Saturday, September 23, 2006

Matthew 24 Part 4

Matthew 24

9 "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.

10 "And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.

These words of Christ are by far the most personal towards the disciples. Yes these words are directed at the disciples specifically. They are not directed specifically at those of us in the future. With that said, can there be application that may follow those who follow Christ? Absolutely, we can look back over history and find that believers at different times have been hated and killed by those who oppose the truth.

However, let us note the pronouns here. First we see “they”, “you”, and nations. It appears in the context that “they” refers to the Jews. Indeed all throughout the New Testament we find that the Jews are the biggest instigators of persecution upon God’s people, the true Jews.

For instance, we will take a few examples. First we will note that by and large the persecution of God’s people was not new to the era of the Messiah. We discover throughout the Old Testament that the prophets that were sent by God to Israel were constantly ridiculed, persecuted and killed. It is no different in the beginning of the New Covenant age. Many of those such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and even Moses were constantly facing a rebellious people who would not hear the Word of God calling them to repentance, Instead, they met with hostilities, resentment, complaining, suffering and anguish from those they sought to lovingly call back to their husband, the Lord.

Jesus references this history of Israel in His parable of the vineyard owner from Matthew 21.

33 ¶ Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country:

34 And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it.

35 And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another.

36 Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise.

37 But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son.

38 But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance.

39 And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.

40 When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?

41 They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.

42 Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?

43 Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.

44 And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.

45 And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.

46 But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet.

Notice that in this passage, the chief priests and Pharisees perceived that He was speaking of them. Again, there is an air here of impending judgment upon those whom Jesus specifically references, those Jews who remain in unbelief.

Most of us are aware of many of the persecutions and the bringing before the nations and kings of the apostles and their followers. If not here are several references to this very thing being accomplished with this generation.

Acts 4:1 ¶ Now as they (Peter & John) spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them,

2 being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.

3 And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.

Acts 4:18 And they called them (Peter & John) and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.

19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.

20 "For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard."

21 So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done.

Acts 7:54 ¶ When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth.

55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,

56 and said, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!"

57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord;

58 and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 12: 1 ¶ Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church.

2 Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword.

3 And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread.

4 So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover.

Acts 13:50 But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.

Acts 14:5 And when a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone them,

6 they became aware of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding region.

Acts 14:19 ¶ Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.

Acts 16:22 Then the multitude rose up together against them (Paul & Silas); and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods.

23 And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely.

24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

These are just a few of the numerous historical accounts from the book of Acts. All through out the New Testament we see encouragement for those suffering and undergoing persecution. Truly the words of the Lord did come to pass. As a matter of fact, Luke tells us in the first chapter of Acts that Jesus told the disciples that they would be His martuv. This does obviously refer to a legal witness, but also carries with it the idea of a martyr. All of the disciples underwent martyrdom for there witness, except for the apostle John, but that was not for a lack of attempts by both the Jews and the Romans.

In picking up on the term “they” in verse 9, I think if there is any contextual appeal to Matthew 24 someone must identify who the “they” is that is spoken of here. Let’s note the parallel passage from Luke 21.

12 "But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake.

13 "But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony.

14 "Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer;

15 "for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.

It seems to be consistent that the “they” that is in reference here is tied to the Jews. Notice that the disciples are to be delivered to synagogues and prisons. Again, the numerous accounts both in history and the Scripture testify to just such actions. As a matter of fact, I believe it is this kind of persecution that the apostle Paul spoke of when in 1 Corinthians 4 he said,

7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;

8 ¶ we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing;

9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;

10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.

11 For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

12 So death works in us, but life in you.

Ultimately this came to a head and it was no longer just the Jews persecution. Remember with Christ it started out that way and eventually moved to the Romans. The same was true for the disciples. They were first persecuted by the Jews and then later in history by the Romans, or we could say “nations” since that is definitely a clear reference to those outside the Jewish state. Obviously, these things did take place in the first century. There is ample evidence of this. However, we know that throughout the world persecution against believers takes place, but where are those whom Jesus spoke of as “they” doing so? They have long passed from the scene.

History as well as Scripture affirms this. While Jewish persecution rose fairly early in the life of the apostolic church, It was not until just prior to the siege of Jerusalem that the Romans involved themselves in a serious manner of persecution towards Christians (64-68 AD).[1] Tacitus is one who recorded how the infamous Nero persecuted the Christians. He writes that Nero “inflicted unheard-of punishments on those who, detested for their abominable crimes, were vulgarly called Christians” so that eventually “an immense number were involved in the same fate.”[2] One church father by the name of Orosius (AD 390-?) writes of the Neronic persecution and says that he (Nero) “was the first at Rome to torture and inflict the penalty of death upon Christians, and he ordered them throughout all the provinces to be afflicted with like persecution; and in his attempt to wipe out the very name, he killed the most blessed apostles of Christ, Peter and Paul.”[3] This persecution is also purported to have been prompted by orthodox Jews in the capital by some.[4]

There are a few words in verse 10 we should be aware of. First we find the word translated here as offended. The word is skandalizw from which we get our word scandal. In the context, it is possibly referring to an enticement to sin, specifically in regards to the things it is associated with. In effect it speaks of some being trapped or taken into sin. Some translations actually translate it as “fall away”. I think scandalized may be a good understanding.

Second, we find the word betray or paradidwmi. This word speaks specifically to delivering someone up to be judged. There were going to be those who may have associated with the church, but in reality were not a part of the true body. These are among many of those that I believe the writer to the Hebrews was concerned with.

Third, we find the word hate or misew. This word carries the simple meaning of hatred and is tied closely to betray. We just finished up chapter 26 of Matthew in our fellowship and saw the betrayal of Judas Iscariot of our Lord. Some years ago there was movie out called “The Judas Project” in which the attempt was made to put the gospel accounts into a modern day setting. To be honest, at first I was a bit skeptical, but actually thought much of it was good. However, they attempted to put Judas in a sympathetic light as though he really didn’t know what he was doing. Judas was evil at his core. He thought only of self in the face of being selected to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus. He was looking out for number one and in doing so he showed hatred and contempt for Christ. Yes, he realized afterwards that he had betrayed innocent blood, but he never really realized the person of Christ and loved Him for who He is.

Now we should not be so hard upon Judas, for the fact is that we are all so subtly deceived at different points in our lives, both before we become believers and at times afterward. The old song says,

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;

We all know daily what it is to feel the desires of sin crouching at our door and desiring to take hold of us, even at times to gain at the expense of others. How often have we succumbed to the temptation to spare ourselves while selling someone else out? No doubt some of this is clearly tied to this passage. The love of systems, the world and applause of men and even of this life itself will sometimes drive those we think that are close to us, to betray us. Many during this time did just that.

John has already identified that many had apostatized or fallen away in 1 Jn. 2:19. There he states,

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.

Paul also speaks of those who forsook him. In 2 Timothy 1:15 he says, “that all those in Asia have turned away from me.” Many of us are struck with His words concerning a fellow worker in ministry when he says, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world (2 Tim. 4:10) and also in verse 16 he laments that “at my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me.” Surely these things were occurring during the apostles’ lifetimes, just as Christ prophesied.

If we look at the parallel passages in Mark and Luke these things become even more specific and even more horrifying when we consider just who it is who will be involved.

Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death. Mark 13:12

And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death. Luke 21:16

These betrayals, persecutions and hatreds come from within families and among friends. Now, I know this post has gone a little long, and has been a long time coming, but let’s get one thing straight: family is not the gospel. It is not an idol to be worshipped. Our focus should not be the family. Jesus was clear when He said,

"Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; and A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD.He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” Matthew 10:34

I am a firm believer in family. I believe we have a duty to our families, but family is not the end all. The God of glory is. We must love our families and cherish and nurture them, but we must never idolize them for they are fallen, just as we are. They are prone to the same sins everyone else is, even the sin of hatred of both God and man. Let us not forget that. If there is one thing we need today in our culture of “We need to do this for the children”, is a biblical call to “Do what we do for the glory of God”. Doing things “for the children” will produce the same type of mentality that was prevailing in the first century and that was an air of superiority, ethnicity, and progeny. In essence, it became a very selfish culture rather than one filled with love and instead of bringing glory to the grace of God, ended up bringing glory to the just wrath of a Holy God.

[1] Gentry, Kenneth, Before Jerusalem Fell, Chapter 5

[2] Quoted from The Great Tribulation: Past or Future, Gentry, Kenneth & Ice, Thomas, pg. 41. This is from the excerpt where Gentry quotes Tacitus from Annals 15:44.

[3] Orosius, The Seven Books of History Against the Pagans, 7:7

[4] Frend W H C, The Rise of Christianity, pg. 109

Monday, September 04, 2006

Athanasius on Cessationism, Eschatology, & the Gospel

I promised I would post a short article concerning cessationism, eschatology and the gospel. Basically, I just wanted to throw out a great quote from Athanasius. I have also given the reference for his work so that you can see the context. I truly think he puts in perspective my own thinking.

“So the Jews are indulging in fiction, and transferring present time to future. When did prophet and vision cease from Israel? Was it not when Christ came, the Holy One of holies? It is, in fact, a sign and notable proof of the coming of the Word that Jerusalem no longer stands, neither is prophet raised up nor vision revealed among them. And it is natural that it should be so, for when He that was signified had come, what need was there any longer of any to signify Him? And when the Truth had come, what further need was there of the shadow? On His account only they prophesied continually, until such time as Essential Righteousness has come, Who was made the Ransom for the sins of all. For the same reason Jerusalem stood until the same time, in order that there men might premeditate the types before the Truth was known. So, of course, once the Holy One of holies had come, both vision and prophecy were sealed. And the kingdom of Jerusalem ceased at the same time, because kings were to be anointed among them only until the Holy of holies had been anointed. Moses also prophesies that the kingdom of the Jews shall stand until His time, saying, "A ruler shall not fail from Judah nor a prince from his loins, until the things laid up for him shall come and the Expectation of the nations Himself."[1] And that is why the Savior Himself was always proclaiming "The law and the prophets prophesied until John."[2] So if there is still king or prophet or vision among the Jews, they do well to deny that Christ is come; but if there is neither king nor vision, and since that time all prophecy has been sealed and city and temple taken, how can they be so irreligious, how can they so flaunt the facts, as to deny Christ Who has brought it all about? Again, they see the heathen forsaking idols and setting their hopes through Christ on the God of Israel; why do they yet deny Christ Who after the flesh was born of the root of Jesse and reigns henceforward? Of course, if the heathen were worshipping some other god, and not confessing the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses, then they would do well to argue that God had not come. But if the heathen are honoring the same God Who gave the law to Moses and the promises to Abraham—the God Whose word too the Jews dishonored, why do they not recognize or rather why do they deliberately refuse to see that the Lord of Whom the Scriptures prophesied has shone forth to the world and appeared to it in a bodily form? Scripture declares it repeatedly. "The Lord God has appeared to us,"[3] and again, "He sent forth His Word and healed them."[4] And again, "It was no ambassador, no angel who saved us, but the Lord Himself."[5] The Jews are afflicted like some demented person who sees the earth lit up by the sun, but denies the sun that lights it up! What more is there for their Expected One to do when he comes? To call the heathen? But they are called already. To put an end to prophet and king and vision? But this too has already happened. To expose the Goddenyingness of idols? It is already exposed and condemned. Or to destroy death? It is already destroyed. What then has not come to pass that the Christ must do? What is there left out or unfulfilled that the Jews should disbelieve so light-heartedly? The plain fact is, as I say, that there is no longer any king or prophet nor Jerusalem nor sacrifice nor vision among them; yet the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of God, and the Gentiles, forsaking atheism, are now taking refuge with the God of Abraham through the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ.[6]


On The Incarnation, 6:40

[1] Gen. 49:10

[2] Matt. 11:13

[3] Ps. 118:27

[4] Ps. 107:20

[5] Isa. 63:9