What Does Yeshua Say About the End Times – Part 2

In my last post, we laid the foundation for destruction of the Temple in 70 CE.  In this post, we begin to look at Yeshua’s revelation of what is to come.

Be Alert to the Signs

“When He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the talmidim came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will these things happen?  And what will be the sign that you are coming, and that the ‘olam hazeh is ending?’  Yeshua replied: ‘Watch out! Don’t let anyone fool you!  For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray.  You will hear the noise of wars nearby and the news of wars far off; see to it that you don’t become frightened. Such things must happen, but the end is yet to come. For peoples will fight each other, nations will fight each other, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various parts of the world; all this is but the beginning of the ‘birth pains.’” ~ Matthew 24:3-8

The Mount of Olives rises above Yerushalayim to the east.  As Yeshua was leaving the city to return to Bethany for the night, He would have crossed the Kidron Valley, and then He would have headed up the slope of the Mount of Olives.  From this slope, He and the talmidim could look down into the city and see the Temple.  The prophet Zechariah predicted that the Messiah would stand on that very mountain when He returned to set up His eternal Kingdom (Zechariah 14:1-4).  This place evoked questions about the future, so it was natural for the talmidim to ask Yeshua when He would come in power and what they could expect at that time.

The talmidim wanted to understand what Yeshua meant and when this terrible destruction would happen.  Their question had two parts.  They wanted to know (1) When will this happen? (referring to the destruction of the Temple) and (2) What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?  The second part of their question referred to the Messiah’s reign in God’s Kingdom.  In their minds, one event would occur immediately after the other.  They expected the Messiah to inaugurate His Kingdom soon, and they wanted to know the sign that it was about to arrive.

Yeshua gave them a prophetic picture of that time, including events leading up to it.  He also talked about far future events connected with the last days and His second coming when He would return to earth to judge all people.  As many of the Old Testament prophets had done, Yeshua predicted both near and distant events without putting them in chronological order.  The coming destruction of Yerushalayim and the Temple only foreshadowed a future destruction that would precede Yeshua’s return.

In order to understand the prophecy, picture yourself standing on a mountaintop looking across a distant mountain range.  The mountain peaks appear to be next to each other, while in reality they are miles apart because of the valleys in between.  Yeshua’s prophecy pictured “mountain peaks” (significant future events), looking to us as though they would occur together, when, in reality, they may be thousands of years apart.  Some of the talmidim lived to see the destruction of Yerushalayim in 70 CE, while some of the events Yeshua spoke of have not yet – to this day – occurred.  But the truth of Yeshua’s prediction regarding Yerushalayim assured the talmidim (and assures us) that everything else He predicted will also happen.

Yeshua first answered the second question about the end of the age and the coming Kingdom.  The talmidim wondered what sign would reveal these things, but Yeshua warned them against false messiahs: Watch out! Don’t let anyone fool you!  Watch out stresses vigilance.  We always have to be on guard of the evil that surrounds us.  Yeshua knew that if the talmidim looked for signs, they would be susceptible to deception.  There would be many false prophets (Matthew 24:24) with counterfeit signs of spiritual power and authority.  Yeshua predicted that before His return, many believers would be misled by false teachers coming in His name – that is, claiming to be Yeshua.

Second Thessalonians 2:3-10, which describes a man of lawlessness who will lead people astray, reflects the teaching of this passage.  Throughout the first century, many such deceivers arose (see Acts 5:36-37; 8:9-11; 2 Timothy 3; 2 Peter 2; 1 John 2:18; 4:1-3).

In every generation since Yeshua’s resurrection, individuals have claimed to be the Messiah or to know exactly when Yeshua would return (remember Jim Jones, Sun Myung Moon, and David Koresh?).  Obviously, no one else has been Yeshua, and no one has been right about the timing of the Second Coming.  According to Scripture, the one clear sign of Yeshua’s return will be His unmistakable appearance in the clouds, which will be seen by all people (Matthew 24:30; Revelation 1:7).  In other words, believers never have to wonder whether a certain person is the Messiah.  When Yeshua returns, believers will know beyond a shadow of a doubt because He will be evident to all.

Yeshua prepared His followers for a difficult passage of time before His return.  A key phrase in this verse comforts all believers: “see to it that you don’t become frightened”.  As political situations worsen, as wars ravage the world, Yeshua’s talmidim and all His followers should not be afraid that somehow God has lost control or that His promises will not come true.  Just as false messiahs and religious frauds come and go, so do political and natural crises.  Even when the world seems to be in chaos, God is in control.  “Such things must happen” are a part of God’s divine plan.  Note that wars are not a sign of the end.  There have always been wars in the world, and will be until the very end.  Wars of themselves do not announce the end of the age or the coming of the Lord.

The talmidim probably assumed that the Temple would only be destroyed at the end of the age as part of God establishing His new Kingdom.  Yeshua taught that horrible events would happen, “but the end is yet to come” The nations at war and the earth’s turmoil, revealed in increased earthquakes and famines, would also not signal the end.  Instead, this will be but “the beginning of birth pains”; in other words, these will be preliminary sufferings.

Yeshua’s words indicated to the eager talmidim that there would be a span of time before the end of the age and the coming Kingdom – it would not come that week, or immediately upon Yeshua’s resurrection, or even right after the destruction of Yerushalayim.  First, much suffering would occur as a part of life on earth, while history would move toward a single, final, God-planned goal – the creation of a new earth and a new Kingdom as later described in Revelation 21:1-3.

The description of sufferings as birth pains is a typical biblical metaphor for the beginning of pre-Kingdom travail and suffering (see Isaiah 13:6-8; 26:16-18; Jeremiah 4:31; 22:20-23; Hosea 13:9-13).  While we must never trivialize suffering, all these troubles must not make Believers alarmed.  Because Yeshua has warned us about them, we know that they must precede the arrival of God’s glorious Kingdom.  Preachers on prophecy who count earthquakes in order to determine when Yeshua will return have not read Yeshua’s words carefully.  Everything will happen according to God’s divine plan.  Our responsibility is to be prepared, to endure, and to continue to preach the Good News to all nations (Matthew 24:14).

In my next post, we will continue Yeshua’s warning about future events leading to the END TIMES.

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A Prayer for Christian Bloggers

This morning during my daily quiet time with the Lord, I was reading a devotion by Frank Martin. [1]  Frank was writing on Daniel 2:19-23 entitled Giving God the Credit.  His main point was that Daniel gave God credit and praise for reveling to him king Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and the interpretation of it.

He stated: “The secret to Daniel’s wisdom and strength was that he never forgot where it came from.  He knew that if it weren’t for God he would have no reason to boast.  And because of it, he boasted only in God’s power, never in his own ability.”

He got a personal at the end and shared: “I have a simple prayer that I pray each morning before I write.

“Father, I have no way of knowing who will read the things I write today, but you do. Guide my thoughts and fingers, and speak to that person through me. Make me an instrument of your will.”

I couldn’t help but think that was a great prayer all of us who are bloggers.

 

[1] Embracing Eternity ~ Living Each Day with a Heart Toward Heaven by Tim LaHaye, Jerry B. Jenkins and Frank M. Martin

Embracing Eternity: Living Each Day with a Heart Toward Heaven.

What Does Yeshua Say About the End Times – Part 1

In this post, we will begin to explore the last two chapters of the Christian Torah according to Matthew.  We have been on a long journey in his Gospel, but we still have quite a way to go.  According to my records, we began this journey back on December 9, 2015.

We have sat at His feet and listened to His instructions to His talmidim from the Sermon on the Mount; to the various parables that He told to those around Him; and, privately explained to His trusted, inner-circle.  We now will explore what Yeshua has to say about the END TIMES.

Matthew 24 begins with what has become known as the Olivet Discourse – since He was teaching on the Mount of Olives.   To set the scene, let’s start our study back in Chapter 23.  After a series of seven “Woe to you hypocritical Torah-teachers and P’rushim” statements and calling them snakes and sons of snakes, Yeshua says in Matthew 23:37-39: “Yerushalayim! Yerushalayim!  You kill the prophets! You stone those who are sent to you!  How often I wanted to gather your children, just as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, but you refused!   Look! God is abandoning your house to you, leaving it desolate.  For I tell you, from now on, you will not see me again until you say, [Baruch haba b’shem Adonai] “Blessed is he who comes in the name of Adonai.”

The Olivet Discourse grew out of some questions the talmidim asked when Yeshua told them that the temple would one day be destroyed.  First, they wanted to know when.  This answer is not recorded in Matthew but is given in Luke 21:20-24. [1]  Second, they asked about the sign of Yeshua’s return.  This is answered in Matthew 24:29-44 which we will get to in a later post.  In their final question, they asked about the sign of the end of the age.  Yeshua’s reply is in Matthew 24:4-8. Continue reading “What Does Yeshua Say About the End Times – Part 1”

Forgiveness ~ Part 2

To Be Like Yeshua Means – To Understand Who Is the Greatest in The Kingdom

In my last post, we introduced the concept of forgiveness.  In this post, we’ll exam another parable that states Yeshua’s teaching on forgiveness.

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

“Because of this [Yeshua’s instruction to Kefa to forgive seventy times seven], the Kingdom of Heaven may be compared with a king who decided to settle accounts with his deputies. Right away they brought forward a man who owed him many millions; and since he couldn’t pay, his master ordered that he, his wife, his children and all his possessions be sold to pay the debt.  But the servant fell down before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’  So out of pity for him, the master let him go and forgave the debt. But as that servant was leaving, he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him some tiny sum. He grabbed him and began to choke him, crying, ‘Pay back what you owe me!’  His fellow servant fell before him and begged, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’  But he refused; instead, he had him thrown in jail until he should repay the debt.  When the other servants saw what had happened, they were extremely distressed; and they went and told their master everything that had taken place.  Then the master summoned his servant and said, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt just because you begged me to do it.  Shouldn’t you have had pity on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’  And in anger his master turned him over to the jailers for punishment until he paid back everything he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat you, unless you each forgive your brother from your hearts.” Matthew 18:23-35

This parable is recorded only in Matthew and illustrates the need for unlimited forgiveness in the body of Yeshua.  The Believers, already part of the Kingdom of Heaven must therefore forgive in the following manner.  The presiding king decides that he wants to go over the books with his accountant and settle up on accounts receivable and accounts payable.  These deputies probably would be court officials, powerful men in their own right.  These were not slaves or servants in the strict meaning of the words, yet they were subservient to the king.  Until modern times, kings had absolute power over their subjects. Continue reading “Forgiveness ~ Part 2”

Forgiveness ~ Part 1

To Be Like Yeshua Means – To Understand Who Is the Greatest in The Kingdom

In Matthew 18, Yeshua rebuked His disciples for their pride and desire for worldly greatness, and He taught them the three essentials for unity and harmony among God’s people, i.e.   humility, honesty and forgiveness.  We have already looked at the issue of humility and honesty.  In this post and the following, we will be looking at the third of Yeshua’s essentials for unity and harmony – forgiveness.

When we start living in an atmosphere of humility and honesty, we must take some risks and expect some dangers.  Unless humility and honesty result in forgiveness, relationships cannot be mended and strengthened.  Kefa recognized the risks involved and asked Yeshua how He should handle them in the future.  But, Kefa made some serious mistakes.  To begin with, he lacked humility himself.  He was sure his brother would sin against him, but not he against his brother!  Kefa’s second mistake was in asking for limits and measures.  Where there is love, there can be no limits or dimensions (see Ephesians 3:17-19)

Forgiveness

“Then Kefa came up and said to him, ‘Rabbi, how often can my brother sin against me and I have to forgive him?  As many as seven times?’  ‘No, not seven times,’ answered Yeshua, ‘but seventy times seven!’”  ~ Matthew 18:21-22

Kefa thought he was showing great faith and love when he offered to forgive at least seven times.  After all, the rabbis taught that three times was sufficient.  Our Lord’s reply, “No … seventy times seven.”  That’s 490 times and that must have startled Kefa.  Who could keep count for that many offenses?  But that was exactly the point Yeshua was making: Love “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5, NIV).  By the time we have forgiven a Believer that many times, we developed a habit of forgiving. Continue reading “Forgiveness ~ Part 1”

Honesty

To Be Like Yeshua Means – To Understand Who Is the Greatest in The Kingdom

In Matthew 18, Yeshua rebuked His talmidim for their pride and desire for worldly greatness, and He taught them the three essentials for unity and harmony among God’s people, i.e.  humility, honesty and forgiveness.   In my last two posts, we looked at the issue of humility.    But, we don’t always practice humility; do we?  There are times when, deliberately or unconsciously, we offend others and hurt them.   Even the Torah recognized “If by mistake you fail to observe all these mitzvot that Adonai has spoken to Moshe.”  Numbers 15:22; and David prayed to be delivered from “…unintentional sins?  Cleanse me from hidden faults.”  Psalm 19:12

In this post, we will look at the second of Yeshua’s essentials for unity and harmony – honesty.

“Moreover, if your brother commits a sin against you, go and show him his fault — but privately, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother.  If he doesn’t listen, take one or two others with you so that every accusation can be supported by the testimony of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to hear them, tell the congregation; and if he refuses to listen even to the congregation, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax-collector.  Yes! I tell you people that whatever you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.  To repeat, I tell you that if two of you here on earth agree about anything people ask, it will be for them from my Father in heaven. For wherever two or three are assembled in my name, I am there with them.” Matthew 18:15-20

These are Yeshua’s guidelines for dealing with those who sin against us.  These guidelines were meant for Believers (not un-believers) and for discipline and conflict resolution in the context of the congregation, not in the community at large.  These steps are designed to reconcile those who disagree so that congregation members can live in harmony.

Yeshua explained that the person who has been offended must first go and show him his fault — but privately, just between the two of you.   A personal confrontation, carried out in love, will allow the sinning member the opportunity to correct him or herself.  However, the person doing the confronting ought to be very certain of his or her accusation and that he or she is doing this out of true humility with a view to restoration of the other (see Galatians 6:1-4).

This call to confrontation is not a license for a frontal attack on every person who hurts or slights us.  Many misunderstandings and hurt feelings can be solved at this stage.  This saves congregational leaders from getting involved in everyone’s personal concerns.  Personal confrontation also keeps Believers from gossiping with one another.  Instead, Believers are to be mature enough to go directly to the source and deal with the problem at that level.  When someone wrongs us, we often do the opposite of what Yeshua recommends.  We turn away in hatred or resentment, seek revenge, or engage in gossip.  By contrast, we should go to that person first, as difficult as that may be.  Then, as we will learn in the next post, we should forgive that person as often as he or she needs it (18:21-22).  This restores relationships.

If the personal confrontation yields nothing and the confronted person doesn’t listen, then the offended person should proceed to step two.  In this step, the confronter should take one or two others with you so that every accusation can be supported by the testimony of two or three witnesses.  This is backed up by the Torah in Deuteronomy 19:15 which says: “One witness alone will not be sufficient to convict a person of any offense or sin of any kind; the matter will be established only if there are two or three witnesses testifying against him.”  These others also ought to help in reconciliation at this second meeting, hoping to settle the matter privately.  An erring person might be willing to listen to the wise counsel of these others.

So, Yeshua’s advice for keeping peace in your relationships is:

  • Don’t ignore conflict; address it.
  • Don’t exaggerate conflict; solve it with the least possible publicity and public scrutiny.
  • Don’t abandon conflict; pursue it to resolution.
  • Don’t fence yourself in by conflict; taking two or three witnesses requires that you also are open to reproof and correction.
  • Don’t recycle conflict; once resolved, let it go and get back to your life.

Congregational Discipline

If the additional witnesses don’t bring about reconciliation and he refuses to hear them, then the third step is to tell the congregation The objective at this point still is not disciplinary action but helping the sinning person to see his or her fault, repent, and be restored.  Even the law of love has its limit.

The fourth and last step is to disassociate from that person.  Some have construed this advice to be the final step of ex-communication.  The goal, even through this difficult act, is to help the person see his or her sin and repent.  The goal of discipline should always be teaching correct behavior.  It should never be for punishment!  Sha’ul recommended such action to the congregation in Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15).

The person should be treated as a pagan or a tax collector; such people were shunned by the Jews.  Matthew recorded this saying for his Jewish audience who would understand the metaphor for the kind of avoidance Yeshua demanded in this situation.  In the phrase treat him as you, the word you is singular – while the decision of the congregation is made corporately, the avoidance is acted out at the individual level.

While all people in the congregation are sinners saved by grace, and while no congregation will ever be free of members who commit sin, the person described here has a huge blind spot to sin, and many people can see it.  Yet this person refuses to listen to those whom God sends to help.  In the congregation, Believers are to teach, challenge, encourage, admonish, help, and love each other.  But there can be no true fellowship with a Believer who refuses the loving guidance of his or her fellow congregation members.

“Yes! I tell you people that whatever you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”   This verse parallels the similar authority given to Kefa and the talmidim in Matthew 16:19.  Here the authority belongs to the congregation – the words you in this verse are plural.  The words prohibit and permit refer to the decisions of the congregation in conflicts and discipline.  Among Believers, there is no court of appeals beyond the congregation.  Ideally, the congregation’s decisions should be God-guided and based on discernment of His Word.  Believers have the responsibility, therefore, to bring their problems to the congregation, and the congregation has the responsibility to use God’s guidance in seeking to discipline members.  Handling problems God’s way will have an impact now and for eternity.

“To repeat, I tell you that if two of you here on earth agree about anything people ask, it will be for them from my Father in heaven.  For wherever two or three are assembled in my name, I am there with them.”   In context, the application of this verse applies to matters of congregation discipline.  Other verses apply to prayer in general (21:22; John 14:13-14; 15:7-8, 16).

Some scholars explain that the two or three who agree refers directly back to the previous verses (especially Matthew 18:16) – the people in the confrontation (the offender and the one offended, or the group brought in at step two).  These people come into the confrontation, and God stands behind them as they work through their disagreement.  If the matter must go before the congregation, God is there helping those in agreement to deal with the sinning member as they ought.  Indeed, God may be using the people to “chase down the lost sheep,” so to speak, and bring him or her back “into the fold.”  Yeshua looked ahead to a new day when he would be present with His followers not in body but through His Holy Spirit.  In the congregation, the sincere agreement of two people is more powerful than the superficial agreement of thousands because the Ruach HaKodesh is with them.  Two or more Believers, filled with the Ruach, will pray according to God’s will, not their own; thus their requests will be granted.  In context, if the focus of their prayer is the repentance and restoration of the sinning believer, then that meeting of two or three concerned Believers will have tremendous power when they realize the promise that God is there with them.

In congregational discipline, not only must there be the authority of the Word, but there must also be prayer (Matthew 18:19).  The word agree in the Greek gives us our English word “symphony.”  The congregation must agree in prayer as it seeks to discipline the erring member.  It is through prayer and the Word that we ascertain the will of the Father in the matter.  Finally, there must be fellowship (Matthew 18:20).  The local congregation must be a worshiping community, recognizing the presence of the Lord in their midst.  The Ruach of God can convict both the offender and the congregation, and He can even judge sin in the midst (Acts 5).

There is a desperate need for honesty in the congregation today.  “Speaking the truth in love” is God’s standard (Ephesians 4:15).  If we practice love without truth, it is hypocrisy.  But if we try to have truth without love, it can be brutal.  Yeshua always taught the truth in love.  But, keep in mind that humility must come before honesty.

I have only been involved in one congregational disciplinary meeting and that was many years ago.  I would be interested in knowing if any of my readers of this blog have participated in such a meeting.  I’m assuming that it is very rare, but you all know what happens when we assume.

In my next post, we will focus on Yeshua’s teaching on forgiveness from Matthew 18.

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Snares & the Parable of the Lost Sheep

To Be Like Yeshua Means – To Understand Who Is the Greatest in The Kingdom

In my last post, we began a new mini-series from the Christian Torah focusing on who is greatest in the Kingdom.  We first looked at the notion that we need to become like little children.  In this post, Yeshua continues to warn us against the snares in life.

I closed my last post with the following:

Snares will always be a danger to Yeshua’s talmidim in their time on earth – whether they come from the fellowship (18:6), the world (18:7), or – as we will see in verses 8 – 9 the sinful nature itself (18:8-9).  As Yeshua had explained in the parable of the wheat and the weeds, the weeds will exist until the end of the age, so evil and its accompanying temptation to sin will be ever-present problems for Yeshua’s followers.

Snares (continued)

“So if your hand or foot becomes a snare for you, cut it off and throw it away! Better that you should be maimed or crippled and obtain eternal life than keep both hands or both feet and be thrown into everlasting fire!  And if your eye is a snare for you, gouge it out and fling it away! Better that you should be one-eyed and obtain eternal life than keep both eyes and be thrown into the fire of Gei-Hinnom. [1]  See that you never despise one of these little ones, for I tell you that their angels in heaven are continually seeing the face of my Father in heaven. *[2] For the Son of Man came to save the lost.”  Matthew 18:8-11 (CJB)

With strong language (not meant to promote self-mutilation), Yeshua described how the talmidim should renounce anything that would cause them to be entrapped (to sin) or turn away from the faith.  The action of surgically cutting sin out of their lives should be prompt and complete in order to keep them from sin.  Temptation to sin can come from various sources.  In the Bible, hands with accomplishments and feet are often associated with traveling to do evil. Continue reading “Snares & the Parable of the Lost Sheep”

Becoming Little Children

To Be Like Yeshua Means – To Understand Who Is the Greatest in The Kingdom

We are continuing to unpack the Christian Torah as contained in the Gospel of Matthew.  In this post, we begin a new mini-series entitled: “To Be Like Yeshua Means – To Understand Who Is the Greatest in The Kingdom.” 

Introduction to Mini-Series

A poem I once heard states the problem perfectly:

To live above, with saints we love will certainly be glory.  To live below, with saints we know – well, that’s another story!

With so much division and dissension among professing Believers these days, we desperately need what Matthew 18 has to teach.  Yeshua rebuked His talmidim for their pride and desire for worldly greatness, and He taught them the three essentials for unity and harmony among God’s people, i.e. humility, honesty and forgiveness.

Someone has accurately defined humility as “that grace that, when you know you have it, you’ve lost it!”  It has also been well said, “True humility is not thinking ill of yourself; it is simply not thinking of yourself at all.”

We just completed a mini-series on Yeshua’s teaching in parables about the Kingdom of Heaven.  We find here at the beginning of Matthew 18:1 – “… the talmidim came to Yeshua and asked, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”

“Who is the greatest?” was a repeated topic of discussion among the talmidim, for we find it mentioned often in the Gospel records.

The talmidim wondered about this coming Kingdom of which Yeshua would be the King.  In Jewish culture, a person’s rank was of considerable importance (see Luke 14:7-11 for an example); thus, the talmidim were naturally curious about their position in the coming Kingdom.  Yeshua’s teaching in Matthew 5:19 had indicated that there would be distinctions (least and great) in the Kingdom of Heaven.  This question had caused an argument among the talmidim (see Mark 9:33-34).  This question may have been fueled by the special privileges given to Peter, James, and John at various times, most recently their trip with Yeshua to the Mount of Transfiguration and then their silence about what had happened there (Matthew 17:1-9).  Matthew characteristically abbreviates the story in order to focus on the teaching.  The situation became an occasion for Yeshua to teach about true greatness and the role of competition in the coming Kingdom.

So absorbed were the talmidim in this matter that they actually argued with each other! (Luke 9:46).  The selfishness and disunity of God’s people is a scandal to our faith.  What causes these problems?  Pride – thinking ourselves more important than we really are.  It was pride that led man into sin from the beginning (Genesis 3:5).  When Believers are living for themselves and not for others, then there is bound to be conflict and division (Philippians 2:1ff).

At first glance, the answer to the talmidim’ question “Who is the greatest?” is easy:  God.  But that answer misses their point, which was:  Among those who can compete for greatness (God and angels being above competition), who takes the top spot in heaven’s all-star rankings?  Now the question becomes much more complicated, since it involves motives contrary to heaven’s interests.

Becoming Little Children

“He called a child to him, stood him among them, and said, “Yes! I tell you that unless you change and become like little children, you won’t even enter the Kingdom of Heaven! So the greatest in the Kingdom is whoever makes himself as humble as this child.  Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me; and whoever ensnares one of these little ones who trust me, it would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and be drowned in the open sea!  Woe to the world because of snares! For there must be snares, but woe to the person who sets the snare!” ~ Matthew 18:2-7

The talmidim waited breathlessly for Yeshua to name the greatest man among them.  But He bypassed them completely and called a little child into their midst.  This child was the example of true greatness.  True humility means knowing yourself, accepting yourself, and being yourself – your best self – to the glory of God.  It means avoiding two extremes: thinking less of yourself than you ought to (as did Moshe when God called him, Exodus 3:11ff), or thinking more of yourself than you ought to (Romans 12:3).  The truly humble person does not deny the gifts God has given him, but uses them to the glory of God.

Yeshua called a childThe Aramaic language uses the same word for “child” and “servant.” Thus, when Yeshua took a little child into his arms, he made the explanation of greatness even more distinct – to be great, one must serve.  The talmidim needed to change and become like childrenWhat did Yeshua want them to change?  In this instance, it was their attitude toward greatness.  The talmidim had become so preoccupied with the organization of Yeshua’s earthly Kingdom that they had lost sight of its divine purpose.  Instead of seeking a place of service, they were seeking positions of advantage.

Yeshua used a child to help his self-centered talmidim get the point.  They were to have servant attitudes, not being “childish” (arguing over petty issues) but “childlike,” with humble and sincere hearts.  As children depend on their parents, so people who come to God must be willing to wholly depend on him.  The kind of people whom Yeshua described as “blessed” in the first four beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-6) picture the complete dependence upon God that is needed in order to come to faith.

That Yeshua called a child as his example of greatness in His Kingdom reveals the nature of this Kingdom.  God’s people are called to humility and unconcern for social status.  Those who persist in pride and “ladder climbing” for the sake of status in this world won’t even enter the Kingdom of HeavenBy contrast, those who, in humility, realize their need of a Savior, accept him, and move into the world to serve, not only enter the Kingdom but will be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Yeshua would later explain in Chapter 20: “Among you, it must not be like that. On the contrary, whoever among you wants to be a leader must become your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave!  For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve — and to give his life as a ransom for many” (20:26-28).  True humility means to deny oneself, to accept a position of servanthood, and to completely follow the Master.  To be like Yeshua means to serve others.

Yeshua taught the talmidim to welcome children.  This was a new approach in a society where children were usually treated as second-class citizens.  Yeshua equated the attitude of welcoming children with a willingness to receive Him.  The principle, as often seen in Matthew, is that God and Yeshua will consider the way one treats others to be equal to (1) the way one will be treated, or (2) the way one treats Yeshua (for example, see 6:14-15; 25:31-46).

But the meaning here goes deeper, beyond simply welcoming children, as important as that is.  An attitude that whoever welcomes one such child in my name, readily welcomes and embraces Believers of little worldly importance and low status.  This shows an attitude that also welcomes the Savior, for He too was of little worldly importance and of low status.  In God’s Kingdom, greatness lies in acceptance of and dependence upon the Savior.  Together, Believers are to welcome and love one another, encourage one another, allow everyone a place to shine according to their gifts, and appreciate one another.

As in verse 5, these little ones refers not just to children but to Yeshua’s “little ones” – the talmidim.  Children are trusting by nature.  They trust adults; and because of that trust, their capacity to trust in God grows.  God holds parents and other adults who influence young children accountable for how they affect these little ones’ ability to trust God.  To cause a child or any fellow talmid to sin or fall away from the faith means to purposely put a “snare or stumbling block” in the way to make him or her trip and fall.  Yeshua warned that anyone who turns believers away from him will receive severe punishment.  Yeshua’s words warn believers that they must not only teach the truth, but live it.  If anyone causes young people or new Believers to doubt or fall back into sin, commits a grievous sin with terrible consequences.  If they stumble because of wrong teaching, that is a stumbling block as well.

Yeshua graphically described the harsh consequences of such sin.  A millstone was a heavy, flat stone used to grind grain.  There were two common kinds of millstones in use at this time.  One was relatively small and was operated by a person.  One was large and was connected to an ox or donkey that would walk in a circle, causing the stone to roll and crush the grain.  The Gospel writers used the word for the huge animal-operated millstone.  To have a millstone tied around one’s neck and then be dumped into the sea meant certain death by drowning.  Even the horror of such a death was minor compared to what this person would face in eternity.

The talmidim wanted to know who was greatest in the Kingdom.  But Yeshua warned them that, apart from humility, they could not even enter the Kingdom!  They had to be converted – turned around in their thinking – or they would never make it.  It seems that Yeshua is, in these verses, blending two concepts: the human child as an example of humility, and the child of God no matter what his age might be.  As Believers, we must not only accept the little children for Yeshua’s sake; but we must also receive all of God’s children and seek to minister to them (Romans 14:1ff).

Snares will always be a danger to Yeshua’s talmidim in their time on earth – whether they come from the fellowship (18:6), the world (18:7), or – as we will see in verses 8 – 9 the sinful nature itself (18:8-9).  As Yeshua had explained in the parable of the wheat and the weeds, the weeds will exist until the end of the age, so evil and its accompanying temptation to sin will be ever-present problems for Yeshua’s followers.

In my next post, we’ll look at some of the snares in life and the Parable of the Lost Sheep.

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Yeshua Wraps Up His Teaching In Parables

To Be Like Yeshua Means – To Understand the Parables of the Kingdom

In my last post, we completed Yeshua’s teaching in parables.  In this post, we look at His concern about if His talmidim understood them.  of the Kingdom.  Understanding also involves responsibility.

“’Have you understood all these things?’ ‘Yes,’ they answered.  He said to them, ‘So then, every Torah-teacher who has been made into a talmid for the Kingdom of Heaven is like the owner of a home who brings out of his storage room both new things and old.’” ~ Matthew 13:51-52

After Yeshua had given the parable of the weeds in the field, the talmidim came asking Yeshua to explain what He had told them (Matthew 13:36).  They did not understand.  After giving an explanation, Yeshua asked if they understood.  They answered “Yes.”

Understanding is the core of discipleship, for only Yeshua’s true followers are given the ability to understand, as Yeshua had explained earlier (Matthew 13:13-15, 19, 23).  Because the talmidim understood, so then, Yeshua said, they were the Torah-teachers in His Kingdom.  In other words, the current teachers of religious law did not understand, so their teaching was invalid.  The talmidim had been made into a talmid for the Kingdom of Heaven.  They understood God’s real purpose in the law as revealed in the Tanakh; therefore, they had a real treasure.

The talmidim would bring this treasure out of his storage room in that their responsibility would be to share what they had learned with others.  The talmidim had gained this treasure through Yeshua’s instruction, so they were able to understand and use the best of older wisdom as well as the new insights that Yeshua brought to them.  True teachers see the value of both old and new.  The Tanakh points the way to Yeshua, the Messiah.  Yeshua always upheld the authority and relevance of the Scriptures.  Those who understand Yeshua’s teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven receive a double benefit.  This was a new treasure that Yeshua was revealing.  Both the old and new teachings give practical guidelines for faith and for living in the world.  The religious leaders, however, were trapped in the old and blind to the new.  They were looking for a future kingdom preceded by judgment.  Yeshua, however, taught that the Kingdom was now and the judgment was future.  The religious leaders were looking for a physical and temporal kingdom (brought on by military strength and physical rule), but they were blind to the spiritual significance of the kingdom that Yeshua had brought.

Yeshua wants us to understand God’s truth, and that is not easily or quickly done.  Learning about God’s truth in all its richness and diversity is a lifelong process.

The Lord Added These Final Two Verses to Remind Us of Our Responsibilities

Some of us must be scribes who discover the truth.  The scribes began as a noble group under the leadership of Ezra.  Their purpose was to preserve the Law, study it, and apply its truths to daily life.  Over the years, their noble cause degenerated into a routine task of preserving traditions and man-made interpretations, and adding burdens to the lives of the people (Luke 11:46-52).  They were so wrapped up in the past that they ignored the present!  Instead of sharing living truth from God’s Word, they merchandised dead doctrines and embalmed traditions that could not help the people.

As Believers, we do not search after truth, because we have truth in God’s Son (John 14:6) and God’s Word (John 17:17).  We are taught by the Spirit of Truth (John 16:13) who is truth (1 John 5:6).  We search into truth that we might discover more truth.  We are scribes – students – who sit at the feet of Yeshua and listen to His words.  One joy of the Believer’s life is the privilege of learning God’s truth from God’s Word.  But we must not stop there.

We must be talmidim who do the truth.  The scribe emphasizes learning, but the talmid emphasizes living.  Talmidim are doers of the Word (James 1:22ff), and they learn by doing.  It is difficult to keep our lives balanced.  We often emphasize learning at the expense of living.  Or, we may get so busy serving God that we do not take time to listen to His Word.  Every scribe must be a talmid, and every talmid must be a scribe.

We must also be stewards who dispense the truth.  The scribes preserved the Law but did not invest it in the lives of the people.  The treasure of the Law was encrusted by man’s traditions.  The seed was not planted so it could bear fruit.  The spiritual gold and silver was not put to work so it could produce dividends.  As Believers we should be conservative but not preservative.  The steward guards the treasure, but he also dispenses it as it is needed.  He dispenses both the old and the new.  New principles and insights are based on old truths.  The new cannot contradict the old because the old comes out of the new (Leviticus 26:10).  The new without the old is mere novelty and will not last.  But the old does no good unless it is given new applications in life today.

Did you ever imagine that learning is also a way to serve God?  Let your life be full of inquiry, and let each step you take be a means of deepening your faith and love for God.

In my next post, we will begin to look at some instructions on being a Messianic community that Yeshua gave to His talmidim in chapter 18 of Matthew.

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The Parables of the Hidden Treasure, the Pearl of Great Price and the Fishing Net

To Be Like Yeshua Means – To Understand the Parables of the Kingdom

We have been looking at the parables of Yeshua from Matthew 13 for the last five posts.  In this post, we will look at three more of His parables the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price and the fishing net

The Parable of the Hidden Treasure

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. A man found it, hid it again, then in great joy went and sold everything he owned, and bought that field.” ~ Matthew 13:44

To teach the inestimable value of the Kingdom of Heaven and of being part of that kingdom, Yeshua described it as a treasure hidden in a fieldThe man who found the treasure would have been a day laborer who could get possession by quitting his job and then returning to recover his find.

According to rabbinic law, if a worker came across buried treasure in someone else’s field and lifted it out, the treasure would belong to the owner.  In this story, the laborer was careful not to lift out the treasure.  To obtain this treasure, which far surpassed the value of everything he owned, he would have to sell everything so he could buy the field.  He did this joyfully.  The man who discovered the treasure in the field stumbled upon it by accident but knew its value when he found it.  Some have wondered about the morality of a man obtaining a treasure in this way, but Yeshua was not teaching a moral lesson.  He was merely showing the value of the treasure that is worth every sacrifice and commitment to obtain.  The Kingdom of Heaven is more valuable than anything else we can have, and a person must be willing to give up everything to obtain it.

Once again, the symbolism in the Tanakh assists us in our interpretation.  One commentator[1] suggests that the treasure is the nation of Israel (see Exodus 19:5; Ps. 135:4).  Israel was created to bring glory to God, but it failed.  It became a nation hidden, a treasure not being invested to produce dividends for God.  Yeshua gave His all to purchase the whole world in order to save the nation (see John 11:51).  On the execution stake, Yeshua died for the whole world; but in a special way, He died for Israel (Isaiah 53:8).  The nation suffered judgment and seeming destruction, but in God’s sight it is hidden and will be revealed again in glory.  Politically, the nation was reborn on May 14, 1948.  But the nation is currently far from what it ought to be spiritually.  God sees Israel as His treasure, and one day He will establish her in His glorious kingdom.

The parable of the hidden treasure and the parable of the pearl merchant (13:45-46) form a pair and belong together.  They note a single event in the past, and teach the inestimable value of the kingdom.

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for fine pearls.  On finding one very valuable pearl he went away, sold everything he owned and bought it.” ~ Matthew 13:45-46

In the previous parable, Yeshua described a man stumbling upon a treasure.  In this parable, Yeshua pictured a wealthy pearl merchant.  Pearls were especially valued in the Near East.  A pearl of great price could obviously set up this merchant for life.  Knowing pearls, this merchant searched earnestly for one of great value.  When he found it, he sold everything he had to buy it.  Some may discover the Kingdom; some may seek earnestly and finally obtain it.  In both cases, the men recognized the value of what they had found and willingly invested everything to obtain it.  The Kingdom of Heaven is so valuable that it calls for a total investment – radical discipleship – from those who find it.

The treasure and pearl parables tell of the joy of finding peace with God.  There’s no other word to express it.  Both stories involve people who very happily find the answer to their life’s hopes and dreams.  That’s what becoming a Believer is all about: deepest needs are met, deepest longings satisfied, deepest hurts bandaged, and a future and a hope unlike any other.  It all adds up to joy!  If your faith is grim and your life bleak, let God put some of this wonderful happiness back where it should be.

Wiersbe suggests that the pearl represents the Messianic community.  In 1 Corinthians 10:32, Rabbi Sha’ul makes a distinction between Jews, Gentiles, and the Messianic community.  Today, the Messianic community, the body of Yeshua, is composed of believing Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:11ff).

Unlike most other gems, the pearl is a unity – it cannot be carved like a diamond or an emerald.  The Messianic community is a unity (Ephesians 4:4-6), even though the professing Messianic community on earth is divided due to doctrinal differences.  Like a pearl, the Messianic community is the product of suffering.  Yeshua died for the Messianic community (Ephesians 5:25) and His suffering on the execution stake made possible her birth.  A pearl grows gradually, and the Messianic community grows gradually as the Spirit convicts and converts sinners.  No one can see the making of the pearl, for it is hidden in the shell of the oyster under the waters.  No one can see the growth of His Messianic community in the world.  The Messianic community is among the nations today and one day will be revealed in all its beauty.  So, in spite of Satan’s subtle working in this world, Yeshua is forming His Messianic community.  He sold all that He had to purchase His Messianic community, and nothing the Adversary can do will cause Him to fail.  There is but one Messianic community, a pearl of great price, though there are many local Messianic communities.

The Fishing Net

“Once more, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a net thrown into the lake, that caught all kinds of fish.  When it was full, the fishermen brought the net up onto the shore, sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad fish away.  So it will be at the close of the age — the angels will go forth and separate the evil people from among the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where they will wail and grind their teeth.” ~ Matthew 13: 47-50

The parable of the fishing net deals with the dividing of people much as the parable of the wheat and weeds does.  This parable pictures a dragnet perhaps drawn between two boats or a large net with one end attached to shore and the other taken to sea by a boat.  The net is dragged in a wide semi-circle with the top held up by corks and the bottom slightly weighted.  All kinds of fish are caught in the net.  The fishermen then draw the net to the beach where they sort the fish.  They put good fish into baskets and throw away the bad (inedible or unclean as in Leviticus 11:10-11) ones.

The preaching of the Gospel in the world does not convert the world.  It is like this huge dragnet that gathers all kinds of fish, some good and some bad.  At the end of the age, God will separate the true believers from the false; the good from the bad.  When Yeshua returns to earth, to fight the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 19:11ff), He will separate Believers and unbelievers.

Twice in this series of parables Yeshua used the phrase the close of the age (Matthew 13:39, 49).  He was not referring to the end of this Messianic Community Age, because the truth about the Messianic community was not shared with the talmidim until later (Matthew 16:18).  The age He referred to is the Jewish age at the close of the great Tribulation described in Matthew 24:1-31 and Revelation 6-19.  We must be careful not to read into these passages in Matthew the truths later given through Sha’ul and the other emissaries.

In my next post, we will wrap up our study of Matthew 13 my examining Yeshua’s final words on this topic of parables.

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[1] Warren Wiersbe – Be Loyal-Matthew