Ministering to God’s people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signs

The conclusion of Jesus’ ministry marked the beginning of a new age that would continue for an unknown period of time. Since he had already made it known to his followers that his kingdom on Earth would not be established immediately, Jesus’ disciples wanted to know when they should expect his return. Jesus focused their attention on the beginning and ending stages of a time period he referred to as “this generation” (Luke 21:32) so that his followers would be aware of and tracking the most obvious signs of his imminent return. Jesus started by pointing out that the temple in Jerusalem was an important sign or marker of what was about to happen. Luke’s gospel stated, “And as some spake of the temple how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts, he said, As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Luke 21:5-6).

Jesus’ prophecy about God’s temple was “fulfilled literally in A.D. 70, when the Romans under Titus completely destroyed Jerusalem and the temple buildings. Stones were even pried apart to collect the gold leaf that melted from the roof when the temple was set on fire…Excavations in 1968 uncovered large numbers of these stones, toppled from the walls by the invaders” (note on Matthew 24:2). This significant sign may have marked the official start of what could be referred to as the Gentile age, the time period when Jesus’ gospel would be taken to the world at large. According to the Great Commission, Jesus told his disciples just before he ascended to heaven, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:18-20).

The end of the world that Jesus mentioned in his great commission was not the destruction of the physical planet that we live on, but his overthrow of the world systems of government that are currently being managed by Satanic forces. The word Jesus used that is translated world in Matthew 28:20, aion (ahee-ohn´) is properly translated as an age and specifically refers to a Messianic period (G165). There could be a direct correlation between the spread of the gospel and the destruction of Satan’s earthly kingdom. Whenever someone is born again, there is a shift in the population from the number of people that belong to God’s kingdom compared to Satan’s. It is possible there is a tipping point, so to speak, that will trigger Christ’s return. At which time, the end of this age will begin to unfold.

Jesus indicated there would be numerous signs that would mark the end of the age in which his gospel would be spread throughout the world.  He said, “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:25-27). It seems likely that the signs of Jesus’ return will become more noticeable the closer we get to it happening. Some Bible scholars believe the rapture will take place before an event known as the Great Tribulation and Christians will return with Christ at his second coming (Revelation 19:14). Jesus may have been referring to this when he said, “And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 21:28).

Weather forecast

One of the ongoing challenges Jesus had to deal with during his ministry was conflict with the religious leaders that influenced God’s people. Jesus had very little of what we refer to today as positional authority. In essence, Jesus was a nobody that arrived on the scene and gathered a huge following in a relatively short period of time. No one knew for certain that Jesus was God, except for the many miraculous things he did, many of which had never been seen before. Jesus could have done more to convince people of who he was, but it was apparently not God’s will for his identity to be completely revealed until after he had been resurrected from the dead.

In an attempt to get Jesus to prove that he was the Jew’s Messiah, Matthew tells us that the Pharisees and Sadducees “came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven” (Matthew 16:1). Matthew’s reference to tempting suggested that the Pharisees and Sadducees were working as agents of Satan and were attempting to get Jesus to go against his Father’s will by making a spectacle of himself in order to prove that he was without a doubt the savior of the world. Jesus’ response to their request showed that he was aware of their motives and had intentionally refused to appease them in spite of their ability to discredit him. Matthew reported:

He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, it will be fair weather: for the sky is red, and in the morning, it will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. (Matthew 16:2-4)

Jesus used the example of weather forecasting to show that the Pharisees and Sadducees were only pretending to not know who he was. The many miracles Jesus performed were adequate evidence of his divine character and authority. There had even been a previous occasion when God spoke from heaven and said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). The issue that was really as stake was whether or not Jesus would act according to the will of Satan or according to will of God, his heavenly Father. Matthew said of Jesus, “And he left them, and departed” (Matthew 16:4). In other words, Jesus just walked away without saying anything further to them.

A sign

The scribes and the Pharisees were notorious for their criticism of Jesus and went so far as to suggest that he was performing miracles by the power of Beelzebub the prince of the devils (Matthew 12:24). After Jesus told these hypocrites that they would be judged for their blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, it says in Matthew 12:38, “Then certain of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee.” The fact that the scribes and Pharisees used the title Master to refer to Jesus and then asked him for a sign showed their disrespect for his authority. Essentially, what these men were doing was asking Jesus to show them his credentials. The scribes and Pharisees didn’t believe Jesus was their Messiah and wanted evidence that he was who he claimed to be. At a deeper level, these men expected Jesus to act like their version of what they thought God’s Messiah would be, a revolutionary that would overthrow the Roman government.

In spite of their disrespectful attitude, Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees that he would give them a sign similar to the one that was given to Nineveh, the wicked city where Jonah the prophet was sent with a message of God’s judgment (Jonah 1:2). Jesus said, “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:39). Interestingly enough, Jesus didn’t tell the scribes and Pharisees that his resurrection would be the sign of his authenticity, but told these sceptics that the proof he would give them that he was their Messiah would be his death and burial. In other words, the proof that Jesus was the Jew’s Messiah was that he would be killed by the very same people he came to save. This was also a prophetic sign because it was foretold hundreds of years earlier that Israel’s Messiah would suffer and die for God’s chosen people (Isaiah 53).

Jesus depicted the spiritual state of God’s people as being susceptible to demonic influence (Matthew 12:45). This may have been the case because Satan had gained significant ground in God’s territory through Roman occupation. Jesus’ illustration showed that God’s people should expect things to get worse, rather than better, after the Roman government was out of the picture. He said, “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return unto my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation” (Matthew 12:43-45).

Signs

The extreme measures God took to commission Ezekiel were necessary because Ezekiel was unwilling to serve the LORD as a messenger to a group of people he described as rebellious, impudent, and hardhearted (Ezekiel 2:3-5). Like Jeremiah, Ezekiel would face opposition that would be not only discouraging, but also maddening to the point he would not be able to do his job without God’s help. God told Ezekiel, “Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads. As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house” (Ezekiel 3:8-9).

God went so far as to tell Ezekiel he would not be able to speak any words except those that the LORD gave him. He said, “And I will make thy tongue cleave to the roof of thy mouth, that thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be to them a reprover: for they are a rebellious house. But when I speak with thee, I will open thy mouth, and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD: He that heareth, let him hear; and him that forbeareth, let him forbear: for they are a rebellious house” (Ezekiel 3:26-27). In order to ensure Ezekiel’s messages would be taken seriously, God began his ministry with a series of symbolic acts that would serve as signs or attestations to the validity of Ezekiel’s prophecies (226).

The first sign that was given was a clay model that would portray the siege of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 1:3). Although Jerusalem’s destruction was imminent at the time of Ezekiel’s deportation, many believed God would intervene at the last minute and save his people from the Babylonian army. Even though king Zedekiah knew the truth, he led the people of Jerusalem to believe they would escape destruction and were safe inside the walls of the city (Jeremiah 28:11). Ezekiel’s model of the siege of Jerusalem clearly depicted the end result, a desperate situation in which the people would be forced to use human excrement as a fuel source (Ezekiel 4:12-13).

Perhaps, the most controversial of Ezekiel’s symbolic acts was the one through which he bore the sins of God’s people. Ezekiel was forced to lie on his side and was bound with ropes or chains in order to depict the bondage of sin, representing to God’s people their need for a savior. God told Ezekiel, “Lie thou also upon thy left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it…For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days…And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year…And behold, I will lay bands upon thee, and thou shalt not turn thee from one side to another till thou hast ended the days of thy siege” (Ezekiel 4:4-8).

The total number of days Ezekiel would bear the iniquities of God’s people, 430 days, was significant because the period of silence between the last prophetic message the people received through the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ was 430 years (From Malachi to Christ). During that time, Judah was reestablished, but there was no king and the nation was subject to foreign rulers, until finally, Rome captured Jerusalem and the provinces became subject to Rome. Herod the Great, a procurator of the Roman Empire, was ruler of all the Holy Land at the time of Christ’s birth. God said that he had appointed one day for each year of his people’s rebellion. Through this prophecy, God was telling his people when their Messiah would come to rescue them.