been trying to eliminate this threat to his earthly dominion and rule. All the spiritual forces of evil were aligning themselves against Jesus, in one final attempt to thwart the will of God. But Jesus’ battle with Satan would not involve demons and angels wielding swords and spears. It would entail Jesus sacrificing His life as payment for the sins of mankind. He would defeat the enemy by offering Himself as the atoning sacrifice for Satan-inspired rebellion against God. His death would be viewed as a defeat by His disappointed disciples. But the King would prove to be victorious over sin and death when He was raised back to life.

None of this was apparent to the disciples as they fetched the donkey and reveled in the shouts of the crowd. They were oblivious to what was about to happen. But in time, they would see the battle lines being drawn and the forces of evil aligning themselves against Jesus. It was the calm before the storm.

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 Costly Calling

21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” –  Matthew 16:21-28 ESV

In response to Jesus’ question, “But who do you say that I am?,” Peter had been the first of the 12 to speak up.

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

And Jesus had commended Peter for his answer, acknowledging that it had been revealed to him by God. Peter’s awareness of who Jesus was had come as a direct result of God’s revelation, not human intelligence or the teachings of men.

This common fisherman had been able to see something to which the learned scribes and Pharisees remained oblivious. They were experts in the Mosaic law and students of the Hebrew Scriptures but had failed to see what Peter had seen. They had accused Jesus of operating under the power and influence of Satan. To them, He was little more than a heretic and a man who willingly associated with prostitutes and sinners. They were spiritually blind and unable to see what Peter saw.

Peter was blessed for having been given the capacity to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, but he was about to find out that the privilege of divinely-inspired insight came at a cost. The disciples were able to see Jesus for who He was – their Messiah and Savior – but now they were going to find out exactly what that meant. Their preconceived notions of the Messiah’s role were about to be rocked. Any hopes they had of watching Jesus set up His kingdom on earth and placing them in positions of power and authority were going to be shattered.

Following Peter’s confession came Jesus’ revelation.

Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. – Matthew 16:16 ESV

And we don’t have to wonder how this pronouncement impacted the disciples, because Matthew makes it quite clear.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” – Matthew 16:22 ESV

Once again, Peter was the first to speak up. But this time, his words would reward him with a rebuke from Jesus, not a blessing. In the Greek, Peter’s response was essentially, “God have mercy on you!”

He was expressing his deep-felt desire that God would not allow the words of Jesus to come to fruition. Peter was speaking from his heart. He was appalled by what he had heard. The thought of Jesus suffering and dying was not something he could get his head around. It made no sense. It didn’t fit into his expectations concerning the Messiah. And he couldn’t imagine that God would allow something like this to happen.

While Peter had been shocked at Jesus’ announcement, he was about to be rocked by Jesus’ response to him.

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.” – Matthew 16:23 NLT

Ouch! That had to have stung. Peter had just been pronounced as blessed because of his confession that Jesus was the Messiah. Now, Jesus was calling him “Satan.” What a dramatic turn of events. What an amazing fall from grace. Peter had gone from the teacher’s pet to a spiritual adversary.

But why did Jesus respond so harshly? Peter had meant well. He simply couldn’t imagine Jesus having to go through the things He had described. But Jesus saw Peter’s response for what it was: Satanically inspired.

Just as God had revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Messiah, Satan was attempting to influence Peter’s perception of what that meant. Satan wasn’t trying to dissuade Peter from believing Jesus was the Messiah. He simply wanted to confuse his understanding of the Messiah’s role. Like any good Jew, Peter’s view of the Messiah was somewhat self-centered and self-serving. He was interpreting his God-given awareness of Jesus as the Messiah through a man-made set of expectations. Notice what Jesus accused him of.

Peter was setting his mind on man’s interests, not God’s. He was thinking about what he wanted from the Messiah, not God’s purpose for the Messiah.

Peter was displaying a what’s-in-it-for-me mindset that viewed the Messiah as the answer to all of his personal problems. To Peter’s way of thinking, Jesus was no good to him dead. But what Peter failed to understand was that Jesus would not be the Messiah or Savior unless He died. Jesus had not come to fulfill the will of men, but the will of His Father in heaven. And Peter was going to have to learn that his personal expectations of the Messiah were going to have to take a backseat to God’s will concerning the Messiah.

This is why Jesus turned to all the disciples and said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24 ESV). All of these men had experienced the call of Jesus, inviting them to follow Him. Now, Jesus was letting them know the cost of that calling. Their original motivation to follow Jesus had been self-serving. They had seen something in it for them. But now, Jesus was telling them that their calling came with a cost: Self-denial.

Jesus had just revealed that the role of Messiah came with a tremendous cost. He would suffer and die. In the same way, the role of disciple came with a cost. Just as Jesus would have to die to Himself, they would be required to die to their own self-interests. Jesus would go on to tell His disciples, “whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:27-28 NLT).

Peter had simply wanted to save the life of Jesus. But Jesus told him, “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25 NLT). The model for true discipleship was that of self-sacrifice and selfless service, not self-centeredness. Jesus was attempting to focus the attention of His disciples on the eternal rather than the temporal. He wanted them to think about the kingdom to come, not their own kingdom on earth. Peter wanted it all here and now. But Jesus warned that getting all you desire in this life was worthless if you ended up losing your soul. Temporal treasures and earthly kingdoms will all pass away. But those who focus their eyes on the eternal will discover that their future reward far outweighs any pleasure they find in the present.

Jesus ends His address to His disciples with a somewhat confusing statement:

“Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” – Matthew 16:28 ESV

These words must have left the disciples scratching their heads. They would have wondered what He meant. They would have wanted to know which of them He was referencing. And if we stop here, this verse will leave us just as confused as the disciples must have been. But we have the next chapter of Matthew’s gospel account to provide us with insight.

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. – Matthew 17:1-12 ESV

The disciples would have to go six days without a clue as to what Jesus had meant. Fortunately, we’re given an immediate understanding of just what Jesus had been talking about. But more about that tomorrow.

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