Through the Bible in a Year: Matthew 24 to 28

Introduction: Unrelated to Today’s Reading

If you are enjoying this through the Bible series or getting anything out of it, you really need to give thanks to God today. As I write this, two days before you’ll read it, I just got a stem cell transplant yesterday (Jan. 17).

There’s really no reason I should have the energy to be undertaking a task like this. Commentaries like the ones I’ve done the last two days take at least 2 hours. (Last week’s only took about an hour each, maybe a little more.) I’m taking the time to look up and link early Christian quotes for you, rather than just telling you things from memory.

I have the energy to do such things because people are praying for me, and God is carrying me along miraculously. I feel obligated to give him praise and to thank all of you wonderful people who are praying for me.

Matthew 24: End Times; A Story

When I was in my 20’s, I was very excited about carefully putting together all the prophecies of Revelation, Daniel, Zechariah, Matthew 24, Mark 13, etc. I would say that I read books and studied the Scriptures on the subject for two years. I carefully compared the arguments of many people, and carefully built a model that I felt put all the Scriptures together.

I’m good at that sort of thing. I hope it’s not inappropriate to tell you that I’m a member of Mensa, the international high-IQ society. Don’t be fooled. High IQ doesn’t necessarily mean you’re smart in any useful sense, but it does mean that you’re really good at puzzles. Tests say that in an average group of 500 people, I should be in the top one or two at assembling theoretical models like that.

One day, as I was driving and explaining my model of the end times, of which I was so proud, to a 17-year-old who read the Scriptures but didn’t know them very well, he asked me one question about my theory.

I couldn’t answer it. My theory collapsed on itself in a massive cloud of dust.

One question. From a teenager. Two years work undone.

It’s a lot easier to tear apart end time scenarios than to build them.

Like I’ve been saying, Jesus’ teachings about the end times are not to help us build end time scenarios. Not one single Messiah scenario proved to be accurate at Jesus’ first coming. He had to reveal the Scriptures when he came. It should not surprise us that it will be this way the second time.

Matthew 24: What I Can Tell You

  • Lots of Christians have theories on Matthew 24. Some think all of it was fulfilled by A.D. 70, when Jerusalem fell, and some think almost none of it was fulfilled then.
  • At the very least, the temple really was torn down with no stone left upon another in A.D. 70 by the Roman general Tatian.
  • For 1870 years after, no Jew was allowed in Jerusalem.
  • God restored Jerusalem to the Jews in 1948. Whether you believe that’ a fulfillment of prophecy or not, that is an absolutely incredible story!
  • When Tatian marched on Jerusalem in A.D 70, it was Matthew 24 that warned the Christians to flee Jerusalem, saving their lives.
  • The “abomination of desolation” is mentioned in Daniel as well (8:13). He may be referring to the offering of a pig on the altar by Antiochus Epiphanes in A.D. 167. Bible.ca gives some thoughts, as well as quotes from 1 and 2 Maccabees, on the abomination of desolation.

Those sorts of issues are easy. There are actual historical events to point to. Future events are not so easy to discern.

Even in the link I give you above, I feel the writer has way too much confidence. Just because the abomination of desolation was fulfilled in A.D. 70 does not mean that it doesn’t have a future fulfillment as well! Don’t forget Matthew’s quote of Isaiah 7:14. Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled during the days of King Ahaz, several centuries before Jesus’ birth, but it was also fulfilled when Jesus was born.

There are plenty of statements in Matthew 24 which do not make sense in the context of the events of A.D. 70. Do we really want to say that Jesus came in A.D. 70, has already been seen by all the tribes of the earth, and that his angels have already gathered the elect? (vv. 30-31).

I know I don’t.

Let us learn from the past and humbly keep our eyes open for how God fulfills these things in our lives.

Matthew 24: The Point You Must Not Miss

Therefore you must be ready, for it as at an hour that you do not expect that the Son of Man is coming. (v. 44)

A wise teacher once told me that you can judge a teaching by the commands given at the end of it.

Jesus’ teachings have a point, and they typically end in practical guidance. Most other teachings do, too, and it is often easier to compare the instructions at the end of some man or church’s teaching with the instructions at the end of Jesus’ teaching than to try to figure out the entire teaching on your own. Go with the teaching that tells you to do what Jesus tells you to do.

Matthew 24 has a practical instruction at the end. We must be ready because we don’t know when he’s coming.

This instruction by Jesus, by the way, should have allowed you to completely dismiss Harold Camping’s ridiculous prophecies of the rapture made earlier this year (a repeat of his mistakes in 1994). You’ll have to search for that story yourself if you haven’t heard of it. There are dozens of news links I found in my search, and those won’t be permanent if I give you a link them from here. Eventually news links are usually taken down.

Matthew 24:45-48: How To Be Ready for Jesus’ Coming

Jesus gives clear instructions in this passage on what it means to be ready. Matthew 25 will give us even clearer instructions.

Matthew 25:1-29: The Parables of the Virgins and the Talents

I don’t think it will benefit you to get my help in interpreting these two parables.

Matthew 25:31-46: The Judgment

This passage is not difficult to interpret, either … unless you’ve been trained by modern theologians.

The passages on the judgment in Scripture do not contradict. They are not difficult to interpret. They are all consistent, and they all say the same thing. After we die, we will be judged by our works. This passage describes the works more specifically than any other, but passages like Galatians 5:19-21 an Revelation 21:8 list some evil works that apply at the judgment if we have lived in them without repentance.

In modern times, however, we have developed an extreme and inaccurate emphasis on "salvation by faith alone," an emphasis specifically and thoroughly refuted directly in the Bible at James 2:14-26. It even refutes the specific wording. (James 2:24 is the only occurrence of the phrase "faith only" in the entire Bible.)

I am not saying we are saved by our own efforts! I know, emphasize, and constantly proclaim that apart from Christ, we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5).

I am saying, however, that our relatively recent historical overemphasis on salvation by faith alone has made us create ridiculous, embarrassing interpretations of Scripture that don’t allow us to simply read passages like Matthew 25:31-46 for what they say.

The judgment is a specifically bad area for this sort of misinterpretation, with over-zealous, confused theologians splitting the judgment into two judgments so that they can have a judgment for Christians that doesn’t involve anyone going to hell (as this passage does).

On the other hand, if these sheep aren’t Christians, then who are they?

You don’t want to know. There are many answers that these confused theologians give. That sort of thing definitely has to be reserved for advanced studies elsewhere.

You will do much better just letting the Scriptures say what they say. You will wind up agreeing exactly with those who actually heard the apostles speak. (And those are people I always recommend you read. As I said yesterday, you can read some of them in modern English here.)

So here’s my advice for you on Matthew 25:31-46. Jesus means exactly what he appears to mean. It’s not confusing.

Matthew 26:1-5: The Plot Begins

Remember that in yesterday’s reading, Jesus took on the Pharisees aggressively. He’s ready to die. This is just the plan unfolding.

Matthew 26:6-13: The Alabaster Vial

This one’s for you to interpret, not for me to interpret for you, but don’t miss that Jesus himself says this scene is important. It will be discussed wherever the Gospel is preached, he says. Let us get whatever lessons the Holy Spirit gives to us from this. Definitely "chew the cud" on this one!

Matthew 26:14-25: Judas

Again, this is part of the plan of God. Don’t think that everything God plans will look good to us. Don’t be like Peter, rebuked by Jesus in Matthew 16, for looking on things from man’s viewpoint. It was good that Judas betrayed Jesus. It was the plan of God.

However, don’t hope for mercy for Judas. Americans love a happy ending, but Jesus makes it clear it would have been better for Judas never to have been born than to have done what he did (v. 24).

From my own opinion, let me say, too, that while Judas’ betrayal is part of the plan of God, it was not something God forced Judas to do. There is a difference between foreknowledge and predetermination. You may know what your spouse would do in response to a certain situation, but that does not mean that you forced them to do it!

Judas was responsible for his own behavior; God just used it to fulfill the plan of our redemption.

Matthew 26:26-29: The Lord’s Supper and the New Covenant

Jesus’ death and blood brought in the New Covenant. Jesus held up the cup of wine at this dinner and said that it was the blood of the New Covenant and that we should continue to do this in memory of him.

The church’s response in the early years was to do this weekly on Sunday mornings. Sunday was chosen because it was the day on which he rose, and every week the church celebrated the resurrection on that day (ref and ref).

Matthew 26:26-29: A Symbolic Supper? (Advanced)

You may know there is a dispute between Catholics, Protestants, and denominations that are somewhat in between, over whether the Lord’s Supper is a symbolic meal or whether there is a "real presence" of Christ.

Obviously, there is something symbolic about the meal. Bread and wine are being eaten and drunk, not the meat and blood of Jesus’ resurrected body.

It is just as obvious, though, that the early Christians saw it as far more than symbolic. One of the earliest Christian writers, a head pastor of the church at Antioch—the apostle Paul’s home church—and possibly appointed by the apostles to that position, calls the bread of the Lord’s Supper "the medicine of immortality; the antidote to keep us from dying" (Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians 20, A.D. 107-116).

I would point out as well that the apostle Paul tells us that eating the Lord’s Supper unworthily can lead to sickness and death (1 Cor. 11:29-30). If eating the Lord’s Supper unworthily can have negative results, why would eating it worthily not bring positive results?

As for determining whether there is a "real presence" of Christ in the communion bread and wine, that is impossible to determine. There is nothing in the Scriptures or the early Christian writings about such a thing, and it is nothing but something to argue about and divide over—and thus an egregious sin—in my opinion.

Matthew 26:26-29: The Lord’s Supper and Grape Juice

Just a note on wine vs. grape juice. Grape juice is a modern invention. Grape juice requires preservatives to last longer than a couple days without becoming wine. There was no way for early Christians to eat the Lord’s Supper with grape juice. They drank wine.

America is the only culture in history with a taboo against alcohol. The Scriptures are only against drunkenness.

I understand concerns about former alcoholics in the church. Churches can deal with that as they need to. I’m just commenting on history and fact here.

Matthew 26:31-55: Jesus Betrayed, Arrested, and Abandoned

Peter directly denied the Lord, but all the apostles abandoned him. Judas directly betrayed him. In the end, only his Father and the angels stood by him.

This was a dark, difficult night for our Savior. It was a temptation so great that even the Son of God asked for the cup to pass from him and sweat drops of blood in preparation.

We have read that our Savior’s yoke is easy and his burden is light (11:28-30), but there will be hard times for us, just as there have been for our Savior.

However, like our Savior, we will find our Father in heaven and his angels there to give us everything we need if we will always remember that "apart from him, we can do nothing" (Jn. 15:5), but in him, we can do everything (Php. 4:13).

Matthew 26:57-68: Jesus Before Caiaphas

The high priest and the Sanhedrin did not really have the power to put people to death. The Romans alone had that power. Caiaphas needed a good accusation, however, in order to ask for the death penalty. Jesus gives it to them in v. 64 by telling them the truth, that he was the Son of Man who would come on the clouds of glory as mentioned in Daniel 7:13.

Should I mention that Jesus does not answer Caiaphas until he commands Jesus to do so by the authority of the living God? Jesus held some regard for the official offices instituted by Moses (Matt. 23:2-3), and God himself seemed to have regard for the office as well (Jn. 11:49-51), even if neither had regard for the persons who held that office.

Matthew 27:1-2: Jesus brought to Pontius Pilate

Pilate was the Roman governor. As I said, the Sanhedrin needed Roman approval to put Jesus to death.

Matthew 27:3-10: Judas Hangs Himself (Advanced)

This passage says Judas hung himself. Acts 1:16-20 has a different version of Judas’ death, though both involve a potter’s field being bought (cf. the prophecy in Zech. 11:12-13).

There are several attempts to reconcile the two. I admit to being one who doesn’t worry about such things. Good eyewitness reports are supposed to differ in details, or police assume there was collaboration on the part of the witnesses. I believe that inspiration from God is spiritual because God is concerned about spiritual things, not about ensuring that exact details match between Matthew’s memory and the memory of whomever Luke interviewed to make his report in Acts.

Matthew 27:11-26: Jesus before Pilate

This speaks for itself, but there is something spiritual going on here, too. It cannot be for no reason that the replacement for Jesus, the one that was released for the day of Passover, was named Barabbas. The name means "Son of Father" in Greek.

God is always putting spiritual significance in front of us in daily events. Keep your eyes wide open for them, as they can provide both encouragement and guidance.

Note, too, that the same crowds that were shouting, "Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!," were now shouting, "Crucify him!"

Jesus didn’t stop the people’s emotion, but he knows not to rely upon it, either. Don’t confuse your own emotion for real zeal for God.

Matthew 27:27-66: The Crucifixion and Death of the Lord of Glory

So many prophecies were fulfilled here that it is impossible to cover them all. Some are mentioned by Matthew, but others are not. There are many books and web sites that cover them.

Surely the very best coverage of the prophecies in the Tanakh ever written was Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho. That’s a long work, and I don’t know anywhere that it’s translated into more modern English, but what an incredible look into the way the early churches understood the prophecies! It is so insightful that you will feel like you, too, have been on the walk to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32).

Almost every early Christian writing contains numerous references to prophecies about the new covenant, however.

Matthew 26:44: Potential Contradictions Again (Advanced)

Matthew says that both the robbers crucified with Jesus insulted him. Luke, however, tells us that one of them was repentant (23:39-43).

This one’s easier to reconcile because it may just be that Matthew didn’t bother to mention that one of them repented later. Jesus did hang on the cross alive with those men for several hours.

On the other hand, Matthew may never even have heard about the repentance of one robber. There’s no reason to assume he stood at the foot of the cross all day long. Both Matthew and Luke wrote their Gospels at least twenty or thirty years after the crucifixion. Expecting every detail to line up is really pretty silly unless you’re expecting God to miraculously inspire their memories on such subjects.

Most Christians seem to think it’s really important that God inspired miraculous memory, but I don’t understand that at all. I think there is a big problem in that modern Christians have forgotten that the new covenant is not written on tablets of stone (2 Cor. 3:7-8). The letter kills. It is the Spirit that gives life (2 Cor. 3:6).

That is why it is just as important to note that Barabbas, "Son of Father," was Jesus’ replacement as it is to note that the event happened. We are a spiritual people. Let us learn from the spiritual inspiration that is in every word of Scripture, and let us use the spiritual inspiration we have as Spirit-filled human beings to do that learning.

Matthew 28:1-15: The Resurrection

The resurrection happened, and without it there would be no Christian faith (1 Cor. 15). Christianity is not a nice way of living based on Jesus’ teaching. It is a brand new life, possible only by Jesus resurrecting himself right inside each one of us (Jn. 15:1ff).

I am crucified with Christ. Nevertheless, I live. Yet it is not me, but Christ lives in me, and the life I live in the body, I live through faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)

Once he had convinced us in the former time [i.e., under the old covenant], before Christ appeared, that our nature was unable to attain to life, and now that he has revealed the Savior, who is able to save even those things which it was impossible to save—by both these facts he wanted to lead us to trust in his kindness and to consider him our Nourisher, Father, Teacher, Counselor, Healer, Wisdom, Light, Honor, Glory, Power and Life. (Anonymous, Letter to Diognetus 9, c. A.D. 100)

There are a lot of people who present powerful historical evidence for the resurrection. (One such book is to the right.) I want to just tell you about one from me.

Eleven men who spent three years with Jesus, every day, seeing him at best and worst, gave their lives to testify that he rose from the dead and that they believed he was God in human flesh. Their testimony took root in human hearts, and despite some of the most awful corruption of any religion anywhere, the name of Jesus continues to bring people into new life every day, some two thousand years later.

That’s overwhelming to me.

Matthew 28:16-20: The New Covenant Arrives!

I have told you that in response to all these awful things that the Jewish leaders did to Jesus, God would take away the kingdom of God from them and give it to a new nation (21:43-45). Where previously, the apostles were told only to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (10:5-6), now they are told to go into all the world.

It is not just the Jews who are responsible for Jesus’ death. We all put Jesus to death with our sins. This was all the plan of God to rescue us from our lost state, and the Jews just happened to be the tools God used to bring us into the plan of redemption.

They, too, endured the plan of being an earthly, fleshly kingdom for the express purpose of showing us all that none of us are capable of attaining to the kingdom of heaven by our own power. It is only as Jesus lives in us by his Spirit that we can do good (Jahn 15:1-5; Rom. 8:5-13; Gal. 5:16-18; 6:7-9).

The goal of God’s plan is to bring all of us, Jew and Gentile alike, into the glorious salvation of the new covenant (Rom. 11:15-36).

Matthew 28:16-20: Is It the Great Commission?

I say all this because I don’t really want you to think of these verses as "The Great Commission" as so many do. Evangelism is a great thing, but if you focus on it too much, you can entirely miss the new covenant! Matthew 28:16-20 is the beginning of the new covenant far more than it is "The Great Commission."

In and of yourself you are a worthless evangelist, capable of only producing false conversions which will confuse people and separate them from God. Even Paul believed this about himself (2 Cor. 3:5).

Evangelism is NOT your purpose. Walking in the Spirit is your purpose.

I know that it is popular to believe that Matthew 28:16-20 is directed at all of us rather than just at the apostles, but really, unless you just refuse to see past tradition, that is obviously terrible Bible interpretation. There is no doubt that it is inaccurate.

There is not a single verse written to the churches that could be construed to tell Christians in general the same thing the apostles are told in Matthew 28:16-20. If this were "the great commission" to all of us, wouldn’t you expect it to be repeated to us at least once?

Instead, there are plenty of verses that can be construed to say the opposite: "Keep your mouth shut and live your life in obedience to God, and you will be a great testimony to outsiders" (e.g., 1 Thess. 4:11-12; 2 Thess. 3:10-15; 1 Pet. 3:10-17).

There are those who are gifted for evangelism (Acts 21:8; Eph. 4:11; 2 Tim. 4:5). Scripturally, we see that they tend to be powerfully effective at what they do. Let’s let them operate their gift in obedience to God, and let’s walk in our own gifts, so that their converts (and ours, the result of people seeing our Spirit-filled lives) will be able to grow together with us into the fullness of Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:11-16), producing a testimony to the world (Jn. 17:20-23), rather than a shame as we see so often today.

… many who once were of your way of thinking … have changed their violent and tyrannical disposition, being overcome either by the constancy which they have witnessed in their neighbors’ lives or by the extraordinary forbearance they have observed in their fellow travelers when defrauded, or by the honesty of those with whom they have transacted business. (Justin, First Apology 16)

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