John the Baptist played an important role in the transition that took place during Jesus’ three-year ministry on earth. John marked the end of the old economy in which sacrifices for sins had to be made on an ongoing basis. John’s statement, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) indicated that Jesus would radically change the way God’s people worshipped him. At the end of his life, after he had been imprisoned for his message of repentance, John began to have doubts and became deeply discouraged. Because of his confusion about the situation, John sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” (Matthew11:3). Jesus told John’s disciples to remind him of all the things that were happening. He said, “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matthew 11:5).

Jesus’ controversial message brought fear and doubt to many people because they didn’t understand God’s plan of salvation. The transition from works of righteousness through sacrifice to God’s free gift of redemption was a hard one, mostly because it meant that anyone could enter into God’s kingdom, if he was willing to admit he was a sinner and couldn’t save himself. The hyper-critical Pharisees in particular, thought they were keeping the law and were perfect in God’s sight. Jesus exposed these men’s judgmental attitudes and cautioned his followers. Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount, “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). The problem was that no one believed it was possible to be more righteous than a Pharisee. The Greek words Jesus used for exceed, perisseuo (per-is-syoo´-o) pleion (pli´-own) mean to superabound, to be greater than or in excess of what is required (4052/4119).

During the transition from the Old Covenant, the Mosaic Law, to the New Covenant, salvation by grace, Jesus emphasized the importance of the Jews attitude toward what they thought was sinful behavior. He stated, “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children” (Matthew 11:18-19). The point Jesus was trying to make was that the people were not content with their new situation. They wanted everything to be as they liked, comfortable and easy to handle. In essence, they thought Jesus and John the Baptist were too radical. The Jews were looking for a nice, middle of the road viewpoint to follow. The statement, “But wisdom is justified of her children” (Matthew 11:19) was meant as a criticism of the Jews lack of awareness of the extreme sacrifice Jesus was making by taking upon himself the responsibility for saving the world.

The transition

Amos’ message to the people of Israel indicated they were entering into a time of transition. Things would be different for them in the future in both good and bad ways. One thing that was going to change was the people of Israel would no longer live as a collective group in a single location. Captivity would not only remove the people from their land, but also permanently separate them from each other. Since the time when Jacob’s family went to live in Egypt, all his descendants had remained together, but that would no longer be the case.

It says in Amos 8:2, “The end is come upon my people of Israel; I will not again pass by them any more.” The LORD used an illustration of a basket of summer fruit to describe what he would do to his people (Amos 8:1). He intended to remove them from their source of nourishment and distribute them to other locations. The LORD had been developing his people, tending to them as a farmer would his crop, and it was time for them to be harvested.

While fruit is on the tree, all of it receives the same nourishment, sunshine, rain, and fertilizer. During the harvesting process, the good fruit and the bad fruit are separated out. I believe the basket of summer fruit represented the good fruit the LORD intended to keep for himself. The bad fruit would be removed and destroyed. It says in Amos 8:3, “And the songs of the temple shall be howlings in that day, saith the Lord God: there shall be many dead bodies in every  place, they shall cast them forth with silence.”

The arrangement God had with his people was that they would worship and serve him only (Deuteronomy 29:20). Even before the people entered the Promised Land, God knew they would forsake him (Deuteronomy 29:24-26). Captivity was a part of his plan from the beginning (Deuteronomy 30:3). I believe the reason God allowed the Israelites to practice idolatry for so many years was because of the effect it had on the surrounding nations. As wicked as the Ninevites were, even they believed, if they repented, God would forgive them (Jonah 3:9).

God was targeting a specific  segment of the population for destruction; those who refused to turn from their sin. The LORD declared, “All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, which say, The evil shall not overtake nor prevent us” (Amos 9:10). The people God had a problem with were the ones who thought they could get away with their sins; the ones who expected there to be no negative consequences for the bad things they were doing. God made it clear that Israel’s fortunes would be restored, but only those “which are called by my name” (Amos 9:12) would be there to enjoy it.