This is part three of my Wednesday evening study on the Words of Jesus. Click on the following link for the first two lessons [ Go ] Remember to go to the bottom of the articles to use the “printer friendly” link if you want to print them.
The Heart of it All Today: Jesus speaks words of warning and comfort to his followers, that the life of faith would lead to persecution. They can find peace if they keep their minds fixed on eternity.
Key Term – World: Cosmos means the world and everything in it. Disciples are part of the kingdom of God so they will face hostility from the sinful world but will overcome.
Key Verse: (John 16:33) In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.
No one could accuse Jesus of sugar-coating the nature of discipleship; he was blunt in telling them what they were up against. “No good deed goes unpunished” will become a reality. This is not all ancient history because it happens all too often in modern times. Religious tolerance is not a reality, especially when it comes to followers of Christ.
Wise Doves (Matthew 10:16):
- Sheep – harmless among the harmful. Be wise and gentle. While snakes often symbolize evil, they also symbolize wisdom, shrewdness and cunning. A gentle dove without shrewdness is inadequately equipped, as is a snake without gentleness.
- Paul understood what Jesus is saying (1 Corinthians 14:20), “in regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.”
- Telling them they would be like sheep among wolves would likely cause many to turn away. His words are not for the crowds but for those seeking a challenge in life.
Eyes Wide Open (Matthew 10:17-20):
- Be on your guard: not to instill paranoia but to warn them that the life of faith brings dangers. Jesus warns not only of governmental persecution but from the apostles own religion, which was pretty cruel. Those called heretics were often those with the most devotion to God.
- Religious persecution, local councils: For Jews, a town of 120 or more adults would have a tribunal of three judges. Further up the ladder was a council of 23 judges, and the Jewish supreme court, which had 71 members (the Sanhedrin and the High Priest). Local judges likely had the same hostility as the Sanhedrin had for Jesus.
- Secular persecution: These represent opportunities to witness to their faith. Faith grew as the faithful were persecuted.
- Don’t worry what you will say: Not that they should not give thought to what they will say, but don’t fret or agonize over it. Worry tears down the faith we seek to proclaim. God give us grace for every situation; but not future grace. He grants the grace in the moment we need it, to depend on him and not on ourselves.
- Jesus promised the Holy Spirit will guide them and Peter experienced it (Acts 8:4), which was a fulfillment of the promise in Acts 4:31.
Salted with Fire (Mark 9:49):
- Commentators agonize and debate the meaning here. Jesus just warned about leading other people to sin, and removing any causes of sin in our own lives (If you eye offend you, pluck it out – Mark 9:47-48). Since “everyone will be salted with fire” follows a warning about the fires of hell, we are tempted to see both fires as the same place. How can that apply to everyone (unless it means everyone in hell)?
- It appears that “everyone” means the followers of Jesus. The Jewish sacrifices were always rubbed with salt as a part of the ritual, salt being a symbol of purity and preservation. The disciples will be offering themselves as living sacrifices to the Lord (Romans 12:1-2) salted with fire, referring to the testing of persecution. Through the fires of suffering, they will emerge as seasoned believers.
- Fire is connected with sacrifice (Romans 12:1). Fire will test the quality of the work we leave behind (1 Corinthians 3:13) and Peter spoke of enduring a fiery ordeal (1 Peter 4:12).
- Persecution tends to purge the church of its weak and lukewarm members. Those who fell to persecution were not really that committed to begin with. In the Roman Empire, each wave of persecution brought about a stronger church. Indeed the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church (Tertullian, an early church father, AD 160-220).
Rejoicing in the Fire (Matthew 5:10-12):
- From the Beatitudes, we don’t like to think much about this one. Being persecuted meant being a part of an elite group of God people; holy men and women of old. There is a long chain of violent deaths. Moses was almost stoned to death on a couple of occasions, Elijah lived much of his life under a death sentence. The “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 is a disturbing yet inspiring list of God’s faithful (Hebrews 11:36-38).
- The early church knew that everyone who desired to live a godly life will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). Stephen understood the concept (Acts 7:52). Paul and Silas endured persecution and encouraged others to do the same (Romans 12:14). Even Peter mentions that if you suffer for what is right, you are blessed (1 Peter 3:13-14).
- Instead of fear, we are to rejoice and be glad; Luke adds “leap for joy (Luke 6:23). I think the focus is on the eternal reward, rather than the pain of suffering.
- Matthew uses the Greek term misthos, meaning reward; it is clear that he does not mean an earthly reward. Great is your reward in heaven can also mean, “great in the eyes of God.” Basically, mud thrown at you by the impure is a pledge of your purity.
- This world is not our home; our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20), so compared to heaven, what is the world worth?
Hating the Ambassador (John 15:19-23, Matthew 10:24-25):
- Those who hated Jesus will hate his followers, those who accept his teaching will also accept his followers. To hate one is to hate the other.
- Share the Master’s glory, they must also share his pain and humiliation. We are part of the same household and sharing is an important concept (Romans 8:17, 2 Corinthians 1:7).
Labor and Joy (John 16:20):
- John does not give us any parables, but this passage reveals a concrete situation from everyday life.
- John uses thlipsis, meaning more than pain, but great tribulation, where the Spirit is present as a counselor.
- No one will take away your joy, a great promise in the Bible. Faith will keep them strong as they carry on the mission of Jesus (2 Corinthians 6:10). Nothing will compare to the joy that is ahead (Romans 8:18, 1 Peter 4:13).
Victors, not Victims (John 16:33):
- Irony: Jesus’ suffering is about to take place, and what they will endure will be nothing compared to his. Thlipsis is tremendous suffering, intense anguish. “Trouble” is not a good translation.
- “Overcome” is nenikeka, the root being “victory.” The world sees them as victims but that is not true. People of faith are considered “otherworldly.”
- These same disciples who ran and hid after the crucifixion became fearless after they received the power of the Holy Spirit. They became more than conquerors (Romans 8:37). They knew the God is greater than anything in the world (1 John 4:4). and they have the promise given to overcomers (Revelation 2:7).
No Peace (Matthew 10:34-37):
- While Jesus promises inner peace, outer peace will not be easy to find. “Can’t we all just get along” brings a resounding “No.” Living under God’s rule causes problems with others. The government might leave you alone, but the family would harass the one who had left the Jewish faith. Tolerance is difficult when those in the family begin to think and act differently that the rest of us.
- There was the practice of disowning a family member who turned away from the faith (Psalm 55:12-13).
- Luke 14:26 seems even more harsh. Hating does not sound right. Disciples must be willing to endure separation from everything they find most dear to them. There is no room for lukewarm discipleship.
Standing Firm (Matthew 10:21-22):
- Betrayal by family members was pretty extreme. Faith can cause strife in a family, but Jesus goes farther and says that some will be so repulsed by the faith of a family member that they will be betrayed to death.
- “He who endures until the end will be saved” means that faith is about the whole life. Endurance is not easy, but it is worth it (Revelation 2:10, Hebrews 12:3).
Running with the Message (Matthew 10:23):
- The Jews had been persecuted for centuries and their teachers suffered greatly, but they did not abandon their faith. Jesus is telling them not to recklessly pursue martyrdom. Moving elsewhere to escape martyrdom is not wrong.
- Jesus seemed to run toward it in the crucifixion, but there were times were he avoided conflict (Matthew 12:14-15, John 8:59, 10:39).
- The early church understood, they scattered during persecution (Acts 8:1, 11:19).
The Only One Who Matters (Matthew 10:28):
- It seems that the “One” is Satan, but believers are instructed to resisted Satan, never to fear him (James 4:7, 1 Peter 5:9). The idea of Satan being the keeper of hell and determines who goes there is not found in the Bible. The One is God and we are not to fear humans, but only God.
- Why fear God, should we not love him? We are to do both. Fear is more showing reverence, not forgetting our fate ultimately rests in God’s hands.
Next week we will look at “I have set you an example” mastering the art of serving others.