Ministering to God’s people

Moses was selected by God to act as an intermediary between the children of Israel and Pharaoh, an Egyptian king that was afflicting them through forced manual labor (Exodus 3:7). God gave Moses a specific message to deliver to his people. He said:

“Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”‘” (Exodus 3:16-17)

Moses didn’t think the children of Israel would listen to him and so he responded, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you'” (Exodus 4:1).

The challenge that Moses faced was that the Israelites hadn’t heard from God in more than 400 years. The long period of silence may have been due to the children of Israel being content with their circumstances and determined to stay in Egypt in spite of the oppression that they were experiencing there. Moses’ objection to delivering God’s message was centered around the people’s lack of faith, which was evident to him when he tried to intervene in a physical dispute between two Hebrew slaves (Exodus 2:14). In order to bolster Moses’ confidence and to strengthen his influence with the Israelites, God gave Moses the ability to perform three signs or you might say marks of authenticity (H226) that would make his divine authority evident. Exodus 4:8-9 states, “‘If they will not believe you,’ God said, ‘or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.'”

Moses argued that he couldn’t accept the assignment God was giving him because he wasn’t qualified to express divine communication (Exodus 4:10). This led to his brother Aaron being designated his spokesman to the children of Israel. Exodus 4:14-17 states: “Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses and he said, ‘Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth, and I will be with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him. And take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs.'” The King James Version of the Bible states Exodus 4:16 this way, “And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God.” The idea that Aaron could be to Moses instead of a mouth and Moses could be to Aaron instead of God had to do with their spiritual interaction with each other and the children of Israel. What God was saying was that Moses’ responsibility as the deliverer of God’s people could not be abdicated to anyone else, but he could use Aaron as a spokesman or more literally his voice (H6310) instead of delivering God’s message himself.

Even though Moses was able to receive assistance from his brother in conveying the message God wanted him to the children of Israel, Moses was specifically instructed to perform the miracles that God intended to use to convince Pharaoh to let his people go. Exodus 4:21 states, “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.'” The Hebrew word that is translated miracle, mopeth (mo-faith’) “signifies a divine act or a special display of divine power” (H4159). God said that he had put these miracles in Moses’ power. In other words, Moses had the ability to perform miracles without God’s assistance. The Hebrew word that is translated put, siym (seem) “means to impute” (H7760). In the King James Version of the Bible, James 2:23 is stated this way: “And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.” Imputation is an accounting term that is used to designate that an account has been reconciled. “Imputation has three steps: the collecting of all charges and remissions; the totaling of these debits and credits; the placing of the balance or credit on one’s account” (G3049).

God credited Moses’ account with a specific amount of divine power that enabled him to perform the miracles that God wanted him to. Moses’ special role in God’s deliverance of the children of Israel was noted during Jesus’ transfiguration when Moses along with Elijah appeared “talking with him” (Matthew 17:3). Elijah was also know for performing extraordinary miracles including raising a widow’s son from the dead (1 Kings 17:22). At the time of his death, Elijah’s successor Elisha requested from him, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me” (2 Kings 2:9). Elisha’s reference to a double portion suggests that Elijah’s miraculous ability was measured or you might say portioned out and could be transferred from one person to another. The purpose of the miracles that Elijah and Elisha performed was similar to that of Moses’, to convict the Israelites of their sins and cause them to repent. Matthew often referred to the miracles Jesus performed as mighty works and also associated them with people being brought to a point of repentance. Matthew stated this about Jesus’ ministry. “Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you” (Matthew 11:20-22).

Jesus referred to the day of judgment in his Olivet Discourse when he said, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 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, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:36-39). Jesus used a parable to illustrate the reason why people would be unaware of his return. He said:

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 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.’ 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. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Matthew 25:1-13)

Jesus’ portrayal of the virgins as being wise and foolish meant that they were depending on their cognitive abilities to discern the bridegroom’s arrival. The Greek word that is translated foolish, moros (mo-ros’) indicates that the mind is “dull or stupid (as if shut up)” (G3473). Moros is derived from the word musterion (moos-tay-ree-on) which “denotes, not the mysterious (as with the English word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illumined by His Spirit” (G3466).

Jesus indicated that the five wise virgins took flasks of oil with their lamps. When the five foolish virgins asked them to share their oil with them, “the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves'” (Matthew 25:9). The dealers that the five foolish virgins were instructed to go to appear to have been authentic sources of divine wisdom, but the foolish virgins missed the opportunity to attend the wedding feast because “the door was shut” when they returned (Matthew 25:10). Afterward, they were told “I do not know you” (Matthew 25:12). A clue to the five foolish virgins rejection might be the statement, “those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast” (Matthew 25:10). The Greek word that is translated ready, hetoimos (het’-oy-mos) “denotes ‘preparation’; it is found in Ephesians 6:15, of having the feet shod with the ‘preparation’ of the gospel of peace; it also has the meaning of firm footing (foundation); if that is the meaning in Ephesians 6:15, the gospel itself is to be the firm footing of the believer, his walk being worthy of it and therefore a testimony in regard to it” (G2092).

Jesus followed up his parable of the ten virgins with the parable of the ten talents to further clarify the connection between his gospel message being presented and God’s qualifications for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. He said, “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted them with his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away” (Matthew 25:14-15). The phrase “to each according to his ability” points to a distribution of miraculous power that was meant to be used for increasing the master’s wealth. The Greek word that is translated “according to” in Matthew 25:15, kata (kat-ah’) is used in Philippians 3:20-21 to link the believer’s transformation with Christ’s ability to subdue all things to himself. Paul also used kata to link God’s riches with his ability to supply all of the believers needs. Paul promised, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19, emphasis mine).

The fact that the master’s servants were given different amounts of resources according to their ability suggests that the master knew what his servants were capable of and wanted to capitalize on it. The Greek word that is translated ability, dunamis (doo’-nam-is) “almost always points to new and higher forces that have entered and are working in this lower world of ours. It is ‘power, ability,’ physical or moral, as residing in a person” (G1411). Therefore, the ability Jesus was referring to was most likely a result of the indwelling and/or filling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them” (Matthew 25:19). The settling of accounts most likely had to do with the profit that was gained from the use of the talents that had been given to each servant. Jesus said, “he who had received five talents came forward, bringing five talents more” (Matthew 25:20). It could be that the talents in Jesus’ parable were meant to represent spiritual truths. For example, if the servant was given five talents or spiritual truths (perhaps through someone else’s instruction) and then, built on that knowledge by gaining insight into five more spiritual truths, the servant was given credit for the additional knowledge he had gained and was able to pass on to others.

The servant that received only one talent may have been entrusted with a single foundational truth such as John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” When he was asked to account for his activities while his master was away, he stated, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours” (Matthew 25:24-25). The master’s outrage that his resource had been wasted may have been due to the fact that his servant had likened him to a harsh, even inhuman character (G4642) when said, “I knew you to be a hard man.” Evidently, the servant didn’t know his master very well and demonstrated that he was not equipped to handle even the most basic responsibility of his master’s work. The servant said he was afraid and “hid” his talent in the ground. His master responded, “You wicked and slothful servant!” (Matthew 25:26), suggesting that his servant’s behavior was a disgrace to him.

Jesus talked about the final judgment of mankind in terms of a separation and elimination of anyone that did not display certain characteristics. Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 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” (Matthew 25:31-32). Jesus indicated that the sheep would inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world because “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me in, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:35-36). Jesus’ use of the terms sheep and goats indicated that he was using figurative language and wasn’t referring to actual food, drink or clothing being given to him. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:3, 6). The Greek word that is translated naked, gumnos (goom-nos’) is used figuratively of being destitute of spiritual goods (G1131) and sick or astheneo (as-then-eh’-o) of being not settled in the faith (G770). Therefore, the remedies would have needed to be spiritual nourishment i.e. the gospel.

Jesus contrasted the responses of the sheep and the goats to show that they were both unaware of their spiritual service to the King. The sheep asked, “And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” (Matthew 25:38-39). The sheep’s lack of awareness seems to confirm that the activities identified were spiritual rather than physical because they didn’t remember ever doing the things they were credited with. On the other hand, the goats replied, “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?” (Matthew 25:44). The goats claimed to have taken care of every needy person and may have actually done so from a physical standpoint, but they clearly misunderstood what was expected of them. The Greek word that is translated minister, diakonia (dee-ak-on-eh’-o) technically means to act as a Christian deacon (G1247). Diakonia is used in Matthew 20:28 where it says, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (KJV). The Apostle Paul used the word diakonia when he said, “But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints” (Romans 15:25, KJV).

Jesus concluded his lesson on the final judgment by stating about the goats, “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.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:45-46). It might be easy to assume from this lesson that ministering to God’s people is a requirement for entrance into the kingdom of heaven, but the point I believe Jesus was making in his parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the talents was that the indwelling and filling of the Holy Spirit was what made service possible and also made the virgins ready for the marriage feast when the bridegroom arrived. The presence of the Holy Spirit is what differentiates believers from unbelievers and may differentiate the sheep from the goats. Jesus’ description of the final judgment in Matthew 25:31-46 is similar to the Great White Throne Judgment mentioned in Revelation 20:11-15 which indicates that “the dead were judged…according to what they had done” (Revelation 20:12). The Greek word translated dead, nekros (nek-ros’) refers to “the actual spiritual condition of unsaved men” (G3498). Therefore, ministering to God’s people could be a type of escape clause that enables the unsaved to enter God’s kingdom, but Revelation 20:15 indicates, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

The judgment

The covenants God established with Abraham and his descendants were divine pledges to be Israel’s God as her Protector and the Guarantor of her blessed destiny with one condition “Israel’s total consecration to the LORD as His people (His kingdom) who live by his rule and serve His purposes in history” (Major Covenants in the Old Testament). The covenant between God and Israel was initiated at Mount Sinai and was an outgrowth and extension of the Lord’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants 600 years earlier (note on Exodus 19:5). At the time the Sinaitic Covenant was initiated, Moses was given the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and other laws that were to govern the Israelites’ behavior. Afterward, Moses affirmed the covenant when he “took the book of the covenant and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient” (Exodus 24:7).

Jesus’ arrival on Earth marked a transition from the Sinaitic Covenant to the New Covenant which was “an unconditional divine promise to unfaithful Israel to forgive her sins and establish His relationship with her on a new basis by writing His law ‘in their hearts’ – a covenant of pure grace” (Covenants of the Old Testament). Jesus parable of the unrighteous steward (Luke 16:1-13) showed that Israel’s unfaithfulness had brought about a new approach to salvation. Jesus told the Pharisees, “Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed amongst men is abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it” (Luke 16:15-16). The point Jesus was making was that John the Baptist concluded the ministry or work of the law and the prophets. From that point forward, God’s grace was being made available to everyone and people were eagerly receiving it.

As he concluded his three-year ministry on Earth, Jesus prepared his disciples for what still lay ahead of them in their mission to save the world. Jesus indicated in his parable of the talents there would be a period of time when he would be absent from the world, but his work of salvation would continue. Then, he would return and establish his kingdom on Earth. According to the book of Revelation, there will be two separate judgments that will take place after Jesus returns. The first takes place before the millennial reign of Christ (Revelation 20:4), and the second judgment takes place afterward. Revelation 20:11-12 states, “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the book, according to their works.”

Jesus’ description of the judgment that will take place “when the Son of man shall come in his glory” (Matthew 25:31), could be one or the other of the judgments that are mentioned in Revelation 20, or a different one altogether. It seems likely that Jesus was referring to the great white throne judgment because it signifies the ultimate completion of his work on Earth. Jesus said “before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left…And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (Matthew 25:32-33, 46). The basis of this judgment could be the new commandment that Jesus gave his disciples (John 13:34) or the great commandment that was summarized in Mark 12:29-31. Either way, the central focus of Jesus’ judgment will be the love that is shown to others based on the example he gave during his three-year ministry on Earth (Matthew 25:34-40).

Hypocrites

Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees because they pretended to be servants of God, but were actually agents of Satan. Jesus used the word hypocrites eight times in Matthew 23 to describe their behavior. He said, “woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in” (Matthew 23:13). When Jesus said, “ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men,” he was basically saying that the scribes and Pharisees were closing the door to salvation. Because of them, no one was getting saved. Jesus went on to say, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves” (Matthew 23:15). In other words, the scribes and Pharisees were winning souls for the devil and his kingdom rather than for God.

The Greek word Jesus used that is translated hypocrite, hupokrites (hoop-ok-ree-tace´) refers to a stage player, “an actor under an assumed character” (G5973). The word hypokrites is derived from the word hupokrinomai (hoop-ok-rin´-om-ahee) which means to decide (speak or act) under a false part (G5971). You could say that a hypocrite is a false believer, someone that calls himself a Christian, but is actually not saved. One of the characteristics of the scribes and Pharisees was that their behavior appeared to be consistent with the Mosaic Law. They seemed to be doing everything the law said they were supposed to. Jesus said of these men, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye ar full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Matthew 23:27-28). The implication being that the scribes and Pharisees were intentionally deceiving people into thinking they were model citizens.

On a previous occasion, the scribes and Pharisees had brought a woman to Jesus that they said was “taken in adultery” (John 8:3). John’s account of this incident suggests that the woman’s accusers had caught her in the act (John 8:4). After hearing their accusation, John said, “But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lift up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:6-7). The problem with the situation Jesus was dealing with was that only the woman was brought to him for judgment. According to the reference note on John 8:3, “The incident was staged to trap Jesus (v.6), and provision had been made for the man to escape. The woman’s accusers must have been especially eager to humiliate her, since they could have kept her in private custody while they spoke to Jesus.” The scribes and Pharisees apparently thought Jesus would be willing to condemn the woman based only on their testimony.

When Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her,” he knew these men were guilty of breaking one or more of the Ten Commandments. His strategy was to get them to see that they were no better than the woman they were asking him to punish. John said, “And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst” (John 8:9). No one knows for sure what Jesus wrote on the ground, but I’ve heard it suggested that Jesus wrote the Ten Commandments or perhaps, the specific commandments that each of the scribes and Pharisees had broken. Of course, they were all guilty of some crime and may have even committed adultery themselves. Therefore, Jesus’ strategy was effective in exposing their hypocrisy and getting them to realize that they also deserved to be stoned.

Guilty conscience

While Jesus was teaching in God’s temple, the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman to him that they said, “was taken in adultery, in the very act” (John 8:4). The religious leaders hoped to trap Jesus in a situation where he would say or do something that contradicted his own teaching and make himself out to be a hypocrite like they were. The men that brought the adulteress to Jesus suggested that she should be stoned according to the Mosaic Law, but Jesus’ compassion for the woman caused him to say to them, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7). The phrase “without sin” means without any sin. In other words, Jesus was making sinlessness a requirement for executing judgment against the woman that had committed adultery. It says in John 8:9, “And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.”

Jesus used the example of these men’s guilty consciences to teach the Pharisees a lesson about his divine purpose as the savior of the world. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). The Pharisees were used to condemning others for their sins against God, but Jesus wanted them to know that it wasn’t necessary for them to judge lawbreakers. God was able to bring conviction of sin, or give someone a guilty conscience, through the love and compassion of his son Jesus Christ. The two Greek terms Jesus used, phos (light) and scotia (darkness) were meant to show the contradiction between love and hate in our actions toward others. Scotia (skot-ee’-ah) is used of secrecy and describes a condition of moral or spiritual depravity. The men that condemned the adulteress might have been guilty of adultery themselves or some other crime that could be punished by death. It may have been their own guilty consciences that caused them to lash out at this woman and expose her to public humiliation.

Jesus’ statement, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12) was a declaration of his ability to expose the inner thoughts and feelings of people trapped in a lifestyle of sin. It says in John 8:9 that the men that wanted to stone the adulteress were convicted by their own consciences when they heard Jesus say, “He that is without sin among you.” The human conscience is a mechanism by which God is able to reveal his will to us (4893). The Greek word suneidesis (soon-i’-day-sis) means “co-perception.” Another way of saying it would be to see both sides of the story. We are usually aware of our own thoughts and feelings, but not those of others, and in particular, the thoughts and feelings of God are typically hidden from us or outside of our awareness, but our conscience enables us to see what God thinks about our behavior. After the men that were convicted by their own consciences left the scene, Jesus asked the adulteress, “Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?” (John 8:10). The woman’s response acknowledged her submission to Jesus’ authority. She said, “No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:11).

 

Conversion

Jesus told his disciples, “Verily, I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become like little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). The Greek word Jesus used that is translated converted in this verse, strepho (stref’-o) is typically translated as turn or turned. Strepho means “to turn quite around or reverse” (4762). At the time when Jesus spoke these words, there was a little child standing in the midst of his twelve apostles and they were discussing who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. What Jesus likely meant by becoming like little children was the reversal of his disciples spiritual development. He wanted them to start from the beginning and learn all over again what they knew about God.

Jesus said emphatically, “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4). The word humble had a specific connotation to God’s people because of their history as slaves in Egypt. The Greek word Jesus used, tapeinoo (tap-i-no’-o) is used figuratively to express humiliation and it suggests that he wanted his disciples to be willing to humiliate themselves in order to please God. Mark’s record of this conversation indicated a responsibility on the part of Jesus’ disciples to keep themselves from leading others into sin by way of their bad behavior (arguing about who was the greatest Mark 9:34). Jesus said, “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believeth in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea” (Mark 9:42). This may have been a picture of the typical burial of a worthless servant.

Jesus’ lesson about true discipleship was an extension of his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) in which he warned against anger, adultery, and divorce. Jesus was intentionally reminding his disciples that the slightest infraction of the law was considered to be enough to bring judgment against an individual. Jesus said about the sin of adultery, “That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Matthew 5:28-29). Jesus’ repetition of this illustration (Matthew 18:9) of the drastic measures that needed to be taken in order to avoid sin in his lesson about true discipleship was no doubt meant to jolt his disciples back into reality and make them aware of the fact that their status in God’s kingdom was not based on spiritual accomplishments. Conversion, “turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us” (7725) is a lifelong process that ultimately brings us to the conclusion that our only purpose as members of God’s kingdom while we are alive on earth is to preach the gospel to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 9:16).

Witnesses

Jesus responded to the Jews rejection of him as their Messiah by first letting them know that they would be jusged for their choice (John 5:22) and then, explained to them that there would come a day when everyone would be resurrected from the dead, but rather than entering into the presence of God and living with him for eternity, those who rejected Jesus would spend eternity in hell (John 5:29). Jesus intentionally made a point of declaring the truth about God’s judgment early in his ministry, and also talked about it often, so that no one could say, I didn’t know about that. Comparing God’s judgment to a legal case in which each person would be charged with some offence, Jesus said, “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom you trust” (John 5:45). Jesus said this because his “listeners prided themselves on their attachment to Moses, the great lawgiver. So it was an unexpected thrust for Jesus to say Moses himself would accuse them before God” (note on John 5:45).

Thinking about the evidence required to convict someone of a crime in a court of law, Jesus identified four witnesses that could testify that he was in fact the Jews’ Messiah. The first witness Jesus called to their minds was John the Baptist (John 5:33). The Jews were familiar with John’s message and many saw him baptize Jesus in the Jordan river (Matthew 3:16). During his first encounter with Jesus, John stated, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus told the Jews, “But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me” (John 5:36). Jesus was referring to his works of salvation. The Messiah’s mission was to save God’s people and Jesus intended to finish that assignment through his death and resurrection. Ultimately, there was no better way for Jesus to prove he was who he said was than to resurrect himself from the dead. If that wasn’t enough, Jesus added that God himself had testified to his identity (Matthew 3:17) and the Scriptures also testified of him (John 5:39).

The test

The prophet Malachi is believed to have delivered the last message from God to his people before their Messiah was born. Malachi’s book is filled with numerous rhetorical questions that were meant to convey the doubt that existed in the Jews’ hearts. The topic that was most important to them at that time was the coming of their Messiah or Saviour. Malachi spoke of this when he said, “Ye have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?” (Malachi 2:17). God’s response reiterated the purpose of his Messiah’s mission, to fulfill the covenant he made with King David. He said, “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the LORD, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:1).

We know now that the messenger referred to in Malachi 3:1 was John the Baptist. His ministry preceded Jesus’ and made a way for the concept of repentance to be better understood. John’s announcement of Jesus’ arrival is recorded in John 1:29 where it says, “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” The idea that sins could be removed completely was new to believers. Even though the Jews knew that their sins could be forgiven, they didn’t expect God to wipe them away to the point that there was no record that they had ever been committed. Jesus’ ability to purify those that believed in him was beyond the Jews wildest imaginations. Malachi fortold of Jesus, “For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ sope: and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness” (Malachi 3:2-3).

Malachi’s twofold message of purification and judgment was somewhat like a good news, bad news scenario. Although the Messiah would purify God’s people, he was also coming to judge them (Malachi 3:5). God said, “Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from my ordinances, and have not kept them” (Malachi 3:7). One of the arguments God’s people made was that it was useless to keep God’s commandments because there was no reward for their good behavior (Malachi 3:14). God proposed a test to show whether or not he was faithful to his commandments. He said, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in my house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10). God had been faithful to his people, but there was little evidence that anyone had ever taken him up on his promise to bless his people. God’s final statement about his Messiah’s entrance into the world can be found in Malachi 3:18 where it says, “Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.”

Too late

On August 14, 591 B.C., “certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the LORD” (Ezekiel 20:1). At that time, the fall of Jerusalem was inevitable and king Zedekiah’s plan to escape into the desert was most likely already in place. The elders of Israel may have been hoping that Ezekiel would give them an alternative to what they had already heard from the prophet Jeremiah. The fact that they went to see Ezekiel while he was being held captive in Babylon suggests that the elders of Israel were expecting Ezekiel to be aware of the current situation in Jerusalem and was able to tell them what to do even though he had been in captivity for more that seven years. Otherwise, there would have been no point for the elders to travel such a long distance to get his advice.

Unfortunately, the elders of Israel were disappointed when they arrived. Instead of receiving the latest news from God’s appointed messenger, the elders of Israel were told it was too late for them to seek God’s counsel, their judgment was already sealed and God would not reconsider his sentence against them (Ezekiel 20:31). Ezekiel was instructed to pronounce sentence against them and was told exactly what to say so that the elders of Israel would realize time had run out and Jerusalem would soon be destroyed.

The seriousness of Israel’s wrongdoing was such that God had Ezekiel recite the history of their idolatry from its beginning in the desert outside of Egypt before the people ever entered the Promised Land. Several times, God wanted to pour out his fury, but spared the people for his own name’s sake. Eventually, God gave up on his effort to change the Israelites’ behavior and let them have their own way. He explained to Ezekiel, “Because they had not executed my judgments, but had despised my statutes, and had polluted my sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers’ idols. Wherefore, I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live; and I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 20:24-26). In other words, God let them do what they wanted to so that they would become aware of their own sinful way of life.

Second chances

God’s system of justice is based on his willingness to give second chances. Although God judges us and punishes us when we do something wrong, he does not expect perfection or condemn us because we can’t stop doing what is wrong. Even when we intentionally break God’s commandments, all we have to do is repent and God will give us a second chance to do things right.

God’s exception to his rule of judgment was explained to Ezekiel this way. He said, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. But if the wicked will turn from his sin that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die” (Ezekiel 18:20-21).

The Hebrew word translated turn in Ezekiel 18:20 is shuwb (shoob). Typically, shuwb is used to describe a situation in which one must go back to a previous location. “The basic meaning of the verb is movement back to a point of departure,” (7725) but it does not necessarily mean that you have to return to the starting point. In the context of a journey, shuwb means that you go back to the point where you got off track or departed from the prescribed pathway you were supposed to follow.

Although some people may think God wants to punish us and is glad when we get into trouble, God’s intention in establishing the Mosaic Law was to prevent his people from doing things that offended him. God asked Ezekiel two rhetorical questions to point out the absurdity of believing God wanted to destroy his people. He said, “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?

In an attempt to set the record straight once and for all, God said plainly, “I will judge you,” but added that it would be on an individual basis that he would make his call. He said, “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin” (Ezekiel 18:30).

In his plea for repentance, God explained that it was necessary for a change to take place that involved the inner being of man. As if it were possible to become an entirely different person, God said that heart and spirit must be transformed in order to truly have a second chance at life. He said to his people, “Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed:  and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? for I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye” (Ezekiel 18:31-32).

The harlot

The city of Jerusalem was likened to a harlot or prostitute because of the idolatry that took place within her walls. God described Jerusalem as the child of prominent parents that was abandoned at birth, perhaps the result of a failed abortion. God said, “And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy naval wast not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all. None eye pitied thee, to do any of these unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wast cast out in the open field, to the loathing of thy person, in the day that thou wast born” (Ezekiel 16:4-5).

God’s claim to the city of Jerusalem was based on a covenant he likened to a marriage contract. He said, “Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness; yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord GOD, and thou becamest mine” (Ezekiel 16:8). God’s relationship with his people was dependent on a land that would belong to them throughout eternity. In order to fulfill his promise to Abraham, God selected Jerusalem as the home where he would dwell with his people.

God’s commitment to the city of Jerusalem was met when king David made Jerusalem the capital of Israel and Solomon built his temple there. It was only because Good had chosen Jerusalem beforehand that these things were able to take place. Like a bride on her wedding day, God said, “Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver; and thy raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work; thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil; and thou wast exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper as a kingdom” (Ezekiel 16:13).

The city of Jerusalem became attractive to foreign kings because of the wealth that flowed into her gates as a result of God’s blessing. Without fully realizing what he was doing, king Hezekiah invited dignitaries from Babylon to tour his capital. It says in 2 Kings 20:13, “And Hezekiah hearkened unto them, and shewed them all the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah shewed them not.”

So that no one would be able to inhabit the city of Jerusalem besides his chosen people, God judged the land and caused it to become barren while his people went into exile. As if the land had committed adultery, God said of Jerusalem, “And in thine abominations and thy whoredoms thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth, when thou wast naked and bare, and wast polluted with blood…Behold, therefore, I have stretched out my hand over thee, and have diminished thine ordinary food, and delivered thee unto the will of them that hate thee, the daughters of the Philistines, which are ashamed of thy lewd way” (Ezekiel 16:27).