Heaven on earth

Exodus 24:9-10 tells us that “Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel went up and they saw the God of Israel.” The place that these men went up to isn’t identified, but it can be assumed that they went up to Heaven because the Bible identifies Heaven as the place where God lives. Moses said, “There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness” (Exodus 24:10). In other words, the Lord was standing on something that appeared to be a solid surface, but its transparency made it seem as if he was suspended in mid-air. The Hebrew word shamayim (shaw-mah’-yim), which is translated heaven, describes everything God made besides the earth…The heavens that humans observe with their senses are indicated by this word…The invisible heavens are the abode of God…He dwells in heaven (1 Kings 8:30, 32); yet He is not contained in even the heaven of heavens, the most exclusive part of the heavens (1 Kings 8:27)” (H8064). Luke indicated that after Jesus commissioned his disciples to take his gospel to the whole world (Matthew 28:16-20), “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51).

After the Israelites confirmed their covenant with him, God instructed Moses, “And let them make for me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture so you shall make it” (Exodus 25:8-9). A sanctuary is a physical place of worship (H4720). In that sense, the sanctuary that Moses was expected to make was supposed to be a place where the people could enter into God’s presence and commune with him. This was a distinct privilege that only the Israelites among all the peoples of the world were given because of their relationship and covenant with God. Jesus told his followers, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). The word that Jesus used that is translated midst, mesos (mes’-os) means in the middle (G3319). This is very similar to what was depicted by the sanctuary that traveled with the Israelites wherever they went. Moses was told to construct the sanctuary according to a pattern that was shown to him while he was on top of Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights (Exodus 24:18). “The Lord commanded Moses to build a sanctuary in which he would dwell among his people. It was to be a tabernacle or movable tent that would be suitable for the Israelites’ nomadic lifestyle. The Levites would have responsibility for it (Numbers 18:1-7). Its general designation was ‘the house of the LORD’ (Exodus 34:26), but it was also known as ‘the tabernacle of the testimony’ (Exodus 38:21) because it served as a depository for the tables of the law or testimony. Another designation was the ‘Tent of Meeting’ because the Lord met his people there and the sanctuary was filled with his glory and presence (Exodus 40:34-38). From this tent, God would lead the Israelites on their journey” (Note on Exodus 25:8, 9).

The most prominent feature of the tabernacle was an area identified as the Most Holy Place where the ark that contained the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments engraved on them was kept (Exodus 26:34). The ark was a wooden box that was overlaid with pure gold inside and outside. The ark was approximately 45 inches in length, 27 inches wide, and 27 inches high (Exodus 25:10) and was covered with a solid gold lid that had two cherubim on top of it, one on each end facing toward each other, that were also made of gold (Exodus 25:18-20). The estimated cost of the ark in todays dollars is $28 million and it may have weighed as much as 1300 lbs. It was carried using two poles that were also overlaid with gold and were placed in 4 gold rings, one at each corner of the ark. The gold lid for the ark with the two cherubim on it was called a mercy seat. The LORD told Moses:

Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel. (Exodus 25:19-22)

The mercy seat was symbolic of the covering over of sins that was made possible by the shedding of blood through sacrifice (H3727). The term propitiation was used by both Paul and John to describe what happened when Jesus died on the cross (Romans 3:25, 1 John 2:2). John said, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). It seems likely that the exorbitant cost of making the ark and its mercy seat were meant to represent the priceless cost of our salvation. Paul said that the person that is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him (1 Corinthians 6:17). “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

The image that is created by the cherubim that were on top of the mercy seat was one of intimacy as well as spiritual union. The cherubim were “of one piece” (Exodus 25:19), meaning they were connected to each other and their faces were “one to another” (Exodus 25:20). The Hebrew word that is translated faces, paniym (paw-neem’) is sometimes translated as countenance and refers to the look on one’s face (H6440). Paniym is derived from the word panah (paw-naw’) which means to turn. “Used of intellectual and spiritual turning, this verb signifies attaching oneself to something” and in an even stronger sense “represents dependence on someone” (H6437). It was from between the two cherubim that God spoke to the Israelites. God told Moses, “I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Exodus 25:22). In other words, God intended to give Moses step by step directions, somewhat like how a GPS system guides us to our desired destination. For this reason, there needed to ongoing communication between God and Moses and a continual awareness of the Israelites’ location.

One of the ways that the phrase “in the midst” (Exodus 25:8) can be translated is “at the heart” (H8432) which suggests the possibility that the tabernacle or perhaps the ark of the testimony was symbolic of the human heart. It seems that the primary purpose of the tabernacle was a depository for the tablets on which God wrote the Ten Commandments (Exodus 25:15). The prophet Jeremiah was given a message about the New Covenant that God intended to establish with his chosen people after they returned from exile. He stated:

“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 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. For 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. 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.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

The Hebrew word leb (labe) which means heart, can be used figuratively to represent the centre of anything. “However, it usually refers to some aspect of the immaterial inner self or being since the heart is considered to be the seat of one’s inner nature as well as one of its components” (H3820). God’s ability to write his law on people’s hearts has to do with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In a similar way that the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34), the Holy Spirit fills believers and makes it possible for them to preach the gospel (Acts 4:31).

Jesus used parables to describe the kingdom of heaven in a way that would only be clear to those who are filled with the Holy Spirit. He compared the kingdom of heaven to a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field (Matthew 13:31-33), a treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13:44), and “a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46). The common theme in each of these illustrations is the invisible or you might say immaterial nature of the kingdom of heaven. The point that Jesus was trying to make was that the kingdom of heaven can be discovered and has great value to those who possess it. The link between the Ten Commandments and the kingdom of heaven could be their ability to transform the human heart. One way of looking at the kingdom of heaven might be that it is a state of being that one enters into when the word of God is operative in his or her heart. Heaven is therefore not just a place that we go to when we die, but a state that we can live in that is eternal and connected to God.

Peter, who was recognized as “the predominant disciple during the ministry of Jesus and had a tremendous impact on the early church” (Introduction to the first letter of Peter) understood that heaven on earth was not an idyllic state, but one that ran counter to the culture and mindsets of the Roman Empire and therefore, often resulted in suffering and sometimes persecution. Peter encouraged his followers to share in Christ’s sufferings so that they might be glad when his glory was revealed and said, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, your are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:13-14). Peter asked the question, “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1 Peter 4:18) and then stated, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19). Peter asserted that it is sometimes God’s will for his children to suffer because that is the example that Jesus gave us. Sharing in Christ’s sufferings means that we enter into a partnership with our Lord and Savior that is based on equal responsibility, goals, and rewards. After he denied three times that he even knew Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75), Jesus asked Peter if he loved him and then gave him this instruction:

“Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:17-19)

Peter said that we should clothe ourselves with humility toward one another and indicated that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). The Greek word that is translated humble, tapeinos (tap-i-nos’) means depressed and is used figuratively to signify being “humiliated (in circumstances or disposition)” (G5011). God’s grace is the divine influence upon the heart that enables us to act the way Jesus did when we are faced with difficult circumstances (G5485). Peter said that God gives us grace when we intentionally humble ourselves and admit that we can’t handle things on our own. He said, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Jesus indicated that people’s hearts can grow dull and be unreceptive to God’s word (Matthew 13:15). In his explanation of the Parable of the Sower, Jesus stated, “When anyone hears the word of of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart” (Matthew 13:19). The evil one, who is known as Satan or the devil (G4190), is described by Peter as our adversary. Peter said that we should “be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The image of a roaring lion that is seeking someone to devour makes it seem as if the devil feeds on believers, but it could be that Satan’s appetite for evil is quenched through our sins against God. Peter was well aware of the tactics Satan uses to deter believer’s from sharing their faith. Peter’s denial of the Lord involved an innocent question that sparked his fear and made him unwilling to risk the slightest implication that he was associated with Jesus. Matthew’s gospel states, “Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, ‘You also were with Jesus the Galilean.’ But he denied it before them all, saying, ‘I do not know what you mean.'” (Matthew 26:69-70).

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians indicated that the physical and spiritual realms are intertwined and that believers are involved in spiritual battles on an ongoing basis whether or not we are aware of it. Paul said that believers should “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12). The idea that we can have hand to hand combat with spiritual forces in the heavenly places makes it seem as if believers are caught in the middle of the two realms that continually compete for their attention. Paul said that we must stand against the schemes of the devil if we want to enjoy the spiritual blessings that God has given us. Even though we have received salvation, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are safe from the adversary that wants to make our lives a living hell. Peter said that you must resist the devil, “firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:9-11).

Spiritual sacrifices

The Apostle Peter used the metaphor of a spiritual house to describe the structure that the whole body of believers forms as a collective unit (1 Peter 2:5). Peter stated, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5). The terms Peter used, living stones, spiritual house, and spiritual sacrifices all pointed to the temple that was the focal point of the Jewish religion. Paul touched on this in his letter to the Corinthians when he addressed the topic of divisions in the church. Paul stated:

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. Do you not know that you, are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:1-17)

Paul indicated that building up the body of Christ was a joint effort that no one person could take credit for and said that each person’s work will be tested to see if it was done through human or spiritual effort. Peter may have described believers as living stones because of the effect of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the active nature of God’s word in the human heart. The Greek word that is translated spiritual in 1 Peter 2:5, pneumatikos (phyoo-mat-ik-os’) is used to describe things “pertaining to or proceeding from the Holy Spirit. Of persons who are spiritual, i.e. enlightened by the Holy Spirit, enjoying the influences, graces, and gifts of the Holy Spirit” (G4152).

Peter stated:

For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”

and

“A stone of stumbling,
    and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. (1 Peter 2:6-8)

The word that Peter was referring to was most likely the Ten Commandments that were communicated directly to the Israelites from God on Mount Sinai shortly after they were delivered from bondage in Egypt (Exodus 19-20). The Greek term that is translated word in 1 Peter 2:8, logos (log’-os) was used by the Apostle John to identify Jesus as an eternal being that was present at the beginning of creation. John stated, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3). Peter indicated that those who disobey the word of God were destined to do so and Paul’s letter to the Ephesians revealed that the destiny of every person was established before the foundation of the world. Paul stated, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:3-4).

Peter indicated that the spiritual house that was being built up by believers was “to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5). By definition, spiritual sacrifices have to do with God’s divine influence upon the heart. The Greek word “pneumatikos always connotes the ideas of invisibility and of power. It does not occur in the Old Testament or in the Gospels; it is in fact an after-Pentecost word” (G4152). Peter most likely used the term spiritual sacrifices to differentiate between the kind of sacrifices that are made according to our own will and those that are made according to God’s will. When believers offer spiritual sacrifices they are supposed to be doing things that please God. When Jesus was baptized by John, “the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'” (Matthew 3:16). Likewise, when Jesus was transfigured, “a voice from the cloud said, ‘this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'” (Matthew 17:5). The Greek word that is translated well pleased, eudokeo (yoo-dok-eh’-o) means to approve of an act and stresses “the willingness and freedom of an intention or resolve regarding what is good” (G2106).

Peter linked the spiritual sacrifices of believers to God’s original plan to deliver the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. Peter said, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). After the Israelites entered the wilderness and camped at the foot of Mount Sinai, Moses went up to God and “The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:3-6). God’s stipulation that the people obey his voice and keep his covenant was what led to the downfall of the nation of Israel. Peter was letting believers know that they were taking the place of the Israelites that were originally called to serve God. The key to our success being obedience to God’s word.

God described the nation of Israel as his “treasured possession” (Exodus 19:5). The Hebrew word cegullah “signifies ‘property’ in the special sense of a private possession one personally acquired and carefully preserves” (H5459). The descriptors “a kingdom of priests” and “a holy nation” suggest that the kingdom of heaven centers around the spiritual sacrifices of God’s people which are dependent on faith in Jesus Christ. Peter said, “So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (1 Peter 2:7). Jesus also quoted Psalm 118:22-23 after he told the parable of the tenants to the chief priests who wanted to know where his authority came from. Matthew 21:38-44 states:

But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

The Greek word Jesus used that is translated people in Matthew 21:43 is ethnos (eth’-nos). Ethnos is derived from the word etho (eth’-o) which means “to be accustomed”, signifying a custom or a particular way of doing things (G1486). Ethnos has to do with human nature and in the sense of people producing fruits it refers to born again Christians who are walking by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Paul contrasted the works of the flesh with the works of the Spirit and said, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

The Ten Commandments were meant to restrain the Israelites from what Paul described as the works of the flesh. Paul said, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, disensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21). The goal was to make the Israelites a holy nation, but without the help of the Holy Spirit. When the LORD came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with the people directly (Exodus 19:11, 20:1), the people were afraid of him and couldn’t process the information he was communicating to them because they were spiritually dead (Exodus 20:18-19). One of the primary issues that prevented the Israelites from connecting with God was that they couldn’t approach him unless they were consecrated, which meant that they had to be cleansed from all of their sins (H6942). In other words, they needed to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit, something that was impossible on a large scale until after Jesus died and was resurrected.

Exodus 20:1-17 records the discourse that took place between God and the children of Israel on Mount Sinai. The Ten Commandments were in essence a brief synopsis of the rules that God expected his chosen people to follow. They were as follows:

  1. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself a carved image.
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness.
  10. You shall not covet. 

After hearing these commandments, the people told Moses they didn’t want God to speak to them directly (Exodus 20:19). It says in Exodus 20:22, “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven.” The point the LORD was making was that he had already communicated all that was necessary for him to establish his covenant with the people of Israel. He didn’t need to say anything else to them.

The people of Israel understood that the essence of spiritual sacrifice was contained within the Ten Commandments. Hundreds of years later, when Jesus was teaching his disciples the principles of the kingdom of heaven, he was asked to identify “the great commandment in the Law” (Matthew 22:36). Essentially, what the lawyer wanted to know was which of the Ten Commandments was most likely to be broken by every person and would therefore cause everyone in the whole world to go to hell. Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). The two commandments that Jesus identified were similar in that they both focused on loving others. Jesus likely emphasized that we need to love God with all of our being because we tend to hold back certain parts of ourselves in order to keep a safe distance between us and our Creator. The fact that we are expected to love our neighbor as ourselves suggests that in the spiritual realm there are no boundaries between one soul and another. That’s why we must act like we are responsible for everyone’s happiness.

Shortly before his death, Jesus prayed that all believers would be united in the same way that he was with his Father (John 17:11). Jesus prayed, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22-23). The Greek words that are translated “become perfectly one,” teleioo (tel-i-o’-o) eis (ice) heis (hice) and o (o) refer to the joining together that Peter and Paul talked about when they said that believers are to be built up (1 Peter 2:5, Ephesians 4:16). The Greek word oikodomeo (oy-kod-om-eh’-o) means to be a house-builder and oikodome (oy-kod-om-ay’) refers to architecture. Peter and Paul likely used these words to convey the process of edification because believers are joined together in a systematic way that results in an enduring structure somewhat like a home that is passed on from generation to generation which can be remodeled as needed. Peter’s depiction of a spiritual house that was built using living stones (1 Peter 2:5) was probably meant to convey the idea of a community that is in constant motion. If you look at the kingdom of heaven as a state of being as opposed to a physical space that has occupants, you might see that spiritual sacrifices are ones that go beyond the boundaries of physical life and deal with the immaterial needs of human beings.

Jesus’ attempt to convince a rich young man that he didn’t need all the possessions he was depending on was most likely hindered by the young man’s image of the kingdom of heaven as a place that was luxurious and designed to provide comfort. Matthew’s gospel states, “And behold, a man came up to him, saying, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘All these I have kept. What do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible'” (Matthew 19:16-26).

Jesus indicated there is only one who is good (Matthew 19:17) and suggested that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven one must be perfect (Matthew 19:21). His disciples realized that it would be impossible for anyone to meet God’s standard because giving away one’s possessions went against the very core of human nature. Jesus’ statement, “With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26) was meant to point out that God doesn’t expect us to go against our nature, but provides a way for us to do what is humanly impossible. Jesus went on to tell them a parable about laborers in a vineyard in order to show them that it wasn’t a matter of giving things up that hinders people from serving God, but the expectation that God will reward our spiritual sacrifices according to how long or hard we work for him. In the parable, everyone was paid the same wages even though some worked all day and others just one hour. Jesus concluded his parable by stating, “‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first and the first last” (Matthew 20:16). In other words, God’s goodness isn’t controlled by our human efforts to please him. It is only when we do God’s will that we receive rewards in heaven.

A new age

When one of Jesus’ disciples expressed concern about having left everything in order to follow him, he responded, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:28-29). The new world that Jesus referred to was more than just a physical regeneration of our planet. The Greek word paliggenesia (pal-ing-ghen-es-ee’-ah) refers specifically to Messianic restoration of both people and things and points to the spiritual regeneration that is necessary for eternal life. “The paliggenesia is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light” (G3824).

The Apostle Paul eluded to a new age that would follow the one we currently live in when he said, “God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7). The Greek word that is translates ages, aion (ahee-ohn’) is properly translated as “an age, by extension perpetuity (also past); by implication the world…The primary stress of this word is time in its unbroken duration. Aion, as a noun, means ‘an age, era’ and signifies a period of indefinite duration” (G165). From that standpoint, Christ’s kingdom exists in the past, present, and future because it is an eternal kingdom. When it began or when it will end is not something that can be determined, but the ages that are associated with Christ’s kingdom do have beginning and ending points in time.

Jesus indicated that the kingdom of heaven has both a present and future state, but the difference between the two is sometimes confusing. In order to clarify the transition from one to the other, Jesus’ disciples asked this question about the future state of his kingdom, “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3). The second coming of Christ was understood and expected even while Jesus was still alive on earth. The Greek word parousia (par-oo-see’-ah) is used of the return of Christ, at the rapture of the church and signifies, “not merely His momentary coming for His saints in the rapture, but His presence with them from that moment until His revelation and manifestation to the world in His second coming” (G3952). Jesus warned his disciples that his second coming would be camouflaged by a satanic effort to disrupt the physical establishment of his kingdom. He said, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:4-6).

Jesus said there would be a definite end to the current age we live in which is sometimes referred to as the Church Age or the Age of Grace. This age is thought to have begun after Jesus’ resurrection, perhaps on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit’s ministry was launched. Therefore, Jesus’ life on earth and subsequent death marked the end of another age associated with the Mosaic Law which was established after the Israelites were delivered from bondage in Egypt. Moses, who was God’s designated representative during the exodus from Egypt, had a similar birth to Jesus’ in that he was born at a time when the people of Israel were suffering under the rulership of a demonic king. Exodus 1:22 states, “Pharaoh commanded all his people, ‘Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.” Moses was kept alive through divine intervention and was raised by Pharaoh’s own daughter, but “One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand” (Exodus 2:11:-12).

Moses crime was discovered and he was forced to flee into the desert where he spent 40 years shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Jethro (Exodus 3:1, Acts 7:39-30). Exodus 3:1-6 indicates that Moses had an encounter with the preincarnate Jesus Christ (note on Exodus 3:14 and 23:20-23). It states:

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

The unusual and unique manner in which God appeared to Moses at Horeb, a flame of fire out of the midst of the bush, could be a type of preincarnate advent of Christ. “Things are said of the angel of the LORD that seem to go beyond the category of angels and are applicable of Christ. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Hagar, she called him ‘a God of seeing’ (Genesis 16:7, 13). The designation ‘angel of the LORD’ is used interchangeably with ‘the LORD’ and ‘God’ in the account of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-6). Exodus 23:21 states that the angel of the LORD has the power to forgive sins, a characteristic belonging to God alone (cf. Mark 2:7, Luke 7:49) and that he has the name of God in him. No man can see the full glory of God and live (Exodus 33:20), but Jesus Christ, in whom all the fullness of deity was manifested in bodily form, has made God the Father known (John1:18; Colossians 2:9)” (note on Exodus 23:20-23).

When Moses saw the flame of fire out of the midst of the bush, the thing that he noticed about it was that “the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed” (Exodus 3:3). This might seem to signify God’s mercy, but he later told Moses, “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgressions, for my name is in him” (Exodus 23:20-21). The Hebrew word that is translated pardon, nacah (naw-saw’) “is used of the undertaking of the responsibilities for the sins of others by substitution or representation” (H5375). The statement that the angel would not pardon their transgressions may have meant that he was not able to pardon them because the penalty for sins wasn’t paid until Jesus died on the cross. The thing that uniquely identified the Age of Law was that Jesus was present, but not in bodily form. When Moses asked God what name he should use to identify him to the people of Israel, “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM'” (Exodus 3:13). “Jesus alluded to this name of God in John 8:58 when he declared, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (note on Exodus 3:14).

The instruction Moses received to go to Egypt and demand that Pharaoh let God’s people go into the wilderness so that they could make sacrifices to him (Exodus 3:18) seemed ludicrous at first, but God explained to Moses that he intended to demonstrate his ability to accomplish this impossible task in order to convince Pharaoh that he was in charge of the situation. God said, “But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go” (Exodus 3;19-20). God’s use of force was necessary because Pharaoh’s heart had become hardened to the point that it was impenetrable (H2389). The reference to striking Egypt implied that physical force would be used and that God would be directly involved in the process. The Hebrew word that is translated wonders, pala’ (paw-law’) “is used primarily with God as its subject, expressing actions that are beyond the bounds of human powers or expectations” (H6381), so it’s clear God intended to use his supernatural abilities the get Pharaoh’s attention and he seemed willing to go to any lengths to deliver his people from Pharaoh’s control.

Jesus’ description of the end of the Church Age indicated that it would be a time of great distress. He said, “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24:7-8). Jesus’ use of the metaphor of birth pains to portray the transition from God’s grace being available to whoever believed in Jesus to the judgment of all mankind made it seem as though there would be a gradual change from the influence of the Holy Spirit in the world to the inevitable reign of Antichrist that would intensify over time. Jesus told his disciples, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:9-14).

Jesus linked the end of the Church Age to a single event that would take place in a single day or hour and associated it with another event that marked the beginning of the Kingdom Age. Jesus warned his disciples to take flight immediately when they saw this sign. He said:

“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

Jesus noted that a great tribulation would occur during the transition from the Church Age to the Kingdom Age (Matthew 24:21). This period of time is often referred to in the Bible as “the day of the LORD” (Ezekiel 30:3) which is thought to continue through the millennial reign of Christ. I believe Jesus’ second coming marks the official start of the Kingdom Age and according to Revelation 19:11 this event takes place immediately following the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in heaven (Revelation 19:6-9).

Jesus said his return to earth would be immediately after the great tribulation and “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. 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” (Matthew 24:29-31). This seems to suggest that all believers both those that have died and ones that are still alive will be gathered together at Jesus’ second coming. Because the marriage supper of the Lamb has already taken place at this point, it could be that the Greek word that is translated his elect in this verse, eklektos (ek-lek-tos’) refers only to Jewish believers (G1588). The Apostle Paul used eklektos’ root word eklegomai (ek-leg’-o-om-ahee) when he said God chose us in Christ “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4) and “predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:5). We know that Paul was referring to non-Jewish believers when he said this because adoption does not apply to the children of Israel.

Some of what Jesus said in his Olivet Discourse may have only applied to the Jewish remnant that would be dealt with under different circumstances than his church. When Jesus talked about the day and hour of God’s judgment, he referred back to the days of Noah which were before the Age of Law. 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. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:36-42). Jesus indicated that people will be unaware of what’s coming when suddenly half of the population apparently disappears.

Jesus said, “one will be taken and one left” (Matthew 24:40). The Greek words Jesus used that are translated taken and left have somewhat opposite meanings from what you might usually think. The Greek word aphiemi (af-ee’-ay-mee), which is translated left, means to send away as when a husband divorces his wife (G863). The word aphiemi appears in Matthew 22:22 where it says, “When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.” Therefore, the ones that were left were the ones that were no longer present in the field and grinding at the mill when the Son of Man came (Matthew 24:29-31). The Greek word that is translated taken, paralambano (par-al-am-ban’-o) means “to receive near, i.e. associate with oneself (in any familiar or intimate act or relation); by analogy to assume an office” (G3880). Jesus made it clear that although everyone was swept away after the flood came in the days of Noah, when the Son of Man comes, half of the population will be taken or integrated into his kingdom. Jesus went on to say, “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 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. Therefore, you must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:42-44).

The Kingdom Age will be ushered in by what appears to be a sudden and cataclysmic event similar to the flood that wiped out every living thing on earth. Jesus’ analogy of two men working in the field and two women grinding at the mill seems to be associated with Christian ministry because in his parable of the weeds, Jesus said while the owner of the field’s men were sleeping, “his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away (Matthew 13:25). Jesus later explained this parable to his disciples and said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil” (Matthew 13:37-39). Jesus’ admonition to stay awake (Matthew 24:42) likely meant that during the great tribulation, Christians who are not filled with the Holy Spirit will be tempted to abandon their faith and seek refuge in the devil’s camp, therefore they need to make sure they are spiritually healthy at all times.

The keys of the kingdom

Jacob’s son “Joseph was singled out by God from his conception. His very birth was an answer to the prayers of his mother Rachel (Gen 30:22-24)” (note on Genesis 37:1-11). Genesis 37:3-4 states, “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.” The animosity between Joseph and his brothers was compounded by his open devotion to God. It is clear from Joseph’s two prophetic dreams that he was destined to be God’s instrument of salvation to Jacob’s family. Genesis 37:5-8 states:

Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf. His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

Joseph’s bold declaration that his brothers would one day bow down and pay homage to him was the straw that broke the camel’s back. When Joseph came looking for his brothers in the fields of Dothan, “They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, ‘Here comes that dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams'” (Genesis 37:18-20).

The plot to kill Joseph was more than just an expression of hostility toward Jacob’s favorite son, it was an attempt to prevent God’s prophetic word from coming to pass. When Jesus indicated that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things, “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man'” (Matthew 16:22-23). Jesus perceived in Peter’s words “a snare laid for Him by Satan” (G4625). Jesus rebuked Peter because he was not setting his mind on the things of God. What Jesus meant by that was that Peter was not thinking about the situation from God’s perspective. Jesus came into the world with a specific mission of dying for the sins of the world. When Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him, Peter was acting like he knew better than Jesus did what his mission was all about.

Jesus was directly addressing his adversary the devil when he said, “Get behind me Satan!” (Matthew 16:23). The Greek word that is translated hindrance, skandalon (skan’-dal-on) (“scandal”) is probably derived from the word kampto (kamp’-to) which means “to bend, bow, the knee (the knees) or one’s self and is used of worshippers who bend in honour of one in religious veneration” (G2578). This seems to suggest that Satan was trying to get Jesus to switch sides and be devoted to him instead of God. But it could be that Peter was the one that was under attack and that Satan was initially trying to get him to betray Jesus rather than Judas Iscariot. Jesus later told Peter that Satan had demanded to have him, that he might sift him like wheat (Luke 22:31). The Greek word that is translated sift, siniazo (sin-ee-ad’-zo) when used figuratively means “by inward agitation to try one’s faith to the verge of overthrow” (G4617).

The reason why Satan targeted Peter was because of the important role he was expected to play in the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. After Peter identified Jesus as the Christ, “the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), Jesus said, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:17-20). Jesus indicated that the purpose of the keys of the kingdom of heaven was to bind and loose things on earth, but he didn’t tell Peter how to do that or specify which things should be bound and which should be loosed. The only clue we have of what Jesus was talking about is found in his instructions about a brother sinning against you. Jesus said:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:15-20).

The central point of Jesus’ teaching about sins committed by believers was the need for unity within the church. In this context, it seems that the things that are bound and loosed are the relationships that unite the church as a single entity. The Apostle Paul talked about the unity of the Spirit and told the Ephesians, “I therefore a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope that belongs to your call — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6).

Before Jesus established his church, the entity that God worked in and through was the family of Jacob which became known as the twelve tribes of Israel. When Joseph was sold into slavery, there was break in the unity of Jacob’s family and a risk that his twelve sons’ descendants would not become the nation of Israel. Joseph’s dreams and his ability to interpret them, “were signs of God’s special blessings on Joseph, and they would be the means of his advancement in Egypt and the preservation of God’s people from the famine that would hit Canaan. Joseph’s personal faith and obedience never wavered” (note on Genesis 37:1-11) and he was able to restore unity in Jacob’s family (Genesis 45:4-5). In this instance, the keys of the kingdom of heaven may have been the dreams Joseph had that made him aware of the fact that his slavery in Egypt was a part of God’s plan to preserve the lives of Jacob’s family.

While he was in Egypt, one of the things that was obvious to everyone about Joseph was his devotion to God. A man named Potipher bought Joseph from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there and Genesis 39:5-6 tells us, “From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.” When Potipher’s wife invited Joseph to have sex with her, he refused and told her he intended to be loyal to his master. Joseph said, “‘He is not greater in the house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?’ And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her” (Genesis 39:9-10).

Joseph’s refusal to have sex with his master’s wife led to him being put in prison where he was again given a position of unusual responsibility. Genesis 39:23 states, “The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed.” Two of Pharaoh’s officers were put in custody in the prison where Joseph was confined and “the captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them” (Genesis 40:4). The Hebrew word that is translated appointed, paqad (paw-kad’) suggests that the two officers were placed in the prison under Joseph’s charge to fulfill a divine purpose (H6485). Paqad’s usage in Exodus 3:16 refers to “God’s intervention in His saving the children of Israel from their bondage in Egypt,” suggesting that the two officers were God’s instrument to get Joseph out of prison. Genesis 40:5-8 states:

And one night they both dreamed the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison — each his own dream, and each dream with its own interpretation. When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.”

Joseph’s concern for the well-being of Pharaoh’s officers showed that he was focusing on their spiritual needs as well as their physical ones. The Hebrew word that is translated downcast, ra’ (rah) “combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences. It generally indicates the rough exterior of wrongdoing as a breach of harmony, and as breaking up of what is good and desirable in man and in society. While the prominent characteristic of the godly is lovingkindness (H2617), one of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury both to himself and to everyone around him” (H7451). Joseph’s question, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” (Genesis 40:8) brought the focus of these two men’s attention squarely on God and his ability to open up the spiritual realm to anyone he wants to communicate with.

Jesus’ response to Peter’s declaration that he was the Christ was “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). What Jesus meant by that was that the time Peter spent interacting with Jesus during his ministry on earth was not what led him to the conclusion that he was the Christ. It was a supernatural revelation from God that made Peter aware of the fact that he was in the presence of “the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). It was this same supernatural type of disclosure that Jesus indicated his church would be built on “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). In other words, the unsaved condition of the human mind cannot block out the truth of God’s word. Supernatural revelation unlocks the mind and gives it the ability to comprehend what God is saying to us.

One of the most difficult things for Jesus’ disciples to comprehend was that he was going to be killed “and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21). After he was crucified, no one expected Jesus to come back to life. Matthew 16:24-27 states, “Then Jesus told his disciples, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul. Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” To deny oneself means to disregard one’s own interests (G720) and most likely signified the use of one’s power or influence to obtain a preferred outcome. Jesus indicated that our attempts to save ourselves are useless because salvation is a free gift from God, but in order to fully benefit from being saved we must follow the example that Jesus gave us of selfless abandon to doing the will of God.

Jesus’ promise to repay each person according to what he has done when he comes with his angels in the glory of his Father is a reference to the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). At the judgement seat of Christ, every believer will have to give an account of what he or she did with the life, gifts and calling that God gave to them (Harvest.org, The Judgment Seat of Christ). I believe this judgment will include both Old and New Testament saints. Joseph’s witness to the two officers of Pharaoh that were entrusted to his care while he was in prison will likely be credited to him as something that resulted in God’s will being carried out. Even so, Joseph’s faithfulness in giving God the credit for interpreting the two men’s dreams (Genesis 40:8) didn’t result in his immediate release from prison.

After Joseph interpreted the chief cupbearer’s dream and told him he would be restored to his position in the king’s palace (Genesis 40:13), Joseph requested the cupbearer’s help. He said, “Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me in this pit” (Genesis 40:14-15). The pit that Joseph was imprisoned in was a large hole in the ground that was likely used to capture rain (H953) and therefore, had little light or fresh air coming into it. The pit could be symbolic of the confines of hades or what we think of today as the pit of hell. Joseph’s life may have seemed to be ebbing away as he passed each day not knowing when or if he would be released from Pharaoh’s prison. We are told in Genesis 40:23 that after the cupbearer’s dream came true, “Yet the cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.”

One of the reasons Jesus needed to give Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven may have been because the human mind is governed by our sin nature. As much as we would like to think that God’s interests and the interests of others are foremost in our thoughts, the Apostle Paul made it clear that until we all reach maturity and the fullness of Christ is manifested in his church, we will continue to be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14). It wasn’t long after Peter declared Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16) that Satan influenced him to rebuke the Lord and Jesus had to stop Peter from being a hindrance to his mission (Matthew 16:22-23). The only way we are able to open the door of faith is by trusting in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation (John 10:9).

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

The kingdom of heaven

Jesus’ description of the kingdom of heaven suggests that it is not so much a place as it is a condition that is developed over a period of time. In some ways, you might say that the kingdom of heaven is an internal state that is connected to external factors such as housing, nutrition, and financial security. Jesus used a parable to explain how the kingdom of heaven works. He said:

A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:3-9)

The example Jesus used to explain the kingdom of heaven had to do with a common experience that most people who lived in the first century could relate to, but they still didn’t understand what he was saying. “Jesus spoke in parables to explain spiritual truths, but those who had already rejected Jesus did not have divinely enlightened minds with which to perceive these truths, and no amount of explanation would make them understand (1 Corinthians 2:14)” (note on Matthew 13:10-17).

When Jesus’ disciples asked him why he spoke to the people in parables, he told them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11). The Greek word that is translated secrets, musterion (moos-tay’-ree-on) in the New Testement 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 illuminated by His Spirit” (G3466).

Jesus said, “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand…But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:13, 16-17). One of the people in the Old Testament of the Bible that was able to see the kingdom of heaven, but still did not understand how it worked was Jacob, the son of Isaac that inherited Abraham’s blessing. When Jacob left his father’s home in Beersheba and traveled toward Haran where his uncle Laban lived, he spent the night in place that he later described as “the house of God” (Genesis 28:17).

And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:11-15).

The King James version of this passage indicates that Jacob “lighted upon a certain place” (Genesis 28:11). The Hebrew words paga (paw-gah’) and maqowm (maw-kome’) suggest that Jacob was being placed (H6293/H4725) in the house of God because it was God’s will for him to be there rather than any intentional effort on his part to arrive at that location. Like the sower in Jesus’ parable, God sowed Jacob like a seed and he landed on a rocky spot where he had to use a stone as a pillow to fall sleep.

Jesus explained the parable of the sower to his disciples in simple terms so that they could grasp the spiritual truth he wanted to convey. He said:

“Hear the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what he has sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this in the one who hears, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:18-22).

When Jacob realized the LORD was in the place where he was staying, he exclaimed, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17). Jacob was excited about his discovery, but he was unwilling to make a commitment to the LORD. Like the seed that landed on rocky ground, God’s promise didn’t take root in Jacob’s heart because Jacob didn’t believe in God. After Laban tricked him into marrying his daughter Leah and forced Jacob to stay in Haran another seven years in order for Rachel to be his wife, Jacob’s expectation of returning to his father’s house seemed to disappear altogether.

After living with his uncle Laban for 20 years, Jacob received a second message from the LORD. “Then the LORD said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you'” (Genesis 31:3). Jacob left Paddan-aram and “set his face toward the country of Gilead” (Genesis 31:21) where his father Isaac was, but Jacob was detoured from his destination. On his way from Paddan-aram, Jacob camped before the city of Shechem and “he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he pitched his tent” (Genesis 33:19). It’s unknown how much time Jacob spent in Shechem, but while he was there, his daughter Dinah was raped and his sons destroyed the city out of revenge. This seems to reflect the situation Jesus described as seed that was sown among thorns because Jacob started out obeying the LORD’s instruction by leaving his uncle’s home and heading toward Gilead, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choked the word, meaning Jacob was happy living in Shechem until the tragedy of rape closed off his spiritual airway and he allowed the city to be ransacked by his angry sons.

God spoke to Jacob a third time as he dealt with the aftermath of his daughter’s rape. “God said to Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau'” (Genesis 35:1). The Hebrew word that is translated arise, quwm (koom) is used “to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (H6965). The Hebrew word maqowm (maw-kome) which is translated “a certain place” in Genesis 28:11 is derived from quwm and speaks of not only of a locality, but also figuratively “of a condition (of body or mind)” (H4725). God’s command to go up to Bethel was not related to its geographical location because Bethel was located about 25 miles south of Shechem. What God was likely doing when he instructed Jacob to “Arise, go up to Bethel” (Genesis 31:1) was calling Jacob, inviting him to become a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus said in his parable of the weeds:

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn'” (Matthew 13:24-30).

The Greek word that is translated weeds, zizanion (dziz-an’-ee-on) “is a kind of darnel growing in the grain fields, as tall as wheat and barley, and resembling wheat in appearance, except the seeds are black. It was credited among the Jews with being degenerate wheat. The seeds are poisonous to man and herbivorous animals, producing sleepiness, nausea, convulsions and even death (they are harmless to poultry). The plants can be separated out, but the custom, as in the parable, is to leave the cleaning out till near the time of harvest” (G2215).

Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the weeds indicated there is only one kingdom that exists in the world and Satan’s followers are usually found intermingled in it with believers. Jesus said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil” (Matthew 13:38-39). One of the reasons why it is sometimes difficult to tell if a person is saved or not is because Satan’s sons cleverly disguise themselves as Christians. They want everyone to think they are good people and don’t intend to do anyone any harm. In the parable of the weeds, the man who sowed the good seed told his servants not to gather the weeds because “in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them” (Matthew 13:29). This could mean that the lives of believers and unbelievers are so closely intertwined that separating them presents a risk of believers becoming calloused toward God.

Jacob’s love for his wife Rachel was a driving force in his decision to stay with his uncle Laban. At first, Jacob only committed himself to serving Laban for seven years in order to marry Rachel, but after he was tricked into marrying Leah instead, Jacob agreed to serve Laban seven more years. At the end of that time, Jacob was persuaded to stay another six years in exchange for flocks of animals to feed his family. When Jacob finally decided it was time for him to leave Paddan-aram, Rachel stole her father’s household gods, hid them in her camel’s saddle, and lied to Laban about it while he searched for them in her tent. The household gods were idols that most likely symbolized the family’s devotion to pagan deities such as Astoreth and Ishtar. After God commanded Jacob to “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there” (Genesis 35:1), it says in Genesis 35:2-3, “So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.”

Jacob’s awareness that his family was practicing idolatry was a compromise that had most likely affected his spiritual leadership. His commitment to the LORD at Bethel may have been Jacob’s way of changing the course of his family’s history and a distinct point in time when God began to work out Jacob’s destiny through the lives of his children. Genesis 35:16-19 states, “Then they journeyed from Bethel. When they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel went into labor, and she had hard labor. And when her labor was the hardest, the midwife said to her, ‘Do not fear, for you have another son.’ And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is Bethlehem).”

Jesus told his disciples, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches” (Matthew 13:31-32). What happened to Jacob when he went to live with his uncle Laban seems to illustrate this spiritual truth. Jacob’s uncle admitted that he had learned by divination that the LORD had blessed him because of Jacob. The Hebrew word that is translated divination, nachash (naw-khash’) means a magic spell, but can also refer to learning by experience or diligently observing something. Like the branches of the tree in Jesus’ parable that spread wide and tall and were inviting to the birds that were looking for places to build their nests, God’s blessing on Jacob’s life was a benefit to everyone around him and some people took advantage of that. Jesus went on to say, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour till it was all leavened” (Matthew 13:33). This seems to suggest that faith can be contagious and that it is easier for the people around a believer to have faith in God once they see it at work in the believer’s life.

It’s not known exactly how old Jacob was when he returned to his father’s home, but it can be estimated that he was about 100-105 years of age. Jacob was approximately 90 years old when his son Joseph was born. Jacob lived in Paddam-aram another six years after that (Genesis 30:25 31:41), then he went to Shechem and lived there until Joseph was probably around 12 or 13 years old. Genesis 35:27-29 encapsulates the entire period of time from when Jacob returned to Hebron to when Isaac died at the age of 180, which would have made Jacob 120 years old (Genesis 25:26). These verses state, “And Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre, or Kiriath-arba (that is Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had sojourned. Now the days of Isaac were 180 years. And Isaac breathed his last, and he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.”

After Jacob returned to Hebron, it appears that he and Esau lived peacefully with each other the rest of their lives. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians talked about the reconciliation of the two people groups that are represented by the twin brothers Jacob and Esau. He said, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and had broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:13-16).

Paul described the peace of God as something that “surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). This may have been what Jesus was talking about when he said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). Jesus went on to say, “Again the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46). The only way a person can have the peace of God is by having a relationship with Jesus Christ. In his final discourse, after eating the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Jesus concluded by stating, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I’m a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write to me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

Strangers

The Apostle Peter’s letter to believers began with this greeting, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied” (1 Peter 1:1-2). The Greek word translated strangers, parepidemos (par-ep-id’-ay-mos) means “an alien alongside that is a resident foreigner” (G3927). It is clear from the rest of Peter’s salutation that he was addressing born again Christians. The reason he referred to them as strangers may have had something to do with his unique understanding of the kingdom of heaven.

Peter went on to talk about Christ as our corner stone and said, “Come to Christ as to a living stone. Men have put Him aside, but He was chosen by God and is of great worth in the sight of God. You are to be as living stones in the building God is making also. You are His religious leaders giving yourselves to God through Jesus Christ. This kind of gift pleases God. The Holy Writings say, ‘See, I lay down in Jerusalem a Stone of great worth, worth far more than any amount of money. Anyone who puts his trust in Him will not be ashamed'” (1 Peter 2:4-6, NLV). Peter used the metaphor of living stones to convey the idea of being spiritually alive in a material body. He also wanted to explain how Christians come together to form the body of Christ. Just as bricks or stones are individual pieces of a building, each believer contributes to the overall structure that is referred to as the house of God or body of Christ i.e. the church.

The key to understanding Peter’s view of the kingdom of heaven may be found in 1 Peter 2:11-12 where it says, “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.” A building and in particular a house is a physical representation of the people that occupy it. Certain types of structures give the impression of wealth or prestige. The church in the sense of it being a collection of all the believers on Earth is a physical representation of the kingdom of heaven which is being displayed to the world through the lives of believers. That’s why Peter said our good works, which can be seen by unbelievers, will glorify God by testifying to the reality of his kingdom and causing others to accept Christ.

The important thing to note about Peter’s use of the term stranger to refer to born again Christians is that strangers usually stand out in a neighborhood or community. A stranger isn’t someone that doesn’t belong there, but someone that hasn’t been assimilated into the culture. The Greek word parepidemos refers to someone that is bound to another set of rules or has an allegiance to a foreign government. Jesus told many parables about the kingdom of heaven and made it known to his followers that things don’t work the same way there. When a rich young ruler asked Jesus “what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16), Jesus told him that he needed to keep the commandments and then added, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Matthew 19:21, NKJV).

Spiritual work

Jesus’ parable of the talents illustrated the concept of spiritual work. He began his lesson by stating, “For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey” (Matthew 25:14-15). In order to convey the point he was trying to make, Jesus used an example that dealt with something his followers were familiar with. The idea that the master of a household would leave his home and go on a long journey was not that unusual in the time period in which Jesus lived. Today we think of business trips lasting no more than a week or two because we have airplanes and internet connections that speed up everything we do. It is likely that the image Jesus was creating was a trip from Israel to Spain or perhaps China, which could have taken months or even years depending on the mode of travel.

Jesus indicated talents were distributed to the man’s servants according to their “several ability” (Matthew 25:15). The Greek words idios (id´-ee-os) and dunamis (doo´-nam-is) have to do with miraculous power that is divided up among individuals with each one getting his particular portion or unique part (G2398/G1411). Jesus was probably referring to the gifts of the Spirit that are identified in 1 Corinthians 12. The Apostle Paul associated spiritual gifts with the Holy Spirit and said, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). The phrase “profit withal” comes from the Greek word sumphero (soom-fer´-o) which means “to bear together” (G4851). Sumphero is derived from the Greek words sun (soon) and phero (fer´-o). “Phero, as a verb, means ‘to bear, carry’ and is rendered ‘being moved’ in 2 Peter 1:21, signifying that they were ‘borne along,’ or impelled, by the Holy Spirit’s power, not acting according to their own will, or simply expressing their own thoughts, but expressing the mind of God in words provided and ministered by Him. It is used also of ‘bearing or bringing forth fruit'” (G5342). Jesus used the Greek verb phero when he talked about bearing spiritual fruit in his parable of the sower (Mark 4:3-8).

Jesus indicated in his parable of the talents that there would come a day when the man’s servants would be held accountable for their use of his resources while he was gone. He said, “After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them” (Matthew 25:19). The two Greek words that are translated reckoneth, sunairo (soon-ah´ee-ro) and logos (log´-os) are associated with the collective use of God’s word. It could be that reckoning has something to do with a replay of what Christians have said (or not said as the case may be) about Christ during their lifetimes. Jesus made it clear in his explanation of the parable of the sower that the seed that was being sown in the field was the word of God going out into the world (Luke 8:11; Matthew:13:38). Therefore, the spiritual work of spreading the gospel is what Jesus expected each of his followers to be doing while they were waiting for his return.

Spiritual treasure

Jesus used a series of parables to teach his disciples the exorbitant value of the kingdom of heaven. He said:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Again the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Have you understood all these things?”  They said to him, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Matthew 13:44-52, ESV)

A scribe was a person that had the ability to read and write and was responsible for maintaining the documents associated with the Jewish religion. Jesus likened a scribe that had received spiritual instruction about the meaning of the documents he was managing to someone that manages a household because the ability to teach God’s word comes from an understanding of how everything fits together. Jesus implied that the treasure of God’s word is found when you connect the dots or put together the timeless truths of both the Old and New Testaments.

Jesus’ parable of the unrighteous steward (Luke 16:1-13) showed that the Bible teachers of his day were unwilling to make sense of what he was teaching them in light of the many prophecies that were given hundreds of years earlier about the coming of the Jews Messiah. It wasn’t that these men were unable to connect the dots, it was that they saw no value in the old Hebrew manuscripts and therefore, had missed the references to Jesus’ coming (Luke 16:1-2). The Jewish religious system had become outdated and needed to be refurbished, but there were no one willing to take on the challenge of searching through the Old Testament scriptures to discover the truth.

At the heart of the problem Jesus’ was addressing was a desire to obtain material wealth, rather than the riches of the kingdom of heaven. In Jesus’ parable, when the unjust steward was told he was going to be fired (Luke 16:2), he went to all his master’s debtors and reduced the amount they owed him (Luke 16:5-7), so that when the steward became unemployed, they would welcome him into their homes (Luke 16:4). Jesus commended the unjust steward, “because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” (Luke 16:8).

Jesus’ reference to “children of this world” and “children of light” (Luke 16:8) was not a distinction between believers and unbelievers. He was referring to believers that are using their worldly intelligence and experience to make decisions rather than spiritual discernment. The reason Jesus commended the man who used his practical skill to get himself out of trouble was because he had actually practiced a spiritual principle without knowing it, the forgiveness of debt. Jesus argued, “If ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?” (Luke 16:11). In other words, the real treasure of heaven or truth of God’s word is given to those who know what to do with it.

The guest list

Jesus used the illustration of a wedding reception to teach the religious leaders he was dining with a lesson about God’s seating chart in heaven. Jesus noticed how everyone at the dinner party he was attending acted like they were VIPs (Luke 14:7). They all thought they deserved the best seats in the house. Rather than seeking out a place of honor, Jesus told these men they should sit in the seat farthest away from the wedding party and let their host decide whether or not they should be moved to a better location (Luke 14:10). The point Jesus was making was that the host knows best where each person belongs on the seating chart. Jesus said, “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11).

Jesus realized he was a popular person and wasn’t trying to discourage these men from trying to get to know him. The thing Jesus wanted them to understand was that God wasn’t impressed with the positions these religious leaders held or their good reputations in the community. The thing that mattered most to him was their sincere desire to follow Jesus’ example. Speaking directly to the host of the dinner party, Jesus said:

When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbors; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14:12-14)

Jesus made it clear that recompense or the repayment of an act of kindness isn’t a bad thing for us to strive for, but he wanted us to be aware that God doesn’t reward what he considers to be normal social behavior. Jesus’ reference to the resurrection of the just may have been the one that takes place just before his thousand year reign on Earth (Revelation 20:4-6). The judgment Jesus depicted in Matthew 25:31-46 showed that “rewards in the kingdom of heaven are given to those who serve without thought of reward” and there is no hint of merit here, for God gives out of grace, not debt (note on Matthew 25:34-40). Jesus said of the just:

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:  for I was a hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee a hungred and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink: when saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? or when saw we thee sick, or in prison and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matthew 25:34-40)

Justification

One of the advantages God built into his plan of salvation was a provision for all sinners to be acquitted of every charge brought against them when God judges the world. In other words, by their admission of personal wrong doing, sinners are by default guilty, but through the justification provided them, they are declared innocent by God (1344). In order to qualify for this justification, a person must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and accept his payment of their debt to God through his death on the cross. Once justification takes place, the sinner is awarded eternal life and entrance into God’s kingdom. The believer’s one-way ticket to heaven can only be redeemed on an individual basis and is thought to be irrevocable after salvation has been received.

As the Savior of the World, Jesus was given authority over demonic forces and enabled to accomplish certain tasks on earth that no mortal man was able to. For instance, Jesus rebuked a devil that possessed a lunatic boy and caused him to depart from him (Matthew 17:18) and he restored the sight of a man born blind (John 9:7). In addition to the many miracles he performed, Jesus also taught his followers about the kingdom of heaven and forgave the sins of people considered to be hardened criminals (John 8:11). In preparation for his departure, Jesus sent out seventy of his disciples to spread the good news that Israel’s Messiah had arrived. After they returned, the disciples reported, “Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name” (Luke 10:17).

Jesus’ disciples didn’t seem to understand the significance of the justification that he was making available to everyone. Although they had the power to perform miracles because of Jesus’ authority in the spiritual realm, the primary purpose of justification was so that people could go to heaven when they died. Jesus explained, “I  beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall be any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:18-20). The book of life that Jesus referred to is a permanent record of each person’s salvation (Revelation 3:5).

Following Jesus’ interaction with his disciples, a lawyer asked him the question, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 10:25). Essentially, what this man was asking was how he could get to heaven without being justified by Jesus. The lawyer understood God’s commandments and thought he had lived according to them. He basically stated that he needed to love God and his neighbor as himself (Luke 10:27). It says in Luke 10:29, “But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Jesus used the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35) to show this man that it wasn’t enough for him to just refrain from harming others, he needed to demonstrate his love to anyone in need in order to earn his own way into heaven.