Posts Tagged ‘kingdom of God’

The literary structure of Mark 2:18-22

We’re in the gospel of Mark, chapter 2:18-22. This is the third story in a sequence of five stories of conflict that we’ve been working our way through.

You have a handout – Five conflict stories on how these stories are put together. I would just quickly highlight three things. 1) You can see in the left and right hand columns how these five stories parallel each other in various ways. 2) Each story tells us something about who Jesus is (center column). And 3) the two parables at the very center reference all five stories, not just ours, the third.

Alright, let’s work our way through our verses for today.

Mark 2:18-22

We begin with some background.

18Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting.”

The Law of Moses only requires one fast, a 24 hour fast on the day of atonement (Leviticus 16:29). (Although later there were other fasts that began to be observed – Zechariah 8:19; Esther 9:31; Nehemiah 9:1).

In our story we’re dealing with voluntary fasts, that go beyond what is required. These were usually from sunrise to sunset. Voluntary fasting was one of three key practices in ancient Judaism, along with prayer and giving alms. And it was highly regarded as a mark of devotion to God.

In Scripture, fasting is connected to things like mourning a death, repenting for sins, or when you’re dealing with hard times and you’re desperate for God’s help. It’s self-denial – not eating – connected to humility, lowliness and sadness. (In Matthew 9:15 the word “fast” is replaced by “mourn,” the two ideas are so closely related. Also in Matthew 6:16 Jesus criticizes putting on a show of mourning when you fast.)

Fasting is also associated with prayer (Luke’s version of this story adds in prayer to the topic of fasting – 5:33). It’s a way of intensifying your prayers in order to make your feelings or your needs known to God; the urgency of the situation (Matthew 6:16-18).

  • Regarding John the Baptist, Jesus describes him as someone who came “eating no bread and drinking no wine” – Luke 7:33. That is, he was known for fasting and not drinking alcohol. His disciples must have followed suit.
  • The Pharisees were also known for fasting. They did this twice a week (Luke 18:12) on Mondays and Thursdays.

So both John’s disciples and the Pharisees maintained a lifestyle characterized by rigorous voluntary fasting.

This brings us to the question.

 18And people came and said to him (Jesus), ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’”

There were different religious groups among the Jews, and there is a comparison going on here. John’s group and the Pharisees seem really serious and devout. And so the question is “Are you guys slackers?” This question may well have been raised because, in the previous story Jesus and his disciples are feasting with tax collectors and sinners. And although the question is addressed to Jesus about his disciple’s behavior, it’s meant as a challenge to Jesus who is their teacher.

Jesus’ answer

19And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.’”

Now, Jesus and his disciples would have fasted from time to time, for instance on the Day of Atonement. And since Jesus gave them teaching on voluntary fasting in Matthew 6:16-18, it seems reasonable that they put this into practice on occasion. But they were not known for fasting. They did not maintain a rigorous lifestyle of fasting. This is the issue here.

Fasting, as we saw, would more likely be linked to funerals, where there is mourning and lowliness. But Jesus makes the case that his presence among the people is like a wedding. And weddings were all about celebrating and feasting – for seven whole days! Fasting would have been unheard of at such an event. As Jesus says, “they cannot fast” in such a setting.

So he’s making a claim about himself – Jesus is the bridegroom. The image of God as the husband of Israel was well known in the Old Testament (Isaiah 54:5-6; 61:10; Ezekiel 16; Hosea). But here Jesus has this role (See also Ephesians 5:22ff; Revelation 19:6-9; John 3:29) – and his disciples are his groomsmen or wedding guests.

His coming signals the enactment of the new covenant between God and his people – his bride, seen as a marriage renewal. His coming also signals the arrival of the promised kingdom of God which was also depicted with wedding imagery. (For the coming of the kingdom and wedding themes in the New Testament see Matthew 22:1-14; 25:1-13 and Revelation 19:7-9)

And so it’s a time of celebration. This is why Jesus was a “feaster,” not a faster. He maintained a lifestyle of celebration and joy, not mourning and sadness. As he says about himself in Luke 7:33, in contrast to John the Baptist, “the Son of man came eating and drinking.” And he celebrated so much that some slandered him as “a glutton and a drunkard.” And this is why he and his disciples were feasting in the previous story.

So Jesus is saying, the new has come! I’m here! The kingdom of God is here. And this has an impact on some traditional practices. The old has to change.

If these other Jewish groups had recognized Jesus’ claim, they too would have changed their practices from a lifestyle of fasting – to a lifestyle more associated with feasting. But they didn’t accept Jesus’ claim, and so they didn’t change their practices.

20The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.”

If v. 19 emphasizes Jesus’ presence with them and what this means, v. 20 emphasizes when Jesus will be absent from them. The phrase “is taken away” is ominous. It’s a veiled reference to his death. (It’s likely an allusion to Isaiah 53:8) Jesus is saying that after his death, in those days, his disciples will fast. (Fasting and death/mourning/a funeral are once again connected.) (See John 16:19-20 for a similar idea)

So this new thing, a lifestyle of celebration, is a change of practice specifically related to Jesus’ presence on earth.

Next comes two parables about the new and the old. 

21No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.

22And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins.”

These both make the same point, there’s an incompatibility between the new and the old.  In the first, the new is the unshrunk cloth. If you sew this onto an old garment, the patch will shrink and everything will be ruined.

In the second, the new is the new wine. If you put it into an old wineskin that has already been stretched out and is brittle, when the wine continues to ferment and expand, it will burst the wineskin and everything will be ruined. There’s an incompatibility.

Jesus draws out the positive point in the last line –

22But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”

The new of Jesus’ presence and the kingdom requires some new practices, not grafting the new onto the old (the patch) or putting the new into the old (wine). With Jesus’ coming – things get changed up!

Some things to take home

1. Jesus’ divine identity. As we have seen several times now, most recently when Jesus forgave a person’s sins, Jesus takes on the role of God. Or to say it another way, he is the Son of God.

In our text today he identifies himself as the bridegroom of God’s people, who of course, is God. This is who Jesus is. He is not just a prophet. He is not just the Messiah. He is not just a son of God – a powerful ruler or heavenly being. He is the Son of God. This is who our Savior is.

2. Do you fast? This is a challenge that this passage presents to us. Jesus specifically says that after his death, “they will fast in that day.” This is the time we live in now.

If you don’t already, I encourage you to try fasting as a way of engaging in intense prayer, lifting up your sorrows and problems to God. And God will hear you since he is especially attuned to the lowly.

Although, remember to do it according to Jesus’ teaching – so that we don’t advertise our fasting by playing the part of a mourner, as he teaches in Matthew 6:16-18.

3. Are you living in the new that Jesus teaches? As we saw, the change with regard to fasting was temporary, being specifically related to Jesus’ bodily presence with us.

But as I pointed out, the two parables on the new and the old, at the very center of the five stories of conflict, also point back to the first two stories and forward to the last two stories.

  • In the first two stories – with Jesus’ coming the kingdom brings in a time of mercy and forgiveness, so that Jesus now announces forgiveness and extends mercy even to notable sinners.
  • And in the second two stories – with Jesus’ coming the kingdom brings with it a new way of observing the Sabbath for Jesus’ Jewish followers, that emphasizes that it’s made to bless people, and doing good to others on the Sabbath is encouraged.

The coming of the kingdom changes our practices in these ways also. And if the fasting example is mostly temporary, these are long-term changes that clarify for us what God’s will is with regard to how we treat “sinners” and how we might observe Sabbath.


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We are continuing on today exploring Jesus’ interactions with Nicodemus in John 3. As you will remember Nicodemus was a devout and serious Jew, and he was a religious leader.

We also saw last time how Nicodemus represents a person with mere “signs faith.” These are people who see the miracles that Jesus performs, but don’t see what they point to about Jesus’ true identity and purpose. So they “believe” in a sense – there’s something special about Jesus.

  • But they don’t get who he truly is, the eternal Son of God. He is something less than this.
  • And they don’t get what he has truly come to do, bring eternal life. He does something less than this.

Nicodemus himself says to Jesus in v. 2, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” He has some measure of faith in Jesus, but for him Jesus is only a teacher, who perhaps has some special teaching from God. So he has come to Jesus, by night, to see what he has to say.

Let’s look at our verses:

John 3:3-8

3Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” The phrase “truly, truly” means this is very important. “Listen up!,” Jesus is saying.

The word for “born from above” (anothen) can also be translated as “born again.” Born from above is the best translation overall in the Gospel of John (see 3:31), but it does have a double meaning as we will see, which includes the idea of being born again.

To be “born from above” is another way of saying “born of God” which John talks about in chapter 1. “From above” is a reference to God. “Born from above” also means the same thing as “born of the Spirit,” a phrase that is used three times in our verses (vs. 5, 6, 8).

Where does this idea come from? Well in the Old Testament there were many promises that God would one day pour out his Spirit on his people. For instance Ezekiel 36:26-27 says in part, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new Spirit I will put within you. . . . And I will put my Spirit within you . . ..” So Jesus is saying, the promises are coming true ! This is the age of the Spirit that was foretold and this is the new birth I am talking about.

This fits also with the language here of seeing and entering the Kingdom of God (which is quite rare in John and is usually replaced with the language of eternal life). That’s because it is when the kingdom comes, that the Spirit is to come.

So Jesus isn’t saying that Nicodemus should have already experienced new birth. This is the new thing that Jesus has come to bring – the kingdom of God, the time of the Spirit, when all can be born of the Spirit.

Notice that Jesus takes the last part of Nicodemus’ statement in v. 2 and uses it to make his point here. Nicodemus had said 1. no one is able (translating more literally); 2. to do these signs that you do (that he has seen); 3. unless God is with him.

Jesus reworks these phrases. 1. no one is able (same word for able, with a negative); 2. to see the kingdom of God – what Jesus is really about, not signs but the coming of the kingdom and the Spirit; 3. unless one is born from above. It’s not about Jesus being authenticated by miracles as a teacher. The signs point out that Jesus is the one who brings the new life of the kingdom of God.

4Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a person be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’” He takes Jesus’ word here as “born again,” and in a natural sense, as another physical birth later in life. (Is he being sarcastic? It is hard to hear the tone in a written document).

This is a common mistake noted in John. People misunderstand Jesus in an overly literal way.

5Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’”

Jesus responds that it is another birth, or second birth, that comes after our physical birth (so it is being born again). But it is a birth of the Spirit, not a physical one.

  • Our physical birth is represented in v. 5 by the phrase, “born of water,” the idea is that a child comes out of the waters of the womb. We all have this. But not all are born of water and “born of the Spirit.” This is another, different kind of birth.
  • Again, our physical birth is represented in v. 6 by the phrase, “that which is born of the flesh” (in parallel with “born of water”). We have all been born of the flesh. But not all are also “born of the Spirit.” This is another, different kind of birth.

John has already made this point in 1:12-13. “12But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” This is a birth that is of God, not of the flesh.

Why can’t one “enter” the kingdom without new birth? The kingdom of God has to do with the life of God by the Spirit. Mere physical life is inadequate to experience this life of the kingdom. It is of another order and kind of life. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:50, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”

Only those who have the life of God in them now, and are a part of the kingdom begun, will be bodily raised on the last day to have eternal life in the fullness of the kingdom.

7Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You (all) must be born from above.’”

“You” is plural, which is why I have it as “you all.” Here we see that Nicodemus represents a larger group or groups.

  • Even though he has signs faith it is inadequate. He, and all those like him, must be born from above.
  • Even though he is a Pharisee and religiously devout, he, and all those like him, must be born from above.
  • Even though he is a ruler and leader among the people of God, he, and all those like him, must be born from above.

And of course, Jesus has already made the point that “no one” can see or enter the kingdom of God without being born from above. That’s why it is a “must” or as it can be translated, a “necessity.” Everyone must receive the gift of new life that Jesus brings.

He then comes back to Nicodemus’ how question. As he just said, “do not marvel,” that is, don’ get caught up trying to figure out how it happens.8The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

There is a wordplay in these verses. The same word is used for wind and Spirit, in both Hebrew and Greek. Like the wind, so the Spirit.

  • The wind is mysterious. You hear it, the effect of it, but there’s a lot you don’t know about it – where it comes from and where it goes.
  • So the Spirit is mysterious. You can notice the effects of the Spirit. But there’s a lot you don’t know about how the Spirit works. (“where it comes from and where it goes” sounds like what Jesus says about himself in several places in the Gospel)

When he goes on to say, “so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit,” he doesn’t mean that we are mysterious, but that how we are born of the Spirit is mysterious. Those born of the Spirit can’t explain everything, but they can see and know the evidences of the Spirit’s work in their lives.

The point

These verses teach us that Jesus is not just a special teacher from God, come to give some special teaching – although he does this in our passage. Nicodemus and the other signs faith believers have it wrong. Jesus has come to bring the new birth of the Spirit; he has come to bring in the beginning of the kingdom of God.

Jesus’ message to us is a straightforward challenge –

Are you born of the Spirit?

Jesus is saying to each one of us, “You are not an exception!” As he said, no one can see or enter the kingdom unless they are born from above.

  • You can be a good person. Nicodemus was. But he didn’t have it yet.
  • You can be deeply religious. Nicodemus was. But he didn’t have it yet.
  • You can be a part of the church or even a leader. Nicodemus was. But he didn’t have it yet.
  • You can think that Jesus is special and sent from God. Nicodemus did. But he didn’t have it yet.

There can be no exceptions, because it is an impossibility that we are dealing with. Flesh alone cannot possess the life of the kingdom. This is why it is absolutely necessary that you be born of the Spirit.

If you want the new life that Jesus brings, you must believe that he is the eternal Son of God who has come to give this to you. You must believe and then act on this belief by receiving the new life that he gives.

William Higgins

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We are back again in Mark 8:22-26, the story of the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida. Let’s read this to refresh our memoires.

“And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said, ‘I see men, but they look like trees, walking.’ Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, ‘Do not even enter the village.’”

Last week we saw a couple of interesting things about this story. First, this is one of three times that we have Jesus using spit to heal someone. Second, this is the only healing recorded in the gospels that takes two tries, or has two steps.

Today I want us to take another angle on this story. It’s one that is pointed out by many commentators, and I think there’s something to it.

To do this we need to understand how this story fits into the larger story that Mark is telling us about Jesus. So, first we look at the story right before ours –

The blindness of the disciples – Mark 8:14-21

This is where Jesus warns the disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. And the disciples think that he’s talking about them not bringing along enough bread.

Jesus gets frustrated. He asks, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? . . . And do you not remember?” – Mark 8:17-18. To even talk about a lack of bread betrays a deeper misunderstanding on their part. Not only do they not get his figurative use of bread, they haven’t gotten who Jesus is.

Jesus goes on ‘Don’t you remember the feeding of the 5,000, and the feeding of the 4,000?, and all the bread that was left over?’ ‘Why would I be concerned about a lack of bread?’

The disciples don’t understand that he is the one who can multiply bread. The fundamental issue Jesus is asking in all of these questions is this, ‘Don’t you know by now who I am?’ As he ends in Mark 8:21, “Do you not yet understand?”

And in the middle of all this, in v. 18, he calls this lack of understanding blindness and deafness. He says, “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?” This is a common metaphor that we still use today. One who, figuratively, can’t see (or hear) lacks perception, or understanding. Jesus is saying, ‘You just don’t get it! You just can’t take it in, can you?’

Next, we look at the story just after ours, which I label –

Peter’s partial perception of who Jesus is – Mark 8:27-33

As they left Bethsaida they started on their way North to Caesarea Philippi. But the trip would eventually lead South to Jerusalem and the cross.

And so Jesus asks them, “Who do you say that I am?” – Mark 8:29.  Notice the same focus on the identity of Jesus in both stories. And finally, Peter gets it! He says, “You are the Christ” – Mark 8:29. All the clues and signs; healings, exorcisms and teaching. Perhaps he moved from a suspicion that this might be so, to a hope that it was true, now to a clear confession of faith, ‘You are the Messiah.’

Peter understands. He can see! And presumably the other disciples as well. But, right away we find out, that this vision is still quite blurry. (Remind you of our story??)

Just after Peter’s confession, Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed . . ..” – Mark 8:31. But Peter rebukes Jesus – 8:32. Don’t talk like that Jesus! That’s not who you’re supposed to be. You’re the Messiah. What do you mean suffering? What do you mean getting killed? No, no, no Jesus. The kingdom of God comes when the Messiah unveils his power and leads God’s people in triumph over all the nations, defeating them in war and ruling over them.

Peter understands partially, Jesus is the Messiah. But he doesn’t yet understand how Jesus is to be the Messiah. He doesn’t understand the cross.

So Jesus rebukes Peter – Mark 8:33. Be quiet! Your thinking is all messed up. Then he teaches that not only must he go to the cross, anyone who wants to be his disciple must take up their cross and lose their life – Mark 8:34-35.

Jesus is saying, the kingdom comes through the cross (and then the resurrection). It doesn’t come through earthly power, war and politics (which is why Jesus didn’t pursue these). It comes through lowliness, suffering love, and then trusting in God to come through for you. It comes through the cross and resurrection.

Peter sees partly, but his understanding is till fuzzy and blurred. He doesn’t get the part about the cross and suffering love being the way that the kingdom is brought into reality in this world.

Now, let’s look at –

The healing as a prophetic object lesson

Our story comes right between the two we have just looked at. And our story comes at the turning point of the gospel as a whole, where Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, and then where Jesus shifts and begins to teach them that he must suffer and die.

It comes right before we see that Peter needs two steps to understand who Jesus is:

  • Step one: Peter sees that Jesus is the Messiah, but he is confused about what this means, especially the cross. He is no longer blind but his vision is blurry, like the man in our story.
  • And then, after the resurrection, comes step two: He sees that Jesus had to die and then be resurrected to bring in the kingdom of God. It was then that he saw clearly, like the man in our story. After the second step.

I believe that Jesus may have used two steps to heal the blind man in our story to prophetically look forward to a similar process in his disciples’ understanding of his identity. So in answer to our question last week, ‘Why didn’t Jesus just heal him right away?’ It may have been intentional for this very reason. And they could look back on it and understand that he knew what was going on ahead of time.

And even if this is saying too much, that Jesus did this intentionally, I believe that Mark arranged his story in such a way that it highlights the symbolic nature of the healing of the blind man – to foreshadow the process of the disciples coming to an understand who Jesus is.

The prophetic object lesson is this – the disciples’ understanding of who he is will come in two stages. But also the message is there that Jesus is able to bring them to clear vision, just like with the blind man.

Alright, let’s apply this to us with some –


In general we can say that we often move from blurry vision to clearer vision. We don’t fully understand everything about Jesus and the Christian life and so we need time. We are on a journey. And we have to grow and mature.

And, of course, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” Even our clearest vision in this life, will be made more clear when the kingdom comes in its fullness.

More specifically, I ask, ‘Is your vision of Jesus and the kingdom and the cross blurred?’ Oh sure, we know that Jesus had to die. We came into the picture thousands of years after he already did. But we often don’t understand how the cross works for us.

The same Jesus who said he had to go to the cross, also told us to take up our crosses. The same Jesus who was teaching Peter that the kingdom of God comes, not through worldly power, but by suffering love, also teaches us the same. Just as Jesus brought forth the kingdom through the cross, we are to advance the kingdom through the cross.

But most of us are like Peter. Most Christians are still in step one! Our vision is blurred; we are confused about all this cross stuff. We have a veiled and partial understanding of Jesus and the kingdom. But Jesus calls us to follow him, not to take a different path. We are also to expand Jesus’ kingdom by means of lowliness and suffering love, and then calling on God to come and act, just like Jesus did. We are to follow the same path. This is how the kingdom of God is made manifest in this world.

Finally, our story gives us hope, because in it we see that Jesus is able to cure our blindness. Just as he healed the blind man in two steps, he was able in two stages to show the disciples who he is, and how the kingdom works. He gave them clear vision.

And he can do the same for us. He is able! If we are open to it. He can deal with our blindness, and give us clear sight and understanding. Ask him to open your eyes!

William Higgins

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We are starting a new series today and I’m really excited. We are going to go through what is called ‘the sermon on the plain.’ We all know about the sermon on the mount, found in Matthew 5-7, right? Well this one is much shorter; a kind of miniature sermon on the mount. It is found in Luke 6.

It’s called the ‘sermon on the plain’ because it says in Luke 6:17 that, just before Jesus delivered this teaching, he “came down . . . and stood on a level place” – or as the King James version says, he “stood in the plain . . ..”

In this sermon, Jesus is speaking to his disciples, for it says, in Luke 6:20, “he looked up at his disciples and said . . .” – and then he gave his sermon. This is not just the twelve. There is also the “great crowd of his disciples” as verse 17 says. All of these disciples are the “you” that is addressed throughout the sermon. This shows us that his teaching here is not for the super-spiritual. It is meant for every follower of Jesus – including you and me.

Although this sermon doesn’t cover every area of discipleship, it does lay out nicely some of Jesus’ core concerns that he wants us to focus on.

First we look at –

An overview of the blessings and woes

– in verses 20-26. There are four blessings and four woes in our verses. Up first are the blessings, or beatitudes.

Announcement Who is blessed The blessing
Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now for you shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now for you shall laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

We will look more at the identity of the recipients in a moment, but for now I will just say that, however you want to interpret the beatitudes in Matthew, here in Luke the content of this teaching is fairly easy to understand. We are dealing with literal poverty, hunger, weeping, and rejection. There is no indication that any of this is figurative.

To be blessed means that you are favored by God. And this favored status shows up in what is given: possession of the kingdom, being satisfied, laughing, and having a great reward in heaven.

Now notice the first and fourth beatitudes focus on present blessings, with present tense verbs. The second and third beatitudes focus on future blessings, with future tense verbs. So some of the blessing come now, and some later when the kingdom comes in its fullness.

Now we look at the four woes.

Announcement Who is cursed The curse
But woe to you who are rich for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now for you shall be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now for you shall mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all people speak well of you for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

Notice that these woes exactly parallel the blessings: poor/rich; hungry/full; weep/laugh; and revile you/speak well of you.

In this case, once again, we are dealing with literal riches, food, laughter and social acceptance.

“Woe” is a way of pronouncing God’s curse or judgment on someone. The judgments are: no hope of the kingdom, hunger, weeping, and although the fourth is left unsaid, the opposite of reward is condemnation.

The first woe speaks to something already present. The second and third woes look to the future with future tense verbs. So just as with the blessings, some of the judgment occurs now, and some later, at the final judgment.

When we put all this together we see clearly that the coming of the kingdom brings about –

The great reversal

Jesus talks about this in a number of places, I will just give you one example, that is close to what we have in our verses. Luke 14:11 says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The exalted one and the humble one trade places. Let’s look at this in our verses.

  • In the world those who are rich are on top, and those who are poor are on the bottom. But in the kingdom there will be a reversal.
  • In the world there are those who are well fed and they have all they want, and then there are those who are hungry. But in the kingdom these places will be reversed.
  • In the world those who laugh have an easy life, and then those who weep are without what they need. But in the kingdom there will be a reversal.
  • In the world those who are accepted and well spoken of have a good life, and then there are those who are rejected and spoken evil of, who suffer. But in the kingdom things will be the opposite.

Jesus is clear, the coming of the kingdom turns everything upside down.

Now let’s get more specific and ask –

Who are the recipients of these blessings and woes??

It’s certainly of interest to me and I’m guessing for you as well. Our first clue is something we already saw – 1. Jesus is speaking these words to his disciples. This means that he is not talking about the poor in general. He is saying, “You, my disciples, who hear me, who are poor . . ..”

So the reversal we just looked at applies to disciples:

  • Disciples who are poor, hungry, weeping and rejected are exalted with the coming of the kingdom.
  • And disciples who are rich, well fed, laughing and socially accepted are brought low and judged.

2. The suffering here has to do with faithfulness to Jesus. What I am saying is that the poverty, hunger, weeping, and rejection all come – to use the phrase from the last beatitude – “on account of the Son of Man” – Luke 6:22.

So Jesus is not talking about or advocating here voluntary poverty, or voluntary hunger, or voluntary weeping for that matter. It has to do with how people treat you because of your commitment to Jesus.

Jesus is working here with the common theme of the faithful prophet who suffers, and as well, the unfaithful prophet who has it good in life. And he is laying out the marks of faithful and unfaithful prophets as this is found in the Old Testament.

This comes out at the end of the blessings and at the end of the woes. v. 23 says, “for so their fathers did to the prophets.” v. 26 says, “for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” So Jesus is making a connection between us as his disciples and the prophets of old.

True prophets speak God’s word regardless of the consequences. Thus they are rejected and persecuted. Because of this they are made poor, hungry, and they weep. They are oppressed for their faithfulness.

False prophets, however, say what pleases their audience. Thus they are well spoken of by all. Because of this they have wealth, food and they laugh. They are accepted by those in power and receive the good things of this life.

Jesus is saying, just like it has always been, so it is with his disciples.

So those who are blessed are disciples who have suffered loss for their commitment to Jesus. Those who are cursed are disciples who have compromised to gain the things of this world.

Let’s dig deeper here and make –

Some clarifications

– which I think are important for us to see.

1. You don’t have to be in a continual state of suffering to be blessed. After all, Jesus was well spoken of for a time. This didn’t make him a false prophet. He is referring to the long haul. If you are consistently  faithful to God, these kinds of things will mark your life.

2. You don’t have to have everything that’s on the list in order to be blessed. For any suffering is a mark of faithfulness and brings God’s blessing. To be hated and defamed is enough. We are not penalized simply because those who hate us, in our context, don’t have the power at present to make us poor or hungry. (Although in our society some still get rich and live the high life because they tell people what they want to hear.) But if they do gain this power we must endure it.

3. It’s often ‘the people of God,’ so called, who will do these things to you. It was the people of Israel who oppressed the prophets of old and also Jesus. They didn’t like what they heard – and thought they knew better.

Jesus’ words as encouragement

One of the reasons Jesus gives this teaching is to encourage those who are suffering for him. Think about those who are going through terrible loss all throughout the world for their faith – and the discourage-ment and weariness that this can bring.

Jesus is saying, don’t give up. It won’t always be this way. And he is saying, there will be a day of reckoning for those who do this to his disciples. And he is saying, it will be worth it. The rewards of the kingdom more than outweigh what is lost in this life.

Jesus’ words as challenge

But another reason he gives this teaching is to challenge each one of us. We have to ask ourselves:

  • Am I with the ones who are suffering for faithfulness and will be blessed?
  • Or am I with the ones who have compromised in order to gain the world’s favor and will be judged?

Now granted, we don’t live in a society that really persecutes. There are limits to what can be done, as I said before. But you can be ridiculed, slandered, made an outcast or worse – like lose a job because of your faith.

The question for us in our setting is, when there are negative results that come to us because of our commitment to Jesus – Are we faithful, despite the consequences?

This is the test of whether we are among the company of the true prophets or the false prophets.

William Higgins

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