Matthew 24:3

As He sat on the Mount of Olives [which was east of the city of Jerusalem], the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming [presence] and of the end of the age?”

We can understand the astonishment of the disciples concerning the words of Jesus when He had just pronounced the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. They realized that He was talking about a dreadful event that was to befall national Israel. In view of the fact that they still believed that Jesus would possibly “restore the kingdom to Israel” (At 1:6), they were having a difficult time processing His statements here concerning the destruction of all that in which they had taken so much pride throughout their.

When we consider the parallel accounts of Mark (13:4) and Luke (21:7), the disciples seem to be asking two questions: (1) When will the things of Matthew 23:36 happen? (2) What will be the sign of Jesus’ “coming” (or “presence”) and the end of the age.

The disciples still remembered Jesus’ teaching in the parable of the Sower that the tares should be left with the wheat until the time of judgment (Mt 13:29). “Therefore, as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age” (Mt 13:40). Jesus was talking about the age of His first century disciples, not some far off event that was beyond the life-span of the immediate disciples. He was certainly not speaking of events that would transpire over two thousand years later.

The Greek work aionios in Matthew 13:40 is correctly translated “age” as it is so translated in Matthew 28:20. This Greek word was unfortunately translated by the prejudicial King James translators with the word “world”—the translators believed that Jesus was speaking of the end of the world in Matthew 24. But in the context, Jesus was revealing judgment “in time.” The destruction of Jerusalem in time would be an illustration in some way of what would happen at the unique final coming of Jesus at the end of time. But in the historical context Jesus was preparing His Jewish disciples for the end of national Israel. The Jews would continue throughout history as a culture of people. However, their existence as a unique people in a covenant with God was terminated at the cross and demonstrated in A.D. 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

In the context of Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus answered the preceding two questions. He used the word “coming” that is translated from the Greek word parousia. A better translation would be “presence.” In other words, the disciples were asking what the sign of His presence would be. Jesus subsequently revealed two “comings” or “presences” in His teaching concerning the end of Israel. First, there would be a coming (“presence”) in time in judgment upon the nation of Israel. He had earlier referred to this event in Matthew 16:27,28.

“For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels [messengers], and then He will reward each according to his works. Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming [presence] in His kingdom.”

Second, by the end of chapter 25, it is possible that Jesus included a coming in judgment at the end of time. This would be a final presence, or final judgment of all the world. We are of the opinion, however, that the entire context of Matthew 24 refers to the coming in time in judgment upon national Israel. Only in chapter 25 does Jesus possibly moved on in the discourse to final events.

All “comings in judgment” of God in time are symbolic or typical of His final presence at the end of time. However, we must keep in mind that the disciples before His ascension did not comprehend Jesus’ previous discussions concerning His death, resurrection and kingdom reign. It is not probable here, therefore, that they would be asking questions about a final coming and judgment of Jesus at the end of time. Jesus possibly included information on the end of time for our sakes only.

The immediate disciples did not understand the end of Israel, let alone ask questions about the final coming of Jesus and judgment at the end of the world. This does not mean, however, that Jesus did not speak concerning final things while He was with the disciples during His earthly ministry. He revealed to them many things they did not fully understand. Only when such things were brought to their remembrance with the revelation of all truth did they fully understand what Jesus had revealed to them during His earthly ministry (See Jn 14:26; 16:13).

It is best to understand Matthew 24 as a type, or illustration, of the unique destruction of the world at the end of time. An example of this application would be when Jude used Enoch’s prophecy of the judgment of the flood of Noah’s day to refer to the coming judgment upon Israel for “all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” (Jd 15,16). In the context of Matthew 24, Jesus also used “judgment language” in order to prophesy the destruction of Jerusalem. Such language was also used in other texts in reference to the end of the world. We would not be wrong, therefore, to use the general teaching of God’s judgments in time to illustrate His judgment at the end of time.

We are discussing two “ends” in the context of chapters 24 and 25. First, there is the end of national Israel that would happen in the lifetime of the immediate disciples of Jesus (23:36; see Mk 9:1). Reference to these things center around Israel’s end by destruction (See 23:36; 24:2,8,33,34).

Second, there is the end of the world that is illustrated by the judgment and destruction of the flood in Noah’s day and the destruction of Jerusalem. In an illustrative way, therefore, the end of national Israel would demonstrate the end of the world. As the typical Jew could not comprehend the end of Israel, so men today cannot comprehend the end of the world. Unbelievers will speak all sorts of harsh things against Christians because they believe there is no finality to the things of this world.

[Next in series: July 13]

Matthew 24:1,2

Matthew 24:1: The Nationalistic Pride Of The Disciples

“Then Jesus went out [of the city of Jerusalem] and departed from the temple [courtyard]. And His disciples came to show Him the buildings of the temple [that were built by Herod the Great].”

Jesus had just pronounced judgment upon the city of Jerusalem in Matthew 23:38. He had also just stated, “Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation (Mt 23:36). We feel that the disciples were surely stunned by what He had just said. In response to Jesus’ statements, Peter, James, John and Andrew later came to Jesus privately while He was on the Mount of Olives (Mt 24:3; Mk 13:3).

At least these four disciples showed their nationalistic feelings by expressing their pride in the physical structures that Herod the Great had constructed. As loyalist Jews, they were surely thinking that these buildings, and especially the temple, could not be destroyed by the will of God. God would not bring an end to His covenanted people. Their nationalistic feelings were struggling against Jesus’ prophecy. Nevertheless, their loyalty to Judaism would not preserve that in which Israel had taken so much pride for centuries.

Matthew 24:2: The Imminent Destruction Of The City Of Jerusalem

“Jesus said to His disciples, “Do you not see all these things [of Jerusalem and the temple]? Truly I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Jesus had prepared the disciples for this final pronouncement of judgment upon Israel. The parables of 13:3-9,36-43; 21:33-46; 22:1-14, and the definitive proclamation of 23:29-39, prepared the disciples for what He was going to reveal in this context. Jesus had earlier prophesied that the end of the national Israel was at hand. The “ax was laid at the root” (3:10) and a destructive blow was about to come upon Israel in about forty years from the time Jesus made these pronouncements.All these things would come to an end.

This last prophecy of Jesus in Matthew 24 is of the coming destruction of the temple and Jerusalem that was initiated by the Roman general Vespasian, who would later be declared Caesar of Rome. Titus, his son, would complete the job. The destruction would signal the termination of national Israel as a covenanted people of God. This would be the fulfillment of Moses’ prophetic curse upon a people who had rejected God (Dt 28:15-68). The destruction would be great and final.

Josephus was a Jewish historian who lived during the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, and claimed to be amount the Roman army at the time of the siege of Jerusalem. He personally witnessed the war and final fall of the city. In his Wars of the Jews he estimated that over 1,100,000 Jews died in the destruction; the few 80,000 or so who were left were sold into captivity. Though it is believed that Josephus may have embellished his figures, at least whatever the true figures of death and captivity were when the annihilation was complete, was nothing short of genocide. The temple was burned and the city levelled to the ground. The prophecy of Jesus in Luke 19:43,44 was realized.

“For the days will come upon you when your enemies will cast a barricade around you, and encompass you and hem you in on every side, and will level you to the ground and your children within you. And they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”

The destruction of the temple would be God’s demonstrated revelation that He was finished with the Jews’ religion, as well as His special covenant relationship with national Israel. The purpose for which Israel was called into a covenant relationship with Him was fulfilled by the conclusion of Jesus’ time on earth. What Jesus said in the following statement at the beginning of His earthly ministry explains His mission: “Do not think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I did not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Mt 5:17). Unless we conclude, as so many do, that He was not talking about doing away with the Sinai law and covenant with Israel, then we must read the context in which Jesus made the preceding statement:

“For verily I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law until all is fulfilled (Mt 5:18).

Some theologians just cannot connect the dots on this matter. They have a difficult time connecting the statement of Matthew 5:17,18 with what Jesus said in Luke 24:44 at the conclusion of this earthly ministry when He had fulfilled the law. After His resurrection, and before His ascension, He gathered the apostles together and said,

“These are the words that I spoke to you while was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled that were written in the law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms, concerning Me” (Lk 24:44).

When the preceding statement was made, the law had been fulfilled. When Jesus fulfilled all that was written in the law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Himself, then everything was fulfilled. The Sinai law and covenant could pass away as Jesus brought both Jews and Gentiles into a new relationship with God that was based on the gospel of grace.

The use of the pronoun “your” in Matthew 23:38 is significant. “See,” Jesus said, “your house is left to you desolate.” By the time of Jesus’ ministry, it was no longer God’s house. In the mind of God the Jewish religious leaders had already stolen the inheritance of the vineyard (See Mt 21:38,39). Jesus had said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition” (Mk 7:9; see Mt 15:1-9). Paul was certainly correct by calling Judaism the Jews’ religion (Gl 1:13). They no longer submitted to the word of God is the authority in matters of faith. By the time Jesus came into the world, the religious heritage of the Jews was their authority in matters of faith. Their religious traditions had supplanted the authority of the word of God. Once again in their history the curse for rejecting God and His word was coming upon them. On a similar occasion in their history before their destruction through captivity, Hosea wrote,

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children (Hs 4:6).

Because Israel had rejected God and His visitation through His Son, judgment was coming upon her.

[Next in series: July 11]

Judgments (Intro. 3)

For many years biblical interpreters have placed little emphasis on the consummation of national Israel that was demonstrated by God in A.D. 70. Judgment passages in the New Testament were commonly misinterpreted with emphasis on the end-of-time coming and the final judgment by Jesus rather than the end of national Israel by the coming of Jesus in judgment upon Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

As a result of our overzealous emphasis on the final coming, we have traditionally approached texts as Matthew 24 with emphasis on the end of time. Rather than an historical interpretation that had direct relevance to the ones to whom Jesus first delivered His message that God’s covenant with Israel was coming to a close, we have obsessed over the end of time. Add to this the fact that there have been too many prophecy thieves who have stolen the warning that Jesus gave to the Jewish Christians of His day in order that they prepare themselves for the end of national Israel.

We must always keep in mind three very important points when interpreting Matthew’s account of Matthew 24:

A. Mission to the Jews:

Matthew, a Jew, focused on Jesus’ ministry to those of His immediate time, specifically the Jews. He came to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 10:6). He came to choose the twelve apostles and then commission them to a worldwide task that would begin first with the Jews (Lk 6:13; Mt 28:20).

The immediate ministry of Jesus through the apostles was first to the Jews. His ministry then became worldwide and throughout all history when the apostles and other evangelists went into all the world. Until the end of time, Jesus will continue to accomplish His mission through the global ministry of His disciples. In order to accomplish His goal of populating heaven, this historical preaching of the gospel began. In order to accomplish this mission, He initially came to work with His immediate Jewish environment.

B. Jesus as the Messiah:

Secondly, Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience about Jesus as the Messiah. Matthew’s statements, therefore, have direct reference to the Jewish hope of a Redeemer. The Jews had to accept Jesus as the Messiah. They had to do so because God was about to physically close the book on national Israel. Those who would not accept Jesus’ messiahship would most likely be caught up in the destruction and close of national Israel in A.D. 70. Through His parables, and the direct statements of Matthew 24, Jesus’ prophecy of the end of Israel was meant to prepare Jewish Christians who lived during the decade before A.D. 70 that the end was coming.

C. The imminent coming:

The pronouncements of Jesus in Matthew 24 emphasize an imminent coming and “end.” This imminent coming would be in the lifetime of the disciples to whom Jesus made these statements (See Mt 16:27,28; 23:34-36).

The Holy Spirit inspired no New Testament writer to deceive the first century disciples into believing that Jesus would personally return in His final coming in their lifetime. Therefore, the context of Matthew 24 is talking about a “coming” within the lifetime of the immediate disciples.

But the “coming” in Matthew 24 cannot refer to the final coming of Jesus simply because Jesus did not deceive His disciples that He would personally come in their lifetime. Therefore, we must approach Matthew 24 from the viewpoint that Jesus was giving information to His immediate disciples concerning some traumatic event that was going to happen in the lifetime of the immediate Jews. He was going to come in judgment on all those Jews who did not accept Him as the Messiah and Savior of the world. God was going to bring judgment on those who did not recognized the time of His visitation to the house of Israel through His only begotten Son (See Lk 19:43,44).

Many scholarly books in recent years have correctly restored emphasis on the importance of the A.D. 70 consummation of national Israel that is taught throughout the New Testament. This has led to a more consistent interpretation of many passages that deal with God’s judgment that He brought on Israel in her final years as a covenanted people. For example, we feel that Jesus was primarily discussing in Matthew 24 a judgment “in time” upon Jerusalem. Therefore, we must question our thinking concerning some of the points Jesus mentioned in the context of Matthew 24 that refer to the personal lives of the disciples who would experience these events.

When studying the text of Matthew 24 one must consult the parallel accounts of Jesus’ words on this occasion that were recorded in Mark 13 and Luke 21. Both Mark and Luke record additional thoughts that Jesus gave in the discourse. However, neither Matthew, Mark or Luke give the complete discourse of all that Jesus said as it was initially stated on this particular occasion. Each inspired writer only gives that information which emphasizes the theme of his particular book. Matthew, however, gives the most complete information, and for this reason, we use Matthew as the guideline text for our interpretive comments that follow.

Also keep in mind the dates of writing for each book. Since the impending destruction was in the near future in relation to the dates of writing, we cannot but feel that the impending destruction that was coming in A.D. 70 was one reason that stimulated the writing of other New Testament books in the first century. At least certain portions of the New Testament letters concerning the destruction of Jerusalem were included in order to forewarn Christians of the coming calamity of Israel.

Mark wrote around A.D. 50-52, Matthew around A.D. 60, and Luke around A.D. 61,62. All three writers give us a sense of social and political turmoil that existed during the era leading up to the consummation of national Israel. The writers of these epistles wanted the initial readers to know that something was up in reference to the massive rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. As A.D. 70 drew near, the prophetic elements of Jesus’ prophecy concerning national Israel were becoming clear. In order to expedite conversions from Judaism, and also encourage the converted not to return to the Sinai covenant that God had set aside at the cross, Matthew, Mark and Luke write both to inform and to warn. Their writings have an air of urgency. There is a sense of a final call to a generation that was seeking for hope in a political environment that was in social upheaval.

With this in mind, we launch into an exciting portion of God’s revelation. Matthew 24 is one of the most exciting portions of God’s word because it explains what will occur in the disciples’ lives concerning national Israel and their homeland of Palestine. The sense of forewarning that is characteristic of the New Testament scriptures in reference to the coming of the Lord on unbelieving Israel leaves us with the same sense of urgency in reference to the final coming of Jesus at the end of time.

[Next in series: July 9]

Judgments (Intro. 2)

B. Key Contexts:

In this study it has been our purpose to select key texts of Scripture to study in their historical context. We have done this in order to discover God’s revelation concerning “in time,” as well as “end of time” judgments. Everything that God brings to an end in time is a promise, or certainty, that He will do the same at the end of time.

In studying judgment subjects in the Bible, we have discovered that several things influenced the writers and readers in the historical setting in which God brought things to a conclusion. Understanding these historical settings has helped us to understand the inspired letters of the New Testament that were written to the first readers who experienced social chaos in history when God brought dispensations to a close. The following circumstances that greatly influenced both the writing and the fulfillment of prophecy helps us better understand that finalities are yet to come:

1. The Jewish persecution of the church continued until the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This persecution not only influenced the evangelization of the first century world, but it also influenced the content of the letters that were written to the early disciples.

We must not underestimate the influence of this persecution that was unleashed on the early disciples as they went from city to city preaching the gospel of the messiahship of the Son of God. The persecution of the early disciples is illustrated by what Paul said of his own life before he responded to the gospel: “I persecuted this Way [the church] to the death, binding and delivering both men and women into prisons” (At 22:4). In Paul’s case, he, the persecutor, went from persecuting to being the persecuted.

Embedded in the thinking of the early persecuted Christians was the hope that God would always deliver the church as a whole, though some individual saints would succumb to death as a result of the persecution. Nevertheless, God gave the church as a whole encouragement to endure through hard times of persecution. For example, John encouraged the saints of the church of Smyrna who were bearing the persecution of the state of Rome:

“Do not fear those things that you will suffer. Behold, the devil will cast some of you into prison so that you may be tested. And you will have tribulations ten days. Be faith unto death and I will give you the crown of life” (Rv 2:10).

2. The imminent end of national Israel was prophesied by Jesus and fulfilled in the first century. As the early evangelists went forth, the imminent end of national Israel was on their minds and in their message. It was the fullness of time and all prophecies in reference to the purpose for which God establish a covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai were coming to fulfillment. After His resurrection, and immediately before His ascension and coronation, Jesus reminded His disciples the following:

“These are the words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled that were written in the law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms, concerning Me” (Lk 24:44).

One of these prophecies concerning Jesus was His coronation and reign from the right hand of God as King of kings and Lord of lords. On the day of Pentecost in A.D. 30, Peter proclaimed that this prophecy was fulfilled, for Jesus was reigning as King on David’s throne at the time Peter and the apostles spoke on that day (See At 2:25-33). The fulfillment of the prophecies concerning Jesus’ kingdom reign meant the end of the kings of national Israel on earth. It thus meant the end of national Israel. The apostles took this same message into all the world of the Jews to whom they went to proclaim the gospel. They prepared their fellow Jews for the finality of national Israel. Though they did not know the time of the end, they knew and preached that the was coming.

The early evangelists also took the message of Jesus that was recorded in Matthew 24. Jesus’ prophecy of Matthew 24 was an encouragement to those who suffered from the persecution of the Jews. The persecuted saints knew that God would eventually bring down judgment on national Israel because of Jews’ rejection of Jesus as the Messiah.

The end of Israel would also be a sign to the Jews that God had fulfilled His purpose for calling the nation into a special covenant relationship. The purpose for Israel was to preserve a segment of society through which the incarnate Son of God could be introduced into the world. But once the Son came, and completed the atoning sacrifice, then there was no more the need for a special nation of people as Israel. The social vehicle through whom the Savior was introduced into the world passed away.

The Jews only recourse when God completed His purpose through Israel, therefore, was to turn to Jesus as the Messiah and Savior. There was no salvation in Jewish nationalism. They had to accept Jesus as the incarnate Son of God who came into the world to establish a new covenant with everyone who would obey the gospel (See Hb 10:5-10).

Because many Bible students have historically failed to understand the prophesied purpose and end of national Israel in the fulfillment of all prophecies concerning the incarnation of the Son of God, they have failed to do justice to the historical events that surround the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan of redemption in Jesus Christ.

Because of this, some Bible students would do well to be cautious about referring to those books that do not emphasize the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The destruction of Jerusalem and national Israel was a major historical event in the history of the world, and particularly in the lives of the Jews.

Those were times in which God intended to terminate forever the nation of Israel through the establishment of a new covenant of grace. Since most of the early Christians were Jews, we would expect that the New Testament would contain many references, both directly and indirectly, that refer to the finalization of Israel. These are the contexts that need further study, especially in these times when the religious world seems to be burdened with a host of prognosticators with their end-of-times prophecies.

3. State persecution by the Roman government would rise in the first century from the personal obsessions of Nero, Caesar of Rome. By the end of the first century, this persecution would become dominant through other Caesars of the Roman Empire. State persecution in the latter part of the first century would be a major force of evil against the preaching of the gospel throughout the Roman controlled world. In particular, the book of Revelation was written to give comfort to Christians who suffered from state persecution that began the latter part of the first century but extended into the second.

God would eventually bring judgment upon the Roman state for her persecution of the flock of God. The early Christians, therefore, were given comfort in the fact that state persecution would not continue against the church throughout the centuries to come.

[Next in series: July 7]

Judgments (Intro. 1)

A. Prognostications:

We live in a world of wild speculations in the minds of some who are obsessed with the “signs of the times.” Some are so obsessed that they search through every source of religious literature for some particle of truth made by some self-proclaimed sage by which they can predict the end of the world. It seems that there is no dearth of prognosticators who are willing to come forth with some prediction of the end of the world on a particular date.

Throughout the years, all sorts of prognosticators have come and gone. Nevertheless, we are often so naive in our ignorance of the word of God that we impetuously continue our search for another prophetic utterance of some supposed date when the world as it is comes to is final demise.

God created us to be religious beings. Therefore, we cannot help but harbor some speculations in our religious thinking concerning what will be. Because we have this seemingly unquenchable thirst to speculate concerning the future, we must be cautioned. We must be cautioned that if we give up a knowledge of our Creator and His revelation to us through the Bible, we will end up with some very twisted speculations concerning the end of time.

History has proved that there is no end to the ingenious religious inventions of men in reference to that which is yet to come. As a result, we live with a host of confused proclamations today that are broadcast abroad and bound on the consciences of men. All the diversity that exists among end-of-time theologians have confused people. Some religionists have become so obsessed with their speculations concerning a supposed rapture that such has become their “gospel” message that they proclaim to the lost.

There are those who seek to terrorize their innocent audiences through repeated proclamations of certain doom. When it comes to the confusion surrounding the subject of the end of the world, we cannot use enough superlatives to describe the religious excitement that is promoted by some end-of-time prognosticators. We must confess that our minds overflow with too many Hollywood productions of “end-of-the-world” scenarios. As a result, we look for too many “John Conner” preachers who will deliver us from an age of human annihilation.

In the western world there has been the resurrection in the last century of a vast assortment of mystic religions. The New Age Movement, and a host of other similar humanistically-oriented religious movements have become popular among those who are searching for something beyond this world. In a secular-oriented world that enslaves our minds to all that is of this world, mystics have simply concluded that enough is enough. There must be something that is greater than this world.

Some of these speculators with mystical inclinations have included the Bible as only one source in their library of religious sources. Since the Bible speaks of things to come, they search around in the pages of the Scriptures for some indication of the end of times. They search for something that might have been taught in the past concerning our present and future destiny. Unfortunately, too many too often look to their own imaginations or adventurous speculations in order to read into the Bible their own imaginations.

Everyone has some speculation concerning the future. For this reason, we all function in the field of eschatology, that is, a study of last things. We wonder about our future and the end of the world. These are serious considerations that pass through the minds of almost everyone, even the materialist who sometimes takes a brief moment to contemplate and wonder about what is next. It is simply natural to consider the future and what will become of all that which we now experience. As Christians, we conclude that there will be “global warming” that will be the end of all things. But the “global warming” that is coming will surpass “warming.” It will be the heat of fire.

[Next in series: July 5]

Grace Inspired Giving

There is a difference between being a Christian in response to law and being the same in response to grace. The difference is often revealed in one’s contributions. Those who have become Christians on a legal basis in response to law-keeping often seek to give according to law. On the other hand, those who respond in their lives to the grace of God always give more.

In writing to Christians in Rome, the Holy Spirit, through the hand of Paul, reminded the Roman Christians, “You are not under law, but under grace” (Rm 6:14). If we consider this truth in reference to our contributions, a vast difference is seen between those who respond to legal giving according to law and those who give out of their gratitude for God’s grace.

For example, in order to extract contributions from the hands of those who live by law, preachers have often resorted to law in order to inspire guilt in the hearts of the “lawgivers.” The desired result is that at least a few coins are dropped into the collection plate. At the most, one will confine his or her giving to ten percent (the tithe). When such grudging givers do flip in a couple coins, or give as much as ten percent, they go on their way, having satisfied themselves that they have given according to law. And thus for another week they have the church leaders off their backs until another call for contributions is made again the following Sunday.

This law-obedient religious culture is more common than not. In order to inspire more contributions, therefore, what preachers often do is ignore the gospel of grace in order to bring the people under law. They take the people back under the tithing commandment of the Sinai law that was given exclusively to Israel as part of the Sinai law. In doing so, they have ignored grace for the sake of law, and thus have reversed what the Holy Spirit said to the Roman disciples. Instead of reminding the people that we are under grace and not under law, we often seek to inspire the contributors to give because of the tithing law of the Sinai law. In doing so, we forget motivating people to give in response to the grace of the cross. If we seek to inspire people to give, we must preach the gospel of grace, not law.

We must not forget that grace is far more powerful than law in reference to motivating people to live and give. To illustrate this fact, we would journey back to the Israelites when they were initially born as a nation at the foot of Mt. Sinai. It had been only three months since they were delivered as a culture of people from Egyptian captivity. But it was at Mt. Sinai that God signed a covenant with the people, and thus the nation of Israel was inaugurated into existence. Tithing was a part of the Sinai law that God gave as a condition for keeping the covenant. We must remember, however, that the people at the foot of Mt. Sinai did not initially give in obedience to the tithing law, for it was not yet given.

On the contrary, at the time when the people were truly grateful to God for His grace in delivering them out of Egyptian captivity, they were inspired to give. It was only by His grace that they stood free at Mt Sinai. They could not have delivered themselves. So when it came time to contribute, Moses did not quote a “tithing law” to them. He simply informed the people that there was a need to contribute to the construction of the tabernacle that God had commanded them to build. Grace took it from there.

It was grace that motivated the people to give, not law. The Israelites’ appreciation for their deliverance from captivity because of God’s grace was so powerful in their hearts that the builders of the tabernacle had a problem. They came to Moses and said “The people bring more than enough for the construction work [of the tabernacle] that the Lord commanded us to make” (Ex 36:5).

The Lord had commanded that the tabernacle and its furnishings be built. A specific task was to be completed, and contributions for the materials were subsequently needed. Then the people, because of their gratitude for being delivered from captivity by the grace of God, exceeded what God required. Now notice what the preacher Moses had to say to the people:

“Then Moses gave commandment and they cause it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, “Let neither man nor woman make anymore work for the offering of the sanctuary” (Ex 36:6).

Now listen to this: “So the people were restrained from bringing more” (Ex 36:6). The people gave in order to fulfill a need, but they gave out of appreciation for God’s grace in delivering them from captivity. Their contribution was so bountiful that they needed to be restrained from giving. This is the power of grace over law in reference to contributions.

This same giving in appreciate for grace was clearly illustrated during Jesus’ ministry. It was revealed in the heart of a poor widow who had not yet experienced the grace of the sacrificial Son of God on the cross. Nevertheless, she spiritually grew past giving in fulfillment of law requirements. On a particular occasion, Jesus witnessed contributions that were being given into the temple treasury. He was standing and watching the people make their contributions. “He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two small copper coins” (Lk 21:2). As a testimony of her heart, He said of the poor widow, “She out of her poverty has put in all the livelihood that she had” (Lk 21:4). This contribution was certainly more than ten percent. It was one hundred percent. This is what grace will do to one’s heart in reference to giving. Sometimes we must have so little in order to appreciate how rich we are because of the grace of God.

Law will never move one to the point of giving one’s last two coins. When the traveling salesperson, Lydia, and the government employee, the jailor, responded to the gospel in the city of Philippi, the Holy Spirit gave a testimony as to how far grace will take one’s heart beyond law. Only a few days (At 16:12) after their obedience to the gospel, and when Paul went on to Thessalonica from Philippi, Paul later wrote of their mission giving: They sent “once and gain for my needs” (Ph 4:16).

The power of the grace of God at work in the hearts of the first Christians in Philippi did not stop with supporting only the mission efforts of Paul when he went on to Thessalonica. A few years later when there was a famine in Judea, the Philippians’ appreciation for the grace of God once again stirred them into action. Grace worked so powerfully in their hearts that they gave as those Israelites who responded overwhelmingly to give to the special need of building the tabernacle. Paul wrote the following to some forgetful, if not stingy Christians in Corinth who conveniently forgot to follow through with their promise to give to the saints in Judea: “Moreover, brethren [in Corinth], we make known to you the grace of God that has been given to the churches of Macedonia,” the province wherein the city of Philippi was located (2 Co 8:1).

As the poor widow who gave her last two coins, so also the Christians in Macedonia in whose hearts was also the spirit of grace. Paul continued, “In a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty, abounded in the riches of their liberality” (2 Co 8:2).

There are some who ungratefully assume that they are too poor to contribute. They should make this excuse to the crucified Son of God who impoverished Himself of heaven in order to deliver us from the captivity of sin. Some in their knowledge of the sacrificial offering of the incarnate Son of God on the cross are still unwilling to give as the poor widow who had no knowledge of the extent to what the Son of God gave up for us.

Paul was not finished with the gratitude of the poor disciples of Macedonia. “For I testify that according to their ability [they gave], yes, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord” (2 Co 8:3). We can only imagine what Paul felt when the poor Macedonian saints offered him their contributions to take to the suffering saints in Judea. We are sure he was somewhat reluctant to take their contributions.

The Macedonian Christians seem to have sensed that Paul was reluctant about taking their contributions for the famine victims of Judea. So they did something quite remarkable. Paul wrote of the incident that they were “begging us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints” (2 Co 8:4).

The saints in all of Macedonia knew that if they were to have fellowship with the worldwide body of Christ, they too had to give to the special need in Judea. And in their case, no one used his or her poverty as an excuse not to give to the general collection. They knew that they were individually poor. Nevertheless, they also knew that if they gave collectively, then the combined contributions of the universal church would be substantial. But everyone had to give individually. If they did not give individually, then they, as members of the body, would have had no fellowship with the universal body of Christ.

If we allow the grace of God to work in our hearts, then He will do through us “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power [of the gospel of grace] that works in us” (Ep 3:20). Law will never get one to the limits to which grace will take us in reference to giving. A “tithing law” will get one grudgingly to ten percent. But grace will move one cheerfully to give his or her last two coins.

For those who walk in gratitude for the grace of God, the ten percent tithe is too restrictive. Unfortunately for some, because of the power of grace, they would rather stay under the law of the ten percent (tithe) and forget the grace of God that was revealed on the cross. It is more convenient to live under the restriction of the tithe (ten percent) than to be motivated beyond measure by grace.

When Paul wrote to the Philippians from prison, he reminded them of the example of the Son of God: “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God” (Ph 2:5,6). Subsequently, on His gospel journey to bring us into the loving arms of God, the Son of God “made Himself of no reputation” (Ph 2:7). He was made “in the likeness of men” in order to go to the cross for us in order that we go into the riches of eternal heaven (Ph 2:7,8). If the Son of God could do this for us, then certainly there is no limit to which we can go for Him. If we claim to be disciples of this God in the flesh who was nailed to an old rugged cross, then there is no excuse to withhold our resources from supporting His continued mission.

By the time Paul finished the revelation of Philippians 2 in reference to the awesome sacrifice of Jesus, he was surely overcome with emotion when he inscribed the following words: “But what things were gain to me [before I obey the gospel], those things I have counted loss for Christ” (Ph 3:7). The Holy Spirit allowed him to inscribe more emphatically: “I count them refuse [Gr. dung] so that I may gain Christ” (Ph 3:8).

We have too many among us who were baptized according to law, but did not respond to the gospel in appreciation for the grace of God that was revealed on the cross. Those who are disciples by law will often continue to walk according to law. Subsequently, they will often contribute as least as possible in order to comply only with law.

We believe that many Christians are still living according to law in this manner. They do so because they are reminded every Sunday by the preacher that they must tithe according to the Sinai law. But we must remind ourselves that Christians are no longer under the restrictions of the Sinai law (See Rm 7:1-7; Cl 2:14). Christians are under grace, not law. Therefore, when Christians live according to the gospel of grace, it is an entirely different way of life. Paul explained:

“For all things [in reference to the gospel] are for your sakes, so that the grace that is reaching many people may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God” (2 Co 4:15).

If a Christian does not understand what Paul just said in this statement, then he or she is still living under law and not under grace. It is only when we live by the grace of God that we will be cheerful givers in giving beyond measure, just as the early Christians.


The Godly Giver

Incarnation (E,F)

E. A call for incarnational living:

We must confess that it is quite incomprehensible to consider the eternal Word in the spirit “materializing” into a single cell in the womb of a woman in order to become life in the flesh. But what other answer do we have for the Savior being such before He was born into this world? When Paul wrote, “Let this mind be in you what was also in Christ Jesus,” the ramifications of such a statement are certainly unsettling to all of us who would seek to reverse the incarnational order of the One after whom we call ourselves disciples (Ph 2:5). But when John the Baptist considered such a thing, he continued to eat grasshoppers and lay down his head at night on a stone pillow (Mt 3:4). He incarnationally lived in order to introduce into the world the incarnational Savior. Paul likewise discarded all his advancements in religion, considering even his own life a minimal sacrifice to pay in gratitude for the incredible sacrifice of the one-cell God who eternally paid the incarnational sacrifice to bring him also into eternity (Ph 3:6; see Rm 9:1-3).

After Paul’s introductory statement in Philippians 2:15 concerning our transformation into the mind and behavior of the incarnate Christ, he carried on in his explanation of the incarnational journey of God the Son. He reminded the Philippians of the gospel sacrifice of the eternal Spirit who impregnated the seed of woman (See Ph 2:5-11). If our Savior could humble Himself to this extreme, then certainly there is absolutely no occasion for those who claim to be His disciples to exalt themselves above one another. We can now better understand the rebuke that the incarnate Word levelled against some of His disciples while they were still comprehending the incarnate God who stood in their midst:

“Whoever desires to be great among you will be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be the first will be the bondservant of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mk 10:43-45).

F. A call for belief:

If our postulations concerning the incarnation of God the Son are anywhere near to being the truth of the matter, then we are brought to some inevitable conclusions. If the incarnation began with a single cell in the womb of a woman, then God is calling for us to have faith in what may seem quite impossible to believe. But then we recall what the Holy Spirit said of such matters: “Without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hb 11:6).

To those who have no desire to believe, then these matters possibly sound like a fictitious fairy tale that was written to entertain the fantasies of men who have imaginary minds. If we desire to believe, however, no matter how difficult it may be to comprehend any aspect of the incarnation, we still conclude that it is more reasonable to believe.

It is more reasonable to believe because it is quite unreasonable to conclude that our existence is the result of “creative” matter in motion. We thus believe that the incarnation was also for the purpose of sifting out of eternal existence those who have no desire to believe, and thus no desire to live by the gospel of the incarnation.

It is not that we must understand all the specifics that occurred in the incarnation. It is only necessary to believe that it happened and that the result thereof was that the saving Son of God was born into the world He created in order to be a prepared sacrificial body that would be offered for the atonement of our sins.

Because we have realized the hopelessness of our predicament in this world of sin, we want to believe. We cry out for deliverance from this wicked and painful world of suffering. Because of His love for us, He responded to our desperate cries. Out of love, therefore, He paid the price for our redemption from this world by making an incarnational journey into this world. He desired to be in the form of our humble flesh by which He could fellowship with us His brethren. The nail-torn flesh of the cross, therefore, measured the extent of His love for us.

We are simply held in awe at such a thing as this. We realize that the magnitude of the incarnation is overwhelming. It is so overwhelming that it could have only been in the mind of a God of love who so loved us. Not even in the wildest imagination of the most devout monk could such a thing have been conceived. For this reason, we can only conclude that the incarnation of God the Son to be only that which the one true and living God could do.

[End of series on the incarnation. Wait for the book announcement on Facebook.]

incarnation (D)

D. The one-cell beginning:

Since there was an incredible sacrifice on the part of the Son of God to become man in the flesh, then we must allow our assumptions concerning the impregnation of Mary to proceed to the beginnings of human life. We must assume something that is quite incredible, if not incomprehensible, but indeed true. When the Son of God gave up being in the form of God in the spirit, He humbled Himself to the minute flesh of a single-celled egg in the womb of Mary.

God the Son who created every living cell became that which He created. In His incarnational journey, He started with a single cell. In order to begin His journey, He joined with the single Spirit-chosen cell of a woman in order to begin the nine-month gestation period of woman. The incarnation began with God the Son connecting with one human cell in the flesh in order to create something wonderful for eternity.

In order to create that which was awesome and eternal, the Son was willing to begin with that which was small, and the most humble of presentations in order to come into the world He created. We see the power of the Son of God in this marvel of the minute. He in the size of only one human cell was far more powerful than billions people who are composed of trillions of collective cells in human bodies throughout the world. He was God in a single cell.

We might suppose that at the moment God the Son was ready for His incarnational journey into this world, the Holy Spirit signalled to the Son in heaven, and said, “The fullness of time has come. Therefore, come on. I have a single cell of flesh selected for You.”

We could then suppose that God the Son would have responded from heaven, “If all I get to begin My incarnational ministry is only one single cell of flesh in the womb of a woman, then that is all I need.”

Since this is our speculative summation of what may have occurred, then we can now understand the announcement nine months later by an angel to some shepherds in the middle of the night:

“Do not fear, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that will be to all the people. For to you a Savior is born this day in the city of David, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:10,11).

It was not simply a body that was born from woman, and then Christ the Lord indwelt the body at the time of birth. On the contrary, He was already “Christ the Lord” at the time of birth. Our assumption, therefore, has moved on to the reality that “Christ the Lord” waited nine months in the womb of woman in order to come forth as the Savior of the world. He was not born to be the Christ. He was already the Christ at the time of His birth.

We now better understand the following words of John: “The Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). And then, “the Word was made flesh” in the womb of Mary (Jn 1:14). The incarnate Word was already in the flesh for nine months, waiting to be born into this world as the Savior of the world.

After Mary and Joseph had made the strenuous journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, “the days were completed for her to give birth” (Lk 2:6). The unborn Savior had carried Mary safely for nine months until the time of His entrance into this world. Though she was many months into her pregnancy at the time when her long journey to Bethlehem began, Mary was able to ride a donkey the great distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem without having a premature birth along the way. It was the unborn Savior in her womb who carried her safely to His place of birth. The prophecy of Micah 5:2 had to be fulfilled. The Savior would be born in the chosen city of Bethlehem.

But we would speculate of things before the journey of Mary to Bethlehem. We would go back to the initial incarnation of the Word in the single cell of the Spirit-impregnated Mary. The unborn Son of God would surely not have allowed anything to happen to Mary throughout her nine-month pregnancy. It is for this reason that we must surmise that He carried her all the way from conception “by the Holy Spirit” to the city of Bethlehem and His very birth in a manger.

[Next in series: June 17]

Incarnation (C)

C. Birth into this world:

We must now go to the very beginning of the incarnation, back to the moment that God the Son came into the flesh of man. We are back to what the angel announced to Joseph. The One who was “conceived” “of the Holy Spirit” now resided the seed that was in the womb of Mary.

In the natural conception of a human being in the womb of a woman, the single cell egg (seed) of the woman is sparked into life by the fertilization of the sperm of a man. The process of cell replication then begins which results in the birth of a person.

Before the birth, and in the case of the incarnation of the Savior of the world, the process of the one cell splitting into two cells marked the beginning of His life. Though the spark of life that ignites the beginning of a human being comes from the sperm of a man, in the case of Mary, we must bypass the sperm of man on earth. Joseph had nothing to do with the beginning of the incarnation. The birth of the Savior of the world would come from a virgin, that is, from a woman who had had no sexual intercourse with a man (See Is 7:14; Mt 1:23; Lk 1:27). Therefore, we must search for another answer as to how the seed of Mary began the process of cell replication that eventually resulted in the birth of the Savior as a person into this world.

The statement “of the Holy Spirit” was spoken to Joseph in order to inform and settle his nerves. The angel wanted to spare him from any guilt or questions concerning the fidelity of Mary. It was a statement of reassurance. In this “miraculous conception,” the Holy Spirit had taken the impregnation of Mary into His own hands. Joseph was only a bystander to witness the marvel of the Holy Spirit at work in the womb of Mary in order to prepare the incarnate Savior to the world through birth. From the time of the incarnational impregnation by the Holy Spirit, therefore, Joseph and Mary could only behold and wonder at what was transpiring in her womb.

And now we are left in wonder concerning the impregnating miracle of the Holy Spirit that set in motion the multiplying of the single seed of woman that resided in the womb of Mary. The body of Mary produced the seed when the fullness of time came for the Christ and Savior would come into the world through birth. An angel explained to Mary what would happen to begin the process: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Lk 1:35).

Assuredly, many eggs in the womb of Mary had passed through the natural menstrual periods of Mary’s early life. But there was one Seed that was special and chosen and begotten “by the Holy Spirit.” It would be this chosen Seed who would take all of us into eternity. It would be this chosen Seed who fulfilled the prophesied Seed of woman who would crush the head of Satan (See Gn 3:15).

So our wonder goes deeper into the process of what transpired during the impregnation. We come to the conclusion that that which was “of the Holy Spirit” could only have come from the direct touch of the Spirit on the single-cell seed of woman. It could have been that the Holy Spirit created the sperm that fertilized the seed of woman. This postulation would still remain true to the revelation of the phrase “of the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit would have been the creator of the sperm, and thus the fetus that was now in the womb of Mary was fertilized “by the Holy Spirit.” We must also assume that the Holy Spirit simply set in motion the chosen seed that was provided by Mary. He then allowed the natural process of human development to continue from there.

What is important to remember is that there was more in what transpired in the womb of Mary than just the natural fertilization of the seed of a woman. The selection of the chosen male seed of Mary was not a random choice. The DNA genetics of the chosen egg of Mary was specific and intentional. We would conclude, therefore, that the Holy Spirit Himself sparked the process of the natural multiplication of the single egg cell of Mary, whether by a created sperm or directly through His own power to intervene in the natural process of the fertilization. We will never know for sure.

[Next in series: June 15]

Incarnation (B)

B. From spirit to flesh:

If we would allow ourselves to wonder beyond the definition of our words and our understanding of natural childbirth, then we must consider the Gnostics of the third and fourth centuries who found it most difficult to believe that God in the light could touch the material world that they considered to be all evil. In the birth of the Son of God, the Gnostics affirmed that a body was presented to the world by Mary through natural birth, a body in which the spirit of Christ indwelt at the time Jesus began His ministry until His death on the cross. But the Gnostics could not imagine beyond this material world. They simply concluded that Deity infused Himself into the body of Jesus when the man Jesus began His ministry. The Christ then forsook the body at the cross when Jesus “gave up His spirit” to the Father (Jn. 19:30).

The Gnostics’ conclusions end up in a theological quagmire that leads to nonsense that contradicts so many clear statements in Scripture, particularly those statements wherein Jesus said, “I and My Father are one” (Jn 10:30). “He who has see Me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9).

The Son of God and the body of flesh were so connected that Jesus in the preceding statements used the material to represent metaphorically the spirit that was beyond the physical flesh. The Gnostics, as so many today, found it quite difficult to believe in a God who could so embody Himself on earth in a manner that He would remain one with God the Father in heaven. Nevertheless, through the incarnation, the embodiment of God the Son would be so complete that we would conclude that the Son of God had come on an epic journey from heaven. From being in the light with God the Father, God the Son journeyed into the flesh of man in a world of darkness. The Gnostics simply concluded that gods do not do such things.

In the John 10:30 and 14:9 statements above Jesus was not indicating that the Father was also flesh as Jesus at the time He made the statements. If this indeed were what Jesus meant, then He Himself would have denied His own incarnation. His “incarnation” would have simply been a parallel transfer from a heavenly appearance in bodily form to an earthly appearance in the form of a man. But this thought is infinitesimally far beyond the truth of the incarnation. All those who believe that God the Father in heaven has a nose and eyes simply deny the incarnation of God the Son into the flesh of man, which flesh included a nose and eyes.

On the contrary, the Son of God, “being in the form of God [in the spirit], did not consider it robbery to be equal with God. But He made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant and being made in the likeness of men” (Ph 2:6,7). At the beginning of the incarnation, the Son did transfer out of the realm of the heavenly. However, it was a transfer of spirit into the flesh of man.

The Son of God in eternity was not in eternity in the form of flesh, and then became the flesh of man on earth. Therefore, at the time of incarnation, God the Father did not exist in a fleshly form in heaven. When we see Jesus through the written record of the New Testament Scriptures, we see the character of the Father who is spirit, not the appearance of some god we would create after our own fleshly image. That which the Son of God revealed in the person of Jesus was the personality of the eternal God the Father, in whose presence He was before His incarnation into the flesh of man. God in the spirit simply embodied Himself in the flesh of man.

[Next in series: June 13]