A Bible Lesson on Matthew 24:29-51

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Jesus has done His last public teaching and is speaking to the disciples alone about the end times. (See verse 3 of the chapter.) We live in a linear history that is moving in the timing and plan of God to the fully revealed and complete and eternal rule and reign of Christ. We’ve been told all that we really need to know about the timing of what is coming, and Matthew 24 is a major part of that. This lesson begins part way through what Jesus has to say to the disciples (and us) about it.

Matthew 24:29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

Of course this is cataclysmic stuff. It will be out in the open and obvious to all. Jesus came once in obscurity and humility. He will come again, this time for all living to see, in great power and glory. Throughout history there have been groups that claimed they were in on a secret second coming. But there is no such thing.

30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

While Christians look forward to the physical return of the true King of the universe, humanity at large hates God, is busily ignoring His rule, and will mourn Christ’s public return. We’re rebels by birth and choice, and except He saves us, there will be no joy in the end of human history. As always, the “Son of Man” language here is consistent with Daniel 7, clearly refers to Jesus, and simultaneously affirms both His humanity and His deity.

31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

The Son of Man commands the angels and the elect are His. From one end of existence to the other, He is King. He will speak and all will converge to earth. This is an amazing breath-taking thing. The Psalmist asks who man is that God is mindful of him. We know the earth is but a speck in the vastness of creation. But all that is is focused here on the actions of God concerning eternal redemption, and the stage on which this is played out is planet earth.

32 “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.

33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

Jesus has been speaking of more general woes and warnings in history of a coming final judgment. These particular things will be unmistakable and beyond anything that humans have ever before witnessed. They will uniquely mark the second coming of Messiah.

34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

What the disciples heard when Jesus spoke these words, might have been “the group of people presently living will not die off until …” They certainly lived expecting His return. But John’s comment about how people had interpreted Peter’s inquiry as to whether John would die makes it pretty clear that John didn’t count it certain that he’d live to see the second coming. And it is no stretch of the meaning of “generation” for Jesus to be speaking of His redeemed people, and that is the most obvious reading of the text from the perspective of church history. The promise is that this people of Christ is a permanent people.

35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

His people is a permanent people and His words are permanent words. That is in contrast to the present created order. If anything, verses 34 and 35 offer instruction to Christians to not lose heart as physical generations pass before the second coming. Seeking for an interpretation of verse 34 that makes “generation” refer to people alive in 33 AD bends the most obvious intentions of this passage all out of shape. Timing is not clear. But what believing people really need to know is clear.

36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.

It’s astonishing how repeatedly in history professing Christians have ignored this plain statement to their own harm, the harm of others, and the embarrassment of the church. If Christ says that only the Father knows, we cannot know, even with the most arcane systems of numerology or coding of words of the Scriptures. Ignoring this, making predictions, having them fail, then needing to invent some bizarre cover story has repeatedly led to mocking of the church, disillusionment of those buying the predictions, and heretical beliefs in line with the cover stories. No one knows. Period.

And by the way, God does all things well. It is for good that only the Father knows. Consider life in a world where people did know the date. In no way would that make for more holiness, more love for Christ, more devotion to God.

37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark,

39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

Peter (2Peter 2:5) calls Noah a preacher/herald of righteousness. He built on an ark for 100 years. There was a very long wait and not much of a congregation of the believing saying “Amen!” But he persevered in obedience to God, and when the time came without warning, there was physical salvation for him and his family. The example of Noah and the flood teaches the suddenness of the second coming. But it also teaches preparation through obedience and perseverance and is consistent with the long range understanding of verses 34 and 35.

40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left.

41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.

These are, in one view, wonderful pictures: ordinary people going about life in Christ, engaged in ordinary day-to-day stuff, ready when the moment comes. In another view, they are horrifying. Some engaged in the same day-to-day business are completely unprepared and are separated permanently and without additional warning from the ones taken. The coming will be plain to all, sudden and without opportunity to change status, and absolutely decisive. There is no middle ground here. Some are taken/gathered as part of Christ’s people. Others are left.

42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

Again, “you do not know.” So, stay awake. It’s clear that wakefulness is not some super-spiritual withdrawal from the ordinary. It is instead ordinary life lived in consistent humble dependence upon, obedience to, and in gratitude and love for God.

43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.

44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

Housebreakers don’t advertise when they are coming. The second coming of Christ will be no better advertised. People take measures to protect something as trivial as their physical property. How much more important is it that people take measures for the well-being of their souls? Readiness/preparedness matters in the care of stuff. It surely matters in the care of one’s soul. What does that readiness look like? What sets apart the one who is taken from the one who is left?

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?

46 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.

47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.

This readiness for the return of Christ consists in understanding to Whom we belong, and in humility and gratitude consistently/constantly being about His business. This is stewardship of what ultimately belongs to God. Jesus is going to go on to tell the parable of the 10 maidens and the parable of the talents. These parables amplify on these verses.

48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’

49 and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards,

50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know

51 and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Lack of readiness for Christ’s return is a selfish life lived without real concern for the Master or for the well-being of others. It’s a heart that says “I’ll live as I please until His presence is inescapably obvious. I’ll call the shots and live for the moment. I’ll ignore the King as long as I can, simply putting out of mind that He has promised to return. The end of that is sure and horrible eternal destruction. Hell will be full of both those who flagrantly flout the will of God and those who play act at keeping it, believing that their rule keeping justifies them.

This appears to be a different sort of person than the Pharisees who were addressed in Chapter 23, but the end of them is the same. And ultimately there is no real difference between hypocritically presuming to establish a false righteousness on the basis of rule keeping while ignoring the real heart of God and just blatantly saying “I don’t care about God or people.” That is the stuff of eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Matthew 23:1-36

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapters 23-26 of Matthew constitute the 5th and last section of Jesus’ teaching in the book. The Sermon on the Mount is the 1st section of teaching, describes life in His kingdom, and pronounces blessing. This last section describes life outside His kingdom and pronounces woe. It begins in Chapter 23 with Jesus’ plain and public condemnation of Pharisaical religion. Where Jesus has before disputed with the Pharisees and warned His disciples about their attitudes, this is now open teaching in the temple plainly condemning their religion. James Boice commenting on this chapter correctly says that anyone who is tempted to make all religions equal as long as there is sincerity involved needs to read Matthew 23.

Matthew 23:1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,

This is public. It’s in the temple and both His disciples and the crowds are here. (See 24:1 regarding location.)

2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat,

In the temple there was literally a stone bench from which the Law was taught. So it was the seat of Moses both figuratively and literally. God’s law is perfect. It is right that it be taught. It is an important thing to teach it, and the people should have respect for the office held by the teachers. But …

3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.

The word of God is perfect and to be obeyed. But Jesus says that these religionists have it wrong at heart, and that shows in how they live. A Pharisee’s life was consumed with meticulous worrying about elaborations on elaborations on elaborations of the written commands. Pharisees considered that they had “built a fence” around the law, to keep themselves so far from transgression of any of the commands that they could count themselves keepers of the law. They split the finest hairs about every detail, defining (so they thought) matters so carefully that they could be righteous in action. But in that, they missed the whole point. The law told them what some good things are, but it could not be exhaustive, and the requirement of God is to be good (as Jesus has plainly said to the Pharisees in Matthew 21:34-40), not just to do some good things. And in full time obsessing on and splitting hairs concerning rules, they failed to have time for mercy, charity, humility.

4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.

They were good at naming and interpreting rules, so many that it was a 24 hours per day occupation keeping them checked off. But they cared not for ordinary people who had sense enough to know that they were undone before a completely holy and just God. Garland put it this way: “Jesus here castigates the legalism which can impose regulations but cannot or will not give relief to the law breaker.” How could a full time obsession with religious process deal with the soul-sickness of ordinary people who must carry on ordinary lives? Indeed the “law” as the Pharisees taught it was an impossible burden, and no real help at all in dealing with our basic human guilt. In contrast Jesus promised us rest.

Mat 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

 

5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long,

6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues

7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.

A more or less natural part of religion focused on keeping rules is a desire to have others know and admire the fact that the rules are being kept. Loving God and being in awe of His great person and ways, and desiring to please Him fully produces humility and awareness of our frailty and our failure to fully honor Him. It is not something that desires to be noticed by other humans. And to the extent that religion is self-conscious and prideful it is unreal.

The title “rabbi” derives from a word meaning “great.” It is an honorific title, effectively meaning “great one.”

8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.

There is no room in the Kingdom of God for veneration of those who teach God’s word. A genuine citizen of the Kingdom must guard his or her heart concerning attitudes toward those who teach. There is proper respect and gratitude to God for His word and for ones who teach it accurately. But it almost always ends badly for all concerned when God’s people identify and become particularly enamored with a particular “rabbi.”

9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.

Christians do not have mere humans through whom they legitimately approach God. There is no human father/priest who stands between a Christian believer and God. As the catechisms correctly put it, Jesus fulfills the roles of prophet, priest, and king. And God Himself in three person is approached directly.

10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ.

Jesus is eternal teacher/prophet. He worked through the Holy Spirit to inspire the Bible. He directs His true servants who teach it. But they have nothing of any value outside of His work. Making too much of a human being who serves Christ is dangerous for both the servant who teaches and for those who pay too much attention to the person.

11 The greatest among you shall be your servant.

A real “rabbi” in the real Kingdom is a servant of others. A religion that is about “me” is no real religion. Rule keeping for the supposed purpose of establishing righteousness is ultimately about me. A real love for God who loves people will evidence itself in a desire to please Him and be like Him and will spill over to humans He loves. Again, there is the very clear statement of this to the Pharisees earlier in Matthew 22:34-40.

12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

This is not a crazy convoluted 21st century statement about technique or form … as if it were “one step to exaltation.” It is a statement about the way things really are. God is the center of all and there is no room for you or me there. To effectively act as if we are the show must bring getting put in our place, in this life and/or the next. A life of humility, lived in proper relation to God and others is a life lived consistent with what really is. It is a life that God, ever true to His own nature, blesses both now and forever.

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.

Jesus now begins to speak directly to the Pharisees in the crowd. Remember that this is in the temple and it’s Passover. These guys are already quite put out with Jesus. Jesus in prophetic fashion pronounces 7 “woes” on them. In our fallen state, we have a tendency to read these without any regret, figuring that “they” are getting what “they” deserve. Verse 37 tells us clearly that this wasn’t the attitude of Christ. These are strong and serious, but they are full of sorrow and grief for these lost men.

Truly, the Pharisees were living a false religion that cannot save. Their teaching didn’t help. It only made things worse for any who would know the way to God. That was true of them. That is true of teachers of every non-Christian religion conceived by man. Teachers of religion XXX may in some cases help make people easier to live around (not always!), but in any case they do nothing to bring them into the Kingdom of God. In fact, by promoting a false system they make it harder to understand real faith in God.

A hypocrite is a play actor. One who is about keeping the rules as a means to an end is acting. He or she is participating in an unreality to get what he or she wants. That is true even if the heart of the rules is good and it is true no matter how earnestly and vigorously it is done. And going through the motions (even good ones) does not save.

15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

The Pharisees surely couldn’t be faulted for lack of zeal. But misplaced zeal is no good thing. They were evangelists for a false religion. Jesus refers to the fact that preachers of false religions often don’t themselves do stuff half as nasty as those they incite. That’s perfectly obvious in our time when the teachers of false religions rarely themselves wear the bombs or torch the dormitories or shoot up the malls.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’

17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred?

18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’

19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?

20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it.

21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it.

22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

The Pharisees were famous in the ancient world for splitting hairs over when an oath is binding. They were masters at lawyering around having to keep a promise. But just how exasperating is that? How untrue to the nature of the God they purported to represent could they have gotten? The God of the Bible is completely true and reliable. He has from the very beginning made and faithfully kept promises. The whole business of saying something with one plain meaning in words engineered to allow for another is absolutely not in keeping with the God who is. It is corrupt and absurd, and Jesus says so. He has already in the Sermon on the Mount told all who would hear “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.'” Indeed, those who play with words so as to allow themselves to do as they please are “fools.”

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

The Pharisees apparently kept accounts of everything they owned down to the smallest planting in their herb gardens. Can you imagine this? Truly one would have no time for anything else. You can’t possibly be thinking about the genuinely big stuff of life, about what really matters, if you are obsessing about how many mint leaves you “owe” on what has been grown outside the back door.

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

There were (fantastically detailed and ridiculous) rules about what vessels and utensils the Pharisees held to be capable of becoming unclean, having to do with the material(s) from which they were made, their shape, etc. Jesus has spoken earlier (in Matthew 15) about defilement not coming from eating with unwashed hands, but from within. Again, obsess over the smallest details of how one eats and there can be no time to consider the things that matter in life: one’s desperate need of God’s mercy, dealing with the real evil impulses of our fallen natures, self-control, generosity, kindness, etc.

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.

28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Many commentators think that an image standing behind this woe is the practice of whitewashing the tombs around Jerusalem every Passover, so that they were visible and visitors didn’t accidentally contact one and become ceremonially unclean and ineligible to celebrate Passover. The point here is that what’s corrupt about a tomb isn’t the exterior, but rather what’s inside. That’s effectively the same point Jesus made in Chapter 15 about defilement from lack of ceremonial hand washing. The Pharisees were focused on keeping the rules “completely” in the external. But that doesn’t address the reality of motivation of one’s heart. It doesn’t address the fundamental of whether one really loves God, is humble before Him and wants in all matters (not “just” those specifics laid out in the Law) His will, His honor, His purposes. Again, the technical attempt to be justified by law keeping is corrupt play acting.

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous,

30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’

31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.

False religion is blind to itself. The very fact that the Pharisees don’t see that their version of Judaism was condemned by the prophets is proof that they would have been part of the persecution of the prophets. Real religion is humble and unassuming. It knows personal human frailty and the personal need of mercy and forgiveness. It doesn’t act as if the problem is external/is with others, but rather acknowledges personal guilt. To be cocksure that one is righteous in oneself is proof that one is personally unrighteous. Jesus addressed this kind of heart when the men were ready to stone the woman caught in adultery.

32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers.

These guys are blind and He now tells them to take their thinking to its logical end. The forbearers of the Pharisees killed the prophets, they will go on in a couple of days to kill the Messiah.

33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?

This is language like that of John the Baptizer. The difference is that there, there was some movement toward repentance. Here there is none. John was surprised to see some come out to the Jordan. Jesus sees no acknowledgment of need and asks aloud what can possibly be done.

34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town,

In a very short time, Christian missionaries will flood the known world. Very often, their stiffest and most violent resistance will come from Jews. Paul’s modus operandi was to go first to the synagogue in a city before preaching to gentiles. And he always found himself quickly rejected (sometimes violently so) and speaking to gentiles. This mission to the Jews was evidence of Christ’s mercy and concern for the Jewish people.

35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.

But mercy and warning rejected becomes a self-chosen implied judgment. Choose to reject mercy and fail to repent, and the guilt is complete. The guilt is equivalent to that for every human murder from the first to the last recorded in 2 Chronicles, the last book in the Old Testament as ordered by the Jews of the time. Reject and persecute the bringers of Good News and stand guilty of the persecution of all the saints of God.

36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

This is huge misery coming on the Pharisees and all of Jerusalem. This people is about to murder the Lord of Glory, God’s Son, Messiah. In less than 40 years, the Romans are going to lay waste to Jerusalem, having had more than enough of the hassle of dealing with the Jews. Of course. Murder Christ and then go on down the road as if nothing has happened? Continuously misrepresent the true nature of the God of glory to the known world and hide the real nature of Biblical redemption and have that go on unabated forever? Those couldn’t be if God is both powerful and just.

The chapter ends with the deep sorrow of Christ over what is coming on this people. That should be our reaction as well. A Christian’s passion for the glory of God and real relationship with Him ought to be also marked with deep longing that others turn from blindness to real faith.

37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

 

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Matthew 26:6-29

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Matthew 26:6 Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,

Simon is otherwise unknown to us. We know that Jesus has raised His friend Lazarus at Bethany, where Lazarus lived with Mary and Martha. Presumably Simon is one Jesus healed (otherwise he wouldn’t be giving a dinner party). Some have speculated that perhaps he was father of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha.

7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table.

Here is what gets called an impractical extravagant act. But it is one done selflessly and from a sincere heart. It is an expression of deep gratitude and love. Almost surely it is a matter of real financial sacrifice on her behalf. The spikenard was worth perhaps a whole year’s wages for a common person, as much as it would take to feed a crowd of 5,000 people, and she pours it on the head of Jesus, an anointing for the anointed One. It may very well be that it’s her way of saying that “this is Messiah.”

8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?

It’s interesting that it’s not Jesus’ enemies that object, but rather the disciples.

9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”

We know this impulse. It says that we’re more righteous than “they” are, because instead of having a fancy building “we” have used the money for “ministry.” But there are all sorts of things wrong with this impulse. At its heart, it is covetous. We really wish “their” resources were under “our” control. It’s not really our business at all what someone else does with what God has entrusted them with. We’re responsible for what we do with what He’s given us to manage. And we’re wrong if we think that a genuinely selfless display of devotion to Christ and expression of high esteem for Him is ever inappropriate.

The disciples’ word “waste” is an interesting indictment. It is a waste to devote to only the Creator some part of what He has given us to use? If it doesn’t “benefit” humans in some immediate and tangible way, it’s a waste? Really? That’s true only if we are the central beings in the universe.

10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.

This was a “beautiful” thing, a “noble” thing, an “admirable” thing.

11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.

Our obligation to care for the poor is always present. That’s just taken as given. This doesn’t in any way cancel that obligation.

Deuteronomy 15:11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’

But this is not ordinary day-to-day stuff here. This is the anointing of Jesus before the crucifixion.

12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.

This seems to assume that Jesus was saying that a criminal’s body is not given a proper burial, and that He fully expects to be executed like a criminal.

13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

The fragrance of the lovely, beautiful, noble, admirable thing this woman did lasts on to you and me. Everywhere the teaching, and far more importantly, the sacrificial death and resurrection of our Lord are told, so also is this act of devotion.

14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests

“Then” immediately after the event in Bethany, we pick up again from the dilemma in verse 5. The one called Judas “Iscariot” went. The name may have designated his home town. Some have speculated that instead it indicated he belonged to a radical anti-Roman group.

He “went.” Why did he go? The truth is that we aren’t told and don’t really know. People have speculated about that for 2000 years. Maybe he was disenchanted, having decided that Jesus was acting more like a defeatist than a liberator, and that it was time to get out while the getting was good. Maybe he’s regretting 3 years spent on what looks now like a failing enterprise. There has been speculation that he was jealous of the places of trust held by other disciples. Maybe he was revolted by the scene of Mary anointing Jesus and appalled that Jesus had permitted it. And some have speculated that perhaps he was trying to force Jesus’ hand, thinking that somebody needed to do something to get Jesus to use His power to get on with the revolution. Maybe it was a mix of some or all of these. Maybe it was something else. But for some reason he went.

15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver.

“What will you give me?” Those are words that should make our blood run cold. The man has access to all that one really needs, the presence of the Savior, and his question is “What else can I have?”

Thirty pieces of silver is not zero, but not very much either. It’s the price that the Old Testament prescribed for compensation if one’s ox gored and killed another person’s slave. Some commentators speculate that inflation by this time probably made it worth a 10th of that much. Barclay in the 1950’s made the calculation that the price was on the order of 5 British pounds. Hendriksen in 1973 made it about $20. In any case, it’s surely not much of a price for betraying the Author of the universe, not even the kind of price one would expect to receive as a ransom for a minor public figure. Its smallness indicates the low regard of the chief priests for Jesus and how little Judas thinks of the implications of what he’s doing. It surely also echoes the Messianic reference in Zechariah 11.

Zechariah 11:12 Then I said to them, “If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver.

God’s chosen shepherd is rejected and paid little. Whatever the motivation for this betrayal, the low price of thirty pieces of silver stands in stark contrast to the great extravagance of the anointing.

16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

The matter is effectively settled at this point. The die is cast. Judas is going to betray Him. The leaders have their means of a “stealthy” arrest.

17 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?”

This is, obviously, the Passover festival (an eight day festival beginning with the Passover). It seems from the accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke, that the meal is the Passover meal itself. John seems to indicate that others (the Jewish leaders) were going to celebrate the Passover the evening after the crucifixion and that Passover lambs were being slaughtered as Christ was crucified. There are various theories about how to bring these into harmony. We’re not going to explore them, but simply take this at face value, as an account of a Passover meal eaten on Thursday evening, before a Friday crucifixion.

18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.'”

My appointed time is near. In all of the Gospel, we are reminded again and again that Jesus is not simply “going with the flow”/”rolling with the punches.” He is very aware of and in charge of what is going on. He lays down His life at the proper time and in the proper way. But before He does so, He is going to eat one last time with His disciples.

19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.

Every pious Jew living in Palestine either ate the Passover inside the confines of Jerusalem or not at all. There must have been many many such arrangements made in that city for Passover meals. The best guess at the number of people in Jerusalem at Passover time is 2.5-3 million people.

20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve.

Originally, the Passover meal had been eaten standing up, with people symbolically ready to hit the road out of Egypt. By this time, they were eating it in the same posture as other meals.

The picture we should have here is one of a very intimate setting, with close friends, people that He should be able to trust, if any human being is to be trusted. And without warning the warmth of the occasion is broken by His announcement that one of them is a traitor.

21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”

Jesus has been telling them that He is going to suffer and die at the hands of the Jewish officials. That they had a hard time swallowing. But that was one thing and this is another. Not only is Jesus going to suffer and die, but one of the 12 is going to be involved.

The fact is that everyone in the room both there and here can be justly charged with the crime of betraying Jesus to one degree or another. And the responses of the 11 are those of true hearts. They know that they’re capable of the worst, that except for the grace of God, it could be them that Jesus is talking about.

22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?”

The “very sorrowful” is strong. They are heartsick. The honesty of these 11 good hearts is revealed in their questions. The ESV says “Is it I Lord?” It is a question that hopes for a negative answer but allows the possibility of a positive one. It’s “I am not the one Lord, am I?” There is humility in it, a recognition of human frailty, hope that I won’t fail the master, but recognition that left to my own devices I surely will. There is, I think, comfort in this sad story in the fact that frail though they were, the 11 didn’t betray Jesus. The 11 didn’t fail Him by accident or out of temporary weakness. The betrayal was something else, deliberate, premeditated and without a real heart for God and His honor. It was ultimately selfish.

This is truly a sad moment, as these men understand their potential for evil and have some inkling as to what it’s going to bring on Jesus, and they don’t deny that it could be them. Notice also for future reference how they address Jesus. They call Him “Lord.” He’s their friend, true. He’s a great teacher, true. But primarily, they here acknowledge Him as Lord. It’s a heart that will admit one’s guilt and potential for evil and that clings to Jesus as Lord that will find grace and forgiveness.

23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me.

This description of Judas is a reminder of the intimacy that has been offered to him. To eat with a person of this culture is to declare friendship and effectively promise to do that person no harm. Judas had the same invitation to eternal life that the others had. But he chose otherwise.

What makes the betrayal so hideous is that it’s one who has been a close friend, one who would share such a Passover meal. It’s that kind of intimate associate that is going to hand Jesus over to the authorities. John indicates that Jesus pointed Judas out by handing him bread after dipping it. That may well have not been seen by the whole group. This statement to all is about the sadness in the betrayal of one close to Him.

24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

It is absolutely explicit here that it is simultaneously true that God is sovereign and that man is responsible for his actions. The fact that Judas’s actions will fulfill prophecy and work for God’s purposes does not cancel his guilt. The fact that in accord with the will of the Father, Jesus is going to suffer and die for the sins of the world does not absolve Judas of guilt for what he is doing. He bears responsibility for choosing to betray Jesus to the religious authorities. It is a terrible and awesome thing that Jesus says here “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” The only possible interpretation of this is that of eternal torment. Our choices matter for ever. Even at this late moment, he could have repented, trashed his awful plan and thrown himself on the mercy of Jesus. Instead listen to what he says.

25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”

Judas puts up the pretense of not knowing if it might be him. This is cold-blooded and intentionally deceptive. He apparently still wants to be well thought of by the others. Or perhaps he’s just afraid of what they might do to him if they knew what he’s done and is planning. In any case, he’s still talking a fairly good game. But then, exactly what he says is revealing. The others say “Lord,” he says “Rabbi.” He uses the word that would be used to speak of any ordinary teacher (and that is not used by any of the other 11 in Matthew at all) while the others call Jesus master. Truly, at this point Judas doesn’t belong to Christ. Jesus is not his Lord. At most he is his teacher, and what he says confirms that. The others may not have even heard the difference. But to Judas, Jesus is only a good teacher, not his sovereign. And there are light years between Jesus a wise human being and Jesus the God of the Universe and rightful Lord of our lives.

“You have said so.” The emphasis is that it is coming from Judas’s mouth (and heart) not Christ’s. The KJV renders it “thou hast said.” The answer is clear to Judas, but ambiguous enough to the others that even if they hear, they probably will not understand Jesus’ reply.

Judas has been to see the officials and collected the 30 pieces of silver. Where the others may have general recognition of various ways they’ve fallen short, Judas knows exactly what Jesus is talking about, but he pretends ignorance. Jesus has put His finger on Judas’s sin and Judas plays dumb. Why? Presumably to not look bad before the other guys. If he comes clean here, they would find out about his plans. Judas still has the opportunity to choose life at this point. But instead, confronted with his sin, he chooses to stonewall the matter, and John tells us that he leaves, going out into the dark.

Jesus now says something else that has to be quite startling.

26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”

In the course of the Passover meal, the head of the house would certainly take bread, give thanks and break it. But to say “Take and eat; this is my body” is another matter. This is the unleavened bread baked to remind the Jews of their hurried departure from captivity in Egypt. Jesus seems to be saying that there’s a final Passover about to take place, and that henceforth believers will not see in the bread a reminder of the flight from Egypt, but a reminder of His broken body that provides the final sacrifice for sin.

27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you,

Again, Jesus as the head of the group would several times in the Passover meal give thanks for a cup and pass it to those present. That all in due course. But what He says here is again, completely unexpected by the disciples.

The “all of you” is vital in several ways. For one, it is an affirmation of the fact that even those such as the disciples who knew they might justly be charged with betraying Jesus were to partake. The requirement is humility and repentance, not perfection. For another, we are being told that this is not some kind of optional thing, to be taken lightly or to be neglected. We Protestants are much too lax in our determination to observe this ordinance. Luke’s account of these incidents is especially pointed in its insistence that this is not something optional.

Luke 22:19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

And for another thing, the “all of you” should remind us that the Lord’s supper is a corporate matter. It is to be shared, not only with Christ, but with each other. We’re not independent entities in this, but rather members of a body of Christians. Paul reminds us of this.

1 Corinthians 10:17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

There is blood associated with the Passover, the blood of the sacrificial lambs, painted with hyssop on the doorposts of the Israelites to mark their dwellings so that the death angel would pass over as he slew all first born males in Egypt. Jesus seems to be saying that now the real and final Passover, the final sacrifice for sin is about to take place, and that henceforth believers will hearken back to His shed blood, not the blood of the lambs shed year after year. The wine is to be a reminder of that shed blood.

It is “My blood of the ‘covenant.'” This is an important word. What’s going on here is, for example, the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:31-34.

Jeremiah 31:31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,

 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord.

33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

The “for many” in verse 28 is a Semiticism for “for everyone.” That is, the “many” is not meant to limit, but rather to include. Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient for all. Its effectiveness is limited by our free will, but there is no limit to its sufficiency.

29 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.”

Jesus is not looking back now on the Passover in Egypt, but looking forward, past His sacrificial death and resurrection to intimate times with us His redeemed people in the future Kingdom of God. Whether He is referring primarily to heavenly experiences that await us, or to post-resurrection fellowship with those in the room, or to the fellowship with Him that is now ours in the Lord’s supper is not completely clear. But the promise is one of intimate fellowship with Jesus.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Matthew 25

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This is a very long lesson covering two well-known parables and a straightforward teaching, all concerned with the last day and how we should live in light of it. It continues Christ’s teaching on the end times begun in Chapter 24.

First, the parable of the ten maidens.

Matthew 25:1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.

To give the disciples some understanding of how it will be at that time, He tells a story set a familiar and wonderful context, a wedding.

The customs of the time seem to have been these. A wedding was an occasion for a whole village to celebrate. The Rabbis even taught that it was permissible to temporarily put aside the study of the Law to join in. A newlywed couple didn’t go away on a honeymoon, they stayed home and were congratulated by everyone in town and for a time were treated like a prince and princess. Following the ceremony itself there was a procession through the town, taking the longest possible route, so that all could offer their good wishes.

Here’s the especially interesting/relevant part. In that time and culture, no invitations were sent out, or at least if they were, there was no time printed on them. Instead the bride and her party waited at her parents’ home for the bridegroom to come and get her and take her to the wedding. Maybe that would be tonight, maybe tomorrow night, maybe next week. The bride didn’t know. In fact, part of the festivity of the whole scene was a playful attempt to catch the bride and her party unprepared. They had to be ready to go to the wedding at any hour of the day or night. Instead of playing games hiding the car so that it didn’t get decorated with shaving cream, part of the scene at this time was that all the warning that the bride’s party got was the sound of the groom’s man in the street shouting “Behold, the bridegroom is coming!”

The picture we have here is that in the bride’s party, especially invited to the wedding ceremony, especially honored to be part of the festivities, were ten bridesmaids.

2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.

Now a parable isn’t an allegory and we shouldn’t expect every particular detail of the story to match up one to one with a detail of reality. There’s no reason to worry about the fact that the church is called the “bride” of Christ while here we are concerned with “bridesmaids.” And we should not read anything into the detail that there were 5 and 5. What we MUST hear is that among those especially invited and honored to be included, were some that were foolish and some that were wise.

The foolish ones were foolish in a Biblical sense. They didn’t see things the way they really were. They were reckoning from the wrong point. “The fool says in his heart that there is no God.” The fool reckons from himself and what pleases him at the moment. The foolish maids were simple, slow, thinking like a child, in the sense that what they were concerned with was themselves.

The wise maidens were wise in a Biblical sense. This is not an endorsement of their abstract reasoning capability or even their facility with systematic theology. It’s the fear of the LORD that is the beginning of wisdom. It’s a matter of the heart. It’s seeing things the way they really are and reckoning from the right point. It’s being and doing what is in line with the will of God and what makes sense in the light of eternity. It’s being prudent and practical in light of what really is.

3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them,

4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.

There were no street lamps and nobody was allowed on streets without a light. And once the bridegroom came and got the bride and the ceremony began, latecomers were not allowed in. Everybody knew this including the bridesmaids. Some of them came fully prepared and some came at best only half prepared.

We should think hard about this. What’s the job of the bridesmaids?  The job here is to be ready, to be ready today, tomorrow, next week, whenever the announcement comes. Some are, but others are presuming upon the situation, thinking that half-ready is good enough. They want to be part of the scene, but really, it’s on their own terms and at their own convenience that they want to be part.

The maids here are not recruited because they had oil or could be counted on to produce it when needed. They are recruited by the couple because of what they mean to the couple. They are people with whom the couple wishes to share the joy of the wedding celebration. That’s the reason they’re in the group. But, given that recruitment, great privilege and honor, the job, the responsibility, is to be ready. Some take that seriously. Some do not.

Consider what the foolish bridesmaids have done. The bride has recruited them because of her desire to share this great occasion with them. They don’t take it seriously enough to show up ready to participate. What have you really said to a modern day bride if she asks you to take part in the wedding and you say “sure,” but then when the time comes your favorite team is playing ball or your favorite soap opera is on the tube and you decide that it’ll be OK if you show an hour late, after the game or the soap is over?

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

Jesus has already told His disciples that the time of His coming is not known and that they must be ready at all times.

Matthew 24:36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.

Matthew 24:42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

Matthew 24:44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

We laugh at folks that name times for the second coming and go gather on mountain tops in white sheets to wait or put up billboards on the highway promising the date. But on the other end of this waiting, do we take our Lord seriously when we hear Him say “Keep watch … you do not know”? Once invited, the job of the maids was to be ready.

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

The bridegroom is coming, not on the schedule of the maids, but on His own schedule. All the warning they get is the general understanding that He could come at any moment and this cry of the herald at midnight.

7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.

Here’s a pathetic picture. Everybody wakes up, the prepared and the unprepared. And even now, the unprepared are oblivious to the fact that they are unprepared. These “lamps” are almost surely torches, and they set about trimming the charred rag off the ends of them, just as if nothing is genuinely wrong.

8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’

A torch of this type is going to burn a large amount of olive oil. It has to be re-dipped in oil every 15 minutes or so. That’s a given. The foolish don’t have enough and now ask the others to bail them out. They are even now not taking responsibility for their lack of preparation. They’re thinking from their vantage point, for their personal benefit, figuring that somehow their dereliction can be covered over. They aren’t thinking about the impact of what they’ve done or not done on anyone but themselves.

9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’

This is no mean or selfish reply. There truly isn’t enough for the foolish. The responsibility of the wise is to the bride, not the foolish at this point. They are to provide light for the procession and celebration through the town. If they try to bail out the foolish, all are going to run out and leave the whole party in darkness half way through the parade. Essentially, what the foolish are asking them to do is impossible. The wise cannot transfer their own preparation to the foolish. All they can do is point the foolish to where oil can be obtained. It is available, but the foolish must buy it for themselves, just as the wise have done earlier.

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

The bridegroom Himself arrives on His schedule. Those who are ready, go to the wedding. And there is a sickening thud in the closing of the door. This should have been an occasion of great joy for the whole town, but the door is now shut and the foolish are on the outside.

11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’

12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

Our muddled hearts rebel at this. “Cut them a break!” we cry. But it can be no other way. There is no real relationship between the foolish and the wedding couple. The foolish didn’t even think enough of the couple to make preparation for their procession. And that wasn’t accidental, it was done in cold blood. It was in truth a flagrant, selfish choice to not consider the interests of the bridal couple. Of course they are strangers, of course the groom doesn’t know them. And the wedding, the celebration, the joyous occasion is to be shared with friends, not indifferent strangers. That only makes sense. The wonderful wedding celebration is for friends.

13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

So the advice of Jesus to His closest followers is “keep watch.” If we have any sense, we’ll hear that injunction for ourselves. You and I are waiting. We’re waiting for His return and the great wedding feast that St. John saw. Every one of us has been offered a place at the table. Every one of us has been invited to eternally enjoy all that is really good. This wedding feast we’ve been invited to isn’t just one that we can skip and pick up another some other time or place. It’s the only one that ever will be. Outside the door to the banquet hall there is nothing but darkness. There’s no good at all outside the banquet hall. And the invitation we’ve been given is to a banquet for friends. It’s based on relationship with the groom.

The rub for our fallen human hearts is that our invitation has implicit in it a job. The job isn’t the basis for the invitation, but it is implicit in the invitation. And as we wait, it is possible to by neglect fail to do the job, to fail to keep watch and in the end, be shut out as a stranger. We dare not take the edge off of this. Jesus is talking here to the 12, not somebody outside the fold. We dare not blunt the urgency of this warning. This is serious business. We’re being warned to not be laid back and lackadaisical.

What are we talking about? What is involved in the watching? What is it that the wise will have and the foolish will not bother to go and obtain while there is yet time? What is it that the wise can tell the foolish where to buy, but cannot give them when they have not come prepared themselves? I think we know if we’ll be honest with ourselves. It’s stuff like right living, like prayer, like attention to God’s Word and assembly with His saints. It’s stuff like demonstrations of real love and kindness, development of real Christian character traits like humility, patience, gentleness. It’s stuff like integrity, and Godly self-discipline. It’s stuff like real dependence upon and submission to Christ. In the end, it’s genuine salvation.  Those are things that can’t be had at the last moment. They are things that can’t be transferred.

The warning of Jesus, the message of this parable is that it’s possible to take the job of waiting and watching too lightly. It’s possible to presume upon the situation, to be lackadaisical and indifferent and in the end have no relationship to the groom. It’s possible to know the facts, to apparently be part of the bridal party and in the end miss the wedding.

“Therefore, keep watch.” Let us take the job seriously.

 

Next is the parable of the talents.

Matthew 25:14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property.

Trusted family servants in ancient times were often given substantial responsibility. Of course, they were not independent free agents, but neither were they mindless automatons. Instead they were people who were authorized and expected to act intelligently on the behalf of their masters. They made investments on behalf of their masters and managed some of their property. That’s what we have here. The master has entrusted to these servants some of his property.

15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.

The English usage of the word “talent” as a skill, ability or mental power actually derives from this parable. A talent was originally a unit of weight. When applied to a weight of a precious metal it came to also be a unit of coinage. We need to understand the magnitude of what has been entrusted to the servants here. It appears that a talent was as much as 6,000 days’ wages for a day laborer of the time. That’s 20 years’ worth of labor for a common man. These servants have been entrusted with fortunes amounting to from 20 to 100 man-years worth of labor. These are huge resources. But it’s the case that that God willing, we will live and work many years ourselves, either squandering those years or using them to God’s glory. Not only have we been entrusted with the precious treasure of the Gospel, but we each have a life’s worth of resources to invest for the Master.

The master does not give each servant the same number of talents. He does not give each the same resources and responsibility, but rather he judges the abilities and faithfulness of the servants according to what he knows they can handle. Notice that this may not sound so much in tune with our modern egalitarian ways of thinking. But the truth is that the servants are not equally capable, and the master doesn’t give them equal resources and responsibilities.

The master went on a journey. The disciples seem to have been expecting the end times to come immediately. This was not to be so. The master went away, for an indefinite, but finite period. And he left the servants with differing, but nevertheless precious resources to use on his behalf in his absence.

16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more.

17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more.

The 5 become 10 and the 2 become 4. These two servants are not equally capable, but they are equally faithful and end up being equally commended. They both make vigorous use of what has been entrusted to them. Notice, by the way, that by the time the master returns, the second servant has worked to the point that he has nearly the resources that the first servant had at the beginning.

18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.

The guy digs a hole. Burying a valuable was about the safest thing a person could do with it in ancient times. He has not lost his master’s resources, he’s simply failed to use them in the way the master intended. And the choice to sit on the master’s resources was not one that he had been authorized to make. He’d been given the talent to invest, to use on the master’s behalf.

19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them.

The master returned after a long time. Exactly how long we don’t know. What’s clear, however, is that the master returns at his convenience, not at the convenience of the servants, and does so without warning.

When the master returns, the first thing he does is to settle accounts with the servants. In our thinking about the rapture or what happens after death, we typically buzz past this, thinking immediately about the welcome that awaits us. But before the master does anything else, he evaluates what has been done with his resources.

20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’

Listen to the properly humble view of this servant. He knows who owns the riches. He understands that he’s simply had temporary stewardship over them. He doesn’t say that he’s used his own resources to enrich the master, but rather, humbly says what profit the riches of the master have produced.

Notice also that it is for the profit of the master that he has labored and doubled his portion. He has no legal claim to anything that his investments have produced. He understands that although (through the generosity of the master) he will benefit, that is only the byproduct of his faithfulness, not its object. He’s had charge of the property of the master, for the benefit of the master. If we don’t have that view of what God has given us, then our view is sub-Christian. If we think that this whole business of life is primarily for our benefit or comfort, we are sadly wrong and fail to be Biblical people. By God’s grace there is great benefit for His children, but that is only a byproduct of Him getting the glory that is due Him.

21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

“Well done.”  This is what the master expected. What the first servant has done is neither surprising nor extraordinary. It is, instead, completely in line with the way things ought to be. The master has left the servants in charge of his resources and he has expected them to use them.

“good and faithful servant” he says.  This is the key phrase in the whole parable. The parable is about faithfulness. The master has commended the servant for over the long haul, in a consistent day by day fashion, using the master’s resources for the sake of the master. That is faithfulness. That is what brings the commendation of the master.

“faithful over a little” he says.  This is 100 man years of labor! This little is exceedingly precious. But the point is that in comparison to what is to come, 30,000 days’ wages amount to very little.

“I will set you over much.” The reward here is more responsibility and more work to do on behalf of the master. The master does not say “good work, now take some time off and indulge yourself.” Our whole self-centered modern concept of deserving to be catered to on the basis of our contributions or accomplishments is simply not Biblical. Instead, faithfulness brings with it more opportunity to be faithful. It also brings with it fellowship with our Lord Jesus and a sense of well-being, as we know that as far as it is in our control, all is as it should be.

Now the second servant comes.

22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’

23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

This should give us all great hope and confidence. This second servant, who is substantially less capable than the first, is nevertheless commended in exactly the same way as the first. The issue is not how much he had to work with, or the total amount of the return on his work, but rather how faithful he has been. The issue is what he did with what he had to work with. He was not expected to turn his 2 into 10. He was only expected to use his 2 to produce 2 more.

Again, we see here that the reward for faithfulness is not a trip to the Bahamas, the right to order the master around, or even a large mansion. Instead, it is increased responsibility and additional work to do for the master, and joy that comes when a true heart honestly serves the master. This is the kind of joy that was evident in the life of the Lord Jesus.

John 15:10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.

 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

 Now we hear from servant #3, the guy who has taken it upon himself to bury the master’s resources instead of using them in the master’s service.

 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed,

25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’

Let’s keep clearly in mind that this guy is in no way incapable of what he’d been commissioned to do. The master had given these guys responsibilities in line with their capabilities. They were being asked to do things they could handle.

What’s this guy been thinking? Was he perhaps jealous that the other two were given more responsibility than himself? Was he miffed and sulking that he only got one portion, thinking that in comparison to the others, his contribution wasn’t really needed anyhow? Or was he thinking to himself “I don’t want to put myself out for this guy anyway. If I gain anything, it’s going to be his. I might as well go to the beach or perhaps work on painting my own house.”

Whatever his excuse for disobeying, the servant seems willing to impugn the character of the master in order to justify his own laziness. The picture he gives is of the master somehow making out unjustly from the efforts of others. That’s simply not the situation. The talents belong to the master to begin with. The servant has just been asked to put them to work on behalf of the master.

26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?

The servant may well have considered himself to have been honorable. After all, he had preserved the master’s talent. It was all there, he’d lost none of it. But look what the master has to say. “wicked and slothful servant” To fail to use God’s gifts to bring Him glory is not some small matter. It is in fact to rob Him. The master pronounces the servant to wicked, evil, immoral, deserving of severe punishment.

Do we believe this? Or do we really think that our talents are really our own, to use or squander as we see fit?

27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.

Without at all agreeing that he was as the wicked servant made him out to be, the master condemns the servant with his own words. The wicked servant knew that the master deserved a profit/increase and should/could have seen one way or the other that he received such. But instead, for his own reasons, he chose to deny the master his rightful increase. Whether that was based on timidity, laziness, envy or whatever, that is wrong. It is evil.

The servant had been given the master’s resources but sat on them. We have been entrusted with the treasure of the Christian Gospel and with personal abilities and strength of life. To live any way other than to bring Glory and increase to the God of the Universe is, to us as well, a great evil. And we do so at our own great peril.

28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.

29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

Here are some universal, inexorable principles of life. For one, if you don’t use what God has entrusted to you, you lose it. If you do use it, you will be increasingly capable and valuable to your master. There’s no standing still in life. You are either progressing or degenerating. There’s nothing in between.

For another, it is the one who has been faithful with the 5 that is ready to handle the 10 plus 1. Would we be willing to do something great in the Kingdom of God? Would we be willing to turn the world upside down for Christ? Then what about the small things? The principle is that if we won’t do the small things, forget about the big ones. There’s no point in planning on turning the world upside down for Christ if we’re known as an irresponsible flaky people that no one can count on.

30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

He is a :worthless servant.” Indeed. It is the essence of being a servant that the master calls the shots. A servant who sees himself as in charge, willing to ignore the expressed will of the master is of no use to the master. He’s not a servant at all. He’s genuinely worthless.

How serious is this whole business? It’s the stuff of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Christian people are, in fact, servants of the God of the universe. If we don’t see ourselves as that, then we are not His at all. We dare not rob our God of his rightful increase by sitting on the wondrous treasures that He’s entrusted to us. If we do, we have no place with Him at all. That ought not put Christians into a frenzy to go out and make up for lost time. The faithful servants didn’t double the master’s funds overnight. What they did do was to consistently plug away for him over an extended period. That’s what we’re called to be and do. To plug away day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. That’s what produces the master’s approval. That’s what turns the 2 into 4 and the 5 into 10. We must plug away, growing in faithfulness, being increasingly consistent in His service, conscious that we are only using what is His to begin with and which ought therefore to be used to bring Him glory.

 

Now we come to the teaching on the sheep and the goats. It’s not really a parable so much as a straight and pointed description of Christ’s judgment and of what really matters in the end.

 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.

“When” says Jesus. There are various interpretations of “when” is when, which judgment this is etc., tied to various systems of eschatology. Let’s just focus on the fact that at some time in history the events described here are going to take place. That’s true, and enough for us to know.

Jesus refers to “the Son of Man.” This title plainly alludes to Daniel’s vision.

Daniel 7:13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.

14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

This is a title Jesus took for Himself that reveals Him as both fully human and fully divine. Verse 25 is meant to be an awe inspiring picture. Jesus is the King. Jesus meek and mild is not the whole story. This is Jesus in His majesty as rightful King and Judge. This is a picture of the Last Day, and the central figure, the one with whom we all must do is Jesus, the Son of Man.

32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

“all the nations” are gathered. Jesus is King over all peoples. Earlier Jesus had talked of letting the weeds grow together with the wheat, to be separated at the harvest. Here the whole flock is going to be separated. It is all people.

Apparently, the origin of the picture here is that during the day, the flock all ran together, but at night it was necessary to separate out the goats because they had less fat and fur and needed to huddle together in the night cold for warmth, where the sheep did not. It is a common, matter of fact thing, perfectly sensible and natural. It could not be otherwise. Of course the shepherd separates.

33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.

The right hand is always the place of honor and favor. Note that there are only two groups here. Sheep are sheep and goats are goats. This image should not catch any listeners by surprise. This is completely consistent with the revelation of God in Ezekiel 34.

Ezekiel 34:17 “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats.

18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet?

19 And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

20 “Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.

21 Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad,

22 I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep.

 

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

Again, Jesus is the King. He is not just like a king, but is The King. And it is He who judges and gives the inheritance prepared from the beginning, to exactly 2 groups: the sheep and the goats.

Ephesians. 1:4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him …

This thing has been planned from the foundation of the world. It is not something that might happen. It will happen.

35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

We must each face this for our self. There are plenty of other people that we could point fingers at on this stuff, but we dare not give ourselves that luxury. We must ask: How big are these acts? How visible are they? How much of our resources do they require? Are they of such a nature that any of us is unable to participate? Are any of us then without excuse? … These are acts that common people do with their own time, capacities and compassion. These acts aren’t necessarily the ones our carnal selves think of as great acts of spirituality. But they are the ones that Jesus remembers. They tell Him and tell us who we really are. They are not the self-conscious things we do when we realize that others are watching. These are the actions of sheep being sheep.

It’s quite a thing that Jesus puts Himself into this picture as the one helped. It’s not “just” others we help, but Christ Himself. These acts voluntarily involve us in the suffering and need of others, particularly other believers. God could have short-circuited this and made it unnecessary for us to be involved. He didn’t. There is a point in us taking part in this. God voluntarily involved Himself in our desperate situation, and in turn we are given the chance to take on the character and work of Jesus, both to our good and as a continuing testimony to the nature of our God.

37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?

38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?

39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

This is a thing of real beauty and virtue. The good works of the sheep are completely unconscious, coming from the character of Christ in them. And it is the evidence of regeneration that these works provide, that is the basis of separating the sheep from the goats. The sheep cannot be depending upon the good works for their salvation. They don’t even recognize them! There is no attacking these works as done for legalistic purposes, they are not meant by the sheep to be a means of salvation, but are rather an expression of who the sheep are.

Luke 6:45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good …

40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

The fact that Jesus purposely mentions “the least” makes this universally applicable. It is also true that God promises special protection for the weak and downtrodden throughout the Scriptures. And there is also in the “my brothers” special emphasis on how Christian people are treated. There is a sense in which Christ is the elder brother of all people, but most fully and truly, He is the elder brother only of those who have bowed the knee and embraced God’s gracious offer of salvation. The issue here is not just philanthropy, but the reaction of people to the person of Christ in the “least significant” of His people.

Proverbs 19:17 Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

He says, “you cursed.” The OT usage of this word was “those who are irretrievably condemned and devoted to death.” There are only two groups and the judgment is final. There is eternal fire. Ryle said, “They would not hear Christ when He said ‘Come unto Me, and I will give you rest.’ And now they must hear Him say ‘Depart into everlasting fire.’ They would not carry His cross, and so they can have no place in His kingdom.”

42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,

43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

The goats are not charged with anything that we would recognize as “major/awful” sins. They are charged with negligence, sins not of commission, but of omission. They are charged with being goats instead of being sheep.

James 4:17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

The contrast is in failing to do the simple things that testify to the character of Christ and that the love of God is really part of our being. Earlier, Matthew records Jesus saying

Matthew 7:21 “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.

22 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?’

23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Those condemned claim some pretty flashy “evidence” of their “spirituality.” But it isn’t the real thing. Jesus says that the real thing is seen in whether we do the “small” things, and in particular whether or not we extend the love of Christ to the least of His brethren. The real thing is seen in the absolutely unconscious nature, whether out lives reveal the genuinely self-giving character of Christ or whether they are really calculated to promote self.

44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’

There’s real surprise and a kind of horrible symmetry and irony here. These are almost exactly the same words as from the sheep. But they have radically different meaning and consequences. They come from a radically different heart. Instead of a real genuine humility that is unaware of its own goodness, these are words of arrogance that reveal a cold calculation about life. This group says with genuine surprise “But when did we miss you? If we had seen you we would have acted!” But think about what this says about their motivation for good works. They are essentially saying “Do good only if you’re being watched and get credit.” Think about what it says about their understanding of their relationship to other people. They really think “Other ordinary folks really don’t matter much.” Think about what it says about their real relationship to God. In the end, they really had none, they don’t share His self-giving nature. These are goats. Goats have the nature of goats and the concerns of goats, not those of sheep.

Ryle said, “The last judgment will be a judgment according to evidence. The works of men are the witnesses that will be brought forward, and above all their works of charity. The question to be ascertained will not merely be what we said, but what we did: not merely what we professed, but what we practiced. Our works unquestionably will not justify us: we are justified by faith without the deeds of the law; but the truth of our faith will be tested by our lives. Faith which hath not works is dead, being alone. James 2:11.”

The Apostle John put it this way.

1 John 3:17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?

45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

There are only two groups, and Jesus says that there are only two corresponding eternal destinies. One is in the presence of the gracious eternal God. The other is in the presence of all others whose only concern has been themselves.

Ryle’s point #4 on this passage is as follows.

“Let us mark, in the last place, what will be the final results of the judgment day. We are told this in words that ought never to be forgotten: ‘The wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal.’

The state of things after the judgment is changeless and without end. The misery of the lost, and the blessedness of the saved, are both alike forever: let no man deceive us on this point. It is clearly revealed in Scripture: the eternity of God, and heaven, and hell, all stand on the same foundation. As surely as God is eternal, so surely is heaven an endless day without night, and hell an endless night without day. Who shall describe the blessedness of eternal life? It passes the power of man to conceive: it can only be measured by contrast and comparison. An eternal rest, after warfare and conflict; the eternal company of saints, after buffeting with an evil world; an eternally glorious and painless body, after struggling with weakness and infirmity; an eternal sight of Jesus face to face, after only hearing and believing,–all this is blessedness indeed. And yet the half of it remains untold.

Who shall describe the misery of eternal punishment? It is something utterly indescribable and inconceivable. The eternal pain of body; the eternal sting of an accusing conscience; the eternal society of none but the wicked, the devil and his angels; the eternal remembrance of opportunities neglected and Christ despised; the eternal prospect of a weary, hopeless future, –all this is misery indeed: it is enough to make our ears tingle, and our blood run cold. And yet this picture is nothing compared to the reality.

Let us close these verses with serious self-inquiry. Let us ask ourselves on which side of Christ we are likely to be at the last day. Shall we be on the right hand, or shall we be on the left? Happy is he who never rests till he can give a satisfactory answer to this question.”

This is truly sobering stuff, for us and for those we love. We ought to pray. We ought to live humbly in the light of these truths.

 Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Matthew 22:23-46

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This lesson covers most of a series of interchanges between Jesus and Jewish religious leaders the week of the crucifixion. Previous to where we start, He has silenced Pharisees who have come trying to trap Him with a question about the morality of paying taxes to civil authorities. Now a group of Sadducees comes to try its luck at embarrassing Him in a religious debate.

 Matthew 22:23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question,

These guys are the religious liberals of the time and place. They are wealthy and politically well-connected, quite willing to collaborate with Rome. They only accept as relevant the Pentateuch, the books of Moses, and they see those nothing promising life after death. They throw at Jesus what most commentators think is a hypothetical situation. This is in all probability an argument that they have often used in their debates with the (conservative and legalistic) Pharisees (who believed in life after death).

24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’

Moses they accepted, and they point to the provision of Deuteronomy 25:5-6. The Greek word rendered “marry” here is a technical one specific to this case of marriage for purposes of carrying on a family line.

25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother.

26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh.

27 After them all, the woman died.

28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”

One can just see these fellows congratulating themselves on their cleverness. “Let’s see the carpenter from Galilee deal with this difficulty. How would God deal in eternity with the continuation of difficult circumstances related to mortal life?” But it’s an absurd irrelevant case they pose, nothing but a hypothetical that doesn’t relate to things as they really are. It’s just a debating device, and Jesus isn’t there playing games. He’s bringing the real Kingdom of God.

29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.

A proper understanding of who God is and His revelation of Himself in the Scriptures makes the whole high school debate motif of the Sadducees both sad and laughable. The wooden assumption that all will go on forever–more or less as it is now–fails to see God as big enough and fails to understand His redemption work throughout time as He makes and keeps eternal covenants and moves history toward a restoration of the perfection with which He created it. Doesn’t it seem obvious from the Old Testament that what is coming must be bigger than issues of property rights for families stricken by an untimely death in this mortal existence?

30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.

Human family life is a wonderful gift of God. Marriage and children are a huge blessing in this existence. But why should we expect that those institutions carry on in eternity? Do we really expect that our existence will forever be consumed with details of marrying, and keeping house, and raising kids? Human existence in eternity must surely be more like the existence of angels whose full time occupation is the praise and adoration of the I AM.

31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God:

And Sadducees, regarding the bigger issue of eternal life, if you must have a proof text rather than taking the whole flow of the Old Testament and the grandeur of an eternal permanent God who makes people in His image as clear testimony that we will be raised, here’s one from Exodus 3:6 (just a few verses before God reveals His name to Moses) a part of the Old Testament that you claim to believe.

32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”

As God speaks, He speaks of the patriarchs as alive. It’s not “I’m the One they worshipped when they were alive.” Rather it is “I am the One who presently is their God.” Calvin said, “As no man can be a father without children, nor a king without a people, so, strictly speaking, the Lord cannot be called the God of any but the living.” How could an eternal God make beings in His image, establish eternal promises with them, and then let then die and pass out of existence like dogs?

33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.

This is not debate. This is not cleverness on the part of Jesus. This is real God-breathed truth. The Sadducees aren’t silenced because Jesus has scored a point they didn’t see coming. Their mouths are shut in awe of the God who is and His Son who has spoken. Of course. This is obviously the way things are. They may not be willing to bow the knee, but further silly debate is out of the question.

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.

Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t get along. But they were united against this common “enemy” that was threatening their position as professional religious people. So they rejoin the disputing with Jesus. This time the question is the orthodoxy of Jesus. How good is He with God’s Law? They had identified 613 Old Testament laws. What was He going to say about them?

35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

In one sense this is another absurd question. If the Old Testament Law is “the set of rules to be kept in order to be righteous” there cannot be one that is “the one” that needs to be kept above all others. If any is violated, righteousness is completely ruined. The Pharisees thought the Law was exactly what defined righteousness before God. Their thinking was “Just tell me what I need to do.” One good commentator rightly said that what Jesus says in reply is most profoundly disturbing. Jesus didn’t allow it to be that simple. What’s the will of God? It’s not “just” that one does some things and doesn’t do others …

37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

Rather, it is that with all that one is, one is to be devoted to the Lord God. There is no relatively short list (really, only 613 !!???) of rules that can encode proper “being” as a human. Right being is constant and complete devotion to the One who made all, sustains all, and is Himself the very definition of righteousness. This in no way cancels the Old Testament Laws that help make clear to us what goodness looks like. And this statement destroys human hope of self-righteousness. There is no honest human being who can claim to have this kind of absolute and complete love for God.

38 This is the great and first commandment.

But this is the great commandment from Deuteronomy 6:5. This gets to the heart of the matter and to the motivation of one’s actions. What is required for righteousness? Constant and completely devotion to God, not only in external action, but in inward motivation. And if that’s not enough to undo us, Jesus gives a second answer to the question.

39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus now points to Leviticus 19:18. The whole business of righteousness is not simply something between a person and God, it of necessity involves the others that God made in His image. Selfishness is no more appropriate as an attitude toward other people than it would be toward the One who made us. None of us is in the center of the universe. God is. Our regard for Him has the natural corollary that we will value the ones He’s made and loves as He loves us. (And once more, except for the marvelous forgiving grace of God, we’re all of us undone by the truth of what Jesus says. We don’t love God with everything we are, and we are selfish to the core, not really caring for other people.)

40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Post-moderns often try to make Jesus’ statements here stand in opposition to the Old Testament Law, setting up a vaguely defined mushy “love” as the greater good, and right conduct (prescribed by the Old Testament) as inferior. Jesus doesn’t allow that. He plainly says here that the Old Testament Law turns on these basics. Want to know what love for God and others looks like? Then pay attention to how He told His people to live. The “depend” here is “turn as on a hinge.” These two commands are the “greatest” in the sense that they are what is at the core of things and the others give us clarity about what these two look like in practice. (They are not the “greatest” in the sense that the others are of no consequence.)

41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question,

Jesus and the Pharisees are getting near the essence of things. So He pushes them on what is ultimately the question of His real identity, nature, and authority. Remember that this is taking place the week of the crucifixion. They would have liked to have arrested Him already. He’s come into Jerusalem on the donkey to the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David” and has condemned them publicly as the rebels who killed the son of the owner of the vineyard.

42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.”

So who is Messiah? They answer that He’s to be descended from David. He’s David’s “son” by descent and they effectively say that He’s of the nature of David. That is, “son of XXX” to the Jewish mind of the time was “of the kind/nature of XXX.”

43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,

In terms of physical descent, that’s an OK answer, indeed Matthew has been very careful to show Jesus to stand in David’s line of physical descent. But it is not a complete or even correct answer as regards the nature of God’s Messiah. Jesus points at Psalm 110:1.

44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”‘?

The Psalm says “The LORD says to my Lord …” David says that the I AM speaking to David’s Master says “Sit at my right hand, …” It must be Messiah under discussion here, and David calls this one “Master” and sees Him seated at the right hand of the Father. Does that sound like Messiah is no more than a human being descended from David?

45 If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”

Jesus is Messiah. Jesus is Master. He is David’s descendent, but He is also Son of Man per Daniel 7:13 and Son of God.

46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

These people have come face-to-face with the Son of God. Debate is not an option. They must either take Him at His word and worship Him or kill Him.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Matthew 27:59-28:20

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

We come to Matthew’s brief account of the burial, resurrection, and the ensuing events, including the giving of the great commission. Like all cases of independent authentic accounts drawn from the testimony of eyewitnesses, the Gospel accounts each emphasize different details. That should come as no surprise and cause no consternation. If anything, we would have been left in a far less sure situation if the Gospel accounts sounded as if they all came out of the same cookie cutter. We will stick here primarily to the perspective provided by Matthew, recognizing that the other accounts provide other details.

The resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian Faith. As Paul says in 1Corinthians 15:3-20, it is absolutely central, of first importance. Without it, we have absolutely nothing.

So let’s look at the Matthew account. Jesus has been crucified, dying at about 3:00 in the afternoon on Friday. There is just enough time to hastily place His body in a borrowed grave and get home before the beginning of the Sabbath at 6:00.

Matthew 27:59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud

60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away.

Joseph moved the body. John tells us that Nicodemas was helping. Joseph was a rich man, so it is likely that there were servants to help as well. This was Joseph’s own tomb, newly prepared by him, presumably for himself and his own family. It was a tomb that had never been used.

The pictures of the huge disk-shaped rock in front of the tomb are accurate. These rolled in grooves in front of such tombs, coming to rest in depressions in front of the entryways. It took substantial manpower to roll such a rock. They were meant to make entry difficult for wild animals and grave robbers.

61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

The women are here watching. They know where they are, and will make no mistake regarding location on Sunday morning.

62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate

This is Saturday, the Sabbath.

63 and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’

64 Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.”

65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.”

66 So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.

These details are unique to Matthew, and they are most wonderful. The tomb was secure. There is no funny business here. Without soldiers at the tomb, the “the disciples stole the body” tale is impossible to refute. With a guard there it’s an entirely different matter. Thank God for the soldiers.

Now on Sunday morning early we see the two Mary’s on their way to the tomb. These women had been present at the crucifixion and then at the tomb on Friday. They knew where to go, and were in the right place. There is no mix-up here, they’re at the right tomb, and Jesus is not there.

Matthew 28:1 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.

There “was” a violent earthquake, probably in the sense that there “had been” a violent earthquake. This is not the kind of stuff humans orchestrate (any more than you or I could orchestrate the sun going dark on Friday while Jesus was on the cross!). And now there sits the angel of the Lord (the tense apparently strongly suggests that he’s already sitting when they arrive). The stone has been rolled back, not to let the risen Christ out, but rather to let mortals in to see the empty tomb.

3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.

It seems like verse 4 is meant to tell us what had (earlier) happened to the guards. The intention is probably not that we understand the two Mary’s to have witnessed this.

4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.

This being is from the very presence of God. Tough Roman soldiers have literally “quaked” (like the earth has quaked) and fainted dead away before God’s powerful messenger. And now, this awesome being speaks to these women who have followed Jesus.

5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.

6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.

Jesus had plainly said that He would rise from the dead. But that must be the furthest thing from the minds of these women and the disciples. At this point, they think that Jesus is dead and gone. They were clearly not expecting anything like this at the tomb. The “do not be afraid” is an emphatic “you do not be afraid!” These women are His loyal friends and followers, not His enemies. The Jewish leaders, the soldiers, they had something to fear. But these are not to fear. Rather, they are to come and see.

7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”

Recall: Matthew 26:32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”

We know from the other Gospels that Jesus appears to the disciples here in Judea several times over the next weeks. This verse in no way precludes that. It simply reminds the women that He had made an appointment in Galilee that will also be kept.

Once the women see, they are told to go and tell. By Matthew’s account, the first to have the good news to share are these women. By Jewish standards, their testimony would not have counted for anything. But the Christian view is much different. There is dignity for all in Christ, and it is not accidental that these faithful women are first with the good news of the resurrection.

8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

They were afraid, yet filled with joy. Here is an authentic description if there ever was one. These women are at once terrified and yet tremendously relieved and surprised. They had to be flying on their way back into the city.

9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.

The greeting Jesus used was a common one of the day. Literally, it could be translated “rejoice.” The women cast themselves at the feet of the Master. They fully recognized Him and now without doubt knew that He is both Messiah and God in the flesh.

10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

Ryle said regarding this verse: “Let us notice finally, the gracious message which the Lord sent to the disciples after His resurrection. He appeared in person to the women who had come to do honour to His body. Last at the cross and first at the tomb, they were the first privileged to see Him after He rose; and to them He gives commission to carry tidings to His disciples. His first thought is for His little scattered flock: ‘Go, tell my brethren.’

There is something deeply touching in those simple words, ‘My brethren.’ they deserve a thousand thoughts. Weak, frail, erring as the disciples were, Jesus still calls them His ‘brethren.’ He comforts them, as Joseph did his brethren who, had sold him saying, ‘I am your brother Joseph.’ Much as they had come short of their profession, sadly as they had yielded to the fear of man, they are still His ‘brethren.’ Glorious as He was in Himself, –a conqueror over death and hell, and the grave, the Son of God is still ‘meek and lowly of heart.’ He calls His disciples ‘brethren.’

Let us turn from the passage with comfortable thoughts, if we know anything of true religion. Let us see in these words of Christ an encouragement to trust and not be afraid. Our Saviour is one who never forgets His people; He pities their infirmities: He does not despise them. He knows their weakness, and yet does not cast them away. Our great High Priest is also our elder brother.”

Jesus essentially repeats the instructions of the angel, promising to meet the disciples in Galilee. The women obey and Matthew, who is writing so that his fellow Jews can know the truth and believe, takes time out to counter one of the rumors that was circulating as a supposed natural explanation of the empty tomb.

11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place.

12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers

13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’

14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”

15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

The Jewish religious leaders are not concerned with truth, but rather with protecting their position, with what is expedient. Their hearts are so hard that they prefer bribery and a completely unbelievable lie to admitting that they are wrong. There is clear illustration here of the fact that we human beings, (except for the gracious work of God) are pretty much incapable of stopping a downward spiral in our sin and error and saying “no more.” Unaided by God, we essentially never arrest ourselves and say “This is bad, I’ve done wrong, I’m going to stop rather than make it yet worse.” These religious officials had predicted deceit on the part of the disciples, but in their futile attempt to stifle the truth, it is they who stoop to deceit. The notion that Roman soldiers assigned to guard duty would fall asleep, let alone potentially sign their own death warrants by openly admitting that they did so, is completely unbelievable. Besides which, how would they then be able to implicate the disciples, and why would they admit to having been outsmarted by 11 untrained Jews? This is simply not likely at all, especially given that they had been specially assigned to prevent just what they are claiming happened. This is a story you believe only if you set out to not believe the truth.

Notice, however, there is absolutely no dispute that the tomb was empty.

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.

Many Bible scholars speculate that this is the appearance of the risen Christ to over 500 people that Paul refers to in 1Corinthians 15:6.

17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.

The word translated “worshiped” here would apparently be more literally translated something like “prostrated themselves in homage before” (Him). “Some doubted.” It’s not completely clear who and what is meant here. The verb doesn’t carry the meaning of a settled unbelief, but rather an uncertainty and hesitation. And by this time it is presumably not the 11, if the meaning is anything more than a temporary confusion as to whether someone in the distance might be Him. (We are reminded that Thomas had most certainly doubted.) Perhaps it’s initially some of the 500 if this is the incident of Christ’s appearance to the 500. Ultimately, this is really a most reassuring phrase. It reminds us that these people were not gullible oafs without a clue. They weren’t carried along by hysteria. Rather, they were careful people who weighed the evidence and then believed on the basis of many convincing proofs.

Acts 1:3 To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

Our faith rests on the testimony of reliable and careful witnesses.

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

The point is not that Jesus previously didn’t have authority. He certainly did have the full authority of the second person of the Godhead. Rather, the point is that henceforth the authority of God in the entire universe is mediated through the Lord Jesus. Rather than being limited as human being, He is going to reign directly over all that is.

In the genealogies Jesus is shown to be the successor to King David. In the triumphal entry to Jerusalem, He’s hailed as Messiah, and that brings about the mocking display of His title as “King of the Jews” on Golgotha. Here the reality is seen and it’s far more grand and comprehensive than even those titles indicate. He’s not Just King of the Jews, He’s Lord over all that is. And that is true in the bad times as well as the good. Christian people ought never lose heart. Their King is King over all.

Philippians 2:6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form,

8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,

10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This, of course is perfectly in keeping with Jesus’ place as the fulfiller of Old Testament prophecy regarding the Messiah.

Daniel 7:13 I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.

14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

The sphere of His direct reign as Messiah now includes all. That being the case, the people of Jesus are to go and declare His rule and reign to the whole world. If He is King over all, all should hear of it and be urged to submit to His rule.

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The command here is to go, and having gone, to make disciples. The baptizing and teaching are things that will accompany repentance and conversion as the Gospel is proclaimed. The presumption is that those that those who hear and come to faith will in due course declare their faith in Christ through baptism and exhibit a desire for careful instruction in the faith. Before the crucifixion and resurrection, mighty powerful acts of Jesus were often accompanied by instructions to not spread word of them. Things have now fundamentally changed.   Now it’s time to declare to the whole world the rule and reign of the King.

The Greek for “disciple” means “learner.” A disciple is not one who has simply made a decision or profession of allegiance. He/she is one who continues to learn and grow in faith and allegiance. “in the name of” indicates ownership/lordship. It could as well (and perhaps should) be translated “into” the name of. Notice in passing that the baptism is to be in the one name (singular) of the Father and Son and Spirit. It is one God we worship. Relationship with that one God is being affirmed in the act.

There is to be teaching and the teaching is to have moral consequences. A disciple is to obey everything that Jesus has commanded. And the promise is that in light of universal reign of Christ, the disciples may count on His presence as they go about declaring His rule and reign. The Gospel opened with Jesus, the baby, being announced to Joseph as “Immanuel, God with us.” The Gospel closes with “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Behold/remember/take note/pay attention/look! I (emphatic), no less than I, am with you always … not just forever, but day in and day out, all the time.

Ryle wrote: “Finally, let us observe in these verses, the gracious promise with which Jesus closes His words. He says to His disciples, ‘I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.’

It is impossible to conceive words more comforting, strengthening, cheering, and sanctifying than these. Though left alone, like orphan children in a cold unkind world, the disciples were not to think they were deserted: their Master would be ever ‘with them.’ Though commissioned to do a work as hard as that of Moses when sent to Pharaoh, they were not to be discouraged: their Master would certainly be ‘with them.’ No words could be more suited to the position of those to whom they were first spoken; no words could be imagined more consolatory to believers in every age of the world.

Let all true Christians lay hold on these words and keep them in mind. Christ is ‘with us’ always: Christ is ‘with us’ wherever we go. He came to be ‘Emmanuel, God with us,’ when He first came into the world: He declares that He is ever Emmanuel, ‘with us,’ when He comes to the end of His earthly ministry and is about to leave the world. He is with us daily to pardon and forgive, with us daily to sanctify and strengthen, with us daily to defend and keep, with us daily to lead and to guide: with us in sorrow and with us in joy, with us in sickness and with us in health, with us in life and with us in death, with us in time and with us in eternity.

What stronger consolation could believers desire than this? Whatever happens, they at least are never, completely friendless and alone: Christ is ever with them. They may look into the grave and say with David, ‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.’ They may look forward beyond the grave, and say with Paul, ‘We shall ever “be with the Lord.”‘ (Psalm xxiii 4; 1 Thess. iv. 17.) He has said it, and He will stand to it: ‘I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.’ ‘I will never leave you and never forsake you.’ –We could ask nothing more. Let us go on believing, and not be afraid. It is everything to be a real Christian. None have such a King, such a Priest, such a constant Companion, and such an unfailing Friend as the true servants of Christ.”

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Matthew 21:1-17

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

We have here the triumphal entry to Jerusalem. Throughout the majority of His earthly ministry, Jesus did not want it widely known that He is Messiah. Even His disciples had the wrong idea of what that Messiahship was to mean and He expended much effort and time teaching them the real meaning of His Kingship. We are now essentially at the end of His earthly ministry, one week before the crucifixion, and it is time to quite openly declare that He is indeed Messiah, and to do so in Jerusalem, the capital of Judah and center of Jewish worship.

Matthew 21:1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples,

They are apparently walking on the Roman military road from Jericho to Jerusalem that climbs 3000 ft in 17 miles. As one travels this road and nears Jerusalem, one hits Bethany, to the east of the Mount of Olives, Bethphage on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives and then goes over the Mount of Olives. Crossing the Mount of Olives one goes down, in sight of Jerusalem into the Kidron Valley and back up out of it, where the road enters Jerusalem right by the site of Herod’s Temple.

This is Passover time, a time when every Jewish male living within reasonable walking distance of Jerusalem was required to go to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. Jews from literally all over the known world did all possible to make it to the Passover celebration. From accounts of the numbers of lambs sacrificed there at about that time, people have guessed that on the order of 2.5 million residents and pilgrims crowed into a walled city of perhaps 80 acres. This place is crowded and alive with Jewish religious and nationalistic fervor. It is significant for us to know that the popular expectation was that when Messiah appeared, it would be on the Mount of Olives. And Jesus is now on the eastern slope, ready to cross over into plain view of Jerusalem.

Jesus makes a very conscious choice to reveal Himself now as Messiah, and sends two disciples to find an animal to ride into Jerusalem, not because He’s tired, or doesn’t like walking, but because of what His method of entry into the city is going to declare.

2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me.

3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.”

Exactly what prior arrangements, if any, had been made by Jesus aren’t spelled out here. It may be that this is an instance of Jesus supernaturally seeing these animals and knowing that they were available. The right of “requisitioning” was recognized to belong to royalty of the day, and the Rabbi’s claimed it as well, requisitioning for “God’s service” in the latter case. But it may also have been the case that these animals belonged to a disciple and Jesus had arranged in advance for their use. However it is, Jesus is going to use this colt of a donkey as his mount as he enters Jerusalem. The other Gospels tell us that this animal had never been ridden (see Mark 11:2). That’s entirely appropriate and consistent with other Old Testament precedents. In many instances the Israelites were to put to sacred use only animals that had not been previously used for ordinary purposes. Examples are Numbers 19:2 and Deuteronomy 21:3 and 1 Samuel 6:7.

This choice of Jesus, to enter the city riding on the colt of a donkey was consciously taken to let the residents and pilgrims know who He is, to say to them “Scripture has promised you a Messiah King. I am He. Check Me out and see that indeed I have the goods, I am indeed He.”

4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

This is not done so that somehow Jesus will qualify as Messiah, but rather that people will be able to see that He is indeed the Messiah, God’s own Son.

5 “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'”

The main part of the quote is from Zechariah.

Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

This is a statement about what kind of Messiah Jesus is. The people are hoping/longing for a political/military leader that will lead them in the overthrow of their hated Roman occupiers. They’re looking for one who will set things right for them by force. Such a person would naturally have appeared riding on a war horse, ready for battle. Jesus, however, is going to come down the Mount of Olives into the Kidron Valley in plain view of Jerusalem riding a young donkey. That should call Zechariah to their minds and let them know He’s coming in peace, not as an earthly warrior. Jewish leaders and kings sometimes rode such animals. In 1 Kings 1, when David wants to make it clear that Solomon is to be king after him, he has him set on his mule.

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them.

May the same be said of each of us.

7 They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them.

Jesus sits down on the cloaks. The quote from Zechariah (and the other Gospels as well) make it clear that Jesus rides the colt.

8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.

A little Jewish history and look at Scripture should tell us what these people are thinking at this point. To begin with, there is this.

2Kings 9:13 Then in haste every man of them took his garment and put it under him on the bare steps, and they blew the trumpet and proclaimed, “Jehu is king.”

Elisha has Jehu anointed as king of Israel, and the reaction of those around him is to throw their coats down for him to walk on. There is also the nation’s experience about 200 years before with the Maccabees. Antiochus Epiphanes had captured Jerusalem and desecrated/profaned the temple. He did such things as offering swine flesh as a sacrifice on the altar and turning the temple chambers into a public brothel. This led to the revolt of the Maccabees. When Simon Maccabees came into Jerusalem after one of his most notable victories he was greeted by crowds singing psalms and waving palm branches they had cut. It seems pretty clear that the crowds see Jesus in such a military leader/king role.

9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

John tells us (John 12:13) that crowds went out from Jerusalem when they heard He was coming (and presumably saw Him descending the western slope of the Mount of Olives into the Kidron Valley). As they meet Him, presumably they turn around and there is a huge mob both in front of and behind Jesus. They’re shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David.” The literal and original meaning of hosanna” is “save now.” In its literal and original meaning, it’s a plea for God’s intervention, mercy and help. They’re quoting from Psalm 118.

Psalm 118:25 Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success!

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD.

The “hosanna in the highest” is roughly “Let even the angels in the highest heights of heaven cry to God ‘save now.'” Some people think that by the time of Jesus “hosanna” had lost some of its original meaning, and was more of a joyous (and more general) “hail” than a “save now.” I’m inclined to think that both meanings are at work here. The people are joyously welcoming what they hope is a military deliverer, one who will save now.

The people call Jesus the “Son of David.” Psalm 118 refers to God as the deliverer. Here the people are identifying Jesus as God’s Messiah, the Son of David, and giving Him the role of deliverer. They’ve got it right, but don’t know what kind of Messiah and deliverer He is. And the evidence is that even on Palm Sunday they’re not the most solid of supporters.

10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?”

The whole city was “stirred” or more literally “shaken.” The Greek word is the one from which we get our word “seismic.”

11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

This is a pretty modest description of Jesus. They’ve hailed Him as the Son of David, the Messiah. But it’s really a pretty shallow, tenuous thing. When the jaded city residents want to know what’s going on, it seems He’s only a prophet from Galilee.

Jesus proceeds to continue to act out in prophetic fashion those things that should let honest hearts know who He is. In Ezekiel 9, where the prophet sees the vision of God’s messengers purifying Israel by slaying those guilty of idolatry, the purge begins at the temple. Malachi speaks of the Messiah’s role as a purifier and coming to the temple. Mark 11:12 indicates that this takes place on the day after the triumphal entry.

Malachi 3:1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.

2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.

3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD.

4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.

5 “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

Jesus purifies the temple area. Mark tells us that this happens on Monday, not Palm Sunday. Matthew doesn’t feel it necessary to give us the detail of an intervening night. Mark’s information should, however, help us keep in mind that this is something deliberately done. This isn’t something done in anger or uncontrolled passion. This is part of Jesus demonstration of His claim to be Messiah.

12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.

This is taking place in the “court of the gentiles” surrounding the temple proper. Jesus may be dealing with a classic case of fallen human beings “cashing in” on the honest desires of others to worship God. If you were going to worship in the temple, you needed to pay the temple tax. But you couldn’t pay it in just any coinage, since many of the common coinages of the time carried images of pagan rulers or gods. Soooo, you had to exchange your common currency for currency acceptable in the temple. The rub then was that whereas the temple tax was about 23 day’s wages for a common laborer, the changing duty amounted to another 23 day’s wage! And the situation regarding the sale of sacrificial animals was even more outrageous. You could buy a pair of doves outside the temple area for as little as 13 day’s wages. But any sacrifice had to be perfect, and there were inspectors that made sure that animals were “perfect,” and chances are that “outside” animals were going to get turned down and pilgrims directed to the “Bazaar of Annas” (the high priest) to buy their animals. There the price could be as high as 25 day’s wages. Obviously, not all of the people trading on the temple ground were unethical, but many were.

But then again, there is the “drove out all who were buying and selling.” At least some commentators see this not so much as a condemnation of the corrupt exploitation of the underdog, as a statement that the whole system of sacrifice and temple worship had grown into something no longer acceptable to God. That is something that surely only Messiah could claim to have authority to pronounce. And it is a clear claim authority beyond that of the Jewish religious officials (who sanctioned what was going on the temple grounds). The whole business just doesn’t belong here in the first place.

13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

The whole of the first quote here is from Isaiah.

Isaiah 56:7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

The bazaar was set up in the court of the gentiles. That was as far as a gentile could go towards the temple proper. In the Jewish mind, it was as close as he could come to worship of the one true and living God. And what’s there? It’s this abominable scene of ripping off the religious pilgrims. It was hardly a place that could be called “a house of prayer for all nations.” Jesus says the whole of the temple area should be a place of unhindered worship, not a place of commerce.

The “den of robbers” is a quote from Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 7:11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the LORD.

There God’s complaint is against the worshipers, who are piously coming to the temple while their lives are morally rotten. That, Jesus is saying, is the condition of those running the booths on the temple grounds. They stand in the same place as those that Jeremiah condemns.

14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.

We probably don’t really appreciate how revolutionary this is. The fact is that the blind and lame had no place in the temple. By virtue of the oral rabbinical law, they were not welcome there. They could sit outside the gates and beg, but the physically imperfect were not welcome in the temple area itself. By healing there, encouraging the lame and blind to enter, Jesus has challenged another of the extra-Biblical wrongheaded regulations of the religious leaders. And they’re surely not happy with Him.

15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant,

They’re not happy with His prophetic actions, pointing to Himself as Messiah. And they’re not happy with the fact that he’s attracted kids into the temple area and that they’re continuing the shouting that was going on during the entry to Jerusalem.

16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, “‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?”

The quote is from Psalm 8:2. It was not, at that time, recognized as a Messianic Psalm. The quote is about God receiving the praise that is due Him. Jesus unashamedly applies it to Himself. The message to His antagonists is clear. Yes, He knows perfectly well what is going on. No, He’s not going to stop it, because it is only appropriate, as HE is in fact the Son of the living God. At this point, they have only two choices. They can either bow the knee or determine to eliminate Him. Jesus doesn’t leave them the option of ignoring Him.

17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.

Jesus has declared Himself publicly by His actions and words to be Messiah and the Son of God.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.