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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’ return’

The theme of hope is a core distinctive of Christianity, based, as our faith is, on a resurrected Jesus, who lives forevermore. Peter speaks of the “living hope” that Christians have in 1 Peter 1:3. And Paul prays that his readers will be enlightened so that, as he says, “you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, (and) what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” – Ephesians 1:18.

And it is this “glorious inheritance” that I want to talk about this morning. What is our hope as Christians? What are “the riches of his glorious inheritance?” I am focusing on this because I fear some Christians aren’t getting the full scope of what God has for us. I say this because some believe that going to heaven when you die, is what it’s all about.

But I ask – Is going to heaven when you die the extent of our hope? This past year I visited a church and I heard just this belief expressed. Someone had died in the church and one person shared, in so many words, that the one who died now had all that God has for him.

Let me begin by saying, yes –

When we die, we go to be with Jesus

Anyone who dies in the Lord, goes to be with the Lord at death.

We’ve talked a lot about Sheol in the last few months – the place of the dead. Scripture doesn’t say a lot about what happens to the righteous dead with the death and resurrection of Jesus. But the best way to put together what is said, is to say that those in paradise (the good part of Sheol) have now moved to heaven to be in the presence of Jesus.

And this is a great blessing and something to look forward to. And this is a great comfort as we think of our loved ones who have died in the Lord, and even as we contemplate our own future. We go to a better place.

Paul says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. . .. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”- Philippians 1:21-22. He also says, “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord . . . and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” – 2 Corinthians 5:6-7. Dying and going to be with Jesus is far better than this earthly life so full of sin and suffering.

And then in the story of Stephen, when he is being stoned to death. He says, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” – Acts 7:59. He knew that when he died, he would be with Jesus. His spirit would go to be in the presence of Jesus.

But our hope is more than this. That’s the message today. Our hope is actually so much more than this! And we don’t want to sell short the amazing hope and inheritance that God has given us in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our hope is more in three specific ways: First of all, our hope is not just something that happens right when we die.

Our hope looks to the end when Jesus returns to completely save us

In other words there is an issue of  timing here. The fullness of our salvation awaits the coming of Jesus at the end of all things. This is when we will receive all that God has for us.

To think that our hope only has to do with when we die, is to mistake the end of one short sentence as the conclusion of a grand, complex and long story – made up of many, many volumes. We are talking about all of history here, billions of stories being woven together into the story of Jesus and coming to the end that God has chosen when Jesus returns.

In the bigger picture our time with Jesus in heaven is a place of waiting for this final goal, the return of Jesus and all that God has for us. It is like a grand waiting room. A good one, for sure, but a waiting room nevertheless. And just like any waiting room, it is easy to get impatient.

This is exactly what we see in Revelation 6:9-11. The souls in heaven who died for their faith, “cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long . . .? Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer . . ..” They are told to be patient.

Our hope is much more than something that happens right when we die. Those in heaven with Jesus, along with us, await the full blessings when Jesus returns.

Second, our hope is not just something that has to do with our spirit.

Our hope includes the redemption of our bodies

Here the issue is the scope of our salvation. Salvation involves every part of us – spirit, soul and body. Our destiny is not to be disembodied spirits in heaven, which is what we are after we die and go to be with Jesus.

Being in the presence of Jesus is far better than life on earth with suffering and sin. But still better is the resurrection. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:3-4, in the resurrection we will no longer be “naked” or “unclothed” – that is, a spirit without a body in heaven with Jesus. In the resurrection we will be clothed with our new resurrected bodies.

Christianity is not like some traditions, where the goal is to escape creation or our bodies. Creation is good, though fallen. And the solution is not abandoning it to be in a purely spiritual realm. The solution is the renewal of creation.

So it is in the resurrection, not simply being in the presence of Jesus in heaven, that we will find our completion; our full salvation.

We see that this is true in Jesus’ resurrection. He was not a spirit or a ghost. He was an embodied person. In Luke 24:39 the resurrected Jesus said to his disciples, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” He had a real body, even though it was supernatural, disappearing and appearing at times, waking through walls and so forth. It was supernatural, but it was a body nonetheless.

And this is also our hope. Philippians 3:20-21 says, “from (heaven) we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

Our hope is much more than something that happens to our spirit. Every part of us will be saved when Jesus returns. 

Third, our hope is not something that has to do with just me going to heaven.

Our hope includes the fulfillment of all of God’s purposes

The issue here is the excessive individualism. Salvation includes all of creation, not just me making it to heaven. 2 Peter 3:13 says, “according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” This is when, as Paul says in Romans 8:21, “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Then there will be a new creation.

Salvation also includes God gathering together a new community, not just me being in heaven. Jesus sais in Luke 13:29, “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” There will be a new community.

Salvation includes the establishment of God’s kingdom over all the earth, not just me in heaven. Just as Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6:10, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” so it will be when Jesus returns. The innocent will be lifted up and the wicked will be put down. Justice will be done. All wrongs will be righted, and all suffering will be rewarded. And righteousness will prevail.

Our hope is much more than me being in heaven with Jesus, it is the fulfillment of God’s grand plan, formulated from before the beginning of time, brought to completion through Jesus, when he returns. God’s people living in a perfect creation, in righteousness, peace and joy (Romans 14:17).

 

Because Jesus defeated death, rose from the grave, ascended to God’s right hand and reigns over all we have a great and amazing hope!

But do you have this hope? It is one thing to learn it in your head, but do you have it in your heart? Receive the new resurrection life that Jesus gives. As Jesus said, “ask and you will receive.” Ask for and receive God’s free gift of new life in Jesus. 

William Higgins

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Well today is Palm Sunday, the day we remember when Jesus presented himself to Jerusalem as king. 

We are looking today at “How to be ready for the great gathering” that is, the resurrection of the righteous. I think that this is a timely topic for Palm Sunday. Consider this: 

  • At Jesus’ first coming, he presented himself as king, but very few were ready
  • At Jesus’ second coming, when he appears in glory as king, will we be any more ready?

Review

We saw last week why we need to be ready for when Jesus returns and sends out his angels to gather those who claim him as Lord. We need to be ready because the unfaithful will be separated out from the faithful.

We saw how Jesus talks about this a lot. Here are just two examples:

  • Matthew 25 – parable of the bridesmaids: five make it in, five don’t
  • Matthew 25 – parable of the talents: two make it in, one doesn’t 

So there is a sorting process, and some who are gathered, or who seek to be gathered, will not make it into the eternal kingdom. While those who are found faithful will be gathered to Jesus, will be resurrected, and will receive eternal rewards.

Now we know that . . .

The foundation of our salvation is the gift of grace in Jesus 

It is based on what he did for us through his life, death and resurrection. To receive this gift, we must:

  1. Acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah, whom God has sent to be the Savior of the world.
  2. Turn from our old life of sin and wrongdoing, and commit to live a new life just as Jesus has taught.
  3. Ask for and receive the new life that comes through Jesus. This includes the forgiveness of our sins and also new life by the Spirit; new birth.

Without this you don’t get anywhere! This is the foundation. And this is all assumed in what our Scriptures talk about today, for Jesus is speaking to his disciples – Christians. 

The question that is focused on in our scriptures today is: Have we been faithful with the grace we have received?

It’s one thing to receive the mercy of God’s salvation. It’s another to continue on in that mercy until the end; to be faithful. It is as Jesus said, in the midst of the trials and testings of this life, “The one who endures to the end will be saved” – Mark 13:13

And on that day of sorting we want to be found among those who are faithful! So here are . . .

Three marks of faithfulness 

. . . that Jesus speaks of, that show us how to be alert and ready for his coming.

#1. Be Dead To Your Earthly Life. This comes from Luke 17:28-35 –

“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. 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. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. 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 together. One will be taken and the other left.”

Jesus teaches us here that the great gathering of the resurrection will be like when the angels gathered Lot and his family out of Sodom. Jesus said, “Just as in the days of Lot (v. 28) . . . so it will be when the Son of man is revealed” (v.  30). So lets look at this comparison:

The Gathering from Sodom:

  1. Angels were sent to gather Lot and his family
  2. Lot’s wife longingly looked back to her home in Sodom
  3. She was attached to her life in Sodom  and was judged. She was sorted out of the faithful remnant.

The End Time Gathering:

  1. Angels will be sent to gather us (as we saw last week)
  2. We should not tarry or turn back. This is what Jesus is talking about in v. 31. In that day don’t seek to grab your possessions, or if you are in the field don’t turn back toward your home.
  3. So this raises the question for us – Are we attached to our earthly life?

As he says in v. 33, in the context of his second coming, “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, possessions, status and earthly plans.  

If you cling to your earthly life on the day of gathering, you will be sorted out, just like Lot’s wife. That’s why Jesus said, in v. 32 – “Remember Lot’s wife.” That’s the lesson here. She sought to preserve her life and so she lost her life. Don’t be like her.

We have to be able to let it all go, to lose it all in a moment – unsaved loved ones, our possessions, our projects and our earthly dreams. 

And the way to prepare for this is to choose now to die to your earthly life. In the words of Jesus “to lose your life.” Already now put God first above all else on this earth. Then you will be ready and not hesitant on the great day of gathering when the angels come for you. 

#2. Do the will of God, just as Jesus teaches. By far, Jesus talks about this the most when he speaks of being ready for the great gathering. 

We will focus in on one example: Matthew 7:21-23 –

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” 

  • Notice that they confessed Jesus as Lord. They looked to him as the Messiah.
  • They did works by the Spirit of God – prophesying, casting out demons and performing miracles 
  • And they ministered in the name of Jesus

These are disciples that thought all was OK in their lives. Indeed they thought that they were outstanding followers of Jesus, waiting for their commendation. But they don’t make it in!

Why? They did not obey the will of God. Jesus has just taught about this in the Sermon on the Mount, right before this passage – much of it focused on what it means to love our neighbor. They didn’t practice this.

As Jesus says in v. 21 it is “the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” who “will enter the kingdom of heaven” on that final day of sorting.

But these people knowingly allowed sin to remain in their lives. They chose not to deal with it. This is why Jesus said, “depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” They are sorted out due to continued unrighteousness in their lives.

What do we learn about being ready for the great gathering? Obey God in every part of your life. Put into practice all that Jesus has taught and modeled for us. Hold nothing back; no part of your life. 

And when you fail, repent and find forgiveness and move forward again. Endure in your obedience until the end.

#3. Do your work for the Kingdom. That is, whatever God has called you to do, whatever God has gifted you to do, make sure you do it.

Jesus speaks of this in several passages, but we will focus on the familiar Matthew 25:14-30, the parable of the talents. Here’s a summary:

  • Jesus, the master is going away 
  • And so he gives to his servants specific tasks to do according to their abilities, while he is gone
  • Two worked hard at their tasks and were blessed when the master returned
  • One didn’t work. He was lazy and did nothing and was judged. Jesus says about him, “Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – Matthew 25:30.

It will work the same way for us on that final day when Jesus returns. If you do nothing to work for the kingdom, you will be sorted out as well.

What do we learn about being ready for the great gathering? Serve Jesus with your life, your gifts, your time, your resources. Find out what Jesus wants you to do, and then get busy! Work hard to advance the kingdom.

A final note

Now, I know it can be a somber thing to think about this business of being sorted, and some being sorted out. But we are given this teaching (and there is a lot of it) so that we can examine our lives and make the changes we need to make in order to be ready. So that we can indeed be found faithful. 

But, having said that, lets end on a more joyful note. For if you:

  1. Die to your earthly lives so that you are ready to go
  2. Do the will of God and 
  3. Work hard for the kingdom – you will be blessed! 

You will hear these words from Jesus, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We will have Jesus’ seal of approval before all of creation.

He will say, “You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” We will be rewarded for our faithfulness; for all of our troubles and sacrifices for him. It will all be more than worth it.

And he will say, “Enter into the joy of your master.” We will have joy with Jesus for eternity in the kingdom of God. (Matthew 25:21)

William Higgins

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We’re continuing on in our series on the second coming today. Last time, two weeks ago, we went through the second half of the Olivet discourse. We looked at what I called “Jesus’ Roadmap to the End” – with its three major points:

1) The destruction of Herod’s Temple and the events associated with this, which happened within a generation of Jesus’ words, just as he said they would.

2) The times of the Gentiles – a time when God is working with the nations of the world for both salvation and judgment, as people respond to the gospel. This is the time we live in, and we don’t know how long it will continue.

3) The return of Jesus and the resurrection of the righteous.

We also saw how once the Temple was destroyed, Jesus could come at any time. Nothing else has to take place in the scheme of things.

And finally we saw how no one knows the time, not even Jesus. The Father will make the call for when the times of the Gentiles are over and Jesus will return.

Today we begin to focus on what Jesus talks about the most with regard to his coming – that We must be ready! Next week we will look at “How to be ready for the great gathering.” In other words, how to be ready for Jesus’ return and the resurrection of the righteous. Today its “Why we need to be ready for the great gathering.”  We begin by looking in more detail at . . .

The resurrection of the righteous

1. It will happen after Jesus returns and the nations experience great tribulation. Matthew 24:30 talks about the second coming and this time of suffering when “all the tribes of the earth will mourn.” And then Matthew 24:31 (the next verse) talks about the resurrection of the righteous. There is a sequence here.

2. The resurrection is called a “gathering” (as in our title today). Mark 13:27 tells us that after Jesus returns, “he will . . . gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” 

This gathering language is used in other places:

  • In Matthew 13:30 (the parable of the weeds) speaking of the resurrection, Jesus says, “. . . at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn’” – a reference to resurrection.
  • In 2 Thessalonians 2:1 Paul says, “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him . . .” – again, speaking of the resurrection of the righteous.

Also, the word “taken” is used for the resurrection. Jesus said in Luke 17:34, “one will be taken, and another left.” The one taken is resurrected. The phrase “caught up” is also used in –  I Thessalonians 4:17.

Whatever the language, the point is that we will be brought to Jesus, from all the ends of the earth and gathered around him.

3. Angels will be involved in this gathering. They are not always mentioned, but they are involved.

Matthew 24:31 tells us that Jesus “will send out his angels . . . and they will gather his elect . . ..” And as Jesus said in Matthew 13:39 (the parable of the weeds) speaking of the resurrection, “the reapers are angels” who will gather us to himself.

4. The resurrection will be signaled by a trumpet blast.

  • Matthew 24:31 speaks of “a loud trumpet call.”
  • I Corinthians 15:52 says that at this time “the last trumpet . . . will sound.”
  • In 1 Thessalonians  4:16 the resurrection is accompanied by “the sound of the trumpet of God.”  

5. The faithful who die before Jesus’ return will be first. At death they go to be with the Lord (as Paul talks about in several places) and they will come with Jesus as he returns in the clouds.

  • They will receive their resurrection bodies first. Their souls and their new bodies will be joined.
  • And then the faithful who are alive will be resurrected. Our current lowly bodies will be made imperishable.   

Paul teaches on this in I Thessalonians 4:13-17 and I Corinthians 15:52.

Finally, and the point we are heading to – 6. Those who are gathered will be sorted. For the dead in Christ, this happened at death. But for those who are alive when Jesus returns – as the angels gather us – there will be a process of separating those who are faithful and those who are not.

The angels will gather in all who profess Jesus as Lord; who look to him as the Messiah (Matthew 7:21; 25:11; Luke 13:25). But not everyone who is gathered, or seeks to be gathered will make it into the eternal Kingdom.

This will be when, in Jesus’ words, “those who are considered worthy to attain . . . to the resurrection from the dead” (Luke 20:35) will be blessed. They will be given resurrection bodies and will receive the rewards of the faithful. And as we will see, those who are not worthy will be cast away from Jesus.

This is why we need to be ready!

This is the moment of our greatest hope, for resurrection life and blessed reward. But it is also the moment of our greatest testing. Have we been faithful to our Lord and King? Or have we squandered his grace and mercy? And the truth is that not all will make it in.

Jesus speaks of this on a number of occasions. Here are some of them:

Matthew 7:21-23. This is Jesus speaking about the final day.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

As Jesus teaches here rather straightforwardly, “many” who confess him as Lord and even do works of the Spirit will not make it in. Rather, Jesus says to them, “’I never knew you; depart from me” – v. 23.  They are sorted out.

The parable of the bridesmaids: Matthew 25:1-13. In this parable about the second coming, there are ten bridesmaids waiting for the groom, Jesus. As we know, five made it because they were ready, and five did not make it in because they were not ready.

When these last five came back later to try to get into the wedding banquet they said, “’Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he (Jesus) answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’” – vs. 11-12.

The parable of the talents: Matthew 25:14-30. This is a familiar story. The master gave his three servants tasks to do while he was gone.

When the master returned, the second coming, two servants had worked hard and they entered in. But one did not work, and he was excluded.

Jesus said about this last one, “Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – v. 30.

The parable of the weeds: Matthew 13:24-30; 37-43. We have already looked at this in part. At the end of the age, as v. 41 says, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers,” that is, all the weeds. And then the wheat, the faithful ones, will be gathered. 

Those who are a part of Jesus’ kingdom, who are not faithful are separated from those who are faithful.

Jesus said about the weeds, “Throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” v. 42.

The parable of the fishnet: Matthew 13:47-50. The net of the gospel has collected fish of every kind. Some Christians who are faithful, and some who have responded to the gospel, but are not faithful.

As v. 49 says, “The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous.” It concludes by saying of the former, “throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – v. 50.

As we see in all these examples (and there are more) there is a sorting process. Some who are gathered, or seek to be gathered, will not make it into the kingdom. This is why . . .

Jesus calls us to be ready

He calls us to be alert. At the end of the Olivet discourse he says, “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.” – Mark 13:33. He also says, “And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” – Mark 13:37. We will look at how to be ready and alert next week.
 
William Higgins

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We are continuing on in our series on the second coming of Jesus. Last week we began to look at Jesus’ Olivet Discourse in Mark 13, Jesus’ primary teaching on his return.

Here’s a recap: Jesus predicted that Herod’s temple would be destroyed. The disciples, who saw this as something that must be connected to the end of all things, asked Jesus – “When’s it gonna happen?”

This is a picture of a model of Herod’s Temple:

second temple

But instead of answering their question right away, in vs. 5-13 Jesus talked more generally about how we are to expect  false teachers and persecution as we wait for the end and his return.

Today, we look at Jesus’ answer to the disciple’s specific question of – “When will Herod’s temple be destroyed?” This is where Jesus presents, what I am calling his roadmap to the end.

Stage 1: The destruction of the temple

Jesus talks about four things here:

1. The abomination of desolation.

Mark 13:14a – “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not to be (let the reader understand) . . ..”

Jesus is using prophetic – apocalyptic code language – “abomination of desolation.” This is emphasized when Mark invites the reader to understand what is being said. Its like saying – “Do you get it?”

Jesus is drawing on the book of Daniel here. Daniel portrays a pagan king who defiles the temple, most often associated with Antiochus Epiphanes and what he did in 168 BC.

By using this phrase, Jesus is saying that this will happen again (or perhaps he is even saying that this will be the true fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy).

In Luke 21:20 (Luke’s account of the Olivet discourse) we are given the decoded version of what Jesus means: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.”

This helps us to see that Jesus is talking about events that occurred not long after his death. In 66-70 AD the Roman armies came against Israel.

  • They laid siege to the city and eventually destroyed Jerusalem and the temple under General Titus, who later became emperor.
  • Then they offered up sacrifices to their idolatrous banners on the temple site

In these ways the pagan Roman empire, its armies and emperor, showed itself to be truly an “abomination of desolation.”

In answer to the question – “When will Herod’s temple be destroyed?” Jesus indicates that, it will happen sometime after you see the Roman armies coming ready to attack.

2. Flight to the mountains.

Mark 13:14b-18 – “. . .  then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that it may not happen in winter.”

The recognition of the Roman armies coming against the city is the cue for the Jewish Christians in Judea to flee. Usually you would flee into a walled city in time of war. But not this time. This time God’s judgment is coming on Jerusalem and the temple. 

Jesus emphasizes the seriousness of the situation. Leave your possessions and extra clothes behind and run! Jesus also speaks to the practical difficulties of fleeing:

  • It will be very hard on women who are pregnant or with small children.
  • He also tells them to pray that it not be in winter, when the rivers are flooded and hard to cross and the mountains have snow.

According to one report the Christians in Jerusalem did in fact flee the city, sometime at the beginning of the war.

3. A great tribulation.

Mark 13:17-20 – “For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.” 

Luke’s version here shows us that this time of tribulation is still speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. “For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles . . .”  – 21:23b-24.

This was a horrific time of suffering for the Jewish people:

  • They were subjected to the realities of seige warfare being stuck in Jerusalem. Some resorted to cannibalism when the food ran out.
  • Over a million were killed throughout Israel (which was a huge percentage of the population in that day). So many were crucified that it was said that there were few trees left in the region.
  • Almost a hundred thousand were taken away into slavery
  • Their temple was defiled and destroyed, the city of Jerusalem was burned, and their national-political identity was taken away

As Jesus said, if God did not cut short the days for the sake of his chosen ones, followers of Jesus – none would have survived.

Now, when Jesus speaks of suffering beyond what has ever occurred or will occur again:

  • He may be speaking figuratively, as the prophet Joel does in Joel 2:2. This would, then, simply be a prophetic way of describing suffering beyond imagination.
  • With regard to Jerusalem, he could be speaking literally. For it is true that it had never suffered this much before. And, if this is what he meant, then it will never suffer this much again.

4. A time of deception.

Mark 13:21-23 – “And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. False christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.”

Jesus already warned of this, as we saw last week. Here he gives a specific warning. During this time of chaos and distress, don’t listen to false messiahs and false prophets. For they will seek to lead followers of Jesus astray through the use of signs and omens.

And this kind of activity – false prophets and talk of omens – did take place during and after the war that destroyed the temple.

This leads us to . . .

Stage 2: An undefined time of geo-political turmoil

Mark 13:24-25 – “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” 

This is a new section, for he says, “after that tribulation.” We are past the destruction of the temple and that awful time.

But what does all this cosmic language of sun, moon and stars mean? Is it literal? Well, when we look at the rest of Scripture, we find out that this is prophetic speech that was used to describe geo-political change as one empire rises and another falls at the hand of God:

Isaiah 13:10 uses the same cosmic language that Jesus does to speak of God’s judgment of Babylon. “For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light, the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light.” As we know, it wasn’t literal here. It was a way of speaking of God’s judgment on this nation.

Isaiah 34:4 also uses some of the same language that Jesus does to speak of God’s judgment on Edom. “All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall . . ..”

The prophets Ezekiel, Joel & Amos  also use cosmic language to speak of judgment on nations.

Luke confirms this understanding. In Luke 21:24 the destruction of Jerusalem is followed by “the times of the Gentiles.” God will be dealing with the Gentile nations now.

Then in verses 25-26 comes the cosmic language with additional statements that help us see what is going on. Jesus speaks of “. . . distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the wave, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.” Why are the nations distressed? Because of “the roaring of the sea and the wave.” And as we saw in our study of baptism this has to do with chaos, turmoil and judgment in the world (see Revelation 17:15).

Jesus here speaks in the most general terms possible about a time when nations will rise and fall in the world at the hand of God.

This section recalls Mark 13:8. “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” These are the birth pangs of the end expressed in cosmic language.

This brings us to the last stage . . .

Stage 3: The coming of the Son of Man

Mark 13:26 – “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”

After this undefined period of Gentile geo-political turmoil, “then” Jesus will return as ruler and king.

We learn from Matthew’s version that a part of this is that the peoples of the earth will be judged. Matthew 24:30 says “all the tribes of the earth will mourn.” Jesus’ return will bring great woe upon the people of the earth. The book of Revelation expounds on this in some detail.

More hopefully this also involves the resurrection of the righteous.

Mark 13:27 – “And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”

Jesus will send out his angels to gather together his followers. Again, this is a common way of talking about the resurrection of the righteous.

Next we see the connection between . . .

The temple destruction and Jesus’ return

Mark 13:28-31 – “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

Now notice, the phrase, “these things” in this passage cannot refer to the coming of the Son of Man, for “when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” The two are differentiated by Jesus. “These things” must take place first, then we know that “he is near.”

The phrase, “these things” connects back to the original question of 13:4 – “When will these things be and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?” In other words, the phrase “these things” refers to the temple destruction and the beginning of the times of the Gentiles.

Jesus gives us more information about “when” in this section:

1. “These things” will happen within the span of a generation. That is, the destruction of the temple through to the ushering in of the times of the Gentiles will occur in the lifetime of Jesus’ hearers. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” – v. 30.

And Jesus stakes his prophetic authority on this prediction. He said, “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” – v. 31. And, in fact, “all these things” did happen by 70 AD, within a generation of Jesus’ words!

2. Once the temple is destroyed, Jesus’ return is imminent. That is, no other event must happen before he returns. Which means he could come at any time!

But, lets be clear as we end . . .

No one knows when Jesus will return

Mark 13:32-33 – “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.”

Although the other events will be fulfilled in the generation of Jesus’ listeners, no one knows when the Son will come in glory and power.

He could not emphasize this point more. Not even Jesus himself knows when! Only the Father knows.

So if anyone tells you that they know, ask them if they know more than Jesus! Then tell them what Jesus said, “you do not know when the time will come.”

We currently live somewhere in stage two – the times of the Gentiles. And Jesus could come at any time.

Since we don’t know when, as Jesus said, we should “be on guard” and “keep awake.” We should be ready at all times!

William Higgins

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We have begun a series on Jesus’ second coming and today we start to look at the Olivet discourse of Mark 13. It’s called the “Olivet” discourse because Jesus spoke these words as he sat on the Mount of Olives.

This is Jesus’ primary teaching on his second coming.

  • There are other places where he talks about this, but not in as much detail.
  • And we have this same Olivet discourse in all three of the first Gospels, with slight differences. So we can use all three of them to help us make sense of what Jesus is saying, which is a real help.

Now, when I look at all the debates and discussions about the end times today, much of which revolve around trying to make sense of the book of Revelation, which is the hardest book to interpret because of its symbolism (because you can read into it pretty much whatever you want), when I look at all this . . .

  • My choice is to start with what Jesus said. And to look at his main teaching on this.
  • And then move from there to make sense out of other passages that speak of his second coming.

So, we start with Mark 13:1 and . . .

Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple

Mark 13:1 – “And as Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!’”

The temple here is Herod’s temple. It is usually called the second Temple. The first temple was Solomon’s and it was destroyed by the Babylonians. So when the exiles returned to Jerusalem they built another, second temple.

And it was this temple that Herod had extensively remodeled and turned into a wonder of the ancient world. It was justly famous for its size and beauty. The stones were massive – 25’ x 8’ x 12.’ The disciples were certainly impressed by it.

Mark 13:2 – “And Jesus said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’”

He predicts its destruction. Now, this isn’t the only time that Jesus predicted impending doom for Jerusalem:

  • Jesus says in Matthew 23:34-38 that Jerusalem will be judged and its temple (or “house”) left desolate.
  • In Luke 19:43-44 Jesus talks about judgment on Jerusalem for rejecting him – “For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

Mark 13:3a – “And as Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple . . ..”

After his prediction, Jesus and the disciples went out of Jerusalem and onto the Mount of Olives. It’s just across from Jerusalem and you could see the Temple from there.

The disciples must have been thinking about Jesus’ prediction and so when they got there, they ask Jesus –

When will it happen??

Mark 13:3b-4 – “. . . Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?’”

The phrase – “these things” refers to the prediction of the destruction of Herod’s temple. They are asking, ‘When will Herod’s temple be destroyed?’ They want to know about the timing of this prediction by Jesus.

In Matthew 24:3 (Matthew’s version of the Olivet discourse) there is the additional phrase “ . . . and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

The disciples saw the destruction of the temple as an event connected in some way to the end of all things. This idea would have been understandable for any Jew. Today we just don’t understand how important the temple was for their faith. For it to go must mean the end of all things.

Well, Jesus does answer their question and he confirms that there is a connection between the destruction of Herod’s temple and the end.

As we will see In vs. 14-33 he tells them:

  • when this temple will be destroyed and
  • the connection of this to the end – his second coming

He gives them what I call – “Jesus’ Roadmap to the End.” But that’s for next week!

Today our focus is on vs. 5-13, which contain Jesus’ initial answer to them, before he answers their specific question. This initial response gives some general teaching on what to expect as we wait for Jesus’ return.  For an outline of Mark 13:5-13 click here: Two Parallel Warnings About The End

The first thing Jesus tells us is to –

Expect false teachers

Mark 13:5-8 – “And Jesus began to say to them, ‘See that no one leads you astray.  Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.’”

Jesus is giving us a warning, which we need to hear today. Deceivers, false messiahs will come:

  1. They will use troubling events in the world to alarm people – wars, earthquakes and famines
  2. They will say that the end is here – “Can’t you see it! All these events are taking place!”
  3. They will call people to follow them. And in this way they will lead people astray.

This has happened throughout history, from a Samaritan false prophet who gathered quite a following before the destruction of Jerusalem, all the way to the present and David Koresh and the Branch Davidians.

In contrast to all this – Jesus, the real Messiah tells us:

  1. These things must happen – there will be troubling events – but don’t be alarmed
  2. The end is not yet
  3. So don’t listen to them! They are deceivers who will lead you astray from your faith in him.

Just as a point of emphasis because we don’t always get it: These things (wars, earthquakes, famines) are not signs of the coming of the end. They are simply the beginning of the end. That yes, we are in the last days, (which began in New Testament times) but not that the last day is here, or even around the corner.

Christians today are often the first ones to be alarmed by events in the world. But we of all people should be calm, because we know this stuff must happen, but the end is not yet. Jesus has told us so. And he said “do not be alarmed.”

Jesus says of these in v. 8 – “these are but the beginning of the birth pains.” The metaphor is that of a new world being born out of the ashes of the old. And so the kinds of things we see in newspaper headlines are simply the first hints of labor. The full birth pains will come when Jesus returns.

The second thing Jesus highlights is that we should –

Expect persecution

Mark 13:9-13 – “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

Jesus gives us another warning: The world will oppose us. Christians will be handed over, betrayed even by relatives. They will be beaten, put on trial, and some will be killed. We will be hated by all people.

This has happened all throughout history since the coming of Jesus.

  • In the first century the Roman emperor Nero persecuted and killed Peter and Paul and many others in the city of Rome.
  • In the 1500’s the first Mennonites suffered one of the most devastating examples of persecution in all of church history.
  • Today there are more martyrs than ever, and persecution abounds in various parts of the world even as we speak.

But he not only told us it would happen, Jesus tells us how to respond:

  1. We must endure, for the one who endures to the end will be saved. He’s saying, don’t let persecution cause you to renounce your faith; to turn away from him.
  2. We must fulfill God’s purpose of spreading the gospel to all nations. Even turning our persecution into an opportunity to witness for him.
  3. We must rely upon the Spirit to help us. For the Spirit will give us the words to say when we are put on trial; when we are put on the spot; when we are afraid.

[Just a note here: Jesus says, “The gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations” and as Matthew’s versions says, “then the end will come.” What I want to say is that this doesn’t set a time for Jesus to return that can be measured, so that we can say, “Hey, its done Jesus has to return now. Lets go sit on a hill and wait for him.” How do you measure this? Is it geographical, is it political – to every nation state, is it social – to every specific tribe? Its unclear. Paul said in Colossians 1:23 that in his own day the gospel had “been proclaimed in all creation under heaven.” So it’s unclear.]

Alright, summing up Jesus’ initial response to the disciples –

What should we expect? The testing of our faith

Scripturally, the danger of living in the last days, like we do, is that we will lose our faith.

  • As Jesus says in Matthew 24:10 (Matthew’s version of the Olivet discourse) – “Many will fall away.”
  • As Paul says in I Timothy 4:1 – “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith . . ..”

As our verses today have shown us:

  • We can lose our faith if false messiahs, prophets or teachers lead us astray, and
  • We can lose our faith if persecution causes us not to endure

So Jesus warns us and encourages us in these verses to:

 Resist false teachers who raise alarm

And remain true to share the gospel amidst persecution

Next week – the “when” question. When will the temple be destroyed, and what is the connection of this to the end and Jesus’ return.

William Higgins

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 Today we begin a series of teaching on Jesus’ second coming.

Now there are lots of debates about exactly how this will all unfold. For instance, what happens just before or after Jesus returns. And these discussions will continue on and people of good faith will disagree. That’s not our focus today.

Our focus is: What we have to look forward to when Jesus returns.

Scripture tells us that in our lives in this world we will have trials and tribulations. It will not always be easy.
We will suffer. We will experience disappointment, discouragement, even despair at times.

Yet as Christians we know and believe that there is hope for our future. Lets look at this . . .

1. Jesus will return

As bad as the world is around us; as much as it is broken and full of evil and seemingly beyond hope of repair – certainly with regard to what God’s will is for it – we know that there is one who is coming who will fix it.

Jesus said about himself, “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father . . .” – Matthew 16:27. He also said, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory” – Mark 13:26.

 Paul said it this way, “For 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.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:16.

Jesus has not left us to ourselves. He will come. And he will come through on his promises to us.
 Here are several notes about his coming:

  • It will be a literal, bodily return – Acts 1:11. The angels said to the disciples, ‘Just as you saw him ascend into heaven (with his resurrection body), so will he return in the same way.’
  • Everyone will see him return – as Jesus said in Luke 17:24, “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.” He is countering here the idea that his coming will be a spiritual or secret return that only a few will know about (Luke 17:23; also Matthew 24:23-26). He is saying there will be nothing hidden about it. No one will be able to miss it.
  • It will be glorious – Mark 13:26 & Matthew 16:27. As we saw from these verses, he will come “with great power and glory” and “with his angels in the glory of his Father . . ..” It will not be like the humble infant born in a manger, who lived in poverty and was unjustly killed. He will come with the splendor and majesty of the king that he is.

2. Jesus will rule over the earth

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you . . . the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne” – Matthew 19:28. This throne speaks to his rule as King over the earth.

It is at this time that our prayer – “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” will be truly and completely fulfilled.

Now a part of his rule has to do with judging. Jesus said, “the Son of Man is going to come . . . and then he will repay each person according to what he or she has done.” – Matthew 16:27.

This is when what Jesus said in Luke 14:11 will come true, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

  • Those who are on top now because of evildoing and oppression will be put down.
  • Those who are on the bottom now because of righteousness and commitment to Jesus will be raised up and blessed.

King Jesus will right all wrongs and bring true justice and peace to the world.

3. We will be resurrected

In Mark 13:27 Jesus says about himself, “And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” The angels will “gather” us up, a common (harvesting) metaphor for the resurrection in the teaching of Jesus.

As Paul teaches in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17:

  • Christians who have already died will be raised first, and then
  • Christians who are still alive at Jesus’ return will be given new resurrection bodies

Resurrection means that our earthly bodies will be transformed. Paul says that Jesus will “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”- Philippians 3:21.

Our resurrection bodies will be like Jesus’ supernatural body and like the bodies that angels have. We will be able to appear and disappear. We can eat food, but we don’t have to.

Resurrection also, of course, means that we will be immortal. Paul said, “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” – 1 Corinthians 15:52-53.

We will experience the full reality of Jesus’ defeat of death. Our new bodies will live forever, without suffering. What a blessed change this will be!

4. There will be a huge celebration

This is called the Messianic banquet; an end time celebration for the faithful, with Jesus.

Jesus said of this, “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 8:11. He also talked about his disciples eating and drinking, “at my table in my kingdom” – Luke 22:30.

This is what he said at the last supper, “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” – Matthew 26:29. Think of it. He is waiting in heaven to celebrate with us!

This is also pictured as a wedding banquet: For instance in the parable that Jesus tells in Matthew 22:1-14 and also in Revelation 19:9 which says, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the lamb.” It’s going to be an amazing party!

5. We who have been faithful will be rewarded

We will be “blessed.” This is the message of the beatitudes in Luke 6 & Matthew 5. As the word indicates, we will be happy, blissful and fully and truly contented. And with good reason!

  • The eternal kingdom will be ours. Matthew 5:3 says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
  • We will see God. Matthew 5:8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” We will be close to God and be able to be in God’s presence.
  • We will have joy with Jesus. Matthew 25:21 says, “Well done, good and faithful servant. . . . Enter into the joy of your master.”
  • We will inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5 says, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” [Now, although it is often thought that we will spend eternity in heaven, the reality is that God made us for this earth and it is our destiny to be here. It would be better to say that when Jesus returns – heaven will come down to earth. This is also pictured in another way in Revelation 21. We do not go up to be in the new Jerusalem. It comes down out of heaven, and it says that now God dwells with us, that is, on earth.]

So, all of these rewards will be ours. God will give us the earth, we will have joy with Jesus, we will see God, and possess the kingdom forever. We will indeed be blessed!

6. We who have been faithful will rule with Jesus over the earth

As we see in the parable of Luke 19:17 & 19, those who serve Jesus while he is gone with their various assignments, will receive various levels of rule, based on their service.

Paul says it plainly – “If we endure, we will also reign with him” – 2 Timothy 2:12.

In 1 Corinthians 6:2-3 he gets more specific about this rule. He asks the Corinthians – “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” That is, the people that have lived on the earth. And also he asks, “Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” These are beings that are beyond our understanding and yet we will be involved in judging them.

7. All things will be made new

What Jesus will do will extend even to the entirety of the cosmos – the heavens and the earth.

Jesus talks about “the new world,” when he comes in Matthew 19:28. Literally, it means the “regeneration.” Another translation renders it “the renewal of all things.”

Romans 8:21 talks about this and says, “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” In other words, it will be made new and glorious just like our bodies will be new and glorious.

John saw this prophetically in Revelation 21:1 – “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . ..”

So the message today is, whatever your circumstances are, and this earthly life can be both difficult and cruel, as Christians we have something to look forward to.

To summarize Paul from I Corinthians 2:9 – what God has prepared for us who love him is:

  • beyond what any eye has seen
  • it is beyond what any ear has heard
  • it is beyond what the human heart can even imagine

That is what we have to look forward to. This is our hope.

And it is this that keeps our current struggles in perspective as we remember the bigger picture.  And this is what gives us the strength to move forward, faithfully following Jesus in the midst of our difficulties.

William Higgins

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This is a Sunday school lesson from last summer.
This parable is difficult to make sense of. I have spent quite a bit of time wrestling with it  over the years. We won’t have time to do it full justice either, that is, all the issues and possible interpretations. What I want to do is give you a point of view, and see if perhaps it makes sense to you as well. Here is the parable:

Matthew 20:1-16 – “[1] For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. [2] After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. [3] And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, [4] and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ [5] So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. [6] And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ [7] They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ [8] And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ [9] And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. [10] Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. [11] And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, [12] saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ [13] But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? [14] Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. [15] Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ [16] So the last will be first, and the first last.” 

Basic background

 These things are clear –

  • The vineyard owner hires day laborers in town 
  •  The workday at this time was 12 hours long. About 10 hours of actual work (then time for meals, prayers). The last worker only worked an hour.
  • A “denarius” equals a days wage (something like minimum wage today)
  • The workers get paid at the end of each day. For those who live hand to mouth, they must be paid so that they can feed their families (Deuteronomy 24:14-15).

There are also . . .

Some basics from the parable

 . . . that are fairly clear.

1. The point of the parable is clear. That’s because of a literary structure called an inclusion. This is when similar statements function like bookends. In this case we have similar statements just before and at the end of the parable, which reiterate the point of the parable.

  • 19:30 – “But many who are first will be last, and the last first”
  • 20:16 – “So the last will be first, and the first last” (this last phrase has “so,” or “thus” in front of it. In this way the last will be first. It offers an explanation for the saying of 19:30)

Also, the  language of last and first shows up throughout the parable itself  – vs. 8-9.  

Now, although in other places this phrase “the first will be last and the last will be first,” means reversal (Luke 13:30) . . .

2. Here “the first and the last” speaks of equalization. The last are treated like the first and the first are treated like the last – which is not about reversal.

The climax of the parable in verse 12 shows this. Those who worked the longest complained, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” The issue here is how all the workers were treated equally, even though some had done more work.

3. The basic identities of the first and the last

  • Verse 12 makes it clear that “the last” – refers to those hired last, who worked the least – the one hour workers.
  • Verse 10 makes it clear that “the first” are those who have worked all day – the 12 hour workers. They are the ones who complain about the last – the one hour workers.

This much is clear. But who, specifically, are the 12 hour workers and who are the one hour workers? What is the context of this? How should we apply it? What’s the point we are supposed to take away from this? As I said, there are many . . .

Different interpretations

  • The first = the Pharisees, and the last = tax collectors. And they are made equal.
  • Similarly, the first = Jewish Christians, and the last = Gentile Christians. Certainly this is possible, but these are not being discussed before or after this, and the idea doesn’t fit into the flow or context here, especially of  19:30.
  • Along similar lines, but more remote still – the first = long time Christians, and the last = those saved late in life
  • The parable is meant to teach – you shouldn’t serve Jesus for reward. Its about motivations. Its a rebuke to Peter, who in 19:27 asks “What then will we have?” But, as we will see, he is not boasting or serving for the wrong motives. He’s concerned about whether he will be saved or not.
  • The parable teaches that there are no levels of reward. We all get the same thing no matter whether we work much or little. But this goes against other teaching in Matthew, as we will see later, there are levels of reward in the kingdom.

The context of the parable is the key

That is, the preceding story of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-30. Lets look at this:

1) The rich young ruler asked: “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?”- Matthew 19:16

2) After enumerating many of the commands, Jesus demanded that he sell his possessions and follow him. Then he will gain eternal life (19:16-22). Apparently Jesus saw that he had a problem with a desire for wealth and a desire to keep it for himself, which is not a loving of his neighbor. 

3) Jesus talks about how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom. It is, basically, impossible (19:23-24). (This is not talking about an actual camel’s gate in Jerusalem. This interpretation comes from the middle ages. It is a proverb that expresses something that is impossible.)

4) The disciples are astonished by all this. They ask, “Who then can be saved?”

5) Jesus replies that God can make it possible (19:25-26). God can help those who have more than they need to give up self-indulgence and to share with the needy.

6) Peter is concerned about whether they (the twelve) will make it into the kingdom, because they are not doing as much as was demanded of the rich man. Peter said, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?”  (Matthew 19:27). You told him to have life  he had to sell all. We have left all. Is that enough?

7)Jesus reassures them: Yes, they will enter the kingdom and will have 12 thrones and judge the people of God. Then he expands it beyond the 12 in Matthew 19:29. “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”

So we have a situation where:

  • Jesus is more demanding of the young man – sell all and follow me, and
  • Jesus is less demanding of the 12 & others – leave everything behind and follow me

 Yet both would receive eternal life!

So I want to interpret the parable in this context, but before I do – let me say briefly that . . .

Side note

Jesus is not saying that we earn our salvation. That salvation is a gift is always assumed by Jesus for both the Old and New Covenants. But for Jesus, to enter the kingdom or to inherit life (to take part in the resurrection) you do have to obey God. He says this over and over again, constantly, and in different ways –

  • Jesus says, “If you would enter life keep the commandments” – 19:17
  • He also said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” – 7:21

Our obedience is necessary, but it doesn’t earn the gift. As Jesus said in Luke 17:10 – “When you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'” We have only done what we were obliged to do in the first place – obey God. There is no merit to that. We never have a claim on God.

Back to the meaning of the parable 

We learn from our context in Matthew 19 that God asks some to do more (by way of difficult obedience) and God asks some to do less to  enter the kingdom or inherit eternal life. This rightly raises the question – “Is this fair?”which is what the parable is all about. So lets interpret the parable in this context. 

  • The first are those whom Jesus demands much from – sacrifice and hard work (like the young man who has to sell all and work). They work 12 long hours in the heat of the day.
  • The midday workers are those whom Jesus demand something less from – (perhaps the 12 disciples who leave all – something less than what the first have to do)
  • The last are  those from whom Jesus demands relatively little (perhaps ordinary Christians who don’t even leave all. They stay at home and support those who do).

In a nutshell: We all have to obey (everyone in the parable worked some). But God requires of some more sacrificial obedience than others – yet all (who do what God calls them to do) will receive eternal life. The last is like the first and the first is like the last, in that they all enter the kingdom.

So the parable is a footnote to the conversation about the rich young ruler and wealth and the saying in 19:30 about the first and the last.  

The purpose of the parable

 #1 – It is a part of the reassurance of Jesus to the 12 (and others by extension – ordinary Christians) that even though they do less than others,  they too will enter the kingdom/have eternal life.

#2 – It is to warn those in the church who are called to greater sacrificial obedience, not to complain because of God’s generosity to others.

An example: Paul

Paul says in  1 Corinthians 9:16,  “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” For Paul preaching (a difficult ministry of preaching) is necessary to enter the kingdom – “Woe to me if I do not.” For others it is not. God has not laid that on them. It all has to do with God’s sovereign choice.

What about rewards?

 There are still differences in rewards based on what we do in the context of what God calls us to do. Jesus speaks of:

  • In Matthew 5:19; 11:11 he speaks of the least in the kingdom
  • In Matthew 5:19; 18:4; 23:11 some are great; or the greatest in the kingdom
  • In Matthew 19:28 he says some will  have thrones, and some are ruled by these
  • In Matthew 20:20-28 he says some are at the right and left hand of Jesus, and Jesus gives instructions for how to be great in the kingdom
  • In Luke 19 (a version of the parable of the talents) some are given rule over ten cities or five cities. 

So the question is, if, for instance you are called to preach – how well, or how hard did you do this? Or if you are called to support those who do full time ministry – how well, or how much did you do this?

William Higgins

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