The Peace of God’s Presence

1 In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet: “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people, and say, ‘Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.’” Haggai 2:1-5 ESV

Haggai began his letter with the time stamp: “In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month” (Haggai 1:1 ESV). It was on that fateful day that Haggai delivered his first message from Yahweh to the people of Judah. In it, the Almighty had revealed to Zerubbabel the governor, Joshua the high priest, and the remnant of the people that their 16-year delay in rebuilding the temple had resulted in judgment, and more was on the way. He expected them to honor and fear Him by obeying His word and fulfilling His command to restore the temple to its former glory. They had managed to build houses for themselves but had chosen to leave the house of God in ruins, and God was not pleased. Yet, despite their disobedience, God had assured His chosen people that He was still them and would not abandon them. And that promise stirred their hearts and motivated them to take immediate action.

And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king. – Haggai 1:14-15 ESV

Once again, Haggai provides a detailed timeline of the events surrounding this period of corporate repentance and obedience. For whatever reason, it took three weeks before the people began construction on the temple. No explanation is given for the cause of their delay. Perhaps they needed to gather construction material and prepare the sight. Verse 8 of chapter one reveals that they were going to have to harvest lumber for the project. This entire initiative had been delayed for 16 years, so it’s not surprising that a lot of preparation work was required before the actual construction could begin. But begin it did.

Chapter two opens with another important time marker: “In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month” (Haggai 2:1 ESV). Another month has passed by and God sends Haggai with a second message for the people. This time, He addresses those among the remnant who had been alive when the first temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians.

Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? – Haggai 2:3 ESV

God presents these elderly members of the community with three questions. The first seems to be intended to stress their small numbers. Not many of the original deportees had returned to the land. Nearly 70 years had passed since they had first been taken captive and they would have been small children at the time. Many of their friends, neighbors, and relatives had chosen to remain behind in Persia, rather than return to Judah. So, there were few in the crowd that could recall the glory of the original Solomonic temple.

And God asks this small remnant of elderly eyewitnesses what they think about the new temple. How does it compare? What are their impressions of the work that has been completed thus far? For those who had seen the grandeur of Solomon’s temple, this remodeled version must have been a great disappointment.

It was difficult for these older members of the community to imagine the temple ever being restored to its former glory. To them, the entire process appeared ill-fated and destined for disappointment. The book of Ezra reveals that, sixteen years earlier, when Zerubbabel had supervised the laying of the temple’s foundation, these very same people had wept while their neighbors rejoiced.

But many of the older priests, Levites, and other leaders who had seen the first Temple wept aloud when they saw the new Temple’s foundation. The others, however, were shouting for joy.  The joyful shouting and weeping mingled together in a loud noise that could be heard far in the distance. – Ezra 3:12-13 NLT

God knew that these individuals viewed the new temple “as nothing.” It was a disappointing shadow of the majestic building that had once graced Mount Zion. For them, it was all a sad reminder of all that had happened to the once-powerful nation of Judah. They believed their glory days were behind them. Upon their return to Judah, they had found the nation in disarray and its capital city of Jerusalem in a state of devastating disrepair. These poor people were having a difficult time imagining a rebuilt temple and a revitalized nation. But God had an opinion about the matter.

“But now the Lord says: Be strong, Zerubbabel. Be strong, Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people still left in the land. And now get to work, for I am with you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised when you came out of Egypt. So do not be afraid.” – Haggai 2:4-5 NLT

This time, God addressed His message to Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the rest of the people. Despite the doubts and depressing outlook of the old guard, the people could have hope because God was with them. It had been 440 years, almost to the day, since King David had told his son, Solomon, that God had chosen him to build the original temple.

“Be careful now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be strong and do it.” – 1 Chronicles 28:10 ESV

Then David said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished. – 1 Chronicles 28:20 ESV

Now, almost five centuries later, God was raising up another man to rebuild the house that the Babylonians had destroyed. God had chosen Zerubbabel to complete the work and had assured him that it would be done.

“The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.” – Zechariah 4:9-10 ESV

God had been with Solomon and He would be with Zerubbabel. And God assured Zerubbabel and the people the promise of His enduring presence and power, just as He had done when the people of Israel had left Egypt.

“‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:4-6 ESV

God had repeatedly promised His people that He would be with them.

“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” – Exodus 33:14 ESV

Now, He was reiterating that promise again. Yes, the temple might have appeared to be less than glorious. The circumstances in Judah may have felt daunting and the hope of future restoration might have seemed unlikely. But as long as God was with them, they could have hope. In fact, rather than doubting the future, they should have been expecting great things because they served a great God.

The people suffered from a limited perspective. All they could see was what their eyes revealed. They saw nothing but hard work and disappointing outcomes ahead. Yet God had told them, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10 NLT). They had their part to play. And while they may have viewed their task as little more than wasted effort, God wanted them to know that the outcome was going to be spectacular. He had plans for them that were way beyond their ability to conceive or comprehend. While they were busy thinking about the impossibility of their immediate circumstances, God was busy orchestrating the details of His future plans for the future redemption of all things. Their return to the land and the restoration of the temple was just one more act in God’s grand redemptive plan. And He was about to give them a glimpse into the glorious future He had prepared.

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

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

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

Repent and Rebuild

1 In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. Haggai 1:1-6 ESV

This relatively short prophetic book bears the name of Haggai, who was evidently its author. We are given scant details regarding Haggai’s life, other than a brief mention in the book of Ezra. According to the prophet Ezra, Haggai was a fellow prophet who served the Jews living in Judah and Jerusalem.

Now the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them. – Ezra 5:1 ESV

Context is important to understanding the content of Haggai’s book. He provides the second year of Darius the king” as the time at which he received his message from God. That would date his letter sometime around 520 BC. This would have been about 66 years after the fall of Judah and Jerusalem to the Babylonians. In 538 BC, King Cyrus of Persia had issued a decree that allowed the Jews who had been taken captive in the fall of Judah, to return to their land. In 537 BC, the first wave of exiles made their way back to the land under the leadership of Sheshbazzar, who was later replaced by Zerubbabel. In 458 BC, a second wave of 42,000 Israelites left Babylon and returned to the land of promise under the leadership of Ezra. Then in 444 BC, Nehemiah led a third and final wave of exiles on the long and arduous journey home to Judah. It is believed that Haggai and Zechariah both returned with the first wave of refugees. That means that Haggai had been living back in the land of Judah for 17 years before he received his message from God.

During that time, the people had begun an aggressive rebuilding program, attempting to restore the city of Jerusalem’s damaged walls and gates. Under Zerubbabel, the first group of returned exiles had rebuilt the brazen altar in Jerusalem and reinstituted the sacrificial system. But the temple remained in ruins. They would lay the foundation for the temple’s construction, but due to opposition, they would postpone its construction for 16 years. That means that Haggai had been an eye-witness to the apathy that had set in among the people. He had stood back and watched as the rebuilding program ground to a halt and the rubble of the temple would have been a constant reminder of the people’s unwillingness to honor God. They had gone about the construction of their own homes but had failed to rebuild the house of God. Their priorities were misaligned and their neglect of God’s house was another sign of their continuing unfaithfulness. God had honored His promise to restore them to the land, and yet, in refusing to complete the temple, they were treating Him as a second-class citizen. Any gratitude they may have felt for their undeserved restoration to their homeland had been replaced by greed and selfishness. And God was going to use Haggai to call them out.

Like any other prophet, Haggai was a messenger. He spoke on behalf of God. And the first message God gave Haggai to deliver was addressed to Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, and Joshua, the high priest. God was going to hold these two men responsible for the people’s failure to complete the construction of the temple. But it’s important to note that God was not angry because He needed a place to live. When King David had come up with the original idea of building a house for God, he had received a not-so-subtle message from God delivered through the prophet Nathan.

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’ – 2 Samuel 7:5-7 ESV

God did not need a house to live in. Because He is transcendent and omnipresent, He cannot be contained in a single location. But God eventually allowed David’s son, Solomon, to build a magnificent temple and He graced it with His name and vowed to watch over it – as long as Solomon and the people remained faithful to follow Him. At the dedication of that original temple, God had sworn an oath to Solomon and the people of Israel.

“I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And this house will become a heap of ruins.” – 1 Kings 9:3-8 ESV

Of course, history reveals that Solomon failed to keep his commitment to God. He ended his reign by erecting idols to the false gods of his many wives and concubines. He led the people of Israel into idolatry and apostasy, which led God to split his kingdom in two, resulting in the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. And the kings that followed Solomon would fare no better in keeping the covenant commitments to God. Their track records of unfaithfulness and disobedience would eventually result in the fall of the northern kingdom to the Assyrians and the destruction of the southern kingdom by the Babylonians.

God’s message to Zerubbabel about the delay in building the temple was not about a divine housing shortage. It was about a shortfall in the people’s faithfulness to God. God accused them of complacency and procrastination.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” – Haggai 1:2 ESV

They had made a determination to disobey the will of God. The whole reason God had allowed them to return to the land was to rebuild, restore, and repopulate it. But when they had initially begun the process, they had encountered opposition.

Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.” But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.”

Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. – Ezra 4:1-5 ESV

These “adversaries” were actually Jews who had been left in the land after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians. Over the years they had intermarried with foreigners from Cutha, Ava, and Sepharvaim, who had been relocated to the land of Israel by the King of Assyria. Many of these people had migrated into the southern kingdom of Judah after it fell to the Babylonians. So, when the exiled eventually returned, these interlopers were not keen on giving up their newly acquired land or seeing the southern kingdom of Judah restored to its former glory. As a result, they did everything in their power to delay any plans for rebuilding the city of Jerusalem.

But somehow, even in the face of opposition, the returned exiles had managed to build houses for themselves. And God points out the inconsistency of their behavior.

“Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins? – Ezra 1:4 NLT

They had been disobedient to God’s command. Their neglect of God’s house revealed the true nature of their hearts. Perhaps they assumed that God would be with them whether He had a house or not. But their failure to honor Him by rebuilding the house that bore His name revealed the selfish and self-centered conditions of their hearts. And God revealed that their disobedience had already begun to have consequences. But they were completely oblivious to what was happening to them.

“Look at what’s happening to you! You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes!” – Haggai 1:5-6 NLT

All their efforts were producing diminished results. Because they had chosen to neglect God, they were experiencing negligible returns on their investments. They were unable to produce enough food to meet their needs. Their clothes were insufficient to keep them warm. Their wells and cisterns proved incapable of satisfying their thirst. And they never seemed to have enough money to meet their needs.

Don’t miss the point that God is making. They had beautiful homes, bountiful fields and vineyards, reliable water sources, ample clothing, and a ready source of income. But they were missing the blessing of God. They had put all their hope and trust in material things, and now they were finding that their sources of significance and sustenance were insufficient to meet their needs. It was time to rebuild. Haggai was going to make sure they understood that obedience to God took precedence over everything. As Jesus would later teach in His Sermon on the Mount, God expects His children to seek His Kingdom above all else.

“Why do you have so little faith? So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:30-33 NLT

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

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

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

The Inevitable and Inescapable Judgment of God

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. 2 Peter 2:4-10a ESV

Peter has made it clear that those who heretical doctrines and lead God’s people astray will not go unpunished. God’s track record of disciplining the rebellious, ungodly and immoral is well established and the false teachers will suffer a similar fate.

God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed. – 2 Peter 1:3 NLT

To prove his point, Peter reached back into history and brought forward three significant examples of rebellion against God that each ended poorly for all those involved. And he presented the various scenarios by utilizing a conditional statement, each sentence beginning with the word, “if.”

if God did not spare angels when they sinned – vs 4

if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah… – vs 5

if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction – vs 6

In Greek, these sentences are in the first class condition, which assumes for the sake of argument, that what Peter has written is true. You could replace each “if” with the word, “since.” Peter is not questioning whether these events happened. Instead, he is claiming that they did and, as a result, they provide proof of how God deals with the rebellious and unrighteous.

Peter begins with a case that involved angels, heavenly beings created by God who determined to rebel against His authority. Some scholars believe that Peter was referencing the same event described in the book of Jude.

…the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day… – Jude 6 ESV

And many of the same scholars believe this brief verse was an allusion to the fall of Satan from his place of glory and prominence in heaven, as described in the book of Ezekiel.

On the day that you were created
    they were prepared.
You were an anointed guardian cherub.
    I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;
    in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
You were blameless in your ways
    from the day you were created,
    till unrighteousness was found in you.
In the abundance of your trade
    you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,
    and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub,
    from the midst of the stones of fire.
Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
    you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;
    I exposed you before kings,
    to feast their eyes on you. – Ezekiel 28:13-17 ESV

In the book of Isaiah, there is another reference to this angelic rebellion against God, led by someone designated as “Day Star, son of Dawn” (Isaiah 14:12 ESV).

“How you are fallen from heaven,
    O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
    you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
    ‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
    I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
    in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
    I will make myself like the Most High.’” – Isaiah 14:12-14 ESV

Peter appears to be picking up on this story of Satan’s fall from grace, prompted by his ill-fated decision to make himself like the Most High. Evidently, Satan convinced a host of angelic beings to join him in his rebellion against God and, as Peter points out, God punished them all. And Peter’s inference is quite clear. Since God did not refrain from judging angels who bought into the lie of Satan and attempted to overthrow Him, He most certainly would not spare human beings who chose to follow the lies of the false teachers and reject the truth of His Word.

The second conditional statement involves the destruction of “the ancient world” at the time of the great flood. Peter is clearly referring to the story found in the book of Genesis.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. – Genesis 6:5-8 ESV

Since the fall of Adam and Eve, the state of affairs on earth had degraded to the point where God was no longer willing to put up with mankind’s sinful disregard for His glory. They had completely abandoned their God-ordained mandate to be His image-bearers. And, once again, Peter points out that God did not spare them. Their rebellion against God resulted in their destruction at His hands, and His divine judgment took the form of a worldwide flood that destroyed all humanity – except for Noah and his family.

Peter brightens the dark news with a reminder that God spared Noah because he was “a herald of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5 ESV). Through his faithful fulfillment of God’s command to build the ark, Noah proclaimed the righteousness of God to his unbelieving neighbors. By obediently constructing the massive boat that God had ordained, Noah was “preaching the gospel” to those facing God’s wrath. Noah’s actions display his faith in the undeserved and unmerited salvation that God had ordained and, as a result, he and his family were spared. It seems evident that Peter was reminding his readers that they too had been spared from God’s judgment by placing their faith in the unmerited salvation provided by God through Jesus Christ. He had become their ark of sanctuary and salvation. But just as Noah’s unbelieving neighbors had ridiculed his ark, the false teachers of Peter’s day were attempting to downplay the judgment of God and minimize the saving nature of Jesus Christ.

The third conditional statement involved the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, two ancient cities that suffered the righteous judgment of God for their blatant and egregious immorality. Peter reminded his readers that God refused to spare these two cities, choosing instead to turn them both into a heap of ashes. And Peter doesn’t hide the point of this story.

He made them an example of what will happen to ungodly people – 2 Peter 2:6 NLT

The people who lived in those two cities got what they deserved. But, once again, Peter points out that God spared one man and his family.

God also rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him. – 2 Peter 2:7 NLT

Lot was the nephew of Abraham. And while he had made some poor decisions in his life, Peter makes it clear that Lot was “a righteous man” who was grieved over the immorality and decadence of his neighbors in Sodom. Yet, against his better judgment, he had chosen to remain within the walls of the city. He had compromised his convictions and, as the story recorded in Genesis makes clear, he exposed his daughters to the effects of Sodom’s immoral culture. But Peter wanted his readers to know that God still spared Lot. He rescued this righteous, yet flawed man, providing him with a way of escape and sparing him from the judgment to come. And that is the hope of every follower of Christ. While the world in which we live faces the coming judgment of God, we have been exempted from that inevitable fate because of our faith in Jesus Christ. Yet, false teachers would have us believe that a loving God would not destroy mankind. Instead, they would refute the reality of sin and reject any need for a Savior.

But Peter’s whole point in retelling these three stories was to remind his brothers and sisters in Christ that God cannot and will not spare the unrighteous and ungodly. The rebellious, ungodly, and immoral will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But God will rescue those who remain faithful to Him.

…the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials… – 2 Peter 2:9 ESV

God spared all those angels who refused to join in Satan’s rebellion. God rescued Noah and his family from the deadly effects of the flood. And He graciously removed Lot and his two daughters from the city of Sodom before His righteous wrath was poured out on its immoral inhabitants.

Peter has in mind two groups of people: Believers and unbelievers. And his primary point seems to be that there are two kinds of suffering. The temporal suffering of God’s children as they experience the trials associated with life in a fallen world, and the eternal suffering of all those who reject Jesus Christ as the sole source of salvation and the means of reconciliation with a holy God. Peter points out that the unrighteous will be kept “under punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:9 ESV). In other words, they will remain under God’s holy and righteous wrath until the final judgment comes. This doesn’t mean that all unbelievers always get their just desserts in this life. Many of them seem to prosper while God’s children suffer. But while they may appear to be living the good life now, they remain under God’s pending and inescapable judgment to come.

One day, their temporal joys will be replaced by eternal suffering. And Peter adds that God’s judgment lies “especially hard on those who follow their own twisted sexual desire, and who despise authority” (2 Peter 2:10 NLT). This appears to be a direct attack on the false teachers who Peter will go on to describe in highly unflattering terms:

They commit adultery with their eyes, and their desire for sin is never satisfied. They lure unstable people into sin, and they are well trained in greed. They live under God’s curse. – 2 Peter 2:14 NLT

These people were immoral, ungodly, and rebellious. Like Satan and the angels who follow him, they despised the authority of God. Like the people of Noah’s day, their wickedness was great. And like the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah, their love of immorality was insatiable and incorrigible. Yet while the wicked may appear to live charmed lives, they will all one day face the righteous judgment of God. But, as Peter points out, the Lord will rescue the godly.

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

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

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

Future-Focused Living

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:8-11 ESV

Peter has encouraged his readers to supplement their faith in Christ with virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. That’s quite a list and one that every follower of Christ should desire to see manifested in their own life. These are non-optional attributes that reflect the character of Christ and are available to every Christian through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. So, the only excuse for their absence is a refusal to, as Paul put it, “walk by the Spirit.”

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. – Galatians 5:16-17 ESV

And Paul went on to explain that those who live their lives in reliance upon the power of the Spirit will see the following fruit of the Spirit manifested in their lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV).

Peter picks up on this idea of fruitfulness when he writes, “if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ— (2 Peter 1:8 ESV). While his list is slightly different than that of Paul, the overlap is obvious. And when Peter states, “if these qualities are yours,” he is not suggesting that the believers to whom he is writing have somehow missed out on the Spirit’s distribution of fruit. Any absence of fruit in their lives is due to failure to live in obedience to the Spirit. As children of God, they had full access to these Spirit-imbued qualities through willing and humble submission to the Spirit.

It wasn’t a question of whether they had the Spirit or not. It was a matter of obedience.  The apostle Paul reminded the believers in Rome that their relationship with Christ had provided them with a formidable capacity to live differently.

…because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. – Romans 8:2 NLT

Because the Spirit lives within the children of God, “these qualities” are theirs by right. But these Spirit-enabled attributes are only theirs in reality if they choose to live in submission to the Spirit’s life-altering power. That is exactly what the apostle Paul told the believers in Ephesus.

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. – Ephesians 4:21-24 NLT

They were to submit to the Spirit’s leading and allow Him to begin His process of behavior modification from the inside out. It would start in the heart and mind. And when a child of God fails to allow the Spirit to renew their thoughts and attitudes, it will show up in the way they live their life. Their behavior will not reflect their beliefs and this grieves the Holy Spirit. That is why Paul went on to warn the Ephesian believers to seek proof of the Spirit’s presence in their outward behavior.

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. – Ephesians 4:30-32 NLT

And Peter picks up on this same idea when he writes: “For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins” (2 Peter 1:9 ESV). Again, his point was not that they lacked the power to produce these qualities. They had the Holy Spirit living within them. Their problem was one of perspective. Peter describes it as a kind of spiritual myopia or nearsightedness. Unable to focus on the long-term implications of the Spirit’s presence, the believer can easily find themselves fixated on the present. They live for the here-and-now, allowing the circumstances of life to determine their actions. They compromise their convictions and fall back into the old habits that marked their former life.

Refusing to understand that sanctification is a long-term process, some believers run out of patience and take their eye off the prize. They develop a shortsighted mentality that demands quick results and immediate gratification. From the content of Peter’s first letter, it’s clear that the believers living in Asia Minor were suffering persecution for their faith, and they were looking for immediate relief. They wanted deliverance from the unexpected trials they were facing. And because their identification with Christ was the cause of their trouble, they were being tempted to alleviate their suffering by returning to their former way of life. Peter had addressed this natural tendency in the opening chapter of that letter.

So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. – 1 Peter 1:13-14 NLT

Notice Peter’s emphasis on “the gracious salvation that will come.” He was challenging them to raise their eyes and to focus on the incredible future that God had in store for them. This future-focused way of living was a regular part of the apostles’ teaching. The apostle Paul told the believers in Galatia:

Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. – Galatians 6:8-9 NLT

This was the very message Peter had declared in his first letter.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. – 1 Peter 1:3-5 NLT

He wanted his readers to live with the end in mind. Yes, they were having to endure trials and testings that made their present life uncomfortable, but there was hope on the horizon that would make their “momentary light afflictions” (2 Corinthians 4:17) pale in comparison.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. – 1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT

In his second letter, Peter reminds his readers to stay the course. Regardless of what they may have been facing, they could rest in the knowledge that God was protecting and preserving them. And it was these Spirit-enabled qualities that would see them through the difficult days ahead.

Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. – 2 Peter 1:10 ESV

Peter had opened up his letter with the timely reminder that God’s “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). They had all they needed to not only survive but thrive in this life. They were more than adequately equipped to handle whatever the world threw at them. But they were going to have to avail themselves of the power that God had provided. By living in the power of the Spirit they would confirm their identity as God’s children. Their Spirit-empowered lives would confirm their calling and help remind them of God’s future plans for them.

For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. – 2 Peter 1:11 ESV

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

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

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

Time is of the Essence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stand Firm and Stand Together

12 By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. 13 She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. 14 Greet one another with the kiss of love.

Peace to all of you who are in Christ. 1 Peter 5:12-14 ESV

Even when attempting to close out his letter, Peter could not refrain from offering one more exhortation to his readers. You can sense his pastor’s heart as he expresses his care and concern for their spiritual well-being.

Peter mentions Silvanus, an individual he describes as “a faithful brother.” He is likely the same Silvanus who accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys.

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. – 2 Corinthians 1:19 ESV

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. – 1 Thessalonians 1:1 ESV

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 1:1 ESV

Silvanus was a Greek name and its Roman form was Silas. In the book of Acts, Luke mentions Silas 12 different times and describes him as having been an apostolic emissary, carrying an important letter to the Gentile converts to Christianity.

Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, with the following letter – Acts 15:22-23 ESV

There has been much debate over the centuries as to what Silvanus’ exact role was in regards to this letter. There are some who believe that Silvanus acted as Peter’s personal secretary or amanuensis. When Peter states, “By Silvanus…I have written briefly to you…,” they interpret it to mean that Peter dictated his thoughts to Silvanus, who then wrote the actual letter that was read to the various church throughout Asia Minor. The apostle Paul was known to use this process with some of his letters. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, Tertius, his amanuensis, identified himself.

I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord. – Romans 16:22 ESV

So, it would not have been uncommon or unexpected for Peter to use someone like Silvanus to pen the actual message to the churches. This personal greeting from Peter at the end of the letter would have been a reminder to its readers that its content was from him.

There are others who believe that Silvanus was simply the messenger, chosen by Peter to take the letter to the churches located in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. Peter’s reference to Silvanus as “a faithful brother” is meant to identify him as a trustworthy messenger who was carrying an actual letter from the apostle Peter. It was important to Peter that the recipients of the letter also receive Silvanus as more than just an errand boy tasked with hand-delivering Peter’s message. He was a proven and faithful co-worker who had served alongside the apostles and would be an invaluable asset to the churches in Asia Minor.

But regardless of whether Silvanus penned Peter’s letter or simply delivered it, Peter provided his reason for sending it in the first place.

My purpose in writing is to encourage you and assure you that what you are experiencing is truly part of God’s grace for you. – 1 Peter 5:12 NLT

Their suffering for the sake of Christ was all part of God’s plan for their lives. Peter describes it as “God’s grace” for them – the true grace of God. This is the same grace he had mentioned just a few sentences earlier in his letter.

…after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. – 1 Peter 5:10 ESV

Yes, they were experiencing suffering, just as Jesus had in His earthly life. But Peter wanted them to know that their present suffering would result in their future glorification, just as it had for Jesus. The author of Hebrews provides much-needed encouragement when it comes to facing the trials and difficulties of this life.

…let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. – Hebrews 12:1-3 NLT

By focusing on the faithful suffering of Jesus and recognizing that His pain was our gain, we are better able to endure the difficulties we face in this life. He is seated in the place of honor beside His Heavenly Father. His suffering resulted in glorification. His humiliating and painful execution was followed by His glorious exaltation. And the same will be true of all those who place their hope and faith in Him. They too will one day be glorified, exalted, and enter into the presence of God Almighty. And Peter reminds his readers that, at that time, God will “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10 ESV). That very thought led Peter to exclaim, “To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:11 ESV).

There was nothing they would face in this life that could remove them from the protective power of God’s grace. He would watch over them and preserve them, guaranteeing that they would one day receive the future inheritance He had ordained for them. This was the very message Peter used to open up his letter.

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

Even if their suffering for the sake of Christ was to result in death, they could rest easy knowing that their death would usher them into God’s presence. But should they live and their suffering were to continue, they would see it come to an end with the Lord’s return. Their salvation was guaranteed. Their future was secure. The apostle Paul gave a powerful exhortation to the believers in Corinth, challenging them to never give up.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NLT

He was encouraging them to live with the end in mind, and that was Peter’s point as well. He challenged his readers to “stand firm” in the grace of God. Their Heavenly Father could be trusted. His promises were true and He always kept His word.

As Peter wraps up his letter, he makes a rather interesting reference to “She who is at Babylon” (1 Peter 5:13 ESV). It is believed that Peter is using the name of the ancient and infamous city of Babylon to refer to Rome. At one time, Babylon had been the 800-pound gorilla in that part of the world, having dominated and defeated the other nations, including Israel. They had terrorized the world, establishing a far-reaching empire that spread their idolatry and immorality as far as the eye could see. And Peter sarcastically refers to Rome as nothing more than the latest version of ancient Babylon. Like Babylon, their 15-minutes of fame would come to an end. But in the meantime, Peter was writing his letter from Rome and sending greetings from the believers who lived right under the nose of the Roman emperor.

Peter refers to these believers as “likewise chosen” by God. This was the way he had addressed the recipients of his letter.

God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. – 1 Peter 1:1 NLT

They were not alone. There were other believers going through the same difficulties.

Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are. – 1 Peter 5:9 NLT

These people did not live in the Internet age. They did not have access to social media and instant information. There was no way they could communicate with other believers and know what was going on in other cities or countries. News traveled slowly. And it would be easy for the various churches to assume that their particular difficulties were unique to them. But Peter assured them that their struggles were common to all.

After sending greetings from the church in Rome and from Mark, his ministry companion, Peter encourages the believers in these far-flung churches to “Greet one another with the kiss of love” (1 Peter 5:14 ESV). It would seem odd that Peter was suggesting that the believers in the church located on Pontus should hug and kiss one another. Yes, brotherly love and affection are essential for every local body of believers. But it makes more sense to view Peter as calling on each of these believers, regardless of their location, to express love for their brothers and sisters all across the world. In a sense, Peter was encouraging them to send a “kiss of love” to one another, understanding that distance could not separate them from the other members of their God-ordained family. The Greek word for “greet” is aspazomai and it means “to embrace” or “to receive joyfully.” Peter wanted the churches in Asia Minor to see their family as far larger and more significant than just their local congregation. The body of Christ was growing and spreading and, while they could not physically see their brothers and sisters in Christ, they could “greet” them with expressions of love and mutual concern. And they could all share in the peace that was theirs through Jesus Christ.

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

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

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

 

The Cost of Commitment

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.  1 Peter 2:11-17 ESV

What does it mean to be “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9 ESV)? Peter has told his audience that their new status comes with a responsibility:

that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. – 1 Peter 2:9 ESV

But what does that look like in real life? Those who have been transformed by God are expected to live in such a way that their character and conduct give evidence of their new status as children of God. What Peter seems to be telling his audience is that, while their circumstances may not have changed for the better, their lives should be radically different than before. At one time, they were living in complete spiritual darkness and, as the apostle Paul puts it, “alienated from God” (Colossians 1:21 BSB). Paul also reminded the believers in Ephesus of their former alienation from God.

Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. – Ephesians 2:11-12 NLT

But Paul went on to give them the good news: “Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13 NLT). And with that same thought in mind, Peter gives his readers a much-needed lesson on what it looks like to be God’s people.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. – 1 Peter 2:11 ESV

First, he reminds them that they are loved. But in using the word “beloved” (ἀγαπητός), Peter doesn’t seem to be expressing his feelings for them. While there is little doubt that Peter had great affection for those to whom he wrote, he was much more interested in helping them understand that they were loved by God. Another way of translating his statement is “those who are loved by God.” They had experienced the love of God as expressed in the gracious gift of His Son. The apostle Paul expressed the remarkable nature of this love when he wrote: “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT).

Peter was urging them to return God’s love for them by manifesting the transformed nature of their lives. First, they were to consider themselves to be “temporary residents and foreigners” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT) on this earth. Peter is alluding to their new status as citizens of heaven, exactly what Paul meant when he wrote: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13 ESV).

These people were wrestling with the reality of being kingdom citizens while still having to live on this earth. They were experiencing what it was like to be God’s ambassadors, charged with the task of living in a “foreign land” and representing their sovereign King. And as His ambassadors, they were expected to represent Him well. Which meant that their behavior was to reflect His character and constantly honor the trust He had placed in them. Which meant that they were to “keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT). They were not to blend in with the local customs and conduct of their assigned posting. As ambassadors, they were forbidden from compromising their divine commission by taking on the qualities of their host country. But at the same time, Peter did not want them to live aloof and isolated lives. They were not to separate themselves from the “riff-raff” of this world, looking down on them in judgment and pride. No, Peter told them to “Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors” (1 Peter 2:12 NLT).

It’s important to consider the context in which these people were having to live their lives. Most, if not all of them, had come to faith out of pagan backgrounds. And their decision to follow Christ had required a great deal of sacrifice. It is likely that they had been treated as outcasts by their own families. Some were suffering ostracization, finding themselves as social pariahs within their own community. They had lost their jobs, their influence, and any sense of social credibility. When they walked down the street, everyone pointed their fingers at them in ridicule. These people were considered outsiders and treated scorn and derision.

And yet, Peter encourages them to keep a close watch on their conduct. They were to behave in such a way that their unbelieving neighbors and friends would see the transformed nature of their lives. But Peter acknowledges that this determination to conduct their lives with care would not be met with praise or applause. But it will make an impact.

Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world. – 1 Peter 2:12 NLT

Peter wanted them to know that their righteous behavior was going to be met with ridicule and defamatory accusations. But Jesus suffered in the same way. He too was treated with scorn. His righteous conduct left Him labeled as a drunkard and a friend of prostitutes and sinners. He was accused of blasphemy and accused of being on the payroll of Satan. But Jesus’ response was to simply keep doing what He had come to do – what He had been sent to do.

Peter is attempting to get his readers to understand the calling God has placed on their lives. In a sense, he is echoing the words of Paul, delivered to the believers in Philippi.

…you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. – Philippians 1:27 NLT

And just to ensure that they understood the practical nature of his message, Peter gave them a very tangible example.

For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right. – 1 Peter 2:13-14 NLT

These people were living in a pagan culture ruled over by a godless government. And yet, Peter was telling them to submit to all human authority, including the king. As citizens of heaven living in Asia Minor, they found themselves living under the jurisdiction of the Roman Emperor, Nero. This egotistical and homicidal ruler had made it his personal mission to persecute Christians all throughout the Roman world. He saw them as a threat to the Roman way of life and he was intent on exterminating them. But here we have Peter demanding that these persecuted believers submit to the Emperor and all those who work on his behalf. This is the same message Paul sent to believers who were living in the Roman capital.

Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience. – Romans 13:1-5 NLT

Both Peter and Paul were acknowledging the God-ordained role of government. They were not suggesting that all governments are godly. But they were declaring that the role of government had been determined by God. The fact that governments can become corrupt and godless was obvious to Peter and Paul because they had both suffered at the hands of the Roman authorities. Both had been arrested, imprisoned, beaten, and threatened by agents working on behalf of the Roman government. But at no point did either one of them suggest insurrection or revolution as the proper response to government overreach or abuse. Both of them had been falsely accused, poorly treated, and wrongly incarcerated – simply for doing their jobs as ambassadors for Christ. And Peter wanted his readers to know that their lives would be no different. That’s why he told them:

It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. – 1 Peter 2:15 NLT

It didn’t matter whether those foolish accusations came from the government, a family member, or a neighbor. Followers of Christ were to respond by living honorable lives that reflect their ultimate allegiance and submission to God. And Peter was speaking from personal experience. Early on in his ministry, he had been dragged before the high council of Israel for preaching about the resurrected Christ. And the high priest was infuriated with Peter’s refusal to obey his commands.

“We gave you strict orders never again to teach in this man’s name!” he said. “Instead, you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about him, and you want to make us responsible for his death!” – Acts 5:28 NLT

They had been arrested and warned before. They had been commanded to refrain from teaching anything about Jesus, especially His resurrection. But Peter stood before these rulers of Israel and calmly replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29 NLT).

When it came to obeying God or obeying the governmental authorities, Peter drew a distinct line. If earthly authorities demanded compliance that stood in the way of obedience to the call of Christ, the decision was a no-brainer. We must obey God rather than any human authority. For Peter, that meant he was willing to suffer imprisonment for proclaiming Christ. He was willing to suffer the consequences for remaining faithful to his God-given mission. He was going to conduct his life in a manner worthy of the gospel – at all times and at all costs.

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

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

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

 

A True Son of Abraham

1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:1-10 ESV

At the close of chapter 18, Luke seemed to indicate that Jesus was “drawing near” or, better yet, passing by Jericho. But with the opening of chapter 19, he describes Jesus as entering the city of Jericho. Is this a case of biblical contradiction or of Luke confusing the details of his story? The simple answer is that there were actually two sites known as Jericho in Jesus’ day. There was the original site of the city that Joshua and the forces of Israel destroyed when they first entered the land of Canaan (Joshua 6). Then there was the “new” Jericho, built by Herod the Great. In the 1st-Century, the Old Testament Jericho was nothing more than a small village that lie among the ruins of the former city that the Israelites had destroyed. Joshua had placed a curse on anyone who attempted to rebuild the city.

Joshua laid an oath on them at that time, saying, “Cursed before the Lord be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho.

“At the cost of his firstborn shall he
    lay its foundation,
and at the cost of his youngest son
    shall he set up its gates.” – Joshua 6:28 ESV

Years later, one man would ignore that curse and rebuild the city, but at a great cost.

It was during his reign that Hiel, a man from Bethel, rebuilt Jericho. When he laid its foundations, it cost him the life of his oldest son, Abiram. And when he completed it and set up its gates, it cost him the life of his youngest son, Segub. This all happened according to the message from the Lord concerning Jericho spoken by Joshua son of Nun. – 1 Kings 16:34 NLT

So, it would appear that Jesus was entering the newer and more recent Jericho as he traveled west toward Jerusalem. As he passed through the city, He encountered a man named Zacchaeus, who happened to be a notorious and despised tax collector. As Luke has already established, men like Zacchaeus were despised by the Jews and considered the chief of all sinners by the Pharisees and scribes. They were viewed as sellouts by their own people, because they were little more than pawns of the Roman government, collecting their exorbitant taxes and fleecing their fellow Jews in the process. Like the disciple, Matthew, Zacchaeus would have grown relatively wealthy by charging his customers a collection fee on top of the already staggering tax the Romans demanded. And because Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector in the region, he had probably received a portion of all the extra revenue any of his employees managed to fleece from their customers. Luke indicates that he was “very rich” (Luke 19:2 NLT). And this fact would have made him especially despised by the people of Jericho. 

But as Jesus made His way through the city, Zacchaeus became just another curious onlooker eager to see this miracle worker from Nazareth for himself. Jesus’ presence in Jericho had stirred up quite a commotion. It’s likely that news of His healing of the blind man had made its way through the city. And Jesus’ reputation as a healer and controversial teacher had spread throughout the land. So, when Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was nearby, he shut down business long enough to get an up-close and personal look at this 1st-Century celebrity.

It may be that Zacchaeus’ curiosity about Jesus stemmed from the fact that a former tax collector was among His 12 disciples. Or perhaps Zacchaeus had heard about the rumors of Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners. When Matthew had been called by Jesus to be one of His disciples, he had invited his new master to dine with him in his home.

Levi [Matthew] held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them. But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?” – Luke 5:29-30 NLT

To Zacchaeus, Jesus was an anomaly. There were no other religious leaders in Israel who would have given him the time of day, yet here was a man who had a reputation for associating with the despised and rejected of Israel. Zacchaeus had heard the rumors concerning Jesus.

“He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!” – Luke 7:34 NLT

And this made Jesus all the more intriguing to a man like Zacchaeus. He could not pass up the chance to see this one-of-a-kind Rabbi from Nazareth. But as Luke indicates, because of his diminutive size, Zacchaeus had a difficult time getting a clear view of Jesus. So, he climbed a nearby tree. And much to the shock and surprise of everyone in the crowd, when Jesus came to Zacchaeus’ location, He stopped and directed His attention to the tax collector perched in the top of the sycamore tree.

“Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” – Luke 19:5 ESV

It was true. This man really did eat with tax collectors and sinners. And Luke indicates that Zacchaeus wasted no time, but “quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy” (Luke 19:6 NLT). This would have been an unexpected boon for this much-maligned and despised tax collector. Everyone in the crowd must have looked on in amazement at this exchange between the two men. But the most offended segment of the audience would have been the ever-present Jewish religious leaders. They were the very ones who had reacted so vociferously when Jesus had dined in the home of Matthew.

“Why do you eat and drink with such scum? – Luke 5:30 NLT

But even on that occasion, Jesus had responded with slightly veiled sarcasm to their self-righteous indignation.

Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” – Luke 5:31-32 NLT

And, even in the case of Zacchaeus, the people disclosed their disappointment with Jesus’ actions, stating, “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner” (Luke 19:7 NLT). They were appalled by Jesus’ seeming lack of discernment. How could a great Rabbi and teacher lower Himself by associating with the likes of Zacchaeus? This most certainly not what they expected from someone who had claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. By dining with Zacchaeus, Jesus would not only soil His reputation, but He would also render Himself ceremonially impure and equally as sinful as the men with whom He dined.

But upon receiving the unexpected invitation from Jesus and hearing the unsurprising response of the crowd, Zacchaeus spoke up.

“I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” – Luke 19:8 NLT

At that point, Zacchaeus knew he had a choice to make. He could no longer continue living his life according to his old, self-established standards. He somehow knew that changes needed to be made. His encounter with Jesus had made him painfully aware of his sinfulness and his need for repentance. Zacchaeus suffered from no illusions of self-righteousness. He knew he was a sinner and the crowd had only confirmed it. But he was willing to change.

Zacchaues’ humble response brings to mind an encounter that John the Baptist had with a group of religious leaders who appeared in the Judean wilderness expressing their desire to be baptized by him.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.” – Matthew 3:7-8 NLT

Zacchaeus was ready to prove by the way he lived that he had repented of his sins and had turned back to God. It’s interesting to note that Zacchaeus’ name is an abbreviated form of Zechariah, which means “the righteous one.” This notorious sinner was willing to make the sacrifices necessary to restore his broken relationship with God. But his justification before God would not be a result of his financial remunerations. It would be as a result of His faith in the Son of God, a point that Jesus makes perfectly clear.

“Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” – Luke 19:9-10 NLT

This statement from Jesus reflects the words John the Baptist spoke to those very same Pharisees and Sadducees.

“Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:9-10 NLT

A man like Zacchaeus would have been the last person the Pharisees expected to be part of the Kingdom of God. Yet, Jesus had declared that salvation had come to the home of Zacchaeus. According to Jesus, this tax collector was a true son of Abraham. It was not about birthright or ethnic heritage. It was all about faith in the Son of God. Zacchaeus had proven that the call of Jesus was more important to him than anything else. He was willing to give up everything in order to follow Jesus.

Don’t forget Jesus’ earlier encounter with the rich, young ruler. This man had come to Jesus asking, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18 ESV). And Jesus had shocked him by stating, Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Luke 18:22 ESV). But rather than do as Jesus said, the man walked away “for he was extremely rich” (Luke 18:23 ESV). Unlike Zacchaeus, this man had been unwilling to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And he walked away rich but still living in spiritual poverty.

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

Keep Your Eye On the Prize

35 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! 39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

41 Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 44 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 45 But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. 47 And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. – Luke 12:35-48 ESV

Jesus is attempting to give His disciples a future-oriented mindset. He is not suggesting that they be so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good, but that they realign their priorities with those of God. That is why He told them not to allow their minds to become focused on temporal concerns like food and clothing. Those are the kinds of things that “dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world” (Luke 12:30 NLT). Instead, Jesus reminded His followers that since God already knows all their needs before they even ask, they can spend their time and energy focusing on the coming kingdom of God.

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.” – Luke 12:31-32 NLT

At this point, so much of what Jesus is revealing to the disciples is at odds with their expectations of the Messiah. They were expecting an immediate reversal of fortunes. Like the man who asked Jesus to intercede on his behalf and force his brother to divide the family inheritance with him, the disciples were expecting Jesus to enrich their lives by fulfilling all the promises of God – immediately. Once they had decided that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel, their hopes for national revival and political renewal had been energized. They fully expected Jesus to set up His earthly kingdom at any moment and were taken aback by His suggestion that it might not come for some time.

Yet, that is exactly what Jesus attempts to convey in this next section of His lecture. He warns His disciples to remain in a state of constant readiness, prepared for the future day when the kingdom comes in all its fulness.

Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast.” – Luke 12:35-36 NLT

Jesus packs a great deal of eschatological content into this one simple statement. With it, He begins to unveil some of the aspects of God’s divine redemptive plan of which the disciples were clueless. In their understanding of how the end times would work, the arrival of the Messiah would usher in the “last days” – a time in which the fortunes of Israel would be dramatically reversed. The Messiah would be a descendant of David who would reinstitute the Davidic dynasty by defeating all those who stand opposed to God and reclaiming the right to rule as Israel’s King. And they believed it was all going to happen in their lifetimes. That’s why James and John had asked Jesus to allow them to sit in places of honor next to Him, one on His right and the other on His left, when He sat on His glorious throne (Mark 10:37). They were fully expecting His earthly reign to begin at any moment.

But Jesus told them they were going to have to wait because what they were expecting was not going to come for some time. In fact, it would not happen in their lifetimes. Jesus provides His shell-shocked disciples with a parable that was intended to illuminate some of the details concerning the chronology of the end times. The “master,” clearly a reference to Himself, was going to go away but would one day return. As faithful servants, they were to live in a constant state of expectation and preparation, trusting in their master’s ultimate return. There would be other things that had to take place before He could come back, such as the wedding feast. This appears to be a reference to what has come to be known as the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. It is a key end-times event that involves Jesus and His bride, the Church. We read about it in the book of Revelation.

“Praise the Lord!
    For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.
Let us be glad and rejoice,
    and let us give honor to him.
For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb,
    and his bride has prepared herself.
She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear.”
    For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people.”

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” – Revelation 19:6-9 NLT

This event takes place immediately after the Rapture of the Church.

What John’s vision in Revelation pictures is the wedding feast of the Lamb (Jesus Christ) and His bride (the Church) in its third phase. The implication is that the first two phases have already taken place. The first phase was completed on earth when each individual believer placed his or her faith in Christ as Savior. The dowry paid to the bridegroom’s parent (God the Father) would be the blood of Christ shed on the Bride’s behalf. The Church on earth today, then, is “betrothed” to Christ, and, like the wise virgins in the parable, all believers should be watching and waiting for the appearance of the Bridegroom (the rapture). The second phase symbolizes the rapture of the Church, when Christ comes to claim His bride and take her to the Father’s house. The marriage supper then follows as the third and final step. It is our view that the marriage supper of the Lamb takes place in heaven between the rapture and the second coming (during the tribulation on earth). – http://www.gotquestions.org

Jesus is beginning to reveal aspects of God’s plan of which the disciples were unaware. They had no concept of the Church at this time. There was no way for them to understand that Jesus had come so that men of every tribe, nation, and tongue might come to believe in Him as their Savior. With His death, burial, and resurrection, salvation would be made available to all. And upon His ascension, the Holy Spirit would come upon the disciples, empowering them to take the Gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). That momentous occasion would usher in the church age, which will one day end with the Rapture of the Church. That will then bring about the seven years of Tribulation, at the end of which Jesus will return to earth as the conquering King of kings and Lord of lords.

It is to that event that Jesus wants His disciples to focus their attention. He was not suggesting that they would live long enough to witness it, but He wanted them to understand that His coming was tied to that future end-time event. Jesus continues to emphasize the idea of a reward, and that reward was the coming Kingdom of God. That’s why He told them, “it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32 NLT). They were to focus their attention on the future fulfillment of the kingdom, not on some temporal version of it that they hoped would come in their lifetimes.

Jesus didn’t want the disciples to waste their time pursuing earthy pleasures and treasures. Instead, they were to store up treasure in heaven, where “no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it” (Luke 12:33 NLT). The idea was to live with the end in mind. Jesus had come, but He was going to leave. And yet, He would also return, first for His bride, the Church, then at the end of the seven years of tribulation. And it was to His Second Coming that Jesus refers throughout these verses. Every disciple of Jesus Christ is to live with their sights set on His future return. That is the end goal, the point at which Jesus will fulfill all aspects of His Father’s will.

During the Tribulation, there were be many who come to faith in Christ. God will continue to extend grace and mercy to those living on the earth. And those disciples will need to live in a constant state of readiness, prepared for the master’s return – in spite of all the persecution and distress taking place around them. That is why Jesus states, “be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected” (Luke 12:40 NLT). During those future end-times days, the circumstances will appear grim. All will look lost. There will be countless individuals martyred for their faith in Christ. And it will be easy to think draw the conclusion that God has forgotten all about His people. There will be those who begin to believe that Jesus is not coming back. The apostle John even records the pleas of the martyred saints as they stand before the throne of God in heaven.

“O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” – Revelation 6:10 NLT

But God will not be done yet. His plan will not be fully fulfilled. And all those on earth who claim the name of Jesus will be encouraged to continue believing and trusting until the end. And that is exactly what Jesus is encouraging His disciples to do. He knows that when He ascends back into heaven, His disciples will find themselves facing unprecedented persecution. As they faithfully fulfill their commission, they will discover just how much the world hates them and how strongly Satan opposes them. At one point, Jesus warned His followers, “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22 ESV).

Endurance brings reward. This is not a promise of salvation based on works. It is simply an encouragement to remain faithful to the end. Jesus tells His disciples, “If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward” (Luke 12:43 NLT). Jesus is not suggesting that doing a good job ensures our future reward but that faithful service should be motivated by the promise of our future reward. If we keep our eye on the prize, we will run the race with endurance (Hebrews 12:1). The apostle Paul picks up this same racing metaphor.

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-26 NLT

Jesus wanted His disciples to understand the end game. There was a reward at the end of it all. The days ahead were going to be difficult. These men were going to have to stand back and watch their friend and Messiah be crucified. And even when He rose from the dead, He would eventually leave them. Yet He encouraged them to serve faithfully and live expectantly, keeping their eyes on the promise of His Second Coming and the final fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan.

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

Believing and Belonging

19 Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. 20 And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” 21 But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” – Luke 8:19-21 ESV

One of the keys to understanding this rather abrupt and bizarre statement from Jesus regarding His family is to consider the context provided by the other gospel authors. An examination of Matthew’s gospel reveals that there was an important encounter that had taken place between Jesus and the religious leaders that Luke chose to leave out of his account. Jesus had healed a demon-possessed man who was also blind and mute. This man’s miraculous restoration by Jesus was met with amazement from those who witnessed it, except for the Pharisees. These men accused Jesus of being in league with Satan.

“It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” – Matthew 12:24 ESV

According to Matthew, Jesus had some very direct and condemning words for the scribes who had been so quick to dismiss His miracles as the work of Satan. Jesus used the metaphor of a tree. If a tree is good, it will produce good fruit. If it is bad, it will produce bad fruit. So, you can know the state of the tree by examining its fruit. Then, Jesus drove home His point.

“You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” – Matthew 12:34-37 NLT

And Matthew adds that these very same scribes, accompanied by some Pharisees, would later approach Jesus and demand, “show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority” (Matthew 12:38 NLT). Now, they demand that He perform a sign to validate His authority. But Jesus called them out, exposing the true nature of their hearts.

“Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign…” – Matthew 12:39 NLT

There was nothing Jesus could do that would convince these men of His God-given authority. He even alluded to the fact that He would die and resurrect three days later, but they will still refuse to believe.

“…as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.” – Matthew 12:40 NLT

Even His death, burial, and resurrection would not convince these men. They would never accept His claim to be the Son of God.

“…you refuse to repent.” – Matthew 12:41 NLT

“…you refuse to listen.” – Matthew 12:42 NLT

And Matthew records that Jesus wrapped up His condemnation of the religious leaders by comparing them to someone who had been freed of a demon. With the coming of Jesus, they had been exposed to the truth and offered freedom from their captivity to sin and death. But while they had heard the truth, they had refused to accept it. So, Jesus indicates that their rejection of Him will have dire consequences. Their “demon” will return, bringing his companions with him, and leaving them in a worse state than before.

“…the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before. That will be the experience of this evil generation.” – Matthew 12:45 NLT

In his gospel account, Luke includes a series of parables that Jesus told to the crowds. One was the parable of the soils, in which He explained, “The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity” (Luke 8 14 NLT).

And Luke adds another insightful message from Jesus.

“So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.” – Luke 8:18 NLT

So, what does all this have to do with today’s passage? Everything. Because it provides context. The way Luke describes the arrival of Jesus’ family, it could leave the impression that they just showed up right after His parables concerning the soils and the lamps. But an examination of the other Gospel accounts reveals that Jesus had a few other salient messages He had delivered before their arrival. And what He had to say is crucial to understanding HIs response to the news that His mother and brothers were wanting to see Him.

John reveals that Jesus’ own family members were having a difficult time accepting that He was the Son of God. John flatly states, “…not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5 ESV). And, according to Mark, their disbelief had prompted them to conclude that Jesus had lost His mind (Mark 3:21).

None of the gospel writers tell us why Mary and her other sons showed up. According to Matthew, Jesus was given the message: “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to speak to you” (Matthew 12:47 NLT). Mark indicates that they stood outside the place where Jesus was teaching and “called him.”

Had Jesus’ brothers convinced Mary that her oldest son was crazy? Had they come to take Jesus away? Even though Mary had been given divine insight into the nature of her Son’s identity and mission, it is likely that she struggled with His strange behavior. News of His recent activities would have done little to validate the message she had been given by the angel Gabriel more than 30 years earlier.

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” – Luke 1:31-33 NLT

Since the day He had left their home in Nazareth, Jesus had been traveling throughout Judea and Galilee, preaching, teaching, and performing miracles. It seems certain that Mary had been keeping up with His whereabouts and had heard the rumors about Him healing and casting out demons. But she had also heard about the episode in Jerusalem when He had thrown out the money changers and overturned the merchants’ tables in the temple. She knew that He had become a target of the religious leaders. And it is likely that she had heard all the accusations leveled against Her son by the Pharisees, including that He was demon-possessed and a pawn of Satan. So, she had shown up with her other sons in order to talk to Jesus. As a loving and concerned mother, she wanted to see how He was doing.

But Mark records, that upon hearing that His mother and brothers were outside, Jesus responded, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” (Mark 3:33 ESV).

At first blush, this statement comes across as surprisingly harsh and uncaring. But we have to consider the context. Jesus has been speaking about hearing and believing. He has emphasized the tendency to reject His ministry and message. Luke records that Jesus quoted from Isaiah 6:9.

“When they look, they won’t really see.
    When they hear, they won’t understand. – Luke 8:10 NLT

John reports that Jesus “came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (John 1:11 NLT).

Jesus had been teaching, preaching, and healing. He had been calling the people of Israel to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4;17 ESV). And yet, there were still those who refused to believe, including His own brothers. So, when Jesus asked, “Who are my mother and my brothers,” He was indicating that there was another kind of relationship that was far more critical than that of mother to son or brother to brother. Being born into the same family as Jesus had not helped His brothers believe. Having a sibling relationship with Jesus was not enough to secure a faith relationship with Him. Even Mary and her sons were going to have to believe in who Jesus claimed to be. That is why Jesus responded, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21 ESV).

This brings to mind a statement made by John the Baptist to the Pharisees and Sadducees who had come to the Judean wilderness to watch him baptize. When John had seen them, he had called them a “brood of snakes”  (Matthew 3:7 NLT). Then he exposed the fallacy behind their assumption that, because they were blood descendants of Abraham, they were guaranteed a right relationship with God.

“Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:9-10 NLT

Notice his emphasis on the bad tree that produces bad fruit. And don’t miss that he tells these men that being a blood-born relative of Abraham was no guarantee of acceptance by God. John demanded that they repent and turn to God.

That was the very same message Jesus preached, and it applied to all, including His mother and brothers. They too would have to hear, receive, and believe. And Jesus turned and motioned to His disciples, saying, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34-35 NLT).

According to John’s gospel, Jesus gave the only “work” or requirement that God has placed on mankind.

“This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” – John 6:29 NLT

Everyone, regardless of their social status, religious affiliation, economic standing, or educational achievements, was required to believe in Him as the one sent from God. And that included His own relatives. The disciples were struggling, but continuing to express their belief in Jesus. It’s likely that Mary and her sons were wrestling over the disconnect between Jesus’ behavior and their expectations. He wasn’t acting like a king. He wasn’t behaving like a Messiah. And the religious leaders were just flatly denying that Jesus was who He claimed to be.

But Jesus made it clear. For anyone to have a relationship with Him, they would be required to believe in Him.

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