Before we continue our discussion, a preliminary note must be made at this juncture. This discussion is not intended to be a discourse on all of the relevant scriptures on the subject. It is simply meant to highlight the idea that the disciples had an expectation of the return of Jesus to occur in their lifetime based upon the Old Testament prophecies and the teaching of Jesus, Himself. A fuller treatment of relevant scriptures can be found in James Stuart Russell’s The Parousia. We can now move forward with the final passage of teaching of Jesus we will be discussing.
1And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”Luke 18:1-8. ESV
There are two issues we must deal within this passage. The first is the timing within the passage. The second is the geographical scope of the passage. Both are extremely significant in the correct exegesis of the text. For it the passage is limited to the land of Judea or the known world at the time, then the second advent cannot be something which marks the end of the created cosmos. Similarly, if the timing is limited to the contemporary generation to which it is spoken, it cannot be something that has not yet occurred.
The topic necessitates we look at the geographical scope first. If a precise geographical locale can be identified then we have specific place to begin looking in history for the fulfillment of the Second Advent. If it is a general reference to all of the created cosmos then we are left to sift through the complete history of millennia of the cosmos. Such an exercise is utterly futile and subject to speculation. The other option left to us is that it has not yet occurred and therefore is too carry future expectations. However, I think this passage refutes both of these options.
The parable spoken by Jesus in verses 1-6 have been allogorized by many commentators. For example, Alexander Malauren suggests:
But we must note the spiritual experience supposed by the parable to belong to the Christian life. That forlorn figure of the widow, with all its suggestions of helplessness and oppression, is Christ’s picture of His Church left on earth without Him. And though of course it is a very incomplete representation, it is a true presentation of one side and aspect of the devout life on earth. ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation,’ and the truer His servants are to Him, and the more their hearts are with Christ in God, the more they will feel out of touch with the world, and the more it will instinctively be their ‘adversary.’ If the widow does not feel the world’s enmity, it will generally be because she is not a ‘widow indeed.’MacLauren’s Exposition
And John Phillips comments on the passage:
Behind all of this is a deeper teaching. The widow represents God’s people in this world, helpless against the adversary.John Phillips. Exploring the Gospel of Luke. (Page 230).
Such allegorizing is unnecessary and simply obfuscates the issue. The plain and simple language of the text is clear and obvisous. God will speedily answer the persecution of his people. However, in verses 7-8, Jesus connects this answer to his Second Coming and proposes the challenge of “finding faith in the earth” when he comes. This challenge places the geographic locale of “the earth.” Thereby, seemingly indicating that Jesus is referring to the entire cosmos.
Let’s look a little closer at the word “earth” and see if indeed this what Jesus meant. The challenge before us is to answer two related questions. First, what did Jesus mean and second, what did the audience hear? The word translated by most as “earth” is the Greek word γῆς (gēs). Which according to Strongs’ means:
“soil; by extension a region, or the solid part or the whole of the terrene globe.”Strongs Concordance
So it is possible Jesus was referring simply to “region” and not the entire globe of earth. In fact some expositors argue that the word would be translated “land” in English (See Before Jerusalem Fell by Kenneth Gentry). Therefore, it may be argued Jesus was referring to the region in which He presently found himself. However, such distinction provides a basis for reasonable skepticism; not reasonable dismissal of the entire globe interpretation. We must, then, turn our attention to the second of the questions: What did the audience hear, and therefore, understand?
This will be focus of our next discussion. As always feel free to comment your thoughts, questions, and prayers.
Our discussion upon the second coming of Jesus now turns to probably the clearest teaching of Jesus upon the subject at hand. In fact, the authors of the synoptic Gospels found it so important that it shows up in all three. The significance of three synoptic gospels selecting the same teaching to illustrate different over all themes cannot be understated. It shows uniformity in thought concerning those passages and therefore gives a glimpse in to expectations of the early Apostles.
27For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”(Matt 16:27-28) ESV
8:38For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”9:1And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”Mark 8:38-9:1 ESV
26For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”Luke 9:26-27 ESV
There is minimal to no debate among scholars as to the actual language of the text of three passages. The division arises in how scholars interpret the passages. Remarking on this Russell writes:
Jesus, then, is very clearly teaching that people of His generation would be alive to see his Second Coming. This was not some glimpse of the future or vision such as the transfiguration. The language of Mark 9:1 will not support such an interpretation. Commenting on this verse, Charles Ellicott notes:
Therefore, any interpretation of partial fulfillment must be rejected. Any “glimpse” of the kingdom must be considered as parenthetical to the Second Coming and cannot apply to these passages. The plain and simple teaching of Jesus as understood by the Apostles seems to be one of His Second Coming occurring within their generation and even some of their lifetimes.
We will continue this discussion in our next meeting. As always feel free to leave any comments questions or prayers.
In our last discussion, we began our discussion by looking at the book of Malachi. I proposed, based on the writing of James Stuart Russell, that the book Malachi presents Jesus’s second coming as a time of judgment. I further proposed that the disciples fully understood this concept. However, this does not give a time frame for the when the second coming would be. We now turn our discussion to what the synoptic Gospels have to say.
Kingdom Of Heaven Is At Hand
John the Baptist’s message to the people of Judea was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3:2). When John was imprisoned, Jesus began to preach the message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 4:17) The exact same words as John the Baptist. This means Jesus could not have been saying that the kingdom was here but that it was coming. John did not bring the kingdom, and neither did Jesus at his first advent. How could He? He had yet to die and be resurrected. In fact, when Jesus instructs the 13 to preach to the nation of Israel, he tells them to preach, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 10:7). Furthermore, Jesus teaches that there are certain omens that will proceed the coming of the kingdom (Lk 21:31).
We find, therefore, the following conclusions plainly deducible from our Lord’s teaching: 1. That a great crisis, or consummation, called ‘the kingdom of heaven, or of God,’ was proclaimed by Him to be nigh. 2. That this consummation, though near, was not to take place in His own lifetime, nor yet for some years after His death. 3. That His disciples, or at least some of them, might expect to witness its arrival.The Parousia. (Pages 19-20).
As I have stated previously, The Bible is not written to us, but for us. Therefore, it seems reasonable to ask, what good does announcing the kingdom to the nation of Israel bring? Of course, it may be answered that the repentance of such a message is worthy enough reward for the preaching. Yet such an answer is insufficient since the call to repentance is appealed to on the reality of the coming kingdom. Therefore, what good does it do to appeal to a generation that has no chance of seeing the kingdom as it is more than two millennia away? The plain and obvious answer is simply there is no good to come of such a preaching. At best, it gives a false sense of hope and at worst it is a deliberately misleading. The only reasonable option is John the Baptist, Jesus, and the thirteen (under direction from Christ) were inferring that the Kingdom of Heaven would come in at least some of the people’s lifetime of the generation to which they spoke. Still inferring is one thing, actually stating it is another altogether.
The Gospel of Matthew records the following teaching of Jesus:
38Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 42The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 43“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. 44Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. 45Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”Matthew 12:38-45, ESV. cf. Luke 11:16,24-36.
In our discussion, we mentioned that the Old Testament prophet, Malachi, associated judgment with the second coming of Christ. Here Jesus clearly pronounces judgment on “this generation” (vs. 41-42, vs 43). Most commentators understand “this generation” to refer to Jesus’s contemporary audience. For example, Warren W. Wiersbe writes:
While David Guzik writes:
Even Frederick Dale Bruner, who promotes the idea we should not look for God’s intervention in history, understands Jesus to be speaking to his generation. Commenting, he states:
It seems obvious that Jesus original hearers would have understood the judgment to occur in their lifetime. We may create a syllogism that goes as follows:
- If the judgment of Israel is portrayed as contemporary with the Second Advent.
- Since the Judgement of Israel is prophesied to happen in the generation of the first century.
- The Second Advent will occur in the first century.
Jesus clearly taught that his First Advent was not the coming of his kingdom. Also, Jesus clearly applied the judgment of Israel to his contemporary generation. Therefore, it is reasonable that the first century audience of Jesus would have understood Jesus to be speaking about them. As a result, we can expect with a certain probability to find such an even in history sometime in the first century.
We will continue this discussion further in our next meeting. As always, feel free to leave a comment below.
I want to begin with apology. This discussion is going to be longer than my usual discussions. The controversial nature (Some might say heretical) of the topic demands a full treatment of the subject. Therefore, as a result, sometime will be spent going over the scriptures involved. However, even in a lengthy discussion such as this one, there is no way to cover everything the topic entails. For a much fuller discussion, I suggest you read The Parousia by James Stuart Russell. Much of what is discussed here is taken from this book.
Setting up the discussion
For centuries, most of mainstream Christianity has taught that the second coming of Jesus Christ will be a literal return at some undefined point in an eschatological future. As such, mainstream Christianity denies the notion that Jesus has already returned. Yet, it is clear from the New Testament that the Apostles expected the return to happen in their lifetime. Such expectation raises several questions:
- What were the Apostolic expectations concerning the return of Jesus?
- If the Apostles did expect Jesus’s return in their lifetime and it did not come, were they simply modeling the expectations to held by future believers.
- Furthermore, Are there any events in history we can identify as meeting those Apostolic expectations? If so, what does that mean for purposes of the church?
In this opening discussion we will begin to look at the expectation of the Apostles concerning the Second Coming of Christ
The Second Coming In the Book of Malachi
The Apostles were undoubtedly familiar with Old Testament texts as the New Testament writings clearly demonstrate. So any discussion of the expectations of the Apostle necessarily begins in the Old Testament. While the Old Testament, primarily deals with the first advent of Jesus. Malachi seems to look past that event to the eventual judgment and elimination of the Jewish economy. Summarizing the book, Rusell asserts:
The Book of Malachi is one long and terrible impeachment of the nation. The Lord Himself is the accuser, and sustains every charge against the guilty people by the clearest proof. The long indictment includes sacrilege, hypocrisy, contempt of God, conjugal infidelity, perjury, apostasy, blasphemy; while, on the other hand, the people have the effrontery to repudiate the accusation, and to plead ‘ not guilty ‘ to every charge. They appear to have reached that stage of moral insensibility when men call evil good, and good evil, and are fast ripening for judgment.The Parousia. (Page 13).
Accordingly, the prophet announces:
“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.”Malachi 3:5, ESV
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.”4:1, ESV
That refers to the end time judgment is affirmed by the similar language of Joel 2. Furthermore, Malachi predicts the coming of John the Baptist in a fashion similar to the prophet Isaiah (Mal 4:5). Yet this coming, was to proceed the “the great and terrible” day of the Lord. Very few Biblical scholars place this event as referencing the First advent of Jesus. The idea that the Apostle’s understood it this way is evidenced by Peter’s first public sermon recorded in the book of Acts. Peter clearly views the coming judgment as not yet occurring (Acts 2:15-21). Additionally, the Apostle John uses similar verbiage in his Apocalypse (Rev 6:17). We, then, can agree with conclusion of Russell:
It cannot be said that this language is appropriate to the first coming of Christ; but it is highly appropriate to His second coming. There is a distinct allusion to this passage in Rev. vi. 17, where ‘the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains,’ etc., are represented as ‘hiding from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from tile wrath of the Lamb, and saying, The great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?’. Nothing can be more clear than that the ‘day of his coming’, in Mal. iii. 1 is the same as ‘the great and dreadful day of the Lord’ in chap. iv. 5, and that both answer to ‘the great day of his wrath’ in Rev. vi. 17. We conclude, therefore, that the prophet Malachi speaks, not of the first advent of our Lord, but of the second.The Parousia.(Page 14).
The Apostolic expectation then was of a time of judgment would occur at the second coming of Jesus. While, to be sure, this message of doom was in tandem with a message of hope and restoration (cf. Mal 3:3,16-18; 4: 2-3 5-6). The overall, picture is that the repentance needed for such hope and restoration will not occur. However, the reality of the Apostles expecting judgment in the end days brings us no further to the question of WHEN they expected such judgment to occur. For that answer, we will look at the teachings of Jesus in the synoptic gospels in our next discussion.
As always feel free to leave a comment below.
Christians struggle to explain what is known to theologians as “The Problem of Evil” to atheists. (To see an atheist response to the Christian answer click here.)The classic Christian response is to say it is the natural consequences of freewill. However, such a response seems contradictory to the theological concept of “original sin.” If we are all sinners as a result of Adam and Eve, then how do we have freewill?
The problem is not in the response, it is in the absence of the kingdom in the response. First, atheists are correct in inferring that freewill ended in Genesis with the disobedience of Adam and Eve. However, the death of Jesus and his subsequent vindication 3 days later with the resurrection restored freewill. The freewill to chose one’s own allegiance. Human beings have the choice to align themselves with the Kingdom of God or not.
Like any other kingdom, the citizens of God’s kingdom are entitled to certain rights. Therefore we have the “right to life;” the “right to healing;” the “right to divine protection;” as well as others. However, a lot of Christians have not given their allegiance to the kingdom, but their religion. And even those who have given their allegiance often are ignorant of the rights they have obtained. Jesus said the following:
Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. 14In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. 15For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.Matt 13:13-15, NIV
They futuristic eschatology espoused by most modern Christian denominations have crippled the work of church. Jesus cannot heal through his ambassadors when the ambassadors have “closed their eyes” to the rights inherent in the nation they represent.
As I stated in our last discussion, I did not completely agree with the sentiment that “Jesus did not come to institute a theology.” However, I do agree with the idea that Jesus came to institute the kingdom of God. In fact, I would say, “Jesus did not come to institute religion, but the kingdom of God.” Truth is I would take it a step further and proclaim, “Jesus did not institute Christianity!”
Wait before you start screaming that I am “heretic.” Hear me out.
Religion VS. KIngdom
The dictionary.com defines religion as “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” Dr. Myles Munroe states it as “the worship of a deity through a set of beliefs expressed through a set of rituals, customs, and rites producing a sectarian distinction and group.” Based upon this definition Christianity is a religion.
Don’t believe me? If you ask any professing follower of Christ what their religion is. Can you guess what they will answer? Correct. Christian or Christianity. Still don’t believe me? Show me one set of rituals or rites that Jesus instituted in any of the four gospels. You can’t. However, name a set of rituals practiced by Christianity? Church service perhaps? Fasting? Speaking in tongues?
By comparison, kingdom is a state, country, nation, or government with a king at its head. England was a kingdom. Biblical Israel was a kingdom. Certainly, kingdoms have customs. They definitely have traditions. These are expressions of citizenship not worship. In what way does Christianity express citizenship through its rites, rituals and customs? Christianity is a religion.
Kingdom! Not Religion!
The first public words of preaching from Jesus were “Repent, for a new religion is at hand.” Wait! I think I got that wrong. It was “for Christianity is at hand.” Oh that’s right, the term “Christian” and “Christianity” was not used yet. So it must have been “for the way is at hand.” Hold on, it still does not sound right. Lets check the scriptures:
Mark 1:14-15: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Matthew 4:17: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Jesus’s message was not one of a new religion, but a renewal of government — God’s government. It is this concept of kingdom that permeates the message of the whole Bible. It is the message of Jesus. It is the message of God. Salvation is not the gospel. Kingdom of God is at hand is the gospel. Salvation is a benefit of the gospel. But we will look at a later time…
I would like to pause for a moment on the discussion of the Parables of Jesus, and talk about a common criticism of theology. Some Christians maintain that theology is wrong on the grounds that Jesus did not come to institute a theology, but the kingdom of God. For example, Michael Wilson blogs:
I like to infer some great logic or theology from the Bible that just is not true. Jesus did not come to earth to establish a theology. Jesus came to usher in the new covenant and the Reign [Kingdom] of God. His death, resurrection and ascension accomplished what God’s goal was for Jesus.Michael Wilson, Jesus Quotes and God Thoughts
I understand the desire for this sentiment. We want the work of Jesus to be palatable. We desire it to be easily digested. This is so we can feel like we understand the things of God and (If we are serious about sharing the Gospel) so its not so offensive to non-believers. However, to borrow a cliché, it is simply “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
In one sense Jesus did not come to establish a theology. It was not that God disapproved of theology, but that the theology was already established. When Moses wrote down “In the beginning God created…” he was establishing a theology, albeit a Jewish one (Gen 1:1). The Book of Job is the theological answer to the problem of a good God to an evil world. To be sure, theology was present.
So in a sense, Jesus did not come to establish a theology, however he did come to correct one. The theology of the Jews had become twisted and corrupted. And on several key points he had to correct their doctrine. In the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Mathew, Jesus corrects no less than 6 doctrinal mistakes contained in the teachings of the religious leaders:
Doctrine Error Correction Passage Anger Motives are not liable to Judgment Motives are equivalent to the act vs 21-26 Lust Motives are not liable to judgment Motives are equivalent to the act vs 27:30 Divorce Divorce is permissible Divorce is not permissible vs 31-32 Oaths Using God as sign of integrity Integrity as a natural characteristic of kingdom life vs 33-37 Retaliation Equal justice Submission to the inequality vs 38-42 Hate It is permissible to hate one’s enemies It is not permissible to hate one’s enemies vs 43-48 Doctrinal Corrections of Matthew 5
The Importance of Theology:
Theology and its associated tasks are of vital importance. It aids in the prevention of man-made religious traditions. It increases our knowledge of Jesus as the revelation of the living God. It allows us to grow as citizens of his kingdom by helping us determine what it means to be under the rule of God. But most importantly, it allows our personal relationship with God to grow and flourish. As with any relationship, the more you know about the other, the more you can react and respond properly. To imply that theology is not a significant part of Christian daily living is too fall into the trap of the pharisees, “zeal without knowledge” (Rom 10:2). It is to essentially throw the “BABY OUT WITH THE BATHWATER!”
Continuing with our discussions on the parables of Jesus, we move to the two (some would say three) parables found in Matthew 9:17. However before we begin, I would like to share a tweet from Pastor Mike Winger:
His sentiment is a good principle to keep in mind as we proceed through these parables. A lot of these parables are not meant to provide some universal truth. Rather, their intent was to impart truth to the Jews who had partaken in acts of apostasy. Indeed, the parable of the cloth certainly fall into this category. The passage reads:
14Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. 17Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”Matt 9:14-17, ESV
What it meant TO them:
As part of demonstrating their religious piety, the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus day would fast regularly. These were not the fasts commanded by the scriptures, but fasts of human tradition.
In response, Jesus offers two parables. His first parable is that of wedding feast. In Jesus’s day, wedding feasts would last 7 days. They were exceedingly joyous events that would include the entire town. Rabbis were known to halt their teaching while wedding processions passed. Craig Keener, commenting on verse 15, notes:
Wedding feasts could involve seven days of festivity; so crucial an obligation was joy that rabbis were said to pause their instruction to hail passing bridal processions. One was not permitted to fast or engage in other acts of mourning or difficult labor during a wedding feast. Jesus makes an analogy about the similar inappropriateness of fasting in his own time.IVP Bible Background Commentary, p. 68
While the second parable, the parable of the cloth, is also about the inappropriateness of fasting, Jesus has more on his mind. His thoughts never stray far from the approaching calamity which is to befall Jerusalem and the temple. He knows the end of the Jewish economy is coming to an end. He knows the new age of the kingdom and church is about to be inaugurated. He tells the Jews of his day that the old religious system cannot hold together and infuse with the coming disposition. The illustration here is that old cloths would have somewhat shrank from washing (as they do today). Putting new unwashed cloth as a patch on washed cloths would create an issue at the next washing. The washed cloth might shrink more and tear away from the new cloth creating a bigger hole. In a similar manner, Israel would shrink from the new theocratic government that God was instituting.
This is a reinforcement of the parable of the cloth. Again, Jesus has AD 70 in view. The purpose of fasting is to enter into a state in which brings the person closer to God. God was there in their presence and the Jews did not recognize him (c.f Jn 1:11). It was inappropriate to fast when God was there especially when the new disposition of the Kingdom was about to be inaugurated.
This new disposition could not coexist with the old disposition. Those who disagree would be strongly advised to reread the book of Hebrews. A new divine creative act was required (cf. Jn 3:1-11; 2 Cor 5:17). A new vessel would be needed. Just like the fermenting new wine would bust old wine skins that were already stretched to capacity. The new disposition of Jesus, church, and kingdom of God would burst the old religious system of temple worship, tradition and priesthood. This is exactly what happened in AD 70.
We ended our last meeting by discussing what the parable of the log and sawdust meant to the audience of Jesus’s day. We will now move on to what it means for us.
What it means FOR us:
Jesus was taking to task the Jews of his day for their religious exclusivity. What they did not understand and could not fathom was that God was restructuring his governmental administration. He was no longer using the nation of Israel as his administrative body. Israel place in God’s governing had been removed. A new methodology was required as God was now shifting from a national regime to a universal regime with Jesus as its head.
It is this universal regime, many Christians still do not grasp. They still see God as only bringing in select people into his kingdom. Granted, most Christians will profess that salvation is open to everyone (with some hard line Calvinists excluded), but the free will of human beings prevent some people from experiencing salvation. While they may not “condemn” non-Christians, many Christians view non-believers as outsiders. They are not part of the “community.” They are a people awaiting the final judgment of God.
Yet, Jesus warned the Jews of his day not to think along those lines. If they did the judgment they expected to fall on the outsiders would happen to them. I think the warning is still applicable today. That “final judgment” you expect to occur to those outside of Christianity will be brought upon themselves. This is what Jesus taught. Our exclusivity is only exclusive in so much as we have freewill. Yet, the love our God has for his creation is so great and deep that he will go to the furthest extent possible to reach those who have rejected him. This is what Jesus’s sacrifice demonstrates to us. It was not a sacrifice for those he knew would accept it. It was a sacrifice for all and it includes those who reject it. We may not like this particular truth. It may offend our sense of superiority. We may feel as if we are no longer special to God. But God is not a man that his affection is dependent upon response. It is a love that has chosen to save all of creation and our early response only means we have chosen to assist God in this task. It does not mean we are somehow in a different class of humanity than other human beings. If we believe that then we have some divine judgments (not condemnation) awaiting us. If that is so, we might want to “remove the logs” from our own eye so we can begin the work of a “new creation.”
We now move to the next parable in Matthew’s Gospel, the parable of the log and sawdust. This parable is found in the seventh chapter of Matthew:
1“Judge not, that you be not judged. 2For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
6“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.Matthew 7:1-6, ESV
What He was saying TO the Jews:
The Jewish religious leaders were notoriously exclusive. They believed that since they were natural descendants of Abraham, they had an inside tract to the Kingdom of God (cf. Matt 3:4-10, ESV). They were also under Roman rule. They enjoyed a fair amount of autocracy, thanks to graciousness of the Roman authorities. However, they also knew the prophecies of the Old Testament and were anxiously awaiting the restoration of the Kingdom of God. As a result, there were many Jewish dissenters and revolutionaries who were creating movements to overthrow the Roman rule at the time of Jesus. For example, the historian Josephus records:
And besides this, the sons of Judas of Galilee were now slain; I mean of that Judas who caused the people to revolt, when Cyrenius came to take an account of the estates of the Jews, as we have showed in a foregoing book.Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20:5:2.
As a result of this combination of autonomy and prophetic expectation, a strong sense of nationalistic pride had become entrenched within the Jewish culture. Part of this culture had become militant towards the Roman authorities. They were looking for God to fulfill his promises of judgment upon the heathen nations who had the nation of Israel in bondage (cf. Ezk 25-32). Yet as we saw in the parable of the light and the salt, Jesus was calling the Jewish people back to their divine vocation. He was teaching them what it meant to be “true citizens” of God’s Kingdom. This is a continuation of that teaching.
In verse 1, Jesus begins with a warning: “The judgment his audience was looking for would come upon them.” These were the people who had been “entrusted the oracles of God” (Rom 3:2). They had the law and the divine vocation. They were to be the example, yet they had deliberately killed the prophets and rejected God’s covenant (Lk 11:48). Therefore, what right had these people to expect judgment on Gentile nations who did not have the word of God? If they deserved judgment, the Jews did too. Hence, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
Furthermore, Jesus called them out on their hypocrisy (vs. 2-5). Since they had the law and the scriptures, the blindness to who Jesus was and their willful rejection of God was a much bigger problem (log) than the ignorance (sawdust) of the Gentiles. In other words, until they recognized who Jesus was and returned to their holy vocation, how could they reasonably expect to discern the wickedness of the Gentiles.
Finally, in verse 6, Jesus returns to a warning. The religious leaders had a practice of offering sacrifices for the Emperor and the Roman people. The Biblical scholar Kenneth Gentry points out:
It is most interesting that since the times of Julius Caesar Israel had benefited from certain special privileges from Rome that were not allowed to other of its subjects. For instance, Jerusalem’s walls, which were destroyed by Pompey, were allowed by Julius in his “league of mutual assistance” to be rebuilt by Israel’s Hyrcanus. Also contrary to Roman policy since the Bacchanalian conspiracy, the Jews were allowed to gather freely for their special meetings. Another example is that the Romans generally were careful to not parade their standards in Jerusalem, out of (largely pragmatic) respect for the Jewish sensitivity to “graven images.”… As Bruce notes, “imperial policy respected the sanctity of the city” of Jerusalem. Another significant tolerance was in regard to the standard Roman requirement over its conquered peoples “that the votary of the new religion should extend an equal tolerance to all those who did not share his views, and should add the conception of Rome’s Imperial Divinity to his Pantheon at least nominally.” Contrary to common Roman practice in a polytheistic world, Israel was allowed to maintain its strict monotheism. Indeed, from Julius’s times a number of other concessions were made to the Jews that were favorable to Israel.
The Jews responded to the favors of Rome (as varying as these were under different local procurators) by offering “sacrifices twice every day for Caesar, and for the Roman people.” This was doubtless regarded by Rome as “a very fair equivalent” to the imposition of the Imperial Divinity’s inclusion in the Pantheon of Rome’s subjects. In other words, it appeased the emperor’s expectation for some form of religious veneration by the Jews.Gentry, Kenneth L.. Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (pp. 271-273). Victorious Hope Publishing. Kindle Edition.
In fact, Jesus’s warning proved to fall on deaf ears as the judgment he warned came about with the destruction of Jerusalem of AD 70. The Romans, indeed, turned on the Jewish people and scattered them to the ends of the known world.
In our next meeting, we will continue our discussion of this parable by expounding what it means for us. Feel free to leave any comments you might have.