The Kingdom of Heaven is a common phrase that evokes a large variety of concepts. For some, it refers to a movie about war, subterfuge, sex and honor in two opposing groups, each claiming to be working for the Kingdom of Heaven. The producers of that movie did well at communicating their concept of the Kingdom of Heaven. For other people the phrase is less about meaningless existence and more related to the concept of the domain of the Supreme Being. People who hold such a concept perceive varying levels of integration between the Kingdom of Heaven and the material world. For many, the concept of human justice is paramount in the Kingdom of Heaven: the Kingdom of Heaven is the ultimate expression of human justice: Good vs Evil.
Jesus used the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” often. What did he mean? I found that a careful review of the Gospel of Matthew leads to the answer: None of the above.
This essay is an attempt to understand the Kingdom of Heaven from the Book of the Gospel of Matthew. Rather than taking the commentary approach, analyzing each section in sequence, I am just reviewing the sections that directly address or reference the Kingdom of Heaven (or Kingdom of God). The sections of the Book of Matthew that are not reviewed also pertain to understanding, but are less direct to the Kingdom of Heaven. The whole of scriptures are pertinent, but we can only deal with one piece at a time.
Reading this essay:
This essay is created anonymously. Although using the first person voice, you do not know who I am. The discussion must be focused on the subject matter. Some who read this will be frustrated as they cannot debate with the author. This is the opportunity to debate with yourself, to finally have a debate in an environment where you have to face the fallacies as you speak them. Who I am is completely irrelevant. Relative to all of humanity, I am of an importance that infinitely approaches nothingness. Either my life has meaning because somehow there is a God that cares about me among the billions he equally cares about at this moment, or there is no meaning.
I choose to believe in a miraculous God, exhibiting the astonishing miracle of loving and knowing you at the same time he loves and knows me. Billions of us at the same time. In this context, one speck of dust among billions, I offer my thoughts for what they are.
May the Spirit of God lead you, either while reading this essay, or while skipping it.
Jesus spoke in parables. Some of his statements are identified by Matthew as parables, some are clearly parables although not specifically identified.
Why did he speak in parables? We have the opportunity to understand when we consider the message he brings in the context of the mindset of the hearers – including you and me. But how can we consider the message when it is delivered to us in an intricate tapestry of statements? The answer to that question is where the brilliance begins.
He used parables to subtly alter our concepts.
In Matt 13:34,35 Matthew explains why Jesus spoke in parables. It seems reasonable to assume that Matthew is recording the reason why because Jesus had explained it to them. This passage references Psalm 78 as the basis for the use of parables.
I found many many years ago that the writers of the New Testament did not use the modern technique of doing a word search and finding verses that use the same word, then isolating those verses alone to understand the things of God. Rather, they quote from the context of the passage: their use of an Old Testament passage is never meant as an isolated verse – the entire context of the reference bears on the subject matter. Consider that they did not have the useful impediment of chapter and verse numbers. This numbering system is very useful for pointing people to specific sections of the scriptures, but they can be an impediment to understanding as they encourage the concept of “stand alone” verses. The scriptures were written as books (mostly) or as songs (Psalms). When Matthew, presumably guided by Jesus, refers to Psalm 78, we should try understanding the whole Psalm, then taking the concept gained back to the New Testament where referenced. Greater understanding is available when using this method of following references.
When contemplating the use of parables, the reference to Psalm 78 provides a great insight. Psalm 78 has a clear theme that provides a great foundation for understanding the Kingdom of Heaven. In Psalm 78 the writer states that he is speaking in a parable—this is important—relaying concepts that God had intended for people to grasp from ancient times. Then he goes on to recount some of the cycles of his ancestors experiencing God’s mercy while continuing to doubt the nature of God.
I believe this is the foundation for understanding the parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. Please read and ponder Psalm 78. Read seeking an update for the concepts that form the basis for your perception. I am reluctant to shorten the important journey of forming your concepts, but I will at least point out that the writer of the Psalm says clearly that this Psalm is a parable (v2), intended to lead you to better formed concepts without directly stating them. The concept I see clear in the Psalm is a beautiful restatement of the great theme, predestined in a time before we can know, yet singing out above the cacophony of a fallen world, heard only by those who have ears to hear. If all you hear when you read Psalm 78 is a restatement of the “live right or die at the hands of God” message, pray for hearing aids.
If you do not have time to ponder Psalm 78 now, wait until you do.
With the parable of Psalm 78 working at your concepts, proceed.
In the first chapters of Matthew, the Kingdom of Heaven is mentioned twice as quotes. First as a quote from John the Baptist, then as a quote from Jesus. John and Jesus are both saying “The Kingdom of Heaven is near”. These are the first 2 times the Kingdom is identified. Both are an invitation to expect something big. John and Jesus are saying this many times, possibly every time they speak. But they are not explaining. Jesus knows what is near. The people listening do not. The concepts required to know have yet to be formed. God commands John to speak this phrase, inciting desire to know in those with ears to hear. John is preparing the way. When Jesus begins his 3 years of teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven, he continues with the exact same message. The mystery is brought to the attention of all, then and now. For those responding to the call of the Spirit, the thirst and hunger is brought to focus, with the apparently permanent, apparently futile hope of knowing God Most High. Apparently permanent, because it has lived in each person since our Mother and Father ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Apparently futile, because the fruit of that Tree has never brought anyone closer to the lost relationship. No one. Ever. John and Jesus stir the fire. Jesus will now begin forming the concepts needed to understand what the Kingdom of Heaven is about.
Matt 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
This is not a parable in strict “story to form a concept” sense. But not all teaching from Jesus takes the “short story” form. Some teaching is still a parable, in that the goal is to form a concept through inference. This first concept of the Kingdom of Heaven is part of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus expounds on the path to pleasing God through self-righteousness. The Sermon on the Mount is the foundation from which the Kingdom of Heaven can begin to be visible. Like many teachings of Jesus, the indirect messages of the Sermon on the Mount are similar to a parable; they cause the person who seriously ponders them to adjust concepts in their mind.
poor in spirit: those who do not have a wealth of spiritual resources at their own command. Someone who is poor has little or no resources. Jesus here says that those who have little or no spiritual resources own the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven is known to those who do not have their understanding blocked by self-reliance. This statement, the first concept builder from Jesus, makes us realize the Kingdom is not what we expect: it is not physical and it belongs to the spiritually weak.
This understanding aligns with the truth shown by the reference to Psalm 78 as the foundation for using parables.
Think of Jesus’ example of the sinner crying out “Have Mercy on me!”.
Later Jesus says ” the Kingdom of Heaven is taken by violent men”. We will discuss that when we get to that section.
I do not believe it is an accident that the first teaching of Jesus on the Kingdom of Heaven establishes a description of the residents of the Kingdom.
Matt 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Since this is the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is using his teachings to ensure that the listener takes very seriously the fact that the Old Covenant requires complete and utter obedience to the Law. Elsewhere Jesus states that 2 Commandments are key (Love God and Neighbor). The existence of the these two laws makes external obedience alone insufficient. As this passage is in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is further illustrating here that even doing powerful spiritually enlightened actions does not make one known to God. Knowing God makes one knowable to God. You have knowledge of God, or you would not be reading this. God has knowledge of you. But do you know God? I have knowledge of technical subjects, I have knowledge of people, I have knowledge about God. But the concept Jesus is discussing here is a different sense of the sometimes clumsy English language. He is referring to knowing someone as a devoted and passionate man and woman know each other. Do you know God like that? Do you want to? He does.
Lawlessness: again, the context here is the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is, step by step in the Sermon on the Mount, showing the inability to know God via the various worthy deeds. Someone who wields power and spiritual authority (at some level) does not earn the right to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. One can depend on actions, either the excellent performance of worthy deeds or the excellent avoidance of evil deeds. Such a dependence will not result in knowing God and the reciprocal: being known by God.
As the promises of Deut 28 make clear, any who transgress any commandment are under the curse because they are lawless: they seek to use the Law to establish their credentials before God, yet they do not keep the whole law. Other statements by God, such as Ezekiel 18, provide us with the opportunity to see that to violate any commandment is to violate the entire Law. Paul later references this fact.
“The one who does the will of my Father” enters the Kingdom of Heaven. What is his Will: he is not willing that any should perish and has made available salvation through belief in Jesus – this is His will, his predestined plan from before the beginning of the world, that all who call out for the Mercy of God will receive mercy, delivered to us by Jesus who died and rose for our salvation.
Matt 8:5-12 When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The mention of the great faith of the centurion is an important topic that sheds some light on the Kingdom of Heaven. Although the Faith discussion is another lengthy topic, here I will observe that it would be extremely difficult for a Roman centurion to stay a centurion and become a Jew. So I do not believe he was keeping the whole law, yet he turns to Jesus whom he calls “Lord” – supreme in authority (I doubt that such an attitude towards a Jew would result in good things from Roman authorities – study their imposition of emperor worship). He seeks healing for someone, flowing out of compassion, and turns to the Lord out of belief in the Mercy of the Lord. He would know that he did not qualify for blessings from the Jewish God based on his performance. So, when Jesus hears that he really believes that Jesus is LORD, yet is asking for an act of Mercy, Jesus illuminates this faith as the “entrance ticket” allowing this centurion to recline at the table with the Jewish pre-law patriarchs.
Note that many will come from non-Law locations to join with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who were deemed righteous through belief alone, not through adherence to the Law – in fact they broke the Law in numerous ways, including some ways that are considered very vile today.
The second Kingdom reference, “the sons of the Kingdom”, is not assigned to Kingdom of Heaven, but appears to be referring to the Kingdom of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and its decedent the Law. After this I may refer to that as the Kingdom of Knowledge .
Matt 10:7,8 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.
Jesus is sending out the 12 with the message that the Kingdom of Heaven is close: after millennia of waiting the revealing is here. BIG NEWS, the biggest in the history of earth. Jesus sends his followers out to continue his invitation to all, with the invitation to strive with the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Does the part about pay mean to perform miracles for free? Or something deeper? The disciples received the Kingdom of Heaven without working for it, they must not require that others work for it. This is important at the money level, but that is far from the meaning here. The spiritual level is the deep message. This is a foundation of the Kingdom of Heaven: no one has earned it.
Jesus “commands” them to perform miracles as signs of the Kingdom of Heaven. To one educated in Hebrew lore at that time, these signs were signs of the Messiah.
It is worth noting that just prior to this he taught them that doing these things does not qualify a person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Recall the words of Jesus in the sermon on the mount: “…didn’t we heal the sick … in your name?”
Remember to allow these things to begin changing your concept of the Kingdom of Heaven. The internal debate, struggling to reconcile the statements of God that appear to work against each other is the path to understanding. Jesus does not want us to be like the man who forgets what he saw in the mirror.
Matt 11:11-19 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.
No one greater than John the Baptist yet the least in the kingdom is greater. The Law was the only proclaimed way to know about God until John, then he came with the voice of Elijah to clear the way for the Messiah. Jesus says “if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who is to come”. This appears to be a reference to Malachi 4. Using our context rule and pondering the whole of Malachi that sums up in the prophecy that promised John the Baptist, we can hear, once again, the hints of the Kingdom of Heaven, with John the Baptist coming to turn the hearts of the children to the Father. A deep and slow pondering of Malachi with ears to hear is truly fruitful. For me, it was tricky as my long background in Kingdom of Knowledge concepts had plugged my ears. But diligently being a “Scribe trained in the Kingdom of Heaven” (as Jesus is soon to say) led me to a clear understanding. I do not wish to distract from the main thrust of the message of John, the Elijah, with a detailed look at Malachi. I just want to observe that it upholds the Kingdom of Heaven message. Elijah will come to turn the heart of the children to the Fathers and the heart of the Father to the children so that destruction will be replaced with life and love. Turning the heart is repentance.
John came calling for people to be washed in water for repentance (changed mind or heart) for forgiveness. The people were confessing their sins and clearly expecting to be forgiven. The Gospel of Mark specifically says John’s message was for forgiveness.
This process – repentance (turning) away from sin, turning to God through dedication to the law, procuring forgiveness by these actions – is not found in the Commandments of the Law. Although it is found in the interpretations and additions to the Law that were the basis for Pharisaical rules for living. This was the method by which a gentile would convert to Judaism. John’s big difference is that he was putting Jews through this process, which would only be done if the Jew was rededicating his life to Judaism. The Pharisees did not participate as they felt they had no need: they were already dedicated Jews. Hence the Pharisees’ question [Who do you think you are?].
So it appears that John the Baptist was focusing people on seeking to prepare for the Kingdom of Heaven by rededicating their lives. The people, having lost hope of knowing God because of the insurmountable struggle against sin, are now filled with Hope of knowing God again. Most people give up when trying to reach unreachable goals. How many times have you felt complete exhaustion in your continuous fight against the things you do and think? If you do not feel such things, read through the Law and the Sermon on the Mount to ensure that your security comes from the one true source.
In Matthew, these people are responding to the call of John the Baptist to renew their struggle. Their inevitable failures will soon lead to discouragement, but this time the Kingdom of Heaven is bursting into their awareness – if they have ears to hear. John the Baptist prepares the way.
[off subject note: there certainly exist other truths to be gained from John the Baptist. This essay is not a complete analysis, but simply focused on understanding the Kingdom of Heaven].
In our Matthew 11 context, Jesus says violent men take the Kingdom of Heaven. Note that in the days of Noah, God said he was going to destroy the world because of the violence. Here Jesus says that since John started baptizing, the Kingdom of Heaven is taken by violent men. Who was taking John’s words? The world. Read and observe that Luke points out that the world would be saved, when recounting the story of John the Baptist, adding credibility to this view.
Ponder and observe that almost all people are violent, either directly or by requiring justice for others. Human justice is violent. This topic – the violent nature of humanity – deserves an in depth review.
When I originally wrote this, I left it to the reader to work their way through an understanding of how all people can be considered violent. But since that time, I have realized that for many it is difficult to take responsibility for such a broad statement. Foundational is the realization that allowing other people to take violent action on your behalf explicitly involves you in their actions. The first recorded crime in the scriptures is Cain murdering Abel. In accordance with the Law that has residence in everyone’s heart since the Tree, the people of that time were going to seek Justice and execute Cain in accordance with Good and Evil. It is worth noting that the people that sought to kill him were his brothers, sisters, children, nieces, nephews, etc. But God Most High steps in and protects Cain from Justice. I would hope that such an action would illuminate the issue of violence. Cain’s murder of Abel was violent. Is the demand for Justice violent? It is.
The confusion stems from language, as usual. The basic definition of the English word “violence” is:
the exercise or an instance of physical force, usually effecting or intended to effect injuries, destruction, etc
In Genesis 6, God Most High states that he is sending the flood because the earth was full of violence. Nearly all English translations use “violence”, and according to the Hebrew lexicons that is the primary translation. When scanning the use of that Hebrew word in other contexts it is reasonably consistent in its usage as indicating the use of force, although not always physical force. But it is not always associated with an illegal use of force. Like the English definition, it is simply the use of force toward a non-constructive or dismantling goal.
Hence the confusion. For most English speakers, the word violence has evolved to mean the use of force towards an illegal goal. When a person pins someone to the ground to take money, that is violent. What may be news to some people is that it is still violent if the person on top has been given sanction by other people to take action. It may be necessary, but it is still violent. I hope you see that I am referring to government enforcement of regional law.
So now that we see a proper definition of “violence”, we can see that when God said the earth was filled with violence, it does not necessarily mean violence of the robber sort. It could also mean violence of the “trying to kill Cain” sort.
Consider this: Clearly God has not ordained some specific rules in the Law of any and every country. If a country creates a rule that says a person must go not go to church, I would hope we could agree that God did not ordain that rule. When a person acts in defiance of that rule, the government will claim authority to commit violence on the person and property of the offender. In democracies, they, the government, will claim that their authority emanates from the people – you. When the common man hears of the violation of God’s Law against the purported offender, he can take action or passively accept it. There actually are numerous commandments related to this in the Law of Moses.
I hope that the previous interjection to explain violence helped. We are trying to understand the Kingdom of Heaven, the concepts are significantly different than you may have previously grasped. If you don’t find this understanding of violent men helpful, I encourage you to continue reading the rest of this essay without granting assent to this concept. It may make sense once more of the concepts fall into place. Or it may not.
We were talking about Jesus words about the Kingdom of Heaven being taken by violent men.
All men are violent. But the Kingdom of Heaven fully accepts all who call on Jesus even while they continue their violent ways. As the Matthew section says: the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence. The Kingdom of Heaven patiently endures the violent nature of man.
The people listening to Jesus are caught between the two apparent extremes: the moral purity of the Law in apparent contrast to the alternate focus of the Kingdom of Heaven, which, when measured by external moral measurement appears to have a shortfall. Mercy does not fulfill any law. In this Matthew 11 passage, Jesus illustrates the contrast between John the Elijah and Jesus. Jesus alludes to this juxtaposition in his observation about the inability for anything from God to please the Law-Bound (Pharisees). For illustration Jesus uses the analogy of the children in the marketplace. Neither approach broke through the concepts of the Pharisees.
Jesus says Wisdom is justified by her deeds: what deed was Jesus on the way to do? Save the world by dying for all sin. All the violent men have the requirements of the Law fulfilled by the self sacrifice of God Most High, the Holy, the Merciful.
Jesus started this section by saying that no-one born of women is greater than John the Baptist, yet the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he. John the Baptist focused people back on repentance and obedience – which was and is his role. Without that perspective, there can be no appreciation for the wisdom of God shown through Jesus. But once someone embraces the person and message of Jesus, they are greater than John the Baptist.
Matthew 12:26-37 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.
This is the “unforgivable sin” passage. Note that Jesus illustrates that it is the Kingdom of God that has come as shown by the Spirit of God working directly against the Kingdom of this world (the Kingdom of Knowledge). Jesus plunders the Kingdom of this world by binding the authority it has via the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, then taking those who believe out of that Kingdom of Knowledge. A person chooses which Kingdom to participate in by deciding who Jesus is and what he was here for. There is One God, Jesus and the Spirit are the same God. When one assigns the work of Jesus to Satan that person is clearly choosing to not believe in Jesus and his Kingdom of Heaven. This is what the Pharisees were doing in this passage.
So this gives the principle by which one is included or excluded: Slander against his Nature – he was empowered by God through the Spirit. If you call the spirit in Jesus anything other than God, you have missed it. Jesus restates this in verse 37 (“by your words…”). Then later Paul restates: confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord.
Also note the reference to the two trees, another tie of the two covenants and 2 kingdoms to the Garden of Eden. You must choose which Tree to eat from. Remember in the Garden they were allowed to eat from the Tree of Life, until they chose to eat from the other Tree, thereby choosing Satan’s Kingdom of Knowledge.
If you think about it, this is the entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven: Jesus is LORD (supreme in authority, none higher). In this passage, Jesus speaks directly against those who are seeking to please God through the keeping of the Law. This is further established by the context of this passage. Just prior to this, Jesus had scolded the Pharisees when the Pharisees condemned Jesus for allowing his disciples to break the Sabbath. (Look up and read that passage). Jesus points out that David broke the Law, and the Priests break the Law every Sabbath. That statement surely infuriated the Pharisees: Jesus was publicly discussing one of the “holes in the garment”, one of the difficulties in keeping the Law. Jesus makes the powerful statement that He is Greater than the Law. Understanding the Kingdom of Heaven, we can know that he meant the New Covenant is superior. Jesus reinforces this by observing that if they understood Mercy, they would not condemn the forgiven. One of the primary principles of the Kingdom of Heaven. Mercy Triumphs.
Also note the reference to bringing out words (thoughts, concepts) according to your treasure and align that with Jesus’ later statement to the disciples that a Scribe trained in the Kingdom of Heaven brings out old and new treasure. When you read that section recall these words.
Matt 13:10-17 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
Things of the Kingdom of Heaven are not known to those who have not recognized Jesus as in the last reference to Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew 12.
The parables can be open to those who understand the foundation of the Kingdom of Heaven presented by Jesus earlier:
– consider the John the Baptist lessons about the Kingdom of Heaven (new Covenant preparation) and the focal point of the identity of Jesus.
– also consider the foundation for parables, which is what Jesus is explaining in this passage, with the reference to Psalm 78 about to be given here.
To whom has it been given to know the Kingdom of Heaven? The disciples who followed Jesus based on simply responding to his call, choosing to believe.
To whom has it not been given to know the Kingdom of Heaven? To the Law-Bound (Pharisees), the best law keepers of all time, who focused their relationship to God based on the keeping of the Law, missing the context of Psalm 78, wherein God’s mercy is the focus.
When Jesus quotes Isaiah we can see the Kingdom of Heaven again:
The context for the quote is just after Isaiah, overcome with guilt, falls before the LORD. God simply touches him with a burning coal (symbolism) and his sin is gone. Mercy, complete and instant. Then God sends Isaiah to take this message to the people. If they just open their eyes and listen with heart understanding (not head) they would turn and be healed from their sin, Just like Isaiah. Just like the Kingdom of Heaven. Mercy. Complete.
Matt 13:18-23 “Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
The field represents various types of people with the way the principle of the Kingdom of Heaven takes hold in their lives. Recall into your concepts that Jesus has been focused on bringing the word of the Kingdom of Heaven everywhere.
Reviewing what we have learned about the Kingdom of Heaven so far, this appears to be addressing the ability of a person to grasp the Kingdom of Heaven and have it be effective in their life. It is not salvation, but rather, salvation is the doorway to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. So the field is those who have been born anew, and the ability to grasp the Kingdom of Heaven differs based on the ability to believe and live as if the Kingdom of Heaven was important in this mortal life. Those that understand the Kingdom of Heaven will certainly (indeed) bear fruit: in keeping with the allegory of this parable it is more seed, more packets of the truth of the Kingdom of Heaven to plant in other people’s hearts. A life embracing Love and Mercy will sow Love and Mercy. And it will yield a harvest of Love and Mercy in other people. It will.
In keeping with the parable technique of indirectly presenting concepts, it is important to note that in this parable the Sower is indiscriminately casting seed everywhere. To a modern urban reader this holds no meaning; to the hearers of Jesus physical voice, their concepts would classify the Sower as strange: casting valuable seed on the path and in the rocks, etc. Nonsense.
Matt 13:24-30 The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
This parable is partially clarified by Jesus a bit later in the book, although he does not explain how to understand the Kingdom of Heaven. He simply details the definitions of the components. The concept is left to form on its own, as it must. This forming of concepts in the core of an individual are what the parables do, for those who have ears to hear.
Keeping the prior references in mind, here is what Jesus says when he defines the characters in the parable: “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
Notes: the causes of sin are removed at the end of the age along with those that live by law. We know from the sermon on the mount that all break the law, in many ways. The righteous are the ones that that have turned to the Son of Man for their salvation, receiving forgiveness for all sins, which is the only path to righteousness. Paul addressed the “causes of sin” in Romans, at least in part.
The Pharisees were striving to Know God through keeping the Law, yet were breaking it as Jesus demonstrated through the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings. This is true for all people through the ages that strive to please God by demonstrating their righteousness, instead of relying on the righteousness of the sole righteous man made available through his Mercy.
“he who has ears to hear…” This phrase indicates that there is a deeper meaning than the easy reading that those who do not obey the law are the lawbreakers, the deeper meaning being the Gospel that the New Covenant is a different Covenant.
It is indicative of the nature of the New Covenant Church that the “tares” are not to be removed until the end. I see this as showing that the church is to function with Love accepting people as they are, showing the path to knowing God is through the Love and Forgiveness of the Cross. The tares look very much like the wheat, but can be observed when the grain develops. The servants refer to this by asking if they should go gather out the tares before the harvest. But the Master instructs them to leave them as He is not willing to risk any damage to any good plant. The mission to root out the bad will destroy the good. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Note that the story has the overall feel that events are not proceeding as they should in a perfect world governed by a perfect farmer – allowing an enemy into the field, allowing the bad plants to grow as well, not pulling the plants after they are discernible . It is probable that the tares are darnel, it can only be differentiated from wheat after it develops heads. The parable has the servants identifying the weeds after the grain develops. And the servants, with farm wisdom, anticipate that they need to go pull the darnel immediately. Skipping the pulling of the tares when discernible will make for a difficult harvest. The farmer takes a course that works against the concepts of the parable servants and the hearers of the parable.
Matt 13:31,32 “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
If we assume that Jesus is the man sowing the seed as the previous parable, then it appears that the Son of Man sows an unruly garden plant in his field, not his garden. It is not the right way to grow wheat. Birds can live there, birds being the enemy of a wheat field as they eat the grain.
The distinction could be the completely new nature of the New Covenant and the revelation that the tree growing there does not conform to the obvious rules about raising wheat.
In the hearer’s mind these parables interact with each other as they were heard in succession. So this parable, with the man sowing wildly across the path and in the rocks, then not worrying about the weeds in the field, now suddenly is sowing garden plants in the field. The image of a beautiful auburn grain field now twists with large, ungainly, green plants towering over the grain.
The hearers are now primed for the next parable.
Matt 13:33 The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened
The offering for “unintentional sin” was a bull accompanied by three measures of flour.
This important offering is the only hope for someone seeking to please God through the Law but being honest about their inability to live by the Covenant. This important offering would be present in the minds of the hearers, especially as John the Immerser (Baptist) has successfully prepared the way with people turning back to a pursuit of God.
But the parable has a twist: Leaven? That is a horrible thought in the context of a sacrifice. After building in the hearer’s mind the concept of wrong approaches to things with the preceding parables about the field, Jesus caps it with this one about not even getting the three measures correct.
The Kingdom of Heaven breaks from norms. It is Other, set apart. Existing concepts are strained to the point of pain, ready to be molded into something closer to the concepts God has.
Note that after Jesus gave the parables above he left the crowds and went in a house. That is when he explained the context of the Tares to the disciples.
So the next set of parables are given to the disciples. This is further alluded to by the question he asks them.
Matt 13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
Trading all the old for the new. The old has great value, but when the value of the new is recognized there is no hesitation in trading.
Matt 13:45-46 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Trading all the old for the new. Restated in a way that reinforces that the old had its own value – “Fine pearls”. Begs the question “What old? What new?”
Matt 13:47-50 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Tying this statement to the preceding two (Please notice that the statements are tied to each other with the preface “Again”) the connection is made of two distinct sets of objects, one to keep, one destined to be discarded, both having value. Jesus carefully shows the discarding is at the End of the Age. This relates back to the Tares that will follow their chosen destiny of weeping and gnashing at the End of the Age. Two distinct sets, that relate to the 2 preceding statements. The 2 preceding statements set up a concept of 2 objects, new and old, both valuable, the new much more valuable than the old. This statement loads the 2 with further details: the new is to be kept, the old will be discarded at the end of the age. The new are righteous, keeping in context with the Sermon on the Mount this would be no-one unless there exists some other way to be righteous other than sinlessness.
Jesus pushes the Kingdom of Heaven concept forward.
But the parable is not yet complete:
Matt 13:51 “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.”
I do not believe them. Apparently, neither did Jesus:
Matt 13:52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
“Therefore”: the preceding statements, including the question to the disciples, lead to the following statement about the Scribe with New and Old treasure.
Jesus gives the disciples and us a goal. Understand the new and old from the 3 statements (treasure in the field, pearl of ultimate worth, keeper fish), then apply both the new and the old correctly as treasure. The “Scribe trained in the Kingdom of Heaven” is key (of course). A Scribe was expert in the Law at the time of Jesus. This Scribe that understands the Kingdom of Heaven can bring out the New treasure (the Kingdom of Heaven) and also the Old treasure (the Kingdom of Knowledge with the Law) and properly use both treasures. This special Scribe does understand the parables and knows that the Old must be exchanged for the New and, at the End of the Age, the Old will result in Weeping and Gnashing for those that have not made the exchange.
If that does not “make sense”, back up and reread. When, in English, we say that something “does not make sense” we are communicating that we cannot integrate a concept being transmitted (spoken, read, watched, experienced) with the concepts that we already have in our complex field of concepts that is our person. Invariably, we reject concepts that do not match when they are presented bluntly. Hence Jesus spoke in parables, forcing those who have ears to hear to struggle with what he is saying, until they reconstruct the concepts in their field of concepts in such a way that the Truth Jesus is presenting has a place to exist. So if these things do not “make sense”, back up and reread Jesus words. Go on and read more of Jesus words. Follow the Spirit as Jesus made paramount in Chapter 12.
After this Jesus left that location. He went to his home town where the people could not reconcile the appeal of his wisdom with the concepts they had in their respective persons. Misidentifying the nature of Jesus.
Herod says the Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead. Misidentifying the nature of Jesus.
When Jesus hears this he left that region. I take it to mean that he heard what Herod said about Jesus’ identity, since the context makes it likely that the execution of John the Baptist was prior and well known.
Jesus goes to a desolate region. Has compassion on the crowds, heals them and feeds them.
Jesus walks on the water. The disciples worship him saying “Truly you are the Son of God”. This statement by the disciples contributes to why I don’t think they understood the parables. If they did, they would have had that reaction then, instead of after he walks on water. Only the Son of God could have the authority to observe the things he was about the Kingdom of Heaven. Any of the demon “gods” (Psalm 82) could walk on water. While the disciples have identified him correctly (as opposed to the Pharisees, Herod, and the home town people), the basis for the disciples identification is not strong.
The Pharisees again ask him for a sign (they asked him earlier also). This is also interesting as the disciples just correctly identified him after seeing a sign. Replying to the Pharisees, Jesus references the Sign of Jonah, as he did the previous time they asked for a sign. Again, this is not an isolated reference, but a context reference. It is not just about the 3 days, but is about the larger context of Jonah. Jesus made this clear in the earlier reference, where he identified the 3 days, but added that the people of Nineveh would rise up to scold those standing before Jesus looking for a sign (when they have seen numerous signs). Why would they scold the sign seekers? The context of Jonah makes it clear that God is merciful and loving above all else. There is a rich understanding available from an in depth look at Jonah, but we will stay focused here.
These passages are important for this study of references to the Kingdom of Heaven because these are the context leading up to the next reference Jesus makes to the Kingdom of Heaven.
After this exchange with the Pharisees, Jesus and the disciples depart that location. Jesus tells the disciples to be wary of the “leaven of the Pharisees and Herod”. They are confused as their current circumstances are focused on the lack of bread. Jesus reminds them that he just fed thousands of people with a few loaves (don’t worry about bread), then tells them again to avoid being like the Pharisees.
They travel further. Then he asks about who they think he is, illustrating the leaven:
Matthew 16:15-19 “But you,” He asked them, “who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God! ”. And Jesus responded, “Simon son of Jonah, you are blessed because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven.”
As Jesus has been showing, the entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven is through recognition of the mission/identity of Jesus (remember the “unforgivable sin”). Further illustrating what is meant by avoiding the leaven of the Pharisees.
The Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. This passage gets a lot of attention as in many translations it says that Peter gets to be in control of the fate of the world (as interpreted by some sects). This is a good opportunity to briefly discuss translations. The reader may notice here that I choose a different translation to copy into the essay for this passage. It is another long journey to begin to understand the issues with translations. It leads to very divisive issues, as one sect of belief relies on a set of translations while another relies on a different set. As with many other important steps in the journey of faith, there are many issues to ponder and resolve with these issues. There are many academic issues that surround this topic including the mechanics of language in general, the mechanics of written language, the history of the church, the history of the translations with the chains of translations, the existence of original documents. All these factors are important in the journey to understand translations, but they are overshadowed by the difficult but vital subject of the human inability to think outside of concepts already formed.
Verse 19 (the last sentence in the translation copied in above) is one of many excellent illustrations of the difficulty with translations. The reader here would do well to examine this verse in as many different translations as possible. One translation that helps illuminate the differences is Young’s Literal Translation. I am not recommending that anyone relies on Young’s Literal Translation. Like all translations, it is an attempt to translate , or form English sentences that convey the concept he derives from the text from whichever existing Greek or Latin document set Mr Young decided to use based on his decisions subject to his understanding of the history of the documents and those documents relationship to the original text written by Matthew (which was probably in Hebrew, at least according to my beliefs based on my research of other people’s scholarship). This subject is threatening to many people as it seems to stray into doubt about the “Word of God”. But it only seems to stray into that abyss for those whose concepts about scripture are not quite defensible. God spent a lot of time training and inspiring Matthew to write his gospel. One must choose to decide what level of protection God implemented after Matthew finished writing to ensure the message was available for future people. Some groups insist that they are the only group that has been authorized by God so their translation is correct. But a cursory examination of history militates against holding that belief. Rather than write a lengthy examination of these issues, I will jump to my assumptions:
God is smart and knew that people would not be able to communicate effectively due to their individually varied concepts and universal inherent language difficulties. So he restated his primary message in many different ways, in many different contexts. But the message is consistent. With the extreme amount of redundancy in the communication of the message, we are able to understand even when we come across a verse like this. The (apparently) original language makes the translation of this verse difficult because the original language is unclear as to the dependency between the actions of the church and the actions of heaven. But since it is unclear, we can safely understand it based on our already gained understanding of various factors: the dominant factor being the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus is seeking to establish, leading up to this statement. Remember that the context here is avoiding the “leaven of the Pharisees”, the group who he just referred to Jonah where God allows an empire full of every vile and violent practice to simply to turn to Him (God) and be saved.
Given that last point above, it seems clear to me that the correct reading of our Kingdom of Heaven passage here is that the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven set free those whom heaven has already set free and bind up those whom heaven has already bound.
Whom has heaven set free? From before the beginning of history God has planned (predestined) that Jesus would set all free by fulfilling the requirements of sin and death, bringing forgiveness for all sin.
Whom has been bound? Satan and his domain. Their ability to require judgment and justice on mankind has been bound. They can, and will, continue to call for it, citing the Justice of Good and Evil, but their efforts are fruitless on those who understand the Kingdom of Heaven. Those efforts are fruitless in the Kingdom of Heaven, the eternal realm. Those efforts are the destruction of many in this mortal realm.
In this statement in Matthew, Jesus establishes HIS church, based on HIS identity, and assigns the mission.
To illustrate using a hypothetical story:
I discover that a man living in the slums of Nairobi has inherited a bank account with a vast fortune in it. I now know the man is wealthy, the man does not. It will be difficult to convey that fact to him, because that region is famous for financial scams, so my message will be mixed in the concept of scam in his mind. My mission is to go and find him, then try to convince him that I am not trying to scam him. Until he believes it and lives based on his belief, he does not effectively have money. He is still imprisoned in a life of poverty. I must go and free him who is already free. The keys that set him free are the message that I carry.
This is the mission of the church. To carry the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven setting people free and preventing the Kingdom of Knowledge of continuing to imprison.
In a similar way, Jesus restates this mission immediately in his first appearance to the disciples following his Forgiveness of All Sin on the cross, and his demonstration of the Inheritance of LIFE with the Resurrection.
The Kingdom of Heaven message.
From then on Jesus began to point out to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, “Oh no, Lord! This will never happen to You! ” But He turned and told Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns, but man’s.” Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it. What will it benefit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will reward each according to what he has done. I assure you: There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
This passage pushes the understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven further, or it works against the understanding previously formed. One way of reading it leads to opposite conclusions. Because I believe the scriptures are inspired to present the message, flowing from the mind of the Creator, it is important to prioritize the concepts formed by the previous teachings. As has always been the case, the pursuit of the truth leads to a more coherent set of concepts.
Peter speaks out of his love for Jesus filtered through the concepts he has in his mind. Let us compare his goal with commonly held beliefs of today:
– the death of Jesus was unjust, the killing of an innocent person. Worse, it was God himself that was killed. Therefore, all those involved in perpetrating it are irredeemably evil.
– the gospels recount a bitter story of Jesus struggling against the powers that would eventually succeed in killing him.
Using a mindset, or set of concepts, like those listed above, we can see the reasonable nature of Peter’s plea. Yet Jesus calls him Satan. Later Jesus says one of the twelve is a devil. Here he says Peter is the king of all devils. The modern western mind seeks to define all things in absolutes, even the pet concept of relativism is usually stated as an absolute. So we want to identify Peter as saved or not at this moment in time. Like Judas, how can a man sinning against the Lord of Hosts be accepted into the Kingdom of Heaven? Peter is doing Satan’s work, pleading the case for Good vs Evil.
So Jesus kicks him out of the twelve.
No, he uses the pleadings of Satan to once again reinforce the Kingdom of Heaven message.
Of utmost importance is the Kingdom of Heaven message, delivered by Jesus multiple times leading up to this. Peter’s goal, saving his Lord from an evil death at the hands of evil men, is not in alignment with the Kingdom of Heaven. Peter has not come into a state of being committed to the Unforgivable Sin. But he is still conducting his thought processes in alignment with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, evaluating outcomes based on the examination of the Right or Wrong of the situation. Jesus, the Lord (supreme in authority) has told Peter that he, Jesus, is to die and be resurrected. Jesus told them that the sign of Jonah (Peter’s name heritage as Jesus pointed out just prior), with Mercy triumphing over Judgment, is the sign to all. Nineveh, part of Assyria, had destroyed many, including the Northern Kingdom [not that Assyria were unique in their actions, any study of ancient or modern history shows all men are violent]. Jesus said “the Kingdom of Heaven is like …” gently pushing their concepts towards an alignment with the Kingdom of Heaven, a vision of a beautiful wheat field with an ugly mustard plant in the middle of it. Jesus time is short, as he has stated. He longs for these, the twelve, to grasp the Kingdom of Heaven, before he blasts open the floodgate and floods the enemy’s perfect prison with the water of life.
Of the twelve disciples, Peter’s actions are the most recorded in this unique book. Judas’ actions are also specifically recorded. Both are called devils. If your mind immediately screams that Judas earned his title through his vile actions, then you agree with Peter here in this passage.
Jesus does not cast Satan out of Peter, or cast Peter out of the Twelve for working for Satan. Instead he chastises him for not thinking with his Kingdom of Heaven concepts. Peter is not excluded, he just has not yet begun to see the Kingdom of Heaven. This simple truth is great news for most believers.
Jesus immediately goes on to say some sayings that have been favorites of those seeking to please God through their own excellent actions and excellent avoidance of other actions. But in order to support such beliefs, the reader must change the definition of words halfway through.
Here is this section of these next words of Jesus, copied in again to ensure the passage is in our minds: If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it. What will it benefit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life?
A common understanding of this is that word life changes meaning a few times during the statement. Something like this:
For whoever wants to save his eternal life must lose his mortal life, but whoever loses his mortal life because of me will find his eternal life. What will it benefit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his eternal life? Or what will a man give in exchange for his eternal life?
This reading seems to align with the previous thought that each man must “take up his cross and follow me”.
This understanding certainly appeals to our sense of the need to escape from our endless trap of wrongdoing, by denying all worldly pleasures (or at least certain sets of them). This has inspired many generations of people seeking to please God through denial of pleasures. Studying these people through history is quite remarkable. Years ago, I had come across an ancient book written by one of the early church “fathers” Athanasius. The book is “Life of Antony”, at least in the translation I was reading. Antony was greatly admired by Athanasius because of his extreme ascetic lifestyle, a life of denying pleasures in pursuit of pleasing God through the denial. Athanasius himself was considered an ascetic and has distinction in history through participating in the first Council at Nicea (which made many decisions that can inform us with our ears to hear). Athanasius is also known for his contributions to the apologetics for the doctrine of the Trinity that has dominated church history. For those that are aware of the translation issues related to the source documents, he was a leader of the church in Egypt and Ethiopia based in Alexandria. This church “father” valued the denial of self, all aspects, even to the extent of near starvation, as of utmost importance in the quest to achieve eternal life.
This is just an example of the great appeal that the “pleasing God through denial” belief has held through the ages. There is a continuous history of such things.
Are such things Good? Using my grasp of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, my personal opinion is that these are Good, very Good. (not that I choose to give weight to my opinions based on that Kingdom). But reading the Life of Antony makes it clear that he did not escape anything. Did he achieve his goal of pleasing God? We can wait until we pass to the next stage of life and see if the question still needs an answer. Not that the presence of Antony in the next stage of life establishes whether his ascetic lifestyle pleases God – his presence there is established by his stated belief in Jesus. God stated he was pleased with various people in scripture, such as David, who did not deny himself at a level like Antony. When we get to the next stage of life we will see if God is somehow more pleased with Antony.
There is another parallel to observe in the Life of Antony, the ultimate example of the classical understanding of “taking up your cross”. After many years living in a desert cave, constantly battling lust (per his own detailed account), he is tired of life (imagine that) and decides to go to a city where they are persecuting people. He is stated as hoping that he will be killed. So he goes there and preaches in the streets. Instead of being killed, the city repents en mass. He returns to his desert cave, disappointed that he was not killed. Sound familiar? Very similar to Jonah on those key points. Jonah was not participating with God in his Mercy. Antony set out to get someone else to kill him (killing yourself brings serious questions as to the relationship between confession, repentance and forgiveness). Then God, in his great Mercy, spreads the seed of his Kingdom of Heaven through the less than honorable intentions of Antony.
I shared all that about Athanasius and Antony as it serves as a good illustration of the dominant reading of this passage.
Was Jesus telling Peter to quit being like Satan, opposing Jesus’ death, then immediately saying that Peter needed to suffer to obtain life? To think that Jesus is saying that you have to carry another cross, that somehow you must suffer like him to gain forgiveness and life, is contrary to all that Jesus brings with the Kingdom of Heaven. Was his Cross insufficient?
There is another way to read these important statements of Jesus.
Peter, speaking out of his concepts and love for Jesus, contradicts Jesus’ statements that he will be killed.
Jesus points out that Peter is representing the Kingdom of Knowledge, resisting Evil with the triumph of Good.
Jesus continues speaking to point out that all must embrace their part in the Cross, on which all sin would be forgiven, in violation of any human understanding of justice. When, in our understanding of Justice, is someone allowed to pay for another person’s crime? Think of one of the mass-murders. Then imagine a human “Justice System” allowing someone else to be put to death for the crimes. No-one conceives of that as Justice. It is not allowed as it is not Justice in the Kingdom of Knowledge. But in the Kingdom of Heaven, this plan of God, predestined since before the beginning, is allowed because it is Mercy. In fact, it is far more than “allowed”; it is foundational. We must pick up this cross and follow him. We must, finally, admit that our only hope is that all of our sin was on that Cross. We must become followers of Jesus, finally admitting that He is the only one that can carry our sin.
We immediately associate Jesus statement of the cross (or stake) to his death. It should be observed that the disciples would not make the association immediately. A short time later the association to his death would be overwhelmingly clear. But the concept of the cross (or stake) for horrible punishment was well known every where the government of Rome went. There exists much controversy about the cross vs stake issue. It is a controversy that has no fruit to bear. Jesus died for the sins of the world on it. The exact shape is not recorded because it is not important. After research, I am comfortable using the word “cross” but if you are not, please use whatever word brings into your concepts the death of Jesus for the sins of the world.
The form of death that took place on the cross was a very old method, used throughout the Greek and Roman world. It was used as penal justice (penalty), but reserved for those deemed guilty of the most despised offenses and the most despised (hated) people. Sometimes the convicted was required to carry his own cross to the place of execution. This fact would be well known to his listeners and would be the concept they would use to ponder the words of Jesus. Something like “if you want to follow me, assume you are a despised convicted person.” It is with this self-concept that the cross of Jesus the Christ has vast meaning. He was going to die for your sins.
Which is the concept that Jesus is preparing in the disciples mind.
The concept of the Cross as representing suffering is very dear to many for various reasons, some of which I also consider valid and important. The suffering of Jesus validates our suffering (read Psalm 22, which Jesus directed us to while in extreme agony). Will there be suffering? To which I answer: in this stage of life there is suffering on every path. The person choosing to follow Jesus will have concepts that lead them to believe that Jesus is going to do things for them, similar to Peter. When those things are not fulfilled, a Jesus follower will find their concepts challenged at the most fundamental level, an experience that brings tremendous internal suffering in addition to all the other suffering. We can see this passage helps us realize that following Jesus requires that we place our belief in the Kingdom of Heaven above all other things, not to gain salvation, but to gain ears to hear.
But I believe the primary message of the Cross is Mercy.
Shortly after telling the disciples that they must take up their cross and follow him, Jesus took up his cross and carried it to his death for the sins of the world. His disciples ran for their lives. If they continued to hold this passage as defining yet another required test to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, their failure is overwhelming. Which would bring them, once again, to seek mercy. Which IS the meaning of “take up your cross”, accept the true assessment of yourself and seek mercy.
The primary message of the Cross is Mercy.
Jesus further illustrates this by pointing out that the man that seeks to keep his life will lose it, referring to life without limit, all of life, stretching out to eternity. Similar to his parables about the fields and the leaven, the Kingdom of Heaven is other, different, an apparently wrong approach. Based on his extensive illustration of this principle in the Sermon on the Mount, attempting to keep your life through your obedience will surely result in failure to achieve that primary goal.
Then Jesus says that whoever loses his life for Jesus will gain it. Picking up that cross, HIS CROSS, the instrument through which all the sins of the world were forgiven, requires that you forego the reliance on yourself to save your life. You must let it go. High risk, ceasing to strive to save your life.
To illustrate: a man studies carefully his whole life, focused on correctly understanding the requirements God has laid out. Clearly mortal life will end, and he has wisely spent much effort seeking to understand and obey rules from God, as pleasing God clearly is the only hope for acceptance by God after mortal death. Then a man shows up and says he must let go of all those rules, the very rules that provide the only hope for eternal life. He must trust mercy, not obedience. Like jumping off a cliff in the dark, he must decide that his claim to life, based on his obedience, must be abandoned.
As the man who surrenders control of his domain has lost his domain, you must lose your life. You must only trust Mercy.
Further building the concept, Jesus asks: What does it profit a man to gain everything yet lose his life? This statement is a direct tie to the Sermon on the Mount: you can gain so much and be the best that has ever been and you will not gain that ultimate goal. It is not enough.
What will a man give in exchange for his eternal life? What do you have or what could you ever have or what could you ever accomplish that you can give to purchase life? God spent a lot of time teaching throughout history that humans have nothing with which to purchase eternal life. Jesus has spent a lot of teaching time to make sure that concept is reinforced. You have nothing with which you can buy eternal life. The only Holy One is offering a gift far beyond price. You can hold out your filthy rags to try to save a little pride for yourself, but he is not interested in the trade. He continues to hold out the gift without taking your offered pitiful payment.
Jesus says he is going to come with the Angels. This is a clear future reference clarified with the reference to Angels (helping tie to the harvest and the sorting of fish). He (Jesus) will give each according to what they have done. For those that believe he is talking about paying back for sins (justice, Kingdom of Knowledge style), there are severe logic problems. He will pay EACH MAN. If you count yourself forgiven, how does that fit with being rewarded according to what you have done with obedience to all the commandments? It doesn’t. But if we take the Unforgivable Sin concept and remember our concepts of John the Baptist, Jonah, and other teachings of Jesus, we can see that he could be simply stating, again, that entrance to the fullness of the Kingdom of Heaven at the end of this age, is based on our choice to believe him. What have you done with the question of the identity of Jesus? You will be rewarded according to what you have done. Jesus expects his disciples to remember what path to the Kingdom of Heaven they are walking.
Then Jesus says that some standing there will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom. This passage can be confusing because all those standing there died – their mortal lives ended and they progressed into the next stage of life, yet Jesus has not come back with the Angels to sort the wheat and tares.
It is possible that the “Son of Man coming” phrase is a continued discussion of the “going to come with the Angels” phrase that he just said. And it could be that the phrase “will not taste death until” means their mortal life will end after they see the Son of Man coming. Using that understanding, the only explanation I see that recognizes that Jesus is a true prophet is that some of those standing there did not die, but were transported to heaven like Enoch and Elijah.
But understanding those phrases in that way is not necessary. The phrase “will not taste death until” uses one of those multi-use words where translation requires making a choice which definition to use based on the context as understood through the translator’s concepts. Some translations say “will not taste death before” which renders it possible to understand that they won’t die before and does not speak to their status after. And the “Son of Man coming” could be intentionally separated from the “going to come with Angels” phrase. The sense of the latter is more tied to the final harvest since the angels are involved and the Glory of the Father is integral to the event. When Jesus spoke these words, it was during the period when he was spreading the Good News that the Kingdom of Heaven was coming. If they understood the Kingdom of Heaven they could see it coming with Jesus right then.It could be that he was referring to the fact that some would believe enough to lift their spiritual eyes off of their perpetual self-examination and see Jesus who IS COMING. It could be that he is still using life and death in the same sense as before, that some there would NOT die but be part of his Kingdom of Heaven. I am not sure, but this proposed meaning leads to a consistent reading of the passage without changing the definition of words during the passage. And again brings the focus back to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Why would he say these things in indirect ways? Parables have kept the message intact through centuries, even eons, of attempts by the Kingdom of Knowledge to dilute the message.
[footnote: On the subject of the phrase “pick up his cross”: I am not a Greek scholar, but I do note that the Greek word that is translated to the English word “his” as in the phrase “pick up his cross” can be translated as “same” or “this”. A review of Greek lexicons shows that the pronoun in focus here is multi-use (it is not as precise as the English word “his”) and the context dictates the relationship to which noun. All English translations chose to use “his” I assume because the prior subject referenced is the man choosing to follow Jesus. However, if the writer of the original Gospel was intending to convey that Jesus was referring to the cross that is the subject of this whole passage, it does not seem unreasonable that the writer would still use the same word as it also can mean “this”. Further support for this can be gleaned from Thayer’s Lexicon which states that the New Testament writers made excessive use of this pronoun, requiring reliance on the context for understanding. Excessive use of pronouns can obscure meaning as the subject referenced is easily misunderstood.
It should be mentioned that Luke has a similar passage. In that passage Luke chose to use a pronoun that is more limited in scope, rendering the reading of Luke’s passage to be clear that it is the follower “himself” that either carries the cross or owns the cross. This begs the question of precedence of the Gospels, at which point one should read Luke’s preface to his Gospel narrative. And the context of Luke’s account of this saying of Jesus also includes Jesus saying a follower must hate various people, which Jesus clearly says elsewhere that one must Love (although there are alternate possibilities for translating the word “hate”). I believe Luke is accurate (in his original writing), so the responsibility is ours to understand, and key to our understanding is determining when Jesus is speaking in parable, when he is preparing the hearers concepts and when he is speaking direct statements. I believe that the Luke passage deserves careful and astute attention, but it is outside the scope of this document.
However, whether it is “his cross” or “this cross”, respectively meaning “my share in the cross of Jesus” or “this cross of Jesus “, I believe the meaning cannot be that each person has to suffer and die to gain life. Jesus suffered, died and rose again to give life.]
Now the Gospel of Matthew records another change of physical context.
This next section – Matthew 17 – does not mention the Kingdom of Heaven. As should be clear, everything that Jesus did and said is directly related to the Kingdom of Heaven, as he is the Kingdom of Heaven – in various ways.
As with the other passages that this document does not attempt to address, these passages are very important. The concepts presented to us by these sections of scripture can reinforce the concepts we have chosen to build through our “ears to hear”, or these passages can appear to work against the concepts. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
In Matthew 17, Jesus goes to a “high mountain” and meets with Moses and Elijah. The disciples that are with him are confused by the event and also confused by Jesus’ response about Elijah. They show again their failure to understand the Kingdom of Heaven, remaining dedicated to their understanding of the teachings of the Pharisees in various ways, including belief that the physical Elijah would precede the Christ, helping establish the physical Kingdom of David. Jesus appears frustrated with them as they are not grasping the Kingdom of Heaven and he knows his plan is progressing as predestined. Time is short. He can make the events progress one way or another, but he cannot force the disciples to form Kingdom of Heaven concepts. Hence his frustration.
[Verse 21 is another clue to understanding translation issues that affect your Bible. Verse 21 is non-existent in earlier manuscripts. Paralleled by Mark not having the word “fasting” in the similar passage. Good subject to ponder, in the light of the Bible’s assessment of human nature. Does not directly relate to our study of the Kingdom of Heaven, except that the inclusion of that verse appears to make fasting a power token in the Kingdom of Heaven. Which works against the Kingdom of Heaven concepts Jesus has expounded thus far.]
This passage also includes an insight about the paying of a specific traditions based temple tax. Subject for a different study.
Between Matthew 17 & 18 there is no directly specified break in context.
In Matthew 18 Jesus says some things that are often used to heap judgment and condemnation on ourselves or others. I will review the passage first in the manner it is often applied.
Although not complete, we will just review the segment of Jesus’ words as divided by many people, including publishers with their inserted, non-inspired, section headings. After reviewing, we will properly include the whole section.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
For many people, this section is talking about 2 different subjects. The first is that you must be super-humble if you want to be superior to others in heaven. Which hopefully doesn’t make sense to you… but it certainly does to many people. Although, they would prefer the concept stated in different terms.
Again speaking from a perspective I understand but do not perceive as truth, the second part is where judgment and damnation are very evident if the concepts in your mind and heart remain rooted in the Old Covenant.
To many, this passage says that if you cause a child to commit sin, you have done something so utterly wicked that you cannot be forgiven. This deed or deeds are understood to be best explained as another unforgivable sin. You cannot “enter life” while having done this/these deeds, so it is better to get someone else to end your mortal life before you get to the point of committing these deeds. An early execution by drowning is your only hope. Jesus expands the concept to include anything that causes you to sin. Before you stumble too many times, gouge out that eye and cut off your hand or foot. Otherwise you will go to hell.
Such a statement has tremendous appeal to the concepts of Law that live within each of us. But, there are many problems with this if we take it as New Covenant rules that govern the membership in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Let us examine the statements. When Jesus brought the little child in as a lesson, what age? The definition of child varies with society. In the quest for Law, definition is of utmost importance.
Also, what sin must the child stumble into that basically causes the older person to forfeit their eternal life? If it is all or any, then who has not done this? Consider other New Testament wisdom “Fathers do not provoke your children to anger”. What parent has not caused their children to become angry? Certainly, a case is built for nearly universal judgment. Motivated by the enormous specter of universal condemnation contained in this statement, many then seize the opportunity to interpret this passage to be discussing a specific category of sin. My preference is to assume here that the reader has gathered their concepts into focus and does not need to be led into examining the fallacy of such an interpretation. But I know that the concepts Jesus has been teaching to this point are so difficult to maintain. This passage shows that the disciples still had not quite grasped it. So it is very appealing to attempt to interpret this passage as just referring to a certain set of sin, clearly whatever set is assignable to other people is preferred. Making this passage just about a certain set of sin is the only possibility of escaping eternal judgment through one’s own righteousness, or lack of sin.
The universal judgment that this section presents has a very broad application, for example: at what age does a person shift from the “completely protected by God” category to the “earn your own salvation” category? Does the child who lures another child into disobeying mother also fall into the damned category? Or does this only apply if the first child is several years closer to the damnation cutoff age? If you think I am using hyperbole, I assure you I am not. We are not talking dry philosophy here – this subject has to do with a child’s eternal relationship with God Most High. If you can’t define the rules correctly, you and every other child have no chance at all. And once you define the rules, it appears that you have no chance at all.
Of course, that is the point.
As Paul said, there is a better way.
Here is the full passage, all of Jesus words he spoke in this context. It is the entire 18th chapter, so it is a long quote, but it is one set of statements. We will step through it after reading in context.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell. See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish. If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
So remember that just prior to this some of the disciples had been with Jesus and saw Moses and Elijah with Jesus. Surely that context is important here. Also recall that Jesus had already made statements about being “least” in the Kingdom of Heaven:
– whoever teaches against the Law is the least in the Kingdom of Heaven.
– whoever is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than John the Baptist.
Also, remember the context of the previous sections where Jesus appears to be frustrated with the disciples because Jesus’ time is short and they, the disciples, are not understanding the primary message.
Here in Matthew 18 the disciples were discussing who was greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus pulls a little child in as a model. Little children are precious. Why? They bite, hit, steal, demand everything for themselves, won’t wash unless forced, defecate wherever they happen to be when the urge hits. But they are precious, truly. Why? Because we love them. And, when their mood is right, they love us older people. One nearly universal trait of a normal child is they implicitly trust that their parent(s) will care for them. They can scream at mother and then fully expect that mother will clean the defecation off their body, satisfy their hunger and give them love.
Jesus said “Whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven”. The only time he said who is greatest. Please ponder that in context with Jesus’ statements identifying who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Then he focuses that characteristic on those who follow him. “Whoever welcomes one such child welcomes me”. He could be referring to the nameless little child standing there, but grammatically it appears that one such child refers to the person taking the position of the child in the previous sentence. In other passages, he identifies that whoever welcomes his people welcomes him.
Then Jesus illustrates the folly of seeking to be greatest. You might decide he is talking about the little child standing there with them. Or you might decide he is talking about all of those who look to him. Either way, the next few sentences seal the fate of anyone seeking to be great by their own ability to be perfect. Jesus here is restating the message he started his ministry with at the Sermon on the Mount. If you are going to earn your way to knowing God, the price is impossibly high. As stated above, anyone who causes anyone to sin would be better off to figure out a way to force someone else to kill them (millstone) before they have done wrong. You can’t preemptively kill yourself, as that would be causing yourself to sin which then means that at the time of your death the game is over, you lost and you are lost. “Who is the greatest?”, the disciple’s question, shows a fundamental misalignment of Kingdom of Heaven concepts. There is no hope while earning status.
Without a break, Jesus continues on into further enlightenment. He moves to a parable to illustrate the situation from his Kingdom of Heaven perspective. He says to not despise these little ones, their angels have direct access to the Father. And he gives the illustration, parable, about the lost sheep. Here it is clear to me that he is consistently referring to all of his followers and not only the little children like the one standing there. And the lost sheep further illustrates the Kingdom of Heaven concept that the Shepherd is highly concerned on bringing back the one who has left. He is filled with joy at recovering the lost; his joy is tremendous at saving the lost little one who has stumbled in any possible way. What does it mean to be saved from being lost. Once again, we can go to Jesus words about the one sin that is not forgiven. The act of causing someone else to sin is not the Unforgivable Sin. The Unforgivable Sin is failing to accept that Jesus is the Son of God filled with the authority and identity of God Most High. The Shepherd rejoices when the lost one changes from the basic life belief to believing Jesus : repentence.
Without a pause, Jesus continues on to reconcile what to do about those who sin against others. He is still training in the Kingdom of Heaven related to the foundational misconception the disciples exhibited with their quest to understand how to rank people in the Kingdom of Heaven. Now Jesus states that the beautiful principle of Deuteronomy 19 applies to dealing with offense, crimes, against each other. Those that do wrong against each other, which he made clear is everyone in the “millstone” section, may need to be addressed. Forgiveness, the banner flying beside the banner of Love over Jesus’ church, means nothing unless the offenses are real. I am not saying we must look for offense to validate forgiveness. I am saying that offense always exists, and the reality of forgiveness is the only hope for life. But at times people refuse to recognize their own offenses, which then threatens the foundation of Love and Forgiveness. Jesus says to address such a person, only pursuing the identification of offense where there are two or three witnesses. This very important phrase is the key to understanding this concept changing passage from the Law. This is a time for the Scribe trained in the Kingdom of Heaven to bring out old and new treasure. An intense study of this passage in Deut 19 (and related) will yield excellent understanding, but I will only summarize here. The Deut 19 passages makes abundantly clear that the goal of the justice system was to ensure that an innocent person is never convicted, even if it meant letting most guilty go free. That is a piece of treasure from the Old. Now, here in Matt 18, Jesus is mixing that Old treasure with the New. Don’t even entertain the matter of stumbling offenses without extreme prejudice towards innocence. But when they are real and the person causing the stumbling is not willing to take ownership and change his belief system about the offenses, take it to the church for adjudication. If the offender remains sure that their absolutely proven offenses are good behavior, treat them as a “pagan or a tax collector”. Sarcasm: Jesus meant to kill them or throw them in prison for the rest of their life. NO. He said what he meant. Treat them like they are Matthew, the writer of this Gospel, a Tax Collector until he repented of unbelief and believed in Jesus. Treat them like they are the people that Jesus feasted with, earning the disgust of the “good” people of his day.
The Kingdom of Heaven is Forgiveness and Love.
Without a pause, Jesus states again about binding and loosing. Just as we covered several pages ago. Here he states it again because it reinforces the point he just made. You join with the Kingdom of Heaven when you loose those who are bound by the Kingdom of Knowledge. Stephan in Acts is beautiful example of this principle. Stephen, full of Grace and Power, is stoned to death. While experiencing the hatred and pain of stoning, he cries out “Father, forgive them!”. Sarcasm: so God obeyed Stephen and forgave them. More Sarcasm: God ignored the words of Jesus on the Cross and the request of Stephen and did not forgive them because they had not yet repented. Many of them died without repenting, so God did not obey Stephen. NO. All sin was forgiven at the Cross. Stephan’s words are not a command for God to take action. Stephen’s words served to aligned Stephen with the already existing reality of the Kingdom of Heaven, and like Jesus, Stephen died proclaiming the foundation of the Kingdom of Heaven. His words of loosing have loosed people for 2000 years.
What is loosed on earth is loosed in Heaven. [see section note about v18 if you are confused by your favorite translation]
In case you didn’t get that yet, Jesus will go right on to try to push the concept through. If you don’t get it yet, you are in good company. Realizing that Jesus is talking about Forgiveness again, and struggling with the difficulty that forgiveness presents to his own self, Peter asks how many times he must forgive the same person.
Jesus responds with another parable (the Unmerciful Servant) that answers his question very directly, but sets the context for understanding. Once we grasp the tremendous gift that we have been given, once we deeply and completely understand our inability to offer anything to buy our own life, we will begin to see the fountain of life flowing out of ourselves. We will find ourselves crying over the pain of life we see in those around us, not wanting anyone to be cast out because of what they have done against us or against anyone else. If we do not sense this new life growing in us, then we are still operating in the Kingdom of Knowledge, in the Kingdom where the Beautiful Lady of Justice destroys with the sword, in the Kingdom where we too will be destroyed by that same sword.
Jesus summarizes his answer to the disciples Glory Quest by saying that if you live a life rejecting forgiveness, you have not yet been born again, and your future still includes judgment by the Sword of Justice, the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The disciples’ question showed a basic misconception of the Kingdom of Heaven, an expectation of rank by earned status, status earned by performance, performance measured by achievement, achievement defined by the rules. Jesus has been consistently portraying the Kingdom of Heaven as populated by those who have failed to achieve, yet turn to God Most High expecting Mercy. In Matthew18, Jesus again states his message.
Only believe him.
Remember that the Unforgivable Sin is not the sin of failing to forgive. If you are capable of seeing that unforgiveness is a sin, then pursue the course of Forgiveness, trusting His Forgiveness to cover your failures but focusing on His Love not your sin.
[section note on v18: as in the prior statement by Jesus like this, a study of the language issues involved reveals that this verse can be translated to “what is loosed on earth will have been loosed in heaven”. Once again, we see that the message is intact, if you have ears to hear]
Between Matthew 18 and 19, the physical context changes.
The next section is another example of divergent interpretations and it does include a reference to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Here is the text:
Matthew19:1-12 Some Pharisees approached Him to test Him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds? ” “Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that He who created them in the beginning made them male and female,” and He also said: For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.” “Why then,” they asked Him, “did Moses command us to give divorce papers and to send her away? ”. He told them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts. But it was not like that from the beginning. And I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” His disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of a man with his wife is like this, it’s better not to marry! ” But He told them, “Not everyone can accept this saying, but only those it has been given to. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb, there are eunuchs who were made by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves that way because of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”
This passage is very widely used as an underlying basis for new rules regarding divorce. Do not feel embarrassed if you view this in that way, most do.
But let us look at it for Kingdom of Heaven principles.
First, it is important to understand the test the Pharisees were posing for him, at least to some extent. Remember that the Pharisees were very concerned about living in strict obedience to the Law. The pursuit of living a life pleasing to God dominated their thinking. And it had for many years before the time of the Christ. The Law given to Moses in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy had several commandments related to the relationship defined by marriage. Grasping these commandments, often called laws in modern vernacular, assists in understanding this question. In Deuteronomy 24, God gave a commandment that a man could divorce his wife if he was displeased with her for “something bad”. That 2 word phrase is my own words, not based on translation but simply to focus on those 2 words. The 2 words in the original Hebrew do not provide any degree of clarity as to the basis for divorce. I will not spend time in the language analysis and research of the various attempts at translation. Suffice it to say 2 things:
– it is unclear the exact basis for divorce
– it seems clear that it could not be adultery as, under the power of other commandments, the adulterous wife is either proven guilty and killed, or established innocent and the husband is never allowed to divorce her.
I hope you can see from that brief description of the problem that any group seeking to please God through faultless obedience has a significant problem. And so it was for the Pharisees and other groups; there were 2 completely separate views of interpreting this command. One group says you can divorce only for adultery (!!??) and the other group says you can divorce for any and every reason. The written arguments of these different interpretations can be found in the Talmud.
So now we recognize the question about divorce.
Skipping the possible traps and or tests the Pharisees were presenting, Jesus skips to before the Law. In fact, he goes directly to God’s instructions before Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Jesus identifies man and women as male and female, using words that are specific for the identification of their physical gender, quoting directly out of Genesis 2. I feel it is important to note that Genesis then says “Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame.” And then it is important to note that the first action Adam and Eve took after eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was to cover their nakedness as they had become shamefully aware of their physical gender.
Just hold on to that idea while the rest of the story in Matthew 19 unfolds.
Jesus then quotes Genesis that the man and the woman are to become one flesh. Jesus emphasizes that point then advises that no-one should undo that one-flesh union.
The Pharisees, quite appropriately, ask why Moses gave the command we discussed at the top. The commandment that says that a man must give a woman a certificate of divorce when he rids himself of her.
Jesus points out that Moses allowed this because of the hardness of your hearts. Then he partially restates the confusing Deuteronomy 24 command. But he expounds on it, apparently speaking against the group of Pharisees looking for the “any and every reason” escape from marriage. He uses language that was written in the Greek documents as porneia (transliteration), which is similar to those 2 problem words in Hebrew in that it is not precisely defined. But then he goes even further and says that when a man marries a second woman, unless the first woman was guilty of whatever this is, the man commits adultery.
This is, of course, the foundation of much teaching in the various sects of Christianity. That a man is guilty of a most serious crime if he marries a second woman unless the first woman has committed adultery. It is often simplified to be that divorce is not allowed unless one partner has committed adultery. Which is not what Jesus said, even if he was trying to add to the Law, joining the Pharisees in the endless quest for perfect definition of Law.
If one chooses to believe the Law was given without error to Moses (as the Psalms say), then the rules that many people derive from Jesus’s words contradict the Law.
I choose to believe that Jesus came to bring life through the forgiveness of all sin. He did not come to add to the Law, but to fulfill the purpose of the Law. He came so that we could find Mercy in the willing embrace of the God who loves us. But Mercy means nothing if we do not perceive a need for it.
In this question about divorce, Jesus could fall into one of the very difficult “holes in the garment” – the garment being the Law. The hole:
– Love your neighbor as yourself.
– Get rid of a marriage partner you are displeased with.
– How can you love them if you are kicking them out the door?
– But what if the marriage situation is completely horrible, with daily strife and hatred permeating the home?
– How does the local authority love someone by forcing them to stay in the situation?
Jesus avoids this dilemma and takes the topic back to the Garden. Adam and Eve, alive in the Spirit of God, daily communing with pure Love, would understand and rejoice in the one flesh concept. Jesus draws the audience to the beauty of Love. Then the Pharisees focus the situation back on the Law. So Jesus, as he consistently does when this subject is ready, points out that the keeping of the Law exceeds the ability of one to perform. Said another way, he states that righteousness is even in excess of the Law.
The disciples seemed to get this inference: that to be righteous you must surpass the Law. Similar to many Christians today, believing that Jesus words about divorce are new law: that one must stay married to the same person until that person copulates with someone else.
So consider the disciples statement : His disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of a man with his wife is like this, it’s better not to marry! ”
Why would they make this statement? Did they consider that marriage is hopeless, and doomed to be filled with hardship? According to most people today, Jesus described the perfect marriage. However, the disciples perceived what he described as a situation to be avoided.
Jesus next words can either confirm what the disciples express or take a completely different approach. In fact, many Christian sects take these next words of Jesus to be a confirmation of the concept the disciples are embracing: marriage is to be avoided if one truly wants to be impressive in the Kingdom of Heaven.
I hope that you are anticipating how such a belief does not align with the Kingdom of Heaven principles that Jesus has clarified so far. The entire previous chapter in Matthew had a central theme of inability to earn rank in the Kingdom of Heaven.
What has Jesus consistently implied about the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven? Love and Forgiveness. The clear implication that no-one is good enough to earn their way in, it is all through Mercy.
With these concepts in the front of our awareness, we will review this Matthew19 passage again:
– The Pharisees ask can I get rid of the woman I hate and still earn my way to heaven.
– Jesus points them to the only time in human history that has true Love. And Jesus points them to the Love principle of dedication shown in the instruction God gave without attached penalty (by definition NOT Law).
– The Pharisees seek protection from this difficult proposition of being permanently bound to someone you don’t love. They seek protection by appealing to the Law provided for their unloving HARD hearts. Jesus removes the protection by observing, once again, that earning heaven requires far more than even the Law requires. There is no protection there.
– the disciples, still struggling with the Kingdom of Heaven principles, remain joined to the Pharisees in the need to earn heaven. They observe that avoiding sin might be necessary as living in an unloving marriage is pure hell. One should avoid the sin of divorce/adultery by not marrying.
Jesus takes a surprising tactic here. He talks about eunuchs, recorded in Greek as using a word whose primary meaning is castrated. A eunuch has had his primary source of testosterone removed, and is expected to experience a drastic reduction in libido.
In responding to the disciples statement that seekers of righteousness should not marry, Jesus talks about eunuchs. A Scribe trained in the Kingdom of Heaven, pulls out treasure from the Old: The Law defines no ceremony or process for marriage. When a man and a woman copulate, they are married. Unless that woman is already bound to another man, in which case both are to be killed. [this statement is fully supported by the Law, if you have doubts, I fully encourage you to put your Scribe hat on and dive into the Law. Do not partially accept a fact – either accept it or refute it based on the Law itself.]
The disciples state that righteousness requires lack of marriage. Jesus talks about eunuchs. He notes that not everyone will get this connection. They don’t.
I suggest that Jesus is illustrating that marriage happens, but the Kingdom of Heaven is not defined by rules, but by Love and Mercy. Asking how to get rid of the woman you hate and still earn heaven is NOT in alignment with the Kingdom of Heaven. Love is in alignment with the Kingdom of Heaven. Most people will marry, as our Scribe Jesus has clarified by his eunuch statements: they are driven by their libido. When problems set in, the Kingdom of Heaven is the only solution. The problem is clear throughout this exchange with the Pharisees and the disciples: hatred between the married people.
Are you earning your way to heaven?
I feel this subject needs more perspective. The concept of the Kingdom of Heaven can be better established with another attempt to communicate this concept Jesus is presenting in Matthew 19.
In the Garden of Eden, God created an environment of Love. Male and female he created them, and they had no shame. God explains that the man and woman are dedicated to loving each other. I am sure that Adam and Eve accepted this concept from their beloved God with no hesitation – because it was already part of their concepts.
Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They are ashamed of their sexuality immediately. Their maleness and femaleness is a problem under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Tree from which God told them to NOT eat, because ON THAT DAY they would die. And die they did, ON THAT DAY. On that day they became filled with shame as they had intense feelings that their existence and actions were evil. This is evidence that God did NOT lie as Satan claimed. Adam and Eve died spiritually, they could no longer Know their God.
God was not surprised, and immediately began his predestined plan to restore life to his precious people, men and women, male and female. As part of this plan He gives a set of commandments to Moses, commandments that further expose the shame of male and female. Not wanting them to be forced to completely destroy themselves, He gives a commandment that authorizes divorce. Because He knows they are still spiritually dead and cannot grasp Love. Their Hearts are Hard. The well of love is a cold dead stone, not a warm, tender pulsing organ pushing life through all its connections.
Continuing with His predestined plan, God becomes flesh. And has this conversation with the Pharisees and the disciples. I suggest that Jesus is pushing their concepts to go back to the beginning, back to male and female in the Garden, back to the instruction He gave that a man SHALL leave his parents and become ONE FLESH with his woman.
The teaching of Jesus is about the Love that God built into the male and female relationship; Love at every level. No shame. No hiding from the truth by avoiding the relationship. Although, if you are willing to accept it, God makes some MEN without required male parts, some Men have their male parts removed by other men, and some men remove their parts themselves. This saying is best understood with the physical reading. If you wish to apply it figuratively, it still applies. But the meaning becomes clear: God created male and female; the Kingdom of Knowledge generates shame about male and female; avoiding marriage requires losing maleness; if you have not lost your maleness you will fail at avoiding marriage; Love is the purpose for marriage, all aspects of Love.
Avoiding marriage to establish righteousness is flawed at its very core. It a foundational concept for the Kingdom of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Are you trying to earn your own righteousness?
It is of interest to note that the First Council at Nicea, in the year 325, made several new laws. The first Law they enacted was prohibiting clergy from castrating themselves. Not understanding the words of Jesus leads to trying to live by Law. Many clergy, not understanding Jesus words, castrate themselves to ensure entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. The other clergy, by voting process, pass a law against such actions even while they pass other laws at the same convention, such as a prohibition of kneeling while praying on Sunday. …sigh…the gate is narrow.
Such interest in avoiding agonizing difficulty via becoming a eunuch is still very common today. I encourage you to research it. Then decide if it resembles the Kingdom of Heaven and the Garden of Eden, into which we who believe have been born again.
Does your relationship with Jesus depend on your performance?
Another reference to this topic is Galatians. Paul was writing to educate a group he had led into the Kingdom of Heaven. He was exposing the fallacies of those teaching a Gospel based on performance of the Law, says that he wishes those that are trying to establish their righteousness through the Law would “go all the way and emasculate [a word commonly used to indicate castration] themselves”. He could be referring to this exchange in Matthew – agreeing with the disciples and Jesus that obeying the law would require such drastic action to have any hope of avoiding the penalty of Law. And of course throwing a Pauline clever wordplay in – as long as you are cutting in that area…
This section in Matthew continues without a context break. Just as he is saying these things about marriage, people bring their children.
Then children were brought to Him so He might put His hands on them and pray. But the disciples rebuked them. Then Jesus said, “Leave the children alone, and don’t try to keep them from coming to Me, because the kingdom of heaven is made up of people like this.” After putting His hands on them, He went on from there.
At least the disciples understood the previous children situation in Matthew 18 at one level. By their actions in this situation, one can see they seemed to know that the previous children situation resulted in teaching about all followers of Jesus. They appear to understand that it was not about little children only. They clearly did not hear Jesus words with the common modern misunderstanding: here they are keeping children away from him. If they had thought the previous situation was only about little children, it seems very unlikely they would be immediately keeping the children away from him.
But it does seem they have not got the Kingdom of Heaven principle behind it all. So Jesus restates the Kingdom of Heaven principle. With all your unruliness, trust your Father to Love you. Take that principle and apply it to the marriage and divorce issue. Children have very little self-control. But they do generally trust that their parents will take care of them. People of every age have little self-control, so there is little difference between all people and the “people like this”. When Jesus says “people like this” he is again referring to the need to trust him to take care of you. Even if your maleness leads you into a situation where you are forced to learn love or suffer. Even if the maleness causes Jesus’s precious child, you, to stumble.
The context still remain constant as the next situation unfolds in Matthew 19:16-30.
Just then someone came up and asked Him, “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life? ” “Why do you ask Me about what is good? ” He said to him. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones? ” he asked Him. Jesus answered: Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother; and love your neighbor as yourself. “I have kept all these,” the young man told Him. “What do I still lack? ” “If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” When the young man heard that command, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions. Then Jesus said to His disciples, “I assure you: It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven! Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were utterly astonished and asked, “Then who can be saved? ” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Then Peter responded to Him, “Look, we have left everything and followed You. So what will there be for us? ” Jesus said to them, “I assure you: In the Messianic Age, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on 12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses, brothers or sisters, father or mother, children, or fields because of My name will receive 100 times more and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
Still in the same context, Jesus reinforces the Kingdom of Heaven concepts again. The phrase “just then” makes it clear to us that the context is continuous.
The man asks “what good must I do to inherit eternal life?” He is seeking to earn his place in heaven through his behavior. Who doesn’t try this? This concept is completely universal in human nature, imparted to us at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This man is more honest than many: by seeking Jesus and asking this question we can see that he senses that he has not secured the goal as yet.
Jesus’ answer is so emphatic, restating the foundation message yet again. Jesus asks the man why he is seeking good, since there is ONLY ONE who is good. Then Jesus reinforces the Sermon on the Mount concept: If you are going to earn the right to Life, you must keep the commandments.
As most people today do, the man seeks a defined list as if the whole list is not intact.
Jesus says 5 of the 10 Commandments, as people call them, and adds another commandment from the Law. We could address the 10 Commandments issue here, but to focus on the Kingdom of Heaven message we will bypass the 10 Commandments debate.
To which the man replies that he has done that. But there remains the sense of shortfall.
Jesus says go, sell all you have and give it to the poor – then you will have treasure in heaven. Then follow me. After the man leaves, Jesus takes the opportunity to expound his theme again. He says that it is easier for a camel to go through a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
The disciples are utterly confounded, as we should be. “Then who can be saved?” they ask, showing their concepts of Good and Evil. They, like us, think that God rewards people with material blessings for being good. God said so at the end of Deuteronomy.
Jesus answers, but allow me to first look at what has been said. When Jesus first answers the man he points him to some specific commandments. Did Jesus mean that he just had to keep those and not the others? Remember in the Sermon on the Mount he said that whoever teaches against the Law is the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. If he was saying the man had only responsibility for a small subset of the Law, he would be teaching against the Law.
As we see from the unfolding conversation, the commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself” turned out to be very precise for the man. Jesus knew the man kept the Law as well as he could, but he could not keep it all. Why does a rich man want to keep his money? Because it is his. But if you love you neighbor as yourself, you would want to give it to each person you meet as much as you want to keep it. There is no other way to look at it.
The man left grieving. Read into as you will. I see it that he was well into the next step in embracing the Kingdom of Heaven: acknowledging failure.
Jesus then reinforces the lesson with the Camel through the Needle analogy. I have heard many attempts to interpret this away from the easy direct interpretation. Certainly there are times when we must dive deeper to gain understanding, when the direct interpretation contradicts concepts that Jesus has already established to us. But in this case, there is no need for more effort. Jesus is stating the Sermon on the Mount principle again: to earn your way to heaven you must perfectly obey the Law, and even more.
Don’t forget that Jesus concluded his statement to the man with “then come and follow me”. You could interpret that as meaning that selling everything was required before following Jesus: so salvation depends on the performance of excellent living. Instead, you could think with the concepts he has already established and realize that he was prophesying that the man would come to the end of his self-reliance and turn to God for Mercy. Which Jesus already said he always gives.
Jesus makes this clear with his statement: “with man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible”. It is impossible for us to earn our way to Heaven, but God has already done it for us.
Next Peter once again shows his concepts and asks what he and the other disciples will get for having left their worldly possessions. Jesus responds by assuring him that what they get will exceed what they have lost. Then Jesus says “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” The use of the adversative particle, “but”, indicates that this statement contains some level of contradiction. Given what Jesus has taught to this point, I take it that he means that the sacrifice of meaningful items in this mortal life is not connected to earning the promised blessings in the next phase of life. If we bring back to our awareness the prior teachings, we recall that he taught us that the Kingdom of Heaven is very different than our expected basis for relationship with God. He taught us that Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the poor in Spirit. The material wealth of the person is not the measure, those who realize they will never be good enough are the ones who turn for Mercy. And they do receive it. Jesus just said that there is only one who is good. It was not the man in this section, nor is it Peter. Becoming a eunuch will not satisfy the demands of righteousness, trusting Jesus as a child trusts leads us to follow him. We will lose much, but the loss is not a form of righteousness, it does not justify. “Have mercy on me, a sinner” and he was justified.
To reinforce the point Jesus continues immediately into another Kingdom of Heaven parable.
There is no context change between Matthew 19 and 20.
Matthew 20:1-16 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the workers on one denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine in the morning, he saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. To those men he said, ‘You also go to my vineyard, and I’ll give you whatever is right.’ So off they went. About noon and at three, he went out again and did the same thing. Then about five he went and found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day doing nothing? ’ “ ‘Because no one hired us,’ they said to him.“ ‘You also go to my vineyard,’ he told them. When evening came, the owner of the vineyard told his foreman, ‘Call the workers and give them their pay, starting with the last and ending with the first.’ “When those who were hired about five came, they each received one denarius. So when the first ones came, they assumed they would get more, but they also received a denarius each. When they received it, they began to complain to the landowner: ‘These last men put in one hour, and you made them equal to us who bore the burden of the day and the burning heat! ’ “He replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I’m doing you no wrong. Didn’t you agree with me on a denarius? Take what’s yours and go. I want to give this last man the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my business? Are you jealous because I’m generous? ’ “So the last will be first, and the first last.”
The boss gives the same pay to everyone without regard for their level of work. Jesus says the same thing he said just before the parable, when he was assuring Peter that he would get great rewards after his loss. After sending the rich man to face the insurmountable problem of earning eternal life through his good works as his last step before turning to the Savior. The last will be first and the first last, but the pay is the same. The Kingdom of Heaven is not about rank.
Here we have another context break.
Jesus and the disciples head to Jerusalem. Jesus explains what is going to happen (again). An incident occurs that shows us that the disciples still have not got the message. I suppose this makes me feel better because it took me so many years to get the message. They are concerned again about status, or rank, in heaven. Jesus says the last shall be first (again), this time observing that he himself came only to serve.
Be sure to add that to your Kingdom of Heaven concepts. It fits very well with the concepts that Jesus has been presenting over and over.
This section, Matthew 20, does not mention the Kingdom of Heaven. Of course, everything Jesus says comes from the Kingdom of Heaven, but we are focused on when he is specifically mentioning it.
It is worth noting that Jesus words about the Cup can easily be taken in different ways. Having the right concepts in your awareness while pondering his words will continue to lead you to understand.
The context changes again. Jesus rides a donkey and is welcomed by the people. He enters Jerusalem and the “whole city is shaken”.
He drives the merchants out of the temple. He heals the blind and the lame. Those examples of trust appear again: children. They are shouting in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David”. This angers the Chief Priests and Scribes.
Jesus and the disciples went to Bethany to spend the night. On the way back to Jerusalem, the strange Fig Tree event happens. While it is not a direct statement about the Kingdom of Heaven, it is interesting to ponder it in the light of the Tree theme that is central to the Bible narrative. Be aware that Jewish thought tends to believe that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was a fig tree. The Old Covenant is based on the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Kingdom of Knowledge), the New Covenant is about to start. Perhaps the connections make sense. Perhaps they don’t.
The disciples are amazed at the physical display. Again, I find comfort in their density: I have pondered this fig tree incident for years before it finally made sense. Jesus once again explains how a tiny bit of Faith can move mountains. Just as in the last time he said it, he means it.
Leaves me wondering when we will see a mountain move.
Ponder when Jesus observed that there was little faith versus the times when he observed that there was great faith. The subject of Faith requires a lengthy study. It starts with understanding that Faith requires an object, something or someone about which you believe something. Defining those “someones” and “somethings” is the first step to understanding faith.
Whatever we ask for we will receive, if we have enough faith to move mountains. As my faith has developed and the concepts of the Kingdom of Heaven take hold, I no longer care to move mountains. I want to see the Kingdom of Heaven. At times, I can muster faith and see it.
I cannot yet move mountains. I fall short of the goal.
But that does not exclude me from the Kingdom of Heaven, simply establishes that I am among the Least in the Kingdom of Heaven. As Jesus has just prior taught several times, seeking rank in the Kingdom of Heaven is useless. So I will not worry about my status, I will simply continue seeking to know my God.
The context changes again and is set up for the next parable about the Kingdom of Heaven.
This next context section is lengthy and contains 3 parables presented by Jesus without pause. As in some of his earlier parable sessions, the three parables interact. For the sake of readability I will copy in the text as needed. But I encourage you to read the whole section first: Matthew 21:23 through 22:14. I am trusting that you can ignore the paragraph headings that your Bible publisher has added to the Word of God.
Matthew 21:23-32 When He entered the temple complex the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to Him as He was teaching and said, “By what authority are You doing these things? Who gave You this authority? ” Jesus answered them, “I will also ask you one question, and if you answer it for Me, then I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Where did John’s baptism come from? From heaven or from men? ” They began to argue among themselves, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him? ’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ we’re afraid of the crowd, because everyone thought John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” And He said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. But what do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘My son, go, work in the vineyard today.’ “He answered, ‘I don’t want to! ’ Yet later he changed his mind and went. Then the man went to the other and said the same thing. ‘I will, sir,’ he answered. But he didn’t go. “Which of the two did his father’s will? ” “The first,” they said. Jesus said to them, “I assure you: Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you! For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you didn’t believe him. Tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him, but you, when you saw it, didn’t even change your minds then and believe him.
The religious leaders are apparently trying ask Jesus a question to set him up for trial. They ask about his authority and Jesus reflects the question back by asking them about John the Baptist. John’s role was to identify the Messiah and turn the hearts back to the Father. (Read and ponder the story of John in all 4 Gospels).
The leaders answer with a misdirection, attempting to divert the focus.
Jesus responds with a parable, the first of 3 presented without pause.
The parable, often called the 2 Sons, is commonly interpreted as a teaching to point out that whoever obeys in the end is the really obedient one. And that Jesus was meaning that although the Pharisees (with the other leaders) said they obey God, they really did not.
Reread the parable. Think about it: the son that says he will obey IS NOT OBEYING. The other son says No, then changes his mind and obeys.
To understand, we need to refresh our concepts:
– the leaders – especially the Pharisees – were exceptionally impressive at keeping the Law. They truly did everything they could think of to ensure they did not transgress any commandment. Their keeping of the rules far exceeded anything before or since.
– John the Baptist was commanded by God to go and water-immerse people. This water immersion was a technique developed a hundred or more years prior, by the Pharisees. It was a ceremony to represent a point in time where a non-Jew was turning to Judaism. It also was sometimes used as a ceremony to represent when someone was rededicating themselves to a pursuit of obedience.
– the Covenant with Moses was based on obedience. We call it the Old Covenant, but the Jews would not call it Old (and certainly it still stands). It is the Law.
– The Kingdom of Heaven is other, different from the Covenant with Moses. But the Law has a very precise and defined purpose in preparing for the New Covenant and the Kingdom of Heaven.
– John the Baptist (John the immerser in translated language) came to turn the hearts of the children to the father. And to identify the Messiah. He called people to a renewed dedication to the Law. Seeking to keep the Law inevitably leads to failure, judgment, despair. Most people give up. John the Baptist renewed their hope that they could know God and have meaning in this otherwise meaningless life. And he identified the Messiah, who came bringing in the New Covenant. The solution for the Law induced despair – to be made alive again – capable of knowing God.
– the Pharisees (and other leaders) were interested in John the Baptist’s mission, but did not participate because they were already keeping the Law.
Jesus brings all this to the front by explaining that Tax Collectors and Prostitutes (the most socially despised people) are entering the Kingdom of Heaven while the leaders are not (yet is implied here). Jesus says “John came to you in the way of righteousness and you didn’t believe him”. The Pharisees did believe in keeping the Law, including offering sacrifices for their sins. They did not believe that they were still short of the righteousness required to enter the Kingdom of Heaven through their own efforts. The socially despised people have no trouble accepting their inability to please God. They responded to John the Baptist’s call and turned to God, believing in His Mercy. The Pharisees do not need His Mercy.
Jesus points out that even when the Pharisees saw this stunningly beautiful scene of the utterly despicable people being filled with hope, they suppressed the call of the Spirit with self-assurance that they already please God by keeping the Law.
The work in the vineyard is different than obeying the Law.
Without a pause, Jesus presents the next parable:
Matthew 21:33-46 “Listen to another parable: There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower. He leased it to tenant farmers and went away. When the grape harvest drew near, he sent his slaves to the farmers to collect his fruit. But the farmers took his slaves, beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Again, he sent other slaves, more than the first group, and they did the same to them. Finally, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. “But when the tenant farmers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance! ’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers? ” “He will completely destroy those terrible men,” they told Him, “and lease his vineyard to other farmers who will give him his produce at the harvest.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This came from the Lord and is wonderful in our eyes?
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing its fruit. Whoever falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whoever it falls, it will grind him to powder!” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they knew He was speaking about them. Although they were looking for a way to arrest Him, they feared the crowds, because they regarded Him as a prophet.
Keep in mind that this parable is still in the same context as the previous. Jesus is using the trap of the Pharisees to present important principles to them and the others who are there. And to us, 2000 years later. Clever.
Many people decide that because Matthew records what the Pharisees thought Jesus meant, that we should decide that the Pharisees interpret Jesus’ parable for us. Hopefully, by stating that assumption, we can see that it is a difficult assumption to justify. Let us look at the parable, only keeping assumptions that Jesus has explained to us.
In this parable, it is important to decide who the tenant farmers are. At first, it does seem like it must be the Jew Leaders. Until you get to the part where the Vineyard owner decides to send his son. The tenant farmers recognize the son as the son, the rightful owner of the vineyard. They want to keep the whole vineyard for themselves.
It could be that the parable is simply stating that the Jewish leaders are going to kill Jesus. I do think that it is possible, and common, to over-interpret parables, deriving wisdom for everyday life decisions. But I think that Jesus gave these teachings with a primary message to refine our concepts about the Kingdom of Heaven, his Kingdom. It could be that all the embellishments of the story serve to make it a better story and is not intended for deep meaning. Or it could be that the embellishments are intended for secondary meanings that follow later. Or it could be that the details are integral to the message. [Or all of the above].
But even with all that, it is difficult to align the Pharisees with recognizing that Jesus is the Son of God.
However, if we simply examine the gospels to see who does recognize Jesus identity, we see there are only 2 groups. The disciples, including more than the 12. And Satan with his demons.
In the pivotal passage in Matthew 12, Jesus makes clear that the only sin that will not be forgiven is to align Jesus’ identity with something other than God. In other discussions with the Pharisees, Jesus identifies their father as being Satan. Earlier Jesus had made clear that Peter was doing Satan’s work when Peter rebuked Jesus for saying he was going to die (for the sins of the world). Shortly, Jesus will observe that one of the 12 is doing Satan’s work, we assume by arranging for Jesus to be arrested.
When we take this understanding, that the tenant farmer is Satan and his 1/3 of the angels, our concept of the vineyard changes. The vineyard becomes the whole earth. This fits with other things we know. For example, when Satan was testing Jesus, he showed Jesus all the nations of the earth and offered to give them to Jesus if Jesus would only worship Satan. Instead of stating that Satan did not have authority over the nations, Jesus observes that only GOD is to be worshiped. Satan appears to be the tenant farmer. How he got there is another subject, suffice it to say that there are ways to see that in the scriptures.
Understanding this parable in this way leads to more understanding of the primary battle that goes on in this world, in the spiritual realm. God did not reveal his predestined plan until after it was too late for Satan to react differently. I do not see that Satan would have wanted Jesus killed if Satan knew that Jesus’ death would pay for the sins of the world. Satan had successfully killed all humanity when he introduced us to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden. On THAT day, Adam and Eve, our precious mother and father, died in the spiritual realm. And we are each physically born without spiritual life. Satan would not want the absolute dominion of the Kingdom of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to be ended. It was. Jesus said “it is finished” as all the sin of the world was removed from absolute dominion.
So, I think it is reasonable to take it that Satan is the tenant farmer in this parable. Let’s see where that leads us.
Jesus asks the Leaders what the owner of the vineyard will do with those farmers. The Leaders reply that “He will completely destroy those terrible men” and lease the vineyard to others. Once again, do the Pharisees interpret for us?
Without commenting on whether the Leaders answered correctly, Jesus brings great light to the discussion. With a mild rebuke (“have you never read”) He quotes from Psalm 118.
Keeping with our principle of using full context, please go and read Psalm 118 carefully, several times. Let the Spirit show you Kingdom of Heaven principles that are there. Be like the Bereans, who searched the scriptures and found the truth of the Gospel. They did not have the New Testament.
As you read Psalm 118 remember that this Psalm was written during the period where the Law was the only proclaimed way to approach God. The Law that identifies the myriad ways that you are unclean, unworthy to approach God. The Law that identifies that your sins are worthy of death. The Law that specifically states that if you do not keep the whole Law you will be cursed with a very long list of truly horrible things.
But the Psalm expresses a profound and intense trust in the mercy of God. It sums up in the last lines:
You are my God, and I will give You thanks.
You are my God; I will exalt You.
Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good;
His faithful love endures forever.
In the middle of the Psalm, are the lines Jesus used to pull the context of the Psalm into the context of his Parable about the vineyard.
Open the gates of righteousness for me;
I will enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.
This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous will enter through it.
I will give thanks to You
because You have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This came from the LORD;
it is wonderful in our eyes.
Into his summary of this parable about the take-over of the vineyard by the enemies of God, Jesus brings the brilliant light of the Gospel: He, Jesus, is the Gate of Righteousness. He has become our Salvation.
In this context, we now understand that the builders of this world, Satan and Kingdom of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, have rejected Jesus, but he is the Cornerstone of the New Covenant, the new thing that the vineyard owner will do with his vineyard.
Jesus then says that the vineyard will be given to “a nation” (a people related through their lineage).
And that “Whoever falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whoever it falls, it will grind him to powder!” This is another of Jesus’ sayings that brings a lot of varied interpretations. These interpretations represent various attempts to reconcile this statement with the concepts through which the interpreter views the deeper things. Most of us can see that the cornerstone is Jesus with the things he brings. The difficulty causing the varied views is that it is difficult to escape the implication of the words of this saying, as translated in the majority of English versions. The sentence seems to say [If you fall on/over Jesus you will be shattered. If Jesus falls on you, you will be ground into powder]. But almost all follow Jesus because he promised his Love and eternal life. This concept is hard to reconcile with this statement.
There are various ways people have looked at this passage. Some examples are:
Possible readings of the “Stone” epilogue.
– Some say the first part, “those who fall on Jesus”, refers to people that choose Jesus and they will be broken but not destroyed. And the second part is for those that do not choose Jesus – they will be destroyed. Certainly, this view may align with Jesus’ prior teachings at some level. But it has some language issues. The Greek word translated “broken” is commonly translated “shattered”. So the type of “breaking” presented seems too strong to be about those who have come under the “easy yoke”.
– Some say that it is a tie to Psalm 118 about being “disciplined severely”. Again, the “shattered” sense may be too strong for this view to be the primary.
– There are views that Jesus could be saying that this stone – that is the new cornerstone- , is a major cause of difficulty for those that either stumble over him or ignore him. So both parts of the statement apply only to those choosing against Jesus. I can see that, but I find it odd for Jesus to not do his normal approach to Old/New presentation. Especially when he just referred them and us to the Gospel in Psalm 118.
– Another possibility becomes apparent when looking at the Greek for the word “will be ground to powder” (which is one word in Greek). The primary translation is not “ground to powder” but “winnowed”. Research into all known winnowing techniques shows that the technique involves the use of wind to remove the chaff from the grain. Winnowing is not grinding. I am not a Greek expert, so I must not immediately say that almost every English version has the translation wrong. But on the other hand, I do note that the Greek lexicons note that the Greek word could mean grinding because of its use in this passage. And the parallel passage in Luke.
But these are the only 2 occurrences of this word in the scriptures. As you may know, translation depends very much on studying the use of the source language in the context of the various writings that may be found. For an ancient language the use of various words in the original writings is the primary source for understanding the meaning of the words. If that seems to verge on circular reasoning, it can’t be helped. But this passage is widely interpreted to be “grinding” not “winnowing”. Even though this passage is the only occurrence of this Greek word in the scriptures. Other Greek writings from around the 1st century or before appear to use the word as “winnowing”. I am not a Greek scholar, so I can only report my observations; you must decide what to do with it. As always. The part of this passage about the stone is clear: the stone is making contact with the object, which is the one being “ground” or “winnowed”. Under normal language rules, the sentence needs to make sense – rocks are not used for winnowing, but they are used for grinding the grain after winnowing. Is this why the majority of translators choose to use “grind” instead of “winnow”? Because it does not make sense to “winnow” with a rock? I can’t say with certainty, but it does seem possible.
Using the word “winnow” opens up a clearer understanding that is consistent in many ways. Jesus has used out-of-place analogy in several parables, so the use of stone with winnow is not out of character. The whole understanding of Grace and the stone of stumbling in Paul’s letters (and Peter’s to some extent) become aligned with Jesus words. Now we can understand Jesus to say something like [the person who stumbles over this new cornerstone, the Kingdom of Heaven, will be shattered. But the one who comes under the Kingdom of Heaven will have the useless stuff blown out of the way.]
Whether the word can be “winnow” or must be “grind”, hopefully now we have established that the word is related to the cleaning and preparation of pure grain. Both meanings refer to the process of purifying grain. The meaning stays intact with “winnow” or “grind”.
Any of the above approaches of understanding v44 molds our Kingdom of Heaven concepts. Maybe Jesus meant for all views to be visible, so that if you have ears to hear, you hear the Love of the Kingdom of Heaven, but if you don’t have ears to hear, you hear only the roar of approaching punishment.
Was the parable about the Leaders like they thought? I think the parable is about the Kingdom of Heaven and its primary enemy, the Kingdom of Knowledge as led by Satan. But the Leaders, and everyone, have to think about which Kingdom they serve, stumbling over the cornerstone or made pure by it.. The Leaders chose to align with the Kingdom of Knowledge. At least for that time.
The work of the vineyard was addressed in the previous parable.
In this parable, we understand the fight of the Kingdoms over the vineyard and the need to choose sides.
Jesus continues on with the third parable in this context.
Matthew 22:1-14 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out his slaves to summon those invited to the banquet, but they didn’t want to come. Again, he sent out other slaves, and said, ‘Tell those who are invited: Look, I’ve prepared my dinner; my oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ But they paid no attention and went away, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the others seized his slaves, treated them outrageously and killed them. The king was enraged, so he sent out his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned down their city. Then he told his slaves, ‘The banquet is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go to where the roads exit the city and invite everyone you find to the banquet.’ So those slaves went out on the roads and gathered everyone they found, both evil and good. The wedding banquet was filled with guests. But when the king came in to view the guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed for a wedding. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes? ’ The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him up hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
This parable presents the listener with many opportunities to derive meaning in various ways. It can be difficult to avoid the attraction of interpreting the various pieces of this story as revelation of truths about rules and failure. As mentioned before, God Most High may have intended various things to be understood.
As with many of Jesus’ teachings, there is an opportunity to see a kingdom that is precisely driven by measurement of performance. The king sends invitations to a select group, who ignore the invitation. They even go further, abusing and destroying the slaves of the king. Of course, he responds with justice and destroys the destroyers, exactly like the Jewish Leaders interpret Jesus’ words. Then the king invites many other people. Of those that come one is selected out of the crowd by the king himself because he he is not wearing the correct clothing. The king orders the man bound and thrown into a place of misery, executing justice exactly as the Jewish Leaders interpret Jesus words.
So one could build the concept that the king will not tolerate misbehavior, even misbehavior that is simply a cultural insult. With such a concept in mind when we read Jesus final statement, it is logical to assume that the final statement is a summary of the path of justice, that admittance to the banquet is dependent on not offending the king in great or lesser matters, not transgressing in the least manner.
And so such an interpretation fits very well into the Rules based relationship with God. Perform with perfection or be cast out. And this interpretation caused the Leaders to pursue, with full strength, destroying Jesus. Because they recognized that Jesus was assigning them to the group resisting the authority figure in the stories. But they missed the point that they can change sides.
So the parable can be understood, with some equivocation, to be teaching the message: Perform with perfection or be cast out.
But how does such a concept fit with the message of the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven? How does it fit with “come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”? Or “have mercy on me a sinner! And that man went away acceptable to God”? Or “the good shepherd leaves the 99 and rejoices at recovering the sheep that left the fold”?
We love Jesus. And we identify him as the Son of God, the Christ, come to save the world. So we want to understand his words. We want ears to hear.
I find it helpful to consider this parable in the context in which Jesus is speaking. The Leaders (not just Pharisees), ask Jesus to identify his claim to authority. Jesus reflects the question back to them, asking who John the Immerser (Baptist) was working for. Which focuses the Leaders and the others in the crowd on the duplicity involved in reasoning their way to greater good. Then he tells a story of an authority figure, a vineyard farmer, who sends his sons out to work, with each doing different types of transgression. He focuses the listeners – Leaders, disciples and crowd – on Despicable people that are entering the Kingdom of Heaven before the Leaders. Then he proceeds with a story with similar elements: vineyard, an authority figure, son. In this story the tenant farmers despise the authority figure, a vineyard farmer, and want to eliminate the vineyard farmer from involvement. The tenant farmers abuse and destroy all emissaries sent. The authority figure sends his son, whom the tenant farmers recognize and kill. Jesus then focuses the listeners on the New thing that is Salvation through the Son of God. Then Jesus proceeds with this parable of the Banquet.
This parable continues with connections to the previous parables: An authority figure, a group of people that despise the Authority figure, destruction of the destroyers, a son, less honorable people brought in (remember the tax collectors and prostitutes).
Before we try to paraphrase the story, the part at the end needs our attention. In the story, the authority figure comes to the banquet. The implication is that there are many guests, “both evil and good”. The authority figure notices one guest that is not wearing a wedding garment. The authority figure asks how he got in without it. The man offers no answer. The authority figure has him bound and thrown into a bad place.
This segment of the story once again has varied interpretations, again clearly based on the concepts of the interpreter. If the concepts that control interpretation are based in the Knowledge of Good and Evil, then the interpreter will easily draw the conclusion that the guest represents people who continue to do evil after accepting the invitation to join the banquet. Making the guest an explanation of the “evil” people that Jesus said were there at the banquet, without regard for the specific wording specifying one guest. In this view, these are people that keep sinning after accepting the invitation to the banquet. For the reference in the next few paragraphs, we’ll call this approach the “sinning guest” approach.
But Jesus adds another epilogue style statement. He has done this on each of the three parables in this context. This time he says the epic words: “For many are called, but few are chosen.” This is an often quoted verse, for good reason. It is very much like the Proverbs of Solomon, one can sense that there is deep meaning hidden behind the simple words. Like many proverbs, determining the precise meaning is difficult. If the “sinning guest” approach is taken as the correct view of the incorrectly attired guest, this statement can be understood to strengthen the concept, especially when combined with Jesus’ words elsewhere about “narrow is the gate, and few will enter” and taking all to mean that it is very difficult to achieve salvation, with the difficulty being that people do not quit sinning.
Let’s look at this story in light of Jesus’ epilogue Proverb. First we will look at the wedding garment issue. Simple research indicates that during the time of Jesus there was a custom to provide some type of wedding garment to each guest as they arrived. This description of ancient middle eastern custom for upper class weddings is mentioned in almost every commentary, although that could just mean that they referred to each other, which is common. Accepting the research as valid, we can see that the guest singled out in the story would have refused the covering offered him. He did not accept the covering that qualified him for the banquet. If this assumption is one that the hearers of Jesus physical words would make, it changes our concept rather substantially. The man is not excluded because of being a “sinning guest”, and does not serve as an example of the other evil guests. His decision is known and the evil guests are not necessarily associated with him.
In Jesus’ epilogue proverb: “Many are called”. Who was called? The original set of guests and then the people from the edge of the city, good and evil. For the sake of the story that appears to be just about everyone, especially if we view the destroyed city as containing most on the original guest list. So that certainly is “many are called”.
The epilogue proverb continues with “but few are chosen”. If Jesus intended to reinforce something from the parable with his epilogue proverb, we must derive the “chosen” from the story or from the context the in which the story is told – the concepts of the physical listeners.
The improperly covered guest was chosen for special attention, and the count of 1 exiled guest is certainly “few”. But that concept does not seem to fit with the overall direction of the set of parables here.
The original set of invited guests appears less than the broad set of guests invited in the second set of invitations. After the original set of invitees reject the Son’s banquet, the authority figure invites “everyone”. As the original set of guests were specifically selected, they certainly could be “chosen”.
Another factor to consider is that all of the listeners to Jesus physical words would immediately associate “chosen” with the descendants of Abraham through Isaac – the Chosen People. And that would also be part of their concept when they heard the words that the guest in attendance were “good and evil”. To be gentile was inherently evil and inferior.
If we call back into our concepts the concept from the previous parable of these three, we find some clarity. In the last parable, it seems that Jesus clarified that the struggle is between the 2 Kingdoms – the Kingdom of Heaven vs the Kingdom of Knowledge. And each person must choose sides. As in that 2nd parable of this triplet, this last parable references many similar items, a story telling technique of keeping similar concepts to help form the new concepts. So in this 3rd parable, Jesus tells that the original invited guests are very similar to the tenant farmers in the 2nd parable. And the 3rd parable resembles the first in that the despicable people have accepted the invitation, as Jesus observed in the epilogue of the 1st parable.
In the 1st parable, we learn about the work of the vineyard, accepting the invitation offered by John the Baptist to renew trust in the merciful Authority figure.
In the 2nd parable we learn that the battle is ongoing and we must choose a side: the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of Knowledge. And we easily see that the Jewish Leaders were choosing the Kingdom of Knowledge.
In this 3rd parable we learn that the authority figure has invited all, some of the original chosen ones do not accept, and the authority provides all with what they need, but accepting the covering is key.
So Jesus answers the Leaders original question about authority with a triplet of parables, each with an authority figure. Each parable presents a choice of which side to follow. The question of the origin of the authority of Jesus is of utmost importance. Jesus makes the truth available for those with ears to hear: “I am the Son, My Father is the authority, chose to believe or chose to be in opposition to the Father. Many are called, few from the original chosen group are in the banquet”.
Jesus once again presents the message he came to deliver and implement: the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. It is a New Covenant, not an addendum on the Moses Covenant. If you don’t accept Jesus as the Son of God, you will be judged by the rules of the Ruler. Put the new garment on, the one the Ruler provides.
After this exchange the Pharisees (part of the group of Leaders in the previous context) try to trap Jesus with a question to get him in serious trouble with the government. This exchange shows a very clever response from Jesus that still misleads government devotees to this day. But it is off the topic of this essay, so we will leave that for another time.
Then the Sadducees ask him a bodily resurrection question.
Then the Pharisees ask him a tests/trap question about the greatest commandment. Jesus’ answer is revealing for those that have ears to hear. And it reinforces the Sermon on the Mount message of righteous requirements exceeding capabilities. Explore it.
Jesus immediately responds with a question that shows the difficulty with understanding the nature of God, especially as related to the Messiah, the Christ.
Then Jesus starts a teaching session with the disciples and the crowd. This is focused on the failures of the scribes and Pharisees. It is worth noting that in v3 some things are recorded that have an apparent contradiction with other things Jesus said. Help here can be found in exploring the translation issues related to source documents, especially the apparent validity of the theory that Matthew was originally written by Matthew in Hebrew. The extant portions of the Hebrew manuscripts say something that makes more sense in this verse. Which lends credibility to the theory that Matthew was written in Hebrew. And it brings more clarity to the issues that must be considered when pondering translation and the purpose of God in speaking to all people.
Jesus continues on with a list of “woes” for the scribes and Pharisees. He mentions the Kingdom of Heaven in one of them: Matthew 23:13“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You lock up the kingdom of heaven from people. For you don’t go in, and you don’t allow those entering to go in.” Just as Jesus presented to them in the previous parables, they would not respond to the Gospel when John the Baptist prepared the way, and they would not change their allegiance to the Kingdom of Heaven as presented by Jesus. And they used their power over the people to keep the people from embracing the Mercy of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus listed several items of “woe” for the scribes and Pharisees. All these teachings are powerful and deserve deep pondering. And of course they are all related to the Kingdom of Heaven because these teachings come out of Jesus and reveal to us his thoughts, his concepts. But we are generally focused in this essay on the passages that are directly identified as being about the Kingdom of Heaven.
Then the physical context changes again and Jesus responds to a question from the disciples while they are on the Mount of Olives. The subject is future prophecy, pertaining to the end of the era. He explains several things that should be kept in the context of the disciples question.
In most of these initial statements in this physical context, Jesus does not specifically mention the Kingdom of Heaven. He does refer to it with the statement that “the Good News of the Kingdom will be proclaimed”, indirectly reinforcing our concept that the Kingdom of Heaven is good news. The immediate context of that statement requires some attention as it can be misunderstood if read with Kingdom of Knowledge concepts.
The sentence before the statement of the Good News says that he who endures to the end will be delivered. For many this means that your salvation depends on enduring until the end of the world has passed. And by “enduring”, some Kingdom of Knowledge devotees understand that a person must be without some specific set of sins. Which does not align with the previous Kingdom of Heaven statements of Jesus that affirm the true nature of salvation: choosing to acknowledge the identity of Jesus as the Christ, the Son Of God.
It could be that the “enduring to the end” sentence is related to later sentences where Jesus says “Unless those days were limited, no one would survive. But those days will be limited because of the elect.” In this section the word “Survive” must be referring to mortal life, as the time is shortened for the sake of the “elect” – the word “elect” referring to those who have chosen to acknowledge the identity of Jesus.
It is beneficial to consider the word “lawlessness” in the sentence just before the “enduring to the end”. This word means the state of being where either one is ignorant of the law or one is violating the law (while aware). The sentences just prior to “lawlessness” provide context: Jesus lists some of the lawless actions. He says: “Then many will take offense, betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.” This is further illuminated a few verses later where Jesus explains that the bad servant is beating the other servants while waiting for the return. Holding all these words about violations in mind while pondering that “because of Lawlessness, the Love of most will grow cold”, we can begin to see that Jesus is referring to his theme again: the Kingdom of Knowledge establishes that no-one can keep the Law, the only way to God is through Jesus. When a person keeps certain parts of the Law and violates another, they are, by pure definition, Lawless.
This “lawlessness” and enduring it leads to the next sentence: “This good news of the Kingdom” will be proclaimed in all the earth. The lawlessness that is unavoidable by pursuing a path to God through law serves to reveal in a brilliant and clear light the Good News that through Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, we are saved.
It may be helpful to summarize the “end times” statements of Jesus in Matthew 24 leading up to 25. His statements are connected.
– The disciples talk about the temple buildings.
– Jesus focuses them on the temporary nature of the buildings, with a possible parabolic reference to the underlying Kingdom of Knowledge dependency.
– After arriving at the Mount of Olives, the disciples ask 2 questions:
– The first question: When will these things happen? Possibly referring to the de-construction of the temple, and the future predictive statements of the previous context.
– The second question: What are the signs of your coming and the end of the age?
– Jesus answers them with more indirect statements, mostly focused on the second question:
– False messiahs, continuous wars, famines, earthquakes. Just the beginning.
– Severe persecution, hatred, opposition, betrayal, more hatred, people speaking falsely for God, many deceived, denial of the full law, Love is cold, some will make it through.
– the Good News of the Kingdom stands in contrast
– that’s when the end is (answering the first question)
– When Daniel’s “Abomination that Causes Desolation” is in the Holy Place (Holy Place: the heart, or the one that would need to be rebuilt in Jerusalem?) then get out of the area (specifically Judea). Completely horrible times are starting.
– Jesus restates the need to be watching for people speaking falsely for God. Like vultures on a carcass.
– the coming of the Son of Man will be sudden.
– immediately after all the above signs, there will be tremendous astronomical events
– then the Sign of the Son of Man will appear and all people will mourn and they will see the Son of Man coming.
– He will gather the “elect”.
Then Jesus ties all these signs to an indirect teaching about a fig tree. Call into your concepts the last teaching using a fig tree. Add to your concepts that the Jews tend to believe that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was a fig tree. Jesus says that, similar to when looking at a fig tree you can see that the summer is approaching, when you see all these signs you can know that the Son of Man is at the door. Jesus then uses the word commonly translated “generation”. It can mean a single set of people born at around the same time. But it can also mean a set of people associated by some other trait. This latter meaning may help bring some understanding to this next phrase from Jesus. This “generation” will not pass away but will see these signs. The heavens and the earth will pass away. Jesus says his words, like his followers, will not pass away. Comforting words when talking about massive destruction and exceedingly difficult events to endure.
Jesus then observers that no-one knows the day and hour when this will happen. Not even the Son! Only the Father. If the Homeowner knew when the thief was coming he would stop it from happening. Call back into your concepts the parable of the vineyard and tenant farmers. One of the concepts we formed from that was that the battle is between the kingdom of Satan and the Kingdom of Heaven. And that people must choose sides. Here we see that the time of the “coming like lightning” is kept secret to keep the “homeowner” (parallel to Tenant Farmer) unable to prepare.
Jesus says “this is why you must be ready – because you don’t know the hour.” Before we allow our condemning knowledge of Good and Evil to start listing all the ways we are not perfect and therefore not ready, bring back into our concepts that we are ready when we cry out for mercy to the Christ, the Son of God.
Jesus explains this, once again using language that means something to the Kingdom of Knowledge devotees, but something completely different to the Kingdom of Heaven believers. What is the work of the Kingdom of Heaven – believe who Jesus is, cry out for mercy and receive it, walk around bringing mercy to those around you. In contrast Jesus mentions the servant who quits thinking Jesus is coming back, and starts oppressing the other servants and hanging out with the woman of Rev 17 – drunk on the blood of the saints. Jesus doesn’t say that the servant is associating with the woman of Rev 17, he just says “eating and drinking with drunkards”, but he was speaking indirectly, leaving room for the Kingdom of Knowledge devotees to gather meaning to hasten them to the point of despair. Please note that the parable does not describe the wicked servant as being drunk, but that he was “eating and drinking with drunkards”. Jesus described himself earlier in Matthew as associating with the despicable people, including drunkards. When he gives this parable of the wicked servant at end times, is Jesus saying the wicked servant was simply doing what Jesus did? No, that is not an association possible with our understanding of the nature of Jesus. So we must find the meaning here that consistent with his teachings. This is a parable, so it is indirect and intended to convey an overall message rather than explicit detail on each phrase. That is why I believe he is referring to associating with the group that feasts on oppressing others, which lines up with beating the other servants. The point being that the wicked servant is not an agent of mercy.
I listed this surface level summary of Jesus words, just to get our context set for what is next.
Without changing context Jesus tells another set of parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. Now we are in Matthew 25.
Matthew 25:1-13 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like 10 virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Five of them were foolish and five were sensible. When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take olive oil with them. But the sensible ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps. Since the groom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. In the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. But the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’ The sensible ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you. Go instead to those who sell, and buy oil for yourselves.’ When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived. Then those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was shut. Later the rest of the virgins also came and said, ‘Master, master, open up for us! ’ But he replied, ‘•I assure you: I do not know you! ’ Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.
This parable is greatly debated, with many different interpretations that are honest attempts to line up the details of this parable with the concepts formed by the interpreter’s background and interpretations of Jesus’ previous teachings.
To organize our concepts:
– remember that parables are indirect teaching tools. They are not a new system of Law, with every detail necessarily conveying rules.
– the context in which the parable is given is a significant part of the ability to understand.
– just prior to this, we reviewed the context in which Jesus delivered this parable. It includes some important points.
– this parable appears to be delivered to the small set of disciples. Remember this discourse starts with “the disciples approached him privately”.
– just prior to this, Jesus spoke parabolically of the wicked servant, who is influenced to be mean and unmerciful to the other servants because he loses confidence that the master is returning.
And Jesus’ epilogue proverb for this parable must be included: “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour”.
With a parable as difficult to understand as this, it may be helpful to go through an exercise to ensure that the lure of some interpretations is examined.
This section is just to make sure it is clear that these are assumptions that most interpreters make. I am neither endorsing or discounting them here – just listing them. These are assumptions because the text does not specify: Jesus did not explain, as he did a few times previously.
– The wedding feast being discussed is the wedding feast of the lamb, used in other places and taken to be referring to the “end of time” when this present age ends and the age marked by division of people between eternal blessing and eternal damnation begins.
– The groom is Jesus
– When the groom says “I don’t know you” to the 5 virgins, he is excluding them from eternal blessing, sending them to the bad place. But it is worth noting that in other statements similar to this, the authority in the parable gives instructions to have the failed person cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. But Jesus did not add that in this instance. He could have left it off because he expects us to automatically add it on. Or he could have left it off because it was not relevant to the point he was trying to convey.
– the oil in the lamps is the focus of the parable, because the lack of it caused the 5 foolish virgins to miss the arrival of the groom.
Assumptions are throughout our concepts; it is impossible to think without assumptions. That is part of the beauty of a careful study of the Kingdom of Heaven: we have the opportunity to form our concepts towards the assumptions that Jesus wants us to embrace.
Could it be that Jesus is explaining again the other way in which one can be excluded from being saved? This time by not keeping your lamp full of oil. The common assumption that supports this is that the oil in the lamps represents a lack obedience to the law. This assumption is always refined by defining some commandments from the Law of Moses that are excluded from being required for obedience and some statements from the New Testament books that are included as new commandments, and some imperatives that are derived from the above subsets and included as new commandments. This assumption fuels a return to the relationship with Jesus/God based on “I’m not good enough, but I will increase my efforts to be good enough.” Which certainly has a divine goal as exposed before: to lead one to a complete abandonment of dependence on self. This course will be especially productive if one takes this approach seriously enough to realize that leaving the definition of oil to chance is like playing a game of “Russian roulette”, where a partially loaded revolver cylinder is repeatedly spun, held to the head and fired. This game is played until dead or until one runs out of will power to face the eventual consequences of the odds. When the game is focused on the subject of eternal destiny, a game of chance is most assuredly unwise. If the oil in the lamps is intended by Jesus to represent something in your control, yet the oil is the key to your eternal destiny, you must define it well. If you have decided that it means living a life of pure obedience, then not defining the rules precisely is, by clear analogy, playing “Russian roulette”. If you are mistaken in your definition of which commandments apply, either by bad exegesis or by trusting someone to interpret scripture for you (like me), you likely will fail at your eternal goal. When you do finally believe Jesus, you will see that you cannot make it. Then you will finally depend on Him alone.
This interpretation, with the oil as the focus of the parable and oil representing human obedience, is a view held by many people. There are many who believe, just as the Pharisees and other Jewish Leaders, that a relationship with God is controlled by the righteousness that an individual achieves. This understanding of this parable supports that view. But this parable also is very vague about the nature of the oil, forcing the person holding this interpretation to realize that they need precise definition of Law to achieve self generated righteousness.
So maybe Jesus allowed this frightening prospect to stand in this parable as yet another call to pursue, with full vigor, the goal of saving yourself through your actions. He appears to have done that in previous parables.
Could it be that Jesus intended for the oil to represent salvation by faith alone? (The previous interpretation we looked at was salvation dependent on obedience) Viewing the oil as representing salvation, with salvation being by faith alone, is another common interpretation of this parable, with the overall message of “Therefore be alert” being a message to get saved before it is too late. Certainly is good advice. The difficulty is that it is difficult linguistically to make the Foolish Virgins without oil, especially with the verb used to describe the Lamps “going out”, a progressive action with rather strong implication that the lamps are changing state from burning to not burning. In addition it then makes the Sensible Virgins not very good Christians since they do not offer the free gift of salvation to the Foolish Virgins when the Foolish Virgins specifically ask for it. The Sensible Virgins say there is not enough for everyone, which is not a statement in alignment with Jesus representations of the Kingdom of Heaven to this point. “Freely you received, freely give” for one example of many. Those who hold this view avoid that difficulty by explaining that there will be a time when it is too late to choose. Which is true, but in the parable the Bridegroom has not quite arrived yet. But maybe he is just in the clouds so he is partially arrived. But he said in this same context that his coming will be like lightning. Leaving little time to have a conversation about salvation with christians who would have to give their salvation up for the last minute repenters to be saved (the Sensible Virgins say they will run out of oil if they give any oil to the Foolish Virgins).
I did not write the above paragraph to deride that interpretation of the parable. I certainly believe that we are “saved” by belief in Jesus, as Jesus himself made clear in the Unforgivable Sin passage and then reinforced in other places, such as Paul’s summary in Romans: “Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead”. And I certainly believe that there will be a time when it is too late to change. But the inconsistencies with that interpretation when compared to the parable make it appear to be lacking alignment.
Attempting to interpret parables with rigorous analysis of every detail can be less productive than expected. This is because parables are intended to provide indirect teaching. Rigorous analysis is looking for direct teaching. Being the words of the Christ, these indirect teachings deserve rigorous analysis, and certainly the analyst should expect to gain some understanding resulting from the exercise. But if we lose the intended primary message our analysis may have faulty assumptions. Faulty assumptions result in suspect analysis. The primary message is delivered indirectly in parables. Remember that early in Matthew, it was explained why he spoke in parables. Although that truth was delivered in a parable itself.
All that to say that I think we have to be careful with analysis. Which is a classic paradox, because I am analyzing all these things. Welcome to life where paradox is inescapable. This refreshes our concept that we are the created beings, seeking the Creator. He is Other. He is Holy. I am not like him. When I use my deductive skills and apply my mental disciplines to keep the correct concepts in place when analyzing a parable, I must, at the same time, keep the concept that I am merely a created being. I must keep Him involved. He is the Other being, the only Holy One, whom I can only know through relationship.
But what message would he intend in this parable for those who have diligently listened to his Kingdom of Heaven messages up to this point?
To me it seems clear that his Kingdom of Heaven message is consistent: he is the God who Loves the world, and made a way to undo the spiritual death that defines human existence. Humans are not capable of being good enough to earn heaven, but have no fear, he is good enough to give us heaven.
When looking at this parable with all the previous context in place, and especially when considering the epilogue proverb Jesus put on this parable, there does appear to be another alternative.
The epilogue proverb: “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.”
When in the parable do we see anything related to a state of being alert? The Greek word used here has the primary meaning “to be awake”. In fact, Jesus uses the same basic word shortly after this when speaking to the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane where he asks them to stay awake (alert). The foolish virgins are presented in contrast to the sensible virgins. It would be quite the jump in logic to relate these foolish and sensible qualities of the virgins to their state of alertness, especially alertness understood as similar to state of being awake.
But we do have Jesus specifically stating that all 10 fell asleep. Which is directly related to their alertness.
But how can that relate to all 10 virgins? Most people interpret then 5 sensible virgins as the heroes. But that is an assumption.
In the prior parables about the feasts, the King invites the wedding guests. In this one, these 10 Virgins are the women selected by the Bride as her special guests. As best as can be determined, these women would have not necessarily known the groom well. For that matter, that is possibly also true for the bride.
According to what we can know of the marriage traditions of that era, the announcement of the marriage would take place some unspecified amount of time before the consummation event. The groom would go back to his father’s house to prepare a place for he and his bride to live and to gather the customary gifts and bride price. Then he would return to the bride’s house, where they would consummate the marriage while everyone waited outside rejoicing in the union. After that the whole group would proceed to the house of the father of the groom. If it was at night they would each have a lamp or torch. There is debate as to exactly what the sequence was, but the sequence above serves to illustrate to some extant the context in the disciple’s minds.
If we step back from all the preassigned assumptions we have been taught by men, and just look at this parable from the point of view of the disciples listening with their understanding, we may find a simpler story with a strange twist. Like so many of Jesus’ parables, there is a strange twist to ponder.
In this story of a wedding feast, there is (or should be) a great anticipation of a wonderful event. Since we are told the story from the perspective of the bridesmaids, we can say our dear friend is marrying and we are all glad for this. The groom is on his way back, so we all gather at the brides house. At first, we are all happily discussing the groom our dear friend is soon to be intimately joined with. Is he kind? Will he be the kind of groom that truly loves his bride? What is is nature? But the hours drag on and the excitement wears out, replaced by boredom and sleepiness. We are no longer talking about and trying to understand who this groom is. We all fall asleep. We are awakened from our sleep by the shouts and trumpets of the approaching party of the groomsmen. In a panic, we all check that we are presentable to meet this groom and be an appropriate part of the ceremony. 5 of us realize we don’t have enough oil to make it all the way back to the groom’s house when the procession leaves. Now we have to decide about the nature of the groom: will he despise us because our lamps aren’t burning? Since we have not known the groom, we will have to face him with our lamps that are going out. How humiliating. Not willing to face that failure, we beg our friends to give us some of their oil. They can’t without facing the same dilemma. They advise us to run to a market, in the middle of the night, and get more oil to ensure the groom will accept us. We do, but of course it takes a long time – it is the middle of the night. By the time we get back, we are too late to join the party. And we have let our dear friend, the bride, down. Imagine the bride’s disappointment. And now the groom accurately says we were not involved at the consummation ceremony, so we are not known to him and his household.
Looking at the parable in this way helps me see the twist – a joyous event doesn’t work out right because of a simple mistake.
I speculate that, given the difficulty presented, each disciple weighing this would have been trying to find a way to reconcile the story to find a treasure that suits them. The “strict rules” ones would be thinking that the foolish virgins got what they deserved, especially as they are just women anyway. The kind-hearted would be trying to think of what the oiless bridesmaids should have done. It is easy to make a mistake. What should they have done?
Set aside their need to perform flawlessly and trust the nature of the groom.
We (now back to being ourselves and no longer the bridesmaids) can know the nature of the groom as he has been saying it over and over. He is merciful. The bride and bridesmaids should know that the groom is merciful and loving and have confidence in this.
So why the alert proverb?
Jesus’ other statements in this same physical context provide us with some help. This whole section is about the coming end of the age and the need to be aware. Jesus said because of the increase of lawlessness the love of most will grow cold. We already established that lawlessness is anyone that does not acknowledge or obey all the law, once again speaking to the distinction between the Kingdom of Knowledge and the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Knowledge is based on Law, Good and Evil. The Kingdom of Heaven is based on Love and Mercy. The Kingdom of Knowledge is focused on the Law, as it stands as an immense obstacle between us and God. The Kingdom of Heaven is focused on Jesus, as he stands as the undefeatable Son of God, once and for all conquering the power of our justly earned death. The love of most will grow coldas they focus on their performance under the Law, or ignore everything. Then the bad servant decides the master is not coming back (loses focus on the master) and enters into a life of beating the other servants. What has happened to his love for his other servants? Along with his love for the master, it has warped into something that does not resemble 1 Corinthians 13. It has grown cold. Cold like the stern “love” given out in harsh punishment environments.
It is brought to mind the story of a woman in the middle ages (early 14th century), who wrote a book about experiencing the deep and pure love of God. The ruling leaders at that time did not like what she wrote as it undermined their authority [my assessment after reading the proceedings]. They sentenced her to be burned alive. The goal of this type of execution was to cause great agony before death so that the person would have time to “repent” before it was too late. This is an act of “love” in the minds of those who pursue not running out of oil before it is too late. Of course, it is. 5 or 10 minutes of agony that causes one to “repent” before physical death is a good thing compared to an eternity of agony. This point of view is exposed in the account of the woman’s death that was written by those leaders. They note that all the people of the city turned out to watch her agony, and those people were greatly distressed by the scene but took comfort by interpreting her screams as evidence of “repentance”. The wicked servant began beating the other servants when he quit focusing on the nature of his master.
This parable of the TEN virgins brings the focus back to one of Jesus’ themes in this context mixed with his primary message of the Kingdom of Heaven: not losing confidence in the mercy of God expressed through Jesus, even though the waiting is difficult. While sleeping, there is no focus on the nature of the bridegroom. Even though these 10 virgins do not take the course of beating each other, as the wicked servant did, their lack of focus on the bridegroom causes some to seek to buy their own qualification to be in the event, instead of trusting that they are loved and valued.
He is not here yet. But he is coming. His nature is such that we can trust his acceptance of us, even if we are stupid. Don’t miss his coming because you are out fixing your failures as fast as you can. Know him and he will know you.
Without a pause, Jesus continues right into the next parable. He introduces this parable with “For it is just like …”, clearly coupling this with his preceding statement that Kingdom of Heaven “will be like”. But adding the present tense to the future tense – the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven is not changing.
Matthew 25:14-30 “For it is just like a man going on a journey. He called his own slaves and turned over his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; and to another, one — to each according to his own ability. Then he went on a journey. Immediately the man who had received five talents went, put them to work, and earned five more. In the same way the man with two earned two more. But the man who had received one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five talents approached, presented five more talents, and said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. Look, I’ve earned five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy! ’ Then the man with two talents also approached. He said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. Look, I’ve earned two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy! ’ Then the man who had received one talent also approached and said, ‘Master, I know you. You’re a difficult man, reaping where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed. So I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground. Look, you have what is yours.’ But his master replied to him, ‘You evil, lazy slave! If you knew that I reap where I haven’t sown and gather where I haven’t scattered, then you should have deposited my money with the bankers. And when I returned I would have received my money back with interest. ‘So take the talent from him and give it to the one who has 10 talents. For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough. But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. And throw this good-for-nothing slave into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ”
To me it is worth noting that these later parables can easily be understood in a way that speaks in opposition to other statements of Jesus. Once again, we find the Unforgivable Sin speaking forcefully against the Kingdom of Knowledge. If all sin will be forgiven, and we know from the writings of Paul and others that all sin was forgiven at the cross, what sin is it that must be done to either remain unsaved or lose your salvation?
If these “talents” are representing things that must be done to continue being saved, or to be saved, surely the definition of these “talents” if of supreme importance. And the definition of hiding it becomes a matter of eternal life and death.
As in the other parables where the authority figure has the inadequate player “cast into outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth” we must make assumptions about the meaning of Outer Darkness. It could be that it means being sent to eternal damnation, as many do believe. In contrast, I have read of some opinions that it is some lower level of heaven. Similar is the concept of Purgatory, a place where a soul is further refined before being admitted in heaven, Those who believe in Purgatory find these phrases easier to fit into their preexisting concepts of the Kingdom of Heaven and the hereafter.
These various beliefs about the meaning of Outer Darkness distract us from the indirect teaching of the parable. There is the fact that Jesus tells the parable portraying the authority figure saying these things about the Outer Darkness. I am not persuaded in any particular meaning of Outer Darkness. I am content to let it remain as part of the parable and not as a direct teaching joined to the parable. For me it is sufficient to recognize that the Outer Darkness is a bad destination. But avoiding the destiny of Outer Darkness is not the end goal of life. If I walk away from this parable with a strong zeal for making every effort to avoid the Outer Darkness, I am not connected with the primary indirect teaching of the parable.
The goal is to know God.
In this parable, the authority figure is leaving and gives his possessions to each of three servants. The possessions take the form of great wealth, given to the servants in amounts related to their abilities. Keeping the theme of this greater physical context of Matthew 24 and 25, the authority figure is gone for a long time. In parallel with the statements of Jesus just before this parable.
Instead of spiritualizing the talents, let us look at them as they are represented in the story and understand them in the natural realm, which is always the starting point for the parables.
A Talent was a monetary unit. As with most monetary systems, it was a measurement of weight, but based as a multiplier of a smaller weight. A Talent was equivalent to 6000 Denarii (plural of denarius). To understand it’s value, we could determine how much gold that would be, or silver. There is debate over what the precise weight would be, but perhaps a better way to understand is that a denarius was the standard day’s pay for an average soldier (according to some scholars). So 6000 days pay, or the average income for a common person for 16 years. A lot of money, even for the servant just being given charge of one.
So let us understand this. You are person who is under the control of a powerful man. He comes to you and hands you a huge amount of money announcing that he is leaving and will return later. Note that in this account of the parable, the powerful man does not specifically give instructions with the money. Immersing ourselves in the story as one of the servants, let us consider a couple different scenarios. First, we will view the powerful man as a regional power in the time of the Christ. These men are still notorious to this day for their totalitarian capricious authority. To put it in an exaggerated context for the sake of illustration: let’s assume that your master is a warlord. You know him as a hard man. One day, he walks in and gives you a very large amount of money, then he leaves on a trip of unknown length. You don’t know when he is coming back. If he comes back next week and the money is not there for him, you don’t expect you will live. If you use the money to invest in high gain activities, you know it is risky: everyone knows high returns are not available without high risk. Even bank deposits carry some risk. [in the time of the Christ there was no government attempts to insure banking type businesses]. Based on your understanding of the master, the safest way to go is to ensure you can return his money to him intact; to give him exactly what he gave you; to ensure that you had not lost the least of what was due to him. You hide the money to ensure that robbers will not find it.
Now let’s change our understanding of the nature of the master. You know him to be forgiving and loving. You have experienced his forgiveness before. Maybe you were like the man in an earlier parable, who owed the master a debt, but could not pay. And the master forgave your debt. You try to spend time with the master, watching as he deals with other people. You see that he greatly prefers people to come to him expecting his love and he loves having all kinds of people just loiter in his halls, as long as they are not mean spirited. You have come to love being around him. One day, he walks in and gives you a very large amount of money, then leaves on a journey. You have no idea how long he will be gone, but you hope it is short. You think to yourself : “what would my master do with all this money?”. So you set out to act like him, investing in people’s lives, loaning money to help people get out of life traps like lack of gainful employment, forgiving them when they fail to pay it back. Not counting the money, but counting the people. As is completely true in this life, the money grows because good sense combined with loving people is the best business strategy. The master is gone a long time, but you hold to your course, relying on your recollections of him to inspire you to keep going each day.
Then the master returns.
When he calls each slave to account, the first 2 used the money, resulting in gain. To each the authority figure observes they were faithful over little or few things, so they will now be given more things.
Then the parable focuses on the inadequate player, the servant given the least resources. You could view that in many ways, I choose to believe it was the lowest level of risk to the servant. In my estimation, this smaller amount of money is not the focus the parable, because I see the parable is about trusting the nature of the authority figure. The servant with the least responsibility has the same ability to please the master as the others. Just like the parable about the all workers get the same pay. But this servant, does not know his master. He calls him a hard master, and observes that he demands from people to not fail at producing the things the master wants (reaps what he has not sown – he did not give the servant the ability to automatically make profits; he does not give us the ability to perform without failure, which is what the inadequate servant thinks the master wants). To which the master replies that if the servant was choosing to believe these things about the master, the servant should have passed all the responsibility to someone else. By giving the money to a banker, the inadequate servant would not have avoided financial risk, but would be taking the least path of trust. But to give the money to a banker would have shown at least a little expectation that master would forgive him if the banker lost part of it. This would be the least action that could result if the inadequate servant had any true knowledge of the nature of the master. It is not the action that is important, but the foundation from which the decision is made to take action.
It appears that there is an epilogue proverb here as well: For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough. But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.
Again, we have to choose the set of concepts with which we understand. The Kingdom of Knowledge takes the view of the inadequate servant, either measure up or be cast out, the master is taking a long time to return so I had better be extremely conservative with these resources, and be careful to not lose anything. The Kingdom of Heaven says, my master is loving and merciful, I can use his resources and rejoice at his coming, even if he takes a long time I will remain confident in his nature. The epilogue proverbs wraps it up with a good summary of the prospects for salvation in the two Kingdoms. If you read this parable without ears to hear, the closest interpretation is another reference to live right or die. If you have ears to hear, you see the Kingdom of Heaven again. This time with the encouragement to keep holding onto confidence in his nature when it feels like he is never coming back.
Then Jesus proceeds into a statement that includes a parable. Still in the same physical context.
Matthew 25:31-46 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You? ’ And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’ Then He will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels! For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger and you didn’t take Me in; I was naked and you didn’t clothe Me, sick and in prison and you didn’t take care of Me.’ Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or without clothes, or sick, or in prison, and not help You? ’ Then He will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me either.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Before we look into this statement, a few points about it are worth noting.
– this appears to be direct teaching mixed with some allegory. It appears that Jesus is literally speaking of the end of the age. He is certainly continuing his theme that is dominant throughout this entire physical context. He mentions that he is coming back, with the angels, as he mentioned previously, indicating the big event. The allegory is the sheep and the goats.
– note that Jesus does not use the term “Outer Darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth” but uses direct words “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”. Is it the same thing? You decide.
Now, we can consider the whole passage (verses 31-46) for summary understanding. Again, the words of Jesus can either confirm your Kingdom of Knowledge concepts, or your Kingdom of Heaven concepts.
As we read this with our natural mindset, it seems clear that Jesus is saying that people are going to be sent to eternal punishment for not giving food, drink, clothes and time to those people who need those things. As with the other parables and direct teachings of Jesus, you can take it that your behavior must be perfect to enter eternal life. This time, he restates themes he has mentioned before, such as “give him your cloak also” when speaking of someone stealing from you. And “sell ALL you have and give it to the poor” when explaining to the rich man how to inherit eternal life. And if you cause anyone to stumble it is better to have previously had a millstone drag you to your death in the sea. And…
Now Jesus refines it: if you know of anyone without food, drink or clothes you had best resolve their problem or you face eternal judgment. But it is not even that easy – if you know of anyone that is in prison or sick, you need to take care of them [Jesus did say take care of them to those being sent to judgment]. Then he makes it perfectly clear who must receive these services from you: “I assure you: Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me either.”
Least of these. Clever. If you try to find a way out of this, this phrase traps you. In this modern age, you know of people in prison all over the world. When deciding which ones to go take care of, you will eliminate some as being less significant to help. The least of these. Sell ALL that you have… Damned before you start. The symphony of the Kingdom of Knowledge in crescendo.
But if we summon our faith, and believe the Gospel that Jesus brought, we can hear the melody of the Kingdom of Heaven soaring above the strident cadences of the Kingdom of Knowledge, the beautiful melody made all the more alluring by its beauty imposed over the powerful and dark movements of righteous judgment and death. As our ears become able follow the faint melody drifting above the insistent rhythms of doom, we are drawn to add our voices to the melody as it becomes the center of our attention with the juxtaposed accompaniment serving us only to emphasize the beauty of the melody.
In this teaching, Jesus states that the sheep and the goats are separated before he speaks to them. By the time Jesus will speak the words about providing care to people, the decision about which group they are in has been made, and easily too, as sheep and goats are very different. The evidence phase of this trial is easy: sheep on the right, goats on the left. This is in contrast to the tares and wheat growing in the field before the harvest. They are difficult to distinguish before harvest, remember or review that parable to get Jesus’ message back into your concepts. The battle is between the Devil and the Son of God, each with their angels. Which side did the goats choose? They are today choosing to not believe in Jesus, the Son of God, sent to save the world. The Unforgivable Sin. They are choosing to align with those who teach that the path to life is defined by the Law, not by the nature of Jesus. They are the ones sending people to prison and rejoicing in the destruction of their lives “because they deserve it”.
But the Sheep have chosen to believe in Jesus and his Gospel, the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven. Hearing that melody flying high above the symphony of judgment, they sing with it.
Jesus will point out that his sheep are earmarked by Love. When they see someone destitute on the street, they don’t think “that person has made bad choices and needs to stay in agony until they learn to make better choices”. When Jesus’ sheep hear of someone in prison, they don’t think “that was a really evil thing they did to get put in prison, they need to suffer to pay their debt to society”. No. When Jesus’ sheep encounter these issues, they LOVE the evil downtrodden sinners. Just like Jesus.
Not so the goats.
So Jesus here is not describing the faults that caused the goats to be separated from the sheep. He is observing the fruit that comes from someone’s underlying Kingdom alignment. The decision that makes one a sheep or a goat is not hidden and difficult. Do you believe? You are a sheep. As you stay focused on the master and have the benefit of not becoming mean (the wicked servant), as you stay focused on the nature of the bridegroom and have the benefit of rejoicing at his arrival (the 10 virgins), as you remain confident in the nature of the master and have the benefit of seeing Love multiply (the talents), you will love other people (the sheep, who were surprised that they did these things). More and more. When you fail at loving, that is not the Unforgivable Sin. Face the failure and forget it, choose instead to focus on the master, Jesus. Let the master love you. Let his love fill you and flow out.
Just like Jesus, who came to be on this miserable earth so that he could make it possible for us to know him.
Just like Jesus, who died for every vile, evil, repulsive, failed person. And wants to be with them.
Jesus said: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The Kingdom of Heaven