How to be Ready for the End

This lesson is all about How to be Ready for the End-times. While I am a proponent of the A-millennial view of the end times, much of this teaching is part of the Pre-millennial Dispensational position. When you hear John Hagee or Tim LaHaye, or read the Left Behind series, they’re talking about end-times prophecy from this point of view.

To better understand the A-millennial view, read Ray Summers little book called, “Worthy is the Lamb,” Broadman Press, 1951. Also, I will post My Notes on Daniel and My Notes of the Revelation at a later date.

Main Verse: Matthew 24:44 –  For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will. 

Passages we will consider: Matthew 24:1-51; Mark 13:1-37; Luke 21:5-36

Purpose: The purpose of this study is to develop the character quality of readiness (preparedness, watchfulness) in anticipation of Christ’s return. Scripture teaches that anticipating Christ’s return motivates us to live in light of eternity (1 Corinthians 15:29-34); causes us to keep ourselves pure (1 John 3:2,3); provides steadfastness inspired by hope (1 Thessalonians 1:3,10); and promises a reward for loving His appearing (2 Timothy 4:8).

Historical Background: Jesus’ instruction to His disciples from the Mount of Olives (Mount Olivet, giving it the name the Olivet Discourse) appears in Matthew 24-25; Mark 13; and Luke 17:20-37. It is one of the Bible’s most important texts because it not only provides the Lord’s final discourse but also His most extensive prophetic teaching.

Much prophetic confusion has resulted from a failure to understand that the Olivet Discourse involves Israel, not the church, and refers to a future (eschatological) age, not the past or present one.

The chronologically of this narrative (Mark 12:28-34) occurs the Wednesday before the crucifixion and immediately after Jesus brought eight “woes” against the leaders of the nation of Israel (Matthew 23:13, 14, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29).

Jesus uses five illustrations to answer the specific questions of the disciples: “‘When will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”‘ (Matthew 24:3).

Like any other passage of Scripture, the Olivet Discourse (Jesus’ answer to these questions) must be interpreted in context. Matthew wrote his Gospel to Jewish people to present divinely attested proof that Jesus (Yeshua) was the legitimate heir to the Davidic throne and that His Messianic claims were true and justified.

Commanded in the Gospels: Matthew 24:42 (Be on the alert), Matthew 24:43 (Be sure of this) – literally “know this,” Matthew 24:44 (Be ready), Matthew 25:13 (Be on the alert), Mark 13:33 (Take heed, Keep on the alert), Mark 13:35 (Be on the alert), Mark 13:37 (Be on the alert). Christ also used five parables to teach the importance of being ready for His second coming:

  1. Thief – Matthew 24:43
  2. Faithful slave – Matthew 24:45-51
  3. Ten virgins ­ Matthew 25:1-12
  4. Talents – Matthew 25:14-30
  5. Doorkeeper – Mark 13:34-36

End times information is found in the Book of Acts (Acts 1:6-7) and the Epistles (1 Thessalonians 5:1- 11; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 3:3,1 1;22:7,12,20)

Discussion Questions:

1. What motivated the disciples to point out the temple buildings to Jesus? (Matthew 24:1) Aware of Jesus’ pronouncement against the nation and particularly the Temple establishment (He had just said, “Behold, your house [Temple] is being left to you desolate” – Matthew 23:37-38) the disciples perhaps thought a reminder of the national unity symbolized by the Temple might temper Jesus’ disposition toward national judgment.

A few days earlier, Christ had referred to the temple as His Father’s “house” (Matthew 21:13) but the blessing and glory of God were being removed from Israel (see 1 Samuel 4:21). When Christ “departed from the temple” (Matthew 24:1), the glory of God went with Him. Ezekiel 11:23 describes Ezekiel’s vision of the departure of the Shekinah glory in His day. The glory left the temple and stood on the Mount of Olives.

The disciples were also impressed, as were most in that day, with the Temple’s unrivaled magnificence, which had become a source of national pride: “Some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts (donations)” (Luke 21:5-6). The disciples made their national statement to Jesus as He left the Temple. While waiting for Him they began pointing out the latest structural additions to the compound, which (according to John 2:20) had been in process for 46 years: “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” (Mark 13:1).

Maybe they were trying to comprehend Jesus’ judicial remarks, but then Jesus states that all of the stones they had shown Him would be violently torn down at the time of judgment. Matthew 24:2 says, “And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”

2. What were the two questions that the disciples asked Jesus privately? (Matthew 24:3)

  • “When will these things happen?”
  • “What will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?”

The first question concerned the specific time of the Temple’s destruction: the second (composed of two related parts) concerned “the sign” that would mark Jesus’ advent to Israel (parousia, “bodily presence”) as Messiah at the end of the age. Jesus’ response to these questions forms the prophetic teaching called the Olivet Discourse. The first question is addressed in Luke 21:10-24 and the second is addressed in Matthew 24:4-31 and Mark 13:1-27.

3. What event fulfilled Jesus’ prophetic prediction that “not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be tom down“? (Luke 21:10-24) When Titus came down in AD 70, he burned the Temple. The foundation stones were made of marble overlaid with gold. As the temple burnt the gold melted and ran down between the cracks in the rocks. The Roman soldiers had to dismantle every stone in order to get to the gold. This “near prophecy” was fulfilled in 70 AD and provided hope that the “far prophecy” would be fulfilled. Prophets would often give a “near prophecy” to validate their credentials as a prophet. Anyone could predict all kinds of things way off in the future.

4. When the disciples spoke of “the end of the age,” to what were they referring? (Matthew 24:3) Christ was not referring to the end of the church age but the end of the age for Israel before the Messiah’s return. The church at this point in time doesn’t even exist. It was started by Christ baptizing believers by the Holy Spirit into a new thing called “the Body of Christ” on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:5; 2:1-4; 11:13-16; 1 Corinthians 12:13). The church age was a mystery that wasn’t revealed in the Old Testament.

Jesus had already prophetically talked about “the end of the age” (Matthew 13:40,49) for the nation of Israel. In the Parable of the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) Jesus talks about “the end of the age” (Matthew 13:39,40, 13:49) that occurs right before the establishment of the millennial kingdom.

When Jesus explained this parable, He taught that at the end of the age the angels will take all unbelievers away to be burned and all the righteous believers will remain on the earth to be “barned” in the millennial kingdom. The parable of the dragnet (Matthew 13:47-50) teaches the same truth.

5. What will be the “signs” of Christ’s Second Coming? (Matthew 24:4-8) This passage describes the signs, “birth pains” or divine judgments of the first half of the tribulation period, and Matthew 24:14 is the global evangelization that will be accomplished by the midpoint of this period. Remember, this is according to the Pre-millennialism.

Jesus stated that these judgments are not “the end” of the judgments but merely the “beginning” (Matthew 24:8). After “beginning birth pains,” the more intense birth pains come that climax the birth process. Since the tribulation does not immediately begin after the rapture of the church, but begins with the commencement of Daniel’s 70th week (Daniel 9:27), these verses cannot describe events within the Church Age.

The most compelling argument for a Tribulation context for these verses comes from a comparison of Matthew 24:4-13 with the first five seal judgments in Revelation 6.

End Times Corrolation Chart 1

Neither can these signs be used by the church as “signs of the times” to indicate the nearness of the Lord’s coming. Many Christians have used the apparent increasing frequency of earthquakes, apostasy in the church, and moral decline in society in general as indicators that we are fast approaching the rapture and the end-times. However, the rapture is a signless event; and these birth pains do not begin until Israel enters “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7). Since we do not know how long this will be after the rapture, we must exercise caution in trying to predict the nearness of end-times events based on the presence of these conditions in the present age (Matthew 24:9-14).

6. Does Matthew 24:13 teach that we can lose our salvation? Taken out of context this verse could be used to deny eternal security. There is no reference to redemption or salvation here. The word saved (sothesetai) is eschatological and not soteriological. This verse promises that Christ will rescue those who endure to the end of the tribulation period; then He will usher them into the millennial age. This same concept is repeated in Matthew 24:21-22.

7. Will every unbeliever hear the gospel before the rapture of the church? (Matthew 24:14) The answer is no. This is a reference to the end of the tribulation period and not to the end of the church age. In context this verse teaches that the good news about the kingdom will be presented throughout the tribulation period, and then the end will come. In fact this verse promises that every earth dweller will hear the “gospel of the Kingdom” before Christ returns. Some teach the gospel of the kingdom will probably be proclaimed by the 144,000 Jewish evangelists (Revelation 14:1).

8. What does Jesus say to look for to know that the Great Tribulation has begun? (Matthew 24:15-20) The phrase “the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION” originally referred to the desecration of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes, king of Syria in the second century BC. Antiochus invaded Jerusalem in 168 BC, made the altar into a shrine to Zeus, and even sacrificed pigs on it.

However, Jesus clearly was looking toward a yet-future “abomination of desolation.” Some suggest that this prophecy was fulfilled in AD 70 when Titus invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. However, the Apostle Paul saw a still-future fulfillment (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4), as did John (Revelation 13:14-15) when the Antichrist sets up an image in the temple during the future tribulation period. Christ’s words here therefore look beyond the events of AD 70 to a time of even greater global cataclysm that will immediately precede his coming (Matthew 24:29-31).

The Abomination of Desolation involves God being replaced with man in the Most Holy Place of the temple. We are told in Scripture that when the Antichrist is empowered by Satan (Revelation 13:1-4) he will enter the Jewish temple and claim to be god (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). He then makes war with Israel (Revelation 12:13-17). This act by the Antichrist ushers in the “Great Tribulation” (Matthew 24:21).

9. Who will gain the greatest benefit in reading this discourse? (Matthew 24:15) Both Matthew and Mark (Mark 13:14) tell the reader to consider this text as a means to understanding the prophecy of the Olivet Discourse. This portion of Scripture will be a manual for tribulation saints, complete with a list of imperatives of what to do when they see the Antichrist go into the temple and establish himself in place of the one true God (Matthew 24:16-20).

Many prophetic teachers believe that the command to “flee into the mountains” is a reference to “Petra” (Revelation 12:14). Petra becomes a wilderness and mountainous “hiding place” for the Jewish people. Petra is hidden in the barren mountains of southern Jordan. It is a city that once ranked with almost any in the ancient world. Petra was carved from richly colored sandstone at the crossing of key caravan routes and thrived for a thousand years before it was devastated by earthquakes. Drifting sand covered the ruins.

Note the reference to the Sabbath (Matthew 24:20) which would be of no concern to the church (Colossians 2:16) but of great importance to orthodox Jews who are bound to keep the Sabbath as a perpetual covenant (Exodus 31:13,16; 35:2; Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Numbers 15:32-36). We have a reference to the distance a Jew was allowed to travel in Acts 1:12 “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.” A Sabbath day’s journey was 2,000 cubits or approximately 3/5 of a mile.

10. How did Jesus use the 70th week of Daniel as a template to answer the disciples’ question? Jesus used the 70th week prophecy as the template for the chronological events He unfolded in His response to the disciples’ questions. This also applies to the judgment section of Revelation (chapters 4-19) where Jesus, the one who gave the Revelation vision to the Apostle John (Revelation 4; Daniel 7:25; 12:7,11,12).

Viewing these texts together (see Correlation Chart 2 below), we find that the “beginning” birth pains of Matthew 24:4-14 correlate with the seal judgments of Revelation 4-6, which…

  1. Have a terrestrial focus;
  2. Fit within the first half of Daniel’s 70th week (Daniel 9:27a); and
  3. Climax with the pivotal event of the Temple’s desecration (abomination of desolation) in Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14, the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week (Daniel 9:27b).

End Times Corrolation Chart 2

Events then intensify to concluding birth pains in Matthew 24:16-26, which…

  1. Correlate with Revelation 7-19,
  2. Have a celestial focus, and
  3. Climax with the heavenly appearing of “the sign” of Messiah’s advent to earth in judgment (Matthew 24:27-31; Revelation 19).

These events fit within the last half of Daniel’s 70th week (Daniel 9:27b), which concludes with the destruction of the temple’s desolator (“the prince who is to come,” the Antichrist, Daniel 9:26).

If Matthew 24:4-14 predict signs that are for the future tribulation period and relate primarily to the Jewish people of that day, they cannot have had a past fulfillment, especially not with the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Comparing the events in these verses reveals that they cannot be identified with first-century historical events.

11. How would you describe the nature of the Great Tribulation? (Matthew 24:21-28) The words “has not occurred” and “nor ever will,” along with the description that follows­, identify this as the yet-future time in which God’s wrath shall be poured out upon the earth (see Revelation 7:14). Jesus’ descriptions of the cataclysms that follow closely resemble the outpouring of divine wrath described in the bowl judgments of Revelation 16 and his subsequent appearing in Revelation 19.

Old Testament writers predicted the Great Tribulation in similar terms.

  • Daniel 12:1 – “Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.”
  • Jeremiah 30:7 – “Alas! For that day is great, there is none like it; and it is the time of Jacob’s distress, but he will be saved from it.”
  • Matthew 24:22 – “Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.

Jesus indicates that if God in eternity past had not determined to cut short the second half of the tribulation to three and 1/2 years, all flesh would perish. For mankind to survive, God determined to prevent the time of “Great Tribulation” from running indefinitely beyond the time limit He had set.

Jesus’ statement implied that this period will be the unparalleled time of trouble for all flesh (Jewish and Gentile) on Earth. For several reasons, this fact prevents the “Great Tribulation” from referring to the Roman Empire’s destruction of Jerusalem, the second Temple, or Israel as a nation-state in A.D. 70:

  1. Only Jewish flesh was threatened in A.D. 70.
  2. The A.D. 70 destruction was not worse than that of Samaria and the northern kingdom of Israel as a nation-state in 722 B.C. or the destruction of Jerusalem, the first Temple, and the kingdom of Judah as a nation­state in 586 B.C.
  3. The destruction of A.D. 70 was not worse than the Holocaust of World War II. Four times as many Jewish people were killed in the Holocaust than in the war that ended in A.D. 70.

12. How does Satan mislead people during the Tribulation Period? (Matthew 24:4,5,11,23-28) Jesus warns his audience to “see to it,” which denotes “to keep your eyes open” that “no one misleads you” (Matthew 24:4; Mark 13:5). Jesus speaks of the future reality that many will be misled (Matthew 24:5, 11 ,24; Mark 16:6). The verb “mislead,” in the active voice means “to deceive by leading into error,” and in the passive voice “to go astray, wander,” (Vines pg.151). These false Christs and false prophets are wandering or shooting-stars that are no longer in a sound doctrine orbit. Jesus warns against false prophets who set forth false Messiahs. These false Messiahs will attempt to establish their credibility through counterfeit sign miracles. Matthew 24:24 says “For false Christ’s and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (cp. Mark 13:22).

Most of the charismatic gifts today are unsimilar to those of the apostolic period. The charismatic sign gifts today are not limited to the Christian church. These experiences transcend denominational lines and are even present in different world religions and cults today. A case in point is the experience of those in the New Age movement who have the Kundalini spirit.

The Kundalini spirit has invaded the church masquerading as the Holy Spirit. It appears that these ecumenical “spirit experiences” may be one of the unifying factors that can bring together a one world religion under the Antichrist after the true church has been raptured. Satan is the source of this end time deception (Revelation 12:9; 13:14; 18:23; 19:20; 20:3, 8, 10).

2 Thessalonians 2:7-10 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. 8 Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; 9 that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.

Revelation 13:11-14 Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon. 12 He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. 13 He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. 14 And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life.

13. Does Matthew 24:29-31 refer to the Rapture or the Glorious Appearance at the end of the Tribulation Period? (Matthew 24:29-31) The Second Advent or Coming of Christ has two phases. The first phase is the “rapture of the church” before the tribulation period and the second phase is called the “revelation” that occurs at the end of the Tribulation Period. These two “comings” are clearly contrasted on the chart below.

Second Coming Chart

14. What is the sign of the Son of Man’s Coming? (Matthew 24:30) The Son of Man himself is the sign. The events described here precisely parallel the description in Daniel 7:13; Revelation 19:11-21 . The phrase “all the tribes of the earth will mourn” refers to people of different nationalities who mourn over their own rebellion. Israel in particular will mourn over their rejection of the Messiah (Zechariah 12:10-12).

15. What are the five illustrations that Jesus uses to illustrate the importance of being ready for Christ’s return? (Matthew 24:32-25:30) Jesus instructed His disciples to “be ready” for His return. Christ used five illustrations to make His point:

  1. The Parable of the Fig Tree (Matthew 24:32-35)
  2. The Days of Noah (Matthew 24:36-39)
  3. The Faithful and Evil Slave (Matthew 24:45-51)
  4. The Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)
  5. The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)

Just as windows let in sunlight, so illustrations illuminate the soul. With delicate yet direct statements, Jesus directed His disciples to God’s divine purposes and disclosed predictive prophetic events that will involve Israel as a nation.

16. What is Jesus trying teach through the parable of the fig tree? (Matthew 24:32-35) Matthew 24:34 says, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” Jesus was not referring to the generation of his disciples who listened to him then. This fact is obvious from Matthew 21 :43, where he said, “The kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.” Historically, the first-century generation would pass away, but the generation of Jewish people living when these signs begin will survive that period and see Messiah come as the King of glory. Yeshua’s promise is certain. It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the King’s words to fail (Matthew 24:35; 5:18).

This parable is also not referring to the generation when Israel became a state in 1948. The text is describing the tribulation generation. The fig tree is a sign of approximation. When the generation that is alive sees the signs listed in these verses they can be confident that Christ’s return will be in their lifetime. Just as tender fig branches that put forth their leaves on the fig tree act is a sign that summer is near, so the signs in this passage tell us that Christ’s second coming is soon. The generation that sees these signs won’t know the precise hour or day but the general period of time (Matthew 24:36).

Unfortunately these verses have been misused to determine the timing of the return of Christ. Some prophetic teachers of the past predicted that the rapture would occur in 1981 . Their rational was that the fig tree represents Israel who became a nation in 1948. If you add a generation (40 years) onto 1948 it adds up to 1988. If we subtract a 7 year tribulation period you would have Christ returning for the church in 1981 (The Late Great Planet Earth by: Hal Lindsey, Bantam Books, 1970, pg.43).

17. How can we know the exact time when Christ returns? (Matthew 24:36) Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” Jesus declared categorically that no one knows the “day and hour” of Christ’s return. The signs He had just been describing will be conclusive proof that his arrival is very near. Once they have begun, the general time period of his return will be known, because one of the key purposes of the signs will be to make it known. But even during those sign-days the precise “day and hour” of Jesus’ appearing will not be known, a truth he reiterates several times in this Olivet Discourse (see Matthew 24:42, 44, 50; 25:13).

Neither will the supernatural world know the precise time, not “even the angels of heaven.” Although the righteous angels enjoy intimacy with God, hovering around His throne to do his bidding (Isaiah 6:2-7) and continually beholding his face (Matthew 18:10), they are not privy to this secret. The angels will be directly and actively involved in the end time as God’s agents to separate the saved from the unsaved (see Matthew 13:41, 49), but for his own reasons God the Father will not reveal in advance exactly when he will call them into that service.

Still more amazingly not even “the Son” knew at the time he spoke these words or at any other time during his incarnation. Although he was fully God as well as fully man (John 1:1, 14), Christ voluntarily restricted his use of certain divine attributes when he became flesh. “Although He existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,” that is, to be held onto during his humanness (Philippians 2:6). It was not that he lost any divine attributes but that he voluntarily laid aside the use of some of them and would not manifest those attributes except as directed by his Father (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38).

18. How does Jesus’ second illustration stress the importance of readiness? (Matthew 24:37-42) Notice that the people in the days of Noah went about their lives while judgment was coming. In total disregard for Noah’s warning (2 Peter 2:5) the people of his day were unconcerned and went about their business as usual. When the flood came who was taken? The unbelievers were taken and the righteous remained on the earth. In the same way when Christ comes the unbelievers will be taken and “burned” (Matthew 13:40-42) but the believers will be left on planet earth to be “barned” (Matthew 13:43) in the Kingdom. This is in contrast to the rapture when believers are taken and unbelievers are left behind to face God’s wrath in the tribulation period. Remember that Jesus is speaking about the Jewish people (not the church) and the consummation of the age for the nation of Israel as they finish out the 70th week of Daniel in preparation for millennial kingdom.

Jesus says, “Therefore,” in view of this illustration you ought to be “be on the alert (present imperative), for you do not know which day your Lord is coming”(Matthew 24:42). The phrase “be on the alert” translates a present imperative, indicating a call for continual expectancy.

19. What characteristics demonstrate readiness in Jesus’ third illustration? (Matthew 24:43-51) In the illustration of the faithful and evil slave, Jesus stresses the importance of being ready in case he comes sooner than anticipated (Matthew 24:43-51). His point here is alertness, vigilance, readiness, preparedness in light of his sudden return. The Lord is coming, and his coming will test his slaves. The illustration is simple, yet sublime. Just as the master in Jesus’ story entrusted all his possessions to his slave, so the God of Israel has entrusted all things in the earth to his slaves. A slave’s response to his Lord reveals the true condition of the slave’s heart (Matthew 24:46, 48-49). The Lord wants to find his slaves faithfully doing his will (Matthew 24:45-46). When the Lord returns, he will reward faithfulness (Matthew 24:47). Failure to do the Lord’s bidding is faithless stewardship and brings the Lord’s just punishment because, in the parable, when such a slave noted his master’s delay, he abused his own slaves. Yet the master returned to the house unexpectedly, and judgment came (Matthew 24:50-51).

In the Lord’s eyes, that slave was a hypocrite. Thus he was separated from the others and consigned to eternal judgment, where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:42). Likewise, at the Messiah’s second coming, the wicked will be judged and separated eternally from God.

These parables of the faithful and evil slave and the talents given them by the master speak of the privileges God has given to his covenant people Israel and the consequences of willful and prolonged disobedience.

But be sure of this (present imperative), that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 44 For this reason you also must be ready (present imperative) for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.” (Matthew 24:43-44)

As no one knows what hour the thief will come, no one knows the hour of the Lord’s return or the Day of the Lord that accompanies his coming (1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10). But the believer is to be ready at all times.

The evil slave represents an unbeliever who refuses to take seriously the promise of Christ’s return (2 Peter 3:4). Though he is an unbeliever (as demonstrated by his punishment – Revelation 22:13), he is still accountable to Christ for the stewardship of his time. Jesus was teaching that every person in the world holds his life, natural abilities, wealth, and possessions in trust from God and must give account of how these things are used.

Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 47 Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions.” (Matthew 24:45-47)

The believer who is found faithful to the Lord in what he has been given will be given charge of all of the Lord’s possessions, having inherited the absolute fullness of the kingdom of God as a fellow heir of Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, “But if that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time, 49and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards“‘ (Matthew 24:48,49)

The evil activities Jesus then mentions, the beating of “fellow slaves” and eating and drinking “with drunkards,” are not meant to characterize every unbeliever during the tribulation, but those activities reflect the attitude many of them will have. Because they think the Lord will not come “for a long time” (Matthew 24:48), they will feel free to indulge themselves in whatever sins and pleasures they desire.

Jesus said, “the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know 51and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 24:50-51)

In this case the master will not come as Savior and King to bless and to reward but will come as Judge and Executioner to condemn and to destroy. He will cut the unbelieving slave in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites in eternal fire.

The phrase “cut…in pieces’ literally means to cut into two parts. It is used in that strict sense in the Greek translation of the Old Testament in regard to the preparation of an animal sacrifice (Exodus 29:17). To Jews it would therefore carry the unmistakable idea of destruction and death.

The fact that such persons will be assigned along with the hypocrites suggests that they were not hypocrites themselves. Just as today, many people in the end time will be open and honest about their unbelief, even wearing such honesty as a badge of intellectual and moral integrity. But honest unbelievers are just as lost as hypocrites who pretend to have faith. They will go to the same place as the religious phonies they feel superior to and despise.

20. How does this command apply to believers in the Church Age? (Revelation 3:3, 11; 22:7, 12, 20) The Olivet Discourse teaches that when Jesus returns to the earth to establish his kingdom, his return will be unexpected like a thief in the night. Scripture also likens Christ’s coming in the air to rapture his church to the unexpected arrival of a thief.

Jesus told the church at Sardis – “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. 3 ‘So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief. and you will not know at what hour I will come to you” (Revelation  3:1-3).

There are no signs or prophetic promises that have to be fulfilled before Christ comes to snatch away (“rapture”) his bride the church (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). The rapture can happen at any moment. When evaluating the church of Philadelphia Jesus said – “I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown” (Revelation 3:11).

Other verses emphasize the imminent return of Christ for us His church:

  • Revelation 22:7 “And behold, I am coming quickly Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.”
  • Revelation 22:12 “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”
  • Revelation 22:20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly” Amen Come, Lord Jesus.

The theme of Christ’s “any moment” return has been the basis for New Testament writers to appeal to their audiences to “abide in him (1 John 2:28); live pure lives (1 John 3:2,3); remain steadfast (1 Thessalonians 1:3, 10); and to see any delay in Christ’s return as an opportunity to win our unsaved loved ones, friends, and coworkers to Christ (2 Peter 3:8-15a).

Paul said, “in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).

21. How can we maintain a readiness according to 1 Thessalonians 5:6-11? The Apostle Paul years earlier challenged the Thessalonian believers to be ready for the rapture of the church with these words. Readiness is only achieved as we are alert, sober, putting on the armor, encouraging and building up one another.


The questions and answers for this study were gleaned from the following resources.
1 . Serendipity Bible for Groups by: Serendipity House, Zondervon Publishing House, 1998
2. Donie/: The Kingdom of the Lord by: Charles Lee Feinberg, BMH Books, 1981
3. The Expositors Bible Commentary, Volume 8 by: Frank E. Goebelein (General Editor), Zondervan Publishing House, 1984
4. Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ by: Harold W. Hoehnew, pages 115-139. Zondervon Publishing House, 1977.
5. The End Times by: Hermon A. Hoyt, Moody Press, 1969
6. And the Angels Were Silent by: Max Lucado, pages 133-138, Multnomoh, 1992
7. The MacArthurs New Testament Commentary: Matthew 24-28 by: John F. MacArthur Jr., Moody Press, 1 981 .
8. The Greatness of the Kingdom by: Alva J. McClain, BMH Books, 1974.
9. Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology by: J. Dwight Pentecost, Zondervan Publishing House, 1958.
10. A Survey of the Eschatology of the Olivet Discourse. Part 1. Pages 162-173. Bibliotheca Sacra, Volume 113, April 1956, No. 450 by: James F. Rand, Dallas Theological Seminary.
11 . A Survey of the Eschatology of the Olivet Discourse. Port 2. Pages 200-213. Bibliotheca Sacra, Volume 113, July 1956, No. 451 by: James F. Rand, Dallas Theological Seminary.
12. Dispensotionolism Today by: Charles C. Ryrie, Moody Press, 1965.
13. There Really is a Difference! A Comparison of Covenant and Dispensotionolism Theology by: Renald E. Shower, The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Inc., 1990.
14. Chrisfs Olivet Discourse on the End of the Age by: John F. Wolvoord, pages 206-21 0. Bibliotheca Sacra, Volume 129, July-September 1972, No. 515. Dallas Theological Seminary.
15. Chrisfs Olivet Discourse on the End of the Age by: by: John F. Wolvoord, pages 206-214. Bibliotheca Sacra, Volume 128, July-September 1971, No. 511. Dallas Theological Seminary.
16. Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation by: John F. Wolvoord, pages 216-237; 267-268. Moody Press, 1971 .
17. Chrisfs Olivet Discourse on the End of the Age by: John F. Walvoord, pages 99-105. Bibliotheca Sacra, Volume 129, April-June 1972, No. 514. Dallas Theological Seminary.
18. Is the Church in View in Matthew 24-25? by: Bruce A. Ware, pages 158-172. Bibliotheca Sacra, Volume 138, April-June 1981, No. 550. Dallas Theological Seminary.
19. The Bible and Future Events: An Introductory Survey of Lost-Day Events by: Leon J. Wood, Zondervon Publishing House, 1973.
20. Understanding the Olivet Discourse, by: Randall Price, Israel My Glory, May/June 2005
21 . Perusing the Future by: Randall Price, Israel My Glory, May/June 2005 pages 11,12,30
22. The Times of Jacob’s Trouble, Israel My Glory, May/June 2005 pages 14-17
23. 11/ustrotions From the King, by: Deane Woods,Israel My Glory, May/June 2005 pages 20-21

[Based on my classes with Richard D. Leineweber Jr.]
© Copyright 1994 Richard D. Leineweber Jr.

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How to Love God and Others

This command is all about how to love God and love other people, from Mark 12:28-34 and Matthew 22:34-40

Purpose: To develop the character quality of agape love for God and our neighbors. Jesus said in Mark 12:30-31, “AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ 31 The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” This kind of love is intelligent, feeling, willing, and serving. It involves thought, sensitivity, intent, and even action where that is possible and appropriate.

Historical Background: Chronologically this narrative (Mark 12:28-34) occurs the Wednesday before the crucifixion. Jesus had just been worshipped as the “The King of the Jews” two days before as He entered Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-11). Upon arrival in Jerusalem Jesus entered the temple, looked around and then he departed (Mark 11:11). The Jewish multitudes had hoped that He would enter Jerusalem and free them from Roman bondage. He made His way that evening to Bethany, outside of the city and spent the night there with Mary and Martha and Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. The next day as He returned to Jerusalem, He cursed a barren fig tree on His journey to the temple (Matthew 21:18-19a; Mark 11:12-14). Jesus entered the temple, overturned the tables of the money changers a second time (John 2:13-22) and attacked Israel’s religious system (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-48).

Jesus leaves and returns the next day (Mark 11:27-28), which says, “They came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to Him, and began saying to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?”

They must have thought “What nerve He has! First of all, He comes in yesterday and disturbs the entire place and then He thinks he can walk back in and teach! Where does He think He gets His authority to do this?” Jesus responds to their question with one of His own. Jesus asked, “The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” (Matthew 21:25). The Pharisees found themselves in a dilemma. They desired Christ’s answer but knew it was contingent on their own. They sought to trap Jesus and found themselves trapped. When they realized the implications of answering they answered, “We do not know” (Matthew 21:27). Then Jesus didn’t reveal the source of His authority to them.

Jesus proceeded to teach three parables which taught that the Pharisees would be excluded from the Kingdom:

  1. The two sons (Matthew 21:28-32)
  2. The vineyard (Matthew 21:33-44)
  3. The wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14)

Jesus in affect said to these leaders, first of all, you are like a son who says he will obey but doesn’t. Secondly, you are like a tenant farmer who leases out a farm and then you kill the servants and the son of the one who leased it to you before you’ll pay any debt. And third, you are like the guests who were invited to a wedding, to marry Christ, and you refused to come, so you are thereby shut out. The religious leaders understood the parables were spoken against them and their intensity of resentment toward Jesus grew (Matthew 21:45-46, Mark 12:12, Luke 20:19).

The religious leaders resented Him and wanted Him dead, but the Roman government had restricted their right to take lives, to execute their own criminals. So they attempted to publicly discredit him (Mark 12:13-34). As they confronted Him with the first question they hoped to force Him to answer in such a way that He will put Himself in a difficult position with Rome, so they can put Him to death as an insurrectionist. This first question (Mark 12:13-17) is a political question. The next two questions (Mark 12:18-27; 28-34) are of a theological nature and would discredit Him among the people.

Matthew 22:34 says, “But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together.” When the political question from the Herodians and Pharisees had failed, the Sadducees asked Him a question with respect to the resurrection. But once again He doesn’t discredit Himself among the people through His answer. In fact, His answer silenced the Sadducees. This verb “to put to silence” literally means, “to gag.” He gagged them. It’s not that they wanted to be silenced; it’s just that they had no choice. This verb is used in Mark 1:25 in silencing a demon and in Mark 4:39 in silencing a storm. It is used in 1 Corinthians 9:9 of muzzling an ox. So he muzzled them. In other words, it is an unwilling gagging that they received, and he brought their argument to an end where they were unable to say another thing. They were without another thought, another idea, another retort.

It’s when the Pharisees “gathered themselves together” that an expert scribe joined them and formulated the last question to put Jesus to the test (Matthew 22:35). It’s this third question that created the occasion for Jesus to reinforce the greatest commandment that is found in the Old Testament.

Commanded in the Gospels: This command, “you shall” is from Leviticus 19:18. This command is often repeated in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 5:43; 19:19; 22:39, Mark 12:31,33; Luke 10:27).

Illustrated in the Book of Acts: This command is indirectly illustrated in Acts. The early church found “favor with all the people” because they were so caring and loving (Acts 2:47). They did the Great Commission in a Great Commandment way!

Amplified in the Epistles: Romans 13:8,9,10; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8

Discussion Questions:

1. Who approached Jesus with the question? (Mark 12:28; Matthew 22:34-35) Mark 12:28 says, “one of the scribes came.” A scribe is one who was responsible to copy and interpret the law. Matthew identifies this same man as a “lawyer.” A lawyer was a scribe that was a law expert. In fact, the word “lawyer” that Matthew uses only occurs one time, and that’s in Matthew 22:35. On every other occasion, twenty-two times, he calls them scribes instead of lawyers. I believe that Matthew is suggesting that this man is a cut above that average scribe. He probably stood out among the scribes as a real expert. So he’s the one who structures and formulates the question and then proposes the question to the Lord.

2. What did this scribe think of Jesus’ answer? (Mark l2:28b) The text says that he recognized “that He had answered them well.” The word “well” literally means that Christ answered, “beautifully, finely, and admirably.” Mark seems to suggest that the question asked by the teacher of the law, in contrast to many that had been asked by his colleagues, was a sincere one. He had been impressed by Jesus’ answer to the previous question. The law expert said in essence, “I know the Old Testament and that was a good answer.” So this Pharisees, this scribe, this lawyer, wasn’t filled with the same venom or hatred that all the Pharisees possessed. This scribe doesn’t seem as committed to killing Jesus. It appears that this scribe is attracted to the wisdom of Jesus.

3. What makes the scribe’s question so significant? (Mark l2:28c) The Scribe asked, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” There are two things that make this question so significant.

1) The first thing that makes this question so significant is that the Jews believed that the teachings of Jesus attacked the teachings of Moses. So if they could get Jesus to supersede Moses in some statement, go beyond what Moses said and set himself up as the authority, then they would discredit Him among the people, because Moses was the number one hero of the Jews for several reasons:

  • Historically in Judaism there is no one like Moses. Moses is the one who talked to God, face to face, as a man speaks to his friend, and that sets him apart from every other Jew.
  • Moses was the one God chose when God searched for a man to whom he could give His law.
  • Moses was the priority writer who penned the first five books of the Old Testament (Pentateuch). The Sadducees only held to the writings of Moses, and they were part of his audience as well as many in the crowd who followed their teachings.
  • A Rabbi in the second century said this of Moses: “God called Moses faithful in His entire house and thereby ranks him higher than the ministering angels themselves.” So many Jews believed that Moses was in a category even above the angelic hosts.
  • He was the greatest one to them and that’s why Matthew 23:2 says that “the scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses.” That’s the ultimate place of authority, it’s absolute power. To identify with Moses is to give direction and be in control of Israel. So if they could only get Jesus to affirm that His teaching supersedes Moses then they could accuse him of being an apostate and discredit Him among the people.

2) The second thing that makes this question so significant is that the rabbis counted 613 individual statutes in the law, 365 which were negative and 248 positive. Attempts were made to differentiate between the “heavy,” or “great,” and the “light,” or “little,” commandments. The rabbis also made attempts to formulate great principles from which the rest of the law could be deduced. The most famous example comes from Hillel, who when challenged by a Gentile, “Make me a proselyte on condition that you teach me the whole law while I stand on one foot,” replied, “What you hate for yourself, do not do to your neighbor: this is the whole law, the rest is commentary; go and learn.”

Some thought that the law about the fringes on the garments was the greatest; some that the omission of washings was as bad as homicide; some that the third commandment was the greatest. It was in view of this kind of distinction that the scribe asked the question; not as desiring a declaration as to which commandment was greatest, but as wanting to know the principle upon which a commandment was to be regarded as a great commandment. (Vincent Word Studies Vol.1)

The question posed to Christ by this scribe arose out of a works salvation understanding of the law and the keeping of its commandments.

Notice Jesus cites a familiar command from the Old Testament that is quoted throughout the New
Testament (Matthew 5:44; 19:19 22:37,39; 23:39; Mark 12:31,33; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:8,10; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).

4. What commandment did Jesus say is the foremost? (Mark l2:29) Jesus quoted two passages from the OT (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Leviticus 19:18).

  • Deuteronomy 6:4-9 “Hear, 0 Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5″You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
  • Leviticus 19:18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.

5. What phrase does Mark include that Matthew omits? (Mark 12:29; Matthew 22:37; Deuteronomy 6:4) Only Mark’s narrative reports that Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:4, which is central to the Shema, named after the first word of the verse, which means “Hear.” In Hebrew liturgy Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21, and Numbers 13:37-41 comprise the Shema. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 is a confession of faith that is recited by pious Jews every morning and evening. Jesus merely identifies the thing that was most familiar to them and says this is the foremost commandment. It basically affirms two things: (1) the unity of God (“the Lord is one”) and (2) the covenant relationship of God to the Jewish people (“the Lord our God”).

It’s important to understand the connection that Deuteronomy 6:4 has with the words that follow. Israel has a covenant relation with God the Father. Deuteronomy 6:4 declares “The LORD is our God.” God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5; 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24; 5:9; 6:15; 32:16,21). He expected no other lovers in Israel’s life. This covenant and love relationship wasn’t to be one sided. He expected it to be reciprocal. Israel is the wife of God the Father and the church is betrothed through the New Covenant to God the Son. Loving God is not an option for His people; it’s a mandate.

Bill Gothard writes concerning the basis of God’s jealousy:

“God is jealous because He has established a covenant with every Christian through the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Allowing people or things to compete for first place in our affections causes grief and damage to our relationship with the Holy Spirit. The motivation behind God’s jealousy is His overwhelming love and desire to bless us! He longs to demonstrate to the entire world the incredible things that He will do for believers who fully love Him.

God established a parallel covenant with the nation of Israel. He promised that if they would honor this covenant with Him by loving Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, He would make them healthier, wealthier, and wiser than any other nation in the world. However, if they delighted in any other god, He would curse them above all nations on the earth.

I was aware of these Old Testament promises and warnings and of the jealous nature of God. However, I assumed they related only to His relationship with Israel, and that somehow in the New Testament He had become a benevolent God Who overlooks all of our straying affections. As I thought about this, the words of Scripture spoke with powerful authority, “I am the LORD, I change not” (Malachi 3:6). God is just as loving in the Old Testament as He is in the New Testament. And He is just as jealous in the New Testament as He was in the Old Testament.

This explains the words of James 4:1-4: ‘What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?… You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.’

During those powerful moments of interaction with God and His truth, I realized that I am in covenant with the Lord and that in this relationship there can be no toleration of a competing affection. Either I focus my total love upon Him and experience His marvelous blessings, or I entertain various competing affections and experience painful discipline from Him.

I realized that in my own strength I could not love Him as I ought, so I asked Him for the grace that I needed to love Him with all of my “heart, soul, mind, and strength.”


Notice Jesus’ response. His answer comes by way of a command that is repeated throughout the New Testament (Matthew 5:44; 19:19 22:37,39; 23:39; Mark 12:31,33; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:8,10; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8). We are to love God and our neighbor.

God is to be loved completely and totally because he, and he alone, is God and because he has made a covenant of love with his people. In the covenant God gives himself totally in love to his people; therefore he expects his people to give themselves totally (“soul,” “mind,” and “strength”) in love to him.

John MacArthur points out that the Hebrew word for “love” used in Deuteronomy 6:5, refers primarily to an act of mind and will, the determined care for the welfare of something or someone. It might well include strong emotion, but its distinguishing characteristics were the dedication and commitment of choice. It is the love that recognizes and chooses to follow that which is righteous, noble, and true, regardless of what one’s feelings in a matter might be. It is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek agapao in the New Testament, the verb of intelligent, purposeful, and committed love that is an act of the will. This love is in contrast to the emotion and tender affection of phileo and the physical, sensual love of eros (which is not used in the New Testament).

We are also instructed to “love the Lord your God with ALL of our heart, with ALL our soul, with ALL the mind, with ALL your strength.” The word “with” should be translated literally “out of.” The Greek word ek stresses the source of our love. It must rise out of every part of our being. It must rise out of our soul. It must rise out of our heart, our mind, and our strength. The word “all” emphasizes the fact that God doesn’t just want part of the heart but all of the heart. A part won’t do. God wants you to love Him with your whole being. What a rebuke to half-hearted Christians today.

Theologians and psychologists love to dissect the human personality. Is man a two part person (dichotomy) or a three part person (trichotomy). It doesn’t appear that Jesus is sorting out the different parts of man. As you go through the Scriptures the different parts have different usages and sometimes overlap one another. Jesus is simply emphasizing that the accumulation of terms underlines the comprehensiveness of the love that we should have for God. We are to love Him with our total person.

Where do your thoughts go when you have a moment to just let them stray? When you are exhausted and only have a small reserve of energy left at the end of the day, how will you use it?

7. In the second commandment, how are we to love our neighbor? (Mark 12:31) Jesus says, “The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Jesus brought Leviticus 19:18 together with Deuteronomy 6:5 to show that love of neighbor is a natural and logical outgrowth of love of God. These two commandments belong together; they cannot be separated. The Apostle John in the New Testament stresses this point, “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also” (1 John 4:20-21).

8. How should we define the word “neighbor?” (Leviticus l9:34; Luke 10:25-37) In Leviticus 19:18, the neighbor is identified as “sons of your people,” or fellow Israelites. The Old Testament was clear in Leviticus 19:34 (a few verses later) that the word “neighbor” included resident aliens. Leviticus 19:34 says, “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.”

The Jews of Jesus’ day held to a more narrow interpretation of the word “neighbor” to only include Jews and full proselytes. Jesus redefined the term to mean “anyone with whom we have dealings at all” (Luke 10:25-37).

9. What does Jesus declare about these two commandments? After stating the two greatest commandments Jesus said in Matthew 22:40, “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” The New King James translates this verse as “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” NKJV. This is illustrated with the natural division of the Law below.

10. How many commandments did Jesus give? It’s important to note that Christ gives two commandments and not three. We are living in a day when we are told there are three commands. For example, one writer said that if you don’t properly love yourself, you will be unable to love others. In fact he insists that you must be able to love yourself first before you can love God and your neighbor. The reason Christ did not give a third command was because the type of self-love that He was referring to we already possess. We already love ourselves. It is something that we do automatically and instinctively.

Ephesians 5:28-29 says, “So husbands are also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife, loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh but nourishes it and cherishes it.” Some would appeal to this text to prove that if you don’t love yourself then you can’t love your wife. But the text assumes that self-love or self-preservation is already clearly present in our lives. It’s not something that has to be developed or worked at. Notice first of all the word, “no one ever hated.” Hatred is the opposite of love. In other words, everyone always loves his own flesh. The word “no one” speaks of the universality of self-love which is taken for granted by this passage. It’s universal, “no one.” Notice the word “ever.” The word “ever” sets this forth as a timeless principle. In other words, this statement is true in all ages. There is not one person who ever hated himself. All men love themselves and that’s why they cherish and nourish their bodies.

11. What about those that cut their bodies or even attempt suicide? Many teenagers are willing to cut themselves in order to get attention. Self-love and often the occult (paganism) motivate these actions. Others are willing to attempt suicide to end the pain in their lives regardless of how much it will hurt others and be an offense to a Holy God in whose image they were made. Suicide is the ultimate act of self-love.

12. How has modern psychology influenced the church into making these two commandments into three? (2 Timothy 3:2) Nowhere in Scripture is it found that love of self is a prerequisite for the love of others. There are only two commands that Jesus gave. Numerous terms are used in modern psychology today to suggest that we must work at loving ourselves: self-esteem, self-acceptance, self-regard, self-worth, and descriptive phrases such as you need to feel good about yourself, you need to like yourself. Pastors who use these terms are confused, and they are adopting terminology and concepts and presuppositions from the world and trying to put them into Christianity, trying to sanctify those terms.

Paul warns Timothy that the Apostate church in the end times will be characterized by an emphasis on “loving self” (2 Timothy 3:1-5). The idea of self-love has not been held or taught historically by the church, but things are changing.

  • John Piper, in an article from Christianity Today (Aug. 12, 1977, pg.6) writes, “Today the first and Great Commandment is, ‘Thou Shalt Love Thyself.’ The explanation for almost every interpersonal problem is thought to lie in someone’s low self-esteem.”
  • In the book What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew about Women, the author writes, “If I could write a prescription for every woman in the world, I would provide each of them with a healthy dose of self-esteem and self-worth… I have no doubt that this is their greatest need.” pg.35
  • In Dare to Discipline Dobson writes: “Self-esteem is their most fragile attribute in human nature; it can be damaged by a very minor incident and its reconstruction is often difficult to engineer.” James Dobson pg.19
  • James Dobson writes in What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women: “In fact, low self-esteem is a threat to the entire human family.” pg.28
  • In the book Hide and Seek he further says, “The manner of personal wealth is not only a concern of those who lack it. In a real sense, the health of an entire society depends on the ease with which the individual member gain personal acceptance. Thus, whenever the keys to self-esteem are seemingly out of reach for a large percentage of people, as in the twentieth century America, then wide spread mental illness, neuroticism, hatred, alcoholism, drug abuse, violence, and social disorder will certainly occur.” pgs.12-13
  • John R. Stott writes in an article, entitled: Must I Really Love Myself? “A chorus of many voices is chanting in unison today that at all costs I must love myself first.” Christianity Today, May 5,1978, pg.34

In others words, it doesn’t matter whom I tread on, whom I hurt, the first commandment really is to love yourself. That is not what Jesus said.

Robert Schuller writes about self-esteem when addressing the issue of hell. This is what he says about hell: “Hell is not having a good self-image.” He doesn’t believe in a literal hell, he believes in hell on earth and that is if you don’t have a good self-image, that’s hell.

Jesus emphasized self-denial not self-love. There are three reasons we should have reservations about the self-love theology.

  • Because from the beginning to the end the focus of scripture is the exultation of God and not man. It appears to me that Psalms 139:14 is virtually being rewritten today to be read as, “I will please me because for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” No, the text said, “I will praise Thee for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
  • Because I believe that Scripture has a high view of God and a low view of man. Throughout Scripture this is true: try James 4:1-10, you adulteresses, you adulterers. You can go anywhere in Scripture and see a proper evaluation of what we are like.
  • Because Paul designates self-love as a prime characteristic of evil of the last days: 2 Timothy 3:1.
  • Because too often “Christian writers” have proof texted their books with Scripture after having accepted certain pre-suppositions from psychology. The result has been eisegesis, “reading into the text” rather than exegesis, “reading out of the text.”

One of the consequences of self-love theology is a favorable opinion of oneself before salvation. If you have a favorable opinion of yourself before salvation, then you have a heart that cannot receive God’s mercy. It must become utterly empty of all opinion of your worth.

Luke 18:9-14 says, And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: 10″Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11″The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12’I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 13″But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14″I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Pharisee was full of self-esteem and it would cost him his eternal destiny. The tax collector saw himself as unworthy and cried out for mercy. The text says, “…this man went to his house justified rather than the other…”

C. S. Lewis said, “In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that, and, therefore, know yourselves as nothing in comparison, you do not know God at all. The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forgot about yourself all together or you see yourself as a small dirty object.”

The consequences of a favorable opinion of yourself after salvation is to rob God of His glory. The Scriptures teach that God’s glory is somewhat diminished if man glories in himself. Jeremiah wrote, “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, or the rich man in his riches, or the mighty man in his might or let him who glories glory in the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:23).

13. How did the scribe affirm Jesus’ answer? (Mark l2:32-33) The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that HE IS ONE, AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM. 33 AND TO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE UNDERSTANDING AND WITH ALL THE STRENGTH, AND TO LOVE ONE’S NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

The teacher of the law not only reiterated what Jesus said but added two phrases to affirm Jesus’ words. The teacher of the law first added the phrase “AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM” which is an interpretive addition from Deuteronomy 4:35. This affirmed and underscored the uniqueness of Israel’s God. Secondly, the teacher of the law affirmed that the love of God and neighbor are “more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices” (v.33) which is in keeping with the teachings of the OT prophets.

  • 1 Samuel 15:22, Samuel said, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.
  • Hosea 6:6, For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

In Judaism the law and sacrifices are set side by side with love whereas the scribe was declaring the superiority of love going against the accepted teaching of his day.

John MacArthur writes, “Genuine love of the Lord is intelligent, feeling, willing, and serving. It involves thought, sensitivity, intent, and even action where that is possible and appropriate. God has never sought either empty words or empty ritual. His desire is for the person himself, not simply what the person possesses. If He truly has the person, He inevitably has all that the person possesses as well. And just as God loves us with His whole being, we are to return His love with our whole being.”

John MacArthur adds, “The person who truly loves the Lord with all his heart and soul and mind is the person who trusts Him and obeys Him. That person demonstrates his love by meditating on God’s glory (Psalm 18:1-3), trusting in God’s divine power (Psalm 31:23), seeking fellowship with God (Psalm 63:1-8), loving God’s law (Psalm 119:165), being sensitive to how God feels (Psalm 69:9), loving what God loves (Psalm 119:72,97,103), loving whom God loves (1 John 5:1), hating what God hates (Psalm 97:10), grieving over sin (Matthew 26:75), rejecting the world (1 John 2:15), longing to be with Christ (2 Timothy 4:8), and obeying God wholeheartedly (John 14:21).”

It’s important to note that when the scribe repeated the commandment in Deuteronomy 6:5 he omitted the divine name “the Lord” and replaced it with the pronoun “HIM” in keeping with the practice of pious Jews of avoiding the pronunciation of God’s name.

14.What did Jesus recognize about the scribes reply? (Mark 12:34a) This says, “When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently,…” Jesus pictures him as replying in the manner of one who possessed a mind of his own and really understood what he said. The man had comprehended the significance of Jesus’ reply (Portrait of Mark by: Heibert). But it’s the heart not just the intellect that must fully comprehend and embrace the way of Jesus.

15. How did Jesus appeal to the scribe to continue on his pursuit of the truth? (Mark l2:34b) Jesus told him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” This was “a compliment as well as an appeal to the scribe. His realization of the primary importance of love had placed him spiritually near the kingdom of God. He had come a long way for a scribe, but “not far from” insisted that he must go further and accept that love in the Person of Him who was “the kingdom incarnate.” “Whether or not he ever actually entered it, is written on the yet unread page of its history” (Portrait of Mark by: Hiebert).

16. What does a person have to do to secure entrance into the kingdom? (John 3:3-7) Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6″That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7″Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’ (John 3:3-7). Jesus taught that a person had two options to enter into the kingdom. The first was to perfectly observe the Law of Moses that He summarized in two commandments in this passage. Entrance into the kingdom through the law requires no love lost for God or one’s neighbor EVER (Galatians 5:1-5).

The other approach is to be born into God’s family through faith in Christ’s substitutionary death and resurrection. This approach requires a recognition that we could never muster up enough effort in “the will of the flesh” to somehow satisfy a Holy God and be declared righteous on our own merits (Romans 3:20; 4:5; Philippians 3:9). John 1:12-13 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” This scribe (teacher of the law) was only one step away from entering into the kingdom. He was “near.” It appears that Jesus surmised that he was fully aware of heaven’s expectations and now he needed to recognize his own inadequacy to earn his entrance into the kingdom.

17. Were the religious leaders ready to question more after over hearing this exchange? (Mark 12:34c) The text says, “After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.” A.T. Robertson points out that the phrase, “After that, no one” is a double negative. The sense is the debate was closed and no one would venture (no one dared) to ask another question. Jesus was the complete victor on every side.” (Word Pictures in the New Testament Vol. 7)

Kenneth Wuest translates this verse, “And no one any longer was daring to ask Him a question” (pg.112). The double negative could be translated “no one, no not one”

1. In what way do you want to grow in your love right now: Toward God? Toward those in your neighborhood? Toward strangers? Toward the under resourced?

2. How specifically will you grow in your love? Whom have you selected?

3. What quadrant describes your love quotient?


The questions and answers for this study were gleaned from the following resources.
1 . Serendipity Bible for Groups by: Serendipity House, Zondervan Publishing House, 1998
2. The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, Self-Image by: Jay E. Adams, Harvest House Publishers, 1986.
3. The Danger of Self- Love by: Paul Brownback Moody Press, 1982.
4. The Expositots Bible Commentary, Volume 8 by: Frank E. Gaebelein (General Editor), Zondervan Publishing House, 1984
5. Mark- A Portrait of the Servant by: Edmond Hiebert, Moody Press, 1974
6. He Came to Suffer by: Thomas R. Lovejoy, Grace Community Church, 1984.
7. Compassion: Showing Care in a Careless World by: Charles Swindoll, Word Books Publishers, 1984
8. Word Pictures in the New Testament Vol. I by: Archibald Thomas Robertson, Broadman, Press, 1931
9. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Matthew 16-23 by: John MacArthur Jr., Moody Press, 1988.
10.Word Studies in the Greek New Testament: Volume 1 by: Kenneth S. Wuest, William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1950.
11 . The Chronological Life of Christ Vol.2 by: Mark E. Moore, College Publishing Company, 1997
12. The Words and Works of Jesus Christ by: J. Dwight Pentecost, Zondervan Publishing House, 1981
13. Our Jealous God: Love That Won’t Let Me Go by: Bill Gothard, Life Change Book Series, Multnomah Publishers Inc., 2003
14. Diagram from The Connecting Church by Randy Frazee, p. 71, Zondervan Publishing House, 2001

[Based on my classes with Richard D. Leineweber Jr. © Copyright 1994]

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How to Honor the Government

This lesson is all about How to Render to Caesar and Render to God what is his (Paying Taxes and being a Good Steward).

Passages: Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26

Purpose: To develop the character quality of gratitude and respect (honor) for government. Jesus taught His disciples that one way to express these qualities is to “…render (aorist Imperative) to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s”  (Matthew 22:21). This command also addresses our responsibility to give ourselves fully to God because we were made in His image which was marred through the “fall of mankind” (Genesis 3:1-24; Romans 5:12-14) but can be recovered through the cross (Romans 5:15-21).

Historical Background: Chronologically this narrative (Matthew 22:15-22) occurs the Wednesday before the crucifixion. Jesus had just been proclaimed to be “The King of the Jews” two days before as He entered Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11). The multitudes had hoped that He would enter Jerusalem and free Israel from Roman bondage. It was ironic that the next day Christ cursed a fig tree because it reminded Him of Israel’s fruitlessness (Matthew 21:18-19a; Mark 11:12-14) and attacked Israel’s own religious system (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-48).

His actions of entering the temple and overturning the tables of the money changers were questioned as to the source of their authority. Those asking this question were the Pharisees. Jesus impedes the answer to their question with one of His own. Jesus asked, “The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” (Matthew 21:25). The Pharisees found themselves in a dilemma. They desired Christ’s answer but knew it was contingent on their own. They sought to trap Jesus and found themselves trapped. When they realized the implications of answering they answered “We do not know” (Matthew 21:27). Then Jesus didn’t reveal the source of His authority to them.

Jesus proceeded to teach three parables which taught the Pharisees would be excluded from the Kingdom.

  1. The two sons (Matthew 21:28-32)
  2. The vineyard (Matthew 21:33-44)
  3. The wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14).

The religious leaders understood the parables were spoken against them and their intensity of resentment toward Jesus grew (Matthew 21:45-46; Mark 12:12; Luke 20:19). He opposed them and brought to light their hypocrisy and pride. Also, His growing popularity among the people concerned them. He claimed to be Messiah, the Son of God, and He cleansed the temple without getting their permission first! He was genuine; they were false.

The sort of authority they would have sought would have been in the form of rabbinical papers (the authorities of old). After they were publicly unmasked as hypocrites by the three parables they realized they had to do something. They designed a simple strategy which would discredit His ministry. They were hoping to ask Him a question in such a way that either way He answered, He would be in trouble. The question was about paying taxes. The Pharisees thought they could trap Christ this time.

Commanded in the Gospels: Matthew 22:21 (render), Mark 12:17 (render), Luke 20:25 (render). Men who would take more than what Rome had ordered to be collected were swindlers (extortioners KJV), were despised, and often associated with harlots and other public sinners (Matthew 5:46; 9:10-11; 11:19; 18:17; Mark 2:15,16; Luke 5:29,30; 7:34; 15:1 ,2). These tax-gatherers had offices (Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27) and a number of them repented (Matthew 10:3; 21:31-32; Luke 3:12-13; 5:27; 7:29; 18:10-11, 13; 19:2).

Illustrated in the Book of Acts: The Jews often tried to stir up Roman authority by suggesting that Christ or His followers were acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar (Acts 17:17). The Sanhedrin brought Christ before Pilate and falsely accused Him of opposing payment of taxes to Caesar (Luke 23:2). This was a deliberate distortion of Christ’s teaching.

Amplified in the Epistles: Romans 13:6-7

Discussion Questions:

1. What where the Pharisees plotting to do to Jesus? (Matthew 22:15) While Jesus continued to teach the crowds in the Court of the Gentiles, “the Pharisees” gathered privately in another part of the Temple to plan their next move. Because they were still afraid to take action against Him directly they cleverly planned to trap Him.

Mark 12:13 and Luke 20:20 provide a purpose clause (hino – “in order that”) to help us identify their intentions. Mark 12:13 says,”…in order to trap Him in a statement.” The word for “trap” (agrevo is rendered by the KJV as “catch” and literally means “to take by hunting.” It is used metaphorically of the Pharisees and Herodians seeking to catch Christ as He spoke.

Luke 20:20 uses a different word but translates it “catch.” It literally means, “they might take hold of” or “seize his words.” The Pharisees and Herodians were hoping to trap or catch him in some subversive statement against Rome that would ensure His arrest and execution as an insurrectionist. They wanted to “catch Him in some statement, “so that they could deliver Him to the rule and the authority of the governor” (Luke 20:20), who at that time was Pilate.

2. Who were the Herodians? (Mark 12:13) Matthew 22:16a says, “…along with the Herodians.” The Herodians were not normal allies of the Pharisees. In fact, the two groups were usually at odds with each other. Not much is known about the Herodians besides what can be inferred from their name. The Herod family was not Jewish but ldumean, descendants of Israel’s ancient enemies the Edomites. Beginning with Herod the Great, they had received favors from Rome in the form of various high political appointments, including rulerships over parts of Palestine.

The Herodians had no love for Jesus and may even have been instructed by Herod Antipas to try to instigate His death or at least imprisonment. It was that tetrarch who had imprisoned and eventually beheaded Jesus’ forerunner and friend, John the Baptist, and when Herod heard of Jesus’ miraculous works, he was afraid that He was John risen from the dead. But he was also curious to see Jesus in order to witness His miracle-working power (Luke 9:7; 23:8). Sometime later, certain Pharisees who were friendly to Jesus warned Him to flee Perea because “Herod wants to kill you” (Luke 13:31). Consequently, during the latter part of His ministry, Jesus had avoided the territory of Herod because of the hostility toward Him there, “for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem” (Luke 13:33).

Any Herodians, even if they were Jews as these men were, would have had strong allegiance to Rome, and it was doubtlessly for that reason that the Pharisees asked some of them to accompany their disciples as they confronted Jesus. Should Jesus fall into their trap and make the expected objection to paying Roman taxes, the Herodian Roman sympathizers would serve as credible witnesses. Although the Pharisees despised the Herodians as irreligious traitors, it well suited their purpose to enlist these men’s help in entrapping Jesus.

3. How did the disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians address Jesus? (Matthew 22:16; Mark 12:14; Luke 20:21) They addressed Him as “Teacher” (didaskos]. To address a Jewish man as “Teacher” was a high form of honor, reserved for rabbis who had distinguished themselves as astute students and interpreters of Jewish law and tradition. The Talmud said, “The one who teaches the law shall gain a seat in the academy on high.”

4. How did these disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians play the hypocrite and flatter? (Matthew 22:16b; Mark 12:14; Luke 20:21) They pretended to admire Him and flattered them with three statements. Matthew 22:16b says, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any.” Mark E. Moore writes that they were saying to Jesus:

  1. You are a man of integrity, therefore, we can follow your example in this.
  2. You accurately teach the will of God, therefore we can trust your opinion on this.
  3. You are not swayed by men, therefore we can believe your answer will be unbiased. No one was fooled by their false flattery.

Not only the Old Testament but rabbinic tradition strongly condemned flattery and hypocrisy. Despite the fact that rabbinic tradition condemned flattery and hypocrisy, Luke 20:20 says, “So they watched him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, in order that they might catch Him in some statement, so that they could deliver Him to the rule and the authority of the governor.” They acted as if they sincerely wanted an answer to the question they were about to pose.

5. What question do they ask Jesus and how does it appear to be a no win situation for Jesus? (Matthew 22:17) They solicited Jesus’ opinion with this question: “Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” It is clear that their simple question is designed to trap Jesus. If he says, “No,” the crowds will be delighted, of course. They hate taxation. More than one third of their income goes to pay Roman taxes. While the crowds would have loved Jesus to ban taxation, the Herodians would have immediately arranged for His arrest and execution. On the other hand, if Jesus says “Yes, we should pay taxes to Caesar,” the people, urged on by the Pharisees, will stop following him. After all, any Messiah who can’t throw off the shackles of Roman domination (and especially taxation) is not worthy of support. Jesus appears to be trapped!

So, if Christ had legitimatized the payment of taxes, He would have seemed to abandon Israel’s hope; but if He had denied Rome the right to collect taxes, He would have been guilty of treason.

6. What motivated them to pose this question? (Matthew 22:18, Mark 12:15; Luke.20:23) Jesus knows what they are up to and calls them on the carpet. Matthew 22:18 says, “Jesus perceived their malice” and Luke 20:23 says “He detected their trickery.” He knew the men who posed the question were not the ones who devised it; and that the words of praise they had just showered on Him were not motivated by admiration but “malice.” The word “malice” (poneria) is better translated “wickedness” (KJV) or “iniquity.” This word speaks of the evilness of their plan. It must have hurt when Jesus identified them as “hypocrites” publicly. Jesus exposes them as hollow people, actors, pretenders, fakes. Mark 12:15 says, But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at.”

Jesus calls for a coin. The very fact that they have a Roman denarius in their possession indicates they accept Roman rule at some level. After all, you can’t accept a government’s right of coinage without also admitting its right of taxation.

7. What was a poll tax? (Matthew 22:19; Mark.12:14) The name “poll-tax” (kensos) is taken from the Latin censere, from which is derived the English census. Of the many taxes the Romans exacted from occupied territories, none was more onerous to Jews than the poll-tax, a tax payable yearly by every individual and therefore sometimes called the head tax. Among other things, it was for the purpose of collecting the poll-tax that Rome took a periodic census, such as the one that had required Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem just before Jesus was born (Luke 2:1-4).

Paying for the support of the occupying forces and providing the many beneficial services for which Rome was famous required an enormous amount of money, necessarily supplied by taxation. Consequently a land tax of one tenth of the grain and one fifth of the wine and oil produced was assessed annually, as was a one percent income tax on wage earners. Customs taxes on merchandise were collected at all ports and major crossroads.

The Romans offered many services to conquered peoples, not the least beneficial of which was the Pax Romana, or Roman peace. Because of their strategic military and commercial locations, many countries of the Near East had had little respite from war for centuries. They fought one invader after another and were ruled by one conqueror after another. At least under Roman protection they were free from war and could travel in relative safety anywhere in the empire. The Romans also provided Via Romana, valuable roads and aqueducts, many ruins of which still exist today.

Although the poll-tax may not have been the most costly tax for most people, it was the most resented by Jews. Perhaps it was because they considered themselves as personally belonging to God rather than to Caesar. It was the census tax that incited the insurrection of Judas of Galilee in A.D. 6 that was instrumental in the deposing of Herod Archelaus and his replacement by a Roman governor. Judas’ rallying cry was that, because God was their only God and Lord, the census tax would not be paid to Rome. As Gamaliel reminded the Sanhedrin when Peter and the other apostles were being questioned in Jerusalem, the rebel Judas “perished, and all those who followed him were scattered” (Acts 5:37). It was the nationalistic, anti-Roman sentiment of Judas on which the Zealot movement was built and that was behind the rebellion of A.D. 66 that led to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple four years later.

It was therefore not by accident that the Pharisees had instructed their disciples to induce Jesus to make a statement about the poll-tax. If He gave an answer favorable to the tax, He would become despised by the Jewish multitudes who until then highly admired Him. In that case, the Jewish leaders would then be free to arrest and have Him executed without interference from the populace. But they presumed He would answer otherwise and openly declare that the tax was both unjust and ungodly and should not be paid to the oppressive, pagan Caesar, thus incurring the wrath of Rome as an insurrectionist.

8. What kind of coin did they bring Jesus? (Matthew 22:19b) Disregarding Jesus’ harsh accusations against them, the men readily “brought Him a denarius,” being more than glad to help Him fall into their snare. The specific coin used for the poll-tax was the denarius, which amounted to the daily wage for a soldier or common laborer in Palestine. Although several coinages, including Greek and Hebrew were used in Israel at the time, and exchange from one to the other was easy, only the Roman denarius could be used to pay the poll-tax. It was a silver coin, minted expressly by the emperor, who alone had the authority to issue coins in silver or gold. All such coins, including the denarius, bore an engraving of the emperor on one side and an identifying inscription on the other.

That fact made the coins especially offensive to Jews for three reasons:

  1. For one thing, the emperor’s picture was a reminder of Roman oppression.
  2. The coin itself had an offensive inscription: “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus” and on the flip side, “pontifex maximus” (“the most high priest”).
    1. The coinage of Christ’s day was more than secular; it was religious. The emperors, who believed they were high priests, also believed they were gods.
    2. They often usurped the authority of God by having large numbers of people killed. Many Christians lost their lives because they failed to worship the emperor. Emperor worship was a part of the Roman Empire.
  3. The Mosaic Law specifically forbade the making of images (Exodus 20:4). In modern Israel, certain extremely orthodox Jews strictly forbid the taking of their photographs, because the resulting picture is considered a graven image.

9. Why did Jesus ask them to describe the coin? (Matthew 22:20) Jesus simply holds up the coin and asks whose picture is on it. Matthew 22:20 says, and He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They must have seen where he was headed even as their answer slips from their tongues. The logic is so simple and yet so profound: Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God.

10. What command does Jesus give in Matthew 22:21? (Mark 12:17; Luke 20:25) Matthew 22:21 says, they said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render (aorist Imperative) to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”

Christ here recognizes two divinely constituted spheres of authority. In the one sphere God is supreme. In the other, Caesar has delegated authority. Christ’s statement anticipated Paul’s teaching that all civil authorities are constituted by God (Romans 13:1-7, John 19:10-11). As such they are God’s ministers to maintain law and order and to provide an atmosphere in which righteous men may live in peace (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

The word “render” is the command of Christ in this narrative. This command is an aorist imperative which denotes urgency and literally means to “pay” or “give back” (apodidomi) implying a debt. It carries the idea of obligation and responsibility for something that is not optional. This is one of the commands of Christ that must be taken seriously. Jesus teaches here that we owe them to the government as surely as we have financial obligations to God as part of our stewardship (Malachi 4:8-12).

This has some ponderous (heavy, weighty) implications:

First, a government does have the right of taxation. If we cheat on our taxes, we are disobeying the ordained authority of God (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17).

Romans 13:1-7 tells us… Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

The word “tax” in Romans 13:6-7 is phoros in the Greek text. Rome had one tax called kensos in Greek, and that was a head tax, or census. Every person paid it.

Then they had the poll tax, or land tax. That is what Paul is referring to in Romans 13:7. This tax was like our income tax. An assessment was made on land, property, slaves, and capital. The taxable amount of one’s possessions was determined, the appropriate tax rate applied, and then the person was charged the tax. So Paul says to pay your income tax.

Second, Paul also instructs believers to show respect or honor to government officials. The Greek word for honor denotes “assigning a price or value to someone.” It can sometimes refer to money. 1 Timothy 5:7 says, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” This would refer to respect and compensation. So our phrase in Romans 13:7, “honor to whom honor is due” could be translated, “Give money to whom money is due.”

It can also mean “respect.” It is best to see Paul as using two words that refer to money, (tax and duty), and two words that demonstrate attitude, (respect and honor). We are to pay our taxes and duty with an attitude of respect and honor. We should respect government officials for their position despite their perspective or personality.

We should be grateful for the provision and protection that is ours in this country; and thank God for placing us here where we have such freedom and prosperity. Our government leaders may not always please us as Christians, but we should be grateful to live in such a benevolent society. As we prosper we should thankfully pay our taxes, and not think of it as a chore we hate or despise.

1 Peter 2:13-17 says to Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. 17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

But, what about… What if Government spends our tax dollars inappropriately? We don’t obey a government because we like what it does, who’s in charge, or how it spends its money.

11. Is there ever an appropriate time for civil disobedience? (Acts 4:19; 5:29) There are appropriate occasions for civil disobedience (Acts 4:19; 5:29). However, civil disobedience should only be reserved for times when the government asks us directly or individually to disobey what God has commanded us to do or not to do. The same Peter that taught “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors…” told those in authority that he would not stop preaching the gospel because he was under a higher authority that had commanded him to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).

12. Whose image was on the coin that Jesus was displaying in His hand? (Matthew 22:21b) The image on the coin is Caesar (Tiberias). Obviously, if his picture is on it, then it belongs to him. So what should we do? “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”

13. Whose image were the disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians made in? (Matthew 22:21b) God’s image! Jesus says, “Then render… to God the things that are God’s.” As Jesus looks around the audience, he sees men and women who are as clearly imprinted with the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10). They have an obligation to give their lives to Him. But even now, Jesus the Messiah stands before them. Instead of following Him, as God intended, they are trying to trap him. They are, in this very moment, robbing God that which is due him.

14. How did they respond to Jesus’ answers to their questions? (Matthew 22:22; Mark 12:17; Luke 20:26) Matthew 22:22 says “And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away.” Luke’s Gospel says, “And they were unable to catch Him in a saying in the presence of the people; and being amazed at His answer, they became silent” (Luke 20:26).

The Pharisees and Herodians are stumped. They have laboriously contrived this “impenetrable” question. Their scheme was foolproof, yet in less than fifteen seconds this uneducated Galilean dismantles their question, exposes their motives, and convicts their hypocrisy. All they can do is walk away with their tails between their legs.

Application Questions:

  1. What was your attitude toward authority in your younger days? (Compliant? Obedient? Rebellious?)
  2. What bothers you the most about government? (Taxes? Scandals? Regulations? Waste? Nothing?)
  3. How has this command impacted your soul?
    1. Mind/Attitude – thoughts
    2. Will – decisions
    3. Emotions – feelings
  4. In your life, what belongs to Caesar? What belongs to God?
  5. How well are you giving to each?

The questions and answers for this study were gleaned from the following resources:
1. Serendipity Bible for Groups by: Serendipity House, Zondervan Publishing House, 1998
2. The Expositors Bible Commentary, Volume 8 by: Frank E. Gaebelein (General Editor), Zondervan Publishing House, 1984
3. New Testament Commentary- Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark by: William Hendriksen, Baker Book house, 1975.
4. Mark- A Portrait of the Servant by: Edmond D. Hiebert, Moody Press, 1974
5. The New International Commentary on the New Testament.
6. The Gospel According to Mark by: William L. Lane, William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1974.
7. He Came to Suffer by: Thomas R. Lovejoy, Grace Community Church, 1984
8. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Matthew 7 6-23 by: John MacArthur Jr., Moody Press, 1988.
9. Word Studies in the Greek New Testament: Volume 1 by: Kenneth S. Wuest, William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1950.
10. The Chronological Life of Christ Vol.2 by: Mark E. Moore, College Publishing Company, 1997
11. The Words and Works of Jesus Christ by: J. Dwight Pentecost, Zondervan Publishing House, 1981

[Richard D. Leineweber Jr. © Copyright 1994]

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How to Become a Servant Leader

This lesson is all about servanthood, Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45

Purpose: The purpose of this study is to develop the character quality of humility. Servanthood and suffering bring greatness in the kingdom. Jesus taught His disciples “And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be (present imperative) your slave” (Matthew 20:27). The way up is down. God’s ways are counter intuitive. Man’s pride and ego keeps him from greatness. Ken Blanchard asks “What’s your leadership ego?” EGO is either “Edging God Out” or “Exalting God Only.” Servant leadership involves humbly serving those under us so they are successful. Jesus in this passage teaches us how to become a servant leader.

Historical Background: This narrative follows Jesus’ third prediction of the resurrection on the road to Jerusalem (Matthew 20:17-19; Mark 10:32-34; Luke 18:31-34). This passage warns against ambitious pride. This request for places of honor showed a continuing feeling among the disciples that Jesus was going to Jerusalem to restore the glory of the fallen throne and kingdom of David. This request is irreconcilable with the fact that Jesus had just told his disciples that He would die, not reign in Jerusalem. Perhaps they were so consumed with selfish ambition that they didn’t hear what Jesus said. It’s obvious that they weren’t satisfied with Jesus’ recent words promising the Twelve that they would occupy the twelve thrones over the twelve tribes of Israel in the kingdom (Matthew 19:28).

Commanded in the Gospels: Matthew 20:27 – let him be; Luke 22:26 – let him become. The Gospels contain other instruction on this subject (Matthew 10:24, 25a; 23:11; Mark 9:35; 10:43, 44; John 12:26) and cite numerous women who regularly helped Christ by ministering to His needs, (Matthew 8:15; 27:55; Mark 1 :31; 15:41; Luke 8:3; 10:40; John 12:2).

Illustrated in the Book of Acts: Acts 6:1-2; 13:5; 19:22; 20:19, 34; 21:19; 24:23

Amplified in the Epistles: Some Christians have the spiritual gift of serving (Romans 12:7). Others are put in charge of physical tasks that must be cared for by the church. These hold the office of deacon (diokonos) (Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:8, 10, 12-13) and deaconess, (Romans 16:1; 1 Timothy 3:11) but every Christian must be involved in some form of service (Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 4:12; Hebrews 6:10; 1 Peter 4:10-11). The following men are positive examples of servanthood:

  1. Apollos (1 Corinthians 3:5)
  2. Christ (Philippians 2:7)
  3. James (James 1:1)
  4. John (Revelation 1:1)
  5. Jude (Jude 1:1)
  6. Mark (2 Timothy 4:11)
  7. Onesimus (Philemon 1:13)
  8. Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 1:18)
  9. Paul (Romans 1:1, 1 Corinthians 4:1; 2 Corinthians 4:5, 6:4; 11:8, 23, Galatians 1:10, Philippians 1:1, Titus 1:1)
  10. Peter (2 Peter 1:1)
  11. Timothy (Philippians 2:22)
  12. Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21, Colossians 4:7)

1 . What relationship did mother Zebedee and her two sons have to Jesus? She was Salome, probably a sister of Jesus’ mother (Matthew 20:20; 27:55a, 56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25). If so, then James and John were Jesus’ first cousins. Perhaps they hoped their family ties would help their cause. In addition to relying on their relationship as Jesus’ cousins, the brothers perhaps also thought to play on Jesus’ affection for his mother by having her sister approach Him for the favor. These two disciples were asking for preferential treatment.

2. What did the mother of James and John request? (Matthew 20:20-21; Mark 10:37) One of them wished to sit at His right, the highest assigned position, and the other at His left, the next highest place in a royal court (Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews). The “right hand” and “left hand” suggest proximity to the King’s person and so a share in his prestige and power. Such positions increase as the King is esteemed and has absolute power (Psalm 16:11; 45:9; 110:1; Matthew 27:64; Acts 7:55-56). Mark has, “in your glory,” Matthew “in your kingdom.” Mark’s phrase clearly points to the Parousia, “when Jesus is enthroned as eschatological judge.”

3. Was Mrs. Zebedee’s request a political power play? (Matthew 20:20) John MacArthur writes, “The first worldly principle for greatness might be called political power play and is reflected in the attempt of the mother of the sons of Zebedee to persuade Jesus to give those two sons, James and John, the highest places of honor in His kingdom. The Bible Knowledge Commentary says, “…with typical motherly pride, felt her sons deserved the two best locations.” Throughout history one of the most common tactics for getting ahead has been using the influence of family and friends to one’s own advantage. These people are manipulated to gain political office, a promotion in business, a lucrative contract, or whatever else is craved. As the saying goes, “It’s who you know that counts.”

It seems incredible that James, John, and their mother could ask Jesus such a crass, self-serving favor immediately after His prediction of the persecution and death He would soon face in Jerusalem. There is no indication, either in this text or in Mark’s parallel account (Mark 10:35), that any of the disciples made a response to what Jesus had just said about His own imminent death. They may simply have discounted His prediction as being merely figurative and symbolic, or they may have been so preoccupied with their own interests and plans that His words went by them.

4. How do we know that Mrs. Zebedee’s request was a joint effort with her sons? (Matthew 20:22; Mark 10:35) From the Matthew passage it is clear that “the mother” was speaking at the request of her “two sons.” In fact, Mark makes no mention of her at all. The three obviously came with a common purpose and plan they had discussed among themselves beforehand. The mother probably spoke first, and then James and John spoke for themselves.

It is implied in Matthew but explicit in Mark that the first request was intentionally general and indefinite: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of You” (Mark 10:35). Their approach was like a child trying to get a parent to promise something before saying what it is for fear that a specific request for it might be denied.

5. How was Mrs. Zebedee’s worship manipulative? (Matthew 20:20) “Bowing down” was a common act of homage, respect or honor given to ancient monarchs, and the mother may have been trying to flatter Jesus by appealing to His sense of power and royalty. By treating Him like a king, she hoped to manipulate Him into making a gesture of generosity. Near Eastern kings liked to pride themselves in having the resources to grant any favor or request. It was such pride that induced Herod Antipas to swear to the daughter of Herodias, “Whatever you ask of me, I will give it to you; up to half of my kingdom” (Mark 6:23).

The fact that James, John, and their mother made a request of Christ for a blank check strongly suggests that they knew the request was not legitimate. The request was purely self-seeking, for her as well as for them. As their mother, she could bask vicariously in their exalted positions, and her own prestige would be greatly enhanced. In marked contrast to what they would become after Pentecost, James and John were not noted for their shyness or being reserved, and Jesus had nicknamed them “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:1-7). Their request of Jesus not only was bold but brash. In effect, they were claiming that, of all the great people of God who had ever lived, they deserved to have the two highest places of honor beside the King of heaven.

Like the scribes and Pharisees who loved “the place of honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues” (Matthew 23:6), James and John longed for prestige and preeminence and to be exalted over the other apostles. Like the self-seeking Diotrephes (3 John 1:9), they loved to be first. But that is not the way to greatness in the kingdom of God.

6. What was Mrs. Zebedee really asking for unknowingly? (Matthew 20:22) “You do not know what you are asking.” Matthew Henry writes, “We know not what we ask, when we ask for the glory of wearing the crown, and ask not for grace to bear the cross in our way to it.” The response, “we are able” is amazing proof of their ignorance and self-confidence. Ambition had blinded their eyes.

John MacArthur writes, “James and John either completely misunderstood what Jesus meant or because, like Peter promising never to forsake Christ, they self-confidently thought they could endure anything required of them, James and John foolishly declared, “We are able.” And just as Peter denied the Lord three times before the cock crowed, those two brothers, along with all the other disciples, fled for their lives when Jesus was arrested (Matthew 26:56).

No doubt with great tenderness and compassion, the Lord then assured the brothers, “My cup you shall drink.” But it would not be in their own power but in the power of the Holy Spirit that they would suffer greatly for their Master’s sake. They did indeed share in the “fellowship of His sufferings” (Philippians 3:1 0).

7. What cup or baptism was Jesus talking about? (Matthew 20:22; 26:39, 42; Mark 10:38-39) “The cup” was a common Jewish metaphor either for joy (Psalm 23:5; 116:13) or for divine judgment against human sin, as here (Psalm 75:7-8; Isaiah 12:2). Jesus applied this figure to Himself for He was to bear the wrath of God’s judgment against sin in place of sinners (Matthew 26:39; Mark 10:45; 14:36; 15:34; Luke 22:42; John 18:11). He would drink the “cup” voluntarily.

If the disciples grasped anything of Jesus’ passion predictions, they probably thought the language of this metaphor referred to the eschatological conflict during which Messiah’s side would suffer losses; but these could scarcely be too severe for one who could still storms and raise the dead.

8. What has Jesus and other New Testament writers said about the role of suffering in Kingdom assignments? On the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught His disciples that one of the ways to greatnessm it is through suffering for Christ on earth. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:1 0-12).

The Apostle Paul learned that the way to great glory is through great affliction for Christ’s sake. Although he suffered extreme hardship, persecution, and suffering, he considered those things to be insignificant compared to what awaited him in heaven. He told the self-serving, pleasure-loving Corinthians, “For momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Paul also pointed out to the Thessalonians that their suffering wasn’t pointless. It was pain with a purpose. They would be considered worthy when positions in the kingdom were being assigned (2 Thessalonians 1:4-10).

Edmond Hiebert writes, “In the day of judgment their present sufferings will be seen to have been beneficial… the statement is a direct encouragement to the suffering readers. They are assured that their sufferings are significant.

The Apostle Paul challenging young Timothy to be a good soldier who suffers for Jesus Christ wrote, “If we endure, we will also reign with Him…” (2 Timothy 2:12a).

The one who has the greatest glory beside Christ in heaven will be the one who has faithfully endured the greatest suffering for Him on earth.

9. Did James and John ever taste this cup? (Matthew 20:23; Mark 10:39; Acts 12:2; Revelation 1:9) These two brothers are the bookends of apostolic suffering in the early church. James was beheaded and John was tortured and exiled to Patmos for the sake of Christ. The Foxe’s Book of Martyrs of the World describes their suffering:

The Apostle James: St. James was the first of the apostles to meet a martyr’s death. Herod Agrippa, when he was made governor of Judea by the Roman emperor Caligula, raised a persecution against the Christians, and especially singled out St. James as an object of his vengeance. When the apostle was led out to die, a man who had brought false accusations against him walked with him to the place of execution. He had doubtless expected to see St. James looking pale and frightened, but he saw him, instead, bright and joyous, like a conqueror who had won a great battle. The false witness greatly wondered at this, and became convinced that the Savior in whom the prisoner by his side believed must be the true God, or he could not impart such cheerfulness and courage to a man about to die. The man himself, therefore, became a convert to Christianity, and was condemned to die with St. James the apostle. Both were consequently beheaded on the same day and with the same sword. This took place in the year of our Lord 44. [pg.27]

The Apostle John: He was distinguished for being a prophet, apostle, and evangelist. He was brother to James, and not only one of the twelve apostles, but one whom Jesus chiefly loved. St. John founded many churches in Greece. Being at Ephesus, he was ordered by the emperor Domitian to be sent bound to Rome, where he was condemned to be cast into a cauldron of boiling oil. Either this sentence was not carried out, or a miracle saved him from injury, for he was afterward banished by the emperor to the island of Patmos, and there wrote that beautiful book which is called The Revelation of St. John the Divine, and which tells of the joys of the celestial city.

At last Domitian died, and the next emperor, Nerva, was kind to the Christians, and sent St. John back to Ephesus, when he wrote his gospel. He lived to be a very old man, and died a natural death at Ephesus, some writers say in the one-hundredth year of his age. [pg.35]

10. Whose prerogative is it to give these privileged positions away? (Matthew 20:23) Jesus made it clear that granting positions of honor to His right and left in the kingdom is not His prerogative. Such places were not within His jurisdiction to give.

It would not be on the basis of favoritism or ambition that those honors would be bestowed, but on the basis of the Father’s sovereign choice. Personal ambition is not a factor in the eternal, sovereign plan of God. [MacArthur]. Mark 10:38-39 adds a little more text.

11. What other metaphor did Jesus use to describe the suffering that awaited Him? (Mark 10:38-39) The figure of “baptism” expresses a parallel thought. Being under water was an Old Testament picture of being overwhelmed by calamity (Job 22:11; Psalm 69:2, 15; Isaiah 43:2). Here the “calamity” Jesus faced was bearing the burden of God’s judgment on sin which involved overwhelming sufferings culminating in His death (Luke 12:50). He was to “be baptized” by God who placed these sufferings on Him (Isaiah 53:4b, 11). James and John may have thought Jesus was describing a messianic battle and their confident reply, “We can”, showed their willingness to fight in it. But their reply also showed that they had not understood Jesus’ words. So Jesus applied the same “cup” and “baptism” figures to them but in a different sense. In following Him they would share His sufferings (1 Peter 4:13) even to death, but not in a redemptive sense.

12. Why did the other ten disciples become indignant with James and John? (Matthew 20:24; Mark 10:41) The verb “became indignant” speaks of jealous displeasure and is a strong word for angry resentment. The ten felt that James and John had taken advantage of their relation to Jesus.

This jealous reaction indicates that they also harbored the same selfish ambitions. They all would have petitioned Jesus for the exalted, favored positions, given the opportunity. To avert disharmony among the Twelve and to reemphasize the meaning of true greatness (Mark 9:33-37) Jesus contrasted greatness in this world’s kingdoms with that in God’s kingdom.

On the way from Caesarea Philippi to Capernaum they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest” but were ashamed to admit it to Jesus (Mark 9:33-34). Even at the Last Supper “there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest” (Luke 22:24). They were all guilty of the same self-serving ambition that had just been demonstrated by the two brothers. [MacArthur]

Jesus sees the cross waiting for Him, James and John see thrones waiting for them, but the other ten disciples could only see James and John. They are upset with these two men not because of the power play or the selfish ambition but because they got to Jesus first.

13. What is the leadership style of the corporate world? (Matthew 20:25; Mark 10:42) Jesus sets aside all the politicking, maneuvering, asking for favors and special privileges and tells His team how different the world’s ways are from kingdom principles.

Now the Lord called them to Himself and reminded them of another wrong way of achieving spiritual greatness. It could be called the way of the dominant dictator. “Lord it over” is a strong term carrying the idea of ruling down on people, the prepositional prefix kata intensifying the verb.

The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over their subjects,” Jesus said. Virtually every government of that day was a form of dictatorship, often of a tyrannical sort. The world seeks greatness through power, epitomized by despotic “rulers of the Gentiles” such as the pharaohs, Antiochus Epiphanes, the Caesars, the Herods, and Pilate, under all of whom the Jews had suffered greatly.

The same philosophy of dominance is found in modern businesses and even in some Christian organizations. Many people in high positions cannot resist the temptation to use their power to “lord it over” those under them. Some are radical egomaniacs, whereas others are respectable and orthodox. But they share a common worldly desire to control others. Peter therefore warned Christian leaders against “lording it over those allotted to [their] charge” (1 Peter 5:3).

Another wrong way to achieve spiritual greatness is that of the charismatic personality. The expression “great men” carries the idea of distinguished, eminent, illustrious, or noble. It represents those who have high personal appeal and have achieved high stature in the eyes of the world and who seek to control others by personal influence. They can be seen as different in style from those in Matthew 20:25a. Whereas the dominant dictator uses the sheer power of his position and is often hated, the charismatic leader uses the powers of popularity and personality. By flattery, charm, and attractiveness, he manipulates others to serve his own ends.

“Exercise authority over” also translates a strong and intensified Greek verb, and could be rendered “to play the tyrant.”

The church has never been without self-seeking leader who capture the fascination of the people who willingly follow them while they make merchandise of the gospel in order to feather their nests and build up their reputations. By telling people what they like to hear (2 Timothy 4:3), they skillfully take advantage of selfish, gullible believers.

14. How does Jesus measure greatness? (Matthew 20:26; Mark 10:43) Jesus turned the world’s greatness upside down. The self-serving, self-promoting, self-glorying ways of the world are the antithesis of spiritual greatness. They have no place in God’s kingdom and are not to be so among you, Jesus told the Twelve.

Greatness in the Lord’s kingdom does not come through rulership or authority but through service (Matthew 20:26-27). Their goal should be serving, not ruling. Those most highly esteemed will be those who serve, those who are humble.

The world’s way of greatness is like a pyramid. The prestige and power of the great person is built on the many subordinate persons beneath him. But in the kingdom, the pyramid is inverted. As the great commentator R. C. H. Lenski has observed, God’s “great men are not sitting on top of lesser men, but bearing lesser men on their backs.”

Unfortunately, however, there are still many people in the church who, like James and John, continually seek recognition, prestige, and power by manipulating and controlling others to their own selfish advantage.

Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to become great among you, that is, great by God’s standards rather than men’s, shall be your servant.” He was not, as some have suggested, contradicting what He had just taught. He was speaking of an entirely different kind of greatness than the sort James and John were seeking and that the world promotes. This kind of greatness is pleasing to God, because it is humble and self-giving rather than proud and self-serving. The way to the world’s greatness is through pleasing and being served by men, the way to God’s greatness is through pleasing Him and serving others in His name. In God’s eyes, the one who is great is the one who is a willing servant.

15. What did Jesus command His disciples in Matthew 20:27 and Luke 22:26? Jesus said, “and whoever wishes to be first among you let him be your slave” (Matthew 20:17). The verb “let him be” is a present imperative. The Majority Greek Text has the better reading. The way to be “first” is to be a “slave.”

The position and work of a “slave” was much lower and demeaning even than those of a servant. A servant was to some degree his own person. He often owned little more than the clothes on his back, but he was free to go where he wanted and to work or not work as he pleased. But a slave did not belong to himself but to his master and could go only where the master wanted him to go and do only what the master wanted him to do. He did not belong to himself but was the personal property of someone else.

William Barclay has commented, “The world may assess a man’s greatness by the number of people whom he controls and who are at his beck and call; or by his intellectual standing and his academic eminence; or by the number of committees of which he is a member; or by the size of his bank balance and the material possessions which he has amassed; but in the assessment of Jesus Christ these things are irrelevant.” The Christian who desires to be great and first in the kingdom is the one who is willing to serve in the hard place, the uncomfortable place, the lonely place, the demanding place, the place where he is not appreciated and may even be persecuted.

16. Why did the Son of Man come? (Matthew 20:28) To be a ransom for many, (see also question 19, and 1 Timothy 2:5-6).

17. What in this verse suggests that we follow Jesus’ example? (Matthew 20:28) The emphasis of the phrase “just as the Son of Man” sets Jesus forth as our role model. What Jesus says about Himself should also characterize His followers. To discover what it means to become a godly servant and slave, the disciples had only to look at “the Son of Man” Himself.

18. What in the text suggests Jesus’ preexistence? (Matthew 20:28) The phrase “did not come” hints of Jesus’ preexistence.

19. What is the significance of Christ giving His life as a ransom? (Matthew 20:28) In His incarnate role as the Son of Man, Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve.

Read Philippians 2:5-9. Jesus is the supreme example of humility and servanthood, because, as the sovereign of the universe and of all eternity, He subjected Himself to humiliation and even to death. He is the most exalted because He faithfully endured the most humiliation. Although He was the King of kings and had the right to be served by others, He ministered as a Servant of servants and gave His life to serve others.

Jesus’ ultimate act of servanthood, however, was to give His life. “Greater love has no one than this,” He said, “that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

In His next statement, Jesus presents the first explicit New Testament teaching about the redemptive work of the Messiah. He would vicariously suffer for the sins of mankind as a ransom for those who trust in Him. He did not simply give His life an example for others. He was no mere martyr for a godly cause, as some claim. Nor was He merely an example of life-giving selflessness, although He was indeed the supreme example of that. Jesus not only lived and died for others but died as a ransom for others.

The word “ransom” (Lutron) was the term commonly used for the redemption price of a slave, the amount required to buy his freedom. It is used only twice in the New Testament (see also Mark 10:45), both times in reference to Christ’s giving of Himself to redeem others. Here it is followed by the preposition anti (“instead of”), expressing an exchange. In 1 Timothy 2:6, the word used for “ransom” is antilutron, which simply combines the two words used here. In both cases the idea is that of a price paid for a life.

The unbeliever is a slave to sin, the flesh, Satan, and death, and it was to redeem men from those slaveries that Jesus gave His life a ransom in exchange for sinners. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Paul explained to believers in Rome. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:1-3). “Having been freed from sin,” the apostle had told them earlier, “you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18). Christ’s sacrifice bought us back from the slavery of sin.

Although the noun lutron is used only twice in the New Testament, other forms of the root word are used frequently as are numerous synonyms (1 Corinthians 6:20; Galatians 3:13; 4:5; Ephesians 1:7; 14; 4:30; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 1:18-19; Revelation 5:9).

Jesus’ ransom was paid to God to satisfy His holy justice, and it was more than sufficient to cover the sins of everyone who has ever lived and ever will live. His death was sufficient for “the whole world” says John (1 John 2:2). It is not the Lord’s will “for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Although His ransom is sufficient for every person, it is valid only for those who believe in Him. It is in that sense that His redemption is for many, rather than for all. The Lord was not teaching limited atonement, the idea that He died only for the sins of a select few. Paul makes it clear that Christ died for the whole world: “The man Christ Jesus… gave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5-6).

The basic idea behind “for” (anti) is that of being set over against something else, and the word was often used to denote an exchange or substitution. In becoming a ransom for many, Jesus exchanged His life for the lives of the many who would believe in Him. It became His death for the deaths of those many, His undeserved punishment for the punishment they deserved.

20. Did the disciples learn this lesson on servanthood? (Matthew 20:17-18; Luke 19:28, 41; 22:10, 24-26) During the Last Supper, after the disciples had again been arguing about which of them was the greatest, Jesus asked, “Who is greater, the one who reclines at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

It was probably at this time that Jesus gave them the beautiful object lesson of servanthood recorded by John (John 13:4-5, 12-17).


  1. Who has been an example to you of Christ-like servanthood?
  2. How has this command impacted your soul?
    1. Mind- thoughts
    2. Will – decisions
    3. Emotions – feelings
  3. Pray for “five lost friends” and for one another.


The questions and answers for this study were gleaned from the following resources.

  1. Serendipity Bible for Groups by: Serendipity House, Zondervan Publishing House, 1998
  2. The Expositors Bible Commentary, Volume 8 by: Frank E. Gaebelein (General Editor), Zondervan Publishing House, 1984
  3. Mark: A Portrait of the Servant by: Edmond Hiebert, Moody Press, 1974
  4. New Testament Commentary- Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew by: William Hendriksen, Baker Bookhouse, 1973
  5. Descending to Greatness by: Bill Hybels, Zondervan Publishing House, 1993
  6. The Last will be First by: John MacArthur Jr., Word of Grace Communication, 1987
  7. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Matthew 16-23 by: John MacArthur Jr., Moody Press, 1988
  8. An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew by: Alfred Plummer, James Family – Christian Publishing Company
  9. Management: A Biblical Approach by: Myron Rush Victor Books, 1986.
  10. Improving Your Serve: The Art of Unselfish Living by: Charles Swindoll, Word Books, 1981
  11. The Servant Leader by: Ken Blanchard & Phil Hodges, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003
  12. The Maxwell Leadership Bible by: John C. Maxwell, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2002
  13. The Thessalonian Epistles by: D. Edmond Hiebert, Moody Press, 1971
  14. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs of the World by: John Foxe, Moody Press
  15. Word Pictures in the New Testament Vol. IV by: Archibald Thomas Robertson, Broadman, Press, 1931
  16. The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text Edited by: Zane C. Hodges & Arthur L. Farstad, Thomas Nelson Publisher, 1982

Matthew Commentary:

The Greek word for ransom is lytron and is not found apart from this setting in the New Testament. Its basic meaning is money paid to buy back prisoners of war. Barclay calls attention to what “the crude hands of theology” have done with this “lovely saying” and quotes Peter Lombard (as the extreme example), who writes that “the cross was a mousetrap to catch the devil, baited with the blood of Christ” (vol. 2, pp. 234–35). After all the caveats have been registered, Jesus still declares that he came to give his life as a means of redeeming humankind. The Greek text says that he gave his life lytron anti pollōn (“a ransom in the place of many”). It would be difficult to express the substitutionary nature of Jesus’ death in clearer language. This understanding of the death of Jesus as substitutionary is foundational to Christian theology. 1

Additional Comments: The metaphorical language used in Mark 10:45, a ransom (or redemption) for many, is drawn from ancient economic life in which a slave, a prisoner, or a forfeited parcel of land or other possession might be freed by a purchase price paid. The metaphor presents Jesus’ death as the price of the liberation of the many. The statement is paralleled in Matthew 20:28, and similar language is used elsewhere in the NT, for example, 1 Peter 1:18; Hebrews 9:12; Titus 2:14. In still other places the language varies, but the thought remains that Jesus’ death was a redemptive event, indeed, the redemptive event that is the basis for the salvation offered in the Gospel (Romans 3:21–26; 4:25; 5:6; Hebrews 1:3). All this is to say that in the description of Jesus’ death given in 10:45, Mark reflects the basic teaching of early Christianity.

Believer’s Bible Commentary:  It is a sad commentary on human nature that, immediately after the third prediction of His passion, His followers were thinking more of their own glory than of His sufferings.

Christ’s first prediction of suffering gave rise to Peter’s demur (16:22); the second was soon followed by the disciples’ questions, “Who is the greatest …?” So here, we find the third capped with the ambitious request of James and John. They persistently closed their eyes to warnings of trouble, and opened them only to the promise of glory—so getting a wrong, materialistic view of the Kingdom.

Matthew 20:20-21 / The mother of James and John came to the Lord asking that her boys might sit on either side of Him in His kingdom. It is to her credit that she wanted her sons near Jesus, and that she had not despaired of His coming reign. But she did not understand the principles upon which honors would be bestowed in the kingdom.

Mark says that the sons made the request themselves (Mark 10:35); perhaps they did it at her direction, or perhaps the three of them approached the Lord together. No contradiction is involved.

Matthew 20:22 / Jesus answered frankly that they did not understand what they were asking. They wanted a crown without a cross, a throne without the altar of sacrifice, the glory without the suffering that leads to it. So He asked them pointedly, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” We are not left to wonder what He meant by the cup; He had just described it in verses 18 and 19. He must suffer and die.

James and John expressed ability to share in His sufferings, though perhaps their confidence was based more on zeal than knowledge.

Matthew 20:23 / Jesus assured them that they would indeed drink of His cup. James would be martyred and John persecuted and exiled to the Isle of Patmos. Robert Little said, “James died a martyr’s death; John lived a martyr’s life.”

Then Jesus explained that He could not arbitrarily grant places of honor in the kingdom; the Father had determined a special basis on which these positions would be assigned. They thought it was a matter of political patronage, that because they were so close to Christ, they had a special claim to places of preferment. But it was not a question of personal favoritism. In the counsels of God, the places on His right hand and left hand would be given on the basis of suffering for Him. This means that the chief honors in the kingdom are not limited to first century Christians; some living today might win them—by suffering.

Matthew 20:24 / The other ten disciples were greatly displeased that the sons of Zebedee had made such a request. They were probably indignant because they themselves wanted to be greatest and resented any prior claims being made by James and John!

Matthew 20:25–27 / This gave our Lord the opportunity to make a revolutionary statement concerning greatness in His kingdom. The Gentiles think of greatness in terms of mastery and rule. In Christ’s kingdom, greatness is manifested by service. Whoever aspires to greatness must become a servant, and whoever desires to be first must become a slave.

Matthew 20:28 / The Son of Man is the perfect example of lowly service. He came into the world not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. The whole purpose of the Incarnation can be summed up in two words—serve and give. It is amazing to think that the exalted Lord humbled Himself to the manger and to the cross. His greatness was manifested in the depth of His humiliation. And so it must be for us.

He gave His life a ransom for many. His death satisfied all God’s righteous demands against sin. It was sufficient to put away all the sins of all the world. But it is effective only for those who accept Him as Lord and Savior. Have you ever done this? 3

[Based on my classes with Richard D. Leineweber, Jr. c. 2000]
1 Mounce, R. H. (2011). Matthew (p. 191). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
2 Hurtado, L. W. (2011). Mark (p. 172). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
3 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1279–1280). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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Singleness and Divorce

Today’s passage is all about the topic of divorce and the positive and effective use of one’s singleness, taken from Matthew 19:1-12. Our command passage is in Matthew 19:12 (“let him except it” – present imperative).

Opener Questions:
1. What was (or would be) Mom’s advice to you about marriage? What was Dad’s?
2. Who has the best marriage you have ever seen? Why is it so special?

Purpose of This Study: To teach that God intended marriage to last a lifetime and those with the gift of singleness ought to embrace that wholeheartedly in order to advance the kingdom of God.

Historical Background: As Jesus continues to make his way toward Jerusalem, the crowds get larger. The Pharisees, always lurking in the background, come to the front with a question. They aren’t looking for an answer but an opportunity. They want to trip Jesus up with a difficult question of divorce. It was as much of a hot button back then as it is today. Everyone stops and listens; all eyes are on Jesus. His words are typically stunning. He applies to men, for the first time, the same absolute restrictions on divorce that had always applied to women. This offers women unparalleled protection from the ravages of men who, like these Pharisees, want to have their cake and eat it too.

Since His second year of ministry, every time Jesus attracts a crowd He also attracts Pharisees. They are not disciples; they are informants’ obvious enemies. This is even more true since the Sanhedrin openly plotted to kill Jesus (John 11:53) and put out a “warrant” for his arrest not more than a month earlier (John 11:57). That’s what sent Jesus to this area in the first place (John 11:54; Luke 17:11). Their question is designed to trap Jesus (Matthew 16:1; Mark 10:2; Luke 11:53). Divorce was a raging debate.

Discussion Questions:

1. Geographically, where was Jesus when the Pharisees tested Him? (Matthew 19:1-2) “When Jesus had finished these words, He departed from Galilee and came into the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.”

2. What were the Pharisees hoping to accomplish by testing Jesus? The Pharisees wanted to ultimately destroy Jesus. The clever Pharisees were well aware that Perea, where Jesus now ministered, was under the rule of Herod Antipas. He was the tetrarch who had John the Baptist imprisoned and eventually beheaded for condemning his unlawful marriage to Herodias, whom he had seduced away from his brother Philip (see Matthew 14:3-12). No doubt the Pharisees hoped that, by denouncing divorce for any cause at all, Jesus would thereby publicly condemn Herod’s adulterous relationship just as John had done and suffer John’s fate.

Two Rabbinical Schools of Thought on Divorce:

The School of Shammai: This school taught that the sole ground of divorce was mentioned in Deuteronomy 24:1- “some indecency in her” [Hebrew literally is “nakedness”]. The School of Shammai applied this expression only to moral transgressions, and exclusively to adultery. It was declared that if a woman were as mischievous as the wife of Ahab (Jezebel, 1 Kings 16:31; 18:4-19; 19:1,2; 21:5-25; 2 Kings 9) or (according to tradition) as the wife of Korah, it were well that her husband should not divorce her, except it be on the grounds of adultery.

The School of Hillel: This school took the words “some indecency in her” (Deuteronomy 24:1) in the widest possible sense, and taught that a man could divorce his wife for the most trivial of reasons, for such things as taking her hair down in public, or talking to other men, and even for burning the bread, or putting too much salt in the food. For her to speak ill of her mother-in-law or to be infertile were more than sufficient grounds for divorce. Rabbi Akiba (early second century) thought, that the words, if “she finds no favor in his eyes” implied that it was sufficient if a man had found another woman more attractive than his wife. The words “some indecency” are translated in the Talmud as “obnoxious.” Josephus would fall into this school of thought, he was deserted by one wife, divorced his second wife being displeased with her behavior… afterwards he married a woman of Jewish extraction who had settled in Crete.

3. What rabbinical school of thought on divorce did the Pharisees’ question represent? (Matthew 19:3) “Some Pharisees came to Jesus….” These Pharisees are probably from the stricter rabbinical school of Shammai. They are basically asking Jesus, “do you think the laxer rabbinical school of Hillel has the correct interpretation of Deuteronomy 24?” Their exact words, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” They hope He sides with them and says something that would get him in trouble with Herod Antipas or say something contradictory to the Law of Moses so the people would reject Him.

4. In what way was Jesus sarcastic in answering the Pharisee’s attack? (Matthew 19:4a) Jesus asked the Pharisees, “Have you not read…?” and then quoted Genesis 1:27, 2:24. This was an insult since the Pharisees claimed to be scholars and experts of the Law of Moses (The Pentateuch). Jesus says, “Are you not aware of what God Himself declared from the beginning of creation, (Mark 10:6)? Don’t you know the very first thing God said about marriage?

5. Which Rabbinical school of thought did Jesus side with? (Matthew 19:4-6) When the Pharisees tried to get Jesus to side with one of the rabbinical schools of thought on divorce, Jesus rejected both schools (Matthew 19:3-10). Both Rabbinical schools were based on Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Jesus didn’t side with either interpretation but instead went back to Genesis and re-emphasized God’s original creation order in which there was no divorce. He even added a warning to it. “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

6. What verses does Jesus use in reaffirming God’s law against divorce? (Matthew 19:4-6) Jesus quotes Genesis 1:27, 2:24 “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

7. What was God’s intention in creating only one man and one woman? (Matthew 19:4) The distinction of the sexes, established at creation, underlies the institution of marriage and is the foundational for the human family and well-being of society. “Male” and “female” are without an article and singular, “a male and a female” indicating that the reference is to a single pair, Adam and Eve. God did not make provision for either polygamy or divorce by making more men than women or more women than men, nor did He make provision for a homosexual or lesbian couple.

8. What four reasons does Jesus give to show why it is not lawful to divorce? (Matthew 19:4-6)

First, Jesus said, God “MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE.” In the Hebrew text of Genesis 1:27, both “male” and “female” are in the emphatic position, giving the sense of “the one male and the one female.” In other words, God did not create a group of males and females who could pick and choose mates as it suited them. There were no spares or options. (There was no provision, or even possibility, for multiple or alternate spouses. There were only one man and one woman in the beginning, and for that very obvious reason, divorce and remarriage was not an option).

Second, Jesus said, “FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE.” Since Adam and Eve had no parents to leave, the leaving of father and mother was a principle to be projected into and applied to all future generations. The Hebrew word translated “joined” or “cleave” refers to a strong bonding together of objects and often was used to represent gluing or cementing.

The third reason Jesus gives for divorce not being in God’s plan is that, in marriage, “THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.” As Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 7:4, spouses belong to each other in the physical relationship of marriage: “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” Consequently, Jesus said, when a man and woman are joined in marriage they are no longer two, but one flesh. They are therefore indivisible and inseparable, except through death. One is the smallest indivisible unit. God’s marriage equation is not 1 + 1 = 2 but 1 + 1 = 1. In God’s eyes a couple becomes the total possession of each other, one in mind and spirit, in goals and direction, in emotion and will. When they have a child it becomes the perfect emblem and demonstration of their oneness, because that child is a unique product of the fusion of two people into one flesh and carries the combined traits of both parents.

The fourth reason Jesus gives for divorce not being in God’s perfect design is that, in the creative sense, every marriage is made in heaven. From the very first marriage of Adam and Eve, God has joined together every husband and wife. Marriage is first of all God’s institution and God’s doing, regardless of how men may corrupt it and deny or disregard His part in it. Whether it is between faithful believers or between pagans or atheists, or whether it was arranged by the parents or by the mutual desire and consent of the bride and groom, marriage as a general social relationship is above all the plan and work of God for the procreation, pleasure, and preservation of the human race. Whether it is entered into wisely or foolishly, sincerely or insincerely, selfishly or unselfishly, with great or little commitment, God’s design for every marriage is that it be permanent until the death of one of the spouses.

9. Did Moses give a command to divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 as the Pharisees insisted? If not, what did he legislate? (Matthew 19:7) Jesus rejected the teaching on Deuteronomy 24:1-4 that had been passed down to the Jews of His day. In His Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE’; 32 but I say to you…” (Matthew 5:31,32a). The very word structure emphasizes that His teaching is in sharp contrast to what they had heard. The words “LET HIM GIVE” is a single Greek verb that is an aorist imperative. The Pharisees had turned this into a command, but the legislation of Deuteronomy 24 doesn’t start until verse 4.

The Deuteronomy 24 passage, upon which “marital unfaithfulness” is based, is designed to regulate an existing condition not to condone divorce. Verses 1 through 3 contain a series of conditional clauses “if” in the original Hebrew that establish a case situation. If this case situation existed then the legislation (command or prohibition) of verse 4 applies.

“When [if] a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that [if] she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and [if] he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, 2 and [if] she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 and if the latter husband turns against her and [if he] writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.”

The Pharisees that came to Jesus said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND HER AWAY?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives…” God never commanded that people get a divorce, He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16).

Furthermore, the Deuteronomy 24 passage cannot be construed to include “some uncleanness” after the marriage has been in existence for any length of time. Provisions had just been given two chapters previously for a man to contest the marriage at the beginning if he believed his wife was not a virgin (Deuteronomy 22:13-21).

10. Why did Moses allow for divorce? (Matthew 19:8) Jesus said, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives.” The word “hardness” describes a heart dried up, hard and tough.

11. What is the difference between immorality and adultery? (Matthew 19:9; 15:19) Immorality is violating God’s moral law before marriage and adultery is violating God’s moral law while married. Matthew 15:19 says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries [Gr. moichos], fornications [Gr. porneia], thefts, false witness, slanders.” This verse demonstrates that Matthew didn’t use these two words interchangeably as mere synonyms but saw them as distinctly two precisely different sins.

12. Does immorality or adultery cause divorce? (Matthew 19:9) The text says that immorality [Gr. porneia] causes divorce, not adultery [Gr. moichos]. To teach that divorce is permissible on the grounds of “marital unfaithfulness” [Gr. moichos] is to build a doctrine on one word using the wrong translation for the word! The word fornication [Gr. porneia] cannot be restricted to “marital unfaithfulness.” The word adultery [Gr. moichos] would have been used if Jesus meant only “marital unfaithfulness.”

13. What does remarriage cause a person to become? (Matthew 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; Romans 7:2-3) The Bible teaches that when a divorced person remarries they become an adulterer or adulterous. “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife…, and marries another woman commits adultery'” (Matthew 19:9). “And He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; 12 and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery'” (Mark 10:11-12). “For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man” (Romans 7:2-3).

14. What does the “exception clause” mean? (Matthew 5:32; 19:9) Jesus said the only cause for divorce is porneia, which means:

1) Incestuous marriage – the man in the Corinthian church who married his father’s wife was condemned by Paul for his incestuous marriage). His sin is named as “immorality” [Gr. porneia] in 1 Corinthians 5:1. Incestuous marriages are condemned in Leviticus 18.

2) Sodomite marriage – a “marriage” between two men or two women was also condemned in Leviticus 18:22. The word “fornication” [Gr. ekpomeuo] is used for sodomy in Jude 1:7.

3) Betrothal unfaithfulness­ – if a man found that his wife was not a virgin at the time he married her, he was given the option in Deuteronomy 22:13-21 to divorce her. Matthew alone has the “exception clause” (Matthew 5:32; 19:9) because only a Jewish audience understand the betrothal period. This situation was illustrated in Matthew 1:19.


A MAIDEN, A VIRGIN: Joseph’s father, Eli, probably made the decision and choice of Mary to be his son’s wife. A father could make this decision alone (Genesis 38:6) but a mother could play a role (Genesis 21:21; 27:46) though it was not essential, the bride’s consent was at times asked for (Genesis 24:5,58). Romance was involved in some of the matches (Genesis 29:20; Judges 14:1-3; 1 Samuel 18:20, cp. Song of Solomon). The text is silent concerning how Joseph and Mary were matched. It only reveals that Mary was a virgin (Matthew 1:23,25, Isaiah 7:14).

DOWRY NEGOTIATED: Joseph the son of Eli traveled to the home of his prospective bride. Mary’s father then negotiated with Joseph. A price was negotiated which had to be paid to purchase his bride. Once again the text is silent concerning these details. Note: In Genesis 34:12, Shechem is willing to pay any bridal payment (dowry) for Dinah. In Exodus 22:16-17 one who has seduced an unbetrothed virgin has to pay a dowry. In 1 Samuel 18:25 Saul demands a dowry of a “hundred foreskins of the Philistines” for his daughter. Instead of silver or goods, an act of valor or of service was at-times performed to win a bride (Genesis 29; Joshua 15:16-17; 1 Samuel 17:25).

COVENANT ESTABLISHED: When Joseph paid the purchase price, the marriage covenant was thereby established. At that point Joseph and Mary were regarded to be husband and wife, even though no physical union had taken place. The paying of the dowry created a legally binding relationship. Even before his marriage to Mary, Joseph was called her husband (Matthew 1:19). Note: Before marriage Jacob called Rachel “my wife” Genesis 29:21, cp. Deuteronomy 22:23-24: “his neighbor’s wife” cp. 2 Samuel 3:14 “give me my wife Michal, to whom I was betrothed.”

BETROTHAL BENEDICTION: The moment the covenant was established, Mary was declared to be set apart exclusively for Joseph. Then Joseph and Mary drank from a cup over which the betrothal benediction had been pronounced. This symbolized that the covenant relationship had been established.

BETROTHAL PERIOD: After the marriage covenant was in effect, Joseph left Mary’s house and returned to his father’s house. He remained there for a period of twelve months, separated from his bride. During this period of separation, Mary gathered her wardrobe and prepared for married life. Joseph was busy preparing living accommodations in his father’s house for his bride. Matthew 1:18 states that “Mary had been betrothed to Joseph.” The verb “betrothed” in the active voice would signify to woo a woman and ask for her hand in marriage. But the verb here and also in Luke 1:27, 2:5 is in the passive voice, describing this period of being set apart and promised in marriage, (“espoused” KJV).

15. Does Scripture illustrate a just divorce consistent with the “exception clause”? (Matthew 1:18-20; John 8:41,48) Matthew 1:18-20 says, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband , being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away [Gr. apolusai =divorce] secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”‘ Joseph was considering divorcing Mary when he became aware of her pregnancy. Despite the apparent betrothal unfaithfulness he did not want to disgrace her publicly but was intending to divorce her privately. A writing of divorce was required to break this covenant arrangement. The angelic messenger from the Lord changed Joseph’s mind and he “took Mary as his wife” (Matthew 1:24).

The Pharisees some 33 years later falsely accused Jesus of being illegitimate and the product of Mary’s unfaithfulness to Joseph during their betrothal period. Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles in John 8:39-41 was questioning the Pharisees as to whether they were truly descendants of Abraham. The text says, “They answered and said to Him, ‘Abraham is our father’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham.’ 40 ‘But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do.’ 41 ‘You are doing the deeds of your father’ They said to Him, ‘We were not born of fornication [Gr. porneia]; we have one Father: God.'” In John 8:41 they Pharisees sarcastically lash out and imply that He was the product of betrothal unfaithfulness and in John 8:48 they accuse Him of being a “Samaritan.'” They called the Holy Son of God an illegitimate bastard who had a demon and was the product Mary’s promiscuous behavior with some Gentile. If this had been true, Joseph had every right to divorce Mary.

16. How did the disciples react to Jesus’ teaching on divorce? (Matthew 19:10) The response of the disciples indicates that Jesus’ interpretation of Old Testament Scripture on divorce was much stricter than what they had imagined. The disciples were aware of the rabbinical schools. Their astonishment at Christ’s teaching would hardly be in order if He simply said, “You can only divorce for marital unfaithfulness.”

17. Why does Jesus use this occasion to address the topic of singleness? (Matthew 19:10-11; Genesis 2:18; 1 Corinthians 7:7-9; 9:5) Based on the disciples’ response in Matthew 19:10, it appears that the disciples were considering a life of singleness if divorce wasn’t an option. Jesus used this occasion to address singleness because the general rule is that “it is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Although the disciples concluded, “it is better not to marry,” Jesus said, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given.” The Apostle Paul talked about being given “the gift of singleness” or “celibacy” in 1 Corinthians 7:7-9 “For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. 8 But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; 9 but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Although the disciples boasted of remaining single they all married except Barnabas and Paul (1 Corinthians 9:5-6 cp. Mark 1:30).

18. What three categories of singleness does Jesus mention in Matthew 19:12? “For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mothers womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven…'”

  1. First “are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb.” These are people who are born with congenital deformities that involve undeveloped sexual capacity.
  2. Second “are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men,” such as were male harem guards of that day. In some ancient religions, castration was considered a way of pleasing and serving a pagan deity and parents sometimes even had their infant sons castrated for that purpose. Obviously castrated men do not have normal desires for a woman.
  3. Third are “eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” Unlike the other two forms, this one is not physical. Mutilation of the flesh in order to please God is a purely pagan idea. Jesus is speaking of the voluntary celibacy of those to whom that gift has been granted by God (Matthew 19:11). In that case, celibacy can indeed be for the sake of the kingdom of God and be pleasing to Him and used by Him.

19. What does Jesus command a person to do with the gift of singleness? (Matthew 19:12) Jesus said “He who is able to accept this, let him accept it (present imperative).” Totally embrace it and continually use it to advance the kingdom. The word “accept” has the basic idea of making room or space for something. Metaphorically it means to completely embrace an idea or principle with the heart and mind so that it becomes part of one’s very nature. Singleness cannot be wholeheartedly accepted simply by human willpower or sincerity. Nor can it be successfully lived out simply by applying the right biblical principles. Celibate singleness is a kind of spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 7:7) and only those to whom it has been given can hope to spiritually survive in it, much less find happiness and be effective in the Lord’s service.

20. What is this gift to be exclusively used for? (Matthew 19:12; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35) 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 says, “But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; 33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35 This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.”

21. What areas of compatibility are non-negotiable when evaluating a potential marriage partner? (1 Corinthians 7:39; 9:5; 2 Corinthians 6:14; Amos 3:3) Spiritual compatibility is a non-negotiable for a Christian single looking for a mate. When Christians marry unbelievers they forfeit a common treasure found in a relationship with Christ, they also miss out on a common blueprint (the Bible), common strength, and common values. The following verses require a believer to marry a believer.

  1. “A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:30).
  2. “Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” (1 Corinthians 9:5)
  3. “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14)
  4. “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3)

The answers to the questions above have been drawn from the following resources:

  1. Serendipity Bible for Groups by: Serendipity House, Zondervan Publishing House, 1998
  2. Rebuilders Guide by: Bill Gothard, Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, 1992
  3. Rebuilders Supplement by: Bill Gothard, Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, 1978.
  4. When You’re Serious About Love: straight talk to single adults by: Kay Kuzma Here’s Life Publishers, 1992
  5. The Divorce Myth: A Biblical Examination of Divorce and Remarriage by: J. Carl Laney, Bethany House Publications, 1981
  6. Jesus’ Teaching on Divorce by: John MacArthur Jr., Word of Grace Communications, 1983.
  7. Lawfully Wedded by: Ronald Showers, Philadelphia College of Bible, 1983
  8. Meant to Last: A Christian view of marriage, divorce and remarriage by: Paul E. Steele and Charles C. Ryrie, Victor Books, 1986
  9. Call it Love or Call it Quits: The single’s guide to meaningful relationships by: Tim Timmons, and Charlie Hedges, Word Publishing, 1988.
  10. Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 135 No. 539 July-Sept 1978. Theological Quarterly published by Dallas Theological Seminary. “Cultural Aspects of Marriage in the Ancient World,” Edwin M. Yamauchi pg. 241-252
  11. An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, by: W.E.Vine, Thomas Nelson Publishers, pp.114, 371, 908.
  12. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Vol.3, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1956, pp.1996-1999.
  13. The Jewish Encyclopedia, “Betrothal,” Editor: Isidore Singer, Funk & Wagnals Company, 1907.
  14. The Role of Women in the Church, “The Teaching on Divorce,” by: Charles Ryrie, Moody Press, 1958, pp.40-50.
  15. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament by: Gerhard Kittle, translated by Geoffrey Bromley, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967.
  16. The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia – “Marriage,” by: Isaac Landman, Universal Publishing House, 1948.
  17. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible Vol. 4 by: Merrill C. Tenny, Zondervan Publishing Company, 1975, pp.92-102.

On Divorce: 1

Matthew 19:7–10 / If divorce runs counter to the divine intention, then why, asked the Pharisees, did Moses give the law allowing a man to give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away? Is Moses guilty of writing laws that run counter to the mind of God? Such an idea would be blasphemous in the religious culture of first-century Judaism. Jesus answers that Moses’ injunction regarding divorce came as a result of their hardness of heart. Williams translates, “It was because of your moral perversity that Moses allowed you to divorce” (Matthew 19:8). But that was not what was intended in the beginning. Actually, the requirement of a written notice of divorce made the process more difficult. Prior to that time a marriage could be dissolved by the man simply declaring it to be so. A written notice would give time for anger to dissipate and common sense to regain control.

Jesus continues by pointing out that whoever divorces his wife for any cause other than marital infidelity and marries another is guilty of adultery (Matthew 19:9). In the parallel passage in Matthew 5:32, divorce is said to cause the woman who is put away to commit adultery. In the culture of that day a divorced woman would very easily find herself trapped into a life of prostitution. In the present passage it is the man who commits adultery by remarriage. The point is that in God’s sight the man who divorces his wife for any cause other than her unfaithfulness is still married to her.

If that’s the case between a man and his wife, respond the disciples, then it would be better not to marry at all. The difficulty of achieving a perfect marriage becomes an argument against marriage itself.

On Singleness: 2

Matthew 19:11–12 / Jesus’ response to his disciples’ conclusion about marriage is that not all men are able to accept, “to make room,” thus, in a mental sense, “to comprehend or accept,” BAGD, p. 890) this saying, but only those “who have the gift.” Commentators differ as to what this teaching refers to. Some take it as a response to the disciples’ saying in the previous verse. For example, Knox translates, “That conclusion … cannot be taken in by everybody.” The problem here, however, is that God is held as agreeing with the disciples’ conclusion that it is better not to marry (Matthew 19:10). This runs counter to the divine intention in creation (Genesis 1:28).

It is better to take Jesus’ statement in Matthew 19:11 as referring to his teaching on divorce and remarriage in Matthew 19:3–9. Not everyone is able to accept his strict position on the subject, but only those to whom it [the ability to accept] has been given. It is not a question of whether or not a person should refrain from marriage for the sake of evangelism or because the end of all things is not far off. The issue has to do with true disciples who have had to divorce their wives for immorality and “out of obedience to Christ’s law concerning divorce they do not remarry” (Gundry, pp. 381–82). Those who cannot or do not accept the teaching are non-disciples and false disciples.

There are several reasons why men do not marry (or are unsuited for marriage). Some have been disabled from birth. Others were made that way by men (Matthew 19:12). It was not uncommon for servants in the royal harems to be castrated in order to protect the women. Also, in certain Mediterranean cults priests dedicated themselves to a mother goddess by self-emasculation (Beare, p. 391). Origen, one of the most influential thinkers of the early church, castrated himself, although in time he came to realize his error.

A third type of eunuch is the man who has renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. This is voluntary celibacy, and, if one follows Gundry’s argument, these are those who “live as eunuchs after they have had to divorce their wives for immorality” (p. 382). So Jesus concludes, The one who can accept this (teaching on divorce and remarriage) should accept it. It is the mark of a true disciple to live in obedience to God’s best intention for human beings.

1 Mounce, R. H. (2011). Matthew (p. 181). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
2 Mounce, R. H. (2011). Matthew (pp. 181–182). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Question: “Is remarriage after divorce always adultery?” 3

Before we even begin to answer this question, let us reiterate, “God hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16). The pain, confusion, and frustration most people experience after a divorce are surely part of the reason that God hates divorce. Even more difficult, biblically, than the question of divorce, is the question of remarriage. The vast majority of people who divorce either remarry or consider getting remarried. What does the Bible say about this?

Matthew 19:9 says, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” See also Matthew 5:32. These Scriptures clearly state that remarriage after a divorce is adultery, except in the instance of “marital unfaithfulness.”

It is our view that there are certain instances in which divorce and remarriage are permitted without the remarriage being considered adultery. These instances would include unrepentant adultery, physical abuse of spouse or children, and abandonment of a believing spouse by an unbelieving spouse. We are not saying that a person under such circumstances should remarry. The Bible definitely encourages remaining single or reconciliation over remarriage (1 Corinthians 7:11). At the same time, it is our view that God offers His mercy and grace to the innocent party in a divorce and allows that person to remarry without it being considered adultery.

A person who gets a divorce for a reason other than the reasons listed above, and then gets remarried has committed adultery (Luke 16:18). The question then becomes, is this remarriage an “act” of adultery, or a “state” of adultery. The present tense of the Greek in Matthew 5:32; 19:9; and Luke 16:18 can indicate a continuous state of adultery. At the same time, the present tense in Greek does not always indicate continuous action. Sometimes it simply means that something occurred (Aoristic, Punctiliar, or Gnomic present). For example, the word “divorces” in Matthew 5:32 is present tense, but divorcing is not a continual action. It is our view that remarriage, no matter the circumstances, is not a continual state of adultery. Only the act of getting remarried itself is adultery.

In the Old Testament Law, the punishment for adultery was death (Leviticus 20:10). At the same time, Deuteronomy 24:1-4 mentions remarriage after a divorce, does not call it adultery, and does not demand the death penalty for the remarried spouse. The Bible explicitly says that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), but nowhere explicitly states that God hates remarriage. The Bible nowhere commands a remarried couple to divorce. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 does not describe the remarriage as invalid. Ending a remarriage through divorce would be just as sinful as ending a first marriage through divorce. Both would include the breaking of vows before God, between the couple, and in front of witnesses.

No matter the circumstances, once a couple is remarried, they should strive to live out their married lives in fidelity, in a God-honoring way, with Christ at the center of their marriage. A marriage is a marriage. God does not view the new marriage as invalid or adulterous. A remarried couple should devote themselves to God, and to each other – and honor Him by making their new marriage a lasting and Christ-centered one (Ephesians 5:22-33). ]

[Based on my classes with Richard D. Leineweber, Jr. c. 2000]

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