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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’ return’

Advent series: Parables of faithful waiting

 We’re back into our advent series focused on Jesus’ parables of waiting for his second coming or “second advent.” I’m highlighting these because many among the people of God were not ready for Jesus’ first Advent. And so as we celebrate Jesus’ birth we rightly ask ourselves, are we ready for his second advent? Are we prepared?

Our text today is found in –

Matthew 25:1-13

– the parable of the ten maidens. (I have changed the ESV’s “virgins” to “maidens” throughout).

1Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.”

So this is about the second coming of Jesus when the kingdom of heaven will come to earth. When he returns, Jesus is saying, it will be like ten maidens waiting for a bridegroom.

We’ll come back to what this teaches us about the second coming, but for now let’s understand the parable.

Jesus is working with ancient marriage customs in this story. After the marriage ceremony, which included the exchange of vows, there would have been a marriage feast (v. 10) at the bridegroom’s house. (See Matthew 22:2-3 and that the groom answers the door at the end of the story.) The role of the maidens was to be ready, after the ceremony was over, to escort the bride and bridegroom to his house for the feast. They have lamps to do this, so they can light the way to the house in the evening.

In our story they’re in position and waiting. But there’s a problem . . .

2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.”

So some of the maidens brought along extra oil for their lamps, just in case, and some did not. The lamps are most likely oil lamps and not torches, maybe attached to a pole. (The word here can mean either. For instance it means lamp in in Acts 20:8 and Judith 10:22. Luke uses a different word that clearly means lamp in his short parallel to this parable – Luke 12:35. And the details of the story favor a lamp – torches wouldn’t burn long enough for them to sleep; vessels of oil seem more suited to filling a lamp; and trimming v. 7 seems to apply more to a lamp – Davies and Allison)

5As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps.”

The delay is the key element in this story. The bridegroom takes so long that they all fall asleep, with their lamps burning all the while. Then at midnight the call comes. It’s time for them to fulfill their duty in the procession. And so they trimmed the wicks of their lamps for maximum brightness. And this is where the foolishness of five of the maidens becomes clear.

8And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’”

The foolish ones didn’t expect or prepare for a delay of the bridegroom. And so when they awake their lamps are going out, which leads them to ask the others for some of their oil. But the wise maidens refuse because there isn’t enough for all and the procession would be a failure if all the lamps went out on the way. So they suggest they go and buy more oil. (It is possible that in a town with a wedding going on, people would be up late and able to sell them oil.)

Next we see the consequences of the lack of preparation on the part of the foolish ones.

10And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.”

Those who were prepared were able to fulfill their function; they “were ready,” as it says. And they celebrated at the marriage feast.

11Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’”

Now the phrase, “I do not know you” doesn’t mean that the bridegroom doesn’t know them. They are most likely the bride’s good friends and relatives. It’s a statement of disassociation, “I have nothing to do with you now.” Or even, “I disown you.”

And then we have the lesson of the parable drawn out for us . . .

13Be prepared therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

–  that is, for Jesus’ return. (I have changed the ESV’s “watch therefore” to “be prepared.”) The phrase, “be prepared” can and often is translated as “stay awake” or “keep watch,” but here all the maidens slept and none are blamed for it. The issue is that some were not prepared and were thus shut out.

What this teaches us about Jesus’ second coming

It’s a pretty straightforward allegory.

  • The bridegroom’s coming = Jesus’ second coming (Is the “cry” of v. 6 the same as the “the cry of command” found in 1 Thessalonians 4:16? See also note below)
  • The ten maidens = disciples of Jesus who are waiting.
  • The delay = a delay in Jesus’ return. Jesus forewarns us here that it could take a while before he comes again.
  • The wedding feast = the messianic banquet. This is a common theme in Jesus’ teaching. This is the great party that will take place at the end of the world when Jesus and all his own celebrate his great victory and salvation.
  • The shut door = judgment.

(The maidens here match with what the living disciples will do when Jesus returns in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The word “meet” there and here has to do with an official delegation that goes out to welcome, and then escort a dignitary back into the city.)

This much is clear. But what about the central focus of the parable –the oil and the lamps?

The general point is the same as v. 13. Be prepared for Jesus’ return. The five foolish maidens didn’t count on a delay and so they didn’t prepare for it with extra oil.

To not know the day or the hour means that Jesus could return quickly – or as in this case – after a long time. And this parable teaches us to be ready for a delay. Don’t be caught off guard by it. (As many have pointed out, the slave left in charge saw the delay as a chance to be wicked and get away with it, but was judged. The foolish maidens didn’t consider or prepare for a delay and were judged for this.)

But is there more? Something more specific? I think so. The imagery of a lamp shining takes us back to Matthew 5:15-16 (different word in Greek but the same idea) where this refers to “good works” or being obedient to Jesus’ teaching and example. It means living out the Christian life. v. 16 says, “Let your  light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

And when equivalents to the phrase “Lord, lord” are used (Matthew 7:21, 22; Luke 13:25), as in our passage, as well as “I do not know you” (Matthew 7:23;; Luke 13:27) and “the door was shut” with people asking to get in (Luke 13:25) – when these phrases are used in Jesus’ teaching, the issue is Christians who are not walking in obedience to Jesus. (Jesus calls them “workers of lawlessness” Matthew 7:23; “workers of evil” Luke 13:27.)

And so to be prepared means that we have considered things carefully and are ready to follow Jesus, not just for a while, but for as long as our lives go on until Jesus returns. We are prepared to live out our Christian lives for the long haul; however long it takes until he returns.

And so I ask you –

Will you be ready?

Many among the people of God were not ready when Jesus first came. And here five of the ten maidens were not ready for his second coming.

Examine your own life. Are you a wise Christian or a foolish Christian? Are you committed to living in obedience to Jesus until he returns?

One final thought. Just as in the story when the wise could not share their oil, someone else’s preparedness can’t be shared with you. You can’t lean on your spouse, your friend or your parents. Their being prepared won’t help you. You must make sure you are prepared.

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Advent series: Parables of faithful waiting

We are beginning Advent today. The word comes from Latin and means arrival or coming. We use it to refer to the first coming of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas time – and the Advent season ahead of this is a way of preparing ourselves to celebrate this.

But of course, as we think about how to prepare ourselves to celebrate Jesus’ first coming,  it also makes us think about how to prepare ourselves for his second coming.

After all, many among the people of God were not ready for the first Advent of Jesus. And in the same way we have to ask, “will we be ready for his second Advent?” (Luke 2:34-35.)

We will be looking at three parables from Jesus about faithful waiting, and the first today is the parable of the slave left in charge, found in –

Matthew 24:45-51

 The question here is, will this slave be ready when his master returns? We begin with what it looks like if the slave is faithful and wise.

45“Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?” (I have changed ESV’s “servant” to “slave” throughout).

The situation is that the master has gone away for a time and has placed one of his slaves over the rest of his fellow slaves in his household. As such, he is in charge and has the responsibility of administering the affairs of the house. Specifically, his task is to give everyone in the household their food at the proper time.

Now this parable is certainly talking about pastors or elders in the church.

  • These are the ones Jesus has set over his household while he is gone (fellow slaves – v. 49).
  • And the imagery of feeding in Scripture is one that is associated with teaching – a chief role of a pastor or elder (e.g. Proverbs 10:21; Jeremiah 3:15; John 21:15, 17; 1 Corinthians 3:1-2; Hebrews 5:11-14; also Matthew 4:4).

(1 Timothy 3:4-5 speaks of elders as those in charge of the household of the church. I would argue that the presence of the words “not a drunkard, not violent” in the list of qualifications for an elder in 1 Timothy 3:3 reflects the influence of this parable. Luke uses the word “steward” in his version of this parable (12:42-48) which is used in Titus 1:7 for an elder. The context in Luke 12 points to this parable as focused on leaders. Peter says in v. 41, “Lord are you telling this parable – about the master and the thief – for us or for all?” Jesus then responds by telling our parable about leaders.)

So I’m preaching to myself this morning for sure. But this parable can also have application to anyone who has responsibilities in the community of Jesus.

46Blessed is that slave whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 47Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.”

So this is a trial run for this slave; a test. The key phrase is, “will find him so doing.” If the master finds him doing what he told him to do, which is the test, he is blessed.

Specifically, he will get a promotion: his temporary position will become permanent and he will gain more responsibility and honor, since he will now be over the household and all that the master possesses.

Our life in this world is a trial run for life in the world to come; the kingdom of God on this earth. And if we are doing what we are supposed to do when Jesus returns, we too will be blessed.

For pastors and elders this means exercising the authority they have rightly (Matthew 20:25-28) and being busy to lead and teach the church in the right way. For everyone it means doing all that Jesus has told us to do, whatever our role is. This is the mark of a faithful and wise slave, which we are called to be.

Next we turn to the other possibility, if the slave becomes wicked.

48But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eats and drinks with drunkards . . .”

 This isn’t another, different servant, but the same one (as we see in Luke 12:45). If he chooses to be wicked instead of faithful and wise, this is what will happen. (The word “that” points back to the previous slave. The word “wicked” is anticipatory of the bad things that will be described shortly.)

The problem is that the master is delayed. So this parable forewarns us that there may be a delay in Jesus’ coming. So the wicked slave thinks that because of this he can do whatever he wants and get away with it. And so instead of being faithful to his task he misuses his authority – beating his fellow slaves and neglects his responsibilities – going off and living it up with the wrong crowd. Instead of a focus on feeding the household, his job, he is busy feeding himself and drinking and partying.

Again our life in this world is a trial run. And if we think Jesus won’t come because it has taken so long, or that we have time to be irresponsible or if we entertain any other thought that would lead us to stop doing what Jesus has told us to do – there will be consequences when Jesus returns.

50the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know 51and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

 Jesus is saying, there will be consequences, because the master will return! And since the slave thinks his master won’t come or not anytime soon it catches him off guard.

v. 51 says literally he will “cut him in two.” He will be chopped in half. Jesus is getting our attention here. Just as he misused his authority to be violent to his fellow slaves, the master will use his rightful authority to violently judge him. Notice the symmetry. And he will be put with the hypocrites (a term Jesus uses for leaders who are false – Matthew 23. Luke 12:46 has “the unfaithful” or unbelievers). Just as he negligently associated himself with drunkards and partied, the master will rightly put him with the hypocrites where there is much suffering – weeping and gnashing of teeth. Again notice the symmetry. This latter phrase most likely means grinding one’s teeth because of pain. This is an image of Gehenna or hell.

This parable teaches us that if a pastor or elder misuses their authority and neglects to teach and lead their people – there will be judgment. And for anyone who is not doing what Jesus has told them to do – there will be judgment. Jesus will return on a day when we do not expect him and at an hour we do not know and we will be judged (the language of “day” and “hour” echoes 24:36, 44).

Well, just as this slave had a choice – to be wise and faithful doing what his master said, or to be wicked – not doing, or doing the opposite of what his master said, so –

We have a choice

What will yours be?

Many were not ready when Jesus came the first time. Are you ready for the master’s return at his second coming so that you will be blessed and rewarded? Are you faithfully doing what Jesus has told you to do, as we await his second advent?

 

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In our Scripture today Jesus teaches us about his second coming. It’s the most Jesus talks about his return, apart from the Olivet discourse, which in Luke’s gospel is found in chapter 21. So, there’s a lot of information here. (Some of this material is also found in Matthew’s version of the Olivet discourse in  Matthew 24).

I want us to go through this today, so that we can learn more about Jesus’ return, and also so that we can be challenged and encouraged to be prepared for it.

Looking for Jesus’ coming – vs. 22-25

As we work our way through the first few verses, notice that there is a “looking” or “seeing” theme throughout. First of all, the disciples will look for Jesus to return. v. 22 – “And he said to the disciples, ‘The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.’”

The reason they will “desire to see” Jesus come back, is that things will get hard for them. They will be persecuted for following Jesus. Life will be hard. And they look to Jesus’ return because he will give them relief. This will be the time when evildoers are judged and followers of Jesus will be blessed with peace and life eternal in his presence.

And yet, Jesus says, they will look but he won’t come. Jesus indicates here that his coming could take some time. As Christians, we will go through many difficulties, without relief from Jesus’ return.

Next he tells us that false prophets will say, “Look, here he is!” v. 23 – “And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them.”

Given the hard times the disciples will go through and their longing for Jesus to return, there will be the temptation to fall for false claims of his return. The false prophets will point to where they think Jesus has returned, or who he might be. But Jesus warns them, and us, ahead of time not to allow our desperation to lead us astray so that we follow after them.

He then tells them that his coming will not be some secret affair that only a few know of so that someone could even say, ‘Hey, come look, he’s over here!’ Jesus will be seen by all when he comes. v. 24 – “For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.” Jesus’ coming will be a worldwide public event. It will be like lightning that shoots across the sky. It will be impossible to miss.

v. 25 – “But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.’” This section ends with a reminder that Jesus has to suffer before he comes to his day of glory. This echoes v. 22, where his followers will go through hardship before we find vindication.

This brings us to the next section –

The three-fold pattern of Jesus’ coming – vs. 26-30

Here, Jesus begins to make some comparisons between his coming – and Noah’s flood on the one hand, and the destruction of Sodom on the other.

First, the days of Noah. vs. 26-27 – “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.”

The people in the days of Noah were unprepared. They were going about their normal lives, eating and drinking, unaware of any danger. But then “Noah entered the ark,” and afterwards judgment fell upon them all. Notice the three parts: 1. normal life; 2. the departure of Noah; and then 3. the destruction of the rest.

And then we have the days of Lot. vs. 28-30 – “Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot – they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all – so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.”

The citizens of Sodom were going about their normal routines unaware of the danger of the coming judgment. But when Lot left Sodom, the judgment came and killed all of them. Again, the same three-fold pattern emerges: 1. normal life; 2. the departure of Lot; and then 3. the destruction of the rest.

Jesus says twice in these verses, “As it was . . . so will it be. His point is that the sequence of Noah, Lot and the Son of Man is the same. So we learn from this that when Jesus returns:

1. People will be going about their normal life unaware of what is about to happen; clueless and unprepared.

2. The righteous will be removed, just as Noah and Lot were.

3. And then the judgment will come and destroy all the rest.

The remaining teaching in this passage focuses in on step #2, the removal of the righteous. And first of all Jesus calls us to –

Be prepared to leave! – vs. 31-33

vs. 31-32 – “On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife.” These verses draw further on the story of Lot in Genesis 19. Jesus is saying that when the righteous are taken it will be like when Lot came out of Sodom.

God sent angels to rescue Lot, but he was reluctant to leave his house. The angels practically had to drag him and his family out of the city. In the same way v. 31 pictures someone who is attached to their possessions when the angels come for them on the day of resurrection. They are thinking about scooping up the belongings in their house. They can’t leave their earthly life behind, just as Lot was hesitant to leave his life in Sodom.

Also, when they were outside of the city the angels told Lot and his family they were not to look back. And when Lot’s wife did look back, she was judged by being turned into a pillar of salt. So v. 32 pictures someone who is attached to their earthly life when the angels come for them on the day of resurrection. They are thinking about looking back from the field, because the want to preserve their earthly life. Jesus tells them not to look back. Rather they are to remember Lots’ wife, who longingly looked back to her life in Sodom and was judged. (The example of Sodom, a wealthy city, fits well the theme here of undue care for possessions and one’s earthly life).

If before, in v. 23 Jesus said, “do not go out or follow them,” that is the false prophets, here we are to drop everything and go to Jesus when the angels come for us. (For references to angels as the gatherers on the day of resurrection: Matthew 24:31; 13:39).

In v. 33 Jesus says, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” This is a warning. Don’t be attached to your earthly life! That is, to your family, friends, job, possessions, status and earthly plans.

  • If you cling to your earthly life on the day of gathering, seeking to preserve it, you will lose it, just like Lot’s wife.
  • But, if you let go of it all, your possessions, your projects and your earthly dreams; that is, if you lose your life – then you will keep your life; life in the kingdom of God forever.

And the way to prepare is to already now die to your earthly life by putting God first and sacrificing whatever God wants you to sacrifice now. Then you will be ready, and not hesitant on the day of resurrection, when the angels come for you.

This brings us to the final section, which give a bit more detail about –

What will happen when the righteous are taken – vs. 34-37

vs. 34-35 – “I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding (meal) together. One will be taken and the other left.”

When Jesus talks about being “taken” he is, again, speaking of the exit of the righteous, or stage two of his coming; the resurrection. When he talks about being “left” he is talking about being left to be judged.

Notice the separation that will take place between, no doubt, family members, friends and coworkers. One is taken to be saved, the other is left to be judged.

v. 37 – “And they said to him, ‘Where, Lord?’ He said to them, ‘Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.’” The disciples are asking the question, ‘Where the righteous will be taken?’ Jesus gives a cryptic and somewhat gruesome answer.

What he is saying is that just like vultures are up in the sky over what is dead on the earth, so by means of the resurrection, the righteous will be up in the sky over those destroyed in the judgment. (See as well 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. Also notice that this saying in Matthew 24:28 comes right after the reference to Jesus being in the sky, v. 27).

This is in accord with Isaiah 66:24 which says of the righteous on the final day, “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me.” We will be in the sky, looking upon the results of the judgment.

  • This matches what happened at the time of the flood. Noah was lifted up above those who drowned in the waters below.
  • This also matches what happened when God destroyed Sodom, for Genesis 19:28 says, Abraham “looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.”

Now, there’s a lot in this passage, but let’s end with –

Five key points

1. When times are hard as we wait for Jesus, we need to be careful of false teachers who promise us relief by telling us that Jesus has, in fact, already returned.

2. We have to remember that when Jesus comes everyone will know, not just a few. It  is a can’t miss occurrence.

3. There is a three-fold pattern connected to Jesus’ coming: Things will be normal and people will be unaware. The righteous will be removed, then the rest will be judged.

4. Judgment is real! We don’t like to talk about this, but it is clearly here. It is patterned on what happened in the flood and the destruction of Sodom. As Jesus said of these, God’s judgment “destroyed them all.” And so it will be on the final day. It will be truly horrible! It will be a time of reckoning for rebellion and evil. This is not something you want to be a part of.

5. We need to be prepared by choosing now to die to our earthly lives, and live completely for God.

I end with the simple question – Are you ready??

Christians are you dead to your earthly life? Are you  ready to drop everything and go to Jesus when he returns? Or are you busy pursuing your earthly life and enjoying it – looking for more wealth, possessions, a bigger house and clinging to these?

If you aren’t yet a Christian, are you willing to receive the salvation that Jesus brings so that you can be a part of the great gathering of the righteous on the final day?

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A. Introduction/the coming of Jesus: 1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.

B. Their identity as foolish and wise: 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.

C. About their lamps and oil: 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.

D. All: 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.

E. Bridegroom’s arrival: 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’

D1. All: 7 Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps.

C1. About their lamps and oil: 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’

B1. The results of wisdom and foolishness: 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

A1. Conclusion/the coming of Jesus: 13 Be prepared therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

(changed ESV – virgins to maidens throughout; v. 13 “be prepared” instead of “watch”)

Alternate pattern for vs. 8-12

A. First exchange

  • The foolish make a request: 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’
  • The wise answer “no”: 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’

B. Action

Foolish: 10 And while they were going to buy,

Bridegroom: the bridegroom came,

Wise: and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast,

Bridegroom: and the door was shut.

A1. Second exchange

  • The foolish make a request: 11 Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’
  • The bridegroom answers “no”: 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

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We are ending our series on Habakkuk today, with a message entitled ‘Habakkuk on the end.’

Let me begin by saying, it’s not unusual when prophets speak, for there to be more meaning than even they know in what they say. That’s because the Spirit is the one who speaks through them. Peter says in 2 Peter 1:21, “For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

And Peter says in 1 Peter 1:10-11 that the prophets “searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating . . ..” That is, they did not always fully understand what the Spirit was doing through them. But now with the coming of Christ we have the benefit of hindsight.

This surplus of meaning can be seen in relation to various prophecies about the day of the Lord. These passages speak to specific acts of judgment by God in the time frame of the prophet. But they also point beyond this to the final day, which is also called the day of the Lord in the New Testament; the end of all things (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10)

Here is one example from Isaiah 13:6-7. “6Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come! 7Therefore all hands will be feeble, and every human heart will melt.” This is specifically talking about a judgment on Babylon. But just from this small sample you can see how it becomes a picture also of the final judgment.

Habakkuk can be read in this way as well. Even though its most basic meaning is of a literal judgment on Babylon and the resulting salvation of Judah, that has already happened centuries ago – there can be more to it than that.

Hebrews 10:37-38

– reads Habakkuk in just this way. “37Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; 38but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” He is quoting Habakkuk 2:3-4. The coming of the vision of judgment and salvation, or “the coming one,” according to the translation he is using, has to do with the second coming of Jesus. [The Greek Old Testament or LXX. Also in this translation the phrase, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him” is rendered, “If he should draw back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” The author of Hebrews then puts this phrase after the phrase, “my righteous one shall live by faith.” He departs from the LXX by not having the “my” before “faith” although some LXX manuscript traditions do have this.]

So he sees in these verses a reference to the final judgment, not just the judgment of Babylon; and a reference to the salvation of all God’s people throughout the world, not just the righteous in Judah. And living by faith has to do with faithfully waiting for Jesus’ return (v. 36) in the interval of Jesus’ first coming and his promised return. This is the context of the broader passage here in Hebrews. [The word faith in Habakkuk 2:4 can mean faith or faithfulness. Also, in Greek the word faith means both trusting in God and God’s promises, and also faithfulness – faithfully continuing to believe and faithfully living according to the promise. The latter is emphasized here in Hebrews.]

If we read Habakkuk in this way, we get an idea of what will happen on the final day. So let me share with you five things we learn about the end of all things from Habakkuk.

1. On the final day all nations and peoples will be judged

Habakkuk said much about the judgment coming upon Babylon; the bulk of his book is about this. And this was literally fulfilled not long after his time. But this judgment on Babylon, like in Isaiah 13, points us also to the end-time judgment.

Habakkuk 2:3 also takes us in this direction. When it talks about the vision of judgment having to do with “the end,” well, this can have a double meaning – the end of Babylon for sure, but also, the end of all things. And as we just saw the author of Hebrews sees in this also a reference to the end of all things.

Read in this way, we can say that those who are like Babylon – arrogant (2:4,5), violent (1:9), greedy (2:5), those who are strong, but use their strength against the weak – to take advantage of, shame and kill them (2:6-17) – all of these will be judged. And just as with Babylon in the five woe oracles in chapter 2, they will receive as judgment, what they did to others. They will get from God what they gave to others. For instance they killed, and so they will be killed (2:10); they shamed others, and so they will be shamed (2:16).

2. On the final day all mouths will be silenced

As a part of the judgment on Babylon Habakkuk 2:20 says, “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” There is a fulfillment of this just after Habakkuk’s day, when Babylon was judged.

Babylon had its idols who couldn’t even speak, but when the one, true God speaks and acts the result is that everyone has to be silent. And Babylon was silenced as it saw God’s judgment unfold against it.

But the language here yearns for a greater fulfillment; a time when this will literally happen, as it says over “all the earth.” It points us to what will happen on the final day. This will be God’s day. God will speak and act and there will be nothing that anyone can do. And as we see the greatness and righteousness of God revealed, and as we see the depth of our sin – there will be no excuses, no rationalizations – only the silent acknowledgement that God is right.

3. On the final day God’s people will be saved

Habakkuk mostly talks about waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise to judge Babylon. It doesn’t say a lot about the salvation that Judah will experience when this happens. Although this was certainly expected. 

As he says in reference to the Red Sea deliverance, “you went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed” – 3:13. And this is what was pictured as about to happen in his day on Babylon. And he ends his book with a reference to “the God of my salvation” – 3:18. This is what he was waiting for.

And sure enough, just after Habakkuk’s time Judah did return from exile, like the children of Israel escaping Egypt, as is pictured in chapter 3. The fig tree did have fruit, and the fields did have a harvest, in contrast to 3:17.

  But as we saw, the author of Hebrews reads it also as a reference to the salvation that God’s people will experience when Jesus returns.

But there is more. Habakkuk 2:4, “the righteous shall live by his faith” and especially the phrase “shall live” can have a double meaning.

  • The most basic sense of “shall live,” and what the book focuses on is living life while waiting for the promise to be fulfilled. Their lives will be characterized by faithful waiting on God.
  • But it can also be read, not as waiting for the fulfillment, but as having to do with receiving the fulfillment. The phrase, “shall live” then means what is received when the promise is fulfilled – new life, salvation, God’s blessing.

“The righteous shall live by his faith” means that by faith they will receive the promise, which is new life; God’s blessing as they return to their land.

And this second, double meaning can also be read as pointing to the end time when God’s people will be raised from the dead. They “shall live” because of their faith in God’s promise.

Paul uses the double meaning of this verse. When he quotes Habakkuk 2:4 in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11 it refers to what we receive when the promise is fulfilled. And he sees it as referring to God’s end-time promise to give his people new life by the Spirit. We “shall live” because by faith we receive the Spirit, the same Spirit who will raise us up on the final day (Romans 8:11).

4. On the final day evil will be fully defeated

Habakkuk 3 teaches us that God didn’t just defeat Egypt when he battled at the Red Sea. He defeated the spiritual powers behind Egypt. Habakkuk saw in this vision God fighting and overcoming the cosmic powers of chaos and evil –  “the sea,” “the rivers,” “the deep.”

And as we saw, the sea is pictured as a sea serpent or dragon. The word “sea” is Yamm, the name of a sea serpent. It had a tail – v. 13, and it was trying to devour the Israelites – v 14. But God crushed its head, so that it was laying down – 13, and then he trampled it with the horses of his chariot – v. 15.

This vision of what God did to Egypt is then what is forecast for Babylon, which was fulfilled. It will be defeated, along with the spiritual powers behind it.

But this serpent language continues on in the New Testament and is applied to Satan.  Revelation 20:2 talks about “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan.”

Well, God will defeat once and for all Satan and all the spiritual powers behind evil in this world. On the final day Revelation 20:10 tells us that God will throw the devil “into the lake of fire.” And then notice what Revelation 21:1 says. “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.” No more chaos, turmoil and evil.

5. On the final day God’s glory will be everywhere

Habakkuk 2:14 says, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” So the metaphor is that just like the waters cover every part of the sea, so the knowledge of God’s glory will fill the earth; it will be everywhere.

Now this was fulfilled in that when Babylon was judged and his people came back to their land, just as predicted by God’s prophets, all who heard of this exalted Yahweh and his power. “What an amazing God!”

But once again the language here yearns for a greater fulfillment, because it speaks of the whole earth and a filling that goes beyond what happened in the ancient world.

And indeed on the final day, when God’s goodness and righteousness is revealed everyone will actually know and worship Yahweh – all over the earth. Even those who have rebelled against him, who have scorned him will have to bend the knee and acknowledge his greatness.

William Higgins

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Series: Paul to the Thessalonians

We have been looking at 1 Thessalonians for a number of weeks and we are now in the final part of chapter 4, where Paul is going through a list of topics that need to be addressed. First was sex, or how we are to control our own bodies in holiness and honor. Next was mutual love, or how we should give generously to the needs of others, and how we ought not take advantage of such generosity to become idle busybodies.

Today the focus in on the resurrection of the righteous when Jesus returns. The second coming of Jesus is a big theme in 1 Thessalonians, mentioned in six different places. It also dominates 2 Thessalonians.

 But there was some confusion among the Thessalonians on the question –

What about the dead in Christ?

“13Now concerning those who are asleep, we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters.” Since Paul left, someone had died, or as he says here, fell “asleep. [Paul uses this metaphor for death  three times in these verses – vs. 13, 14, 15. This was a common euphemism for talking about death in Judaism and the Greek and Roman world. It also came to be connected with those who are waiting to be awakened at the resurrection – Daniel 12:2. See also Mark 5:39. He also speaks of “the dead in Christ” in v. 16.] But having a Christian die was distressing to the Thessalonians, because they’re not sure what that means for the person. 

As we will see in a moment, Paul has taught them the basics of the Olivet discourse from Jesus about his second coming and the resurrection (Matthew 24-25). And it’s true that here and elsewhere Jesus focuses on those living at the time of his coming. He doesn’t explicitly address the issue of the righteous dead (at least not in the first three gospels). So the question arose among them – ‘Will the dead in Christ take part in all that happens when Jesus returns?’

And apparently some thought not. And this led them to be full of grief for the one who had died. So Paul wants to teach them on this “ . . . that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” It’s true that in the Greek and Roman world there was very little hope for anything after death, except eternal sleep in the gloomy underworld. As one of them said, “Hopes are for the living, but the ones who die are without hope” (Theocritus). But as Christians we have hope.

So this is a place where Paul needs to supply what is lacking in their understanding (1 Thessalonians 3:10), given that he had to leave them so quickly. So he shares –

The story on those who have died

First, he appeals to the example of Jesus. “14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” Paul is saying, Jesus died too – but he rose again. And in the same way, because of the salvation that Jesus gives (“through Jesus”), God will bring with Jesus at his coming the dead in Christ, so that they can follow his pattern of first dying and then being raised.

So the dead in Christ are not left out. They will come with Jesus in order to be resurrected to new life. [When Paul says, “God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” are those “with him” already resurrected or do they come with him to be resurrected? Two things point to the latter: 1) The resurrection happens after Jesus descends from heaven – v. 16. But these are “with him” at his coming; at his descent. The idea, almost certainly, is that they come with Jesus from heaven, from their interim state, from being with him in heaven – Philippians 1:22; 2 Corinthians 5:8. 2) God does not “bring with” Jesus those who are already raised, but those who are identified as “asleep,” that is, those not yet resurrected.]

But this teaching is not just based on the example of Jesus’ death and resurrection, it is also supported by a word from the Lord“15For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord . . .” What’s this all about? As I said, there’s no saying of Jesus that explicitly addresses the dead in Christ. 

Rather, I believe that Paul is referring here to Zechariah 14:5 which is a part of a “word of the Lord” oracle (Zechariah 12:1). This says, “And the LORD my God will come and all the holy ones with him” (LXX).

  • The name, “LORD” or “Yahweh” is most often taken as a reference to Jesus, when Paul reads the Old Testament. So this speaks to Jesus’ coming.
  • The phrase “the holy ones” most often refers to the angels who are a part of “the assembly of the holy ones” in heaven (Psalm 89:5). But even in the Old Testament “holy ones” can also refer to the people of God. [In the LXX see Psalm 33(34):9 and Daniel 7:18, 21.] And Paul uses this particular phrase (the plural ῾οι ῾αγιοι as a substantive) to refer exclusively to believers or saints in his letters [38 times by my count with one instance of the singular – Philippians 4:21.] And he speaks of the dead in Christ as being “with Jesus” in several places (Philippians 1:26; 2 Corinthians 5:8), so this puts them in this assembly. They are a part of the “all” of his holy ones. [See also Hebrews 12:22-24, Revelation 4-5, 6:9-11.]
  • Finally, the dead in Christ, will come “with him.” They will come along with the rest of the host of heaven at his return. [Didache 16:7 quotes Zechariah 14:5 and clearly refers it to the resurrection of the dead in Christ.]

Notice the similarity of this to v. 14, “God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” His reasoning is, if  “all” the holy ones come with him, then the dead in Christ will come with him too.

[Paul clearly alludes to Zechariah 14:5 (LXX) already in 1 Thessalonians 3:13 – “at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones,” in the prayer that sets up this teaching section. (This can be seen in the Greek. Both use κυριος and both have similar phrase about the “holy ones” – Zechariah – πάντες οἱ ἅγιοι μετ’ αὐτοῦ; Paul – μετὰ πάντων τῶν ἁγίων αὐτοῦ – see Gordon Fee). Notice that it is cited in the context of praying that the Thessalonians will become holy.] [Although there is no word of Jesus that makes this precise point, which is the reason for confusion in the first place, given that Paul takes Yahweh as a reference to Jesus, it turns out that this is in a sense a word of Jesus.]

Paul goes on – “. . . that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.” Paul also concludes from this word of the Lord that since the dead in Christ descend with Jesus from heaven, even before the resurrection happens, they have a certain precedence over the living, who are still on earth at this point. They are first, because they are already with Jesus. [Those “who remain” might well mean those that are not already a part of the assembly of the holy ones with Jesus.]

So, not only do they take part in what happens when Jesus returns, they have a certain chronological priority.

Next, Paul gives the sequence of events that will happen when Christ returns and the righteous are raised. “16For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so we will always be with the Lord.”

Notice how this sequence is really just a summary of the Olivet discourse of Jesus from Matthew 24:30-31, which Paul had taught them when he was with them. [The connections with the Olivet discourse continue in 5:1-11, where Paul says that they know these things – 5:1-2.] 

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 Matthew 24:30-31
1. Jesus will descend from heaven 1. “The Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven”
2. A cry of command, the voice of an archangel 2. “And he will send out his angels”
3. The trumpet of God 3. “With a loud trumpet call”
The dead in Christ will rise first Zechariah 14:5
4. We who are alive will be caught up (resurrected) 4. The angels will “gather his elect from the four winds” (a common metaphor for resurrection)

But since Jesus doesn’t address the dead in Christ in the sequence, which caused the confusion for them, Paul adds in Zechariah 14:5. A word of the Lord that supplements and clarifies the teaching of the Olivet discourse on the place of the dead in Christ (in blue).

Paul also makes clear that this is a royal event. Several aspects of his description of it in vs. 15-17 point this out. For instance having an angel herald his coming and the blowing of a trumpet. Also, the word used here for “coming” makes this point. It means presence, coming or arrival. But it could also be used of the coming of a ruler or emperor on an official visit. Finally, the word “meet” has to do with an official delegation that goes out to welcome, and then escort a dignitary back into the city (Acts 28:15-16; Matthew 25:6). This will be the role of the living when Jesus comes. So the dead in Christ will be raised first, and the living will function as the welcoming committee.

The Thessalonians had welcomed Roman emperors to their city before, so they would know what Paul is talking about here. Except that here they will be welcoming the emperor of all creation to earth.

Paul’s message is – be encouraged! “18Therefore encourage one another with these words.” He has taught them that:

  • the dead will be a part of the events of the second coming
  • they will even have a certain priority in the order of resurrection
  • we will be “together with them” in the resurrection – v. 17
  • we will all be with the Lord forever – v. 17

And he has done so, “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” – v. 13.

[Why is there no discussion of a reunion with loved ones in the interim state? Most likely because of the contrast that controls this passage between the living and the dead. The living, as living ones, can only be reunited through the resurrection. If they die they can presumably be reunited in this way, but then they are no longer the living. Paul does not speak of a reunion in the interim state, perhaps because the real hope of the Christian is the resurrection. And also this isn’t the specific question being addressed. Rather it is, ‘Will the dead in Christ take part in the events of the second coming?’]

Finally, a few words on –

Hope and grief

Paul is not saying don’t grieve when a fellow Christian dies.

  • Jesus grieved for Lazarus, even though he knew he would be a part of the resurrection and even though he knew that he was about to raise him back to life  – John 11.
  • And in Philippians 2:27Paul spoke of the sorrow he would have had if his coworker, Epaphroditus had died, “sorrow upon sorrow.”
  • And we are told in Acts 8:2 that when Stephen was killed fellow believers “made great lamentation over him.”

It is perfectly fine and natural to grieve. Paul is simply saying don’t grieve like those who have no hope. The Christian who has died will be raised again to new life when Jesus returns. This tempers our grief and is a testimony to our strong belief in the salvation that Jesus brings. That we if we are dead when Jesus returns, we will awake. And if we are alive we will be caught up. And this should encourage us indeed.

May God make us to be a people of hope in a hopeless world. May we be a light to the world of a faith that even death cannot defeat. Amen.

William Higgins 

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Today I am asking the question, “Will you enter the kingdom of God?” Or to ask it more personally, “Will you enter the kingdom of God?”

The phrase, “the kingdom of God” (or the “the kingdom of heaven”) is another way of saying God’s salvation. This was often Jesus’ way of talking about salvation. It means the blessings of the age to come – eternal life, joy and peace. We can have a foretaste of these things now, but we await the fullness of these blessings when Jesus returns.

So you can see, this is a very important question. And you can answer this by testing yourselves against the words of Jesus. Remember what he said about his words, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” – Luke 21:33. He also said this, “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; . . .the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day” – John 12:47-48.

So I give you ten specific examples where Jesus speaks of entering or being in the Kingdom. Will you enter the kingdom?

Do you have faith in Jesus?

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 8:10-11. (NIV)

Jesus here commends a non-Jewish soldier for recognizing his authority as the one sent to establish God’s kingdom on earth. The man had asked Jesus to heal his servant. His sense of Jesus’ authority was so great that he didn’t even need Jesus to come to his house. He said, “Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed” – Matthew 8:8. Jesus was amazed.

Unlike so many in Israel, this man both recognized Jesus’ authority and boldly acted on it. That is, he had faith in Jesus. And it is those who have faith in Jesus, whether Jewish or Gentile, who will take part in the great feast and celebration of God’ kingdom salvation at the end of the age, which is what is pictured in these verses.

Do you recognize Jesus’ identity as the Messiah and will you boldly act on this? Like this man, do you have faith in Jesus?

Have you repented of your sins?

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” – Matthew 21:31 (NIV)

Jesus is referring to the tax collectors and prostitutes who had responded to John the Baptist’s message of repentance (Matthew 21:32/Luke 7:29-30). These are the same people who received Jesus’ message of repentance (Matthew 4:17) as opposed to the leaders of the nation of Israel, the “you” in this verse.

To repent means to have a change of mind and heart that leads you to begin to do God’s will (Matthew 21:28-31). You turn away from your old life, and begin to do God’s will. These are the ones who enter the kingdom, even ahead of others who may seem like they should be first in line (religious people, or people without sordid backgrounds).

Have you repented? Have you had a change of heart and mind so that you now have submitted your life completely to God? Those who have repented can ask for and receive the free gift of the forgiveness of their sins through Jesus.

Are you born of the Spirit?

Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” – John 3:5.

To be born of water refers to the process of natural birth. We all have this. To be born of the Spirit is to receive new life from the Spirit of God; to be born anew (John 3:3). It means to be spiritually reborn. And not all have this.

Jesus is teaching us here that each of us must be born of the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God.

Have you received this gift of God; this gift of new life? This is what makes all the rest of what we will talk about today possible.

Are you doing God’s will according to the teaching of Jesus?

Jesus said, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” – Matthew 5:20. Jesus also said, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” – Matthew 7:21. (NRSV)

The first verse is near the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, a long series of Jesus’ teaching on what it means to do God’s will. The second verse comes near the end of the Sermon on the Mount. It gives a warning to heed all that Jesus has just taught.

Both make the same point, to enter the kingdom you must practice the will of God that Jesus teaches. This is the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. (See also Matthew19:17; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:5; 2 Peter 1:11).

Having been born of the Spirit and empowered by the Spirit of God, are you practicing God’s will just as Jesus taught it?

Are you generous with your wealth?

This is a specific example of doing God’s will, and one that Jesus talked about constantly. Jesus said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” – Luke 18:24-25.

Jesus said this after a rich man chose not to follow him because he loved his money too much.

The camel proverb is meant to make the point that it is impossible for a rich person to enter the kingdom. The pull of wealth and what comes with it, security, power and comfort is just too great. But then Jesus says, “What is impossible for people is possible with God” – Luke 18:27. (NLT) That is, God is able to change our hearts so that we give up our wealth and become generous toward God and others. In this way we can enter the kingdom.

Has God worked in your heart, so that you are now generous with whatever resources God has given to you?

Are you separating from what causes you to sin?

Jesus said, “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell” – Mark 9:47.

Not only do you need to repent, that is, turn from sin to do God’s will, you also need to stay away from whatever might lead you to sin – stumbling blocks. Even if this means taking radical action – tearing your eye out. Even if this means losing something precious to you – your eye.

Are you guarding your obedience to God? Are you willing to give up whatever stands in the way of your doing God’s will?

Are you humble like a little child?

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” – Matthew 18:3-4.

In Jesus’ day children were very low in social standing, like slaves. To become like a child is to be humble or lowly. This is in contrast to the disciples who were focused on who was the greatest among them (Matthew 18:1).

Humility means being willing to submit to others, to forsake honor, to serve others and to suffer lack. (See also Matthew 19:14; 5:3).

Are you doing these things? Do you accept lowliness?

Are you suffering for your commitment to God?

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” – Matthew 5:10.

Those who suffer for the kingdom will enter the kingdom; indeed it is already theirs. Suffering includes anything from being ridiculed to being killed. (See also Acts 14:22; Romans 8:17; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-5).

Is your commitment to God more important than being ridiculed for your faith? Is it more important than your life?

Are you serving God?

Jesus said, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” – Matthew 25:21. (NRSV)

This comes from the parable of the talents. This parable teaches that we are to be busy serving Jesus while he is gone. We are to be busy with whatever responsibilities God has given us. This could include sharing your faith, serving in Jesus’ community, and serving other’s needs. It means using your gifts for God.

Those who serve Jesus will enter the kingdom, “the joy of (their) master,” with a reward based on their work. But those who do nothing to serve God will be cast out of the kingdom (Matthew 25:30).

Are you serving God doing the work of the kingdom?

Are you ‘forcibly seizing’ the kingdom?

Jesus said, “The good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone is forcing their way into it” – Luke 16:16 (NRSV)

Those who want to enter the kingdom must be forceful in how they lay hold of it. They must seize it; they must grab hold of it. They must seek it first above all else (Matthew 6:33).This paints a picture of someone who refuses not to gain the kingdom, but does everything necessary to enter it. They pursue it at all costs. (Matthew 11:12; 13:44-46).

Do you seek God’s kingdom above all else – money, relationships, family, status?

___________________

Finally, let me say, it’s not too late. When you test yourself against the words of Jesus and you find yourself lacking, it’s not too late. Rather, see this as an invitation even now,

  • to look to Jesus in faith
  • to submit yourself fully to God
  • to receive new life from the Spirit
  • by God’s grace to walk in this new life
  • and to hold nothing back as you do this

I invite you to do this right now. Where do Jesus’ words convict you? How do they show you what you need to do? Do these things and you will be ready for the kingdom of God and the blessings of the age to come, when Jesus returns.

William Higgins

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