The Owners Manual - Volume Three: Commandment Appendices - Appendix 2: The Commandments of Christ - Ken Power Books
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Appendix 2: The Commandments of Christ


Volume 3: Appendix 2

The Commandments of Christ

Our first appendix listed the things commanded by God in the Torah that can still be done today—that is, without a temple, priesthood, and theocratic Israelite society dwelling within the Land of Promise. The vast preponderance of Torah precepts, of course—the ones depending upon these things for their performance—were fulfilled in the life and mission of Yahshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). That is, these precepts were actually prophecies, dress rehearsals meant to foreshadow what Yahweh’s Anointed One would achieve on behalf of mankind. All of the offerings and sacrifices, all of the cleansing rituals, and all of the priestly ceremony were symbolic, one way or another, of that which Yahshua accomplished at Calvary: the atonement of our sins, our sanctification before God, and our eternal reconciliation with Him. So Israel was charged with “acting them out,” rehearsing them like players on the world’s stage. 

The remainder—the relatively small percentage of Torah precepts that can still be kept today—teach us how to dwell in peace and love with our neighbors, how to keep our bodies functioning properly during the days Yahweh has allotted to us, and live holy lives before our God. But all of this begs the question: what did Yahshua Himself instruct us to do? After all, He told us, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17) His followers called Him “Teacher” and “Rabbi” (literally, Master). So what did He teach them (i.e., us) to do? If He is the One we have chosen to be our Master and Lord, does it not behoove us to identify precisely what His instructions were—and then follow them? These teachings will be the subject of this Appendix. 

Since Christ is Yahweh in flesh, we might have expected a simple recitation of the high points of the Torah. But the Torah, you’ll recall, was addressed exclusively to Israel—with the idea that everyone else would observe their performance and subsequent blessing and come to honor the God who instituted such a wise roadmap to successful life—not to mention such a symbolically pregnant revelation of our Creator’s plan for our reconciliation. Beyond the sad fact that Israel did not keep the Torah’s precepts, we must remember that Christ was also addressing the church—future believers in the efficacy of His mission. And the church (the ekklesia, literally, those “called-out” by Christ) would expand far beyond its beginnings as a strictly “Jewish sect,” and thus would not, by definition, be subject to the Torah in any specific way. (That is, we gentile believers were given a different job to do—distinct from Israel’s.) 

And sure enough, what we actually observe in scripture is that Yahshua did not merely repeat the Torah’s commandments and call it a day. Nothing He said, mind you, is incompatible with the Law of Moses, but He takes obedience in a whole new direction, stressing the spirit over the letter, pure motives over rote compliance, and relationship over submission. Theoretically, one could grit his teeth and comply with the Torah’s overt commandments—though none of us has ever done so perfectly. But Yahshua’s commandments are infinitely more difficult to keep as fallen human beings, for they take not only outward obedience into account, but also our reasons for doing these good things. Moses tells not to murder; Christ tells us that hatred or resentment (i.e., harboring motives for murder) is pretty much the same thing. Moses tells us not to commit adultery; Yahshua informs us that “merely” embracing lust is tantamount to adultery—even if we never laid a hand on the object of our desire. 

In other words, doing what Christ said to do looks impossible, and it’s even harder than it looks. Speaking of the Torah, Peter summed it up for us: “Why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the [gentile] disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” (Acts 15:10-11) Salvation, he says, comes through grace—imputed righteousness bestowed upon us through our faith in the finished work of Christ. That is, it is not the result of doing good works—even if we are instructed to do these things. Furthermore, this principle is true for everyone—Jew and gentile alike: we are saved by grace through faith, or not at all. 

That being said, our works—keeping Christ’s specific commandments—are vitally important, for several reasons. (1) They separate us from the world, making us stand out as being “different” from the lost. (2) They comprise our most eloquent testimony—those “actions that speak louder than our words.” And (3) they identify to the world (and to ourselves) precisely who our God is—Who it is that we worship and endeavor to obey (even if we’re not perfect in our compliance). Conversely, if we proclaim Christ with our lips but don’t at least attempt to keep His commandments, then we are revealed to be hypocrites, pretenders, liars. As Christ Himself said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.” (John 14:23) And that behooves us to come to know what “His word” is—and not just vague feelings or sweeping generalizations (like “Be holy”) but those specific things Yahshua actually said to do. 

For the most part, these aren’t really “things we are supposed to do,” a laundry list of rules to keep or a “bucket list” of tasks to mindlessly check off, like the seven pillars of Islam. Rather, they are most often expressed as “ways we should be,” or “attitudes that ought to characterize us,” or “things we should keep in mind.” It would seem that even the “Do this” passages are mostly examples of larger subjects that we are to apply creatively to a broad range of human endeavor. So when Yahshua says to “wash one another’s feet,” or “go the extra mile,” we are to view these precepts as launching pads for successful Christian life and testimony—not specific rules, logical extensions of which may be ignored with impunity. 

A quick perusal of the subheadings comprising this appendix will provide some idea of what I’m talking about:

Worship God Alone
Love One Another
Walk God’s Path; Grow in Grace
Be Salt and Light in the World
Do Not Worry or Fear
Be Discerning; Be Wise
Believe in God’s Power, Mercy, and Grace.
Have Honest and Godly Motives
Pray in God’s Will
Lay Up Treasures in Heaven
Repent
Observe God’s timing
Recognize that Christ Fulfills the Law and the Prophets
Heed God’s Symbols, Metaphors, and Parables

***

A few words about content and format: Naturally, all of these entries contain quotes from Yahshua Himself—the “red letter” stuff in your Bible. So most of them are recorded in the Gospels, with a few from Revelation and even one from I Corinthians. Not everything Yahshua said can be construed as “commandments,” however. I have not included passages that are purely informational, no matter how important they might be. But if a course of action is implied, even if not stated outright, I have presented the quote for your consideration. 

If Christ quoted a precept from the Torah, even if He didn’t further comment on it, I have included the statement. We’ll find that nothing He said contradicts or weakens the Law of Moses, though much of it goes beyond the Torah, cutting straight to the heart of the matter—to our innermost motivations and desires. Christ didn’t impose rules for rules’ sake, but invariably used them only to reveal to us what we were really all about. Whereas the Torah (not to mention the oral traditions that centuries of rabbinical meddling had piled upon it) allowed one to keep the “letter of the Law” as far as the public could see, the spirit of the law, revealing one’s true heart attitude, was always what was on Yahshua’s mind. Of course, that principle was true of Moses’ revelation as well (as in when he pleaded with Israel to “Circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer,” Deuteronomy 10:16) but the very structure of the Torah suggested the “letter” first, with the “spirit” coming in a distant second. Not so with Christ’s teachings. 

We get the feeling that Yahshua said some of these things on multiple occasions, and quite a few of them show up in more than one Gospel account, perhaps with slight variations (which is quite natural, since they were spoken in Aramaic but recorded in Koine Greek, on their way to being translated into a plethora of slightly different English versions). I haven’t quoted every variant, but have rather recited only one (often Matthew’s—which seem to reflect a publican’s penchant for precision) and merely referenced the others. If you’re curious, I encourage you to look up the parallel statements. 

As we might expect, some of Yahshua’s instructions were intended for a universal audience, and some were meant for specific people under specific circumstances—such as those of us living in the “next-to-last” days. But all of it is “given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (II Timothy 3:16-17)


Worship God Alone

In Moses’ microcosm of the Law, the Ten Commandments, the very first (and most fundamental) precept is “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:3) Whether “before Me” means “above Me,” or merely “in My presence” is left unclear (though the former seems more likely). But the Second Commandment (the one forbidding the making of idols) flatly states that we are to have no other “gods” at all—that Yahweh was to be the only thing in our lives receiving devotion or adoration. The surprise would come when we discovered that Yahweh would provide His own “graven image” of Himself for us—in the person of Yahshua the Messiah. 

The first hurdle to get over (for some) is the concept that Yahshua—Jesus Christ—was actually Yahweh Himself in human form. He was not “merely” a prophet or a messenger or a teacher, though He was all of those things. The fact that He temporarily set aside His heavenly glory and chose to manifest Himself as a mortal man dwelling among men should not cloud the issue of Christ’s identity. He was—and is—God Almighty. 

He didn’t just pop out of Mary’s womb declaring that fact, however. The whole point of God’s coming as an innocent and helpless baby born of a woman, coming in the form of a servant, was so that He might sacrifice Himself—in precise fulfillment of the Torah’s myriad offerings—as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” That meant that He couldn’t declare His true identity publicly until the very end of His mortal life. Indeed, He spend most of His three and a half years of ministry deflecting questions about Who He really was. He mostly called Himself “the Son of Man,” a title that reveals His love, but not His identity. Getting stoned for imagined or presumed blasphemy would not have met the requirements of the Torah or Prophets. He had to go to the cross in order to fulfill the Law: He had to be the Passover Lamb chosen by the High Priest—who declared, without realizing the import of his prophecy, “It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John 11:50) So Yahshua was quite coy about declaring His divinity until it was time for Him to be sacrificed for our sins on Passover, 33 AD. That being said, His miracles revealed His deity quite convincingly, for no one who was not of God could do such things. 

The angel who announced the conception of Yahshua to His mother Mary said He would be called “the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). But the only direct and unambiguous Old Testament prophecies of this concept are found in the Psalms: “I will declare the decree: Yahweh has said to Me, ‘You are My Son; today I have begotten You.” (Psalm 2:7) And the Psalmist Ethan prophesies, “He shall cry to Me, ‘You are my Father, My God, and the rock of my salvation.’ Also I will make him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” (Psalm 89:26-27) Yahshua never actually referred to Himself as “the Son of God,” although when pressed by the High Priest at His trial, He could not deny it. But the title was used of Him by others—the insightful Simon Peter, for example, in addition to Satan and a few demons whom Yahshua had cast out. (Later in this Appendix, you’ll find a whole section on “Observing God’s Timing,” which often meant concealing Christ’s divine identity until the moment was right. Of course, now that the cat is out of the bag, we are free to shout that truth from the rooftops.) 

To our generation, even the “Son-of-God” title sounds a bit slippery, like saying He was actually “something less than God,” or “a second-generation deity.” But in the idiom of the day, it was perfectly clear: a son (especially the firstborn) was his father for all practical purposes. That is, they had the same profession, the same agenda, the same authority, the same assets, the same reputation, and the same honor. And if the father was the king, the firstborn son was presumed to be the future king. Yahshua proved that He possessed the same power as His Father Yahweh by rising from the dead under His own authority on the third day. So when we worship the Messiah, we are worshiping God alone: He and Yahweh are One. 

That’s the only reason Yahshua could say with a straight face, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) No one would fully comprehend what that meant, of course, until the significance of His death and resurrection had sunk in. As He explained (after He had risen) to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32), the Law and the Prophets had foretold His mission in a thousand different ways. What they had read in the Tanakh was merely the shadow of God’s plan, while Christ was the reality casting that shadow. Coming to God “through Him” was tantamount to exercising faith in the efficacy of His perfect life, His sacrificial death, and His miraculous and unprecedented resurrection. As He Himself had said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” (John 6:29) 

At the beginning of His ministry, after being baptized by John, Christ went out to be tempted by Satan in the wilderness. Naturally, He made good use of the “whole armor of God” (see Ephesians 6:10-18), especially the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (v. 17) He fended off Satan’s enticements by quoting scripture: “But He answered [Satan] and said, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God….” It is written again, “You shall not tempt Yahweh your God….”’” Note that here, toe-to-toe with the devil, Yahshua clearly equated Himself with Yahweh. 

In the Psalm 2 passage I quoted above, Yahweh promised to give His Son “the nations for an inheritance, and the ends of the earth for His possession.” But here, Satan offered to give Yahshua all of that—without going to the cross—if He would only bow down before him. “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship Yahweh your God, and Him only you shall serve.”’” (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, 6:16, and 6:13; cf. Luke 4:1-13) Not surprisingly, Yahweh in Flesh (Yahshua) confirmed what Yahweh in Spirit had directed Moses to proclaim: worship Yahweh alone. 

The Third Commandment (the one about not “taking the name of God in vain”) literally means we are not to use the name or reputation of Yahweh in a manner that is empty, worthless, false, or futile. That is, we are not to attribute God’s character or works to someone else, and vice versa. But that’s exactly what the Pharisees were doing (whether they knew it or not) when they accused Yahshua of operating in demonic power when He cast out demons: “Now when the Pharisees heard [about the healing of the demon-possessed man] they said, ‘This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons….’” Excuse me, gentlemen; your jealously is showing. The proper response would have been, “Praise God; this man has been delivered from his affliction. We should enquire as to His Healer’s relationship with the Almighty, for there obviously is one.” 

“But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.’” Yahshua cut straight to the flaw in their paranoid logic. “‘If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house….’” You can’t cast out demons unless you’re operating in a power greater than theirs. Do the math, He says: what you’ve seen here is evidence that I am wielding the very power of God. 

And because you have witnessed this miracle, you must therefore choose a side—either Yahweh’s, or Satan’s: “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad. Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.’” (Matthew 12:24-32) The implied imperative here is to look at the evidence and worship God alone, for He has defeated Satan before your very eyes. Do not, under any circumstances, treat the Spirit of God with contempt. 

The next one is subtle, but bear with me. Yahshua said, “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation.” (Matthew 12:43-45) He’s saying, in effect, that it doesn’t help to turn your back on a false or empty religion if you don’t replace it with the true worship of Yahweh. Leaving Islam for Hinduism (for example), or atheism for new-age “spirituality” doesn’t fill any real need in your life: you have merely exchanged one demon for another (or several of them), jumping back and forth between the frying pan and the fire. We are designed to worship God alone—the One True God, Yahweh, through His incarnation, Yahshua. 

A variation on the theme is presented here: “Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil….” With an overwhelming sense of gratitude, love, and worship, Mary (a sister of the man whom Christ had raised from the dead) spent the equivalent of a year’s wages in a spectacularly lavish gesture that not even she fully understood. But how do you demonstrate your appreciation to God, when you suddenly perceive that He is standing in your very presence? You show your devotion in the most extravagant manner you can. Note that it wasn’t just the cost of the fragrant oil, either. Mary was a wealthy woman, but she assumed the posture of the lowliest of servants before Yahshua, kneeling before Him to wipe His feet with her hair. She worshiped God alone, having recognized God’s presence in the Person of Yahshua—and she didn’t care what anybody thought of her outlandish, emotional act. 

But as inspirational as it was, emulating Mary was not the commandment Yahshua issued here. “But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, ‘Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’ This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it. But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.’” (John 12:1-8) There will, of course, be opportunity and impetus to “cast our crowns” before the feet of Christ when we at last see Him in Person. But in the meantime, He issued a warning: “Leave her alone.” That is, don’t disparage or interfere with what may seem to you like outrageous displays of devotional fervor on the part of people more demonstrative—or less practical—than you are. There is room (and need) for both Mary and Martha in the Kingdom of Heaven. Remember the wise words of Solomon: “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) And bear in mind what happened to Michal, King David’s wife, after she ridiculed her husband for celebrating with reckless abandon before Yahweh: she remained barren—childless—her entire life. (See II Samuel 6:23.) 

It cannot be overstressed: if we are to worship God alone, we must be “in Christ.” There is no other way to achieve reconciliation, for as we saw above, Yahshua said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) So His final word on the subject is as follows: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned….” Picture a grapevine. It is rooted in the earth, from which it draws water and nourishment. But the fruit (if any) grows on the branches that extend outward from the central trunk (called “the vine” here). The branches do not (and cannot) produce fruit apart from their connection to (actually, their growth from) the vine. If cut off, they simply shrivel and die. So to be fruitful and productive, the branches must “abide,” be anchored in and growing from, the central vine. 

The same is true of our relationship with God. We cannot “do good works” apart from Him—no matter how much we might want to. “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:4-10) Christ is the vine, our lifeline to Yahweh (represented here by the good earth). Once again, Yahshua has equated Himself with Father Yahweh, without actually saying so. If we are connected to Him, we are connected to Yahweh as well, for they are one symbiotic system, one entity. In fact, the only way for us “branches” to be connected to the sustaining earth (Yahweh) is through the “vine,” Yahshua. 

But there is a caveat. It is also possible to be a branch growing on another vine—something other than Christ—growing not in God, but in evil, depleted, or poisonous soil. Even if there is a harvest in this scenario, it won’t be “good fruit.” The grapes of wrath will be either tasteless, sour, or downright poisonous. The good news is that even if we were “born” on a bad vine, anchored in toxic ground, it is possible to break us off and graft us into God’s Messiah, becoming in the process part of a living, growing, fruitful entity planted in God. And better still, the choice of which vine we branches wish to “abide in” is ours alone. Who ever heard of such a thing? 

The stunning bottom line: we become part of whatever we worship. 


Love One Another

If the instructions of God were to be boiled down to one word, one concept, it would have to be love. This may come as something of a shock (or at least an epiphany) to people who are not intimately familiar with the Christian Scriptures, for every religion on earth—including nominal (read: apostate) Christianity—operates on some other paradigm. The reason, of course, is that religion (by definition) is man’s search for god (however we define “him”). So the starting point is our inevitably flawed guess at what the Supreme Being might be like, and what he (or she) must want. 

For example, Islam assumes (based on the opinion of its lone “prophet,” Muhammad) that their god will be happy with nothing less than world conquest—even though he relies solely on the sword of his Muslim warriors to achieve that goal: Allah never lifts a finger in his own cause. Hindus recognize over three hundred million “gods,” who (according to common wisdom) must be constantly appeased with offerings and ritual prayers, or they’ll lose focus and cease doing the things gods are supposed to do, like making predictable weather and causing crops to grow. A plethora of spin off Eastern religions (e.g. Buddhism, Shintoism, Taoists, etc.) are essentially atheistic in nature, focused on achieving inner peace in a world wracked with turmoil, through introspection, meditation, and total self-absorption. Their “holy grail” is to achieve nothing—or rather, nothingness—escaping the cycle of reincarnation through the annihilation of the soul. Atheism too is a religion in every sense of the word, worshiping man (in a sect called secular humanism), the environment, or blind chance. Nominal (i.e., not-genuine) Christianity, meanwhile, seeks to please the god they have invented, through such means as obedience (not to god, but to the church), alms, rituals, penance, veneration of saints, lowest-common-denominator theology, and whatever “cause” momentarily attracts their attention. (For a more detailed analysis of all this, see The End of the Beginning, Appendix 11: “The Faith Factor,” elsewhere on this website.) 

But Yahweh’s concept is the antithesis of religion. Technically, He doesn’t want us to search for Him at all, but rather to simply trust Him, following the path He Himself has laid at our feet. We cannot think, work, or buy our way to God; we can only graciously and humbly receive the free gift of salvation that’s revealed in His Word. God (Yahweh) loves us, even though we’re fallen, sinful creatures. And He has shown that love by providing a means by which we might be redeemed (bought back from bondage in sin) and reconciled—reunited—with Him. The work and sacrifice is all done on Yahweh’s side of the equation. Our role is simply to receive it, giving thanks and honoring God by reciprocating His awesome love. I know: it sounds “too easy,” “too good to be true.” But the reality is, only innocence can atone for guilt—and we’re not innocent. If God didn’t provide grace as a free gift, we would forever remain lost in our sins. So as God loved us, He asks that we love one another in return, “paying forward” His grace, as it were. 

It’s not as if this concept was something new, something invented by Yahshua and spread by His disciples. It had been around since the very beginning, and was even codified into the Torah: “Then one of them, a lawyer, asked [Yahshua] a question, testing Him, and saying, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’” (Matthew 22:35-39, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18; cf. Mark 12:28-31) And as John would later point out (see I John 4:7-21, etc.), the only effective way to demonstrate our love for God is to love our fellow man; and conversely, if we don’t love our neighbors, we don’t really love God either. 

This might sting a bit, but “loving our neighbors” means more than simply tolerating or ignoring them. Yahshua—mostly in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7, Luke 6)—taught us what such “love” looked like. It requires a soft heart and a godly attitude: in other words, you can’t fake it. 

He said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’” So far, so good. I’ve never murdered anybody. “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” Okay, I’m hanging onto that phrase “without a cause” with every fiber of my being. “And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire….” Uh-oh. I’m in trouble now. “Raca” is an epithet meaning “empty-headed,” a stupid, good-for-nothing numbskull. But Lord, I’m dealing with your enemies here—or at the very least, people who don’t agree with me politically, morally, or spiritually. He tells me, “Are they not merely lost, as you once were? Let Me deal with them.” The word translated “fool” here is the Greek moros, from which we get our “moron.” It literally means dull in understanding, insipid, or mentally inert. Two of my adopted children were morosliterally brain-damaged—so I would never use the word as a pejorative (except when I do). Interestingly, Yahshua Himself used this very word to describe hypocritical scribes and Pharisees (see Matthew 23:17). Moros pops up a dozen places in the Gospels and Epistles to describe various states of misunderstanding or error—even (in I Corinthians 4:10) of Christ’s Apostles in the eyes of foolish people who presumed they know better. All I can do here is agree with Yahshua: calling someone a moron is a dangerous thing to do. Judge not, lest you yourself be judged. 

Yahshua continues: “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” If you can’t find it in your heart to live in peace with your fellow man, then don’t presume you can “buy” your way into God’s good graces with alms or penance. God is primarily interested in our love for one another—even if it’s only one sided. “Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:21-26) The point here, if I may paraphrase, is “Don’t insist on life being fair, for this life—populated as it is by fallen, sinful men like yourself—is anything but. Rather, do whatever you can to defuse personal grievances before they take on a life of their own, before your pride has swallowed you whole and spit you out.” Love your neighbor, even if it costs you—even if he doesn’t deserve your love. 

A few verses later, Yahshua repeated and clarified the principle: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” (Matthew 5:38-42) Yes, the punishment should fit the crime, and justice is to be preferred to corruption. But at the same time, know for certain that “vengeance belongs to Yahweh.” In the end, He is the one whose right it is to determine what’s just and what is not. He can be trusted to “make things right” on His own schedule. In the meantime, we are to gracefully allow the morons of this world (did I just say that? Again?) to trample our rights and demean our character. Are your taxes well-nigh unbearable? Pay them anyway—without complaint. It’s only money, and our Father owns the cattle on a thousand hills—and the hills. Did you get a traffic ticket for that perfectly safe one-mile-an-hour “California rolling stop” through the right turn at the red light? Vow to do better, and get out your checkbook. Just be thankful for all those times you were driving 40 in a 35 MPH zone, and didn’t get caught. (And yes, those are personal examples from my own life. You know what you’ve done as well, I imagine. Face it: the only sinless person died at birth.) 

These sayings are quotes from the Sermon on the Mount. This is Luke’s recounting of what Yahshua said next: “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you….” Love our enemies? Yes. The verb “to love” here is the Greek agapao, from which the familiar noun agape is derived. Technically, this kind of love means “to be full of good-will toward…to have a preference for, wish well to, regard the welfare of… to take pleasure in the thing, prize it above other things, be unwilling to abandon it or do without it… to welcome with desire, to long for.” (Thayer) No pressure or anything, but this is exactly what Christ did when He sacrificed Himself to save us all—knowing beforehand that most of us would reject Him. He loved Adolph Hitler and Mother Teresa equally—not to mention you and me—preferring our eternal well-being even to His own mortal life. 

So how does one “love his enemies” in the real world? We are to do for them what Yahshua did for us—to whatever extent the opportunity presents itself. We can’t sacrifice ourselves to atone for their sins, of course, but, “To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back.” It is as if we are being asked to compensate for the unfairness of the world around us—to love them even more than they hate us. Our enemies despise us for several reasons. They may covet what we have, envying our prosperity (due to God’s provision) or our inexplicable inner peace; they may have been taught to hate us or the people we support (e.g. Israel); they may detest the God we worship, rebelling against His authority. They may simply fear us, not understanding that we mean them no harm. But we are instructed to simply treat them as we would like to be treated—with compassion, understanding, and love: “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise….” How does one apply the “golden rule” to the likes of Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong Un? Pray for them—not for their success in doing evil, of course, but for their repentance and salvation. Christ can change the heart of the worst sinner, as long as he draws breath. 

“But if you love [only] those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back.” It’s relatively easy to love people (in the agapao sense) if they are “on your side.” Even if they want something from you, at least they mean you no harm. Your enemies, on the other hand, are not so benign: by definition, they don’t care if you get hurt by what they do—or neglect to do. They may even hate you on principle. At the very least, they’re your philosophical adversaries. Loving them is not so easy to do. “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36; cf. Matthew 5:43-48) Remember, Christ died for us while we were yet sinners; the least we can do (in emulation of His love) is to treat people who hate us with love, generosity of spirit, and unfeigned mercy. 

I’m going to make an observation here that isn’t overtly spelled out in the text, but it seems valid nevertheless: the love we are to show to our “enemies” is primarily a personal, one-on-one sort of thing (that is, it is not national in scope). Furthermore, it is something based on and derived from our relationship with Yahweh; consequently, if we have no such familial relationship with God, then we can neither “love our enemies,” nor expect the “Heavenly Father” to shield us from the potentially adverse consequences of doing so. You can’t radiate God’s light if He does not dwell within you. 

The obvious contemporary example of “doing it wrong” is post-Christian Europe. They seem to be following Christ’s commandment to “love their enemies” when they (actually, their globalist leaders) invite hundreds of thousands of Muslims to invade (excuse me—immigrate to) their lands. (The practice began shortly after World War II, when the goal was to provide a source of cheap unskilled labor to replace the populace who had been killed in the war. It’s still true: the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.) Today’s “refugees” insist they are seeking shelter from the oppressive culture of their Islamic homelands, but at the same time, they are bringing that very culture with them, intact and deadly. So places that used to honor God half a millennium (or even half a century) ago now have to deal with a cultural cancer they have inflicted upon themselves—a culture of terror, rape, pedophilia, crime, greed, and sloth. And there is no way to stop it, short of repentance before God. 

Partially post-Christian America has the same problem, albeit to a lesser degree. And in addition to the Muslim curse, we also deal with illegal immigration from Latin America (and elsewhere) on an industrial scale. Some of these folks merely want to escape the crushing poverty and crime endemic in their own home countries; but many others are looking for a free ride at the American taxpayer’s expense—welfare, healthcare, free education, and more. Worse, some are only here to pursue organized criminal enterprise (by their tattoos ye shall know them). Liberal politicians perceive a base of support in these illegal residents (or at least their children), so they play “Robin Hood” with the already overburdened taxpayers’ resources, buying votes with stolen dollars. 

So some of these folks fall into the “widows, orphans, and oppressed” category (who thus are supposed to be recipients of our mercy), and the rest are our unabashed “enemies,” to whom Christ also instructed us to show love. The question remains: what does it mean to “love” them? Somehow, I don’t think presenting yourself (or your family) as a willing victim of a violent crime or political corruption is quite what God had in mind. The key to our proper response is what Christ did. In many of Yahshua’s examples, Israel’s Roman occupiers were the object of His lessons. (“Go the extra mile; turn the other cheek,” etc.) He never suggested revolting against Rome or refusing to pay the taxes they so unreasonably demanded. But He didn’t obsequiously “sell out” to Rome, either (as the Chief Priests did). Rather, the Great Physician adhered to the Hippocratic Oath toward the Romans, so to speak: “First, do no harm.” 

His love for this particular “enemy” manifested itself in individual, personal terms—for example, offering without qualm or hesitation to help a Roman centurion, healing his servant and then commending him for his great faith (Matthew 8:5-13). But note something else: the centurion, though ostensibly Israel’s “enemy,” had proactively appealed to Yahshua, reaching out to Him in hope and faith (and yes, desperation). There were thousands of Romans in Judea who neither sought nor received any material help from Yahshua. I think this might be the key to how we are to “love our enemies.” If you meet a “foreigner” or “stranger” (even one presumed to be your “enemy”) who needs and wants your help, by all means aid him in whatever way you can. Don’t judge his motives toward you by the color of his skin, his manner of dress, or the accent on his tongue. Of course, if his agenda turns out to be to kill you or rape your daughter, you are under no obligation to assist him. But how will you know what he needs, unless you respect him enough to listen? 

The mirror-image principle to “loving your enemy” is the Law of Leprosy (Leviticus 13-14). Basically, the Israelites were instructed to remain physically separate from whole populations of people who—through no fault of their own—had the power and potential to destroy them. Lepers were, in a manner of speaking, enemies to those who had no such disease. It is no stretch at all to see Islam as “spiritual leprosy” today. Yes, the majority of its adherents are but victims of its curse, but according to God’s Word, the solution is not to invite the “infected” to dwell among the otherwise healthy populace. Leprosy is contagious; the cure isn’t. 

Note that most of the Torah’s Law of Leprosy concerned itself with two things: (1) identifying the disease, and (2) rituals declaring one to have been healed. Mind you, there was no prescribed remedy: in all of recorded scripture, no one was ever cured of leprosy under the Law—until Yahshua began healing them and sending them to the priests for verification under Torah rules. We are specifically informed that “a great number of priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7) I like to imagine that the great influx of cured lepers Yahshua had sent to them had something to do with their readiness to believe the gospel. 

Fast-forward two thousand years, and there’s still no cure for spiritual leprosy (read: Islam) other than Christ. Without Him, the disease remains debilitating, contagious, and lethal. So “loving your (Muslim) enemy” does not entail importing him and a million of his closest friends to your neighborhood. Alas for Germany, France, Britain, and Scandinavia: that is precisely what they have done, substituting God’s principles with politically correct counterfeits, and ending up with ever-expanding “leper colonies” within their own nations, rife with rape, crime, and a stubborn unwillingness to contribute anything of value to society. 

What should have been done? How can we “love this enemy” in light of Biblical example and precept? (1) In Bible times, alms were given so that lepers might be provided with food and shelter, even as they were isolated from the general population. We should do no less (bearing in mind that God provided the latter-day lepers with vast natural resources, so they could take care of themselves—something they refuse to do). (2) Since Yahshua the Messiah was the only cure for leprosy (spiritual or literal) in the first century, it should be obvious that He is the only cure now—and I don’t mean subjecting the sufferers to another, more benign curse, like the apostate Christian religion. (3) If and when we personally encounter sufferers of “spiritual leprosy,” we should always be ready to introduce them to the Cure—Yahshua the Messiah. 

Of course, we are not to love only our enemies. As a practical matter, the recipients of our love were most often expected to be those close to us, whether in proximity or philosophy. So Christ’s most often repeated instruction on the subject is this: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) Several reasons are given that we should love our fellow believers. (1) Because Yahshua said to. That should be all we need as incentive. (2) Our love is a tangible reflection of His love for us—a practical way for us to be “like Him.” (3) This love is a powerful testimony to those outside the faith that we are different, that we have something special living within us—the love of Christ. Though the Reformation was good and necessary, the subsequent wars between Catholics and Protestants told the world that there was something amiss in the religion of Christianity—and worse, if Christians didn’t love one another, then their God was probably unloving as well. It never would have occurred to most outsiders that one (or both) of the warring parties within Christendom weren’t really Christians at all. 

But wait, there’s more… more cause for us to love one another, that is. At the Last Supper, Yahshua said, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you…. These things I command you, that you love one another.” (John 15:11-14, 17) Reason (4) is joy: it is very hard to be miserable if we are enjoying a relationship of love with our God and fellowship with His people. Even in times of pain, hardship, or personal loss, we can rejoice in the knowledge that we are loved unconditionally. (5) We have Christ’s example of precisely how to love one another—up to and including laying down our lives for each other, in the unlikely event that it comes to that. We are all too aware that some Muslims don’t mind dying for their faith. Their reason for this (based on the bizarre promises of their only “prophet”), is that scores of sex-starved virgins await them in paradise if they’re martyred in battle. Christians, on the other hand, make cheerful martyrs simply because of our hope-driven precedent: we know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God will raise us from the dead to a state of blessed immortality—just as Yahshua rose.

***

Another component of loving one another is the realization that although provision ultimately comes from God, we are instructed to be the conduits of that provision. “But He answered and said to them, ‘You give them something to eat.’” (Mark 6:37; cf. Luke 9:13, Matthew 14:13-21, John 6:1-14) As He was about to feed the five thousand, Yahshua informed His disciples that a “lack of resources” is not always what it seems. All they had between them was five loaves of bread and two fish—barely enough to provide lunch for the disciples themselves. But Christ miraculously multiplied this into enough to feed thousands of people. And the leftovers they collected filled twelve baskets—one for each of them. If “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil,” then it would appear that ambivalence toward money—if exercised in love—can be the root of all sorts of good. At least, I have found this to be true in my own personal experience. 

Another episode—this one after Christ’s resurrection—sheds more light on what it means for us to love one another. Peter, you’ll remember, was the first one to recognize out loud that Yahshua was Yahweh’s Messiah. Before the crucifixion, Peter had boasted that even if all of the other disciples chickened out, he would remain steadfast (see Matthew 26:31-35), and indeed, he had been the only one of the twelve to defiantly draw his sword when the mob came for the Master. But Yahshua had informed the impetuous disciple that he would deny Him three times—he would suffer utter failure, despite his glowing intentions. 

After everything had taken place precisely as Yahshua had predicted, the risen Lord gently confronted Peter about it over a breakfast of miraculously caught fish. “Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’…” That is, “…more than these other disciples love Me.” This is exactly what Peter had claimed with his impulsive and ill-advised boast, which was now the root and source of his shame. (And don’t look so pious: you and I have also done things to bring disgrace upon ourselves, although perhaps not so spectacularly.) 

Peter’s response reveals his hard-won humility. “He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’…” Yahshua’s inquiry about Peter’s love had used the root verb agapao (Thayer’s definition again: “to be full of good-will toward…to have a preference for, wish well to, regard the welfare of… to take pleasure in the thing, prize it above other things, be unwilling to abandon it or do without it… to welcome with desire, to long for.” In common usage, the word implies unconditional love, the sort of self-sacrificial love Christ showed us.) But Peter’s response was couched in slightly softer, less definitive terms. His word for “love” was from the Greek verb phileo, meaning “to be friendly to someone… to delight in, long for… to be kindly disposed to, or wish one well.” (Thayer) Phileo is a love founded in admiration, veneration, or esteem. It denotes friendship, fondness, or affection—brotherly love. It can even describe a love founded in and springing from faith. But based as it is on emotion, it stops short of the kind of unconditional, purposeful, go-to-the-cross kind of love that Christ showed to us. Strong’s notes that phileo means “to be a friend to (be fond of), i.e. have affection for (denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling; while agapao is wider, embracing especially the judgment and the deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety: the two thus stand related (the former [phileo] being chiefly of the heart and the latter [agapao] of the head).” Simply put, agapao is an act of purpose, while phileo is an emotional response. 

Basically, Peter was declaring his undying emotional affection for Yahshua, but was now reticent to rashly vow he would defend Him to the death. Yahshua’s response ignored the softening of Peter’s expression. “He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs.’…” It is as if Christ is saying, “I know your confidence has been shaken by your failure. Your job, however, hasn’t changed. If you count me as your Friend (and I know you do), then take care of My little ones—spiritually, physically, emotionally, any way you can.” That, by the way, requires an act of the will: agapao

Because Peter had denied Yahshua three times, Yahshua was compelled to ask the question three times: “He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep.’… And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’” (John 21:15-17, 19) The third time He asked the question, Yahshua used Peter’s softer word for love—phileo. That had to sting a little. But the effect was to make it clear (at least in the Greek) that even if our love for Christ is “only” an emotionally driven affection (which ought to be a component of our devotion in any case), the job is still the same: take care of those who know the Good Shepherd’s voice, but who are nevertheless apt to go astray. Feed them, nurture them, and protect them from the ravenous wolves that lurk outside the sheepfold. 

Back in the Sermon on the Mount, we read, “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned.” He is not saying that we need not be discerning about what sin is and what it isn’t. What He’s saying is that we are not to condemn “sinners” for their crimes against God and man, for we all fall into that category—sinners—even if we try with all our might to do the right thing. No one is righteous (apart from God’s grace), and we have all fallen short of God’s opinion (the Greek doxa, translated “glory” in Romans 3:23) of how things ought to be. So if we want to be shown mercy for our mistakes, we are to show mercy to those around us. “Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:37-38) This is all one thought, a corollary to the “Golden Rule.” If we want to receive good things from God’s bounty, then we are to give good things from what we already have to the needy who God places in our path. These are all—whether positive or negative—manifestations of loving our neighbors.   

The closest “neighbor” one has, I would venture, is his spouse. So over and over again, Yahshua addressed the related subjects of adultery and divorce—both of which are violations of His commandment to love one another. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” As with murder, He points out that it is our attitude, our intent—not just our overt action—that defines sexual immorality. So He counsels us to remove from our lives whatever it is that is causing us to sin: “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell….” 

Does your eye or your hand really cause you to sin? Or is it something else? The brain or heart, perhaps. Or some other organ located a bit lower on the body. I would submit to you that what He’s prescribing here is to rid ourselves of the one the one thing that actually does cause us to sin: our sin nature. Remarkably, there is one ordinance within the Law that pictures this very thing. I’m speaking, of course, of circumcision—the cutting off of the foreskin of a male’s penis on the eighth day of life. “Cut it off and cast it from you?” That is precisely what the ritual of circumcision illustrates. It is a metaphor for the permanent and irreversible separation from our sin nature from us. And what does “the eighth day” signify? If (as I believe) the Sabbath principle is a picture of fallen man’s tenure upon the earth—from Adam’s sin until the end of the Millennial Kingdom—then the eighth day represents the eternal state, when all of us who are alive in Christ will find ourselves “cut off” from our sin natures—in reality as we now are in promise. 

So Christ continues the thought: “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:27-32; cf. Matthew 18:8-9; cf. Mark 9:43-47) Marriage is one of the symbols Yahweh uses to picture His relationship with people who love Him. He is on record as hating divorce (see Malachi 2:16), but He allows it to make a point. Adultery dissolves a marriage—divorce merely makes the dissolution public. He Himself is pictured as having had to “divorce” Israel for her infidelities (Jeremiah 3:8, Isaiah 50:1, Hosea 2:2, etc.) and the Torah makes it clear that a man who has divorced his adulterous wife may never take her back (Deuteronomy 24:4). Yet the most oft-repeated prophecy in the entire Tanakh is that Israel will be restored and redeemed. Since the Law is inviolable, there is only one way for this to be possible: she must be made a “new creation in Christ” (See II Corinthians 5:17). 

What Yahshua is saying here, then, is that a man who divorces his wife for any reason other than her infidelity has ruined the illustration He so carefully prepared for us—one of His undying love and mercy toward us. God is very serious about His pictures. Remember Abraham, whose faith was counted as righteousness because he was obedient to act out Christ’s crucifixion through the almost-sacrifice of Isaac—or Moses, who was barred from entering the Promised Land because he goofed up Yahweh’s redemption metaphor by striking the rock the second time to get living water, instead of speaking to it (Numbers 20:7-13), a picture of prayer. 

Christ elaborated on the whole “marriage” metaphor elsewhere: “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate….” Symbolically, marriage was designed by Yahweh to illustrate the relationship He enjoys with His people—one of mutual love, understanding, fruitfulness, and life-long faithfulness. For an extensive study of this crucial metaphor, see The Torah Code, Volume 4 (“The Human Condition”), Unit 1, chapters 1-3 and 8-10, elsewhere on this website. No pressure or anything, but husbands, your part in the marriage is a picture of God’s role, and the wife is a metaphor for the church—the bride of Christ. 

It’s little wonder Satan works so hard trying to destroy the institution of marriage, promoting instead either cohabitation without commitment, unfaithfulness within it, or perversions of it (like homosexual marriage). And divorce? “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:4-6, 8-9; cf. Mark 10:1-12; cf. Luke 16:18) In case there was any question about it, adultery is a euphemism for idolatry—of the veneration of some “god” other than Yahweh and His Messiah. The thing itself is bad enough—what it means is even worse: treachery against God Himself. Adultery, then, is the most direct and intimate example of our failure to love one another. 


Walk in God’s Path; Grow in Grace

The things we do—the works we perform—do not in themselves save us. And yet there is a path in which Christ directs us to walk that defines us as being His. As we have come to expect, this is not a list of “rules” to follow, exactly, but rather a mindset, a habitual heart’s attitude to adopt and live by. Nor should we be surprised to learn that much of Yahshua’s instruction is couched in symbolic or metaphorical terms, leaving it up to us to figure out how, precisely, to apply these subtle directives to our lives. Much of what he taught us in this regard has less to do with “what to do” than “how to be.” 

The most profound and fundamental of these concepts was revealed to a Pharisee named Nicodemus, that rarity among men—a religious leader who sought the truth regardless of where it took him. Yahshua told him, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God…. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:3, 7-8) It is obvious that only people who have been born can do things in this world, good or bad. (Don’t get me started on the atrocious waste of life and potential caused by the abortion of 45 million innocent lives every year in this lost world.) But Yahshua was informing Nicodemus (and us) that there is another, entirely separate, mode or manifestation of life into which one must be born if he wishes to “see the kingdom of God.” Physical life—the sort of existence we share with geese and garden slugs—is not enough. 

Although this is a second birth, subsequent to our physical entrance into the world, Yahshua didn’t actually call it being “born again.” The phrase He used (in the Greek) was geneao anothen, meaning “born from above.” In layman’s terms, then, in addition to being born “of the earth,” we must also be born “of heaven” if we wish to partake of heavenly life—eternal life. The evidence of an earthly life is the body in which one walks around, doing earthly things. But heavenly life, like the wind causing leaves on trees to move, is apparent in this world only by the evidence it leaves behind—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. 

The imperative here is a proposition: if you wish to see the kingdom of God, you must be born from above, born of (indwelled with) the Spirit of Yahweh. Conversely, if you don’t wish to have a heavenly life (and for some unfathomable reason, most people in this world do not), then you don’t have to: God won’t force the issue—the choice is ours. Just be aware that in verse 18, Yahshua made it clear that those who do not believe (the process by which one is born of the Spirit) are “condemned.” (In the Greek, this word—krino—means separated, decided, judged according to a legal standard). It’s not that God will kill you if you aren’t born from above in His Spirit—it’s that you’re already dead, in the spiritual sense (or put more precisely, you don’t exist, and never did). 

Yahshua clarified the issue a bit later. “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:37-39) What was characterized in John 3 as desiring to “see the kingdom of God” is presented here as having a thirst for a personal relationship with the Almighty. The commandment here is “Come to Me and drink.” Spiritually, this is equivalent to “being born again in the Spirit of God.” It is one more way for Christ to say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” 

John’s note here about “the Holy Spirit not yet being given” resolved itself on the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), 33 AD, when, ten days after Christ ascended bodily to heaven in the presence of numerous witnesses, the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples, as recorded in Act 2. From that day forward, the Spirit of Christ, though no longer “with us,” was now “in us” (i.e., within those who believe on Him), permanently and irrevocably. 

To the world, the Christian life looks like societal suicide. In exchange for what looks to them like “pie in the sky when you die,” we are told to maintain a very loose grip on this present world and whatever inducements it offers. Rather, we are instructed to follow Christ, even to death if it comes to that. “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me….” Face it: that does not sound like the path to glory, honor, and riches—things that any sane person would prefer to dishonor, humiliation, and poverty. These are, however, attributes of Christ (see Revelation 5:12), and we will share in His glory. So once again, we are being shown a contrast between being “born of earth” and “born of heaven.” As Yahshua’s life so poignantly demonstrated, whatever our biological carcasses endure has no correlation to that which our real life—our spiritual life—is destined. 

It’s not that the roles are automatically reversed: scripture and history are replete with examples of people who honored God and prospered as a result. But only our priorities, our motivations, our choices, follow us from one life to the next. Our circumstances do not. “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?...” If our object in this mortal life is to seek first the kingdom of Heaven (as God defines it), then we will be rewarded in our immortal bodies with the blessings of citizenship in the kingdom. (That being said, Christ promised us (in Matthew 6:33) that if we do this, our needs will be met in this life as well. I can personally attest to the amazing veracity of this promise.) But if our focus in this life is solely on the things of this world—power, pleasure, or prosperity—then our afterlife will be, shall we say, a big disappointment. 

“For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.” (Matthew 16:24-27; cf. Mark 8:34-37; cf. Luke 9:23-26) If we desire permanent rewards, we must pursue something permanent. But there is a counterintuitive twist here: Paul reminds us (in Romans 6:23) that while the wages of sin is death, the gift of God (i.e., not the remuneration) is eternal life in Christ. That is, though we can earn condemnation, we can’t earn everlasting life. So what are these “works” for which Yahshua promises to reward us? Alms? Penance? Self-Sacrifice? Not in any direct sense, but only as the result of what He defines as God’s work: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” (John 6:29) “Good deeds” outside of the context of our reliance upon the saving grace of Christ’s finished work are at best their own reward. Our proper “work” is simply to trust in God. 

The distinction is hard to see, but I get the feeling God is more interested in blessing us than He is in rewarding us. Yes, Yahshua speaks often of our good deeds being rewarded, but the Christian life is not a job we do for the paycheck; it is, rather, the result of what we believe. And our beliefs are reflected in the attitudes and motivations that drive us. Apparently, God is not nearly as “impressed” with our ambition, determination, strength, or piety as He is our love and our willingness to simply trust Him. 

So back in the Sermon on the Mount, He commands us (in so many words) to “be blessed”—and then tells us how to achieve this state. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven….” The Greek word for “blessed” here is makarios, an adjective meaning happy, fortunate, well-off, or enviable. It is from the root mak-, meaning “to become long or large—the idea being that God extends his benefits and advantages to the one being blessed. The word expresses “a permanent state of felicity, rather than the passive reception of a blessing bestowed by another.” (Ellicott) Being “poor in spirit” has nothing to do with actual poverty, but an attitude of ambivalence toward wealth, meaning even rich men can be “poor in spirit.” It is the opposite of pride, an attitude of humility before God and man alike. 

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted….” It sounds like an oxymoron: “Happy are those who are unhappy.” But the idea here is the ultimate vindication of those who lament in distress over the sinful state of the world—including the sins in their own lives. I am reminded of the vision received by the prophet Ezekiel (9:4), in which a mark or seal of protection was placed on those “who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in the city,” while those who did not mourn were to be unceremoniously slain. 

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth….” This is practically a direct quotation from Psalm 37:11, where David writes, “The meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” “Meekness” here (the Greek praus) is “not weakness but rather refers to exercising God’s strength under His control—i.e. demonstrating power without undue harshness.”—Helps Word-Studies. Another synonym would be “gentle.” How does one “inherit the earth?” By being around when Yahshua reigns over it as King of kings and Lord of lords—during His Millennial kingdom. So for all intents and purposes, this is a promise of bodily resurrection for the followers of Christ. 

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled….” This is another amazing promise for Christ’s followers. As we walk through the world, we witness a drought and famine of righteousness, for the vast majority choose “the broad highway that leads to destruction,” not the narrow gate that leads to eternal life. Worse, we (or is it just me?) are constantly chagrinned at our own inability to lead perfect, sinless lives before our God, as desperately as we want to. So Yahshua assures us that our craving for righteousness will indeed be met—but only when He reigns Personally on the earth. 

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy….” This is a restatement of the premise we saw above: “Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:37-38) Mercy is the engine that powers grace. It runs on unconditional love. 

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God….” His immediate audience was familiar with Torah-style ritual purity, covering such unavoidable situations as sexual contact, touching dead things, menstruation, or sneezing. But purity in heart is an entirely different matter. It describes the attitude of one who truly wishes to remain morally pure in a filthy world. It is the essence of holiness—remaining separate from society’s corrupting influence, and separated instead to reverence for Yahweh and His Messiah. 

“Seeing God” employs the Greek verb horao, meaning “to see with the mind, i.e., to perceive with inward spiritual perception” (Helps Word-Studies). Strong’s adds that in addition to seeing with the eyes, horao means to behold or perceive, to discern clearly, to see with the mind; to become acquainted with by experience. Ironically, the aorist form of the verb, eido, is used in Matthew 24:36 to point out that none of us will perceive or appreciate the timing of the rapture—until it takes place, of course. Paul (in I Corinthians 13:12) puts it all into perspective for us: “Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” This intimate knowledge of God is that to which the pure in heart can look forward. 

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God….” Peacemakers are not only those who love peace themselves, but who endeavor to help others find peace—including personal peace of mind. Peace is an attribute of God’s love (not to mention being defined as “fruit of the spirit” in Galatians 5). Spirit-indwelled children of God naturally tend to exhibit their Father’s defining characteristics. And vice versa: in our world, one would be tempted to declare the converse of this Beatitude to be true as well: “Miserable are the warmongers, for they shall be called the children of Satan.” 

Yahshua ends the series with an extended—and counterintuitive—precept: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:3-12; cf. Luke 6:20-23) Oh, yeah, I just love it when people hate and persecute me. It all depends on why you’re being persecuted, of course. If you’re the Grand Muckity-Muck of the Ku Klux Klan, on your way home from a lynching, you ought to be reviled and persecuted, for your hated for your fellow man has rightly singled you out for condemnation. 

But being persecuted “for righteousness’ sake” is an entirely different matter. Christians have endured this sort of thing since the Day of Pentecost—being censured, berated, and sometimes murdered—simply because they honor God and love their fellow man. Christ says, “You’re in good company: every outspoken believer from Moses to Malachi was hated by somebody for his stand. Prophets aren’t popular. If they’re lucky, they’re merely ignored; if they’re not, they get sawn in two like Isaiah, or beheaded like John the Baptist. And don’t forget what they did with Me. But rejoice! Your trials are temporary, but your vindication is permanent.” 

In Luke’s recounting of Yahshua’s teaching on the subject, He contrasted these blessings with potential cursings, much as Yahweh did in Deuteronomy 28. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep….” He is once again comparing being “born of earth” with being “born of heaven.” But He is not really being critical of wealth, or security, or mirth per se, for such things are often enjoyed by believers. What He is condemning is the pursuit of these things to the exclusion of the kingdom of God. What are we seeking first

And what is the converse of being “persecuted for righteousness’ sake?” It is pursuing popularity for all the wrong reasons. “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:24-26) I still cringe when I recall the messianic fervor with which Barack Obama was greeted when he first emerged from the shadows to become America’s president in 2008. It is hard to remember now, after eight years of dystopia and malaise on his watch, that many of the things he said before he was elected sounded moderate, reasonable, and even intelligent. Well did Yahshua warn us that “false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” (Matthew 24:24) Obama wasn’t the first, nor will he be the last of whom “all men will speak well.” The ultimate example of this type of person will be the Antichrist, of whom we read, “All the world marveled and followed the beast. So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?’… And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation. All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Revelation 13:3-4, 7-8) Just remember, “woe” is pronounced on these people. 

It is up to us to choose which path, and which “Messiah,” to follow. Several of Christ’s disciples were fishermen, so He used a focused metaphor to “reel them in.” “Then He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’” (Matthew 4:19) Fish in scripture are symbolic of “God’s quarry,” lost humanity swimming in a sea of turmoil and uncertainty. According to Yahshua’s parable in Matthew 13:47-50, the “fish” might be good (i.e., alive—with the potential to feed the world), bad (Greek sapros—dead, rotten, and putrid), or even wicked (Greek poneros—causing pain, peril, and trouble, someone who is evil, morally corrupt, or vicious). His point was that the same message—the same “net” as it were—must be cast in order to bring in the fish. Some of the lost will respond to the truth, some will not, and others will actually attack the fishermen (like the shark in the movie “Jaws”), but there is only one net: the gospel of Christ. Furthermore, the purpose of all followers of Christ is to “catch fish”—to seek the lost. 

Following Christ is not something we do at our convenience, for it is often anything but convenient. As we saw above, we can expect opposition, persecution, and slander from people who have chosen another path (identified by Yahshua as “the broad highway that leads to destruction”). “Then another of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’” Burying his father didn’t mean his father had died and he had to attend to the funeral. It meant his father wasn’t happy about the prospect of his son being “caught up in some strange new cult,” and he didn’t want to be ostracized in his own family or (the cynic in me suspects) run the risk of being disinherited. “But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’” (Matthew 8:21-22; cf. Luke 9:59-60) In other words, you can’t sit on the fence: you’re aligned either with the living or with the dead. If you believe, then act like it. 

It is interesting to me that Yahshua didn’t call “religious professionals” like scribes (i.e., Torah lawyers) or Pharisees to His inner circle, but ordinary lower-class working stiffs—or worse. “As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ So he arose and followed Him.” (Matthew 9:9; cf. Luke 5:27-28) Matthew was a publican—a Jew licensed by the hated Roman occupiers to collect their taxes for them—padding the take with a healthy cut for themselves on the side. Publicans could grow quite rich, but they were (understandably) considered traitors and thieves by their countrymen—the lowest form of scum in the community. Yahshua’s point in calling Matthew was that repentance, salvation, and subsequent service are possible even for the outcasts of society. Of course, Matthew didn’t have to respond, but he did, leaving everything behind to follow Christ. Choice is always our prerogative. 

So religious rectitude won’t get you into heaven. Nepotism won’t get you there, either. “While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. Then one said to Him, ‘Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.’ But He answered and said to the one who told Him, ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.’” (Matthew 12:46-50; cf. Luke 8:19-21) The implied precept here is to know that your own beliefs and choices—not those of your family or friends—determine your relationship (or lack of it) with God. Being in church every time the doors are open earns you no Brownie points, if the only reason you were there at all is that you’ve got a “drug problem” (that is, you were “drug” to church by your parents, kicking and screaming). 

As I said, it’s not so much what we do, but why we do it, to which God responds. Good works are fine, but bear two things in mind: (1) for the believer, they are only what’s expected of us by our Master; and (2) for the unbeliever, they are, at best, their own reward—they do not buy favor with God. As Christ reminded us, “You, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done [only] what was our duty to do.’” (Luke 17:10) Of course, if you have no relationship with Christ, His commandments may be ignored—and they invariably are. Atheistic secular humanists, you’ll find, will convince themselves of some positively idiotic premises—like the spontaneous generation of life from non-living elements, followed by steady improvement and diversification through undirected evolution alone—all to avoid being told what to do by the “elephant in the room,” the Intelligent Designer (who, if not “God,” looks, thinks, and works just like Him). Even infidels can comprehend that a Creator would naturally and inevitably exercise moral authority; so (since they wish this not to be true) atheists declare that He must not exist. Madness. 

***

What of those things about which we were given no instructions, no commandments? Scripture (God’s Word) is our sole source of authority, but our world is filled with questions that never would have occurred to anyone prior to our time. (e.g. Should we use drums and electric guitars in church? What does God think about coffee?) Yahshua addressed these issues by empowering the disciples of the church age to think for themselves. “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven….” He had previously told this to Peter (“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”—John 20:23), and now He included all of His disciples. 

But what does it mean? Let us consult Barnes’ Notes: “The phrase ‘to bind’ and ‘to loose’ was often used by the Jews. It meant to prohibit and to permit. To bind a thing was to forbid it; to loose it, to allow it to be done…. When Jesus gave this power to the apostles, he meant that whatsoever they forbade in the church should have divine authority; whatever they permitted, or commanded, should also have divine authority—that is, should be bound or loosed in heaven, or meet the approbation of God. They were to be guided infallibly in the organization of the church: (1) by the teaching of Christ, and, (2) by the teaching of the Holy Spirit. This does not refer to persons, but to things—‘whatsoever,’ not whosoever.” 

So the precept does not give people the authority to forgive sins (sorry, Catholics), but only to determine what is right and proper (within scriptural and Spirit-led parameters) in matters of procedure or “style.” And I get the feeling that what is “permitted” in New Jersey might be “prohibited” in Nepal, or vice versa. Let’s face it: many issues are culturally driven, and providing some local latitude makes sense. “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.” As long as we’re Spirit-filled and Scripture-led, we won’t go too far wrong. “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:18-20) The “two or three” number is evocative of the Torah’s formula for establishing a matter by the testimony of multiple witnesses. When we “agree” about God’s grace by gathering to honor Him, we are bearing witness to the world that His Word is true, for we have witnessed His faithfulness with our own eyes. 

At Yahshua’s “trial,” the Chief Priests had to collude to bring multiple false witnesses against Him (breaking the Ninth Commandment) in order to secure a conviction. Yet when He had been crucified, He uttered the most amazing prayer imaginable: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” (Luke 23:34) even though His antagonists were not in the least repentant. Thus we learn that even in the worst circumstances, love and forgiveness are two sides of the same coin. Yahshua, of course, had taught His disciples a great deal about forgiveness, because it was so crucial to our walk and witness before Him. Here on the cross, He provided the ultimate example. So for us, belief requires forgiveness.

His commandment was, “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him….” This is precisely in line with Torah teaching. In the famous “love your neighbor” passage in Leviticus 19, Moses had told Israel that “rebuking” one’s neighbor was a condition of loving him. That is, we are not to willingly allow our brothers to wallow in ignorance and error, but are to dispute, reprove, refute, plead with, or argue with him (Hebrew: yakach) in an effort to encourage repentance leading to life. American liberals today (for instance) defend homosexuality and gender ambiguity, abortion, and Islam—all things that lead to death or dystopia. And then they call Christians “unloving” when we try to point out the error of their ways. But according to God’s word, not rebuking them for their error is tantamount to hatred (See Leviticus 19:17). 

Here, however, Yahshua was talking about private affronts—as when someone sins against you personally (stealing from you, for example). The “if he repents” line seems to be offering us a loophole (i.e., “If he doesn’t repent, I don’t have to forgive him”), but I don’t think that’s the case. It would appear (based on other passages that have no such provision) that the sense is “when” or “as soon as he repents, forgive him.” In other words, don’t hesitate to forgive someone who has offended you and apologized. And do it as often as it needs doing. After all, our Heavenly Father forgives us in the same way. “And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4) 

This is not a mathematical formula. Elsewhere, Yahshua put it like this: “Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’” (Matthew 18:21-22) Peter wasn’t being given permission to be unforgiving on the 491st instance. The number seven is symbolic of perfection or completion. The idea is to forgive without keeping score. 

Technically, it is not in our power to “forgive” people who have not sinned against us personally. We saw above that “loving our neighbor” includes—actually, demands—that we warn them about their sinful practices. For example, getting an abortion is clearly counter to God’s agenda of life and love. But I can’t technically forgive an abortionist or a woman who has had an abortion, for they haven’t sinned against me, but “only” against God. 

What I can do, however, is what Yahshua did in this scene: refuse to condemn them for their sin. “So when they continued asking Him [what should be done with the woman caught in adultery], He raised Himself up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.’” The letter of the law—and the red tape that goes with it. “And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, ‘Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.’” (John 8:7-11) 

The reason none of her accusers tried to stone her in Yahshua’s presence was His reminder that they too were sinners, condemned under God’s Law and convicted by their own consciences. They too were deserving of stoning, were it not for God’s mercy and grace (provided, until that time, by the Levitical sin offerings). What no one knew (yet) was that Yahshua Himself would soon fulfill the Law by offering Himself up for the sins of the entire world. He (being sinless) was the only one present who was actually qualified to stone the adulterous woman, but He declined to denounce her. 

There was no question about her sin. Today, they might have said, “What sin? It was merely ‘consensual sex.’ Not good form perhaps, and I feel bad for her poor, dumb husband, but there’s nothing here worth throwing stones over.” But on that day, everyone—the woman, her husband, the crowd, the weasel she was caught having sex with (who had apparently slithered out the back door in his underwear), and Christ—everyone knew that she was guilty under the Law—the Seventh Commandment, to be precise. Yahshua’s instruction to her had nothing to do with stoning (or being crushed by guilt for the rest of her miserable life). He simply told her to “Go and sin no more.” That is the whole point of forgiveness. It’s not that sin isn’t wrong, or isn’t serious, but that Christ has come to save us from the death to which it inevitably leads. 

Yahshua told a parable about a servant who had been forgiven a great debt, but then refused to “pay it forward” by forgiving the relatively small debt owed him by a fellow servant. The bottom line was: “Then his master, after he had called [his unforgiving servant], said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him….” 

Christ doesn’t always draw the conclusion to His parables for us, but in this case He did—presumably so we couldn’t miss the serious consequences of harboring an unforgiving spirit. “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Matthew 18:32-35) Do not gloss over the revelation that the unforgiving servant was to be delivered to the torturers until he could pay his own impossible debt. That’s a picture of hell, in case you missed it. By being unwilling to forgive, the wicked servant had demonstrated that he considered the forgiveness he himself had been shown to be worthless. Christ died for the sins of the entire human race (no matter what the Calvinists may say). But this grace is only efficacious if we choose to receive it—and we are to demonstrate our gratitude by being willing to forgive the sins of others toward us. If someone has wronged us—even if they don’t care, even if they don’t even know—it is up to us to forgive them. 

Why should we forgive unrepentant people? Is mercy not a breach of justice? Yes, but it’s a question of authority and timing. We are to forgive because we (being sinners) have no right to pass judgment on others (not to mention the fact that the forgiveness is more for the forgiver’s benefit than for the forgivee). God, on the other hand, has the right, the authority, and the ability to punish wrongdoers—and yet He still doesn’t usually do so in what we would consider “a timely fashion.” How easy would it have been for Him to “take out” Adolph Hitler in 1933—before he had the blood of fifty million souls on his hands? He allows all of us to make our own choices—and He always has. 

That being said, vengeance belongs to Yahweh alone—in His own time, and in His own way. Yahshua offered this bit of insight on the matter: “Then He said to the disciples, ‘It is impossible [because we live in a fallen world] that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” (Luke 17:1-2) “Offending” someone doesn’t mean insulting them or hurting their feelings. The Greek verb skandalizo (from which we get our word “scandal”) means to cause or entice them to stumble or sin, to “hinder right conduct or thought” (Helps Word-studies), or to set a trap. To my mind, the whole “politically correct” liberal agenda is an example of skandalizo. It is purposely designed to diminish God’s influence and replace it with man’s (i.e., Satan’s) program. 

The “little ones” of whom He speaks sound like children, and they would certainly be included. But no children are mentioned in the narrative. The Greek adjective mikros speaks not only of small stature, but also of lesser rank or influence, such as “he that is inferior to the other citizens of the kingdom of heaven in knowledge of the gospel.”—Thayer. If I may paraphrase this, “A horrible physical death would be preferable to the hell that awaits someone who intentionally entices a new believer (or merely an honest searcher after truth) to sin.” But note: Christians are not tasked with “tying on the millstone” themselves. That’s God’s job. We are merely to prevent the “offense” if we can. 

Though judging others is not our job, we in the church age are up to our necks in that which judgment means: not condemnation, but separation. We are called to be holy (i.e., set apart from the world, set apart instead for Yahshua’s honor), for our God is Holiness personified. Fire is a metaphor for judgment, for it can separate that to which it is applied into its component parts (for example, raw ore into pure metal and worthless dross). So Christ said, “I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” That is, His mission would separate those who were His, the redeemed, from everyone else. “But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished!...” This “baptism” (literally, immersion) was His death on the cross and His subsequent resurrection—the very thing we emulate when we are baptized in His name. It is what we do with that that separates the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares, or the grain from the chaff (to use three of Christ’s own metaphors). 

Isaiah called Christ the “Prince of Peace,” and He’ll be that very thing quite literally after He returns in glory. But at the moment, during the church age, we are not called to peace with the world, but rather disunion, separation—holiness. “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49-53) It’s not that we believers are not to endeavor to live in harmony with our neighbors—including our enemies. We are. But the fact is, we will be hated and distrusted by those who choose not to honor our God—count on it. Even within families, the salvation of one can feel like a threat to the others. Put in blunt terms, the reason for the tension is that we refuse to affirm spiritual suicide. As we try to “talk them off the ledge,” all they hear is intolerance—bigotry toward the death they’ve chosen. We may live in the same house, but we’re no longer on the same planet. 

Part of the “problem” is that a new believer’s love for Yahshua tends to run infinitely deeper than anything they’ve ever known. Christ’s counterintuitive comparison sheds light on the issue: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple….” This is obviously exaggeration for rhetorical effect. The point is that although we, as believers, are to love one another with an unconditional agape sort of love, if we’re seeing things clearly, our love for our Savior will be so much deeper than that, the difference will make our ordinary loves seem like hatred in contrast. It’s like this: a flashlight may enable us to see where we’re going in the darkness; but the sun on a cloudless summer day will render it virtually pointless. 

If you’re not prepared for this sort of intensity of affection toward Yahshua, if you think He’s some sort of religious hat you can put on for a while and then take off again, then real Christianity is not for you. “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace….” Counting the cost of genuine belief may not seem too intimidating in countries like America. But in places like dar al-Islam, where “conversion” can earn you the death penalty, one follows Christ with his eyes wide open, or not at all. Yet in these Last Days, people are coming to faith in countries where it can be physically dangerous to do so. Hallelujah! 

Christ finishes the thought with a sobering assessment. “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26-33) “Forsaking all that we have,” of course, is a slippery proposition. Only when we become disciples of Yahshua do we really begin to realize that there is nothing in this world that we can take with us—neither possessions, nor experiences, nor relationships, nor life itself. However, we gain something by following Christ—something that is immutable, indelible, and of incalculable value. They don’t call it “treasure in heaven” for nothing. As missionary-martyr Jim Elliot put it, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” 

That’s why grasping power and glory for ourselves in this life is a fool’s errand. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28) We like to think of our elected representatives as “public servants.” But they seldom are: once in office, they tend to think of themselves as leaders—nay, rulers—whose mandate is to enrich and entrench themselves in their positions of power. As President Harry S. Truman once (allegedly) said, “You can’t get rich in politics unless you’re a crook.” In God’s world, the higher you rise, the more responsibility for the welfare of your fellow man rests upon your shoulders. 

Man was created “a little lower than the angels” (or the demons, as the case may be). And yet, Yahshua’s disciples were given the authority to cast them out, freeing their victims from bondage. That kind of power can go to your head, but Christ warned us not to taking pride in such things: “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20) It’s all a gift, no matter how great our devotion might be. The repentant thief on the cross next to Yahshua was just as “saved” as Billy Graham.   

In the Kingdom of God, we believers are said to be “kings and priests” (or a least, a kingdom of priests—Revelation 1:6). But in our mortal state, we are to assume the same mindset as our Messiah: that of a servant. “So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” What we are instructed to do is serve others—and not just those who we deem “greater” than ourselves, but everyone. The servant whose job it was to wash the guests’ feet was the lowliest of the whole household. “Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.’” (John 13:12-17) We believers are comfortable with the idea of serving Christ, for He is our Master. But when Christ “washes our feet,” we have our first clue that there is no one on earth we are justified in considering inferior to us. I realize that saying it is one thing, while living it is another. But now at least we know what the goal is. 

These things were done and said just before Yahshua’s passion, at the last supper. His summation included these words: “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you….” The next forty-eight hours would be the most disheartening, most confusing time the disciples would ever experience, because as far as they could tell, Yahshua didn’t live, and they couldn’t see Him—He had been crucified and laid in a borrowed tomb. Did that mean that they too no longer lived? Actually, in a way, it did. As Paul would later explain, they (and we) had “died with Christ” (see Romans 6:1-14), allowing us to live in the world free from the bondage of sin. But the ramifications of this revelation would take decades to sort out. 

In the meantime, Yahshua boiled it down to its essentials: “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him…. If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.” (John 14: 19-21, 23-24) It’s not that our works, our obedience to Christ’s commandments, save us. But they do reveal our soteriological status, our spiritual condition. Yahshua had explained that the work of God is to “believe on Him whom He sent”—i.e., Himself. Our love for Christ is shown by our willingness to trust Him, which in turn is demonstrated by our obedience. God “making His home” in us is the same thing Yahshua explained to Nicodemus in John 3: we must be “born from above in the Holy Spirit” if we are to experience everlasting life. 

And in case you missed it, these “commandments” of which He speaks—the things we are to have and keep—comprise the subject matter of this essay. 


Be Salt and Light in the World

Even though we’re instructed to be “holy,” separated from the world and set apart for God, the fact remains that we must live here during our mortal lives. The idea is to be “in the world, but not of it.” God intends that we have an effect on the world, while we resist its influence on us. Christ used two metaphorical entities to symbolize how we affect the world around us—salt and light. 

Both of these have entire chapters dedicated to them in The Torah Code, elsewhere on this website. Salt is covered under “The Staff of Life,” (3.1.5), while Light is one of the seven symbols Yahweh uses to describe His very nature (see 1.3.1). So for a deeper study on Salt and Light, I would suggest starting there. It is my purpose here to simply note how Yahshua uses these two elements to describe how we believers are to comport ourselves in the world. 

He has a great deal more to say about light, so let’s start with salt. “For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.” (Mark 9:49-50) Since Yahshua was teaching His disciples at this point, the “everyone” here (Greek pas) means “all of you,” i.e., all believers. The Hebrew concept of “seasoning” something pictures salt being absorbed and assimilated, as when you sprinkle it into your soup. “Fire” symbolically indicates the sort of judgment brought about through separation (as when you melt metal in a crucible). So in the case of believers, this is a picture of becoming holy, set apart from the world as pure gold is separated from dross. Being “seasoned with fire,” then, is symbolic of the Holy Spirit’s convicting and purifying presence within the life of every believer: the Spirit is absorbed into our being, becoming part of us, just as salt permeates and vanishes into our food. Our character is changed from within; we are given flavor the world can taste and the ability to preserve what we touch, just like salt. Thus “having salt in yourselves” and “being at peace with one another” are related concepts—both brought about in our lives by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. 

Elsewhere, He stated, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men….” He’s got a point: if salt isn’t salty, what good is it? If we believers don’t do for the world what salt does for food—flavoring it and preserving it—then there’s no point in our being here. Whether or not they’ll admit it, men need and desire what believers bring to the party. They may say, “I don’t like to use salt—it might raise my blood pressure or cause water retention.” But the fact is, salt (in moderation) is a dietary necessity. Let’s face it: having no blood pressure is called “being dead.” Someone totally dehydrated is called “a mummy.” Without the “salt” believers bring to the world, this is a flavorless, rotten place to be. If you don’t believe me, wait until every believer on earth is suddenly removed—at the rapture of the church. 

Without taking a breath, Yahshua shifted to the metaphor of light: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16; cf. Luke 14:34-35) Light does good things for the world other than the sorts of things salt provides—and Christians are instructed to be both. Again, a contrast is implied: where salt improved the “flavor” of our mortal lives, preserving food in addition to being essential for our health, light enables perception—the recognition of the truth. Whereas the body’s need for salt is subtle, God made our need for light as plain as the eyes on our faces. Vision and light are a symbiotic system: without eyes, there would be no need for light, and without light, eyes would be pointless. But the same Creator who said, “Let there be light, and there was light” also created animals with the capacity for vision, as well as plants that make their food from light. Sorry, atheists, but that’s Intelligent Design, no matter how you slice it. 

God intended light to be useful, beneficial to men, and a brilliant metaphor for our good works (which are therefore meant not to save us, you’ll notice, but to attract the lost to our Savior). Not surprisingly, evil abhors the light: “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (John 3:19-21) “Condemnation” here refers not to vindictive disparagement or damnation, but rather to the separation of good from evil, brought about by a verdict rendered according to a legal standard. Our affinity to the light (both symbolically and literally) is therefore a clue to our spiritual condition: if we’ve got nothing to hide before God or man, we will be quite comfortable walking in the light of day. But if our consciences condemn us, we will naturally seek the shadows to hide the shame of our deeds. 

So time and again, Yahshua returned to the same comparison—hiding the light vs. hiding from the light. “Also He said to them, ‘Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lampstand?’” There is no reason to conceal our light by refraining from doing good works. That being said, our motives must be pure: as we shall see, giving to the needy (for example) should be done in secret, not to gain the accolades of men. When our works “shine light” upon someone, it should be Christ in the spotlight, not us. “For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear….” Both our good works and our evil deeds will be revealed eventually. God knows what we are doing, and why. 

“Then He said to them, ‘Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given. For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” (Mark 4:21-25; cf. Luke 8:16-18) The Greek word “hear” here (akouo) is parallel to the Hebrew shema (as in “Hear O Israel, Yahweh your God is One). That is, it goes beyond the simple acoustics of hearing, but implies attentive listening, comprehending, heeding, and taking action based on what was said. So don’t hearken to fools or the ungodly, but filter any information you receive through the truth of God’s Word. When practiced as a discipline, it will become easier and easier for you to spot falsehood, whereas listening to every voice you hear will eventually result in the inability to discern when someone is lying to you. This, of course, explains why so much falsehood passes for truth (or at least fact) these days. As Ronald Reagan once said, “The trouble with our Liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.” 

Yahshua made it clear that there was more to our perception than merely what we saw with our own two eyes. Our vision is a metaphor for spiritual insight. “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23; cf. Luke 11:33-34) As we saw above, if we have “seen” falsehood and taken it on face value, if we have listened to lies and received them as truth, we have brought darkness into our world. 

The Pharisees of Yahshua’s day were masters of presenting darkness as light, “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” So He warned us not to heed them: “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.” (Matthew 15:13-14) We don’t have to make a life’s work out of debating and refuting their darkened understanding, He says. Rather, just leave them alone. They will fall soon enough. But the Pharisees were the most respected religious leaders of their time. How are we to know what’s darkness and what’s light? The same way Yahshua did: compare what they said with the truth of God’s Word. This, of course, necessitates that we know what God’s Word actually says. Fortunately, today we needn’t take anyone’s word for it: we can read and study the Word for ourselves—and we must, if we wish to avoid being led astray. 

It’s not that every commentator or pundit is automatically wrong. It’s that we can, and should, compare their thoughts against what God actually says. If their words are useful, thank God; if they’re not, disregard them. Few are wrong all the time, and nobody is right about everything. Oh, and by the way, that includes my writings as well. Again: “Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, the whole body will be full of light, as when the bright shining of a lamp gives you light.” (Luke 11:35-36) Godly men will never purposely lead you toward the ditch, for they are led by the light; but blind men are destined to fall. By their fruits—the fruit of the Spirit, or lack of it—you shall know them. 

Yahshua is the ultimate source of the light by which we walk. If we follow in his footsteps, we will never get lost or trip over obstacles lurking in the darkness. He said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12) That’s an interesting phrase—“the light of life.” Dead men may have perfectly good eyes, yet they can’t see anything, much less make decisions or take action based on what is right in front of them. Only the living can observe their surroundings and exercise the free will God gave them. In fact, it is my considered opinion that the only reason we humans have been given life at all (in the mortal sense) is so we might observe God’s love and respond to it. The “light of life,” then, is that which enables us to choose good and reject evil—to elect to dwell in the kingdom of God, and not the world. Without Christ (or, before His advent, some other manifestation of Yahweh’s presence) we would not be able to see well enough to choose life over death. 

The original disciples had to endure an unanticipated but inevitable paradigm shift—from the physical presence of Yahshua’s light among them to the Holy Spirit dwelling within them. “Then Jesus said to them, ‘A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going.” He said this knowing that within a week, He would be tried, crucified, entombed, and resurrected, leaving the disciples alone and confused for a little while. “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light…. He who believes in Me, believes not in Me [alone] but in Him who sent Me. And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me. I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.’” (John 12:35-36, 44-46) 

That “whoever” extended beyond the twelve disciples, of course. It would apply to every subsequent believer. As He explained a couple of days later, “If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:15-18) The Light would continue—in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit—who became a visceral reality to them on the Day of Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks on Yahweh’s prophetic calendar. It is no coincidence that olive oil—that which fueled the lamps of the day—was employed as a symbol of the operation of the Holy Spirit. (See The Torah Code, 3.1.2.) 

Yahshua made a habit of proving His authority in spiritual matters by demonstrating His power in the physical realm. “Then Jesus said to [the blind man], ‘Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.’ And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.” (Luke 18:42-43) There are at least five instances recorded in the Gospels in which Yahshua restored sight to blind men. Note several things here: (1) Yahshua commanded the man to see; we are similarly required to acquire spiritual insight. (2) It was the man’s faith—his trust in Yahshua’s power and love—that made him well. (3) The cure was immediate: sight is not something we have to wait for the coming immortal state to attain. (4) The formerly blind man glorified God—exactly the right response for one who has been shown the light. And (5) those who had witnessed the restoration of the man’s sight, though neither blind nor healed themselves, praised God as well: we are to rejoice when God’s love is manifested in the world—even if we aren’t the direct recipients. We’re all in this together. 

In the most expansive narrative concerning the restoration of sight, John 9 describes Yahshua’s healing of a man born blind. The unbelieving Pharisees refused to praise God for his healing, because Yahshua had made a great show of making mud with dirt and saliva and anointing his sightless eyes with it on the Sabbath! The healed man, unimpressed with the Pharisees’ questionable theological nuances, slapped them in the face with the unvarnished truth: “Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see…. Why, this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from; yet He has opened my eyes! Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him. Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.” 

Faced with such unimpeachable logic, the Pharisees repented. Oh, wait: no, they didn’t. They instead demonstrated their own spiritual blindness by persecuting the man because he’d had the temerity of being healed on the Sabbath—proving Yahshua’s point. “And Jesus said, ‘For judgment [read: separation] I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made [i.e., shown to be] blind.’ Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, ‘Are we blind also?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, “We see.” Therefore your sin remains.’” (John 9:39-41) Here’s another remarkable development: our unwillingness to acknowledge the truth in the face of indisputable evidence—claiming instead that because we wish something to be true, it actually is—defines us as sinners, spiritually blind despite our ability to see the truth. This underscores what is to me a frustrating fact: one cannot argue or persuade someone into the Kingdom of Heaven. Neither logic nor facts have any effect on one who is willfully blind. He has to want to enter—he has to be willing to see. That being said, God never leaves an honest searcher in the dark. 

It may seem obvious, but the light is there (by God’s design) so that we may walk uprightly in His presence. “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” (John 11:9-10) “Stumbling” is a euphemism for sin. We don’t (usually) sin on purpose. But falling into iniquity doesn’t make it acceptable before God, just because it’s not purposeful rebellion. Remember, sin (in both Hebrew and Greek usage) is a marksmanship term: if we hit the target, we have done as was intended by both God and ourselves. But if we miss—even by a little bit—we have “sinned.” What Christ is saying here is that it helps greatly to be able to see what we’re aiming at. 

Being “salt and light” in this world is often just a matter of bearing witness of the grace that has been shown to us. On one occasion, after Yahshua had cast out a man’s demons, his all-too-logical desire was to follow the Messiah everywhere He went, listening with rapt attention to every word He said and sitting at the Master’s feet in worshipful awe. But Christ’s instructions were (somewhat counterintuitively) to go home and be salt and light. “And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.’ And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.” (Mark 5:18-20; cf. Luke 8:26-39) 

What? No seminary degree? No airtight doctrinal position? No retreat to a monastery cloistered from the corrupting influences of the world? No. Just tell your friends and neighbors what happened to you—that you were once demon possessed, held in bondage, and blind to the truth—and God delivered you via the compassion of Christ. You don’t have to browbeat people about their sins; you don’t have to do penance and give alms; you don’t have to build a megachurch and gather a huge following. Just bear witness to whoever God places in your path of the love you’ve been shown. The Holy Spirit will take it from there. In other words, don’t ignore or conceal the gift that has been given to you—hiding your lamp under a bushel basket, as it were. “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38) 

Granted, we don’t all have the same job to do. But we are all instructed to open our eyes to the dire condition of the world—people who are waiting, aching to receive some good news about how they too can be released from their chains. “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.” (John 4:35-38) Maybe you’re primarily salt. Maybe you’re mostly light. The point is that we believers all need to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, and not merely taking up space. 

Perhaps the most direct instruction Yahshua gave concerning how to be “salt and light” is expressed in the Great Commission—recorded, with variations, several different places in scripture. The heart of it in every case is that we are to be witnesses of what God has done for us—just like the healed demoniac above. In Mark, it looks like this: “And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned….” The “gospel” is simply the good news of our deliverance available through Christ’s sacrifice. The criteria for salvation is belief in this good news. Baptism is one’s public profession of his belief. “Condemned” means “judged to be guilty according to a legal standard.” Thus it is our belief in the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice that secures our acquittal before God. As with Abraham, our “faith is accounted unto us as righteousness.” 

“And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:15-18) Certain Pentecostal traditions notwithstanding, these acts are not meant to be performed before an audience to authenticate one’s calling. (The Epistle of I John makes it abundantly clear that our love for one another is the sole authorized mechanism for verifying the genuineness of our belief.) Rather, these things (many of which are recorded as having happened in the subsequent lives of the apostles) are signs demonstrating God’s anointing and protection. (See for example Paul’s encounter with the viper on the Island of Malta: Acts 28:1-6.) 

Matthew’s recording of the Great Commission says, “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:18-20) There are five imperatives in our Commission: 

(1) Go. Leave your comfort zone and venture to every corner of the globe in the name of Christ.

(2) Make disciples. A disciple (Greek: mathetes) is literally a learner, a pupil—from math-, the mental effort to think something through. The “nations” (i.e., gentiles) were comprised of people who were not steeped in the Law of God. They had never heard of Yahweh, and thus had no particular reason to heed His prophets. What they did have was nature and conscience, conspiring together to tell them there was a God. They became disciples when they learned that He had manifested Himself in human form as Yahshua to save them from their sins. 

(3) Baptize them. In the Greek this literally means, “Immerse them.” To my mind, this implies more than just administering the ritual of water baptism, signaling one’s conversion from paganism to Christianity. Christians should be “immersed” in the name—the identity, character, reputation, and renown—of God, who would henceforth be primarily received in three forms, Heavenly Father, Messiah-Son, and Holy Spirit (though the pre-Christian believers had also had a long history with theophanies, shekinah-type manifestations, and divine apparitions) all of whom shared one identity: Yahweh. 

(4) Teach them. Teach them what? All of the things I am attempting to list and examine in this appendix—Yahshua’s commandments. 

His promise to “be with them always” would see its initial fulfillment ten days after His ascension—on the Day of Pentecost, reported in detail in Acts 2. But immediately before the risen Christ departed from the Mount of Olives (ten days prior to Pentecost) He issued the Great Commission, as reported here by Luke: “And He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority….” The disciples had presumed that now that Yahshua had risen from the dead, He would immediately set up His Kingdom upon the earth. But although He didn’t spell it out, the fact (revealed in the Torah) was that this was only the dawning of the fifth day of Yahweh’s seven-day “week.” (The creation account had informed us that the “sun became visible” on the fourth day—and Christ indeed appeared at the end of the fourth millennium of fallen man.) The age of grace had just begun; the Sabbath-rest was therefore still two thousand years in the future. There was, therefore, still plenty of work left to do before the harvest—cultivating, watering, weeding, fertilizing, and pruning. 

(5) Be witnesses. “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’” (Acts 1:7-8) Remember the healed demoniac from Decapolis back in Mark 5? This is what he had been specifically asked to do—“Tell people of the compassion God has shown you.” This is still our job today: light up the world.


Do Not Worry or Fear 

Throughout the Bible, one of the major themes is that we are to trust our God, believe Him (and believe on Him), and rely upon His gracious provision. The whole issue of obedience stems from the fact that by doing so, we acknowledge that Yahweh is worthy of this trust. Even if we don’t know why He told us to do something, if we really trust Him, we will comply. So when Christ said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments,” He wasn’t operating out of ego or insecurity. He was simply repeating the theme: obedience indicates trust—“You can trust Me.” 

Conversely, if we don’t trust Yahweh, we will search for some sort of replacement deity upon whom we feel we can rely. Moldy Canaanite-style “gods” like Ba’al or Molech have fallen out of favor in these “enlightened” times, of course. Although Allah is worshiped by a billion and a half souls in today’s world, nobody relies on Him, for He has never done one thing, good or bad, that anybody can attribute to him with a straight face. Rather, his worshipers—Muslims—do all the work, and 99% of it is destructive, hateful, or pointless. 

But false gods still abound. Nowadays, the Number One “deity” in the world—if defined by who or what people rely upon—is man himself. Sometimes it is a charismatic individual, a political or religious leader perhaps. Sometimes it’s a man-made system, like government or religion or cultural tradition. But most of the time, people live as if they assume they can’t rely upon anybody but themselves. Even in the realm of religion (in which one or more deities are worshiped), the vast majority of adherents act as if they alone are the source of whatever it is the religion promises. It is their works, worship, alms, penance, sacrifices, or obedience that induces the deity of record to do what he’s supposed to—give them prosperity, peace, a pleasant afterlife, good weather, health, or victory over their enemies. If the “god” doesn’t deliver, it is presumed to be the fault of the worshiper—who “obviously” fell short of his “god’s” expectations. 

So the default condition for the typical man-reliant man is worry, fear, doubt, and trepidation. He compensates in several ways. (1) Some claw their way toward the top, where they presume their real-or-imaginary demons can’t touch them. (2) Some retreat from the real world, pursuing diversions, activities, and pleasures designed to mask the pain of uncertainty, often using pharmaceutical assistance to one extent or another. (3) Some drop out altogether, lowering their expectations to the point where no outcome, no matter how grim, is worse than what they imagined. (4) Some immerse themselves in “causes,” buying into hollow promises of personal fulfillment through “saving the world,” without a shred of logic or evidence to support the position in which they’re so heavily invested. And (5) some become professional victims, imagining that their problems must be somebody else’s fault, so they hate without cause, destroy without conscience, and take without thanksgiving. 

But what does Yahshua say to do in the face of trials or challenges? “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” There’s nothing wrong with working for a living, of course—but it is not our job to calculate, scheme, and stress out over our endeavors. “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?...” This illustration didn’t have much impact for me as long as I lived in Southern California. But since I moved to a place with four actual seasons, it really hits home. The temperature can get down to zero here, and sometimes we deal with snow or ice, but the woodland creatures don’t freeze or starve to death. The funny thing is, I count it a privilege to act as “God’s assistant” by providing a feeding station for the birds. In really cold weather, we attract quite a crowd—all saying “thank you” in their own way. But the birds did just fine without us. 

Americans spend billions of dollars annually in a vain attempt to avoid falling apart with age. We worry about everything from obesity to wrinkles to male-pattern baldness. Through the prodigious application of effort and resources, we may even be able to slow down the aging process a little, though time is a relentless adversary. But Yahshua wryly asks, “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” Face it: some things (in reality, most things) are beyond our power to control, for we are mortal and corrupt creatures. There are some things upon which neither worry nor wishing nor work have any effect. More to the point, worry betrays an attitude of ungratefulness toward God, who in His sovereignty made us one way rather than another. 

This applies to material possessions as well: “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?...” I realize that making clothing was a much bigger deal in the ancient world than it is now. But the lessons still apply. The world advises us to “Dress to impress,” or “Dress for the job you want,” so we tend to choose our wardrobe based on what we want other people to think of us, rather than what is actually appropriate. In other words, we worry about things we should leave in God’s hands. I would amend the maxim to say, “Dress with respect.” That is, our clothing should neither intimidate, mislead, nor provoke (whether to covetousness, anger, or lust) the people we meet. Our sartorial presence should project a quiet spirit, thoughtfulness, modesty, and respect. The same could be said for everything we own—our cars, houses, etc. 

The instructions are the same whether we’re relatively prosperous, or flirting with poverty: don’t worry—that’s God’s job. As the saying goes, there are two rules: (1) Don’t sweat the small stuff; and (2) It’s all small stuff. Or as Yahshua put it, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles [in this case, shorthand for the godless] seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things….” That’s the point most folks miss: Yahweh is aware of our needs, and He wants to meet them—just as any loving father delights in meeting the needs of his children. 

The only reason, in fact, that a loving father with unlimited resources (the picture of God) would withhold something good from his children is that they’re not ready for it—it is deemed deleterious to their well-being in some way, like buying them a Ferarri on their sixteenth birthday. (What could possibly go wrong?) What is necessary for life, health, and fulfillment, however, is always available, as long as the children aren’t in open rebellion—i.e., if the father doesn’t feel the need to somehow get their attention: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” The bottom line is that if our priorities are aligned with God’s, we need not worry about attaining the necessities of life. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:25-34; cf. Luke 12:22-31) Note that Yahshua doesn’t promise us a life without problems, but rather, that whatever trouble that does arise is not worth worrying about. 

There is an old concept called noblesse oblige (French for “nobility obliges”). It means: “The moral obligation of those of high birth, powerful social position, etc., to act with honor, kindliness, generosity, etc.” (Dictionary.com) It is unbecoming for princes and princesses to be stingy, selfish, and heartless toward people of more modest means, though alas, they often are. Yahshua wants us to remember that in whatever state we find ourselves financially, we are royalty—children of the King of Creation. “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:32-34) 

He Himself was the perfect example (as usual), demonstrating in the physical realm what is true in the spiritual: His mother Mary and her husband (His adoptive father) Joseph were poor, working-class folks. And yet both of them were of David’s royal lineage—Mary through Nathan (bypassing the curse of Coniah—see Jeremiah 22:24), and Joseph through Solomon. This made Yahshua a uniquely legitimate aspirant to Israel’s throne—and we, as His spiritual children, are therefore “royalty” as well. What we spend in God’s work is, after all, God’s money. 

The converse of depositing “treasure in heaven” is covetousness on earth (specifically prohibited in the Tenth Commandment). “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15) I must confess, my natural inclination is to “count the cost” when doing “crazy things” for the Kingdom of God. (My wife is much more spontaneous in that regard than I am—so she is the one who handles the money in our house. Believe me: it’s less counterintuitive than it looks.) But our youngest son (the last of eleven, nine of whom were adopted) takes the cake in this department. When he was away at college, a fellow student was cold and broke, so our Josh gave him his jacket—only to realize later that it was the only warm coat he owned. Somehow, God prevented our son from freezing to death, a victim of his own generosity. But that’s kind of the way He works. Thank You, Lord. 

Yahshua once sent the Twelve out on a “short-term mission trip,” as much to demonstrate to them His power of provision as to accomplish good works in the community. He told them, “As you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food.” (Matthew 10:7-10; cf. Luke 9:1-5) “Not preparing” naturally rubs me the wrong way, but this was an exercise in trust: the disciples were going to be doing what Yahshua had specifically instructed. That is, they weren’t trusting God to bless some endeavor they’d invented themselves, like build a mega-synagogue, found a hospital, or run a Christian-themed television network. The Luke passage speaks of them being given Christ’s power and authority, not optimism and chutzpah. 

Note too that with the exception of announcing the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, everything they were supposed to be doing required the specific power of God to accomplish. (How many lepers have you cured in the last week?) All of these things were signs, evidence that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. It was one thing to declare it—but something else entirely to demonstrate it. 

This all begs the question: are we under the same directive? Are we to raise the dead and cast out demons? You may protest that these signs died out with the apostolic age, but I submit to you that the same power through which the disciples worked (and as Christ did, for that matter) is alive within us today: the Holy Spirit. And occasionally today, we hear stories of miraculous signs accompanying the introduction of the Gospel in dark, hitherto unreached corners. But generally these days, the leper-cleansing, the sick-healing, the demon-casting, and the dead-raising are spiritual metaphors: all of these things are accomplished quite literally in the spiritual realm when a lost soul is introduced to Christ—the One who is on historical record as having enabled all of these things. That is to say, if the eyewitness testimony from yesteryear is not enough evidence for you, no more confirmation will be forthcoming. 

The point of sending the disciples out “unprepared” was to demonstrate to us that we don’t need large religious organizations, funding, equipment, and communications networks to introduce someone to the saving grace of Christ. All we need is the willingness to do it. If we don’t tell them, who will? If the spiritually dead demon-possessed blind leper (so to speak) is willing to listen, if he wants to be healed, then he can receive the life he needs. 

Yahshua wasn’t done with His instructions however. As He sent the Twelve out on their journey, He warned them of dangers that awaited: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles….” Even though you’re doing undeniably good things, He says, men will oppose you, because you represent a God they’re not willing to serve. 

As with logistical groundwork, your strategy should be: don’t worry about it. “But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” (Matthew 10:16-20; cf. Luke 12:8-12) Don’t bother preparing a defense in advance against false accusations. The Holy Spirit will tell you what to say. Furthermore (if I may read between the lines), your response may be a bit different when speaking to the local police, the High Priest, the governor of the territory, or the emperor himself. (Right, Paul?) 

Christ went on to explain, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household! Therefore do not fear them….” Don’t expect a fair fight, fought on the basis of facts, law, or even reason. Expect, rather, unfounded slander, groundless accusations, whispered innuendo, and bald-faced lies. When your accusers attack you, they’re actually attacking Me, He says. All they’ve done is to reveal who they’re really working for: Satan, the father of lies. For that matter, even if they kill you for your faith, don’t fear them: you already possess eternal life, something no one can steal from you. 

Followers of Christ will be vindicated—if not in this life, then in the next. In the eternal reality, Yahweh has already won this battle and exposed the slander for what it is—a transparent excuse for rejecting God’s love. “For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops….” Politicians routinely promise “greater transparency” in order to garner votes—and then practice their evil deeds in the darkened halls of power, hoping their corruption will never come to light. This is the pattern we see whenever power or profit are worshiped as gods. But we believers are to fearlessly proclaim in public what God’s Word has taught us in private—regardless of the consequences. Remember, this is still part of the discussion about venturing out into the world with no special preparation (other than the anointing of the Holy Spirit) in order to heal the sick and raise the dead. Yahweh’s enemies are not going to like it when we do that. After all, the truth will set us free, along with anyone else who receives it. 

Worry, as I said, is a subtle form of idolatry—an admission that you don’t really believe your God is capable of saving you. So Yahshua reminds His disciples to choose their god carefully: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:24-31; cf. Luke 12:4-7) Men, influenced by Satan, are able to kill the body. They do it all the time. But they are not able to control or designate someone else’s eternal destiny. Only God can do that. Therefore, God is the only one we are to “fear.” (That being said, false teachers often lead the gullible to their eternal doom. I would suggest “fearing” them as you would fear a rabid dog.) 

But every shred of scripture conspires to inform us that although Yahweh is able to “destroy both soul and body in hell,” He doesn’t want to—He is not willing that any should perish, but desires that all should come to repentance. So are we to “fear God?” Yes, but our knowledge of God’s ability breeds more reverence and respect than it does dread or fright. Interestingly, in both Hebrew and Greek, the words usually translated “fear” invariably mean both (or all) of these things. The emphasis is determined by our knowledge, familiarity, and even intimacy with the God of the Bible. 

Worry and fear are the kissing cousins of uncertainty. So Yahshua went out of His way to inform us what would happen if we kept His word. Alas, it’s a good news, bad news story. “These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them.” (John 16:1-4) It’s sort of like seeing a road sign that says, “Bridge out: hit the gas.” If we honor Christ, two things will happen. He will honor us in return, and the lost world will hate us because they comprehend neither Yahshua’s identity nor His mission. Knowing the opposition is coming is half the battle. We are instructed to proceed in truth, regardless of the hostility of a lost world. 

That “whoever kills you” line rings a very loud bell: it’s the perfect description of a Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus, later known to us as the Apostle Paul. The “good news” here is that as long as we draw breath, repentance is possible. He wasn’t just kidding when he referred to himself as the “worst of sinners” (I Timothy 1:15-16). He had enough blood on his hands to prove it—at least to himself. That’s how he came to understand God’s grace so well—he was the living personification of how it could change a life. 

We face more dangers in life than overzealous, misguided Pharisees, of course. The world is full of hazards, both natural and manufactured, but we are instructed not to worry about any of them: “Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ But He said to them, ‘Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?’ Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, ‘Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?’” (Matthew 8:23-27, cf. Mark 4:35-41; cf. Luke 8:22-25) Is He telling us not to bother taking routine precautions, maintain our equipment, or plan ahead for adverse contingencies? No, of course not. He’s saying, rather, that nothing can happen to us that is beyond His sovereignty. 

But if this is true, why do bad things happen to good people? There are so many reasons: (1) There aren’t any fundamentally good people; there are only relatively good people. We live in a fallen world populated by sinful men. We left the shelter of Eden’s paradise a long time ago. (2) If God were to miraculously protect us believers from every hazard, we would be known in the world for our “good luck,” not our faithfulness or our love. (3) Taken to its logical conclusion, God’s protection would prevent us from dying, or even growing old. You’d have 1,700 year old Christians walking around who look and feel like they’re twenty—sending the world the entirely wrong message. (4) Sometimes God allows trials to flow through our lives in order that non-believers can see how our faith changes us and gives us peace. (5) Our suffering allows us a glimpse into what our Savior endured voluntarily for our sakes. (6) Our afflictions begin a chain reaction, producing in turn perseverance, then character, and then hope (see Romans 5:3-4, James 1:2-3). Hope in what? In God’s ability to transform us, as He did Yahshua, into immortal beings. We will at last be free of our sin natures—we’ll no longer “fall short of the glory of God.” (This—our transformation, not merely “timely escape from a world gone bad”—is the purpose of the rapture of the church.) 

Some of our best lessons concerning worry took place on the Sea of Galilee, near which much of Yahshua’s ministry took place. On one occasion, He sent His disciples on ahead in a boat, and this happened: “Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid….’” To Christ, it was another demonstration of how God’s glory could be manifested in a mortal Man: His sovereignty extended even over the laws of physics. To the disciples, it looked like a ghostly apparition. Remember, it was dark out; all they had was a bit of moonlight to see by. And let’s face it: they were not used to seeing people walk on water. But “immediately” after they had noticed the unexpected form walking toward them, Yahshua identified Himself. He is not in the habit of frightening us for His own amusement. 

As usual, it was the impetuous Peter who took things to the next level: “And Peter answered Him and said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ So He said, ‘Come.’ And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus.” Peter’s faith was childlike and unreserved, something Yahshua held in high regard. I’ll bet he was the first kid on the playground to jump off the jungle gym into his father’s arms. “But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’ And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’” Again, Christ’s response was “immediate.” He didn’t give Peter reason to doubt—that was all the fisherman’s doing. “And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, ‘Truly You are the Son of God.’” (Matthew 14:25-33; cf. Mark 6:45-51) 

We tend to hear of episodes like this and conclude that the disciples responded to a few miracles with a declaration of Yahshua’s deity. That’s part of it, of course: the miracles revealed Christ’s identity and validated His teaching. But we are warned elsewhere in scripture (e.g. Deuteronomy 13:1-5, Matthew 24:23-25, Revelation 13) that what look to us like miracles can be misleading. In order to be considered genuine signs from God, they must be done in accordance with His will and His word. “Magic tricks” can be quite entertaining, as long as we understand that they’re illusions, with no particular spiritual significance. Here on Galilee, Yahshua’s miracles were “performed” with but one goal: to teach us that we can trust Him. Put another way, I have no doubt that the coming Antichrist will be able to perform signs like walking on water and messing with the weather. But if there is a “Peter” in his life, he’ll likely let him drown. 

A few days before His passion, Yahshua explained the nature of the Last Days to four of His disciples, in a passage called “the Olivet Discourse” (so-called because they were on the Mount of Olives when He said these things). It is recorded in all three synoptic Gospels, Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Christ mentioned all sorts of things we would see. In Matthew’s account, the division between the pre-rapture Christians and the neo-believers who come to faith afterward seems to be verse 8: “All these are the beginning of sorrows.” The bottom line for the believers of the church age, then, is this: “See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.” (Matthew 24:6) For those of us living prior to the rapture of the church, our instructions are to neither worry nor fear, no matter what we see happening around us—false christs, wars and rumors of war, famines, epidemics, seismic events, and weather disasters. 

The converse is an argument from silence, so I can’t be dogmatic about this: there is no specific admonition “not to worry” for those who come to faith after the rapture but before the Second Coming (Matthew 24:9-31). Rather, there will be every reason to be afraid during this time, because the saints will be powerless against the Antichrist (Revelation 13:7) and the death toll of believers will be staggering (Revelation 7:9-14). This is a period of time in which “the power of the holy people has been completely shattered.” (Daniel 12:7) The church that will come to faith after the rapture (Laodicea) was told by Christ, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” (Revelation 3:19) And we are told that two thirds of Israel will perish (Zechariah 13:8-9) as the nation is refined like silver in the crucible. So okay, once the rapture is past, then you can worry. (For an exhaustive study of the events prophesied to take place during this time, see The End of the Beginning, Volume 2, elsewhere on this website.) 

But during the church age (from Pentecost until the rapture) we are commanded to be at peace. On the very day of His resurrection, Christ established this principle: “Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’… Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:19, 21-22) Since Yahshua has now ascended back to the Father, the peace that reigns within us is the result of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. 

Decades later the risen Christ appeared to John, who was in exile on the island of Patmos, and gave him messages to deliver to seven churches in Asia Minor, which turned out to be (among other things) symbolic of seven phases or predominant profiles of the church’s history throughout the age. Two of them (and only two) were given no rebuke, but only encouragement, and these two were told (whether overtly or between the lines) not to worry. 

Smyrna was a town in which the Christians suffered for their faith. Indeed, Christ informed them that in all there would be ten intense periods of persecution under the Romans before that sort of thing had run its course—a fact borne out in subsequent history. To Smyrna, the second church on the list, He wrote, “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” (Revelation 2:10-11) The absence of fear would not result from compromise with the world resulting in a false peace, but rather through “being faithful until death.” Our mortal vulnerability is the thing the lost fear most—not knowing what awaits them “on the other side,” desperately hoping (as John Lennon put it) there’s “no hell below us, above us only sky.” Followers of Christ, on the other hand, can rest assured that whatever happens to our mortal bodies, our eternal souls are secure. 

The second-to-last church on the mailing list was Philadelphia—the faithful church of our present day. We see the signs that the Last Days are almost upon us, and we are all too aware that the world would love to wipe us out to the last man, for we are all that stand between them and total debauchery and corruption. Christ doesn’t command us not to worry (in so many words), but He gives us several reasons for hope that naturally result in an absence of fear. To Philadelphia He writes: “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name….” Some of the churches were powerful and influential, but not Philadelphia. But He informs us that as long as we’re here, we’ll still have a little strength, a little voice. That is, we won’t be wiped out, a casualty of the world’s irrational wrath. Of course, there is a church in the world today that wields a lot of power, with immense wealth and well over a billion adherents. By definition, they aren’t Philadelphia. But God has given us a job to do, and we will be empowered to do it (in our own modest way) until He takes us home. 

The next descriptor: “Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you….” The key to their identity is the word “synagogue.” He’s talking about Judaism (the Jewish religion) and Israel (the Jewish political entity). They are the “synagogue of Satan” because after two thousand years, they still haven’t turned, as a nation, to recognize Yahshua as their Messiah, as we hopeless gentiles did (well, some of us). Today, Israelis instinctively appreciate that evangelical (Bible-believing) Christians are their only real ally in the world—they can’t rely on Catholics, secular humanists, or Hindus to be in their corner. (They can rely on Muslims…to be their implacable enemies.) When we’re gone (and we are going—see the next Philadelphian promise) they will finally begin to awaken to the truth: that our Christ was their Messiah all along. Before it’s all over, they will “worship at our feet”—not worship us, but worship the One we worshiped—Yahshua the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The restoration of Israel is the most often-repeated prophecy in the Bible. 

Now He promises to the Philadelphians that which keeps us free from fear, even in the most perilous of times: “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth….” The “hour of trial” of which He speaks is the 2,520-day (roughly 7-year) period commonly known as “the Tribulation.” It is defined as the final “seven” in the amazing Daniel 9 prophecy (you know—the one that pinpointed the very day Yahshua came to Jerusalem to present Himself as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” Monday, March 28, a.k.a. Nisan 10, 33 AD—the day of His triumphal entry). The prophecy specifically refers to Israel’s destiny (i.e., not the church’s), which is confirmation that the church-age believers will not be God’s focal point on the earth when this takes place. In other words, “keeping us out of the hour of trial” is a description of the rapture of the church. 

Note that Philadelphia (the church of the rapture) is defined as having “kept Yahshua’s command to persevere.” We have “kept His word, and have not denied His name.” That, I’m afraid, cannot be said of huge swaths of “nominal Christianity” today—who are known instead for their top-heavy self-absorbed religiosity, compromise with the world, love of money and power, and their betrayal of Israel—the very profile of ante-repentant Laodicea. Unless they repent, and soon, they will participate in the “hour of trial.” 

So Christ encourages Philadelphia: “Behold, I am coming quickly! [that is, suddenly.] Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.” (Revelation 3:8-12) Hold on, He says. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. The things that characterize “him who overcomes” are symbolic descriptions of one who has been transformed into the immortal state at the rapture. (See I Corinthians 15:35-58. As Paul says in verse 50, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”) 

There are five more churches on Christ’s mailing list in Revelation—groups who are not specifically told not to worry. Why? Because within these spiritual profiles, they actually do have quite a lot to worry about. I will discuss them below, under the sub-heading “Repent.” But for those believers holding it together under persecution (yes, Smyrna is still with us today) and the “Philadelphians,” who keep Christ’s word, don’t deny His name, and persevere in the truth, we are commanded not to be afraid of what the world would like to do to us. Our lives will bear fruit, and our eternal destinies are secure.


Be Discerning; Be Wise

Because Christ told us to “learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart,” we sometimes get the feeling that Christians are supposed to be spineless mental marshmallows who believe everything we’re told, see the best in everyone, and take everything at face value—that basically, we’re expected to check our brains at the church door. But as we’re about to see, Yahshua’s actual instructions were very different from that caricature. Yes, we’re supposed to “be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) That is, we’re not to use our knowledge to hurt people. But closer to the heart of the matter is His Olivet Discourse admonition: “Take heed that no one deceives you.” (Matthew 24:4) 

Satan is not ordinarily given permission to directly, physically attack us. Rather, his primary tool is deception—and it has been ever since his encounter with Eve (rhymes with naïve) in the Garden of Eden. In her defense, she could hardly have been expected to know how discern good from evil (her instructions notwithstanding), because she’d had no experience with evil. We, on the other hand, are all too familiar with it; so Christ commands us to be discerning, to use wisdom. And how may we acquire wisdom (other than through bitter experience, like Eve)? Solomon explains: “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10) 

So Yahshua’s advice is sound, but only if we accept the fact that He is God incarnate: “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock….” In The Torah Code (1.3.7) I pointed out that the “Rock” is one of the seven symbols through which Yahweh defines His own character (the others being Light, the Word, Life, Water, Air (breath or wind), and Bread). Building our “house” (our spiritual dwelling place) upon the solid bedrock of Yahweh’s truth is the only wise course of action. 

Anything else is guaranteed to be inferior in some way: “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” (Matthew 7:24-27) The definition of your life’s “foundation” is not your bank account or social status or influence over your peers. It is not even your “philosophy of life”—whatever you believe to be true. It is your adherence (or not) to Christ’s instructions. A firm foundation is obedience, which will render your “house” safe and secure. Disobedience, on the other hand, will make us vulnerable to all sorts of hazards. 

I’m not talking about salvation here (necessarily). I’m talking about doing things that tend to promote stability in your life, vs. doing things that invite turmoil, pain, and poverty. One silly but obvious example: you can be a genuine Christian, and still habitually consume unwise amounts of alcohol (instead of being filled with the Holy Spirit). Your lack of discernment can manifest itself in car wrecks, unemployment, divorce, and liver sclerosis—none of which is evidence of “the wrath of God” per se, but is merely your house falling apart because you built it on sand. Everything in this appendix to The Owner’s Manual (and the previous one, for that matter) is a solid foundation upon which you can build a good life. And I might add, in the previous study the most often-repeated Torah precept by far was “obey Yahweh’s precepts,” or words to that effect. The “rules” are given for our benefit, not God’s. 

This world’s “flavor of the week” is democracy, heir to monarchy, heir to oligarchy, and heir in turn to anarchy. Somehow, we have gotten it into our heads that whatever the majority thinks must be true. This is why our satanically controlled media routinely reports that the majority favors one opinion over another—even if we don’t. Nobody, it would appear, wants to be on the losing side. But Christ warned us that being in the majority (on certain subjects) is virtually certain to define us as losers—wrong, errant, and lost. Speaking of life and godliness, Yahshua says, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) 

If the statistics teach us anything at all, it is that mankind is a very religious species. That is, we like to gather in groups and decide amongst ourselves what (or who) is worthy of our worship. Demographically today, about 85% of the world is divided rather evenly between four broadly defined religious traditions (whether or not there is an actual “god” involved), each claiming 21-22% of the world’s populace. They are (according to my analysis in The End of the Beginning, Appendix 11, elsewhere on this website), (1) Eastern religious philosophies (the Religion of Despair), (2) Functional atheism (the Religion of Denial), (3) Islam (the Religion of Death), and (4) liturgical, mostly apostate, Christianity (the Religion of Compromise). Everyone else is lumped into the remaining 15% or so, including Evangelical (Bible-believing) Christianity, Judaism, animism, paganism, Wicca, Satanism, etc. My point in explaining all this is that Christ’s “narrow gate vs. broad way” declaration defines this four-lane highway of popular religion as the road to destruction. In spiritual matters, if you’re in the majority, you’re automatically wrong

Of course, real Christians are to be working tirelessly to introduce the lost world to Christ. As we saw above, we are to be “salt and light” to others. So what are we to make of this? “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” (Matthew 7:6) “What is holy” is a reference to the animals sacrificed on God’s altar—but they in turn are always a picture of Christ in His sacrificial role. “Pearls” are shorthand for anything exceedingly precious. Together, then, these things represent the Gospel—the good news of our redemption through Yahshua’s sacrifice on our behalf. Who, then, are “dogs” and “swine”? Is He talking about lost souls—are we to hide the Gospel from them? 

No. The “merely” unsaved are characteristically described by Christ as “lost sheep.” That is, although they have gone astray and will die if not rescued, they are not themselves vicious predators (“dogs” are also a euphemism for male prostitutes in pagan temples) or swine—aggressive and indiscriminate omnivores who will devour anything from feces to dead people if given the chance. I have said time and again that God will never turn away an honest searcher. But the “dogs and swine” about whom Yahshua is talking here are neither honest nor searching. We are, then, to be discriminating about how, and to whom, we preach the Gospel. Look for opportunities where the “lost sheep” are likely to have gathered. You won’t usually find them in houses of worship, but they’ll be in “neutral” territory—in school, at work, the mall, restaurants, on social media, you get the idea. But, according to Christ’s warning, don’t bother trying to convert the crowd at your local biker bar or strip club, a gay-pride parade, or the annual Planned Parenthood awards banquet. 

How are we to distinguish the dogs and pigs from the lost sheep? Discern what they do and say. Speaking of dogs (well, wolves), Yahshua warns us, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:15-20) Wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing are a constant problem, for they look a lot alike—by design. But sheep don’t bite the other sheep. Sheep may be naïve and easily led astray, but they are not vicious. 

As long as we’re here, let’s look closer at the scriptural use of these canine symbols. A wolf or jackal (lukos) is figuratively a cruel, greedy, rapacious or destructive person (See Thayer). A dog (as in Matthew 7:6—the Greek kuon) was, if running around loose, seen as a despised scavenger, figuratively a spiritual predator who feeds off others, or worse, “a man of impure mind, an impudent man” (Thayer), even a sodomite. But dogs were also kept as working animals (especially by shepherds) and as pets, referred to in our next passage as kunarion, or “puppy dogs,” domesticated canine companions. 

“Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.’ But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she cries out after us.’ But He answered and said, ‘I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!’ But He answered and said, ‘It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.’ And she said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered and said to her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” (Matthew 15:21-28; cf. Mark 7:24-30) 

So while we’re not to “give what is holy” to impure scavengers or spiritual predators, it is perfectly acceptable to bring healing to those who might become “dogs” under other circumstances, but who are instead searching for the truth. The difference between a mangy scavenger mutt (a kuon) and a “puppy dog” (a kunarion) is that the latter is kept on a leash, shown love, and “fed scraps from the Master’s table.” I would submit to you that it is up to us believers to ensure that those table scraps—pieces of God’s truth—continue to be available to the “little dogs,” for if they have to forage for themselves, they could make life difficult and dangerous for everyone. And (to stretch this metaphor to the breaking point) if they begin running in packs like wolves (lukos), no one is safe. 

The lesson to be learned for us, I think, is not to label people too quickly as “dogs or swine.” Don’t assume, for instance, that a Muslim or secular humanist who has been exposed to the Gospel cannot be receptive to Yahshua’s truth or salvation. As long as we draw breath, repentance is always an option. We too were lost—until we weren’t.  

Being able to discern our own spiritual condition is essential. Yahshua told the story of a debtor and the man to whom he owed the money. This debt is a metaphor for the sin that puts us at enmity with our Holy Creator. “Yes, and why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right? When you go with your adversary to the magistrate, make every effort along the way to settle with him, lest he drag you to the judge, the judge deliver you to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you shall not depart from there till you have paid the very last mite.” (Luke 12:57-59) It is crucial for each of us to comprehend that we’re all debtors—we have all fallen into sin. It’s no good standing before the judge denying what is obvious and documented. The judge is The Judge—God Himself—who is not bound by silly artificial rules and procedures, but operates solely on the truth. 

Note too that it doesn’t matter whether we owe a bazillion bucks or a single penny, we are still debtors (sinners) until it has all been paid. The least little infraction—that first tiny nibble of forbidden fruit—is enough to separate us from God, and it is beyond our power or resources to re-enter Eden. That is why, as we “go with our adversary to the magistrate,” it behooves us to come to some sort of “arrangement” concerning our debt. Surprisingly, the “adversary” (antidikos—the prosecuting attorney bringing formal legal charges against us) is willing to deal: the One to whom our crushing debt is owed (Yahweh) has offered to pay it off Himself. But there’s a catch (of sorts): we have to admit that the debt was genuine, and receive the payoff with gratitude. You’d think that would be a no-brainer, wouldn’t you? Astonishingly however, most debtors dig in their heels and say the price of forgiveness is just too high, preferring either to deny that the debt was valid in the first place, or to attempt the impossible—pay it back themselves. 

I don’t get it. 

Perhaps the problem is an unwillingness to discern who God is. After all, He doesn’t give us proof of His existence or identity, only a mountain of incontrovertible evidence. We need only to open our eyes and look. One of the most amazing—and terrifying—verses in the Bible is this: “And anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but to him who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven.” (Luke 12:10) We’re not required to somehow intuitively know that Yahshua was Yahweh’s Messiah, even though His life, death, and resurrection are the most well-documented historical events of ancient times. But when the Holy Spirit bears witness in our hearts that something’s wrong—that we need to be reconciled with our Maker, that we need a Savior—and we say, “thanks, but no thanks; I’m fine the way I am,” then forgiveness will elude us for eternity. 

“Blasphemy” here isn’t overt slander, necessarily. It’s a transliteration of a compound of two Greek words: “blax, ‘sluggish, slow,’ and phḗmē, ‘reputation, fame.’ Properly, refusing to acknowledge good (worthy of respect, veneration); hence, to blaspheme, which reverses moral values.” (Helps Word-studies) So in effect, it means “to vilify—especially, to speak impiously or blasphemously, defame, rail on, revile, speak evil.” (Strong’s) Basically it’s considering God a liar. The outstanding Biblical example of this principle is the Apostle Paul, who (at first) “spoke words against” Christ and His followers (an understatement if ever there was one), but later repented, changing the course of his life in response to the Holy Spirit’s prodding.

***

The most significant thing we can discern is the identity of Yahshua. The specific issue is, “is He God, or is He not?” There was, understandably, a lot of controversy about this before He rose from the dead (which sort of settled the issue once and for all). Yes, he was a popular rabbi, and many saw him as a prophet as well because of the miracles He did in their presence. Some even thought He was John the Baptist, raised from the dead (though John had had a personal relationship with Yahshua—they were cousins, after all: this was not the age of YouTube and Google). So Yahshua put the question to His disciples: “He said to them, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.’” (Matthew 16:15-17) 

Yahshua congratulated Peter on his discernment and insight, but to modern ears, these titles still seem to incorporate a little wiggle room. First, “Christ” means “anointed” (as in the way a king or High Priest would be formally initiated into God’s service). It is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew concept of “Messiah.” The Psalmist sets us straight: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against Yahweh and against His Anointed [Messiah, Christ], saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us….’ Yahweh has said to Me [Messiah], ‘You are My Son; today I have begotten You.’” (Psalm 2:2-3, 7) The Messiah/Christ, then, is the “Son of God.” 

So secondly, we need to figure out what the title “Son of God” actually means. Is He is a second-generation junior deity, or a mere follower of Yahweh? No, in this culture, a “son,” especially a firstborn son, shared the duties, the agenda, the authority, and in the end, the identity of his father. A prince bears this same sort of relationship with his father the king, for it is understood that when the time is right, he will be the king. 

Isaiah sets us straight: “For unto us a Child is born; unto us a Son is given. And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of Yahweh of hosts will perform this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7) That is, the “Son,” the “Child born to us,” (Yahshua) is “Mighty God.” Lest there should be any confusion, the “Child” is equated with the “Everlasting Father,” Yahweh Himself. Furthermore, He is destined to rule from the throne of David as King over the whole earth. Forever. In the original languages, there is no question at all what Peter was attesting: Yahshua was Yahweh, Almighty God manifested in flesh. 

Peter was able to see Yahweh in Yahshua because he was reverently familiar with both of them and could easily see the “family resemblance.” The Pharisees knew neither accurately: they were too busy manufacturing their “god” out of wishful thinking and self-interest to notice what Yahweh—the God who had revealed Himself to the Jews in the Tanakh—actually looked like. They had the “religion” thing down cold, but since they did not revere Yahweh, the wisdom and discernment displayed by a simple rough fisherman eluded them. 

So the synoptics all record this revealing encounter between Yahshua and the religious elite of Judea: “Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk.” That’s right, guys. Don’t try to discern the truth. Concentrate instead on how to make your adversary look bad in the public eye. You remind me of the liberal American mainstream media: clueless and corrupt. “And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men….” Butter him up with transparently insincere flattery, so he’ll look even worse when you ask him when He stopped beating his wife. 

Their question was calculated to get Yahshua in trouble with somebody—either the Jewish populace or the Roman authorities; they didn’t really care which. “Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’ But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, ‘Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money.’ So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, ‘Whose image and inscription is this?’ They said to Him, ‘Caesar’s.’ And He said to them, ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.” (Matthew 22:15-22; cf. Mark 12:13-17; cf. Luke 20:20-26) 

Their “gotcha” question backfired: they weren’t able to generate any hatred or animosity with Yahshua’s answer. But we shouldn’t merely bask in schadenfreude and go our merry way. Rather, we should seriously consider the importance of what Yahshua said. Some things in this world do “belong to Caesar,” so to speak. Let us discern what they are and be prepared to let go of them. In the story, it was tax money—of which our current governments take far too much and then spend unwisely. Yahshua says, “So what? Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and He will meet your needs—regardless of what the godless steal from you.” Caesar’s realm is everything that’s “of the world,” the non-essentials of this life. If it has the world’s “image and inscription” on it, then don’t hang on to it too tightly. You don’t need it, and it may even be harmful. 

On the other hand, we should consider what things we have that are God’s—that should be rendered unto Him. The Eden account informs us that we humans were “made in the image and likeness of God.” (Genesis 1:26, cf. James 3:9) So at the very least, we ourselves, our bodies and souls—the physical and mental components of our mortal existence—belong to God. And then consider the intangibles: our time, energy, interests, focus, our raison d’être, the words on our lips, our worship and devotion—all of these and more belong to God. We are not to give them to Caesar. 

Many people today are wise enough to discern that Yahshua—Jesus Christ—is Yahweh’s promised Messiah. We should: we’ve had almost two thousand years to work out what happened, and why. At his birth, there were very few who had any inkling of what God was about to do in our world. Mary had, as required by Law, gotten the infant Yahshua circumcised on the eighth day of life. Thirty-three days later, when the time of her purification was complete, she came with Joseph and the Child to the temple for the first time to offer a turtledove as a burnt offering, and another as a sin offering, again, as required in the Torah. (See Leviticus 12:1-4, 6-8. In one of God’s humorous little twists, new mothers were supposed to bring lambs for the burnt offering, substituted with doves only if they were poor—which Mary definitely was. Little did she know that she had brought a lamb—and not only a lamb, but The Lamb who was to take away the sin of the world.) 

But I digress. While they were at the temple for Mary’s purification ceremony, they met two people, a Spirit-filled “just and devout” man named Simeon who had been “waiting for the consolation of Israel,” and an elderly prophetess named Anna. Both of them acknowledged that the infant Yahshua was the One they had been awaiting, the One who would bring redemption to Jerusalem and the world. (See Luke 2:25-38.) Both Anna and Simeon were led by the Spirit, as were the Magi from the East (who caught up with the holy family a couple of months later in Bethlehem—with gifts, and a warning to flee to Egypt for a while). My question is this: was it only the whispering of the Holy Spirit into the ears of a few devout and receptive believers, or was there a general undercurrent of expectancy and anticipation among the populace of Judea at this time? 

I’m guessing, but I believe it may have been the latter. The amazing prophecy in Daniel 9 had pinpointed the time of Messiah’s coming, in an esoteric sort of fashion: “Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy.” (Daniel 9:24) Two verses later, we learn that the Messiah would be “cut off” after the sixty-ninth week (literally, a “seven”). And the starting gun (“the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem”) was a bit of ancient history by now. (Recorded in Nehemiah 2, it turned out to be Nisan 1, 444 B.C., but who could calculate such a thing?) Was a “week” seven days (no, we were well past that), or solar years, or schematic 360-day years? Even if some erudite folks had worked this out in theory, the target date (March 28, i.e., Nisan 10, 33AD—Palm Monday) was still several decades off. And yet, I can’t help but wonder. After all, devout Christians have been sitting on the edge of their seats ever since Israel regained their prophesied national status in the Promised Land, on April 14, 1948. I myself have been aware of this expectation since the early 1950s, because my godly parents were so attuned to it. 

All of that is meant to serve as an introduction to this vignette: “Then He also said to the multitudes, ‘Whenever you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, “A shower is coming”; and so it is. And when you see the south wind blow, you say, “There will be hot weather”; and there is. Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time?’” (Luke 12:54-56) “This time?” Yes, the time of Messiah’s advent, when all of the Torah’s myriad symbols and a fair number of the visions of the age of the prophets would come to fruition. The demons are cast out; the lepers are healed; the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk; and the dead live. How could you see all of this and not even suspect that God is at work among you? 

We might ask the same thing of the majority of nominal “Christians” today: how is it that you do not discern this time? Not only is Israel officially back in the Land—a fact that mocks every shred of human logic and intent for the past two millennia—we are also seeing exactly what Christ predicted as “the beginning of sorrows,” the run up to the end of the age. “Take heed that no one deceives you.” There it is again: be discerning; be wise. “For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” (Matthew 24:4-8) 

This time, of course, there is a fair-sized minority of believers who are all too aware of the lateness of the hour—aware that Christ’s second advent must be very soon—within decades, if not years. (Actually, if my observations are correct, He gave us enough information to pin down to the very day when the Second Coming will take place. But it will still take the world by surprise, for the part of the church who actually studies God’s word enough to know these things will be raptured years before this, leaving those who come to faith after the rapture—the “Laodiceans”—pretty much in the dark.) 

Luke’s account of the same speech blurs the lines a bit between pre- and post-rapture advice. But then again, it’s all pretty much the same advice: be discerning about what you see going on around you: “And He said: ‘Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, “I am He,” and, “The time has drawn near.” Therefore do not go after them. But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately.’” (Luke 21:8-9) Just because you see the signs I have predicted, He says, it doesn’t mean you should follow people who claim to be “gods,” one way or another. Just know it’s going to get worse—much worse—before it gets better. 

Back in Matthew, we learn why: “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.” (Matthew 24:23-28; cf. Luke 17:22-37) Christ won’t come as a military leader, or as a politician, a rabbi, a diplomat, or even as a prophet. Be discerning: if you have to be told He’s the Christ, then He’s not. Believe me, you’ll know the real thing when He shows up. 

The reason so many believers hold the opinion (whether vague or not) that Yahshua’s return is imminent, is that the signs He predicted concerning His advent are clearly upon us. “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it [or He] is near—at the doors!” (Matthew 24:32-33; cf. Mark 13:28-31; cf. Luke 21:29-33) During winter, everything is bleak, barren, and apparently lifeless. When spring comes, we notice the signs—sporadic at first: new blades of green grass, buds on the tree branches, and so forth. But when the summer arrives, there is no doubt: forest and field announce the season with a riot of color, God’s unmistakable annual symbolic preview of the Last Days. Don’t look now, but the summer is almost upon us, and it looks like it’s going to be a hot one. 

The fig tree is often associated with Israel in scripture. As I mentioned above, the rebirth of Israel as a nation in 1948 was the first undeniable prophetically required sign that God was once again at work in our world. I was born in 1945, so the life of Israel has been the spiritual timepiece of my entire life, marking the hours until the return of my Savior. It boggles my mind to observe that so much of the nominal (read: apostate) church is anti-Israel. It is as if they have declared war on their own mother, before they’re even born—like abortion in reverse, the baby killing mom. It won’t end well. 

In light of the signs of the coming season, Christ urges us not to blithely go about our lives as if nothing noteworthy is happening. “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-36) The shift from winter to summer comes gradually—it takes months to achieve. So we are admonished to remain watchful and awake: “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming…. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:42, 44; cf. Mark 13:32-37) 

When Yahshua sent His disciples out to minister and witness—equipped with nothing other than the Holy Spirit—they fared well, despite their lack of logistical preparedness. But as He headed out the door on His way to the cross, He altered the instructions just a bit: “He said to them, ‘When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?’ So they said, ‘Nothing.’ Then He said to them, ‘But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: “And He was numbered with the transgressors.” For the things concerning Me have an end.’ So they said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ And He said to them, ‘It is enough.’” (Luke 22:35-38) “Two swords” are not enough weaponry to start and win a war of aggression; but they are perhaps enough to defend yourself as you escape from a lynch mob. Christ knew that it would be the better part of two thousand years before He returned. We would need to be like Nehemiah—both working on the wall and remaining watchful, able to defend ourselves, at the same time. The Beatitudes notwithstanding, the world will kill enough of us without our volunteering to be slain. Part of the point of being “wise as serpents, but harmless as doves” is that God gave doves wings with which to make an escape in times of danger.

We can’t witness when we’re dead. Or can we? Actually, in the Internet age, that’s not entirely true anymore. We have all seen horrible YouTube videos of ISIS terrorists executing Christians for the crime of believing in the True and Living God (instead of Allah). It is my understanding that these pictures and videos of Christian martyrs calmly submitting to death has done more to advance the cause of Christ in the Middle East than any other mode of witness in recent years. It’s patently obvious to anyone who hasn’t already lost his soul that the Christians are the heroes, and the Islamic thugs (and their god) represent pure evil—and are thus not worth following. In times of tribulation, Christ says, “By your patience possess your souls.” (Luke 21:19) Perhaps the ultimate expression of discernment and wisdom is knowing when to fight, and when to lay down your life gracefully in emulation of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. 

During the Great Tribulation, the church of Repentant Laodicea (those who have come to faith in Christ after the rapture, who now face the wrath of Satan’s Antichrist) will have learned this lesson well. John foresaw it: “Behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’... These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:9-10, 14-17) I stand in awe of your wisdom, discernment, and courage, my brothers. 


Believe in God’s Power, Mercy, and Grace

The fundamental error of “religion” (in the broadest sense of the word) is that it assumes we seekers after God (however we define Him) must do something to earn His favor. Typically, it’s something like alms or charity, good works, sacrifices, obedience to the priesthood, participating in the prescribed liturgy, rituals, and festivals, or things of this sort. Basically, it’s doing things you wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t even realize there was a deity. It doesn’t matter whether you think there are 330 million gods (like the Hindus), or one (like the Muslims), or none at all in the traditional sense (like the Buddhists), or that man is “god” (and whatever he can’t do is achieved through blind chance and good luck, as the atheistic secular humanists believe). All religions rely to some extent on their devotees’ performance to impress, please, or placate whoever or whatever they have defined as their deity. 

But Christianity (not the religion that goes by the same name, but a simple familial relationship with the God revealed in the Bible) prescribes no “works” whatsoever in order to attain this relationship—commonly called “salvation.” Yes, good works are encouraged, but not as part of the soteriological strategy; they’re merely evidence of that salvation—an outward manifestation of the presence of the Holy Spirit who resides within and empowers every real Christian. 

How, then, does one form this relationship with God, if not through works? What does God want us to do? That very question was asked of Yahshua. “Then they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” (John 6:28-29) Everyone knew that God had “sent” (or at least recruited) Moses and a plethora of prophets. John the Baptist had been the latest of these “sent ones.” But all of them, including John, had foretold One who would come from God—who (according to Isaiah and the Psalmists) would actually be God. The Tanakh was peppered from one end to the other with hints suggesting the identity of this “anointed One”—where He would be born, who His ancestors were, what He would do, and yes, how He would die. Over the course of Yahshua’s three and a half year ministry, it became clear to anyone who was paying attention that He Himself was the One God had sent. He was the One in whom we had to “believe” in order to “do the works of God.” 

Okay, so what does it mean to “believe in” someone? The Greek word translated “believe” is the verb pisteuo, from pistis (faith), derived from pietho (persuade or be persuaded). Thayer defines pisteuo as “to think to be true; to be persuaded of; to credit; to place confidence in…to trust; to have a faith directed unto, believing or in faith to give oneself up to.” So to believe in (or on) someone implies more than mere ascent to the fact of his existence or mission. It means the “believer” has placed his trust—has come to rely upon—whatever the scriptures have to say about “the One whom God sent.” 

John the Baptist had put his finger on the heart of the matter when he introduced Yahshua as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” This was nothing less than a declaration that He had come to fulfill all of the symbols and parables presented in the Torah: all of the offerings, sacrifices, cleansings, and rituals. His work was what the tabernacle architecture had symbolized; His blood was the life that would restore ours. A few verses later, Yahshua said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me [note that Yahshua was specifically identifying Himself as “the One” here], that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.’” (John 6:38-40) He says that “doing the work of God by believing in the One whom He sent” results in everlasting life—something of which the Old Testament saints knew practically nothing. This is Yahshua’s doing: “I will raise him up.” 

So “Believing in Him” is our trust in the efficacy of God’s perfect sacrificial Lamb, whether looking forward to it, or back upon it. That is, performing the Torah’s prescribed rituals (as Mary and Joseph had done, for example, by having their baby Boy circumcised on the eighth day) demonstrated one’s faith in the effectiveness of Law—even if you had no clue as to what it all meant. By being obedient, you were saying, “God knows what this means, even if I do not. That is enough for me.” 

I find it comforting that we don’t have to “know what God is doing” in order to benefit from His love. We don’t have to be theological geniuses, understanding every nuance of the divine Mind, in order to be saved. In truth, some have been given the capacity for understanding some of this, and others, not so much. But Yahweh does not require of us what He has not provided. We can’t all comprehend, but we can all believe, if we want to. 

What brought this truth home to me was a little girl my wife and I adopted many years ago. She was a brain-damaged and cortically blind quadriplegic—not expected to live out the year when we brought her home as an infant. She didn’t “know” much, but she knew she was loved—the sound of our voices, the laughter of her brothers and sisters, the song of the canary we got her so she’d know when she was home and safe. Jill made it to her tenth birthday before her broken body finally overcame her indomitable spirit. But after we lost her, I began to understand that our relationship with her must be a little like God’s relationship with us: He knows our weaknesses, that we’re profoundly handicapped (no matter how smart or talented we might fancy ourselves). He doesn’t insist on flawless knowledge or sight or even behavior, any more than my wife and I expected those things from our Jill. But she believed in us. God asks only that we believe in Him. 

The point is that what we experience here on earth is ordained to teach us something about the heavenly reality, for the former is a reflection, a shadow, of the latter. We must make our eternal choices based upon the temporal (and necessarily incomplete) information available to us as mortals. Let’s face it: if God showed us heaven (or hell, for that matter) we would be basing our life-decisions on all the wrong things. God wants us to reciprocate His love—not calculate how to live forever in a place where the streets are paved with gold. 

So Yahshua told Nicodemus, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.” I am an eyewitness to God’s glory, He says. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life….” During the wilderness wanderings, the complaining Israelites at one point were beset by poisonous snakes, and Yahweh told Moses to make a bronze serpent and place it on a pole. “And so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.” (Numbers 21:9) The only “cure” available was faith—belief—in Yahweh’s remedy for sin. Some things never change. 

Thus Yahshua spelled it out for the confused Pharisee (and us): “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Again, it’s our belief—not our works—that gives us everlasting life. And conversely, it is unbelief that cuts us off from this life. “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:12-18) Pay attention here: God is not saying, “If you don’t believe in Me, I’ll kill you.” That’s something you might hear from Allah or Kali (if they were real). What Yahshua is saying is, “If you don’t believe in me, you are already dead—in fact, you never even existed, in any spiritual sense.” The moment you choose to believe in Yahshua and receive His grace is the moment you begin to exist. In the beginning, God created; what happened before the beginning is immaterial—at least for us. 

A bit later, Christ reiterated all of this. “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” Once again, notice that Yahshua is identifying Himself as the One whom Yahweh sent, and once again, belief—reliance on this truth—is what transports us from fleeting mortal existence into everlasting life. “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.” Trust in the Creator was the basis of salvation even for those who lived before Moses, before Abraham, all the way back to Adam. “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man….” Judgment (Greek: krisis) is not so much indicative of condemnation (like it sounds to us—mostly because we know we’re guilty), but of separation, making a distinction according to a standard of law. It is Christ who decides who among us “believes in Him,” and who does not. 

“Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” Once again (since we might have missed it): “doing good” consists entirely of “believing in the One whom Yahweh sent.” By the way, the word translated “condemnation” here is krisis again—the state of having been separated from others according to a legal standard. Most English translations render this correctly as “judgment.” The King James is highly presumptuous when it translates it as “damnation.” “I can of Myself do nothing.” That is, it is our belief (or lack of it) that comprises the basis of judgment. Christ can only judge the evidence presented by our lives. “As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.” (John 5:24-30) If I may extrapolate a bit here, Yahshua (being the Son of Man) does not wish that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (See II Peter 3:9.) But what He wishes as the Son of Man must be sublimated to what His persona as the Son of God demands: absolute truth. Our eternal destiny is based not on what Christ wants, but upon what we believe—and in whom we believe. 

Talk is cheap, of course. Normally, what we believe is revealed by what we do: our belief in Christ is demonstrated by our obedience. Consider this incident: “When [Yahshua] had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ But Simon answered and said to Him, ‘Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.’” Simon Peter was an experienced fisherman—a professional. He “knew” (from experience) that there were no fish to be caught that day. Yet his belief in Yahshua compelled him to obey, despite the vast disparity of knowledge about Galilean fish behavior that existed between Simon the fisherman and Yahshua the carpenter. “And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink….” 

This event sheds light on an interesting phenomenon: belief leading to obedience precipitates stronger belief, leading in turn to greater obedience, in a recurring cycle. It explains why experienced believers can be so hard to rattle—even under duress. They know from experience that Christ holds them in the palm of His hand. But Peter was a new believer at this point. He didn’t know quite what to think. “When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’ For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.’ So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him….” Yahshua didn’t say, “Oh, yes, I’d forgotten. You are a sinful man. I guess I can’t use you after all.” The very fact that Peter was aware of his faults before a holy God was crucial in his selection as a disciple of Christ. Guys like Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate, you’ll notice, were not recruited. 

“For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.’ So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.” (Luke 5:4-11) What does obedience based on belief look like? It depends on one’s calling. Simon, James, and John all saw the great catch of fish and responded by leaving their fishing careers behind to follow Yahshua. But if we read between the lines (here and elsewhere) we learn that Zebedee was also a devout man who believed in Yahshua, as was his wife. He, however, did not leave the fishing business, but from that day forward used its success to materially support his sons and their Master in the pursuit of God’s work—even though he didn’t know where it would all lead. 

If God gives us skills, don’t be surprised when He asks us to use them in ministry—even if they’re no longer our “calling.” For example, even though I was a graphic designer, and am now a writer (of sorts), I still get to use my “first love,” music, in God’s service now and then. Peter had become an evangelist, but that didn’t mean he’d forgotten how to catch fish. So we read: “When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, ‘Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?’ Peter said to Him, ‘From strangers.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Then the sons are free. Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money. Take that and give it to them for Me and you.’” (Matthew 17:24-27) 

It’s not a question of who deserves to receive taxes here: in a fallen world, we occasionally find ourselves obliged to “render unto Caesar.” But the real issue here was Peter’s belief, and he did not disappoint. We need money to pay the tax? Okay, go catch a fish and look in his mouth for a coin. Not terribly predictable. But Peter already had the skills needed to obey, and he did. Once again, belief led to obedience, leading in turn to greater belief. But notice something else. Though counterintuitive, Christ’s command wasn’t stupid or impossible to keep. He didn’t ask Peter to build a hot-air balloon and fly it to the top of the tallest tree, where he’d find a hundred-dollar bill that had blown there from Kansas. His instructions always make sense in the real world—and they’re always doable, if we will simply believe in Him. 

As we saw above, Peter’s first introduction to Yahshua’s power had been through a miraculous catch of fish—transforming him from a devout tradesman to a disciple of the Messiah. After the resurrection, it was a case of déjà vu, all over again: “They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing. But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus….” A bit of background: Yahshua had risen from the dead on Sunday, Nisan 16, the Feast of Firstfruits, and several people had seen Him that day—the women, the two men on the road to Emmaus, Peter, and finally all the disciples together (except Thomas). On resurrection morning, an angel, and later Christ Himself, had told the women that He would meet the disciples in Galilee (see Matthew 28:7, 10). One week later, still in Jerusalem, He again met with all the disciples (this time, including Thomas). It was after this meeting that the disciples, at least seven of them, traveled north to Galilee, where Peter, not knowing what else to do, decided to go fishing. But as on that first fateful meeting three years before, they caught nothing all night. 

The Master—now inhabiting an immortal body—was still cloaking His identity, as He had done on several previous post-resurrection encounters. “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Children, have you any food?’ They answered Him, ‘No.’” Several post-rez meetings involved food. Can I get an amen? “And He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved [apparently, John] said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea….” He knew he couldn’t walk on water, but he didn’t care—he’d run, or fly, or if it came to that, swim. All he knew for sure was that he had to get close to Yahshua once again. 

“But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits [the length of a football field]), dragging the net with fish. Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish which you have just caught. Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and eat breakfast.’ Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, ‘Who are You?’—knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.” (John 21:3-13) There are several lessons here, swimming just beneath the surface. 

(1) Cast the net where Yahshua says to—on the “right side” of the boat. The fish, you’ll recall, represent “God’s quarry,” those whom He seeks to save. The boat, you might say, is the local church—the place from where we disciples carry out the great commission. The boat has a “right side” and (if you’ll pardon the pun) a wrong side. That is, we are being instructed to be sensitive to God’s leading in where to concentrate our efforts. Bear in mind that the lake is fluid—what’s unproductive for me at the moment could well be on “the right side” of your boat.   

(2) The size of the catch—the harvest of fish—is God’s business, not ours, though we may well stand awestruck at His provision. We are told there were 153 fish in the net. I’m not sure if the number has symbolic significance, but on the theory that there’s nothing accidental or pointless in scripture, note that the Greek uses the three numerals (hundred, fifty, and three) separately. For what it’s worth, a “hundred” symbolizes “the whole intact substantial unit” as in the herd of a hundred sheep from which one has gone missing (Matthew 18:12). Fifty is the number of the celebration of liberty—as in Jubilee and Pentecost (the beginning of the church, signaling our freedom from the burden of the Law). And three is the numerical symbol of accomplishment, of significance or finality (as with Peter’s denial of Christ—and the subsequent three-fold repentance scenario). Together, these comprise a pretty good description of what (or is that who?) we’re supposed to catch in God’s net: the whole, complete household of faith, set free from bondage, comprising the accomplishment of the most significant paradigm shift imaginable—of death into life. 

(3) Although Yahshua asked the disciples about the food they’d caught, He didn’t need it. He already had a nice breakfast prepared and waiting for them on the shore. Because He loves us, He allows us to participate in the redemption process by preaching the Gospel, witnessing to others, and living holy lives that honor Him. But He doesn’t rely upon us. If we ceased casting our nets, the fish would simply jump into the boat. Or as Yahshua put it when folks began to worship Him during the triumphal entry, “If they remain silent, the very stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40) 

(4) Even with so large a catch, the net did not break. I think we may safely extrapolate that there is no logistical limit to the Kingdom of God. (If only Muslims knew that according to Muhammad in the Hadith, the total capacity of paradise is only 70,000 souls.) Yahweh’s family isn’t reserved only for the best, brightest, richest, most gifted, or most pious. Everyone is welcome, and it is presumed from the outset that none of us are perfect. The instructions for the Feast of Weeks (a.k.a. Pentecost)—indicative of the birth of the church—specified that leavened bread was to be offered (leaven or yeast being symbolic of the corruption that permeates our mortal lives—the reason we need salvation in the first place). It’s a “come-as-you-are party,” but none of us goes home unchanged. Christ makes us new creations—pure and spotless. 

(5) We may not “recognize” the risen Christ as he walks through our mortal lives, but we’ll know Him by the nourishment He provides. If it is truly Him who has cooked us breakfast on the beach, it will taste like “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) 

This brings up an interesting point. How are we to believe what we have not seen with our own two eyes? In His glorified resurrection body, Yahshua was not physically recognizable, even to those who had known him best in His mortal state, except as He willed it. In several post resurrection instances, He “cloaked” His identity for a time, only to reveal it after a short conversation. For that matter, He showed Himself to no one who had not already believed before He had been crucified. So there are multiplied millions of us who, throughout the past two millennia, have not been eyewitnesses to Christ’s miracles or teaching. But this is the essence of faith, is it not?—to believe something on the basis of evidence and testimony, not personal experience. With only a handful of exceptions, every follower of Christ has “believed in Him whom God sent” because they were told of what He did, took it on faith that the accounts were substantially true, and came as a result to rely upon the efficacy of Yahshua’s mission. 

The “poster child” for believing only what you can see was Thomas. “Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ So he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe….’” Thomas (like the other disciples) had been for a ride on the emotional roller coaster: first, three years with the Master, then the mock trial, crucifixion, and entombment, then the wild tales of Yahshua’s resurrection—flying in the face of what the “mainstream media” was saying (i.e., that His body had been stolen by the very men who were swearing He had risen from the dead). How could one know whom to believe? 

“And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, ‘Peace to you!’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing. And Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God! Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” (John 20:24-29) Thomas had to ask himself, “Who do you trust, the eyewitness testimony of men you know to be trustworthy, or your own eyes, which until now saw nothing because you weren’t there when it happened?” Being an eyewitness is a privilege—and a responsibility. But believing the testimony of an eyewitness (or in this case, scores of them) is a blessing

The world mocks us for putting our trust in people and events that happened such a long time ago. But think about it: virtually everything in our lives requires “faith” to one extent or another. You drive across a bridge—trusting an engineer you never met to have done his job properly. You read about Christopher Columbus, and it never occurs to you to doubt that he once actually lived. You close the door to your refrigerator, and assume that the little light goes out—even though you didn’t see it happen. Then you protest, “But these things are plausible: other cars have crossed the bridge; we live an ocean away from Spain—somebody had to come first; and as long as the refrigerator light comes back on when I open the door again, and doesn’t burn out in a month, I’m happy. 

But in the case of Christ, such plausible belief has consequences, significance, eternal ramifications. It isn’t just that He rose from the dead under His own power. It’s that such power reveals divine authority: to believe in the resurrection of Christ is to admit that we owe Him our gratitude and obedience. But in our fallen state, we are rebels. We don’t want to obey anything other than our fleshly lusts. So we live in a state of cognitive dissonance: we have no reason to doubt the whole historical account of Yahshua’s resurrection, but we find it hard to bear the spiritual baggage that comes with it. 

Of course, it only gets “worse” when we dig an inch beneath the surface. It doesn’t take much study or insight to discover that the reason Yahshua lived a perfect life, was slain, and then rose from the dead had been defined in scripture a millennium and a half before He was even born. God’s Law had declared that our sins could be covered (that’s the good news). But only innocence could atone for guilt (that’s the bad news). Since we aren’t innocent, a blameless animal would have to die to cover our transgressions against a holy God. Only life could overcome death. So when confronted with the historicity of Yahshua’s life, death, and resurrection, we must face the fact that He comprised God’s plan—He was in Yahweh’s mind—from the very beginning. It was Yahshua who would fulfill what the Torah’s animal sacrifices predicted. 

This leaves us rebels with what can be an uncomfortable proposition: if we accept that Christ died (and rose) for our sins, it means we also admit to being sinners in the first place—fallen, corrupt, and separated from God. “You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” (John 8:23-24) The actual text reads “…that I am,” not “that I am He.” “I Am” would be a direct translation of what God’s self-revealed name, Yahweh, meant. This is therefore a claim to deity. The alternative to “believing that Yahshua is Yahweh,” then, is to “die in your sins.” 

In other words, our trust in the “cure” implies that we realize we are “sick.” The atheist might protest, “If everybody’s sick, then sickness is normal—thus even though it kills us in the end, this illness (what Christians call ‘sin’) is an illusion. Death is just part of life.” To this, Christ would reply, “Death need not be the end. I have proven by My own resurrection that life beyond death is not only possible, it is something I am prepared to bestow upon all who believe in Me. But to access this life, you must admit that you’re sick and turn to Me for the cure: believe in Him whom God has sent.” 

Perhaps this explains why so many of the instances illustrating practical belief in the Gospels involved physical illness or infirmity of one sort or another. For example: “Jesus said to him, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk.’ And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked….” The man knew he was crippled—he had been this way for thirty-eight years. But although he showed up at the Pool of Bethesda every day hoping to be cured, he also knew that he couldn’t get into the healing waters without help. When asked if he wanted to be cured, all he could do was express his frustration. So Yahshua simply cured him, without preamble, permission, or fanfare. I would submit to you that He has cured all of us in roughly the same way: He didn’t need our permission to die for our sins—He just did it. It is our response that matters. Do we “rise, take up our beds and walk,” or do we just lie there protesting, “No, I’m fine, I don’t need Your help. Leave me alone”? 

Being a paraplegic half your life is bad, but there are worse things—like remaining lost in your sins forever. “Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, ‘See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.’” (John 5:8-9, 14) It’s kind of funny, if you read the whole story. After Yahshua had healed the man, the scribes caught him walking around with his “bed” (just a rolled-up mat), and accused him of sinning by “working” on the Sabbath—doing precisely what his Healer had commanded of him. Somebody, it would seem, was confused about what the Sabbath meant. Yahshua had effectively demonstrated that as far as God was concerned, “resting on the Sabbath” was a euphemism for receiving—finding respite in—His grace. In other words, it was allowing Yahweh to provide whatever we needed (whether manna, or restored health, or eternal life) without working to attain it ourselves. If the man was healed, there was no further reason to lie down hoping for a cure: removing his bed was a statement—a testimony of Yahshua’s power to provide the “rest” we seek. 

One might wonder: how much trouble could a paralyzed guy get into? But Yahshua pointed out (several times) that just being human necessitated forgiveness from sins; we are born fallen and defiled. Since sin is a universal condition (thus practically invisible until it gets inconvenient for others), physical maladies (since they’re not the norm) were often used as a “conversation starter” with Yahshua. Matthew reports another instance of healing a crippled man: “Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed.” (Luke’s account mentions that the patient’s friends actually had to tear a hole in the ceiling and lower him down to Yahshua by ropes, because so many people were pressing in about Him.) I think it can be safely said that the paralytic’s friends, at the very least, had faith that Yahshua could—and would—heal him. Why don’t more of us go to such lengths to introduce our friends to Christ? 

The man’s physical problem was self-evident. So Yahshua used the occasion to address the real issue—that which troubles us all, whether we realize it or not—our sin. “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.’ And at once some of the scribes said within themselves, ‘This Man blasphemes!’ But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven you,” or to say, “Arise and walk”?...’” Good point. Although only God can forgive sins, anybody can wave their hand and declare someone’s sins to be absolved. Catholic priests do it every day. But it’s something else entirely to prove you have the authority (read: power) to forgive sins by healing the sinner’s physical body. 

So that is precisely what Yahshua did. “But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins’—then He said to the paralytic, ‘Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.’” Again, “taking up your bed” is a testimony that you no longer need it—you have been made whole. “And he arose and departed to his house. Now when the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men.” (Matthew 9:2-8; cf. Luke 5:17-26) It was right and proper for them to glorify God for the man’s healing, of course. But we should constantly keep in mind the far greater miracle—that through belief alone, the man’s sins had been forgiven. His mortal body had been repaired; his soul had been transformed

This wasn’t some sort of “Jedi mind trick,” a bit of psychosomatic sleight of hand. Because His authority to heal was genuine, Yahshua didn’t even have to be near the afflicted person to heal him. On one occasion, a devout Roman centurion (a gentile—gasp!) believed in Yahshua’s power, and begged Him to heal his servant, who was lying at death’s door some distance away. “Then Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.’ And his servant was healed that same hour.” (Matthew 8:13) This is fascinating. The servant didn’t believe (that we know of); he was in no condition to inquire about Yahshua or ask for help. It was the centurion’s belief to which Yahshua responded. As James wrote, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5:16) Am I saying that we can pray our friends and neighbors into the Kingdom of God? No, not exactly. But our belief can provide opportunities—open doors, if you will—for the lost to respond to the Gospel. Like the centurion’s servant, many of the lost are so ill (spiritually speaking) they can’t even ask for help. It is within our power (and responsibility) to help them ask for the help they need. 

The Jews, being fiercely independent (that is, not accustomed to the “chain of command” like the Roman centurion was) assumed that the healer needed to be near the patient to do any good. So when the opportunity arose, Yahshua demonstrated His divine power to them as well. “Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum.” That’s about sixteen miles away—the better part of a full day’s walk. “When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe….’” He wasn’t wrong, but one gets the feeling He was merely trying to prod folks into believing in Him for the right reason—not the signs and wonders, not the free bread or wine, not even the miraculous healings, but simply because He was God Incarnate. 

These fine points were lost on the frantic and desperate father. “The nobleman said to Him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way; your son lives.’ So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way….” Many of us would have continued urging the Rabbi to begin the journey—saying (in our hearts, anyway) “You must not only heal my son, you must do it according to my expectations—in person, with all the requisite religious hocus pocus.” But this man actually believed—he took Yahshua at His word, even though he had never heard of a healing being done at a distance like this. 

And his faith was rewarded—sooner than he had expected. “And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, ‘Your son lives!’ Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, ‘Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’ So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, ‘Your son lives.’ And he himself believed, and his whole household.” (John 4:46-53) It was one thing to believe that the charismatic young rabbi could heal people using the power of Yahweh; it was something else altogether to come to the realization that He was actually the Messiah, the Son of the Living God—someone you could believe in. It was this epiphany that changed the life of the nobleman and his entire household. Note too that Christ’s healing (read: salvation) doesn’t take place when we can see its effects with our own two eyes; it happens the instant we ask for it. The “time-space continuum” is not a problem for our God: He invented it, after all. 

Since none of us understands everything there is to know about how our God thinks or operates, it is comforting to know that He doesn’t expect a perfectly performed religious ritual when petitioning for help, but only simple faith. In one incident, Yahshua was on his way to heal the daughter of a man named Jarius, the ruler of the local synagogue. (We’ll get to him in a moment.) But along the way, a woman who had suffered from a debilitating (and ritually defiling) issue of blood for twelve long years—though she was afraid (or perhaps ashamed) to ask Yahshua for help directly—convinced herself that merely touching His garment would heal her. Though her methods were far from scriptural (or even logical), her faith was absolutely genuine, just as Jarius’ was. 

So she snuck up behind him in the throng and touched His garment, perhaps the tsitzit-tassel that all Jews attached to their clothing in observation of the Torah (Numbers 15:37-41). It is as the prophet Malachi had said: “But to you who fear My name, the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings.” (Malachi 4:2) Could those “wings” be symbolic of the tsitzit Christ wore? Anyway, she was healed—immediately. She knew it, and He felt it as well. “And He looked around to see her who had done this thing. But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. And He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.’” (Mark 5:32-34; cf. Luke 8:42-48) It wasn’t the act of touching His garment that had healed her; it was the faith she had placed in Yahshua. Not to state the obvious or anything, but our affliction—sin—is healed in exactly the same way: through believing in Christ. We too may “Go in peace.” 

There was just one slight problem. While all of this was going on, Jairus’ daughter died. Messengers were sent to inform the rabbi that He was no longer needed—He was too late. Or was He? When you’re the Son of God, how far does your power extend? “He said to the ruler of the synagogue, ‘Do not be afraid; only believe.’… When He came in, He said to them, ‘Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping.’…Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.’ Immediately the girl arose and walked.” (Mark 5:36, 39, 41-42; cf. Luke 8:50-55) Jairus truly believed that Yahshua could heal his daughter. Now he was told—and then shown—that not even death is an obstacle to recovery if Yahshua is in charge. But once again, our part in all of this is only to believe—have faith in God. His job (part of it) is to stretch the limits of our comprehension. Once we’ve been in his presence for a while, we come to understand that there’s nothing He can’t do (other than nonsense). He may choose not to grant our every wish, but nothing is beyond His power. 

This is basically what Yahshua told a man whom his disciples had met (and failed to help) when He was up on the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John. The man’s son was demon possessed (even worse than the average teenager, I’m guessing), and he had all but lost hope, telling Yahshua, “If You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” It sounds like unbelief, but Yahshua in compassion took it as frustration—desperation. So He turned the proposition on its head: “Jesus said to him, ‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:22-24) 

Our God knows that sometimes this world beats us down so badly we can’t even summon up enough faith to have faith. But here’s where His unfathomable love rises to the surface: when we want to believe but can’t quite get there, He provides even that for us. A little bit of faith is enough to enlist God’s awesome assistance: “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:6) “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20) Faith doesn’t “move mountains.” God does that—in response to our belief in Him. 

In other words, He doesn’t want us to fake it, retreat into a fantasy world of irrational optimism, or pretend our all-too-real problems don’t exist. But even when we can’t see well enough to believe, we can always cry out for help. And that’s what this distraught father did here. The demon didn’t go quietly, but he did go (since he had no choice)—leaving the boy apparently dead. But Yahshua restored him to life and returned him to his father. Again, is this not pretty much what He does for us on the spiritual level? Satan molests our souls and leaves us for dead, but Yahshua lifts us up, gives us life, and returns us to the loving arms of our Maker. Note that God is every bit as happy about this reunion as we are. 

As I mentioned, Yahshua had been absent when his disciples had first met the demon-possessed boy and his father. He had gone up to a nearby hilltop with His “inner circle,” Peter, James, and John, where He was “transfigured” before them—transformed temporarily into a being of indescribable glory, brilliant in luminescence. While Yahshua was in this state, Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with Him. (We aren’t told how the three disciples knew who they were.) Peter, never at a loss for words, began jabbering about building three tabernacles for Christ and His two distinguished guests, but the voice of Yahweh cut him short. “While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!’ And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, ‘Arise, and do not be afraid.’ When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” (Matthew 17:5-8; cf. Mark 9:2-13; cf. Luke 9:34-36) 

The imperative here is to “hear” what Yahshua was saying. It was spoken by a magnificent shekinah-like theophany to the disciples—who in turn represent all subsequent believers. The word translated “hear” is the Greek akouo (where we get our word “acoustics”). It means to hear or listen, of course, but also implies “to attend to, to consider, to understand, comprehend, or perceive the sense of what is said; to get by hearing, to learn, to be taught; to hearken, yield, have regard for something that is said, and to yield in obedience.” (See Thayer.) Thus it is equivalent to the Hebrew shema—as in “Hear, O Israel, Yahweh your God is One.” The whole point of this appendix is to do precisely that—to identify what He said, so we can believe, hearken, and obey. 

The opposite of “hearing” Yahshua’s word is for us to attempt to figure out what God wants us to do without reference to who He is. That is precisely what the Jews of Galilee tried to do in the wake of His miraculous feeding of the five thousand. They really liked the free food, and some of them were even ready to make Him their king (see John 6:15). But they weren’t prepared to receive Him as their God. So He told them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:43-47) 

While perfectly true, this wouldn’t make much sense to folks until after His sacrifice, burial, and resurrection. Remember, this was before He had taught much on the prospect of eternal life: all most people knew for sure about the afterlife at this point was Sheol—the grave. This mortal life—and the food that made it possible—was to them more important than it would have been if they had understood everlasting life. And this explains their reaction to the loaves and fishes. So Yahshua gently tried to shift their focus from the temporal to the eternal: “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him….” 

He completely lost them at this point, since they had no frame of reference for “everlasting life” or the “food” that sustains it. Nor did they comprehend what the “seal of God” might entail. But they did understand labor. Working to attain God’s favor was all they’d been taught for as long as they could remember—and not just the Torah’s precepts, but also the impossibly complex “oral law” that the rabbis had added to it—just in case. So, “Then they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” (John 6:27-29) This is the fundamental (though counterintuitive) truth with which we began this discussion so many pages back. He was telling them that He was this “food that endures to everlasting life.” Believing in Him was tantamount to “laboring” to attain this sustenance. But think about it: if He had never gone to the cross—if He Himself had not personally fallen to the earth, died, and risen again in new life like a stalk of wheat—then none of the rest of this could have been true. We would still be in our sins, forever hungering for righteousness we could not attain.

***

It probably didn’t help matters that Yahshua spoke to them in figurative, symbolic language, even though it was all perfectly factual. But what else could He do? “And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst…. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world….’” The symbol is clear enough, in a mind-blowing sort of way: we must put Christ into our lives if we wish to live forever. This is an unequivocal claim to deity, if you think it through.   

“The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, ‘How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?’” That would be the rub: like any Levitical sacrifice, He would have to die in order to become “food” for those who believed in Him. “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you….” As God had repeated incessantly, the life is in the blood. If Yahweh had not been communicating with symbols from the very beginning, this would have been really hard to understand. But the Jews, of all people—the keepers of the Torah—should have been able to sort this out. 

“Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.’” (John 6:35, 48-58) Israel had been “rehearsing this play” for the past fifteen hundred years. Every detail of the sin offering, the peace offering, the trespass offering, the burnt offering, the grain offering, the drink offering, and more—all of it had pointed directly and unambiguously toward Yahshua. To be talking about it now—before He was offered up as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”—had to have been a bit confusing, but then again, the people weren’t being asked to make a big leap of faith here: His miracles and healings were indisputable evidence that He was (at the very least) from God, if not God Himself. 

Food “abides in” the one who eats it, so to speak—it works within him, changing him building him up, and sustaining him. But our spiritual life works the other way around as well: we are to abide in Yahshua. “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free…. Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.’” (John 8:31-32, 34) The word translated “abide” is the same in both passages—meno: to remain, abide, continue, last, stay, await, sojourn, or tarry—not to depart or perish. 

If I may, allow me extrapolate the thought a bit (drawing a distinction that scripture didn’t overtly do). If Christ lives in us (as in the “food” metaphor), it is within the context of our mortal lives: He, through His word, nourishes us, making us as good as we can be as human beings dwelling on the earth (i.e., healthy, growing, flourishing, etc.). If we “cheat on our diet,” of course, we run the risk of picking up “illnesses” and suffering “injuries” that make us less effective as disciples, if you catch my drift. Our sin—and our resultant slavery to it—is directly proportional to our failure to assimilate Christ into our lives. Our sin natures will be with us until we die, but we don’t have to feed them in the meantime. 

When we abide in Him, however, it is in the context of our spiritual lives—the eternal existence that will (or can) endure long after our mortal bodies have returned to dust. If we are in Christ, if our souls are part of Him, it is axiomatic that He is in charge. In the immortal state, we will no longer sin, because our sin natures will have been left behind with our mortal remains. That being said, this abiding in Christ begins here, now, in the mortal state. As Yahshua explained it to the Samaritan woman at the well, “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:14) This “spring” within us is the inevitable result of both Christ living in us and us abiding in Him. 

But we’ll have no relationship at all with God if we don’t believe in “the One whom He sent,” Yahshua the Messiah. Without this faith, He won’t live in us, and we can’t live in Him. Goodness will prove impossible, and eternal life will be a non-starter. It is as Christ told the scribes and Pharisees: “If I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore [if] you do not hear, [it is] because you are not of God.” (John 8:46-47) “Hear,” again, is the Greek akouo—to consider, understand, hearken, and yield in obedience to something that is said. The scribes couldn’t comprehend Yahshua’s words because they refused to believe Him, believe in Him, or admit the fact that His power was that of God Himself. 

So a few verses later, he gave them the straight truth: “Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death…. Before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:50, 58) “I Am,” is what God’s self-revealed name (Yahweh) means, so to say “I Am before Abraham was” is a clear claim to deity, even without the statement about being the One who provides eternal life—something only God can do. No wonder the unbelieving scribes and Pharisees tried to stone Him. If not true, these words would have been blasphemy. But if they were not true, how could one explain all the unprecedented miracles of healing and provision that Yahshua was doing? He wasn’t asking anyone to take His word about His identity, but only to open their eyes to the undeniable truth. “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.” (John 14:11) There was more than enough evidence available to enable an honest man to believe in Him. 

Once more, He challenged the Pharisees to consider this evidence: “Do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.” (John 10:36-38) Atheists like to characterize a Christian’s belief as “a leap of faith in the darkness,” but considering the evidence—the eyewitness testimony—to which we’re responding, it is actually just a small step toward the light. These eyewitnesses were willing to die rather than recant their stories—they had nothing to gain by lying. Meanwhile, atheists insist without evidence or reason that nothing created everything, that life sprang spontaneously from non-living matter, and that all life on this planet (and billions of other ones) evolved from non-existent to simple to complex without the benefit of a Designer—though the evidence points instead toward a process of inexorable devolution, of the steady degradation of the genomes of life. Atheism, in short, requires boatloads of blind faith, where a Christian’s faith is simply belief in what his eyes, heart, and logical mind are already telling him. 

Yahshua picked up the theme again and again: “The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me….” In other words, “I am the Son of God, and the good works I do prove this.” The Pharisees had accused Him of being empowered by demonic forces, but the character of the works He did—healing, forgiving, bringing life, etc.—were things demons never did. They bore witness, rather, of Yahweh’s involvement. 

Another of Yahshua’s many metaphors is that of a shepherd with His sheep. “But you [Pharisees] do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.” (John 10:25-30) Sheep are a picture of innocence, even helplessness. It’s not so much that we sheep obey our Shepherd; it’s that we know His voice, and because we truly believe that He has the desire and ability to care for us, we follow where He leads. 

The cynic might respond that sheep are gullible, even stupid. And the shepherd only looks after them so he can fleece them later. And he’d have a point about our relative inability to look after our own needs. But what the skeptic is missing is that domestic sheep need to be sheared periodically, and they can’t do the job themselves. In New Zealand in 2004, a sheep (subsequently named Shrek) was found to have been hiding out in a cave for six years. By the time he was found, he was carrying around sixty extra pounds of wool—a third of his normal body weight. Shrek’s little rebellion earned him celebrity status for a time, but the fact remains, his “sins” weighed him down to the point where he could barely walk.   

The dichotomy between our temporary mortal existence and the eternal life that believers enjoy is doubtless the hardest belief-bridge we have to cross. Our bodies—the vehicles through which we walk through this life—all die, sooner or later. With only two thinly witnessed exceptions (the raptures of Enoch and Elijah) in all of recorded history, physical death is as close to a universal human phenomenon as there is—it’s even more certain than taxes. But we see only our own mortality: the immortal life that follows is something we must take on faith, if at all. 

But faith in what? In whom? To be plausible, any scientific theory (including the existence of an afterlife) must present evidence that can be tested, and if false, demonstrated to be false. But most of humanity believes in afterlife theories that cannot be falsified. Most Eastern religions (Hinduism and its spin-offs) believe in reincarnation—a process in which a soul, upon death, will return to inhabit another body or life-form. A cockroach may be reincarnated as a cat, and later as a man; or conversely, a man (if he did not do well in this life) might be reincarnated as a dung beetle. Because this is all so pointless and frustrating, the goal becomes to escape the cycle into nirvana, nothingness. But there is no empirical evidence for any of this—it is all mere human speculation. 

Muslims believe that there is “life after death,” but for the vast majority, it consists of eternal torment in hell. The Hadith, however, insists that 70,000 jihad fighters will attain a paradise with free flowing wine, low hanging fruit, and multiple sex-starved virgins. Of course, this is all based on the opinion of one man, Muhammad, who had a vested interest in motivating his troops to suicidal frenzy in search of booty and sex slaves for him (he took a 20% cut off the top). Not exactly an unbiased witness. 

Secular humanists believe only what they can see. The body dies, so since they can perceive nothing beyond this, they presume the soul (that force which made it alive in the first place) has died as well. It’s an argument from silence, but still, if there were no plausible alternative theories, it would seem logical, I suppose. 

The ancient Hebrews believed that the souls of the dead rested in a place called Sheol—the grave. Scriptural hints of the possibility of resurrection, though few and far between, did exist, like this tantalizing snippet from Hosea: “I [Yahweh] will ransom them from the power of the grave [Sheol]. I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be your plagues! O Sheol, I will be your destruction! Pity [for death] is hidden from My eyes.” (Hosea 13:14) So there was hope for a blessed afterlife in Israel (as fuzzy as it was), though no tangible evidence. Still, considering the 100% accurate track record of Yahweh’s promises in historically verifiable matters, such hope was not at all unreasonable. 

If you think about it, the only plausible evidence one could offer of his sure knowledge of an immortal afterlife would be authority over life and death in the mortal sense. Yahshua raised the dead on several occasions—and these things were not done without eyewitnesses. Doubtless the most spectacular of these was the resurrection of His friend Lazarus—who had been dead for four whole days—so long, the process of decomposition had already begun. 

Speaking with his bereaved sister, “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’” This is a reference to that which Hosea (and other prophets) had so cryptically revealed in the Scriptures. “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’” (John 11:23-27) Her belief was not in Yahshua’s ability to raise her brother from the dead. She had no idea what He intended to do at this point. But she believed with every fiber of her being that Yahshua was God’s Anointed One—He who held the keys of immortality. 

That would have been sufficient, of course, but Yahshua now proved His authority over immortal life by restoring the temporal life of His friend Lazarus. “Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.” That is, it was not unlike the tomb that He Himself would occupy for a few days a bit later. “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, ‘Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days….’” Martha was still fixated on the resurrection at the Last Day—what we refer to as “the rapture.” It never occurred to her that her brother’s rotting corpse could be brought back to life—even by the Son of God. Too much time had gone by, right? Miracles and healings were swell, but this was asking too much. 

“Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?’ Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.’ Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him, and let him go.’” (John 11:38-44) Ironically, Martha had believed in Yahshua’s power to bestow everlasting life to her brother—something no one could see. But Yahshua had validated that belief by restoring Lazarus’ mortal life—something everyone could see. 

The cynical nitpicker might complain, “Raising a man from the dead does nothing to prove the principle of eternal life—immortality. Lazarus eventually died ‘for real.’ All this proves is that Christ’s power to heal was genuine and unprecedented.” Yes, okay, there was only one way to demonstrate the reality of the immortal state—but Yahshua did that, too. The only reason we still celebrate Him after two thousand years is that, having been cruelly executed on a Roman cross and laid in a tomb, He rose bodily from the dead under His own power. Then, over the next forty days, He showed Himself alive to some five hundred people who had believed in Him before His death. 

His resurrection body was nothing like the mortal human body in which He had ministered among them for so long. In this new body, He could cloak or reveal His identity at will, “teleport” Himself from one location to another instantly, pass through walls or locked doors, ascend leisurely into the heavens, etc. And yet His flesh felt “real” to the touch. He could interact with physical objects in this world (for instance, He still liked to eat); in other words, He was not a ghost or phantom (as we imagine them to be). 

Yahshua’s immortal post-resurrection body proved that life after death was not only possible—it was something He was prepared to bestow on us who believe in Him. As the Firstfruits of God’s harvest, Yahshua was demonstrating what sort of “crop” we’d be when we too were raised as He was. As His eternal body differed from His former mortal shell, so will ours. As He told His disciples on the night He was betrayed (the night before His crucifixion), “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. You have heard Me say to you, ‘I am going away and coming back to you.’ If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe.” (John 14:27-29) The original disciples believed because of what they witnessed with their own two eyes. We believe (at first) because of their testimony, and later because we have discovered through personal experience that the promise of God’s Holy Spirit dwelling within us is absolutely true.


Have Honest and Godly Motives 

In these pages, we have established beyond the shadow of a doubt that one’s “good works” do not save him, atone for his sins, or reconcile him with the Father. That being said, good works are still good—we should be doing them. They are a right and proper response to God’s saving grace, even if they’re of no value whatsoever in attaining it. 

Good works are often taken as evidence of one’s devotion to the kingdom of God. But this is where we venture out onto thin ice, for it is possible to perform good deeds for all the wrong reasons. So Yahshua said, “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward….” We rarely see this sort of thing in houses of worship anymore. “Tooting your own horn” is considered (at least among Evangelicals) to be “bad form.” 

On the other hand, it was common in my youth to see little plaques on the ends of church pews or on the frames of stained-glass windows, honoring the generosity of individual parishioners. And I remember being disgusted to hear that “positive-thinking” TV preacher Robert Schuller was “selling” glass panes with the donors’ names inscribed on them to be used in the construction of his monstrous Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California (not far from where I worked) in the early 1980s. It is ironic that thirty years later, they were so far in debt they had to sell this 2,700-seat monument to religious pride to the Catholics for $57.5 million—who then spent another $72 million renovating it. The news articles didn’t mention the sounding of trumpets, but the building does house the world’s fifth-largest pipe organ. 

Of course, it is debatable if building fancy houses of worship should count as “charitable deeds” at all. Christ never instructed us to do so. But He did say, “When you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:1-4) It’s all a question of motivation: are we giving in order to receive the congratulations or respect of men, or is it because we truly care about the welfare (spiritual or otherwise) of the recipient? You’ll notice that many of Christ’s healing miracles were done without fanfare or expectation of glory. For example, upon healing two blind men, we read, “Their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, saying, ‘See that no one knows it.’” (Matthew 9:30) 

Just because we have Christ’s assurance that “Your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly,” it does not follow that we can “engineer” a prosperous life by being a generous giver. God not only sees our charitable deeds, He also perceives our motives for doing them. If our reason for performing some good work is to blackmail God into rewarding us materially, we’ve missed the whole point. We believers are instructed to love one another—that is, to reflect our God’s defining attribute for the world’s benefit. Love alone is to comprise our motivation. Besides, God didn’t define “rewards” as being strictly materialistic. While doing good deeds can earn you “treasures in heaven,” they won’t necessarily enhance your bank account here on earth. They could just as easily be manifested as an overabundance of the “fruit of the Spirit”—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—things that people with pure motives would actually value. Notwithstanding that our basic human needs will be met if we put God first (“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”—Matthew 6:33) God knows that earthly riches are more often an impediment to the Christian life than they are an inducement to holiness. 

The principle applies to anything we might do that has the potential to enhance our “religious reputation.” Yahshua mentioned fasting, for example—something that, though never commanded in scripture, was a technique often used (even by Himself) to sharpen the senses and focus the mind on God. “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance.” Keep your devotion private. Let its evidence be a holy life. “For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:16-18) As the old saying goes, some people are so heavenly minded, they’re no earthly good. Being pious is commendable; looking pious is its own reward. 

Public prayer is another area in which we are admonished to pay heed to our motives. Are we really praying at all, or merely shining a spotlight on our own piety? “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:5-6) Our next section will deal with prayer, so I’ll defer my discussion of this most-important of subjects until then. Note here, though, that God prefers us to converse with Him quietly, one on One in our own idiom, clumsy though it may be. He’s not interested in polished, public lectures to heaven intended primarily to elevate us in the eyes of our peers. If you wouldn’t use that tone with your own earthly father (especially if you’re in trouble), then don’t try it on God. 

Yahshua once told a story to get that point across, loud and clear: if you’re going to pray, remember Who you’re talking to—the Lord of Glory, not one of your gullible peers. “Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess….”’” For one thing, God never told you to fast, so examine your motive for doing so. For another, He commanded everyone in Israel to tithe. So why do you think you’re so special? Note that technically, the Pharisee was telling the truth about his own behavior. Yahshua’s point was that in “praying” this way in public, he wasn’t really giving thanks to God; he was merely trying to elevate himself in comparison to other people—it was an exercise in arrogance. 

“And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’” If you’re going to compare yourself to someone, compare yourself to Christ—God’s perfect example, the only one who could not honestly pray, “Be merciful to Me, a sinner.” “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’” (Luke 18:9-14) If you’re doing well, God already knows it—pray that His will is done, and that you might be a blessing to others. If you’re screwing up, God knows that as well—pray for mercy and cleansing. Humility is our duty; exaltation is God’s prerogative. 

Considering the fact that the Pharisees were the most “religious,” most overtly Torah-compliant people in Judea, it comes as something of a shock that Yahshua so often lambasted them as examples of “how not to do it.” The sect was so strict, there were never more than 6,000 Pharisees at any one time, for it took herculean effort and colossal self-control to even pretend to be as disciplined as they were. They were held in high esteem, bordering on awe, by the common folk of the day, for they were scrupulous to a fault—and they made sure everyone knew it. 

However, the “Law” they followed wasn’t the Torah, exactly, but rather the “oral law,” the traditions that had grown up around the Torah in the intervening centuries—mostly during the Second Temple period. (One example: In Exodus 16:29, God had instructed the Israelites not to leave their tents to go out and gather manna on the seventh day. Later rabbis turned this into the oral tradition of the “Sabbath day’s journey,” in which you could travel no further than 2,000 cubits (about a thousand yards) on the Sabbath. It was a complete fabrication that totally missed the point. But this rule—along with thousands of other “hedges about the Torah”—became part of Jewish culture.) The Pharisees were masters of this oral law—and how to find loopholes around it. (For instance, they first redefined one’s “home” as the entire city in which he was living, and then said you could put a bit of bread on a rock or tree and declare, “This is my residence,” in effect redefining their “Sabbath day’s journey” to whatever distance they found convenient.) In the end, the closer one adhered to the strategies of the Pharisees, the farther away he drifted from the true meaning of the Torah. 

But even if it had been the actual Torah that the Pharisees had endeavored to keep, Yahshua’s fundamental disagreement with them would have remained. They relied upon themselves—their own efforts—for salvation, whereas He had come in order to be God’s redeeming sacrifice. He had come to atone for our sin, but they said, “What sin?” In the end, the Pharisees hated Yahshua because he saw right through their pretensions, their loopholes, and their total disregard for the spirit of God’s Law while making a show of keeping its letter. 

His tirades against them exposed their errant motivation. It wasn’t so much what they did, but why they did it, that God despised. “A certain Pharisee asked [Yahshua] to dine with him. So He went in and sat down to eat. When the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that He had not first washed before dinner.” The oral law prescribed a complicated cleansing ritual that was pointless and silly, so Christ ignored it. “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also?...” It wasn’t that Yahshua was unfamiliar with what the rabbis had added to God’s Law. It was that He saw what was really wrong with men, and it had nothing to do with clean dishes. 

“But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you. But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” It was relatively easy to make a show of tithing of what grew in your herb garden, while devising clever and covert workarounds for withholding mercy from God’s children. Yahshua pointed out that if their motives had been pure, their almsgiving would have been second nature. “Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces….” They craved—made an idol of—the affirmation of their peers, while wanting to be recognized as “being better” than the common folk. 

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like graves which are not seen, and the men who walk over them are not aware of them.” (Luke 11:37-44) By putting their piety on display while concealing their inward wickedness, the religious elite were like unmarked graves—sources of spiritual impurity that stealthily defiled those with whom they had contact. In this, the Pharisees were as a class not unlike that about which Paul (ironically, a Pharisee himself) warned Timothy in these last days: “Men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (II Timothy 3:2-5) Taken together, these aren’t the sorts of sins you’d expect from “godless heathens.” From them, you’d expect to see lust, murder, theft, drunkenness, debauchery, and the like. But these are stealthy, sneaky sins that are all too often perpetrated by latter-day Pharisees—religious pretenders whose impressive façades don’t match their corrupt inner lives. 

In many ways, this all matches the spiritual profile of the final church on Christ’s Revelation 2-3 mailing list—that of pre-repentant Laodicea, those whom Yahshua feels like “vomiting out of his mouth.” While presenting themselves to the world as rich, pious, ecclesiastically powerful, and a light to those in darkness, God sees them as “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” Like the Pharisees of old, they want desperately to be honored among men, even if they have to fake their goodness and hide their wickedness. Yahshua told them, “I do not receive honor from men.” No, He received honor from Yahweh, the Heavenly Father. “But I know you [Pharisees], that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?” (John 5:41-44) 

Again, He speaks of sinful motives—seeking honor from other men, from one another, instead of from God. This is actually a potential pitfall for anyone who endeavors to do God’s work—like me, for instance. I hope my writings are helpful to folks, of course. But I quite naturally find affirmation more fun than criticism—even if it is constructive. I have to constantly ask myself, am I doing this because God gave me a job to do, or am I doing it for “Facebook Likes,” so to speak? 

There is an ominous prophecy Yahshua placed in there sideways. Who is this person who will “come in his own name,” whom the “Pharisees” will receive? I can see (at least) two candidates for the role. The first was Rabbi Akiba, a Pharisee who wrested control of Judaism from the priesthood early in the second century A.D., who managed to separate Christianity from Israel, codified the oral law into written form (giving it, in Jewish minds, authority equal to the Tanakh), passed off a brutal warlord named Simeon Ben Kosiba (a.k.a. Bar Kochba—“son of a star”) as the Messiah, fomented another Jewish rebellion against Rome, got Israel expelled from the Land for a couple of millennia, and got himself and his phony Christ killed. Busy boy. Akiba did more damage to Israel (in the wake of their “Let Yahshua’s blood be upon us and our children” prayer) than any Jew since Rehoboam. 

The second candidate for this dubious honor is yet future. After the rapture of the church, a man commonly referred to as “the Antichrist” will manage to impose a long-sought “peace” in the Middle East, apparently giving the “Palestinians” a state of their own (carved out of Israeli land, of course), while “guaranteeing” Israel’s sovereignty—probably using United Nations muscle. This treaty is the starting gun for the seven-year worldwide horror known prophetically as “the Tribulation.” I expect this peace to last maybe a year before the whole thing falls apart. Although Israel will eventually reject him (bringing on the “Time of Jacob’s Sorrow,” a.k.a., the Great Tribulation), they will begin by buying into his lies, along with the rest of the left-behind world: “him you will receive.” I realize the literal Pharisees will have been extinct for millennia by this time, but their legacy lives on in the religious elite described by Paul above in II Timothy 3—and not just Jews, but every godless belief system on earth. They will all receive and worship the Antichrist (see Revelation 13:4, 7). 

Frequent allies of the Pharisees of Yahshua’s time were the lawyers or scribes—those who took it upon themselves to reinterpret the Torah and apply the oral law. “And He said, ‘Woe to you also, lawyers! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.” These scribes were also the source of the loopholes and workarounds of which the Pharisees took advantage. “Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. In fact, you bear witness that you approve the deeds of your fathers; for they indeed killed them, and you build their tombs…. Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.’” (Luke 11:46-48, 52) It’s one thing (and bad enough) to be made a slave through false teaching. It’s infinitely worse to be the holder of the chain, the keeper of the key, the purveyor of the lie. Nor was this problem a new one—it had been going on for over a thousand years, throughout the age of the prophets. 

The imperative here is to refrain from tinkering with God’s word. Explore it, yes; ponder it, by all means. Comment on it; do what you can to make it clearer to folks by connecting the dots. But neither add to nor subtract from it. As Moses had told the Children of Israel, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of Yahweh your God which I command you.” (Deuteronomy 4:2) And just because the church age has now mostly run its course, the admonition hasn’t become obsolete—it has only gotten more urgent, more specific. Near the end of the last chapter in the Bible, we read, “For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19) 

How do modern-day “scribes and lawyers” run afoul of this admonition? The obvious place to start is by watering down the scriptures. There are a plethora of Bible translations out there today, and most of them are honest attempts to render the Word of God in language accessible to the reader. The fact that the Roman Catholics kept most of their world in the dark for hundreds of years by keeping the mass in Latin, when nobody understood it but the priests, was a perverse and underhanded way of “taking away from” the scriptures. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I have no problem with loose, “thought for thought” translations that have arisen in recent years (examples: the Living Bible, the Message, etc.), as long as we understand that some of the wording is a guess as to what the original writer was trying to communicate—and that our guesses are sometimes off the mark. “Dynamic equivalence” is (or can be) a noble goal, but it is a slippery slope to perdition in the hands of people with an apostate agenda and impure motives. 

So beware of “versions” that have been purposely tinkered with to push a non-Biblical point of view. The granddaddy of them all is the New World Translation (from the Jehovah’s Witnesses), tweaked to subtly present Jesus as something less than God incarnate. And nowadays we’re beginning to see new “politically correct” versions, such as gender-neutral The New Inclusive Translation, from the Oxford University Press. I understand that even the venerable New International Version is being “rewritten” to be more “feminist friendly.” At least they changed the name to Today’s New International Version (TNIV), as if to warn us not to touch this version with a ten-cubit cattle prod. 

All of this might be characterized as “the leaven of the Pharisees,” the systemic, creeping culture of corruption eating away at the faith upon which we rely. I realize that there is no such thing as a “perfect” English translation. But if “we” begin publishing Bibles purposefully rewritten to avoid offending liberals, homosexuals, secular humanists, and Muslims, we have already lost the battle. God’s word doesn’t change—only our willingness to receive it. But if we can no longer pick up a Bible and expect it to somewhat accurately convey God’s truth, can the end of the age be all that far off? 

So Yahshua warned us: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy….” Two words play off of each other here. Leaven (yeast) is the ingredient in bread that makes it rise. In bread-making, it proliferates and becomes impossible to remove, hence its metaphorical use in scripture as a picture of sin. Hypocrisy is play-acting, pretending, feigning a role, deceit. It is said that actors (sort of like the lawyers mentioned above, I guess) “lie for a living.” Yahshua here is equating the false self-image presented by the Pharisees (pious, scrupulously Law-keeping, godly, etc.) with an insidious fungus that invades a lump of bread dough and changes its character from within. Once again, motive is in view, for if we are honest before God, man, and ourselves, we will admit that the best we can be in this life is “sinners saved by grace.” 

So we are to be wary of the sinister thought processes by which we tend to deceive ourselves. “For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.” (Luke 12:1-3) Nothing is hidden from God. Therefore, it makes little sense to try to hide our fallen condition from our fellow man—and especially from ourselves. God has provided the remedy for our “human condition,” sin. It makes no sense to refuse the cure, just because we’re all sick. 

Yahshua gave us some clues as to how to recognize the false teachers: “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.” (Mark 12:38-40; cf. Luke 20:45-47) In a nutshell, their attitude is “Me first,” rather than “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But their self-centeredness is disguised with false piety, generosity for show (masking a lack of any real compassion), and a pathological need for personal affirmation. Their sartorial proclivities are designed to keep the focus on them, not on God. 

This wouldn’t be as dangerous as it is but for one thing: they are (by their own design) considered arbiters of truth and knowledge by those who are themselves less well-informed. The false teachers have said “trust me” so often, many have concluded that they must, therefore, be trustworthy. Today (though no longer called “scribes”), they’d often be the ones with cable TV “ministries,” best-selling books, and pulpits in mega-churches. Yahshua had them pegged: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers….” They are, He says, the very personification of hypocrisy. If we find ourselves listening to “religious experts,” it is incumbent upon us to differentiate what they say (which won’t be all lies) from what they do. The most compelling lies, after all, are 90% truth. Thorough knowledge of (and reverence for) the scriptures is the surest way to avoid being deceived. 

The hypocrisy factor looms large: “But all their works they do to be seen by men.” Motivation again. If they’re teaching, the goal should be the dissemination of truth, not achieving fame and fortune. “They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments….” Phylacteries are evidence of their love of loopholes. God had told them in the Torah, “Keep My precepts on your mind at all times.” So they made little boxes, put scraps of Torah-inscribed parchment in them, and strapped them to their foreheads. I kid you not. The “borders” of their garments apparently refer to the tsitzits or tassels that Yahweh commanded them to sew onto the corners of their clothing (see Numbers 15:38-40). Each tsitzit was supposed to have a single cord of blue among the undyed white ones—indicative (I’m guessing) of the coming Anointed One. Since the Torah didn’t specify a source for the blue dye (which normally would have been extracted from the Cerulean Mussel), the rabbis assigned a source (adding to the Torah), and then made their tassels without the blue thread (subtracting from the Torah) because they couldn’t be sure they were using the right blue dye. Well had Moses written, “It shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of Yahweh, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot.” It was as if the scribes had said, “Well that seems simple enough. Let’s see how many ways we can screw this up.” 

For the scribes and Pharisees, it was all about how they could gain respect (and profit) among their peers. “They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’” Rabbi literally means, great (or numerous), hence, “my great one, my master, my honorable sir.” It’s derived from rab, meaning captain, so it is applied to revered teachers—leaders of their students. “But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi,’ for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren.” And how do Catholic priests not blush when they read this? “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.” The bottom line is this: “And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:1-12)

***

You didn’t have to be a Pharisee to fall into the trap of self-exaltation, of course. Pride is the most common—and the most destructive—of human foibles. It seems we can always manage to find somebody “lower” than we are in the natural order of things—a “worse” sinner, or someone less prosperous or beautiful or intelligent than we are. But at the Last Supper (right before the crucifixion, when most of His disciples had already come to terms with His divinity), Yahshua performed the service of the lowliest household slave—He washed their feet. And He explained to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.” (Luke 22:25-26) If God Incarnate could humble Himself like this, washing the feet of His rough-hewn disciples—including Judas Iscariot, whom He knew was about to betray Him—then self-exaltation among ourselves is revealed to be the silliest of sins. Not only does it betray a lack of love, it also violates the Tenth Commandment: you shall not covet. And as for “he who governs,” though somebody has to run things, I suppose, he is to be in fact what we call him euphemistically: a public servant. Those who govern are not to imagine they’re our rulers or our lords. We have but one ruler: Christ. 

On the other hand, it is possible for us to lie to ourselves (and others) about who our “ruler” actually is. The scribes and Pharisees would have told you their Lord is Yahweh (well, they might have if they didn’t refuse to utter His name out of feigned respect), or perhaps they’d say that the Law was their lord. Here in the church age, the pretense sometimes extends to our attitude toward Yahshua Himself: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’” Today we might say, “Have we not built great cathedrals in Your name, and collected millions of dollars for charitable works?” “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23) What is the will of the Father? That we love one another. What is the work of God? That we believe in Him whom He sent. We can “accomplish” an awful lot in this world without getting anywhere near either of those things. It’s all a question of our motives. Are they honest and godly, or are they actually self-serving? 

We need to examine who we’re really serving. Is it God, or ourselves? “‘No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.’ Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. And He said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.’” (Luke 16:13-15) John once summarized the false gods of this world as “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” (I John 2:16) Put another way, fallen man’s worship is the pursuit of pleasure, profit, and power. Yahshua’s admonition about “justifying yourselves before men” is the key to the problem. Neither power, sex, nor money are bad things in themselves—they are spiritually neutral, and can even be gifts from God. But if we “serve” them, if we make them our goals, especially while feigning pious religiosity while vindicating our true worldly objectives, we’re in trouble. We all sin. The question is, are we ashamed of it—or do we deny or even defend it? 

Ungodly motives are revealed clearly in what we say. Have you ever heard somebody say, “I swear on a stack of Bibles that this is true”? Would that make it more likely to be true than if he swore on only one Bible, or on Webster’s Dictionary, for that matter? I think not. Yahshua admonished us, “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to Yahweh.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37, quoting Leviticus 19:12, cf. Matthew 23:16) If your motives are straight, you will have no reason to bend the truth—whether “under oath” or otherwise. 

I just cringe when I hear politicians being sworn into office, putting their hand on a Bible and saying things like, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.” (That’s the oath for the United States Senate.) Half of them saying this have little working knowledge of what the Constitution actually requires, and judging by their subsequent performance, the whole “purpose of evasion” line is nothing but a bad joke. As a class, politicians can seldom say, “My yes means yes, and my no means no.” But would we ever elect anyone who swore he intended to “do whatever it takes to advance my own political agenda, enriching myself and my financial backers behind the scenes while I render lip service to the noisiest segments of my constituency and the leftist media that fuels their hate”? Sometimes, the only place the truth “flies” is right out the window. 

Does anybody display consistently honest motives? There is one group who does: “Jesus called them to Him and said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.’” (Luke 18:16-17, cf. Matthew 19:14) Little children aren’t sinless by any means; but they are (generally speaking) without guile. Even when they’re being selfish and greedy, they’re honest about it (unlike us grown-ups). What makes kids the prototype for people entering the kingdom of God? Children believe what their parents say, and trust us to tell them the truth—making it incumbent upon us to scrupulously avoid telling them plausible lies. If their parents can’t be trusted, the children will eventually conclude that God can’t be trusted either. No pressure or anything. 

That’s the pattern: as parents teach their children, God teaches us. And we are justified by believing (trusting in, relying on) what He said, whether by word or deed. “My doctrine [Greek didache: that which is taught] is not Mine, but His who sent Me.” That is, if you can trust Yahweh (and you can), you can trust His Messiah. “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.” (John 7:16-18) Search the record. Yahshua never said or did anything that was out of sync with what Yahweh had revealed in the Tanakh. Rather, His life and doctrine revealed God’s glory—in very unexpected ways. 

As far as salvation is concerned, there is only one way to God—through Christ. But there are many ways to Christ. I imagine no two of us have identical salvation stories to tell. Some of us (like Paul) have blinding epiphanies; others see the truth glowing only dimly at first, seeing the light more clearly as we walk toward it step by step in faith. But know this: in the end, the whole salvation issue is binary—on or off, yes or no. Look at it this way—if you don’t have a mother who conceived you, you don’t exist, and never did. The same sort of thing is true on the spiritual plane: if you haven’t been “born from above” by the Holy Spirit, you—by definition—are not “alive” at all in the heavenly sense: Yahweh is “the God of the Living” (see Mark 12:27). 

Yahshua put it like this: “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” (Luke 11:23) Spiritually, we are “with Him” if we are alive, born of His Spirit. But does that really mean we are “against” Him if we are not born again? Perhaps, but kata (rendered here as “against”) has a broad range of meanings. Thayer defines it as “a preposition denoting motion or diffusion or direction from the higher to the lower.” So a more direct translation might be “down upon,” “underneath,” “after,” or “behind.” That is, if we are not with Yahshua, we are beneath Him, on an entirely different spiritual plane, whether or not hostility (on our part) is present. And the implication (stated plainly elsewhere in scripture) is that if we are “with Him,” if we are born from above in His Spirit, then He elevates our status, lifting us up to be children of God and co-heirs of Christ. 

But we should guard against confusing style with substance. Just because others don’t express their beliefs in exactly the same way we do, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re lost, nor does it mean their motives are less than honorable. “Now John answered Him, saying, ‘Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (Mark 9:38-41; cf. Luke 9:49-50) Judging the motivation of our brothers (or those who claim to be our brothers) is not our job. If they call upon the name of Christ, we are to give them the benefit of the doubt, and let God sort it out. False teaching (something we are to call out) will reveal itself soon enough. 

The bottom line is this: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” (John 12:20) We will never see Yahweh (in His undiminished glory) face to face, and Yahshua, His mortal human manifestation, has been physically absent from among us for almost two thousand years now. So at the moment, there are only three sources of divine revelation and testimony available to us—the Scriptures (transmitted by people), the Holy Spirit (dwelling within people), and people themselves (who, let’s face it, are far from perfect). For reasons of His own, God has chosen people to pass the baton of faith from one runner to the next in the human race. Let us endeavor not to drop it. 

The counterintuitive fact is, we can’t successfully run the race if we’re motivated by our own interests. Toward the end of his life, Paul equated his “finishing the race” with having “kept the faith.” (See II Timothy 4:7.) And looking forward to His own death by crucifixion, Christ revealed His own motivation: to achieve far greater things through his death (and subsequent resurrection and glorification) than would ever have been possible walking the earth in a mortal body—no how many good deeds He did. “Jesus answered them, saying, ‘The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain….” If He had not gone to the cross on our behalf, and if He had not risen from the dead under His own power, Yahshua would have been but an obscure footnote in history. But as it is, the whole world knows of Him today, two thousand years later—and a fair number of us trust Him with our eternal destinies as well. 

But for us, godly motivation is crucial: “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Love and hate here are comparative terms, of course. We’re not talking about embracing clinical depression to counteract our narcissistic tendencies. But at the end of the day, what motivates us? Is it our own temporal wellbeing, or God’s kingdom? “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.’” (John 12:23-26) This very morning (as I write these words) I heard the news of the death of evangelist Billy Graham at ninety-nine years of age. What better contemporary example could we have of one who has served Christ his whole life with godly and honest motives, and who was subsequently honored by God and man alike? He lived his entire adult life in the glare of the spotlight, preaching the simple gospel of grace to millions of people, while never once forgetting who he served, or why. I pray that his passing will precipitate a much-needed revival as we approach the Last Days of the church age.


Pray in God’s Will

Let’s face it: much of our experience as believers is based on what we perceive God can do for us. Many of these objectives are lofty and commendable, of course—salvation, forgiveness, cleansing, and so forth—and some are more prosaic—like meeting our temporal needs, protecting us from our enemies, healing us, etc. These things may seem self-centered, but they’re simply a response to what Yahweh has told us to do all the way through scripture: rely upon Him. The unavoidable fact is, God wants to take care of us. Even when He admonishes us to “obey Him,” it is with our well-being in mind, not His. 

This all makes more sense if we see ourselves as small children, and Yahweh as our “Father,” or His Holy Spirit as our “Mother.” The real relationship between us is not as equals, as peers. Nor is it as a master to a slave, a teacher to a student, or a boss to his worker. It is, rather, as a parent to his beloved child. Yes, “daddy” tells us to eat our vegetables and treat our siblings with kindness, and “mommy” tells us to tidy up our rooms and brush our teeth. But doing these things does not make us their children. We are already their children. Our parents’ instructions merely help us learn how to grow up “in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” 

Our human parents (presuming they love us) don’t want us kids to hide from them in terror, cringing in anticipation of being punished for some incomprehensible infraction of their “rules.” They’re not looking for obsequious obeisance, appeasement, or paranoid trepidation from us. No, our parents want us to talk with them, laugh, cuddle, vent our frustrations, feel safe in their arms, tell them we don’t like carrots, say we’re sorry for hitting Billy, ask them why the sky is blue, admit that we’re afraid of the storm outside, that our tummy hurts, and that we want a puppy. That sort of open communication, when it happens between us and God, is called prayer

Communication between man and God in the Old Testament took many forms we aren’t personally familiar with today—conversations with theophanies, scary encounters with the Shekinah, dreams and visions, revelation through prophets, and so forth. But even then, prayer was available to us. One researcher (Finis Dake) found 176 recorded prayers in the Old Testament, and 46 in the New, for a total of 222 (not including mere references to prayer), most of them asking for specific positive outcomes (healings, blessings, victories, etc.). They stretch from Abraham in Genesis 15, to John in Revelation 22. But by far our clearest, most comprehensive instruction concerning prayer is recorded in the Gospels, coming straight from the lips of Yahshua Himself. 

For example, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” We are God’s children, after all. Like four-year-olds, we aren’t expected to be self-sufficient. Self-reliance, in fact, can be a subtle form of idolatry. “Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!...” I believe the family structure (fathers, mothers, and children) was ordained by God to be a metaphor for humanity’s parallel relationship with Him. (See The Torah Code, Volume 4.1: Relationships, elsewhere on this website.) I suppose that’s why Satan works so hard trying to break up families—especially by trying to remove the father from the picture: if we don’t see “father” as a wise and loving provider and protector, we won’t have a clue as to how Yahweh would like to relate to us. If “dad” is a spineless, absent weasel—or worse, a pig who gets drunk and beats up mom and the kids—they will have no positive point of reference for the benign “Heavenly Father” presented in the Bible—the One who gives good things to His beloved children. Satan is evil, but nobody ever said he’s stupid. 

Remember, the context here is asking (of God) and receiving. In a lost world, we believers are God’s ambassadors: we can provide the only glimpse of His character some folks will ever see. So we are to treat them with the same love and respect with which our Heavenly Father treats us, for it is, after all, how we like to be treated. It’s the Golden Rule—“Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:7-12) That is, it’s the second-greatest commandment: love your neighbor as you do yourself. 

Christians are not the only people who pray, of course. The “why” of it is axiomatic: we all want something from our deity. But is revealing to note how and to whom prayer is performed. Catholics are told to repeat formula prayers (“Our Fathers” or “Hail Marys”) as penance for their sins—as if Christ hadn’t already atoned for them. Head-bobbing ultra-orthodox Jews gather in minyans (groups of ten) at the Wailing Wall to offer up canned, rabbinically pre-approved prayers to Ha-Shem. Muslims line up in rows facing Mecca, bow with their faces in the dirt and their butts in the air five times a day, and mindlessly recite prayers somebody else wrote. (Allah is said to have demanded fifty prostrations a day. Maybe that’s why he never answers.) Hindus give food offerings upon household shrines to their choice of gods among 330 million of them, ignoring the rest. They’re afraid that if they do not do this, their deity will lose focus and cease doing whatever it was that he was supposed to be doing in the first place. Tibetan Buddhists suspect there is no god, but just to be on the safe side, they still pray—automating the process with prayer wheels so they can get the job done without wasting any more time than necessary. 

Yahshua apparently had all of these in mind when He said, “When you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them, for your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him….” The “heathen” do not speak with their gods as children do with their parents—the way Yahweh wants us to relate to Him, with familiarity and respect. God (the real One) doesn’t need to have His ego stroked—He knows how great He is, and how puny we are in comparison. Rather, He wants us to tell Him what’s on our minds, to share our troubles, joys, needs, and desires, to intercede for others who need His help, to thank Him for what He has done in the past, or just to say we love Him. Yahweh knows what we need, but He still wants to hear us ask Him for it. After all, if we don’t put it in words before God, how are we going to differentiate what we really need from our frivolous fantasies? If we can’t honestly say (without blushing), “I want this to happen, so I’m going to ask Yahweh for it,” it’s a good bet that we don’t actually need it. 

It’s sadly ironic that probably the most oft-recited passage in scripture—the very definition of “vain repetition”—is Yahshua’s instruction concerning prayer that immediately follows the warning not to mindlessly rehearse canned prayers to God. His “model prayer” was intended to teach us how to pray—to inform us as to what subjects to broach and what tone to take when speaking with our God. (1) “In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name….” Acknowledge that our heavenly Father’s name—His character and identity—is holy: it is sacred, unique, matchless, and utterly beyond anything we experience upon the earth. Yahweh (meaning “I am”) is a name we dare not speak except upon our knees—that is, in an attitude of humility, reverence, and respect. 

(2) “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven….” We are instructed to petition God to fulfill His myriad promises concerning His future kingdom upon the earth. This “kingdom” is the last of seven millennia ordained for fallen man upon the earth—the long awaited Sabbath day of rest, a prophetic principle revealed in the very first chapter of the Bible and repeated in scores of forms in its subsequent pages. It’s no surprise that whatever Yahweh wants is done in the heavenly realm. Here on the earth, however, the free will He gave us has made man’s will predominant—for the moment. But during the final Millennium—the kingdom of God—we will see this prayer answered: God’s will actually will be done on earth as it always has been in heaven. Yahshua—God incarnate—will reign in perfect peace for a thousand years, showing mankind what we could have had all along if only we had loved our God as He loved us. 

(3) “Give us this day our daily bread.…” God tells us to ask Him to provide what we need. Since the “work of God is to believe in Him whom He sent,” (John 6:29) trusting Him is something we’re supposed to be doing: we are to rely upon His bounty, not our own efforts or cleverness. Yes, as a fallen race, we have to “work for it” (See Genesis 3:17-19), but as long as we (in the broader, societal sense) are relying on God, He will reward our efforts with enough to live on. Ordinarily, famines don’t happen in times and places where God is honored, though alas, such societies are few and sporadic, and always have been. I would understand “daily bread” to mean not only food, but whatever is necessary to sustain our mortal lives—shelter, clothing, water, air, and fuel. The provision of anything beyond this is strictly at God’s discretion, but I can bear personal witness that our Father can be very generous with his temporal gifts. 

(4) “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors….” He’s not talking strictly about monetary debts here (since God has no use for money), but debts of a moral nature, specifically, sin. When we fall short of God’s target of perfection (and we all do) we have sinned—not only against our fellow man and sometimes ourselves, but also against the keeper of the standard, Yahweh Himself. Thus we owe Him a “debt” that we cannot pay, since the only thing that can atone for sin is innocence. This explains the recurring metaphor of the Torah sacrifices—animals have no free will; thus they cannot be said to have sinned. Christ was innocent, so His self-sacrifice atoned for (i.e., covered) our sins, permanently and completely. But this fact behooves us to “pay it forward.” He once told a scary parable (Matthew 18:21-35) about a servant who was forgiven a huge debt, only to turn around and be unforgiving toward another who owed him a relative pittance. The Master, not surprisingly, was livid, asking rhetorically, “Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant?” When people sin against us, offend us, cheat us, and lie to (or about) us, we are to forgive them. Period. It isn’t “fair,” I know, but neither is God’s forgiveness of the vast debt of sin that was owed to Him by us. I’ll take mercy over justice any day of the week. 

(5) “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one….” James says, “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” (James 1:13-14) While this is true of enticement to sin, the predominant scriptural meaning of the word “temptation” (Greek: peirasmos) is testing, or “trial of man’s fidelity, integrity, virtue, or constancy…or adversity or affliction sent by God sent to test or prove one’s faith, holiness, character.” (Thayer) It does not usually evoke allurements to pleasure which tend to lead us into evil. Christ was tested in every way as we are (see Hebrews 4:15), yet He remained sinless, proving Him to be the spotless lamb required for the atoning sacrifice. We, on the other hand, have the opportunity and duty to ask our God to spare us from these trials and tests. It is amazing how seldom it occurs to us to resort to this privilege. Satan loves to see us screw up, for it provides an opportunity for him to drive a wedge between us and our forgiving God. But we are instructed to ask for God’s protection against the devil’s evil machinations. This is a spiritual battle—one we are ill-equipped to fight in the flesh. More on this in a moment. 

(6) “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen….’” The model prayer ends as it began—with acknowledgment of Yahweh’s authority, wielded through the risen Yahshua, and backed by His omnipotence and splendor. “Amen” (derived from a similar Hebrew word, pronounced ah-mane) literally means “firm or steadfast,” thus verily, truly, may it be fulfilled, most assuredly, so be it, etc. Thayer notes, “It was a custom, which passed over from the synagogues into the Christian assemblies, that when he who had read or discoursed had offered up a solemn prayer to God, the others in attendance responded ‘Amen,’ and thus made the substance of what was uttered their own.” 

Having finished instructing His disciples about how (and what) to pray in God’s will, Yahshua went back to reiterate one extremely important point: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:7-14; cf. Luke 11:2-4) Point #4 was a deal breaker. It’s not a “salvation issue,” because we’re talking to people to whom Yahweh is “your heavenly Father.” But if we want to be forgiven of our incessant little sins against God and man, we must be prepared to forgive the things people do to us. In other words, an unforgiving attitude on our part can and will hinder our prayers. 

It was an issue Yahshua raised time after time. Two days before the crucifixion, He said, “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25-26) As it had been in the Sermon on the Mount, this admonition to forgive was the punch line to one of Yahshua’s teachings on prayer. It would transpire that for the next two thousand years, Christians would be asked to forgive a lot—we would be hounded, harassed, and persecuted simply because of our faith. It’s the prophetic profile of the church at Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11), something that is still with us today. The “natural” response would be to hate those who hate us and attack those who attack us—the Crusader mentality. (It’s not as if the Muslims didn’t “have it coming,” but it was never our job to take the battle to them. Vengeance is Yahweh’s—He will repay.) But Christ told us to do the unnatural thing: love our enemies, bless those who curse us, and forgive everyone who does us wrong. This strange behavior was intended to be the one thing, above all others, that set us apart from the world. 

But this time, His instruction was a bit harder to grasp, for in context, prayer for destruction (quite uncharacteristically) is in view. On the walk into Jerusalem from Bethany on Tuesday morning of the Passion week, (the day after the Triumphal Entry), Yahshua cursed a fig tree for having no fruit on it, even though it wasn’t exactly “fig season” yet. Mark’s account makes it clear that the cursing took place on one day, and that the lesson was given on the next. But Matthew summarizes: “And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, ‘Let no fruit grow on you ever again.’ Immediately the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it [the next day], they marveled, saying, ‘How did the fig tree wither away so soon?’…” 

On the surface, Yahshua seems petty and vindictive here—cursing a poor defenseless fig tree for not doing what nobody expected it to do anyway—bear fruit out of season. But the circumstances and the symbology conspire to correct our errant impression. (1) The fig tree (usually in combination with the grapevine) is a common Old Testament metaphor for Israel, and it’s a symbol made quite clear on the lips of Yahshua (see Matthew 24:30, Luke 13:6-6, etc.). (2) This was during the week leading up to Passover. If you’ll recall, the Passover Lamb was to be brought into the household of Israel on Nisan 10 (not coincidentally, the date of the Triumphal entry in 33AD), and slain on the afternoon of the 14th. So at this very time, Israel was supposed to be “examining and approving” the Lamb. (3) Finding fruit on the fig tree would have been prophetic that the nation of Israel would have been ready to receive Yahshua as her Messiah at this time. (4) Alas, Yahweh knew it was not to be, placing the Day of Atonement sixth on His list of holy convocations, not fourth—thereby indicating the nature of the hiatus of God’s plan for Israel described in Daniel 9:24-27, a gap that would be occupied by the church age. The length of this break, from the Day of Pentecost until the Feast of Trumpets—that is, from the beginning of the church age until its practical end after the rapture—was pinpointed in Hosea 6:1-2 as two “days,” that is, two thousand years, after which Israel would once again be “lifted up.” So (5) the barren, withered fig tree foretold Israel’s plight in the wake of its national rejection of Yahshua’s Messianic claims. 

But Christ didn’t explain any of that to His disciples. Rather, He went on to teach them about the efficacy of prayer—something that would be far more practical in the centuries to come. “So Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, “Be removed and be cast into the sea,” it will be done. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.’” (Matthew 21:20-22; cf. Mark 11:22-24) Again, He’s not talking about beating up on poor, defenseless vegetation or geological features. Symbolically, a “mountain” is a temporal stronghold, a seat of earthly authority and strength. He’s saying, then, that prayer in unshakable faith will allow you (us, the church) to break down barriers and obstacles not considered humanly possible—like the pagan culture of the Roman Empire, for example. Suddenly, I feel ashamed of my doubts that satanic monoliths like dar al-Islam or Hinduism or atheistic secular humanism can be moved by the Gospel of Christ in the short time we’ve got left to work. God forgive me. 

On the night of the Last Supper, Christ once again encouraged His disciples to pray. “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:23-24) Don’t get all avaricious on me, now. His intention was not to put a loaded gun into the hands of a child—or a Lamborghini in every garage. Twice here He used the phrase “in My name,” and that changes everything, if you were tempted to consider Yahweh some sort of celestial ATM machine. David once wrote, “Delight yourself in Yahweh, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4) The “trick” is that when we delight ourselves in Yahweh, He changes our desires to align with His. 

This hearkens back to the “Lord’s Prayer,” where we saw that our prayers are to focus on His kingdom—we are to pray that His will is done (for a change) on earth. Yes, we are to rely upon God for our daily bread, recognizing that if we seek first His kingdom, our basic needs are taken care of (since He knows that it’s harder for us to advance the cause of His kingdom if we’re homeless, hurting, and hungry). That’s why he specifically instructed us to pray that God would spare us from trial and testing. “Pray that you may not enter into temptation…. Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” (Luke 22:40, 46) 

Of course, our own vigilant attitude has a part to play as well: “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) Notice how watching and praying go hand in hand: prayer isn’t just another word for the abdication of our spiritual responsibilities. It’s more like a soldier on the front lines getting on the radio and checking in with Headquarters for specific instructions, as if to ask, “Now what?” The General, after all, has a far better grasp of the overall battlespace than we do. 

In the model prayer, we were also told to pray for the coming of Christ’s kingdom. Although it won’t arrive visibly until the arrival of the King (soon, by all appearances), the kingdom of God actually exists among us now, today, as we walk the earth as fallen mortals. How? As with any nation, we are citizens of the kingdom of God if we have been born here—born again (technically, born from above) in the Holy Spirit, as Yahshua explained in John 3:5-8). But if I may borrow a couple of terms from American immigration policy, we Christians are supposed to function as “Anchor Babies.” That is, once we have been born into the kingdom of heaven, we are to facilitate the arrival of others—“chain migration” into the Kingdom of Heaven, so to speak.   

There are any number of metaphors for this. Another example or two: “When He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.’” (Matthew 9:36-38) When we pray “Your kingdom come,” we are doing this very thing—praying for God to send out laborers to reap His harvest of souls. Just don’t be surprised if you—the one praying—is recruited to be an answer to your own prayer. 

There is one final facet to Yahshua’s instructions on praying in God’s will: persistence. “And He said to them, ‘Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him,’ and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’? I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs….” Note the comparisons God is setting before us: (1) God is definitely our friend, not our adversary, and certainly not our enemy. (2) He never sleeps, so we don’t have to worry about “disturbing” Him. In fact, being omniscient, He is expecting our visit. (3) Our concern for our unexpected guests pleases God. (4) Even if we’re not prepared for them to show up on our doorstep unannounced, it is good that we know who we can rely on to help us meet their needs. (5) Unlike our human friends, God finds our pleas for mercy and provision to be no problem at all. He expects us to ask on behalf of others—several times, if it comes to that. (Three petitions seems to be the scriptural mandate for “persistence”: see II Corinthians 12:8, etc.) It is our proper function as priests to intercede on behalf of those we meet. 

In this case, Yahshua didn’t just leave the parable hanging there for us to ponder. He drew the inevitable conclusions for us. “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Not from men, necessarily, but from God, most certainly. “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” The caveat, of course, is that we have to be asking in God’s will—good things, for the right reasons, in God’s perfect timing. “If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?...” God will never give us something worse than what we ask for. But then again, we don’t always know what to ask for, do we? 

Fortunately, He knows exactly what we need. And our most fundamental requirement is life itself. So He concludes, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!’” (Luke 11:5-13) We’re way beyond bread, fish, or eggs here. We’re talking about God giving us the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit—the source and sustainer of eternal life. And if we’re already believers—if we already have the Spirit dwelling within us—then we are encouraged to persistently petition God to fill us anew with the Spirit’s power, again and again, as necessary. Face it, folks: we leak


Lay Up Treasures in Heaven

Unlike quite a few preachers today (who shall remain nameless), Yahshua had very little to say about giving—and virtually nothing to say about tithing. We should not read into this that it’s not an important subject; it’s just that the guidelines had been laid down in the Torah, and nothing much had changed. The core of the doctrine was still (1) recognize that God has given you a superabundance, (2) that which you have over and above what you need is meant to be used to help people less fortunate than you, and (3) our gratitude toward God should manifest itself in generosity to others. 

Outside of theocratic Israel, the tithe doesn’t actually function as it was designed to. That’s because of the role Yahweh assigned to the Levites. This tribe was given no territory of its own in the Land of Promise, but was rather to receive ten percent of the increase from each of the other tribes. After the doubling of the tribe of Joseph (into Manasseh and Ephraim) there were thirteen tribes, but the land (that which represented the potential for generating wealth) was split only twelve ways. Thus each of these twelve tribes were entitled to only 92.3% of their increase, the remaining 7.7% being rendered to the Levites in remuneration for their God-ordained service. Another small amount was added to this (bringing the total to an even 10%), to enable the Levites to take care of the poor, the widows, and the orphans in Israel. So the “charity” portion of the tithe was only 2.3%. That hardly seems onerous to me. 

With the advent of the largely gentile church, then, the Torah’s rationale for the tithe disappeared. Or did it? Are there still people in our lives whose service on God’s behalf precludes them from earning a living in the ordinary way? Do you meet with other like-minded believers for worship and study in a place you don’t personally own? Are there still charitable needs to be met in your community? I would be greatly surprised if any of us could honestly answer “no” to any of these propositions. So tell me this: does God’s system of rendering approximately 4% of your paycheck so your ministers can feed their families, 3% to pay for the worship facilities you use, 2% for mercy to the poor, and another 1% for mission outreach seem excessive to you? It shouldn’t. The church merely took the training wheels off the Levitical system of tithing. 

But as I said, Yahshua had nothing much to say about it (except a brief mention when berating the Pharisees for getting their priorities all wrong: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” Matthew 23:23) As we have come to expect, His teaching on the subject centered more on our attitudes and objectives than on amounts and procedures. Like everything else, our giving is to be an expression of our love for Yahweh and our fellow man. 

Christ’s definitive statement on proper priorities is found in the Sermon on the Mount. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal….” It had to be something of an epiphany to His original audience that such a thing was even possible. Now, two thousand years into the church age, we have an easy familiarity with the concepts of everlasting life, treasures in heaven, and so forth. But pre-Christian man knew very little about the afterlife. Despite a few tantalizing hints in Job, the Psalms, and the Prophets, the only thing they knew for sure was Sheol—the grave. Our understanding of eternity and our place in it is due almost exclusively to Yahshua’s teachings and subsequent New Testament revelation. 

As He did so often, He referred to what we know in order to teach us through contrast about the unknown. Anybody with his eyes open can see that earthly riches are fleeting, vulnerable, and unsure. At best, we leave them to our heirs, taking nothing with us when we die. At worst, we see our wealth evaporate before our eyes, up in smoke (or taxes), leaving us little to show for our pointless labors. But because there is a life after death in store for Yahweh’s children—and not mere existence, but sentient fellowship with God and His redeemed, lived out forever in new bodies built for eternity—it is possible to invest in that blessed life while we still walk in this one. As missionary-martyr Jim Elliot famously wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” 

Yahshua’s parting thought on the subject reveals a two-way street: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21) If we “invest” in heavenly things, we will find ourselves increasingly concerned with the kingdom of God, rather than this world. But it also works the other way around: we can develop a heart for God by being obedient to Him in temporal matters—the most fundamental of which is loving our neighbors as we do ourselves. 

The obvious question, then, is how may one lay up treasures in heaven? What does “heavenly treasure” look like? Although money is where our minds naturally go first, it is far more than that: our “treasure” is anything we value, anything that we have a finite amount of. It could be our time, our energy, our focus, or our relationships. What do we obsess over; and conversely, what could we just as easily live without? Anything in our lives that we place in order on a mental list of priorities is “treasure.” 

Money, of course, is the easiest of these treasure-types for us to comprehend, so Yahshua used it to teach us about treasure in heaven. “Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.’” (Mark 12:41-44; cf. Luke 21:1-4) The point is obvious—that in proportion to what she possessed, this poor woman had been more generous than any other giver that day—some of whom had been quite generous—though it’s not a competition, of course. 

But the story doesn’t stand alone: the context is enlightening. In both Mark and Luke, it is told immediately after Yahshua condemned the scribes for their pride and greed, noting in both recountings how they “devour widows’ houses.” The implication is that because of the scribes’ shady business dealings, widows such as this poor lady would have even less to live on than was ordinarily available through the Levitical system of alms (discussed above). Throughout the Tanakh, Yahweh had repeated ad nauseum that widows and orphans were to be shown mercy—that they were not to be oppressed. Yet these admonitions fell on deaf ears among the religious elite. 

The wealthy scribes and Pharisees would have made a great show of putting large sums in the treasury, for they were seeking the admiration of their countrymen. Their legacy, however, consists of the lambasting Yahshua gave them in passages like Matthew 23, making them forever the poster children for hypocrisy and arrogance. How deliciously ironic it is that the one person most remembered in scripture for generosity and sacrifice—whose monetary exploits have been celebrated among the faithful for almost two thousand years now—was a poverty stricken woman with nothing to her name but a couple of pennies. She had deposited truckloads of treasure in heaven. 

Earthly treasure can be amassed two different ways—either through human pursuits, or through God’s blessing. (There is no reason it can’t come through a combination of the two, of course, as revealed by the “blessings” verses of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28: in societal terms, honoring Yahweh is the most direct way there is to ensure general prosperity.) But when earthly riches become the goal, we have run afoul of the First Commandment: worship Yahweh alone. As Yahshua says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24) Put in terms germane to our present topic, you can’t gather the same treasure in heaven that you do on the earth. 

Part of it is a willingness to sacrifice—to give up—what folks normally value in order to further the cause of the kingdom of heaven. “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Matthew 19:29-30; cf. Mark 10:28-30; cf. Luke 18:28-30) I recently saw a Facebook post contrasting aerial views of the homes of Joel Osteen and the late Billy Graham. Joel’s was a 17,000-square-foot mega-mansion that cost $10.5 million. Billy’s house was a nice but modest two-story brick home with a nearby barn, nestled in the woods. The contrast, considering the ministry “footprint” of both men, couldn’t be more striking. 

Another example: I once heard the story, told by a Christian financial planner, of an aging minister, who his entire adult life had moved from one unpromising location to another planting churches. When his new “plant” had gotten established, he’d move on and do it all again—ten or twelve times, over a long career spent in God’s service, never making much of a salary. He came to the financial planner, saying, “I’ve got a little problem.” The planner thought, “Uh-oh—the guy hasn’t put away one cent for retirement, and he’s reached old age with nothing to live on.” “No, that’s not it,” the pastor explained. “Every time I moved to a new spot, I bought a house to live in, and over the years the real estate market kept going up. Now I’ve reached my mid-seventies, and although I never earned much, I have more money than I know what to do with. Please help me invest it.” I can personally attest that God has taken care of my wife and me in similarly unexpected ways. A nice surprise at the end of a lifetime of service. 

But we were talking about treasures in heaven. What about the afterlife? Although our information is sketchy at best (since God apparently didn’t want us cozying up to Him just for the perks), we were told enough to assure us that the kingdom of God won’t be some dystopian slum, but everything we would have hoped for, if only we’d had a big enough imagination for it. Christ told His disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:1-3) The best part of all that is that we’ll get to be with Him. But what about the “place”? 

“Mansions” here is an overly grandiose translation—the word (Greek: moné) simply means a lodging, an individual dwelling place, or abode. On the other hand, John’s Patmos vision includes the following narrative: “Then one of the seven angels…talked with me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal…. The city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones…. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.” (Revelation 21:9-11, 18-19, 21) There’s a lot more to it, of course. I only want to note here that our heavenly abode, the “New Jerusalem,” is like a bride on her wedding day—as pretty as God knows how to make it, which considering how beautiful this fallen earth can be, surely implies something spectacular. 

But to be part of this eternal destiny—to experience the beauty of the abode God has planned for us first hand—we have to be “doing the work of God.” That is, we can’t be trying to reach heaven through our own efforts—through religion or some other human-derived strategy. For the umpteenth time, the “work of God is to believe in Him whom He sent”—Yahshua the Messiah. His righteousness alone is sufficient to atone for our sins, redeem us from the curse of death, and reconcile us with the Father. “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33) Our words and walk declare one of two things to the world: either (1) we are relying upon Christ for our eternal destiny, or (2) we are trusting ourselves—our own efforts, strategies, and philosophy. The first is treasure in heaven; the second is rubbish in the landfill. The choice is ours.


Repent

At the beginning of His ministry, Yahshua went to John to be baptized, fasted for forty days, and then submitted to a grueling series of temptations from Satan himself. “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Matthew 4:17) Even before He had called His first disciples, before He had done a single miracle, Yahshua was preaching about the necessity of repentance. 

The Greek word from which “repent” is derived here is metanoeo, basically meaning “to change one’s mind or purpose.” It is derived from two roots: meta (“changed after being with”) and noieo (“to think”). So “repent” here means “to think differently afterwards” or “to change one’s mind.” Based on the Greek, there is an impetus to the change of mind—an idea or experience that suggests a new course of action, a new way of seeing something. Furthermore, the change is in a positive direction. Thayer notes that the word implies “to change one’s mind for the better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins,” hence the idea of repentance as we commonly understand it. I hardly need point out that the concept of “better” necessitates an inviolable standard by which truth or good behavior may be measured. Whether God’s Law or revelation, or simply the operation of the consciences He placed within the human soul, that “standard” invariably originates with Yahweh. 

The reason we were told to repent at that moment was (obviously) the presence of God incarnate among the people for the first time in His role as Messiah—“the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.” God had revealed Himself many times and in several ways before this, of course—through theophanies, the Shekinah, and in dreams and visions shown to prophets—but He had never before come with the express purpose of redeeming mankind through an act of Self-sacrifice. (See The Torah Code, Volume 1, Unit 2, elsewhere on this website, for an in-depth study of the seven-fold nature of God.) The “Kingdom of Heaven” was at hand because the King of Heaven had arrived—albeit “incognito” during this first advent; the next time He comes, there will be no mistaking His identity, purpose, or glory. 

In a world in which most people serve “gods” who (they’ve been led to believe) are as grumpy, vengeful, and demanding as they are useless, it would doubtless come as quite a shock to discover that the real God, Yahweh, rejoices with His angels when a lost sinner chooses to change direction and walk toward Him. One illustration Yahshua gave: “What woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:8-10) There is no shortage of unrepentant sinners in this world. But God doesn’t want any of them to perish. Yahshua’s sacrifice is sufficient to redeem every human being who ever lived, or ever will. The choice, however, is strictly up to us: do we want to be found? Do we choose to reciprocate God’s love (that is, change our mindset from one of antagonism against God to fellowship with Him—a.k.a. repentance)? 

A few dozen pages back, I mentioned a sheep named Shrek who hid out in a cave from his shepherds for six years, choosing not to be found. Yahshua once told His own “Shrek” story: “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” (Matthew 18:11-14; cf. Luke 15:4-7) Unlike Shrek’s owner, Yahshua knows every sheep in the world by name, and He notices if we’re missing from His flock. He’s pleased with sheep who never stray, of course, but He actively seeks those who are lost. A lost sheep may choose to continue hiding in his cave, but that’s no way to live. The food, water, and sunshine are all out in the meadow, where the Good Shepherd guides His flock “beside the still waters.” Although “remaining lost” is the sheep’s prerogative, it is also a not-so-subtle form of insanity. Repentance, on the other hand, is tantamount to joining the flock and enjoying the bounty the Shepherd provides. The epiphany here is the Shepherd’s extreme reaction to our repentance—His inordinate rejoicing upon finding that which had been lost. 

We’d expect the lost sheep to be happy and relieved to be rescued, of course. Wolves are scary, and water is hard to find. But that begs the question: how, precisely, does repentance benefit the lost person? While Yahshua had a great deal of information to impart concerning what the saved could look forward to (especially in passages spoken privately to His disciples, such as the Last Supper discourse recorded in John 14-17), His instructions concerning repentance mostly focused on the consequences of failing to do so. Surprisingly, repentance wasn’t to be seen as a strategy for securing a better, safer, or more prosperous life in this world. It’s a spiritual issue, designed to come to fruition in the spiritual realm: “There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish….” Everyone dies. Nobody gets out of here alive. So repentance won’t shelter you from accidents, illness, or other men’s treachery. That is not its function. 

“Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5) The word “perish” here (apollumi) means to destroy, lose, abolish, or die; to be blotted out, to vanish away. Since our mortal lives are not in view here (because everybody dies, the saved and lost alike), this definitely speaks of the loss of true or eternal life. In the Greek, two different word for “life” are employed to differentiate the concepts: bios is mortal life, the sort of life we share with amoebas and orangutans—technically, a body indwelled with a soul. Zoe, on the other hand, is animated, active, vigorous, and essential life—a word used in the New Testament as a technical description of a believer’s eternal spiritual state in Yahweh. I’d characterize it as a soul indwelled with God’s Spirit, whether or not a body is present. 

But (and this is as important as it is misunderstood) apollumi does not suggest, or even allow, the eternal, waking torment in hell of which the Bible (mostly Christ Himself) so clearly speaks—a state expressed as Gehenna. To be in hell/Gehenna, you must be sentient, conscious, and aware of your surroundings (and more to the point, able to suffer unending remorse). Apollumi speaks rather of utter destruction, of ceasing to exist, even annihilation. The only conclusion I can come to is that there is a difference between death and damnation—a difference that finally explains how God can be both just and merciful at the same time. (There is a huge amount of scriptural evidence supporting this concept, by the way, if you consider what the many Greek and Hebrew words describing death actually mean. For further study, read The End of the Beginning, Chapter 29: “The Three Doors,” elsewhere on this website.) The bottom line is that failure to repent (to change direction, to think differently about God’s gift) will, at the very least, separate you from Christ’s grace forever. In light of the blessed eternity that’s so freely available to us, that’s a terrible tragedy. 

Under another heading above, we read, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) This brings up another facet of the repentance process. If we’re to “think differently” than we used to, that invariably entails coming to think differently from the way the world around us does. Blessed is the person (like me) who was raised by believing parents. Yes, we still have to repent, but at least we can perceive what we’re repenting from, and to whom we’re turning. To most of the world, however, the process requires an extreme spiritual epiphany—the shocking realization that your whole philosophical outlook was based on a lie of one sort or another. 

Elsewhere, Yahshua elaborated. “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able….” To enter what? In context, the discussion was about “How many will be saved?” So we’re talking about entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Salvation by grace through faith is available to any honest seeker as long as he draws breath, but you can’t attain it if you’re not willing to leave the broad highway of manmade religion and “conventional wisdom,” and pass instead through the “narrow gate” of God’s truth. 

Why won’t “many” be able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Because the broad highway upon which they’re travelling doesn’t go on forever. It “dead ends” into a couple of hard realities. First, there’s the issue of our own limited longevity. And second, God has placed a limit on the tenure of fallen man (and subsequently, our opportunity for repentance). The Sabbath Law plainly states that we only have six days to work, followed by the day of rest, the Sabbath, the day upon which no one may work. It may all seems pretty esoteric until we realize that (1) the “work” of God is to “believe in the One whom He sent” (Yahshua—see John 6:29), (2) “entering the narrow gate” is a metaphorical description of this belief, (3) with God, one day is equivalent to a thousand years (II Peter 3:8), and (4) we have blown through most of our allotted six thousand years since Adam’s fall: we have only a very short window of time left before the sun sets on this age, after which the Sabbath (the thousand-year reign of Christ) will begin. 

And what will happen to the unrepentant at that time? “When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity….’” Between the separation of the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) and the Great White Throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15), there will be a lot of this sort of thing going on: people presuming, for one reason or another, that they’re “good with God,” only to be reminded—far too late—that they never repented. 

The Jews especially have had a tendency to assume that they’re automatically citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, because they are (biologically, anyway) God’s “chosen people.” But Yahshua informs them, “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. They [the gentiles—gasp!] will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:24-30) It will turn out that the Jews were not (as they presumed) “chosen” to be the exclusive recipients of Yahweh’s salvation, but chosen rather to be tasked with rehearsing God’s plan of redemption through keeping the rites of the Torah, so the rest of the world (we gentiles) could observe, understand, and praise God. But who will be welcomed into the Kingdom? Those who entered by the narrow gate, who believed in Him whom Yahweh sent—who repented

We began this section by noting that Yahshua “began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” As His fame (and the numbers of His followers) increased, He sent out “advance teams” so that His message of repentance wouldn’t come as a complete shock. “After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. Then He said to them, ‘The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest….’” Once again, we see that God prefers to use people—flawed and inadequate as we are—to spread His word of hope and salvation. And He specifically directs the people who are spreading the word to ask Him for more people to help them reap His harvest. 

It is revealing to contrast this “campaign” against the conquest of Canaan under Joshua and the Judges. Then, it was “Don’t worry about your own strength or numbers, for I, Yahweh, go before you into battle against My enemies.” But this time, the quarry were not enemies but potential brothers, invited to become fellow citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. God didn’t want to drive them out, but invite them in. So He gave His followers the privilege of going before Him, announcing His coming. This pattern would persist throughout the church age, giving way to angelic messengers (e.g., Revelation 14:6-11) only after the rapture of the church—i.e., when there was nobody was left to labor in the fields. 

This is not to say we harvest laborers wouldn’t encounter any opposition. Quite the contrary. Yahshua warned us of what awaited: “Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves….” The target audience would have been characterized as “lost sheep.” The “wolves,” then, are those who would proactively attempt to prevent people from hearing, receiving, and benefitting from the Gospel of Christ. The laborers, meanwhile, are called “lambs,” indicating that they are (and are to remain) innocent, harmless, and incapable of self-defense. Why? Because the Good Shepherd is nearby, looking out for their interests. He—Yahshua—will take care of the wolves. 

He continues: “Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you….’” “Preparedness” for these lamb-laborers was to consist solely of trust in the Shepherd’s provision. His reputation and Spirit would open doors and hearts as the disciples traveled from place to place. It must be noted, however, that as the Shepherd prepared to become the Lamb of God Himself (thereby depriving His disciples of His physical presence), Yahshua altered the instructions: while continuing to trust Him, the disciples were to prepare ahead of time, for both provision and defense. It was going to be a long, rough, two-thousand-year mission trip for us. (See Luke 22:35-38, quoted above). The message, however, was not to change: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” 

And what were they to do if their message was rejected? Go to war? Call down fiery curses from heaven? No, just move on to the next likely destination, the next flock of lost sheep. “But whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, ‘The very dust of your city which clings to us we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you.’ But I say to you that it will be more tolerable in that Day for Sodom than for that city…. He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” (Luke 10:1-12, 16; cf. Matthew 10:11-15; cf. Mark 6:10-12) In the recounting of these instructions in Matthew 10, it is pretty clear (at least to me) that He means these instructions to apply especially to the 144,000 Tribulation witnesses of Revelation 7 and 14, as they canvass Last-Days Israel in anticipation of Christ’s second coming. (Verse 23 is the key to this notion, where He talks about “not reaching all of the towns in Israel before the Son of Man comes.”) Whether past, present, or future though, the message is to repent—plead with people to think differently about Yahweh and His Messiah. 

Yahweh’s aim has always been to keep His people holy, separate from the world. But during my lifetime, and probably for much longer, it has been a common goal among men to “fit in,” to compromise, to be a bit cagey about what they believe for fear of paying the price for having taken an unpopular stand. “Politically correct” fence-sitting has become a fine art. Never mind that this “Laodicean” mindset—being neither hot nor cold in matters of faith—makes Yahshua want to puke (see Revelation 3:16). But as we approach the end of the age, it appears that God is once again actively “dividing the sheep from the goats,” separating those who are His from those who are of the world. “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things?...” Part of repentance for the believer is to honestly and unabashedly proclaim his faith in Christ, rather than hedging his bets, hoping he won’t be noticed, singled out, or ostracized. 

What we believe—that which drives us, inspires us, and orders our footsteps—invariably finds an outlet in our speech and behavior. So Yahshua says, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:33-37) Do our words honor the God we say we follow, or do they sound harsh and hateful, even if they’re true? “Talking trash” about the perceived enemies of God is a bad habit that’s very easy for a Christian to fall into, especially in this era of social media. These are people for whom Christ died. Should we be telling them to “go to hell”? No. We should be inviting them to join us in heaven. 

So He says, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5) Yes, we may be “better” than habitual murderers and child molesters—or at least less lethal to the society in which we live. But before God, we are all sinners, and one sin is as efficacious as any other in separating us from Him. 

Note that repentance isn’t only for the lost. We who rely upon Christ are also called upon to repent. In terms symbolized by the layout of the wilderness tabernacle, we must first visit the altar (indicating salvation through Christ’s sacrifice), and then avail ourselves of the bronze laver of cleansing (where a believer’s works and walk are cleansed), before we can enter the Holy Place, where the light shines, God provides, and fellowship with God takes place. 

The provocative question, then, is “What impresses God?” What does He consider “great” qualities in people? Remarkably, Yahshua addressed that very issue: “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’” They were no doubt thinking in terms of piety, obedience, alms, self-sacrifice, perseverance, or faith—the sorts of things the patriarchs and prophets were known for. But His answer was quite unexpected: “Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven….” The “humility” of little children comes naturally. They know intuitively (or maybe just because they’re shorter) that they are not equals with their parents, but are subject to them. They are not peers, but dependents; not order givers, but instruction receivers. And if things are as they were meant to be, they rely upon their parents, knowing that they are loved, cared for, fed, clothed, taught, and yes, disciplined. 

I have no doubt that the majority of children in this world are loved (and all the rest) by their parents, for it is only natural to do so—to follow the impulses for the care of our offspring that God hard-wired into us. That being said, child abuse of one sort or another has become endemic in these Last Days. And I’m afraid it’s not just more thorough news reporting, either, nor is it limited to the “obvious” travesties like physical or psychological abuse, neglect, and sexual exploitation. It’s also the hidden factors we seldom consider. The most heinous, of course, is the practice of abortion, in which one out of four children in this world are murdered in the womb before they even get the chance to breathe God’s air—45 million souls butchered every single year. If they do make it into the world, we give them dozens of semi-poisonous vaccines—most of them entirely unnecessary—causing an epidemic of autism and other neurological disorders. If they survive that, we feed them junk food laden with sugar and GMOs, bereft of the nutritional value that would have been “automatic” a couple of generations ago. We relinquish our responsibility for their education to “professionals,” who often teach them nothing but how to be cogs in the socialist machine. We let society blur the distinction between the sexes. We abdicate our spiritual duties when scripture plainly teaches that we are to train up our children. Need I go on? 

We are called to proactively raise our children in the nurture and admonition of Yahweh, starting them on a lifelong path of spiritual awareness, reverence for God, respect for all people, confidence, honesty, justice, mercy, and love. Yahshua said, “Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.” (Matthew 18:1-5; cf. Mark 9:33-37, Mark 10:13-16; cf. Luke 9:46-48) To “receive” here (Greek: dechomai) means to welcome or accept, to be receptive. Literally, it means “to take by the hand,” hence, to show hospitality, to embrace, take upon oneself, endure, not to refuse contact or friendship, etc. (See Thayer.) To do this “in Christ’s name” implies recognition that He has done this very thing for us, despite our shortcomings, despite the inconvenience we represent to those around us. 

You needn’t take this hyper-literally, as my wife and I did when we adopted nine of our eleven children—several of whom had been abused or neglected or abandoned before we got them, or were suffering from profound handicaps that no one (especially their birth parents) wanted to deal with. We were all too aware that by receiving them, we were receiving Christ Himself into our home. But at its foundation, this precept simply means to go out of your way to support and receive those displaying childlike faith—whether they’re your own children or not—being very careful not to lead them astray. As the Psalmist says, “Yahweh preserves the simple.” (Psalm 116:6) 

More on the subject: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!... Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 18:6-7, 10; cf. Mark 9:42) It’s bad enough to sin ourselves, though we all do so. It is a special kind of bad to purposely lead an innocent away from God’s path. A few random examples: (1) Strapping a bomb vest onto a youth and sending him into a crowded street to die for the “glory of Allah.” (2) Suggesting to a child that he or she is not really of the gender that his or her genitalia would indicate. (3) Engaging in pedophilia (I can’t even believe there’s a word for it). (4) Teaching children that there is no Creator, that the universe came into being by accident, and that life nevertheless automatically evolves steadily upward. The list of abuses could be extended practically forever, but I think we all get the point. 

Yahshua told several parables contrasting “two sons” to demonstrate the nature of repentance. “‘What do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, “Son, go, work today in my vineyard.” He answered and said, “I will not,” but afterward he regretted it and went….” The word translated “regret” here is similar to the word for “repent” we saw earlier (metanoeo, meaning “to change one’s mind or purpose,” derived from meta, “changed,” and noieo, “to think.”) This time the word is metamelomai, from meta again, plus melo, meaning “to care or be concerned with”—so the word means “to change what you care about.” Not surprisingly, metamelomai is another way of looking at repentance. 

Meanwhile, back in the parable, “Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, “I go, sir,” but he did not go.” This reaction would be best described as hypocrisy. “Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said to Him, ‘The first.’” Precisely. Even though the first son was slow and reluctant to do his father’s will, in the end, he did as he was asked. So Yahshua drew the conclusion for his audience, who, like the second son, were only pretending to serve Father Yahweh. “Jesus said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you [scribes and Pharisees]. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent [metamelomai again] and believe him.’” (Matthew 21:28-32) Whether repentance is characterized as “changing one’s mind” or “changing one’s heart” (and in truth, it’s invariably a bit of both), we must turn from self-reliance to God-reliance if we expect to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. 

A second parable demonstrating repentance is the lengthy and familiar story of the “Prodigal Son.” This time, they’re identified as the younger and the elder. The oldest son in this culture had certain privileges—a double portion of the inheritance and de facto leadership of the family upon the father’s demise. It wasn’t exactly the primogeniture practiced in Renaissance Europe (in which the eldest son got everything) but it was a step in that direction—a custom designed to keep the family inheritance lands intact, while avoiding impoverishing the younger sons in the process. In Europe, younger sons—being cut off financially—typically left home and pursued their prospects elsewhere, typically becoming knights or soldiers of fortune in the employ of royalty, even in distant lands. 

“A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’” This was allowed, but considered “bad form” prior to the father’s death. “So he divided to them his livelihood.” There were only two sons, so one third of the estate went to the youngest, who “cashed out.” Everything else, including the land, fell to the eldest. “And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living….” Because fortune hadn’t smiled on him with “eldest-son” status, the younger son felt “underprivileged.” This might be an unwarranted extrapolation, since we aren’t told, but it’s possible that the elder brother was arrogant and insufferable, never passing up an opportunity to remind the younger of his “second-class” status. There isn’t a hint of animosity between the younger son and his father, but the eldest son’s proud attitude leaks into the narrative later in the story. There was clearly no love lost between them. I would venture that repentance—from both sons—was indicated, even before the kid took off. 

His inheritance seemed like a small fortune to him, and perhaps he even invested some of it so he could live on it indefinitely. In a rising “bull” market, it seems like a sound strategy. Or maybe he didn’t plan ahead at all, and spent his money like there was no tomorrow. Between my generation and my children’s, that seems to be the trend: my wife and I learned frugality and prudence from our parents—who were children of the Great Depression. But our children perceived none of the struggle and hard work we did, seeing only the prosperity that resulted from it. And they are therefore less able to weather financial adversity than we were, no matter how much, or how little, they earn. Anyway, in the parable, hard times finally hit (as they invariably do), catching the free-spending younger son flat-footed. “But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything….” He had fallen from having the illusion of prosperity to the harsh reality of poverty, which is not nearly as much fun as doing it the other way ’round. 

Sometimes, we have to hit rock bottom before it occurs to us to look up. And that’s what happened here. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father….” Here is the first point of the parable: repentance. He was still comparing himself to others, which under any circumstances is not a healthy practice. But at least it got him thinking. He was (he presumed) no longer qualified to be his father’s son: that bridge had been burned. The pigs he had been hired to feed were eating better than he was: that had to sting a bit. But then he remembered what he used to consider “fly-over country” in his world, not worthy of a second glance—the servants and hired help in his father’s house. They didn’t have much money or status, no lands or cattle of their own, and yet they were gainfully employed, had a steady paycheck, good working conditions, and job security. Suddenly, in light of his recent setbacks, that sort of life didn’t look so bad. So “Plan D” (after presumption, profligacy, and poverty) was to return home and apply for a job. 

If the repentance of the younger son had been the only point of the story, it would have ended right there. But there are others whose reactions we must consider. First, the father: “But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’” He had rehearsed that little speech a hundred times, hoping against hope that his father would accept his apology. “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found….’” The point here is that you can’t lose your relationship through bad behavior. The son would remain a son. What had been broken was fellowship, contact, intimacy—but not the familial bond with the father that defined who the son really was. Fellowship can be restored, but only through the mechanism of repentance. 

Note that the father was actively looking for his son—he spotted him coming from a long way away. But he hadn’t left his estate to chase after him, to drag him back against his own free will. The choice to repent—to change his mind and turn around—was the prerogative and privilege of the son alone. But once the son had made that choice, the father was overjoyed—more that eager to welcome him back into the household—not as a servant, but as a son. Yes, he had squandered his inheritance, and that would not be magically restored to him, for to do so would have been to rob the elder brother of what rightfully belonged to him. But the younger son was home, safe and sound, and he would share a seat at his father’s table. Today, that was enough: it was time to celebrate his return. Tomorrow, he would work for his father, for their interests aligned. As one of the “arrows in his father’s quiver” (see Psalm 127:5), he would represent the family once again before the world. 

The father held no grudges, but for some reason, the elder son did. “And they began to be merry. Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ But he was angry and would not go in….” The son’s reaction was totally different from that of his father. Forgiveness, it turns out, is an indicator of love—and we are required by God’s law to love our fellow man. The father, who had been offended, was willing to forgive his repentant son. But the elder son, who had not been wronged, was nevertheless unwilling to forgive. Was it misplaced zeal for the father’s interests? Or was it a subtle way of usurping the father’s authority? One thing is clear: if God is willing to forgive someone’s trespasses against Him—if He loved the world so much that He was willing to die to atone for our sins—then we dare not judge the sincerity of repentant souls who apply to Him for forgiveness, even if they’re covered in tattoos, don’t know how to dress for church, are fighting off addictions, or slip into vulgar language patterns now and then. 

It is at this point that the allegorical aspects of the parable begin to make themselves evident. It would appear that we’re not just talking about individuals being repentant or forgiving. I’m not alone when I notice a subtle prophecy here: the father is Yahweh; the elder brother is Israel; the prodigal son is the gentile world—we who would largely comprise the church that Israel (as a nation) refused to enter; and the servants are the prophets and apostles. The narrative continues: “Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends….” 

Okay, so the Jews are not exactly being honest with themselves. This is a blend of wishful thinking, revisionist history, and an ungrateful attitude. Did they think Yahweh had hauled them off to Assyria and Babylon for no good reason? Did they think the occupying Romans were stronger than their God? A quick review of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 reveals that the predicted consequences for “not obeying the voice of Yahweh your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes” had come to pass in every grim detail. If Israel thought they had “never transgressed the Father’s commandment,” they were hallucinating—and calling Yahweh a liar. 

The parable concludes: “But as soon as this son of yours [note the eldest’s seething contempt] came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15:11-32) Israel was incensed at the idea that their God would have anything to do with the gentiles—these pagan sinners who had rejected Him for so long. Never mind that the Tanakh is peppered with prophetic references to the coming redemption of the nations. The father (i.e., The Father) did not deny that the younger son (the gentiles) had behaved badly. He did not ignore our transgression—He forgave it. Our repentance—our change of mind and heart toward God—was the mechanism that made our spiritual resurrection and reconciliation possible. 

So there are three parallel epiphanies here: (1) That we gentiles (well, some of us) would repent and return to our Creator God—forming the church, the ekklesia, the called-out assembly of Christ. (2) That our sibling Israel would react to our repentance so negatively, especially during the centuries between Rabbi Akiba (ca. 130 AD) and the restoration of the Nation of Israel (in 1948), when they began to wake up to the fact that Evangelical Christianity was the only real friend they had in this world. It’s worth mentioning that the Song of Songs allegory pictures the “daughters of Jerusalem” (the Jews) as being enthusiastically in favor of Solomon’s (i.e., Yahshua’s) love match with the Shulamite maiden (the church) when their union is finally consummated, during the kingdom age. (Granted, the imagery is pretty esoteric.) And (3), that Yahweh (the Father) would so enthusiastically and generously welcome us sinners back into His family, especially after our foolish betrayal. Most “belief systems” envision God as their adversary, someone whom they must appease and mollify if they want to be blessed. But the truth revealed here is that Yahweh, the one True God, is longing to redeem and restore us fallen mortals—all of us, not just those who fancy themselves worthy of his mercy. His awesome love is surely the greatest epiphany of all.

***

As witnessed by the equipment specified for the tabernacle courtyard, there are actually two types of repentance in God’s view—both of which are necessary for a successful spiritual life. Before one could enter the tabernacle proper, he would first come upon the altar of sacrifice, where the innocent would be slain to atone for the sins of the guilty. This is a picture of our salvation through God’s grace—the transition from lost to saved. But then he would encounter the bronze laver, holding water with which he was to wash his hands (symbolic of his works) and his feet (his walk). Only then could he enter the sanctuary, the Holy Place, metaphorical of the believer’s life, where light, provision, and prayer leads to the very presence of God. 

So in addition to the repentance that leads to salvation for the lost, repentance for cleansing is also necessary for people who are already believers. It would be great if salvation instantaneously brought with it a state of lifelong sinlessness, but alas, it doesn’t work that way. The Torah lists all sorts of unavoidable factors that can “ritually defile” someone. The remedy is usually something like “wash your clothing and remain unclean until evening.” “Clothing” is symbolically indicative of “how God sees us,” and “evening,” I’m afraid, is a thinly veiled euphemism for physical death. In other words, although we’re truly saved by the blood of the Lamb, and although God chooses not to see our sins because we’re dressed in clean, white robes of imputed righteousness, we aren’t going to actually be sinless as long as we inhabit these fallen mortal bodies. Praise God, our new resurrection bodies, patterned after Christ’s, will be sinless—incapable of corruption: see I Corinthians 15:35-58 for the specs. 

Repentance for cleansing is a recurring theme in Christ’s letters to the seven churches recorded in Revelation 2 and 3. There are valuable lessons to be learned from each letter, and they should be pondered individually. But considered in retrospect, the profiles of these seven local assemblies seem to trace the broad history of the church from the apostolic age to the present—and beyond. The sad fact is that five of the seven were admonished to repent—to think differently about how they were practicing their faith. There were serious flaws endemic in their approach to Christianity which if not dealt with would destroy their witness in the world—making the church in that place irrelevant, and eventually non-existent. 

Of the seven, only two were not admonished to repent. The church at Smyrna was suffering great persecution for their faith—both from the Romans and the Jews—and they were encouraged to be fearless and faithful, even unto death. But Christ mentioned nothing that called for repentance. Smyrna represents the post-apostolic age, basically the second and third centuries, although it still exists wherever Christians are systematically persecuted for their faith. The second church that did not need to be admonished to repent was that of Philadelphia—essentially the faithful guardians of the Word of God during these Last Days (although, as I said, all seven of these profiles existed in John’s day and throughout the church age). Philadelphia too was troubled by unbelieving Jews, but was encouraged to persevere and overcome. If you’ll recall, we discussed both of these profiles under the heading “Do Not Worry or Fear.” 

The other five, however, had fallen into patterns of malaise, compromise, or outright apostasy—things from which they needed to repent if they were to continue being counted among the called-out assemblies of Christ. In the first three of these (Ephesus, Pergamos, and Thyatira), Yahshua makes a point of encouraging them to continue doing what they’re doing right—their works, love, service, faith, and patience—while pointing out where they’ve swerved off course, requiring repentance. Sardis was on life support—in a spiritual coma, so to speak. All they had was a lingering reputation of good works, one that was no longer applicable, truth be told. And Yahshua had nothing good at all to say about Laodicea, the last church on the list—though He still held out hope for her repentance and restoration. I haven’t quoted the whole letters, only the parts in which Christ admonishes the churches to repent. 

(1) To Ephesus: “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent [metanoeo] and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:4-5) The church of the apostolic age fought off heresy and false teachers—not an easy thing to do during a time when Christian doctrine was as fresh as the writings of the New Testament. But they had grown so busy “getting it right,” they had forgotten why it mattered. The “first works” consisted of the epiphany of Christ’s finished work: “The work of God is to believe in Him whom He sent.” The believers at Ephesus were not in danger of losing their individual salvation, but their assembly was at risk of ceasing to be the light to the world that they had once been. Modern churches who exist solely for the purpose of doing good works in their communities—while ignoring the saving work of Christ—run the same risk. Feeding the poor is of little permanent value if you fail to mention that Christ died for their sins. 

(2) To Pergamos: “But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.” (Revelation 2:14-16) Here we see the first hints of compromise between the church and the pagan world. Pergamos was a city given over to idolatry and lasciviousness (think: San Francisco), making it hard enough to live like a Christian there under any circumstances—holy, godly, and unsoiled by the practices of the world. 

Balaam, you’ll recall (Numbers 22-25), was the “prophet” who was hired by Balak, king of Moab, to curse the Israelites during the wilderness wanderings. But Balaam found that he could not curse them, so he used another means to earn his fee: he suggested that the Moabite women be sent in to seduce the Israelite men by joining them in Ba’al worship—in effect getting Israel to curse Yahweh. And the ploy worked, after a fashion. The Nicolaitans (followers of Nicolaus of Antioch) were a group who, like Balaam, recommended compromise with pagans. His idea was to make it easier for Christians to participate in the cultural life of their communities, heading off persecution and isolation. Of course, this invariably led to doctrinal compromise and a loosening of morals—not to enhanced opportunities for ministry. It is also suggested that the Nicolaitans promoted the concept of an ecclesiastical hierarchy in church structure, rather than the simple servant-based pastoral arrangement described by Paul and Peter. This sort of top-heavy church government has led to untold abuses and apostasy within the Roman Catholic Church over the centuries. 

(3) To Thyatira: “Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.” (Revelation 2:20-22) The slide toward apostasy continued with Thyatira, where a woman (or perhaps a faction) pushed the pagan program outlined in the letter. It’s worth noting that in the Torah, sexual immorality is used as a euphemism for idolatry; whether that is literally true or not here is immaterial. The church is (at the very least) taken to task for their timid, politically correct deference to “Jezebel’s” corrupting influence in their midst. Ellicot notes, “It seems best to view the name as symbolical, always remembering that the Jezebel spirit of proud, self-constituted authority, vaunting claims of superior holiness, or higher knowledge, linked with a disregard of—and perhaps a proud contempt for—‘legalism,’ and followed by open immorality, has again and again run riot in the churches of God.” 

(4) To Sardis: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.” (Revelation 3:1-3) Sardis represents the church at its spiritual nadir—virtually dead as a witness to the world of the saving grace of Christ. They had the scriptures, but they followed their own rules and traditions instead, substituting dead religion in place of a living familial relationship with God. They still named the name of Christ, but only out of habit and custom; they still did good works, but had forgotten why—they were done not out of love, but out of duty and cultural pressure. 

That last sentence is intriguing. Looking ahead to the faithful Church of Philadelphia, it is clear that they (we) will comprise the profile of the church of the rapture (see Revelation 3:10). We are looking forward to it, expectantly awaiting the return of our beloved Savior. But the rapture will catch Sardis totally by surprise. They are not watching, for they have neglected their scriptures in favor of a “social gospel” that is largely manmade. Their ranks will be thinned by the rapture, for there are still some genuine believers there, but the remainder will be caught flat-footed, scratching their heads. 

(4) To Laodicea: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” (Revelation 3:15-21) Laodicea is the only church on the list about which Yahshua didn’t have one good thing to say. If I’m seeing this correctly, at the time of the rapture Laodicea will have no believers at all. So the type of repentance to which they’re being called, in terms of the tabernacle courtyard, is that of the altar of sacrifice, not the laver of cleansing. 

And yet, I expect the Church of Laodicea to be the most populous of them all in the end. Why? Because these will come to faith after the rapture of the church. In fact, I believe the rapture itself—in which hundreds of millions of people (I hope) suddenly disappear from the face of the earth without leaving a trace—will speak to them more eloquently about God’s saving grace than any theological argument ever could. The world, after all, will be a very different place after the Philadelphians are gone—taking with them the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit. Why, they’ll muse, is everything suddenly so nasty and dangerous in the post-rapture world? It’s because the Christians are gone, leaving no one on earth who’s motivated purely by love and indwelled with God’s Holy Spirit. Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory will now be the rule, but alas, it will manifest itself as the “survival of the most brutal, violent, selfish, and corrupt.” 

Another epiphany: I don’t expect the Laodiceans to be comprised primarily of repentant pretend-Christians. Sure, there will be some shocked and dismayed Sardians and Thyatirans among them. But I expect the ranks of the Church of Repentant Laodicea to be filled with ex-atheists, former agnostics, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists—anyone and everyone who suddenly realizes that in the post-Christian world, they are “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked,” and that they are in need of salvation, something only Christ can provide. 

This mass repentance is a good-news bad-news story, I’m afraid. On the “good” side, it means these folks have taken Yahshua’s advice to “buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see…. Be zealous and repent.” Their repentance, though belated, has given them what every believer of every age has had: immutable purity, imputed righteousness, and clear spiritual vision. 

The bad news is that they’ll be living during a time when the “whole world” has sold its soul to the antichrist and his false god—Satan. The Laodicean believers will have no power against the forces of evil: the antichrist will have authority over “every tribe, tongue, and nation.” (See Revelation 13:7-8; Daniel 12:7.) The new saints will be martyred in the millions—“a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’… These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10, 14) 

So although the Church of Laodicea is comprised entirely of people who will come to faith after the technical end of the church age (i.e., the rapture), they are still called a “church”—Greek: ekklesia: an assembly, congregation; from ek (out of) and kaleo (to call), hence literally “the called-out.” By the way, the English word “church” is derived from the Greek word kyriakos, meaning “belonging to the Lord” (kyrios), but this is not the word the Greek scriptures use. The point is that the Repentant Laodiceans, whether martyred or not, will be counted among the saints of the Millennial age.


Observe God’s Timing

One of the greatest surprises I got when studying Yahweh’s prophecies (a work presented elsewhere on this website: The End of the Beginning), was that God is on a schedule—a fact that becomes pretty obvious when you consider the heavy-handed symbolic hints He laid down in the Torah: the Sabbath Law, the seven “Feasts of Yahweh,” etc. Until I opened my eyes to these truths, my thinking on the subject (like yours, no doubt) had been shaped by a couple of half-verses taken out of context, like “No one knows the day or the hour….” Sound familiar? But Yahshua was not telling us that we were not to inquire about God’s schedule, nor was He saying that we can’t know anything about it ahead of time. He was referring (in this instance) specifically to the date of the rapture—something hidden for our own good. 

As we shall see, Yahshua was always aware of what time it was—and what needed to be said or done at the precise moment. His advent had to take place during the fourth millennium of man. (Compare Genesis 1:14-19 to Malachi 4:2 and ask “When is the sun supposed to become visible?”) The triumphal entry had to take place on the 10th day of Nisan (see Exodus 12:3); the crucifixion had to conclude at twilight on Nisan 14 (Passover, a.k.a. Preparation Day—see Exodus 12:6), our sins had to be removed on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the 15th, and Christ had to rise from the dead on the 16th, the Feast of Firstfruits. He was, after all, fulfilling prophecies that had been built into Torah Law—even if nobody else on earth understood what was going on. 

And what about His second advent? Most of Christ’s actual instructions concerning the timing aspects of the Last Days (and there isn’t much) are contained in the Olivet Discourse—a lesson delivered to four of His disciples on Wednesday or Thursday of the Passion Week (i.e., right before His crucifixion). He begins by saying, “You’ll know when the time is growing close.” “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors!...” The “all these things” statement refers to what He’d just told them about conditions on earth that we’d see as the end approached: false christs, wars and rumors of war, famine, disease, seismic turbulence, hatred toward believers, betrayal, false prophets, lawlessness, and universal awareness (which is not to say universal acceptance) of the Gospel—all things we’re seeing today. 

The “fig tree” is an oft-used metaphor for Israel, so His next statement helps us pin down the timeframe a bit more closely: “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away….” It’s not much of an extrapolation to see “this generation” as the generation that sees the rebirth of Israel as a nation after the better part of two millennia in exile. That happened in 1948, so I think we can state with some certainty that the last person on earth born on or before May 14, 1948 will not have died before God’s Last-Days program is complete. I’ll leave it to you to do the math. Just note that our imperatives here are to (1) learn the parable of the fig tree, and (2) know that the time is near. 

So far so good. But here is where Yahshua threw in that disconcerting little wrinkle. “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” Note the Greek: the word is eido: to perceive. He didn’t really say we wouldn’t “know” the hour, only that we wouldn’t see it coming. But what event was He referring to? Let’s face it: the whole process will take seven years to complete, plus whatever gap there is between the rapture and the commencement of the Kingdom age—which could be several years. So without taking a breath, He goes on to describe “that day.” “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left….” 

He’s describing business as usual. Yes, the days of Noah were totally corrupt, in which “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5) But (like today) people got used to it and went about their lives, while the gap between godly and wicked widened and became ever more distinct. Based on the information provided concerning the coming Tribulation, especially the unprecedented events prophesied in the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments of the Book of Revelation, this cannot be describing the Tribulation, a.k.a. the Time of Jacob’s Trouble, during which well over half of the earth’s population will die. No, this describes the period of corrupt normalcy that will precede the rapture of the church. The Holy Spirit will still be restraining evil; and the church of Philadelphia will still have “a little strength” (see Revelation 3:8). The rapture will change all of that, even if the Tribulation proper (which starts with a specific sign) doesn’t take place for a while. 

So what are we instructed to do? “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming [that is, coming for His church, His bride]. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into….” It’s a study in role reversals. Satan, not Yahweh, is called the “prince of this world.” (See John 16:11.) He is the “master of the house” that Christ is “breaking into” here at the rapture. Yahshua is the “thief in the night” who’s coming back to retrieve what’s His. “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:32-44; cf. Mark 13:28-37; Luke 21:29-36) It is as if we, the Bride of Christ, are being held against our will in this world, and our Husband Yahshua is coming back suddenly and unexpectedly (at least to our captor) to rescue us from his evil intentions. We know He’s coming; we just don’t know when, for He can’t tell us without informing our kidnapper. Think of Him as a one-Man SWAT team with a no-knock warrant. We need to stay awake and alert, resisting the temptation to cooperate with our abductor out of a misplaced sense of self-preservation. 

But what about the Jews, who have not come to faith prior to rapture day? Scripture is replete with promises that Israel will be redeemed and restored—it is the single most oft-repeated prophetic theme in the entire Tanakh. Yahshua had some instructions specifically for them as well: “But when you [remember—the disciples to whom He was talking represent both Christians and Jews] see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.” (Luke 21:20-22; cf. Mark 13:14-18; Matthew 24:15-22) There are actually two timeframes in which this admonition is germane. 

First, a Judean revolt against Rome in 67AD precipitated a siege against Jerusalem that ended (in 70) with its total destruction—including the razing of the temple. Tens of thousands of Jewish Christians heeded the Christ’s warning and left town at the first sign of trouble. Those who stayed either died or were captured and sold as slaves. Even before His crucifixion, Yahshua knew what would happen to Jerusalem in the wake of their unbelief: “Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:41-44) Knowing exactly what will happen, when, and why, is more a curse than a blessing. I’m glad I don’t have the gift of prophecy: it would be far too painful. 

Second, during the Tribulation, Jerusalem will be the focus of everyone’s attention—a “cup of trembling,” as Zechariah calls it. It will be surrounded by armies several times during the Time of Jacob’s Trouble. Yahshua’s commandment is to flee to the hills, for God’s vengeance is about to descend on the place. The Jews will be able return to the city during the last few days of the Tribulation, for they (some of them) will be present to witness the return of Christ—the King of Glory—to the Mount of Olives (see Zechariah 14:4, Acts 1:11-12). 

An essential part of “being watchful” is scouring the scriptures for the information God meant for us to have concerning His schedule. It’s a big job, for there are thousands of Last Days references, both blatant and subtle. I have done the heavy lifting for you. I’ve tracked down every yet-to-be-fulfilled prophecy in the entire Bible (along with the background material necessary for our proper understanding) and published it all free in a four-volume work elsewhere on this website: The End of the Beginning. For the specifics on God’s schedule, see the appendix section, Volume 4—especially Appendix 1: “Biblical Chronology.” (Hint: read fast—you’re running out of time.)  

That being said, the specifics of God’s schedule (once the resurrection was behind us) were a very low priority for most of the church age. Knowing what God would do was important; knowing when, not so much. So just before His ascension, Yahshua told His disciples that there were more important things to attend to: “And He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8) Ten days later, on the Feast of Weeks (a.k.a. Pentecost), that power was received, as the Holy Spirit came upon the assembled believers, as recorded in Acts 2. To the extent that we believers have allowed it to function in our lives, that same Spirit empowers us today.

***

During His entire first-advent ministry, Yahshua kept an eye on the clock, so to speak. That is, He knew that certain things would be appropriate (or required) at one point in time that would not be either earlier or later. The first hint we have that He knew exactly what was going on (and when) is an incident recorded at the end of Luke 2, in which Yahshua, as a twelve year old bar mitzvah boy, remained in Jerusalem after the Passover celebration in order to discuss the word of God with the teachers of the Law. He stayed there in the temple for three whole days, blissfully unaware that His parents were searching frantically for Him, as He asked the rabbis question after insightful question about the scriptures. When Mary and Joseph finally found Him, it was as if He just assumed they’d know He had to “be about His Father’s business,” a reference to Yahweh’s work, not Joseph’s. I have no doubt that Joseph, the boy’s adoptive father, understood immediately what Yahshua was saying: He was twelve years old now—practically a full-grown man. His Father Yahweh was the One whose “business” He had to pursue from this time forward. It wasn’t an insult or slight to Joseph; it was just reality. 

When He turned thirty (the age at which a priest’s “apprenticeship” ended and his full-time duties began), Yahshua took the appropriate steps to inaugurate His own ministry: “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?’ But Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he allowed Him.” (Matthew 3:13-15) John the Baptist was a priest himself, in addition to being the first prophet to show up in Israel in the past four centuries. His mother and Yahshua’s were close cousins, so John was well aware of the miraculous family “back story,” as well as Yahshua’s uniquely sinless character. John was baptizing people to demonstrate their repentance; he knew that Yahshua had nothing from which to repent. But it was time for Yahshua to provide a physical sign associating Himself with sinful humanity—we whose sins He would take upon Himself. From this point forward, baptism meant less about “washing our sins away” than it did “dying to them and rising from this death as a new creation.” 

Immediately after this, Yahshua allowed Himself to be tempted by Satan, and John, being a prophet, began saying things that got him in trouble with the “wrong people.” “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’” (Mark 1:14-15) “The time is fulfilled”? What did that mean? (1) The “fourth day” of creation had been marked by the appearance of the sun, and Malachi (in 4:2) had informed Israel that the “Sun of Righteousness would appear with healing in his wings.” Though nobody had done the math, the fact is, they were rapidly approaching the end of the fourth millennium since the fall of Adam—the starting gun for Yahweh’s plan of redemption. Christ’s subsequent (and numerous) healings would validate His identity as the Sun of Righteousness. (2) The Daniel 9 prophecy had pinpointed the very date of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem—Nisan 10, in 33 AD, after which “Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself.” (Daniel 9:26) That date was now only about three years off—though again, nobody had done the math on it. But Yahshua knew. 

Due to His teaching and His miracles, it is not surprising that over the next three years there would be many who would conclude that Yahshua was indeed sent from God, and should therefore be declared Israel’s king so He could overthrow the hated Romans. But Yahshua knew two things they didn’t: (1) His time had not yet come, and (2) His mission (this time) was not to rule, but to be the sacrifice that would redeem the world. Yes, there had been a plethora of prophecies describing a reigning King, but those were for another time, another advent. First things first. 

Even His brothers (well, half-brothers, the children of Mary and Joseph: James, Joses, Jude and Simon) got into the act, urging their admittedly special older brother to “take the bull by the horns,” so to speak. “Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. His brothers therefore said to Him, ‘Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.’ For even His brothers did not believe in Him.” That is, they weren’t trusting Him for their salvation, not having recognized (yet) that Yahshua was the actual Son of God, with all that entailed. “Then Jesus said to them, ‘My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil. You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come.’” (John 7:2-8) Come Passover, 33AD, you wouldn’t be able to hold Him back. But He had no choice but to adhere to Yahweh’s timetable. His brothers didn’t understand. But Yahshua knew. 

Again: “Therefore they sought to take Him.” In this instance the crowd wanted to take and stone him for His temerity. “But no one laid a hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come.” Several times during His ministry, Yahshua was miraculously protected so He could die later, at the right time, in the right way, for the right reason. “And many of the people believed in Him, and said, ‘When the Christ comes, will He do more signs than these which this Man has done?’” (John 7:30-31) Confronted with Yahshua, folks invariably came to one of two conclusions: they either wanted to crown Him as King, or execute Him for blasphemy. It all depended upon what they knew and believed concerning the Messiah as recorded in the scriptures. Ironically, both groups were mistaken, sort of. The “let’s-make-Him-King” group were right about the goal, but wrong about the timing. The “let’s-kill-Him-for-blasphemy” crowd were wrong about His identity, but right about His mission: to lay down His life. Nobody, however, was trembling with guilt, saying, “Because this man is the perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (as John told us), He must be slain to atone for our sins, even though He has done nothing wrong.” No, nobody would figure that out for quite some time. But Yahshua knew. 

And again: “Jesus answered [the Pharisees], ‘You know neither Me nor My Father. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also.’” This was about as close as He ever got to declaring equality (actually, identity) with God among the ecclesiastical elite. The Pharisees had their religion and all the perks that came with it: they just had no use for God Himself. “These words Jesus spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one laid hands on Him, for His hour had not yet come.’” (John 8:19-20) The religious elite had figured out that they couldn’t legally kill Yahshua without Roman collusion, and the appearance of legalism was vitally important to the Pharisees. The privilege of exercising capital punishment had been taken away from Israel by the Romans several decades prior to this—as if to say, “You’re nothing but a slave-nation, here only to pay your taxes and do as you’re told.” The scribes and Pharisees would not be able to pique the Romans’ interest with Yahshua’s claims of deity, and they knew it. But Rome would have to respond to claims of a new “King of the Jews.” 

This explains why Yahshua is recorded on multiple occasions to have told people whom He’d helped not to tell the world about what He had done. It seems counterintuitive to us. We live in a day and age in which any publicity is good publicity, for everybody, it seems, is looking for their “fifteen minutes of fame” (as Andy Warhol put it). But taking the throne of Israel would not have achieved Yahshua’s real mission—quite the contrary. Knowing He had to go to the cross, Yahshua had to do what He could to ensure that He wasn’t killed at the wrong time, by the wrong people, for the wrong reason. There was prophecy to fulfill, and He knew it. 

Let us, then, examine the circumstances of His admonitions for anonymity (or at least discretion). “Two blind men followed Him, crying out and saying, ‘Son of David, have mercy on us!’ And when He had come into the house, the blind men came to Him. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ They said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord.’ Then He touched their eyes, saying, ‘According to your faith let it be to you.’ And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, saying, ‘See that no one knows it.’ But when they had departed, they spread the news about Him in all that country.” (Matthew 9:27-31) They (like us) believed in Yahshua solely on the basis of His reputation—spread by eyewitness testimony. And their belief was the foundation of their healing. Spreading the news surely made it harder for Yahshua to attend to others in need, since these encounters required access—something such notoriety tended to overwhelm. But still, I doubt if I could have kept this sort a thing secret for a nanosecond. 

But there was more to it: the reason for the low profile that Christ was trying to maintain is explained here: “But when Jesus knew [that the Pharisees were plotting against Him], He withdrew from there. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all. Yet He warned them not to make Him known, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! I will put My Spirit upon Him, and He will declare justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench, till He sends forth justice to victory; and in His name Gentiles will trust.’” (Matthew 12:15-21) Isaiah (in 42:1-4) had prophesied that the Messiah wouldn’t characteristically waste His time bickering and disputing with self-appointed “Jewish religious experts,” when the time could be better spent healing the multitudes. No one ever got “quarreled” into the Kingdom of Heaven. If Yahshua’s miracles and teaching weren’t enough for Israel (and in the end, they weren’t) then the salvation message would be offered to others. Note that twice in this one short passage, the prophet mentions that the primary focus of the witness of the Messiah’s service would be to the gentiles. It was they (us) who would respond to the testimony of His work, after Israel largely rejected Him. 

We’ve seen Him heal the blind. A similar thing happened to a certain leper, an outcast from society. “Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, ‘If You are willing, You can make me clean.’ Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I am willing; be cleansed….’” Don’t miss the significance of this: nobody ever touched lepers—it was a good way to spread their contagious disease to yourself. But considering the fact that leprosy was a symbolic picture of sin, it suddenly makes perfect sense: Yahshua came for that very reason—to take our sins upon Himself. We should all be saying, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Yahshua is willing. He always has been. 

“As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’” (Mark 1:40-44; cf. Luke 5:12-16) This time, there were Torah requirements to deal with (see Leviticus 14). Though the leprosy was obviously gone immediately, the leper would not be “officially” clean until the priest had declared him to be cured—a process that took eight days. There were examinations to endure and sacrifices to offer. The whole procedure was a symbol-rich portrayal of what happens when we are cleansed of our sin. If God’s plan for man’s redemption occupies His “week,” ending with the Millennial Sabbath, then the eighth day indicates the eternal state: we believers won’t actually be sinless until then, though Christ’s touch has declared us clean—now and forever. Note too that the ritual was to be done as a “testimony to them,” that is, to the priests. No one had ever healed lepers before this, so it is no coincidence that we later read “And a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7) 

What about when He cast out demons? This time, He didn’t specifically tell the witnesses (or the former victims) not to announce what He had done for them. But He did tell the demons to sit down and shut up. “And demons also came out of many, crying out and saying, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of God!’ And He, rebuking them, did not allow them to speak, for they knew that He was the Christ.” (Luke 4:41) The demons, being fallen angels—had no choice but to obey a direct command from Yahshua (their Creator, though cloaked in flesh). But God neither needs nor wants a testimonial from the devil. As it was, the spiritually comatose scribes and Pharisees couldn’t tell the difference between the demons being subject to Christ’s commands because He was God, and His being in league with them—as Beelzebub, the prince of demons. Just because the demons’ testimony was true (in this case), it did not follow that this was the right time, place, or circumstances in which to let them speak. 

For that matter, Yahshua didn’t need anyone to vouch for Him. Angels and demons are not gifted with free will, and men are finite in their understanding, apt to make bad choices or do the right things for the wrong reasons. So even early in His ministry, Yahshua kept His focus on the cross before Him—not the acclaim that would naturally result from His miraculous works. “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name [which means “Yahweh saves”] when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.” (John 2:23-25) The prophet had reported, “I, Yahweh, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 17:10) The only testimony of His deity that Yahshua deemed suitable was His own resurrection from the dead. Anything other than that was merely somebody’s opinion. And opinions are like noses: everybody’s got one. 

Even when we get it right, we never comprehend the whole picture. Toward the end, Peter finally saw it, and blurted out the truth: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Perfectly true. But Yahshua’s response included this admonition: “Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.” (Matthew 16:20) Everybody knew His name, of course. Jesus, a.k.a. Joshua, a.k.a. Yahshua was a rather common moniker in Israel. What they didn’t know (yet) was that He was the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One of Yahweh—the literal Son of God. That information was meant to be announced publically only when it was time to sacrifice Himself on the cross for our sins in fulfillment of the Torah, on Passover, 33 AD, a year in which the Feast of Unleavened Bread would fall on a natural Sabbath (as if Yahweh were telling us, “I’m not making this stuff up as I go—I planned it from the dawn of time.”) It should come as no surprise that this Passover was only four days after the conclusion of the first sixty-nine “sevens” predicted in Daniel 9:25—the date after which “Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself.” (Daniel 9:26) More on this in a bit. 

About a week after Peter intuitively came to the conclusion that Yahshua was indeed the Messiah, he, James, and John were invited to accompany their Master to the top of a high hill, where He was temporarily transfigured before their eyes into a being of indescribable glory—glowing as brightly as the sun in their midst. No further intuition was necessary here: He had visibly demonstrated His deity—though only to men who already knew and believed that He was God incarnate. But because His rendezvous with the cross was still several months away, Yahshua again cautioned them to keep the news concealed for the time being: “Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, ‘Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.’” (Matthew 17:9) Until the very end, until His mission to fulfill the Torah was complete, He was willing to provide evidence—but not proof—of His divine power to the people. After all, the “work of God was to believe in Him whom He sent.” If undeniable proof of His divinity were presented, there would have been no way not to believe, making the whole exercise of free will irrelevant. 

Besides, the purpose of His advent was not to gather a following, but to be a sacrifice. So not even the ultimate healing—raising a dead person back to life—was something Yahshua was inclined to “put in His portfolio” with an aim toward gathering disciples to Himself. Raising the dead was something He did several times during His ministry, as here with the daughter of Jairus: “But He commanded them strictly that no one should know [that He had raised the girl from the dead].” (Mark 5:43; cf. Luke 8:56) We aren’t told why He commanded secrecy here but not at the funeral procession in the town of Nain, where He raised a widow’s only son from the dead (see Luke 7:11-17). Perhaps it’s because He wished to reassure John the Baptist of His credentials (Luke 7:18-23). Perhaps it’s that Nain (near Nazareth), was a backwater town far removed from the religious gauntlet of Jerusalem that He would have to endure on His way to the cross. 

Such was not the case with Bethany, a mere two miles away from the temple, where Lazarus (see John 11:1-44) was raised from the dead. I believe the reason Yahshua didn’t forbid making His friend’s resurrection public this time, but rather melodramatically had the stone removed from His tomb, shouting “Lazarus, come forth,” was the proximity of time. This took place within weeks of His Passover sacrifice: the time had come to “poke the bear,” to bring things to a head. He knew He had to be crucified on this Passover, according to the scriptures. The “fallout” from the raising of Lazarus is reported in John 11:45-57. The bottom line is that “from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death.” But it is clear that Yahshua wasn’t executed against His will. Rather, He orchestrated the whole thing, playing the scribes, Pharisees, and Roman authorities like a Stradivarius.

***

There was a time when Yahshua restricted evangelism to Israel alone. For example: “These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: ‘Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’” (Matthew 10:5-6) It’s not that He didn’t love gentiles or Samaritans, or wish them to hear and respond to the Gospel. It was simply a question of timing: He felt it only appropriate to offer salvation first to those who had been entrusted with the Torah, for the Law of Moses spoke of Him and His mission between every line. As Isaiah put it, “Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’” (Isaiah 49:6) We gentiles may have had to wait our turn, but we were never an afterthought to God. 

Indeed, Yahshua Himself is on record as having visited gentile regions like Tyre and Sidon, and Decapolis east of the Jordan. Samaria, of course, lay between Galilee and Judea, so northern Jews had to walk through it (or around it) on their way to Jerusalem. One of the most enlightening discussions on record took place between Yahshua and a Samaritan woman—in her home town. “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (who is called Christ). When He comes, He will tell us all things.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He.’” (John 4:21-26) 

It’s fascinating that Yahshua so readily claimed to be the Messiah to a Samaritan woman, whereas He would have been less than forthright about that fact to a Jewish Pharisee or the High Priest. But the Jews, picking and choosing what they wanted to hear from the prophets, were expecting a conquering king, while Yahshua had come—this time—to sacrifice Himself. The Samaritans, on the other hand, revered only the Pentateuch; they were expecting “a prophet like Moses,” whom they held in the highest regard—not a warrior. Yahshua had just demonstrated Himself to be that Prophet. 

The whole discussion of “where to worship” (i.e, Mount Gerizim or Mount Moriah—Shechem or Jerusalem) would be rendered moot in the wake of the Romans’ decimation of Judea and Samaria in 70 AD—the direct result of Israel’s rejection of their Messiah (something Yahshua knew was coming). Since the temple and its service would no longer be available for worship, Jerusalem would be rendered irrelevant for the better part of two millennia. But the temple had served its purpose: it was a complex dress rehearsal for the work of Christ—His sacrifice (at the altar), cleansing power (at the laver), light (at the menorah), provision (at the table of the bread of the presence), and access through prayer (the altar of incense) via the inner curtain (the body of Christ, torn for us at His crucifixion) to Yahweh’s very presence (between the cherubim on the ark of the Covenant). With the temple gone (or at least rendered redundant through Christ’s fulfillment), worship would henceforth take place in the hearts of believers, facilitated by the indwelling Holy Spirit—that is, “in spirit and truth.” 

Once the crucifixion and resurrection had taken place—once Israel had officially rejected its Messiah—the doors to worldwide evangelism were opened wide. “And [the risen] Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) If you’re still upset that Yahshua had originally sent the twelve out with instructions to avoid talking to the gentiles and Samaritans, note that the gap between these two directives was only about three years: nobody was “lost” in the exercise of giving Israel the first right of refusal. Note too that “all things that I have commanded you” are the topic of this appendix: not religious tradition, but what He specifically said to do. The first task of “teaching” is to identify the subject matter in the syllabus. You can’t say, “I presume Jesus would have commanded ‘this’ if He had been smart enough.” 

Looking forward to the coming of the Messiah had to have been frustrating for generations of pre-advent believers. They pieced together prophetic clues from all over the Tanakh (missing three quarters of it, of course), and came up with a rather self-contradictory picture of what Yahweh’s Messiah would be like—a servant and a king; a gentle healer and a mighty warrior; God’s atoning sacrifice and the high priest of the order of Melchizedek. Yet it occurred to practically no one that the Messiah’s two roles could be fulfilled in two separate advents a couple of thousand years apart. 

And then there’s the disconcerting fact that hundreds of years passed between the utterance of the prophecies and their fulfillment. Yahshua Himself addressed the longings of those who awaited God’s Anointed One, only to die before anything happened: “But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear, for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:16-17; cf. Luke 10:23-24) What His hearers were “seeing and hearing” was only half of the prophetic picture, of course—the necessary but painful first step toward mankind’s reconciliation with our Creator. As “blessed” as the witnesses to Yahshua’s first advent were, I can’t help but reflect that we who long to see His second coming—His everlasting advent—will be blessed a thousand times over when our Lord returns in glory, for His coming will complete the story that never ends. 

At His birth, the angels announced “peace on earth.” They weren’t wrong, but they were a bit premature. What Christ would do would indeed bring peace to the earth—but not during His mortal lifetime, or for millennia afterwards. He cautioned us: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword….” He is not suggesting that Christianity (like Islam, for example) was to be spread through violence and bloodshed. Rather, He is warning us that our devotion to Him—our appreciation for the grace He made available to us—would turn people who didn’t believe into our adversaries: they would attack us with every weapon at their disposal. Why? Because by thanking God for saving us from our sins, we were admitting that we were in need of salvation. So what’s the problem? By doing this, we were implying that they too are less than perfect before God. That’s right: the world takes our joy and gratitude as an insult. How dare we call them “sinners”? 

It would be bad enough if this animus were only a national or cultural thing—if the Muslim Turks hated the Christian Armenians for their faith, for example. But Christian belief is a personal, one-on-one matter: the battle lines are drawn much closer to home: “For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:34-39, quoting Micah 7:6) 

Remember, we’re talking about God’s timing here. These truths became reality with the advent of Christ, and they will persist throughout the church age (i.e., until His return in glory). They were meaningless (or at least purely theoretical) during the previous age, and they will become obsolete anachronisms during the kingdom age when Yahshua reigns Personally among us. But for the moment, “the work of God is to believe in Him whom He sent.” Sometimes that belief entails making hard choices. 

It helps (well, a little bit) to know that the animosity the lost world holds toward us believers is temporary. It won’t persist past the end of the church age, nor can their hatred separate us from the love of God in the meantime. “Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (Matthew 10:21-23) This world is not our home; these mortal bodies are not all there is to life. Time is a gift we’ve been given to be used for God’s glory here and now, but the time is coming when time itself will be irrelevant. 

In the meantime, I find it a great comfort to observe that our God is on a very tight schedule, and He is always aware of where (or when) we are within it. If we were all paying attention to God’s timing, would we still be doing whatever it is we’re doing? Don’t look now, but we are living within the sixth day of God’s allotted “work week,” and the sun is rapidly approaching the western horizon. The Sabbath is almost upon us—the day in which no one can work.


Recognize that Christ Fulfills the Law and the Prophets

Reading the writings of Paul or the Book of Hebrews, one might get the mistaken impression that the Torah, the Law of Moses, has become obsolete, outdated, and of no further use whatsoever. But this is only because we misconstrue what the purpose of the Torah was in the first place. It was never meant to save people—it was “only” designed to point to the One who would save us. Its precepts were not to be kept in order to attain perfection; they were there to make us realize how far from perfection we actually were. 

283 times in the Torah we read, “And Yahweh said to Moses, speak to the Children of Israel, and say…” or words to that effect. That is, Israel alone was instructed to keep the precepts of the Torah (a word which, not coincidentally, means “Instruction”). Yahweh never issued a comprehensive code of Law to the gentiles, nor were the gentiles asked to keep the Torah (unless, of course, they wished to live as Israelites in the Land of Promise). And yet, the Tanakh itself incessantly informs us that gentiles (i.e., non-Jews) will share in Israel’s blessing. (See Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 46:10, Psalm 47, Psalm 102:15, Isaiah 49:6, Zechariah 2:10-13, etc.) 

Christ put the issue to rest, once and for all (or He would have, if we had been willing to listen to Him): “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled….” Luke records this: “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail.” (Luke 16:17) Jots and tittles were the smallest strokes in the written Hebrew language, so He was informing us that (1) the Law and Prophets—every little detail of them—would continue to be relevant and useful for as long as mortal man walked the earth. (2) Christ’s mission would not destroy the meaning of the Torah, but would explain it—in a word, fulfill it. (3) When heaven and earth pass away (something blatantly predicted elsewhere in scripture), then there will be no more need of the Torah’s truth. But it is axiomatic that all believers will have received their immortal, spiritual bodies by that time, for we will be living in the eternal state—in the new heavens and new earth. (4) The “jot and tittle” reference also appears to be a dig at the so-called “oral law” with which the scribes had attempted to hogtie Israel—over and above the written Law of Moses. Since these traditions were not supposed to be written, but were transmitted orally (a convention finally jettisoned almost a century later with the creation of the written Mishnah), there were no “jots and tittles” to preserve. In other words, Christ did not include the “oral law” in His declaration that the Law would stand. 

Matthew’s recounting continues: “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20) The good news is, the Torah continues to be an invaluable window into the mind of God. The bad news is, none of us is able to keep it—even the most obsessive and meticulous of us. As I said, the Torah looms above us as a silent witness that we have all “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” 

I was casting about for a good metaphor for what the Torah is, and how it operates, and this popped into my head. When I was five years old, my family moved to Downey, a suburb of Los Angeles, California. Our home was near the corner of Florence and Paramount Boulevards. As a child, I imagined that Paramount went on forever. It was breathtaking, had more lanes than I had ever seen, and had what seemed like a never-ending flow of cars and trucks on it. Also, it seemed to be the route our family took whenever we wanted to go anywhere important. In my metaphor, then, Paramount Boulevard is the Torah. It would take us wherever we wanted to go. 

It wasn’t until I grew up, got my driver’s license, and went exploring, that I realized that Paramount was not all it had seemed when I was a small boy. It had limitations. If you drove north on it a bit, you’d pass under the Santa Ana Freeway and go only a few more miles before it petered out into a residential neighborhood in Pico Rivera. You could go farther if you went south, but eventually it dead-ended at the Long Beach airport. So Paramount, as it turned out, wasn’t the infinite highway it seemed to a wide-eyed kindergartener. It was big, but it wouldn’t take you remotely everywhere

But it would take you to the Santa Ana Freeway—Interstate 5. This, in my geographical metaphor, is the Gospel of Christ. If you got on the “5,” you could drive from Downey south to the Mexican border, or travel north the whole length of California, continuing into Oregon, and then through Washington State, all the way to Canada—the entire country, north to south. Awesome! 

So when I discovered Interstate 5, did Paramount disappear? Did it become obsolete or useless? No. It was still there, just as it always had been, still available for service. More to the point, it was the only practical way to get to the Freeway—that road that would really take you places. Yes, you could go the long way around, if you had time and gas to waste (just as it’s possible to comprehend the Gospel from simply heeding one’s conscience). But for me, Paramount was the most direct route to the highway that led to the rest of the world. That’s the way I see the Torah: it’s the most obvious, intuitive, undeviating pathway we can take to the Gospel—the real roadway through our mortal life. The Torah is indeed “Paramount.” It was designed to take me straight to the onramp of the “5,” that “narrow gate” that leads to the Kingdom of heaven. (And hey, don’t blame me if 5 is the Bible’s consistent numerical symbol for grace. I’m just reporting what’s there, though I do love it when a metaphor comes together.) 

To hear some people talk, you’d think that the Torah and the New Testament were opposed to each other, at cross purposes. But Yahshua put that notion to rest as well. Speaking to people who claimed to be living by the Law, He said, “Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you [Pharisees]—Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:45-47) Beside the thousands of symbolic references that comprise the fabric of the Torah, and beside the incessant undercurrent of Yahweh’s agenda of love and forgiveness presented in its pages, we read this: “Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and of good courage, for you must go with this people to the land which Yahweh has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall cause them to inherit it. And Yahweh, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:7-8) Joshua? Moses’ protégé (not coincidentally) had the same name as the Messiah—Yahshua, the one the world knows as Jesus. It means “Yahweh is salvation.” What Joshua did physically for Israel, Yahshua is in the process of doing spiritually for the whole world. Yahshua is the One who causes Israel to inherit the Land. Yahshua is the One who “goes before you”—who goes before all of us. 

In telling the story of “the Rich Man and Lazarus,” Yahshua pointed out that even the most spectacular miracles do not outweigh the testimony of scripture. “He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:31) Again, it was no coincidence when someone whose name actually was Lazarus (which means, “God has helped”), who had been dead for four days, came back to life at Yahshua’s command. Were the scribes and Pharisees impressed? Did they praise God because of Yahshua’s authority over death itself? Were they persuaded that He was indeed the promised Messiah? Not even remotely. Yahshua’s story was a left-handed way of declaring that the scribes and Pharisees did not “hear Moses and the prophets” as they claimed to. What they “heard,” rather, was the sweet sound of the deferential greetings they received in the marketplace, the rustle of their fine silk robes as they walked to the temple, but also, off in the distance, the faint noise of their whole phony religious scam crumbling down around their ears if folks ever concluded that God Himself—in the person of Yahshua—was now walking among them. 

Nor were the Pharisees “persuaded” when Christ Himself rose from the dead. Those who had been persuaded of His divine credentials were understandably confused by His death. How was it even possible to kill God incarnate? Yes, the Tanakh had spoken of a “suffering servant,” but those prophecies didn’t mesh at all with the “reigning king” passages in which everybody was so invested. How could both things be true? But as Christ explained to two disciples on the Road to Emmaus the very afternoon of His resurrection, “‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” (Luke 24:25-27) The implied imperative here is to trust the scriptures—all of them, even those that seem counterintuitive at first. What nobody seemed to understand was that His suffering was the doorway to glory, or as the Torah had demonstrated, the death of innocence was the key to life through atoning forgiveness. 

Later that same day, He explained further, this time to the eleven: “Then He said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.’” It was all there, albeit in esoteric, often symbolic terms, if only we’d had the eyes to see it. It makes me wonder how much information we miss that’s equally obvious (or will be, in retrospect) in yet-to-be-fulfilled prophecy—of which there is an awful lot (see The End of the Beginning, elsewhere on this website). “And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:44-48) 

Note several important things in this statement. (1) It was necessary for the Messiah to suffer. It wasn’t optional. As far back as the Garden of Eden, Yahweh had established that only innocence could atone for iniquity. (2) The “third day” requirement was revealed in the first three of the Torah’s “feasts of Yahweh.” Christ had to be crucified on Passover, the 14th day of Nisan; He lay in the tomb on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on the 15th (by law, a Sabbath—which it was in 33AD); and He rose from the dead on the third day, the Feast of Firstfruits, on the 16th of Nisan. (3) The whole point of the passion was the “remission of sins,” achieved through our repentance, which was in turn prompted by Christ’s finished work. (4) This atonement was available not just to Israel, but to the whole world. And (5) this good news was to be spread (“preached”) by the witnesses of God’s power and grace—first by the original disciples who saw the risen Christ, and then by us who believed them and subsequently experienced His transforming love for ourselves. 

The “opening of the disciples’ understanding” didn’t happen all at once, as a blinding flash of insight. Rather, it dawned on them piece by piece—mostly after the resurrection, which tended to force things into focus for the disciples. Many of the things Yahshua had done were actually signs, whether or not He explained them in the moment. To the extent that Israel had kept the Torah’s rituals, they had been rehearsing these covenant signs since the exodus, without really knowing why. 

For example, they didn’t comprehend the significance of the triumphal entry until after His resurrection. “His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.” (John 12:16) At some point, they noticed that Christ had been crucified—subjected to judgment on their behalf—on Passover—the 14th day of the month of Nisan, fulfilling the complex prophecy that the day represented. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, the very next day (the Sabbath) was when Yahshua “rested” in the tomb, demonstrating that our sin (represented by yeast) had been removed. And He rose from the dead on the next day, the first day of the week, the Feast of Firstfruits. Then, doing the math, they counted back to the previous Monday, Nisan 10, the day of the triumphal entry, and realized that this was the very day the Passover Lamb was to be brought into the household of Israel for inspection (see Exodus 12:3). God had worked the whole thing out and codified it into “Torah Law” some 1,500 years before it took place—going so far as to ensure that the Convocation that was designated a Sabbath (the Feast of Unleavened Bread) fell on a natural Sabbath in the year of its fulfillment (33 AD). 

What the disciples almost certainly didn’t know was that the very Nisan 10 also fulfilled another prophecy. The prophet Daniel had written “From the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks…. And after the sixty-two weeks, Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself.” (Daniel 9:25-26) The whole amazing story is related in detail in The End of the Beginning, chapter 7, so I won’t repeat it all here. Suffice it to say that Christ entered Jerusalem on the very day Daniel’s prophecy had pinpointed, though it was apparent only if you had all the historical data at your fingertips. Counting from Nisan 1, 444 BC (see Nehemiah 2:1-6), the prophecy’s “sixty-nine sevens,” i.e., 483 “years,” times 360 days (the length of the Hebrew prophetic-schematic year), comes out to 173,880 days, or 476 solar years and 25 days inclusive—to Monday, the 10th of Nisan (March 28), 33 A.D., the very day on which the triumphal entry took place. 

The signs were there, if you were but willing to open your eyes. When John the Baptist, from his prison cell, sought reassurance about Yahshua’s divine identity, he was told, “The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (Matthew 11:5) These very signs had been prophesied in such passages as Exodus 4:11, Isaiah 29:18-19, 35:5, and 61:1. 

This sort of scripture-based confirmation wasn’t enough for the unbelieving religious big-wigs though. “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.’” I suppose they were looking for something like a rain of fire and brimstone on the Antonia Fortress—vengeance against the Romans. “But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.’” (Matthew 12:38-42; cf. Luke 11:29-32) The scribes and Pharisees were unwilling to accept the signs Yahweh had put before them in the Torah and prophetic writings. As during His testing from Satan, Yahshua refused to take the bait. Confirmation provided by the Law and the Prophets would have to do. 

That “Sign-of-Jonah” thing has caused more confusion than it should have, for many have jumped to the conclusion that Yahshua was saying He would spend three days and three nights in the tomb, though His time there (in perfect accordance with the scriptures) only lasted from late Friday afternoon to early Sunday morning—maybe 36 hours. Every time He had predicted His resurrection, He had said, “I will rise on the third day,” which is precisely correct. The problem (as usual) is our English translations. The Greek word for “earth” () is equivalent to the Hebrew eretz, or the Aramaic ara. It has a broad range of meanings: earth, soil, land, region, country, ground, world, land (as opposed to sea), the Promised Land, or even the people inhabiting a place. Yahshua was actually saying that during the Passion Week, He would spend three days and three nights—no more, no less—in Jerusalem, the “heart of the Land” of Israel. 

We can track the schedule in the Book of Mark. After the triumphal entry on Monday, the 10th of Nisan, He left the city, staying overnight in Bethany, a village about two miles away. He came back Tuesday morning, but left again overnight (Mark 11:12, 19). He entered Jerusalem again on Wednesday (v. 20, 27) but again, left to sojourn in Bethany, where Mary anointed Him for His burial. But returning to Jerusalem on Thursday morning, He never again left the city until the Passion was complete. He instructed His disciples to prepare for the Last Supper, and that night He was betrayed and arrested as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Then—still in Jerusalem—He endured several “trials,” was scourged within an inch of His life, was crucified, died, and was entombed on Friday afternoon. He “rested” on the Sabbath, and rose from the dead sometime before dawn on Sunday. Only then did He leave the “heart of the Land,” Jerusalem. That’s the morning and evening, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday—three days and three nights: the sign of the prophet Jonah. 

This “asking for a sign” tactic was a favorite ploy of the scribes and Pharisees. They apparently used it on several occasions, hoping to undermine Yahshua’s credibility when His “sign” didn’t measure up to their expectations, so they could reject Him without looking like the fools they were. Here’s another instance: “Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said to them, ‘When it is evening you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red”; and in the morning, “It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.” Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.’ And He left them and departed.” (Matthew 16:1-4; cf. Mark 8:11-12) His point was that they knew how to read signs—they just refused to do it. 

Again, I must compare them to our present generation who, faced with a plethora of prophesied “signs” of the impending return of Christ, refuse to wake up from their self-induced spiritual stupor. As Yahshua said (in Matthew 24:37-38), His coming will be met with conditions “as in the days of Noah.” Business as usual. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t been shown any signs: Noah had been building a huge boat for decades, preaching that God was going to send a flood if they did not repent. But there had never been a flood like that before, so they ignored and ridiculed him—until the door was shut and the waters swept them all away. 

If you think about it, a sign (if predicted in scripture) is a promise from God—a covenant, if you will. The caveat, of course, is that you can’t perceive “signs” under every rock and behind every tree and declare them to be omens from God. Just because you see a cloud that looks like a Volkswagen, it doesn’t mean the Germans are coming. But we should all be aware of Yahweh’s extensive use of symbols and metaphors, and be attuned to their potential meaning. I have cataloged many of these in The Torah Code, elsewhere on this website. 

For example, Yahshua used two prominent symbols at the Last Supper: “And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.’” (Luke 22:19-20; cf. Matthew 26:26-28; cf. Mark 14:22-25) Bread represents “that which God provides,” that which sustains us and maintains life. By comparing the broken bread to His own body, Christ was declaring that He would be broken on the cross for our benefit—and that if we assimilated Him into our lives, our souls would be sustained for eternity. In the same way, wine represents blood—that in which the life of the mortal body flows, for “the life is in the blood.” Christ’s blood poured out for us must, like the bread of life (His body), be made part of us if we wish to share in His life. Both bread and wine figure heavily in the rites of the Torah, and have symbolic roots going all the way back to Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek (see Genesis 14:18; cf. Hebrews 7). 

Holy Communion, then, is not some semi-pointless religious ritual, but rather a picture of what happens when Christ becomes part of us through our belief and the subsequent indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives. His body provides life, and His blood is the promise that this life will endure forever. Paul expands the thought: “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” (I Corinthians 11:23-26) 

Christ’s commandments, then, are fourfold: (1) We are to “eat” the bread that represents His body—that is, we are to absorb Him into our very being, allowing Him to empower and sustain us. (2) We are to “drink” the wine that represents His blood, taking His eternal life into ourselves. (3) We are to specifically remember Him as we participate in this symbolic ritual, for His sacrifice alone provides the atonement that reconciles us with a Holy God. And (4) we are to realize and acknowledge that Yahshua’s death was merely the first step in the process of our salvation. It won’t be complete until He returns, as He promised. The suffering Servant has departed; we now await the reigning King.

***

So we see that “keeping the Torah” is less about strict observance of a set of rules, and more about placing our trust in the One toward whom those precepts were meant to point. It most certainly was not about keeping an onerous set of manmade rules that were (ostensibly) designed to place a protective “hedge” around the Law of Moses—so we couldn’t get within a mile of crossing the line. All the “oral law” really accomplished was to obfuscate the heart of God’s Instructions, which were usually quite simple. 

The Sabbath Law may be taken as a case in point. All Yahweh had said to do on the Sabbath was rest—to refrain from doing your regular job—that activity with which you ordinarily earned a living. To the exodus generation, that would have been gathering manna or picking up firewood; in later times, it would broaden to include whatever our regular occupation happened to be. God never said anything about gathering for worship on the Sabbath, though in the post-exilic era, meeting at the synagogue on the Sabbath seemed a natural thing to do, because after all, you weren’t shearing sheep or planting barley or catching fish that day, as you usually did. And Christ had no problem with this tradition, even though it had little to do with what the Sabbath actually meant—relying upon God (instead of our own efforts) to meet our needs, up to and including redemption and reconciliation with God. 

In these last days, it has become clear (at least to me) that there is also another, more prosaic meaning to the Sabbath Law. It describes the very schedule of God—the outworking of His plan of redemption for our fallen race. If each “day” is a thousand years (as II Peter 3:8 and Psalm 90:4 indicate), then mankind is supposed to be “working things out with God” (that is, exercising our God-given privilege of free will) for six millennia, beginning with the fall of Adam. But after that period of time (during the seventh millennium, the Sabbath), we must rest in Christ’s finished work, or not at all. It has been almost six thousand years since Eden. Any way you slice it, we are rapidly approaching sunset on the sixth day. Further, if each thousand-year period of time is a thousand years in duration (which seems pretty obvious when you say it like that), and if (as I have observed) there have been spiritually significant milestones marking each millennium, then the date of the passion (33 AD), is our key: the seventh “day” will begin in 2033. 

All of this serves to make the rabbinical minutiae concerning Sabbath observance look pointless and silly. “At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, ‘Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!…’” Although the Torah had specifically allowed hungry travelers to pluck somebody else’s grain to eat (as long as they didn’t use a tool or container), the Pharisees accused them of “harvesting,” and “milling” when they rubbed the kernels between their palms to remove the chaff. But these guys were fishermen, not farmers, and besides, this wasn’t their field. So the Pharisees were wrong. The disciples had violated the oral law perhaps, but not the Torah. 

Rather than wrangle over fine points of the law, however, Yahshua appealed to what the Torah was actually about: mercy—specifically, God’s mercy toward us. “But He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?…’” Check the record: the priests are required to work their butts off on the Sabbath day. 

“Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple.” He’s speaking, of course, of Himself—the One whose life and mission the layout and furnishings of the tabernacle and temple were designed to prophesy, in a hundred little details. “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’” (Matthew 12:1-8, quoting Hosea 6:6; cf. Mark 2:23-28; cf. Luke 6:1-5) Don’t gloss over that last astounding statement. In order to be “Lord of the Sabbath,” one must have the authority and ability to fulfill what the Sabbath means, to provide what the Sabbath requires—in a word: rest. As Adam discovered (see Genesis 3:17-19) his sin resulted in the constant toil that is man’s universal curse. The “Lord of the Sabbath,” must be willing and able to reverse that curse. 

The Pharisees were too proud to admit that they didn’t know what Yahshua was talking about half the time. So He prayed, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise [literally, skilled or clever] and prudent [i.e., intelligent or educated] and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.…” People—even smart ones—who rely upon their own intellect to formulate their philosophies for living find themselves clueless about God’s truth, even though these things are transparent to folks who approach God as an innocent child does his father—in trust and respect. Pride will separate us from God’s fellowship faster than any other sin, it seems. 

Yahshua went on to describe what it means to be “Lord of the Sabbath,” in practical terms. “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” Yahweh, being Spirit, is more or less incomprehensible to us mortals, but we can come to know Him—to understand what He’s like and what He wants for us—by paying attention to the Son of God, Yahshua. That includes receiving the Sabbath rest He intends for us to enjoy: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:25-29) It isn’t that being God’s child doesn’t entail work. Even Adam had a job to do in the Garden. It’s that God’s idea of “work” is joyful, fulfilling, and satisfying—not the onerous, exhausting drudgery the world demands of us. 

For further Sabbath insight, let us consider the example of Christ Himself. Since He was God incarnate, was not healing His “day job?” And yet, He healed people on the Sabbath on many occasions—apparently, just to make a point. “Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue [the place where Jews met for worship and study on the Sabbath Day]. And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand. And they asked Him, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’—that they might accuse Him….” It was a dare, of sorts. “You say you are God, but God rests on the seventh day (see Genesis 2:2-3). So if you heal folks on the Sabbath, you must not be God.” They had forgotten, of course, that God desires “mercy and not sacrifice,” as we saw above. 

And then there’s the other question: if you’re God, what’s “work,” and what’s not? Yahshua would go to the cross on a Friday, and rise again on Sunday, resting in the tomb on the Sabbath. So we could conclude that “sacrificing yourself to redeem the whole human race” was considered “God’s work,” while individual acts of mercy were merely “worship,” something that was supposed to go on continually. “Then He said to them, ‘What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value, then, is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’ Then He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other….” It has always amused me that (at least in this instance) no one could accuse Him of “working on the Sabbath” here, and yet they did. There was no possible explanation for the healing other than that God, through Yahshua, had been responsible for it. But it was not “work” to tell someone to stretch out his hand, nor was it work to comply. Yet when man was restored, rather than praise God and repent, “the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him.” (Matthew 12:9-14; cf. Mark 3:1-5; cf. Luke 6:6-11) His only “crime” had been to prove them to be hypocrites. 

Because the Law was largely symbolic, it contained precepts that occasionally conflicted with one other in some non-essential detail. For instance, “If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath? Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:23-24) A male child was to be circumcised on the eighth day of life. So if he was born on a Friday, there was going to be a calendar conflict: he’d have to be circumcised on the Sabbath, which was “work” for somebody. But the two precepts pointed toward two separate (though related) facets of our redemption: circumcision pictured the complete and permanent removal of our sins from us (a process involving blood and pain), while the Sabbath indicated our rest in God—our willingness to trust Him with our salvation, not working to attain it ourselves. But in the end, both things instructed us to trust God. 

Because it was so important, we are given multiple examples of Christ’s Sabbath healings. Here’s another: “Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, ‘Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.’ And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God….” It’s as if He were purposely correlating healing with the Sabbath day—making sure we’d associate the two things in our minds. But in truth, that is precisely what “rest in God” is all about—being healed from our infirmities, the greatest of which is our sin. We cannot heal ourselves. Only our Maker can do it. 

This was all opaque to the conventional works-based wisdom of the day, of course. Like Job’s “miserable comforters,” some thought the woman’s affliction was probably due directly to some heinous sin lurking in her life. “But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.…’” First, she had not come expecting to be healed, but only to worship and learn from God’s word. I’d say she got more than she’d bargained for. Second, Yahshua met affliction with mercy wherever and whenever He found it. The ruler of the synagogue could not have healed the woman if she came back on Wednesday, and he knew it. Third, healing was not “work” to Yahshua. He wasn’t practicing medicine. This was merely the outpouring of His divine nature. 

So Yahshua answered his indignation with indignation: “The Lord then answered him and said, ‘Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?’ And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.” (Luke 13:10-17) Mercy trumps rectitude every time. It was only natural that the multitude rejoiced and praised God when confronted with Yahshua’s mighty works. Meanwhile, the proper response of His adversaries (which—let’s face it—is the condition in which we all begin) would have been to use their well-deserved shame as a launching pad for repentance. The idea is to move away from error and rebellion toward truth and reconciliation. But the choice is ours. 

By the time of Christ, the oral law—the traditions of the rabbis—had all but eclipsed the actual Torah in Jewish practice. Having discovered over the centuries that it took a pure heart to even begin to keep the Law of Moses, they retreated into the relative convenience of manmade rules and regulations: it was easier to count out mustard seeds for the tithe than it was to show mercy and compassion to folks you didn’t particularly like. “Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, ‘Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread….’” Nowhere in the Torah was it commanded to wash one’s hands at mealtimes, even if it is a good idea. Ritual purity in the Law invariably had more to do with the symbology of cleansing—daily repentance before God—than it did with mere hygiene. 

So Yahshua, as usual, skipped the answer and cut straight to the underlying issue—the scribes’ hypocrisy. “He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, “Honor your father and your mother”; and, “He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.” But you say, “Whoever says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God—then he need not honor his father or mother.” Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men….”’” The basic Torah precepts had said, “Honor your parents,” and “Love your neighbor.” But the rabbis had constructed a complicated alternate legal structure that allowed them to look holy while flouting God’s clear commandments. They weren’t fooling anybody, and Christ made sure they knew it. Meanwhile, by His life—and eventually by His death and resurrection—He demonstrated what real love looked like. 

Then He pointed out the flaw in the rabbinical logic: “When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, ‘Hear and understand: Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.’” (Matthew 15:1-11; cf. Mark 7:5-16) The scribes thought the Law should attend only to the well-being of the mortal body, and it does that to some small degree. But its focus is our spiritual health—that which will (or at least can) affect us forever, in this life and beyond. So although what we eat may have a little to do with our overall well-being, what we say speaks volumes about our spiritual condition. 

A few verses later, Yahshua explained: “Whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated. But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. [Mark adds, ‘covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, pride, and foolishness.’] These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” (Matthew 15:17-20; cf. Mark 7:17-23) As the prophet had pointed out, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) And what the corrupt inner being of a man conjures up is invariably revealed by his words and deeds. Put another way, a bad burrito can make you sick; an evil heart declares that you’re already dying. 

It’s interesting that Yahshua, when asked about the path to salvation, invariably referred back to the Torah. “And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?’ So he answered and said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ And He said to him, ‘You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.’” (Luke 10:25-28) This may come as a shock to those of us who are depending on grace through faith for our redemption. Keep the Law? Well, yes, sort of: if anyone ever did flawlessly keep the Law of Moses, this would define him as “not needing salvation.” Only Yahshua, of all men, ever managed to do this, of course. The rest of us must rely on what the Law means. All those sacrifices, rituals, and symbols conspired to inform us that Christ alone—innocence personified—is able to reconcile us sinners to a holy God. The two “greatest” (most fundamental) commandments of the Law, quoted here, define the evidence that we have indeed attained eternal life. The whole book of I John is a commentary on this truth. 

The story was similar when Yahshua was asked basically the same question by a rich young ruler (who, unlike the lawyer above who was “testing Him,” sincerely wanted to know how to live guiltlessly in God’s presence. Yahshua told him (and us): “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments…. You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, honor your father and your mother, and, you shall love your neighbor as yourself….” The devout young man thought he had kept all these rules, and yet he still felt the nagging presence of spiritual failure in his life. So Yahshua gently pointed out that there were still things in his life that were more important to him than a relationship with God, whether he realized it or not. “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matthew 19:17-19, 21; cf. Mark 10:17-22; cf. Luke18:15-23) If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us will admit that there’s this one thing preventing us from being “perfect.” This fellow was rich, so it’s not surprising that money was his stumbling block. For you or me, it might be something else. The point is, it behooves us to figure out what (if anything) in our lives is making us “imperfect,” and deal with it. Preaching to the mirror here, of course. 

Perhaps the most universal failing we tend to share is something that was mentioned in both of the foregoing stories: we are to “love our neighbors as we do ourselves.” This can get tricky, because loving your neighbor doesn’t mean what a lot of people think it means: tolerating his iniquity or affirming his sin. Rather, it’s showing him how to overcome it—how to be forgiven and cleansed and made eternally alive. People don’t naturally like hearing that they’re flawed in some way, that they’re sick and dying, even though they feel just fine. But Yahshua said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Let’s be honest here: we’re all sick. Some of us are willing to admit it and seek the cure, and some are not. “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’” In other words, God doesn’t want religious rituals from us; He wants us to show genuine love—mercy—toward our fellow man. “For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Matthew 9:12-13) 

For one thing, there are no righteous people—only those who, like the rich young ruler, have deceived themselves into thinking they’re better than they really are. Nor are we supposed to try to make sinners feel good about their sin: that’s not mercy, by any stretch of the imagination. Rather, we are to do what Christ did: call them to repentance. This is admittedly far more intuitive if we live in a constant state of repentance ourselves—facing our flaws head-on as they become apparent, and confessing them before God. Again, it’s tricky: how does one call a brother to repentance without judging him? Part of it is knowing what actually comprises sin, and what is simply a manmade religious or cultural tradition that your neighbor has violated. Scripture alone is the arbiter of such things: this behooves us to know what God’s word says—and what it does not. 

Furthermore, if the one who is “being called to repentance” is a believer (or says he is), Christ Himself taught us how to deal with the situation: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” Chances are, he is not even aware of his transgression. “But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’” Once again, the Torah is brought to bear: see Deuteronomy 19:15. “And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church [the ekklesia—the called-out assembly of believers]. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17) In other words, if a sinner (and we’re all in that category) is confronted and repents, he is to be treated with mercy and forgiveness. But if he defends his sin, declaring himself in effect to have greater authority than Yahshua, scripture, and the church, he isn’t really part of the body of Christ, is he? One caveat: just be absolutely certain the “heathen” is wrong and you are right, before expelling him. As I said, scripture alone is our final authority. Many (including myself) have been ostracized at one time or another because we clung tenaciously to scriptural revelation over ingrained religious tradition. 

More thoughts on mercy in light of the Torah: “Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off….” Note first that a common debilitating malady was successful in forcing “natural enemies” to band together as allies. Jews and Samaritans in this culture usually shared a mutual animosity—though hardly anybody understood why, at this late date. But their leprosy basically said, “Who cares about ancient history? We’re all in the same leaky boat—we can help each other.” Why doesn’t the rest of the world perceive its dire spiritual condition and band together for the same reason? 

Anyway, people tend to change when they encounter Yahshua. “And they lifted up their voices and said, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’” Showing mercy was what He was famous for—He had healed so many lepers and demoniacs, His reputation preceded Him. But what did He do? He told them to observe the Torah: “So when He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’” No cure for leprosy was prescribed in the Law of Moses, but a complicated and symbolically pregnant ritual was provided for people who had been healed (see Leviticus 13-15). “And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed….” Their obedience revealed their healing. It wasn’t until they followed Yahshua’s instructions that the healing miracle became evident. There’s a lesson for us in there somewhere. 

But the story isn’t over. While the legalists were congratulating themselves that the Law was being observed, one of the ex-lepers couldn’t contain his joy: “And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, ‘Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?’ And He said to him, ‘Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.’” (Luke 17:11-19) Technically, the Samaritan leper was in violation of the Torah when he turned around and bowed at Yahshua’s feet. Yes, he knew he was cured, but he had not as yet gone through the cleansing ritual prescribed in the Law. 

But this was one of those “Sabbath-is-made-for-man” moments: it is never improper to exuberantly and vociferously thank God. I used to think, “Oh, this was a Samaritan—he had no respect for the Torah, as the Jews in the company must have.” But I was wrong about that. Truth be told, the Law of Moses was the only part of the Tanakh that the Samaritans received without reservation. (See the chapter on “Samaritans” in The Torah Code, elsewhere on this website.) I have no doubt that he went on to finish the task as prescribed in the Law. But first things first. Credit must be given where credit is due: this cleansing was the work of God, and God would be praised. Hallelujah! 

Speaking of Samaritans and mercy, we’re all familiar with the parable of the “Good Samaritan,” in which a Jewish man was beset by thieves on the road and left for dead, and no one would help him. (A priest and a Levite are mentioned—two classes who would have been expected—even required—to show mercy, given their Levitical job descriptions.) But the only one who stopped to help was a Samaritan—someone against whom a Jew in that culture might normally have held deep prejudices. The parable’s bottom line was, “‘So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?’ And he said, ‘He who showed mercy on him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” (Luke 10:36-37) The story had been prompted by a lawyer’s question: if I am to “love my neighbor as myself,” then who is my neighbor (and more to the point, who is not)? Yahshua’s parable pointed out that your “neighbor” is anyone God places in your path, anyone with whom you come in contact. 

We are thus to show mercy to everyone we meet, to whatever extent the situation requires. American Christians have always been pretty good at stepping up, but it strikes me lately that the Israelis are now the world-class example of what it means to “Go and do likewise.” Whenever there’s an earthquake, disease outbreak, or any sort of natural disaster that’s not caused by man’s inhumanity to man, anywhere in the world, you’re likely to see a team of Israeli crisis specialists first on the scene, ready to help. I wonder if they realize they’re following the Messiah’s commandment when they do this. 

It’s not about receiving rewards in this world. The Good Samaritan didn’t expect to be reimbursed for his out-of-pocket expenses, much less lionized in the Jerusalem Post (so to speak). And yet, God sees what we do, perceives why we do it, and rewards us with treasure in heaven. “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” If you want to honor and obey Yahweh, you’ll have to receive Yahshua as His Anointed Representative—the Son of God. “He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:40-42) I must reiterate that good works do not save us. But once we’re trusting in Christ’s finished work for our salvation—once we are His children—our good works are both appreciated and expected by Father God. We don’t all have the same talents or the same gifts. What we do have is the freedom to choose between right and wrong. And God is on record promising to reward His children who choose to do the right thing when the opportunity presents itself. 


Heed God’s Symbols, Metaphors, and Parables 

Christ was seldom direct and authoritarian when telling us what to do. In contrast with the Torah, there was no cut-and-dried compendium of “things Christians must do.” Rather, His commandments were more often couched in terms of “how we ought to be.” And even then, as often as not, we are given an illustration—a parable—and expected to think about it and draw the proper conclusion. His precepts, such as they are, are built into these stories. He who has an ear, let him hear. 

This procedure puzzled the disciples, so they asked Him about it. “And the disciples came and said to Him, ‘Why do You speak to them in parables?’ He answered and said to them, ‘Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” The “mysteries” (those things which had not previously been revealed) were intended only for those of us who were willing to receive Yahshua as Yahweh’s Anointed—not for people who were relying on themselves to find their way into the Kingdom of God. “For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him….” He’s talking about revelation or spiritual insight here—not material goods. 

“Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” It’s not a question of native intelligence; it’s a matter of the willingness to receive the truth when you hear it. “And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive. For the hearts of this people have grown dull.’” “This people” is Israel. Their hearts had “grown dull” because they had been in possession of the Law and the prophets for centuries, and yet had not (as a nation) taken God’s word to heart. “Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.” (Matthew 13:10-15, quoting Isaiah 6:9-10; cf. Mark 4:10-12; cf. Luke 8:9-10) 

At first glance, this may sound a bit mean-spirited—withholding the truth from people who don’t want to hear it anyway. But remember, we are built with free will, the privilege of choice. God, in my experience, never turns away an honest searcher, even if he has no idea how to enquire of a God whose identity he can barely discern. But people who have been told the truth, have rejected it, and are subsequently looking for something a bit more to their liking, will find God’s revelation opaque and mysterious. Grace? That doesn’t make any sense! Just tell me what to do in order to impress the god that I’ve conjured up in my mind. Meanwhile, Yahshua responds with compassion to repentant souls who artlessly cry out, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” It is they who will comprehend what God is teaching us through these parables. 

The use of symbols and parables wasn’t an innovation on the part of Yahshua, either. God had used this teaching method a long time: “All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: ‘I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.’” (Matthew 13:34-35, quoting Psalm 78:2) The Psalm being quoted here begins, “Give ear, O my people, to my law.” That is, the Torah itself was said to have a parabolic nature: when God told Israel to keep the Sabbath, circumcise their male children, refrain from muzzling the ox who treads out their grain, or any of a thousand other things, something beyond the overt precept was being implied. It was up to us to ponder what Yahweh meant—to inquire into the very heart and mind of God. This is not “adding to the Torah.” It is endeavoring not to subtract from it out of sloth or indifference. 

The scribes and Pharisees, on the other hand, had taken the literal letter of the Law, hedged it about with an impenetrable maze of manmade rules, and refused steadfastly to consider any deeper meaning. So naturally, they usually had no idea what Yahshua was talking about. “And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. But without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples.” (Mark 4:33-34) The disciples didn’t often “get it” immediately, either, but at least they were open to the truth. Christ’s explanations to them, recorded in the Gospels, are our key to discerning how God thinks. 

I might reiterate that I observed long ago (after studying the Torah for years) that Yahweh does not rely solely on human language to communicate with us. Language shifts with time and culture. Something is invariably lost translating texts from one tongue into another. And the meanings of common words often morph from one thing to another. (Met any gay people lately?) But the point of a story tends to survive the ravages of linguistic instability. And beyond that, God uses an extensive matrix of symbols and metaphors that conspire to inform us about God’s intentions. Once established, these symbols remain remarkably consistent within scripture. (For example, lambs always indicate innocence, and olive oil invariably points toward the Holy Spirit, etc.) Those symbols (and there are scores of them) are the subject of a (projected) seven-volume treatise on the subject called The Torah Code, elsewhere on this website. 

We noted above that Yahshua told His disciples, “It has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.” And we find the Gospels fairly peppered with parables describing what the kingdom of heaven is like. For instance, “Then He said, ‘To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.’” (Mark 4:30-32; cf. Luke 13:18-19) Mustard plants are normally humble shrubs, growing no more than a few feet in height. Under unusual circumstances, however, they can get out of control and grow to perhaps ten feet tall—making them more or less worthless as a cash crop, since the pungent seeds cannot be efficiently harvested from such an unwieldy, overgrown bush. The “kingdom of God” on earth in this present age is the church—the called-out assembly of Yahshua. And indeed, it has grown so large the “birds of the air” have come to nest in its branches. 

Birds, in God’s symbol lexicon, represent the consequences of our choices, good or bad, clean or unclean. That is, in addition to the small, clean, innocent birds that might normally find shelter in mustard bushes, the “church” has grown so large and prosperous (mainly by usurping resources it had no right to) it has also attracted unclean crows, cowbirds, hawks, and vultures—opportunists, predators, and scavengers. Unlike the clean sparrows and finches you’d expect to find shelter in a mustard bush, these carnivorous hunters care only for themselves, and they don’t care who they hurt in the pursuit of their own agenda. For reasons of His own, the Master Gardener has allowed the mustard bush to grow out of hand. But He has told us (in so many words) that when the time is right, He intends to get out His pruning shears and cut it back down to size.   

Roughly the same truth is being taught here, but with a prophetic twist: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:47-50) The church is sort of like the sea: you’ll find all sorts of fish swimming within it. We just looked at the overgrown mustard bush, in which some birds with less-than-pure motives sought shelter and sustenance, even though they didn’t belong there. But sometimes the culture of Christianity is so prevalent, everybody behaves as if it was perfectly normal for them to be there—confusing style with substance. Such was the America into which I was born—one big homogenous slice of suburbia, where everybody either was a Christian, or acted as if they were. 

Throughout the church age, God has allowed all the fish to swim together in the same sea—sharks and barracudas swimming alongside sardines and snappers. But at the end of the age, He intends to use a trawler, so to speak, to scoop all of us up, separating the good from the bad, the living from the dead. The kingdom of heaven will, in the end, be populated exclusively by those Yahweh deems “good,” those who have the Spirit of Life within them. 

Another agricultural parable: “And He said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.’” (Mark 4:26-29) The point here is that the kingdom of God (the church) doesn’t grow here on earth for its own benefit—or at least, it isn’t supposed to. Like a grain crop in the field, there is always a purpose—an exit strategy. In the short term, we are to be like Christ—willing to be cut down, threshed, winnowed, ground up, and baked into loaves that can feed the world. Yes, okay, we are “leavened” (read: corrupted and sinful) while He was not. But we can still provide nourishment to a spiritually starving race if we’ll follow Yahshua’s metaphorical instructions: “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24) And note something else: “the earth yields crops by itself.” That is, God designed it to work this way. It is up to us to “scatter seed,” and we get to harvest the crop. But God Himself is responsible for making it grow. 

In the long term, we believers can all look forward to being “harvested” by God. It’s called the rapture of the church. Whether we’re dead or alive when it happens, we will all shed these outer husks (our mortal bodies) and be given a new, immortal form—presumably like the body in which Yahshua walked after His resurrection from the dead. A believer’s “spiritual DNA” will remain intact from one body to the next, but his life—his soul—was not meant to be permanently confined to this earth, in this time, in this body. 

Let’s shift our metaphorical gears and think about the guy scattering the seed on the ground. It is our privilege to work in God’s field (the world), planting seeds of truth, watering, or harvesting souls. But Paul reminds us, “It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.” (I Corinthians 3:7 NLT) The “parable of the soils,” however, explains that God won’t force the seeds to grow. Acceptance of the truth remains our prerogative; it is up to us to be receptive. “Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: ‘Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 13:3-9; cf. Mark 4:2-9; cf. Luke 8:4-8) Here, the seeds are the words of truth, and the different environments that are exposed to these truths represent the varying willingness of the hearers to respond to what was said. 

Yahshua Himself explained this one. “Therefore hear the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside….” The “wayside” is the path or road one travels—thus euphemistic of old habits or “business as usual.” It can be religion, or tradition, or cultural entropy, or the simple refusal to repent—turn around and go in the direction God is leading. All that “foot traffic” makes the ground hard, in turn giving the truth-seeds little opportunity to sink in. In the parable, the “birds” came and devoured the seeds, but in the explanation, it was the wicked one. As I mentioned, birds are symbolic in scripture of the consequences of our choices. Hardening our hearts to the Word of God is the poorest choice we can make, so it’s something Satan definitely encourages. 

“But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles….” There are two similar Greek words that denote stones or rocks. Petros (the masculine form of the word, that from which Simon “Peter” got his nickname) is the sort of loose rock or pebble one might pick up and throw. But the soil here is described as petrodes—an adjective derived from petra, the feminine form, meaning a solid native rock, massive boulder or cliff. The sort of soil being described here, then, is impenetrable bedrock covered with a thin layer of topsoil. In this case, no one “steals” the truth, nor does it wither because of any conscious choice the hearer makes. But it has a hard time enduring through any sort of trial he might encounter. The Book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who represented just this sort of soil—they needed encouragement and admonition because the persecution they were experiencing made them want to retreat from their faith in Christ into something “safer,” like the rote cultural Judaism they had once practiced. 

“Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful….” Sometimes the soil is okay, but thorns and weeds are so well established within it, it’s hard for the truth to find any breathing room. The pressures of life, the pursuit of the almighty dollar, or the modern permutation of this—the unrelenting blitzkrieg of distractions from the media, entertainment, or electronic diversions of a thousand descriptions—all conspire to keep folks so busy and preoccupied they couldn’t hear the truth if God turned the volume up to ten. Alas, we who are receptive to such things know that He prefers to speak in a still, small voice, for we tend to find the lightning and thunder of the Sinai experience terrifying and unnerving. I’m not sure what to think of Christian performers who fill stadiums and proclaim His word at 140 decibels. 

But sometimes the truth finds fertile and receptive soil. “But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Matthew 13:18-23; cf. Mark 4:13-20; cf. Luke 8:11-15) The word translated “understands” here is suniémi—to comprehend, consider, understand, or perceive: “properly, put together, i.e. join facts (ideas) into a comprehensive (inter-locking) whole; synthesize.” (Helps Word-studies). Thayer adds this definition: “to put (as it were) the perception with the thing perceived; to set or join together in the mind, i.e. to understand.” Paul, in Ephesians 5:17, contrasts suniémi with foolishness. So Yahshua is describing (and extolling) the one who “puts two and two together,” considering the evidence and choosing to “believe in the One whom God sent” (i.e., do the work of God). Such receptivity tends to bear fruit in the kingdom of God—lots of it. 

“Another parable He spoke to them: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.’” (Matthew 13:33; cf. Luke 13:20-21) Normally, leaven (yeast) is taken as a symbol for sin or corruption, but perhaps that is not the case here. He doesn’t say the kingdom (the church) is leavened or full of leaven (implying that it is sinful or corrupt), but rather that the kingdom is like leaven itself—it mimics the properties and function of yeast. That is, given enough time and kneading, a little bit of it spreads throughout the entire lump of bread dough, making the finished product soft, light, and easy to eat. The church has had plenty of time to “soften” the earth, and it has been “kneaded” within an inch of its life through persecution and animosity. But the persecution of the church has only tended to spread it farther—just like leaven. 

And what does the “three measures of meal” remark mean? “Three” in scripture seems to be the number indicating significance or accomplishment. I’ve heard many guesses as to what these “three measures” might indicate, but they all seem to boil down to roughly the same thing. Are they the three sons of Noah? This would signify that the whole world would eventually be reached with the Gospel. The Jew, the Greek, and the Barbarian? Same thing: universal exposure to the truth. The three branches of Christendom? Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical-Protestant forms alike all have access to (and instructions to spread) the Gospel. This all dovetails perfectly with what Yahshua said concerning the Last Days: “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14) Don’t look now, but thanks to the unceasing labor of the Church of Philadelphia for the past couple of centuries, and the recent advent of the Internet, virtually the whole world has now been exposed to the Gospel of the Kingdom—which is not to say they all like what is being preached. “The end” can’t be far off. 

The kingdom parables continue: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44) Let’s consider this parable together with the one immediately following: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46) In both cases, something of immense value—the Gospel of Christ unto salvation—was found. In the first case, the man wasn’t really looking for it; in the second, he was. But in both cases, the finder realized how valuable a thing he had found, and deemed it prudent to invest everything he owned in order to attain such a precious thing. Thus the kingdom of Heaven—this personal relationship with God attained by grace through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ—is not to be taken lightly. It is not “part of” one’s soteriological strategy—to be supplemented with good works, alms, penance, and piety as needed, just in case. No, this is the whole thing, the only thing. Everything else pales in comparison. 

Christ points out time and again that although good works (in the traditional sense: good behavior, piety, giving alms, etc.) do not save us, there is work to be done in the kingdom of heaven. The “work of God” described in the next parable is the fundamental, not to mention counterintuitive, job of “believing in the One whom Yahweh sent.” “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard….” The work day here is one’s time spent in the service of the kingdom of heaven. Ordinary (and ideally) you would go to work first thing in the morning—that is, as soon as you were old enough to comprehend the nature of the job—believing in Christ. I am among this group, having come to faith at an early age—mostly because I was born to godly parents who taught me the way of truth. 

Most are not so lucky. “And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive….’” God gives us our entire lives to “find employment” in His vineyard. It is no sin not to hear of the opportunity being presented, though it is a given that everyone is “looking for work,” for heaven is in our hearts by God’s design. What is shameful is when someone hears of God’s “job opening” and is too lazy, stubborn, or rebellious to apply for the job. But infinitely worse is withholding or concealing the good news from someone who’s honestly seeking such “employment.” Read II Peter 2 for scripture’s scathing denouncement of such false teachers. The bottom line: “These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.” (II Peter 2:17) 

Based on our human experiences, we might expect those who came to faith “late in the day” to somehow be considered second-class citizens in the kingdom of heaven. But this is not the case. “So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day….’” The counterintuitive truth is, “showing up for work in God’s vineyard” (i.e., coming to faith in Christ) during our mortal lifetimes is the only job requirement we are given. Yes, there are rewards in store for those who have served God faithfully, who have stored up “treasures in heaven.” But here in the vineyard parable, we’re talking about salvation issues—entering the kingdom of God—not gaining rewards for service once you get there. You can’t be a partial citizen of the kingdom: you’re either in or out. Nobody is more “saved” than any other redeemed soul. 

In other words, God’s mercy is tied to our faith (pictured here by going out to the vineyard trusting the owner to pay us at the end of the day), not our works (represented by how many pounds of grapes we picked—or even how many hours we worked). “But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” (Matthew 20:1-16) Let us not confuse the gift of salvation with subsequent rewards for service: they are two completely different things. And let’s face it: there is no benefit to be gained by postponing repentance until you’ve got stage-four cancer. Life without Christ is no picnic—no matter with the beer commercials say. 

Now that we’ve brought up the subject of rewards for faithful service subsequent to salvation, let’s visit Christ’s parable on the subject. Here again, there are some potential surprises. “For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey….” The master here is Yahshua the Messiah. The “journey” to the “far country” is His sojourn in heaven between the ascension and the rapture. The servants are described as “His own.” That is, we’re talking about people who are already saved—already servants of the Living God (in contrast with the “day-laborers” in the previous parable—folks who are still “looking for work”). 

And take careful note of what the servants (that’s us believers) had to work with. The talents (a measure of valuable metal somewhere between 75 and 90 pounds—a.k.a. “a lot”) were “given” to the servants as capital to invest, grow, or otherwise be used in the Master’s service. The Master knew going in that some of His servants were more “talented” (if you’ll pardon the pun)—that is, capable, worthy of trust, and astute enough to recognize promising opportunity when they saw it—and others were comparatively unimaginative, unambitious, and maybe a little dumb. My own eleven children offer a little personal insight on potential here: some were quite brilliant, some had average intelligence, some were a little slow, and two were profoundly mentally challenged. I must note, however, that of the able bodied ones, their successes depended less on high intelligence than on positive attitude and solid work ethic. 

Anyway, “Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord….’” The “after a long time” reference is a clue that Yahshua is imparting information about what we can expect after His return—during His Millennial reign. The “smart one” who had been given five talents to work with doubled his Master’s investment. The Master was pleased of course, but not terribly surprised, for this servant was known for his intelligence, ability, and integrity. (You’ll forgive me for fleshing out the plot a little—I am admittedly reading between the lines here.) 

What perhaps is surprising (considering that this parable is supposed to be revealing something about the kingdom of heaven) is that the “smart” servant was “rewarded” not with riches of his own (that we’re told of), but with added responsibility—the opportunity to serve his Lord at a higher level, with more at stake. This was not a position for the lazy or the faint of heart. A lesser man would have considered it a little scary: if the mailroom clerk makes a mistake, nothing very bad happens, but if the CEO screws up, the whole company suffers. Still, it’s nice to know the Chairman of the Board appreciates and trusts you. The implication is that during the kingdom age, we who have been faithful “servants of the Lord” during the church age will find ourselves “rulers,” whether of great or small matters. We won’t be sitting on clouds playing harps, like cherubs in some Renaissance painting.  

What about the guy with admittedly less potential? He too did well. “He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord….’” He too doubled his Master’s investment. And he received exactly the same commendation. The surprise comes when we factor in his undeniably diminished potential. It seems to me this servant did even better than has his gifted companion, for he had less to work with in the “talent” department, and yet achieved the same spectacular results, percentage-wise. I can only attribute his success to diligence and hard work (perhaps with a little insight thrown in), for he admittedly wasn’t quite as “clever” or as highly educated as his five-talent coworker. This guy simply did the best he could with what he had to work with—something we should all strive for. 

The Master knew going in that his one-talent servant didn’t have much imagination or initiative. Still, He gave him a chance to prove Him wrong: he was His servant, after all. Alas, he lived up to his abysmal reputation. “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’ But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest….” The one-talent wonder completely misread his Master. Yes, His standards were strict—impossible to keep, in point of fact. But that’s simply because He owned (or had created) everything the servant had ever seen, and Somebody had to decide what’s right or wrong. “The buck,” as Harry Truman put it, “stopped here.” 

To my mind, this servant is like the genuine but misguided believers in Revelation 2 and 3 who were urged to repent. And if they did not repent, what would happen to them is described in the lot of the one-talent servant: “Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.’ For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:14-30; cf. Luke 19:11-27) Don’t read “hell” into this. The servant wasn’t fired, sold, imprisoned, or killed. He remained in the service of the Master. But he would “rule” over nothing in the kingdom age: he (and those like him) would have no responsibility, no status, and no honor—but they would still be there, experiencing remorse over their lost opportunities. 

The church at Ephesus was cautioned, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5) Pergamos was told, “Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.” (Revelation 2:16) Thyatira was warned, “Indeed I will cast [Jezebel] into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.” (Revelation 2:22-23) And Thyatira was admonished, “You are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief.” (Revelation 3:1-3) 

This is all a long, long way from “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Christ’s commandment in all of this is to serve Him faithfully with whatever gifts we’ve been given to work with. Whether you’ve earned a couple of PhDs or can barely tie your shoes, do what you can to advance the kingdom of heaven. 

Another parable explains (sort of) why there is such a disparity of talent and ability in the Master’s service. In short, it’s because we “servants” are recruited from a much larger pool than just one culture (namely, Israel, who was blessed with the scriptures for a millennium and a half before the Messiah even showed His face). In this parable, the King is Yahweh; the bridegroom is the Son of God; the wedding invitations are the Gospel; and the servants (this time) are the prophets and apostles—those sent out by the King to invite people to come to the feast. Potential believers are cast as invited “wedding guests.” (Counterintuitively, it would transpire that those who finally accepted the wedding invitation would find themselves in the role of the bride. But this is complicated enough as it is—the parable didn’t go there.) 

“And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. Again, he sent out other servants, saying, “Tell those who are invited, ‘See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.’” But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them….’” The invitation was sent first to Israel, but they (as a nation) refused to heed it, though the King was the one they called “God,” and they knew from their ancient scriptures that His Son would one day appear among them. Alas, Israel has a long history of mistreating and ignoring its prophets. 

“But when the king heard about it, he was furious.” Historically, of course, the King was “furious” because the would-be “wedding guests” had the bridegroom crucified. “And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city….” This would happen in 70 AD, when the Romans sacked Jerusalem, killed 1.1 million Jews and enslaved another 97,000—so many the bottom fell out of the slave market in Egypt: they could barely give them away. The job was finished sixty-five years later, after the Jews revolted against Rome again. Emperor Hadrian wiped out the forces of the Jewish warlord Simon ban Kosiba (a.k.a. Bar Kochba—“Son of a star”), expelled the Jews from the Land, salted the fields to make them worthless, and changed the name of the place to “Palestina” after the long extinct Philistines—a name that stuck until 1948. 

Meanwhile, back in the parable, the King was still trying to fill the seats at the wedding feast. “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests….” This is a parabolic description of the results of the Great Commission (“Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.”—Matthew 28:19-20). The nations—the gentiles (well, some of us)—received the Gospel, while Israel (after an initial surge in which as many as one third of the populace accepted Christ) did not. Without going too far off into the weeds with the history, over the next century the Pharisees and rabbis wrested control of Jewish religion and politics from the Sadducees and priests. In the end, they managed to separate Christianity from Judaism in Israel—a job that would be finished a couple of centuries later when newly “Christianized” Rome declared all things Jewish an anathema. I realize it was all prophesied in broad strokes beforehand; still, it’s the worst thing that could have happened—to the Jews or the Christians. 

The parable continues, and it isn’t pretty. “But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.” No one had told him he needed a special garment to attend—he thought the engraved invitation should have been enough. “Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:1-14) We just read that the servants had gathered “both bad and good” to the wedding feast. And a few pages back, the parable of the mustard seed had revealed that the “church” would eventually grow much larger than its mandate would suggest—becoming the home of usurpers, opportunists, and pretenders in addition to genuine believers. 

So we learn that it’s not enough to get invited to the party, or even to show up for the festivities. You also have to don the “wedding garment” supplied by the King to his guests. There were to be no independent (read: rebellious) sartorial statements to detract from the bridegroom and His bride on their big day. It’s not hard to figure out what these “wedding garments” represent. They’re imputed righteousness. As we read as the prophetic story draws near its conclusion, “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” (Revelation 19:7-8) The point is that none of us are worthy to stand before a holy God on the basis of our own righteousness—all of us have sinned. So God our King has provided righteous we can put on. The “catch,” of course, is that we have to choose to don the garment of “fine linen, clean and bright” through which God doesn’t “see” our iniquity: He won’t force us to “wear” Christ’s sinlessness, though we are commanded to do so. 

Another parable with a similar theme goes like this: “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’” This, again, is the outworking of the Great Commission: all are invited into the Kingdom of God. “But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So that servant came and reported these things to his master….” The Jews—and specifically, its leaders, those who knew the Torah and the Prophets, and should have known what to expect of Yahweh’s Messiah—were the first to be invited. But for one reason or another, most of them refused to attend God’s party. 

The “rulers of the Jews”—the chief Priests, Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and lawyers—weren’t all there was to Israel, however. “Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind….’” These are the ordinary children of Abraham who—like Christ’s disciples—were receptive to the Gospel. The “leaders” of their society considered them naïve fools, sinners who appeared weak when they repented, faced with Yahshua’s holiness. (“You’d never catch us doing something like that.”) During the first few decades after the resurrection, a sizable minority of Israel’s population followed Christ, only to be ostracized by the ruling authorities. 

“And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” These “third-stringers” are us gentiles. The Torah, Psalms, and Prophets had all revealed (albeit subtly) that Yahweh’s salvation would be made available to all nations—not just Israel. The Book of Acts records how the process got started. And we are compelled—not by force or cultural pressure, but by the undeniable truth of God’s word. Meanwhile, the Pharisees and their ilk, the first to be called, found themselves summarily disinvited: “For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.’” (Luke 14:16-24) 

Speaking of blowing golden opportunities, this one ought to sting a bit: “‘Hear another parable. There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country.” The Landowner is Yahweh, of course, and the vinedressers are Israel, charged with tending God’s Word in the Promised Land. “Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit….” This fruit is righteousness, defined here as the keeping of the Torah’s precepts. Because of the Law’s prophetic significance, Yahweh was very clear about what would happen to the nation of Israel if they did—or if they did not—keep these Instructions. Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 contain horrifyingly accurate and specific prophecies describing what would happen to Israel if they turned their back on God—as Moses put it, “if you do not obey the voice of Yahweh your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you.” (Deuteronomy 28:15) 

“And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them.” These “servants” are the prophets with whom Israel was blessed over the centuries—most of whom were ignored, ridiculed, or attacked. “Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’” You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But by the time Yahshua arrived, Israel (or at least its leaders) had forgotten who their God was. “But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.” The parable is merging into prophecy here. It’s a bit surrealistic to hear Yahshua speaking of His own death—and the motivation behind it—before it happened. 

But at this point, it was “just” a story, so He asked His audience (identified in the text as the “chief priests and the elders” of Israel—the religious elite) the obvious question: “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?’ They said to Him, ‘He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.’” They had no idea they had just condemned themselves for something they hadn’t even done yet. Nor did they comprehend that the “fruit” of which they spoke was righteousness borne of obedience to Yahweh—something neither they nor their predecessors had been willing to bring forth. 

Rather than congratulating them on getting the obvious answer right, Yahshua appealed to the Psalms to explain what was really going on: “Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was Yahweh’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes”? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you [Israel, and specifically its chief priests and elders] and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.” The “builders” (Israel’s leadership) were about to reject their own promised Messiah, characterized here as the “chief cornerstone”—the sinless One against whom everything else must align. “And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.’” (Matthew 21:33-44, quoting Psalm 118:22-23; cf. Mark 12:1-11; cf. Luke 20:9-19) By their own assessment, the Kingdom of God on earth would be removed from Israel’s custody and given (temporarily, if you can call two thousand years “temporary”) to “another nation,” the church. 

I’m afraid we (the church) wouldn’t fare much better than Israel did. But that’s another story, another parable: “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps….” Olive oil (commonly used as lighting fuel back then) is a consistent Biblical metaphor for the Holy Spirit (see Zechariah 4:6). Not coincidentally, the indwelling of (or rebirth in) the Holy Spirit is the one thing that defines believers in the church age (according to Yahshua’s teaching in John 3). 

I won’t go into the wedding customs of the day, except to note that what we see here was perfectly normal. Each of the ten virgins had the capacity for the Spirit (as all of us do), but only five of them (described as “wise”) actually had the Holy Spirit dwelling within them (having been “born from above,” as Yahshua described it to Nicodemus). So far, then, the lesson is “Don’t presume you can meet or have a relationship with the returning Christ without the Holy Spirit empowering and quickening you. 

“But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.” Let’s face it: the bridegroom has been “delayed” a long time now—almost two thousand years. It’s no wonder some of us—even genuine believers—have fallen asleep on the job, even though our job was to remain awake and alert until His coming. You’ll note that even the foolish virgins knew He was coming: the information is freely available to everyone. “And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!...’” Alas, knowing the bridegroom is coming is not the same thing as being prepared for it. Even atheists know that Christ is expected to return in glory. They just don’t believe He will. 

So what happened? “Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” (Matthew 25:1-13) This is a description of the difference between two of the churches on Christ’s Revelation mailing list—the last two, Philadelphia (the church of the rapture) and Laodicea (the belatedly repentant Tribulation saints). Allow me to reprise my own commentary on this passage from The End of the Beginning

“The lessons are stunning. All of the bridesmaids knew the groom was coming. None of them knew when. All of them wanted to go to the party, and all of them were invited. None of them stayed wide awake, watching for His coming. They all had the same opportunity, that is, they all had oil lamps with them. (We all do. It’s called the neshamah, the ‘breath of life’ mentioned in Genesis 2:7. It gives us the capacity for spiritual indwelling, and it’s functionally what separates men from the animals.) The only difference between them was that the wise had oil—the Holy Spirit abiding within them—and the foolish didn’t. 

“Now, here’s the interesting part. All five of the foolish virgins went out and bought oil, and that meant they could still have a relationship with the Groom after the wedding feast. But the only time they could get this oil was while the party was going on. And they couldn’t come into the party halfway through, because the doors were shut. They had to wait outside the whole time. 

“This is all a picture of the rapture and the Tribulation that follows. But what does it mean to ‘buy oil’ after the party’s started? The oil, as I said, is a metaphor for the Holy Spirit. Buying oil is thus a picture of receiving God’s Spirit, of accepting His grace, for without it, there can be no relationship with the ‘Groom,’ Yahshua—they are One. The Laodiceans were told: ‘I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich.’ (Revelation 3:18) Those who take this counsel are characterized in the parable as the “foolish virgins” who waited to buy their oil until it was too late to be admitted to the party—the marriage supper of the Lamb. Their faith will be tested, refined in the coming crucible of trial known as the Tribulation. They will not escape this trial—in other words, they will not be raptured like the wise virgins—but rather, they will go through the fire—seven years of hell on earth. Many will be martyred, though some will manage to stay alive until the end. Turning to Yahweh during the Tribulation, of course, is better than never doing it, but it’s better yet to avoid the trial altogether.” 

Our final “kingdom of heaven” parable also describes the Last Days. “Another parable He put forth to them, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared.” Tares are noxious weeds that look like wheat, but produce nothing you can eat. They’re related to vetch, especially vicia sativa. “So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this….’” 

Having discovered the problem, it remained only to determine what to do to rectify the situation. “The servants said to him, “Do you want us then to go and gather them up?” But he said, “No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” (Matthew 13:24-30) The landowner was concerned first and foremost with bringing in his wheat crop safely. Getting rid of the tares was not his first priority, though everybody knew it would have to be done eventually. Dealing with the “enemy,” however, didn’t even rate a mention, because it was not the servants’ job to bring him to justice. That task was something only the landowner could do—and do it he would, in his own time. 

This is one of those relatively few parables Yahshua explained, so we wouldn’t misunderstand: “And His disciples came to Him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.’ He answered and said to them: ‘He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one.” So the Son of Man is primarily concerned with the welfare of His believers. This should surprise no one, because He is love personified. “The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels….” 

Once again, Yahshua has revealed that the kingdom (as we know it in this age) would eventually have people within it who have no business being here—who do not trust Him for salvation, but are rather using the church, attempting to gain some sort of temporal advantage: birds in the mustard bush, so to speak. But although they may “look” right, their lack of good fruit betrays them as imposters—sons of the wicked one, Satan. The “wheat” should have tasted like “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” But the tares tasted nasty: “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like.” (Both lists are from Galatians 5.) We find ourselves, growing together in the same field (the world). But God won’t let this situation continue forever. The harvest is coming. 

“Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!’” (Matthew 13:36-43) It is (again) made clear here that we “wheat stalks” are not to attack the tares ourselves. Yes, we are to identify sin as sin, but since we’re all sinners, we are not to judge one another. Yahweh’s angels, however, are under no such restrictions: they know who to bundle and burn, and who to welcome into the kingdom of God—and when. Christ Himself will deal with the “enemy” (Satan) who sowed the tares in the first place. 

Technically, this does not describe the rapture of the church (in which the “wheat” would have been described as being harvested first), but the subsequent separation of the new believers from the rebels during and immediately after the Tribulation. Besides the logistics of the thing, the involvement of “angels” is the tip-off. In Matthew 25:31-46, we read of the “separation of the sheep from the goats,” in which the angels are mentioned in connection with determining the disposition of all the still-living humans left on earth after the Great Unpleasantness. Clues from the Book of Daniel lead me to believe that this process will take place during the first forty-five days of the Kingdom age, the Millennial reign of Christ. What we know from Yahshua’s parable explanation is that these “goats” will be gathered “out of His kingdom,” at the “end of the age.” That makes it pretty clear.

***

Quite a few of Yahshua’s parables in the Gospels are not said to describe the “Kingdom of heaven” per se. These deal with issues such as priorities, fruitfulness, watchfulness, patience, repentance, and His own mission. 

“Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?” So he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21) There’s nothing wrong with wealth, but take note: it was the “ground” that produced the man’s riches. In other words, his wealth was a gift from God (the One who made the soil, and then made it fertile). The proper response would have been less self-congratulatory and more concerned for the welfare of those less gifted than he was. 

This is an admonition not to rest on our laurels, but to “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” as Paul put it in Philippians 3:14. As my wife and I push further into old age, we try to keep this in mind. She is forever “taking care” of whatever needs doing, as she has done all her life, impatient with a body that no longer allows her to do as much as she used to for people. And although I could sit here and congratulate myself for the thousands of pages already published here on my website, all I can think of is how little time I’ve got left to finish the task God has put before me. It’s becoming increasingly clear: there’s no way I’m going to get the job done before death or rapture takes me. In the meantime, my idea of “eat, drink, and be merry” is snacking and sipping coffee as I type. 

Speaking of fertile ground and getting things done, “He also spoke this parable: ‘A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, “Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?” But he answered and said to him, “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.”’” (Luke 13:6-9) First, let’s look at the symbols. Fig trees (especially in the context of grapevines) usually indicate that Israel is in view. Three is the number symbolizing accomplishment or significance. So Christ is saying that Israel has had all the time it should have needed to produce good fruit, but has failed to do so—why should it continue to be allowed to take up space in God’s world? The vineyard keeper (I believe that’s Christ) pleads for more time—one more year, making it a total of four years. And the vineyard owner (Yahweh) agrees to the plan. 

Here’s the rub. “Fertilizer” in that day and age wasn’t some exotic petrochemical elixir. It was animal dung. Israel was about to have its roots messed with and be covered in bovine excrement, all with the idea of encouraging it to produce good fruit, for once in its life. Being covered in crap doesn’t sound pleasant, but the symbols (and the scriptures) reveal that the nation of Israel, in the end, will repent and become fruitful. Indeed, this farfetched eventuality is the most oft-repeated prophecy in the Tanakh (probably because it sounds so unlikely). Four, after all, symbolizes God’s design. 

Nor is it much of an extrapolation to apply this principle to anything that belongs to God (that us, church) that isn’t producing good fruit. God is not reluctant to “cover us in crap” if it will help things to start working as they should. After all, “tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5) In other words, a little manure in our lives may not smell pleasant, but it just might help us grow. However, let us not ignore that ominous last line: “But if not, after that you can cut it down.” Bearing good fruit is, in the end, a choice we must make; it’s not the result of external forces being brought to bear. The “manure” is only there to remind us of our true natures. 

So taking on the role of “Captain Obvious,” Yahshua said, “A good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:43-45) Yahshua once told a rich young ruler, “No one is good but One, that is, God.” So we can only be “good trees” if we are rooted in Yahweh, and if His Spirit flows through us. Galatians 5 (quoted several times above) describes both the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.) and the works of the flesh (uncleanness, hatred, heresy, and all the rest). And Paul counsels us, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish…. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:16-17, 25) It’s not that we will automatically live sinless lives from the moment of our salvation: there are still two competing natures dwelling side-by-side within our mortal bodies. But when we choose to walk in the Spirit, God’s “good fruit” will predominate in our lives. 

Part of “walking in the Spirit” is learning to discern truth from lies, even if the lies sound reasonable, judicious, and rational at first. Christians especially need to learn how to distinguish religious traditions from what Christ actually commanded of us. “Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.’ And they reasoned among themselves, saying, ‘It is because we have taken no bread….’” Isn’t it interesting how our own mistakes (read: sins, if you like) tend to impose themselves into situations that are totally unrelated? It’s called conscience, and it comes as standard equipment on the human psyche. As Moses said (in a completely different context), “If…you have sinned against Yahweh, be sure your sin will find you out.” (Numbers 23:23) 

“But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, ‘O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread? Do you not yet understand, or remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you took up? Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many large baskets you took up? How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?—but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’” Christ had mentioned leaven, so they immediately were reminded of bread—and their apparent lack of it. But Yahshua reminded them that the basic needs of life would never be an issue for them if they “sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” His admonition, rather, had been to be aware and suspicious of the corruption that characterized the teachings of the religious leaders of the day—both the “conservatives” and the “liberals,” you’ll notice. “Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Matthew 16:5-12; cf. Mark 8:13-21) 

Yahshua once told three parallel parables that, in the final analysis, said pretty much the same thing as “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees,” though we have to stay on our toes to catch His meaning. (1) “Then He spoke a parable to them: ‘No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old one; otherwise the new makes a tear, and also the piece that was taken out of the new does not match the old.” (2) “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” And (3) “And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, “The old is better.”’” (Luke 5:36-39) 

The point, in all three illustrations, is that the Good News couldn’t be used in conjunction with the old religion of Judaism, for they were irreconcilable. The Gospel was something new, something unfamiliar and a bit disconcerting to those who assumed (because they’d been taught it all their lives) that the rabbinical system of manmade rules (their “hedge about the Law”) was what Yahweh expected of them. Ironically, the Gospel was a perfect fit for the Torah itself, but nobody even attempted to keep God’s actual Instructions anymore—although they revealed Christ between every line. Neither the pious restrictions of the Pharisees nor the cynical strategies of the Sadducees were in any way compatible with the freedom—the grace—provided by the good news of atoning salvation that became available through the sacrifice of Yahweh’s Messiah. 

So (1) you couldn’t “patch” the gaping holes in the Oral Law with the Gospel. (2) You couldn’t contain the Gospel within the confines of rabbinical tradition. And (3) once you were “used to” the bitter flavor of the old system of self-reliance, you were unlikely to prefer the sweet taste of grace through faith. 

The same thing is true of other ingrained religious systems, too. If you try to “blend” Christianity with paganism, Hinduism, Islam, or secular humanism, all you’ll get is something that looks all wrong, doesn’t work as you hoped it would, leaks like a sieve as it attempts to contain the evil in the world, and leaves a bitter aftertaste to anybody who tries it. This is not to say that no one has attempted to do this very thing. The process of adulteration defines many religious traditions to this very day. There is still a strong undercurrent of paganism running through the Roman Catholic Church, some seventeen centuries after Constantine. Many formerly orthodox Protestant sects now enthusiastically try to blend Marxism with Christianity. The latest iteration is translating “Yahweh,” “God,” or even “the Lord” as “Allah” in Bibles meant for distribution in Muslim-infested lands. Don’t even get me started on the abomination known as “Chrislam,” a noxious blend of Christian style and Islamic substance. It’s all a recipe for disaster. 

I realize that there is a trend afoot in recent years to try to make Christianity more “inclusive,” more “seeker friendly.” But we were called to holiness, not popularity, not compromise. The Gospel is incompatible with—and infinitely superior to—anything the world can conjure up. So Christ asks, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say? Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock. But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6:46-49) He’s saying that your “blended” faith won’t necessarily seem like the disaster it is until trouble comes—but trouble always comes. 

It’s not so much that faith in Christ is a “better house” that any conceivable alternative—built more substantially, or out of better, stronger materials, etc. In point of fact, real faith-based Christianity looks to many to be flimsy, counterintuitive, and even illogical. To them, doing “good works” to please a powerful and grumpy god makes far more sense—even if you yourself have to define what those good works might be. But the issue is not the “house” at all. It’s what the house is built upon: the real difference is in the part that nobody sees—the foundation. 

Two people, one anchored in Christ, the other operating out of political correctness, might do exactly the same thing (for instance, donating money to hurricane relief or mowing an injured neighbor’s lawn). These “good works” are the equivalent of the “house” one has built. The one doing good things in the name of Christ can count on his assurance of God’s love when he himself is faced with material loss or physical setbacks. Meanwhile, when the other man’s fortunes turn against him (as they are apt to do in one’s lifetime), he can only shake his fist at the God he swears doesn’t exist, and shout, It’s so unfair. Here’s the problem: “fairness” (a.k.a. justice) is an attribute of the holy God he has rejected. Besides, what he’s suffering is merely the inevitable inconvenience of the human condition. We are a fallen race, living in a fallen world. Christians and heathens alike are subject to death and disaster. Our foundations make the difference in how able we are to weather the storm. 

Christ’s parables often compare two people against each other. We are to notice how they differ, and choose the better path. “And He spoke a parable to them: Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch?...” The lesson: don’t follow blind people. Yahshua declared Himself to be the “light of the world” (see John 8:12, 9:5, 12:46, etc.), and subsequently identified His disciples as lights in the world as well (Matthew 5:14). The parable’s principle, then, is that we may safely follow Christ—or anyone who is himself following after Him. People who are getting their “truth” from some other source, however, are by definition blind. Even if they get things right from time to time, we are not to trust them for leadership. Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and then. 

Without taking a breath, He said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher….” Another way of looking at “leaders and followers” is to consider the relationship between “teachers and pupils.” If our teacher is in fact “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6)—the only One who can lead us to Father Yahweh—then we will never outgrow Him as Master or surpass Him in knowledge, skill, or authority. But we are encouraged: we can (if we allow Him to train us perfectly) become like Him. Putting it into terms I can actually comprehend, I still have fond memories of my guitar mentor half a century back—a talented and knowledgeable Los Angeles session player named Julian C. “Buddy” Matlock. I’ll never be the musician he was, but I’ve been using and developing what he taught me my entire adult life—not just classical and jazz guitar technique, but music theory, chord structure, and an attitude toward the craft that has somehow spilled over into every area of my life. I can only hope that my relationship with Christ my Teacher has shaped my existence in similarly indelible ways, for the life I’m enjoying through His influence will never end.   

The parable series continues: “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.’” (Luke 6:39-42) Here the comparison is between two “brothers,” both of whom are potentially in a position to aid and support each other. Brothers are close enough to one another to know when something’s wrong—when the other brother has something in his life that needs to be dealt with, that’s holding him back from a closer walk with God. Christ’s admonition here is to examine your own life before presuming to provide the solution to your brother’s issues. We’re all sinners: don’t lecture your brother about his tendency to be dismissive or unresponsive toward others (for example) until you’ve repented of your own anger (or pride, or narcissism, or lust, or greed—the list could go on forever). The underlying fact here is that we all have something (or many things) from which we should repent. Don’t judge your brother until you’re perfect. (Oh, and by the way, you and I will never be perfect in this life.) 

Recognizing our own shortcomings is a key to displaying the humility our Savior requires of us. If we know we’re flawed—that we’re “works in process”—then being prideful should be the least of our sins. Yahshua was once invited to lunch at the home of an important Pharisee. “He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: ‘When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted….” It wasn’t a “parable” in the usual “storytelling” sense, but it did provide food for thought. The “theoretical” here was that he was speaking of a “wedding feast” (while this was just lunch), but His lesson was perfectly transparent. 

The admonition was to avoid self-aggrandizement—imagining yourself to be more important, or worthy, than you actually are. Sitting down uninvited in the seat of honor at a wedding feast (Christ’s example here) has hundreds of potential parallels in our everyday lives. But the bottom line is: don’t exalt yourself—let someone else do it, even if it needs doing. As Yahshua said elsewhere, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12) Ideally, this exaltation will come from God Himself. As Peter put it, “‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (I Peter 5:6-7, quoting Proverbs 3:34) And Paul says the same thing: “Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.” (Romans 12:3, NLT) 

Shifting gears, Yahshua gave his host some sound advice: “Then He also said to him who invited Him, ‘When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.’” (Luke 14:7-14) Think beyond the guest list at our dinner parties. This should apply to every facet of our lives. Our motivation in doing kindnesses for others should not be the prospect of our own eventual benefit. Don’t do “favors” for people in the hope that they will return the favor with interest. If you find yourself in “middle management,” don’t bribe your boss with coffee and donuts—such things are better used as a statement of appreciation to your staff. You get the idea. At the very least, don’t let the status of the recipient of your kindness have any bearing on what you do for them. If there is a need, fill it to the best of your ability, without calculating how your action might somehow turn ’round for your benefit. 

Another parable, also recorded by Luke, seems to teach precisely the opposite lesson. But it’s an illusion: we need to stay on our toes here. “There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward….’” The steward was guilty of shady business dealings; he had been caught with his hand in the till, and was about to lose his high paying job. The writing was on the wall—no more fat expense account, no more Porsche, no more penthouse suite. He had to come up with a strategy for “landing on his feet,” and quickly. 

“Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.’ So he called every one of his master’s debtors to him, and said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ So he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ So he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty….’” The steward’s scheme was as clever as it was dishonest. He went to everybody who owed his master money, and gave them all a healthy discount—while he still had the authority to do so. Thus they were all indebted to him, to one extent or another. 

Where the parable seems to go off the rails is the master’s response to this ploy, when he found out about it: “So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly….” Note carefully: the master didn’t applaud him because he was an embezzler, a thief, and a scoundrel. He did so because he had shown resourcefulness and insight in what was (for him) a desperate situation. The master didn’t like what the cagy steward had done, of course, but he couldn’t help but admire his brazen sagacity. Nor did he relent and keep him on the payroll. But we get the feeling that he didn’t “send him to the torturers until he had repaid the last penny” either, like the unforgiving servant in another parable. Basically, what we have here is a clever squirrel who defeats every strategy we employ to keep him out of the bird feeder. He’s so entertaining, it’s hard to be angry with him. 

But where does this leave us parable-readers? Yahshua’s point was that we are to be similarly “shrewd” concerning the kingdom of heaven. One pundit writes, “Though the dishonesty of such a servant was detestable, yet his foresight, care, and contrivance about the interests of this life, deserve to be imitated by us, with regard to the more important concerns of another.”—Benson Commentary. Or as Yahshua said, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home….” We are operating in a different theater, with different objectives, than the unjust steward. Like the thieving squirrel, he did whatever he felt he had to do in order to feed himself—thinking only of this mortal life. We are to use the same kind of “foresight, care, and contrivance” as he did, but with our objectives geared instead for the kingdom of God. We aren’t to be deceitful, of course, but our “master” is The Master, Yahshua Himself—whose resources are unlimited. He won’t really mind if we “divert” some of His riches to kingdom purposes in this world—laying up “treasures in heaven” for ourselves in the process. 

Christ speaks of “when you fail,” for we all do: our bodies are not built to last. This life, in the end, is here to prepare us for the next one. “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own?” (Luke 16:1-12) The practical application is to realize that your true character is revealed in everything you do, whether great or small. If you’re willing to cheat on your taxes or expense account, you might cheat on your wife as well. But if you do the little jobs to the best of your ability (“as unto Christ,” as Paul would put it) then God is justified in giving you more responsibility. In the last job I worked before I retired, the CEO was in the habit of giving folks bigger jobs than they thought they could handle—just to reveal their character. Sometimes we failed, but just as often, we surprised ourselves, learned new skills, and gained the confidence needed to tackle even greater things. (Pity he hired one too many “unjust stewards,” sinking the entire company in the end.) 

Persistence is the theme of another parable. “Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: ‘There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, “Get justice for me from my adversary.” And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, “Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me….”’” As the old saying goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” The point of the parable was to be persistent when petitioning God: “pray always and not lose heart.” Based on Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” example (II Corinthians 12), the preferred pattern of persistence seems to be “Ask God three times to grant your request. If He says ‘No,’ in so many words, then rely upon His grace to see you through your trial.” God’s power is revealed through our weaknesses. 

Yahshua explained this parable: “Then the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unjust judge said.” Basically, he “said” that the only reason he was granting the widow’s request was her perseverance and tenacity—not the rightness of her cause. “And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily….” The particular sort of prayer in view in this parable is attaining redress against people who are unfairly attacking you (as in the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:11-12, etc.). Remember, vengeance belongs to Yahweh alone—He will repay. (See Deuteronomy 32:35.) 

“Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?’” (Luke 18:1-8) Yahshua ends the story with a frustrated reference to His second coming (though I’m pretty sure nobody caught it at the time). The parable is about people persistently asking God to right the wrongs being done to them. But the Tribulation (at the end of which “the Son of Man will come”) will be a time in which the forces of evil will be allowed free rein in the earth for three and a half years. As the angel told Daniel, “When the power of the holy people has been completely shattered, all these things shall be finished.” (Daniel 12:7) Israel will be living under a state of siege, and the belatedly repentant church of Laodicea will be suffering martyrdom in unprecedented numbers—“as gold is tried in the fire.” It will be hard to maintain one’s faith under such circumstances—when God will have to, by His own word, defer vengeance until the appointed time has run its course. 

Christ’s ultimate mission was the focus of many of His parables and illustrations. It was a subject made that much more confusing by the fact that this mission would consist not of one advent, or even two, but would encompass the entire age from the passion until the conclusion of the Millennial Sabbath—the fifth, sixth, and seventh “days” of mankind’s “week” upon the earth. It’s no wonder He resorted to such sweeping symbols to communicate the nature of our spiritual reality. Language and culture would shift and twist, but His symbols and metaphors would mean pretty much the same thing no matter where—or when—you were living. 

He often characterized Himself as “the Good Shepherd,” He who cares for Yahweh’s sheep (see Psalm 23), as reflected in the next couple of parables. “‘Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber….” We believers are the “sheep.” The sheepfold is where the sheep are kept safe. It is the ekklesia—the called-out assembly of Christ. The “door” in this illustration is the “narrow gate” Yahshua spoke of elsewhere, the way of truth and trust that so few choose to employ—personified in the end by Christ Himself. Entering the sheepfold “some other way,” then, is a picture of unauthorized salvation strategies—religion, denial, apostasy, etc. 

“But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper [this would be Father Yahweh] opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers….’” The sheep don’t “live” in the sheepfold. That is, even though we are “safe” cloistered within the walls of the church, life happens outside. The green pastures, the still waters, and the paths of righteousness are all out in the world—where the wolves are. But we “sheep” can still be secure out there—if we follow the voice of the Good Shepherd. 

But how are we to know this voice? There are a lot of shepherds, all calling to their own sheep. Yahshua, though, is the One who knows each of us by name. He speaks to us through His word, and we learn through experience that as long as we listen, as long as we follow Him, we’ll be safe and secure. It’s all an issue of trust—of belief. Initially, it’s a choice we make—to follow the voice of this Shepherd, to the exclusion of the others, the strangers. But once we learn what His voice sounds like, once we have followed Him out into the world and watched Him provide for us and defend us from the predators, our faith, now tested and proven, becomes reliance. And at that point, we are ready to follow Him into pastures we’ve never seen before—even if we have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death to get there. 

“Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them.” (John 10:1-6) The “they” here was apparently a mixed crowd. Chapter 9 ends with a confrontation with some Pharisees, and the chapter breaks in our Bibles weren’t part of the original text. Yahshua had just called the Pharisees “blind” (though they wanted everyone to believe they perceived all spiritual truth). But something tells me the disciples understood this perfectly before it was all over. 

Without pausing to take a breath, Yahshua now shifts His metaphor ever so slightly, describing Himself as the “door” the sheep were to use. “Then Jesus said to them again, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly….” We are reminded that He later said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) So we all intuitively understand that Yahshua is the door into the sheepfold—that is, into a relationship with the Father. But what some of us miss is that He is also the door that leads out into the wide world, where the pasture is. That is, although we believers must be in the world, the world (as we walk through it) is not to be in us. The fact is, there are other doors leading out of the sheepfold, but they lead to bondage, error, despair, and death—not green pastures and still waters. We who hear and respond to His voice are to both enter and egress through Christ alone. 

Shifting back to the metaphor of the Good Shepherd, Yahshua explains what that entails. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” That is, He defends them to the death—because they’re His own flock. Yahshua was aware how “extreme” this may have sounded, but He also knew that the parable was a prophecy—not poetic exaggeration. “But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep….” The “employee mentality” says, “I’ll put in my time, but I won’t stick my neck out. At the first sign of danger or distress, I’m out of here. They’re not paying me enough to take personal risks.” That may be okay if you’re flipping burgers for a living. But if your “job” entails ensuring the welfare of human souls, then you’re held to a higher standard. The Pharisees fancied themselves “shepherds” of God’s flock, but Yahshua was calling them hirelings who would cut and run at the first sign of trouble. They were simply in it for the paycheck. In this respect, the Pharisees are still around, I’m afraid. 

“I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.” In the culturally based symbology here, the son (especially the firstborn) shared the agenda, and even the identity (i.e., his position as the family’s representative), of the father. What the father thinks, the son expresses. What the father owns, the son inherits. So Yahshua takes a personal—and deadly serious—interest in Father Yahweh’s sheep. “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd….” Since He was speaking to Jews (many of whom fancied that their nation comprised the sum total of God’s flock) He revealed that gentiles too, though not of the same “fold” as Israel, were also His beloved sheep. I must reiterate, of course, that unlike the case in ordinary animal husbandry, we human “sheep” get to choose whether or not we wish to be part of God’s flock. 

Finally, He got more specific about what it meant for the Good Shepherd to “lay down his life for the sheep.” “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.’” (John 10:7-18) He had to have “lost them” at this point. Ordinary shepherds may defend their flocks to the death, but they don’t go out with the express purpose of sacrificing themselves to the wolves. Nor do regular shepherds have the ability to raise themselves from the dead. On Christ’s lips, this was all perfectly true, as subsequent events would attest, but it was all utterly without precedent in the real world. No parable would be able to do justice to the passion. 

Note too that Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf was due to His obedience to the Father’s command. Again, we have to work through the imagery here: Yahshua was not only the literal “Son of God,” He was also Yahweh Himself, albeit revealed to us in a “less lethal” form. So the “diminished manifestation” of God is seen obeying the Almighty Father Yahweh. Don’t feel bad if you can’t quite get your head around it: nobody really does. But this is precisely what was prophesied by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15-19. One could not experience the unfiltered presence of Yahweh and live to tell the tale. But Yahshua was (and is) Yahweh Himself—they share the same identity, just not the same form. The point is that we are to obey the commandments we have received from Yahshua, just as He did of the commandments of Yahweh. 

Simon “Foot-in-Mouth” Peter clearly didn’t understand any of this—at least until after the resurrection. But while the rest of the disciples stood around scratching their heads and exchanging furtive glances, Peter could be counted on to blurt out the first thing that came to mind. “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!...’” Just before this, Peter had been the first of the disciples to make the connection: Yahshua was the Messiah—God’s anointed One. But this statement—uttered out of unfeigned love for the Master—revealed that the big fisherman didn’t have a clue as to what being “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” meant: laying down his life for the sheep. Perhaps he thought this was one of Yahshua’s many incomprehensible parables. But it wasn’t: this was prophecy—a clear statement (for all its horror) of what it would mean to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” 

So Yahshua’s response was harsh but necessary: “But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:21-23; cf. Mark 8:31-33) He wasn’t really calling Peter “Satan,” as in “Lucifer, the fallen angel who aspired to be like the Most High.” (See Isaiah 14:12-15.) Satan simply means “adversary.” Ironically, however, Yahshua (in Luke 4) said exactly the same thing (and for exactly the same reason) to the real Satan as the devil tempted Him in the wilderness forty days after His baptism. “Bypass the cross,” they said. “It isn’t necessary,” they said. “Yes, it is. Get behind me, Satan.” The imperative for us here (as it was to Peter) is to “be mindful of the things of God, rather than the things of man.” Even though we’re built with Yahweh’s creative nature, our human solutions to the problems that confront us are seldom in perfect sync with God’s word. Of course, in order to be attentive to the “things of God,” we have to first know what these things are. We must read and heed the scriptures He was so careful to give us. We can’t just say, “I’m pretty sure God would have done it this way if He were as smart as I am.” 

It was inevitable, I suppose, that Yahshua would have given us a couple of parables instructing us how to comport ourselves as we waited for His return. “Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning, and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants….” The Master (that’s Christ) is pictured as being away from His estate, attending a wedding, while His servants (that’s us) are charged with holding down the fort in His absence. These soirees can last a few days or couple of weeks, and then there’s the travel time to consider: the bottom line is that the servants have only a rough idea, but no precise information, about when the Master will return. But still, they are charged with being ready to receive Him home from His travels, night or day, rain or shine. We are “blessed” if we remain awake and alert, waiting expectantly for His coming. 

This is good advice on general terms, of course—applicable throughout the church age: we are instructed many times to “watch.” But if we take it to a slightly more literal and specific level, some new data emerges. Maybe. If the “wedding” here is the actually “Marriage Supper of the Lamb” spoken of in Revelation 19:7-9 (and referred to in more esoteric ways throughout the New Testament) then the wedding is actually that of the Master; and it will take place in heaven while the seven-year Tribulation is raging here on earth. His bride is the raptured church of Philadelphia—who has been “kept out of this trial” (Revelation 3:10)—along with believers who lived throughout the church age. The “servants,” then, are the belatedly repentant saints of the church of Laodicea, who are commanded to remain faithfully watchful despite the great adversity they’re suffering—knowing their Master will return to them with His bride, but not knowing quite when. (In truth, the data is available, but they’re in no position to access it: Christ will return to earth with His bride exactly 1,285 days after the Antichrist takes power—but you have to get into the timing minutiae divulged ever so subtly in the Books of Leviticus, Daniel, and Revelation to figure it out. And the Laodiceans simply won’t have the leisure to do so. They’ll be hiding, hoping, and hanging on by their fingernails.) 

The next part of the parable could also be applied with equal validity to both pre-rapture and post-rapture saints. “But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Luke 12:35-40) Yahshua has shifted gears here. The “master” in this case in not He Himself, but the devil—the one who (at the moment) is described by Christ as the “ruler of this world” (see John 12:31, 14:30, and 16:11). And the “thief,” so to speak, is Yahshua, who is coming at an unexpected and unannounced hour to take back from Satan what rightfully belongs to Him—us. Satan may be as clever as he is evil, but he’s not omniscient. The Son of God will catch him flat-footed and unprepared. This, of course, explains why Yahshua was so cryptic with His timing clues, and why the best advice He could give us was to remain watchful and vigilant. 

“Then Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, do You speak this parable only to us, or to all people?...’” Peter had no idea what Yahshua was talking about. But as usual, though Christ didn’t bother answering him directly, He got straight to the heart of the matter—that of which Peter would have asked had he understood enough to ask intelligent questions. (Is this not how our prayers are generally answered by God?) I love Peter: he may not have known what to say, but he kept the conversation going—to our eternal benefit. 

“And the Lord said, ‘Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has….” We’re back to considering normal master-servant relationships here—that is, where Yahshua is the Master and we believers are the servants—specifically, stewards: those who manage, administer, or act as agents for someone else; in other words, we who have been given responsibilities to attend to in the Master’s absence. We are commanded to be “faithful and wise,” characteristics further defined as providing for (read: loving) His other servants in the Master’s absence. 

And what would the converse look like? “But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers….” Woe to that steward who doesn’t think highly enough of the Master to perform what he knows to be His will—even if He is not physically present. 

“And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.” (Luke 12:41-48) Our responsibilities in our Master’s absence are commensurate with what we’ve been given to work with—just as in the parable of the talents. I can’t help but reflect that in these Last Days, knowledge of God’s Word is available to us with fewer restrictions, and better study tools, than in any previous age. Will not our generation be held to a higher standard than any of those who came before us? 

If we love Christ, we are to keep His commandments. And now that we know what those commandments are, let us no longer plead ignorance or shirk our responsibilities, for we are empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. 

God help us. 





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