In the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses our anxiety about basic needs. He says not to worry about food or clothing because God has a plan to provide for us just like he does for the birds and the flowers (see Matthew 6:25-32). Then Jesus tells us where to put our focus: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
“Seek First the Kingdom and His Righteousness” (Matthew 6:33): And how will God meet our basic needs?
How should we understand this combined command and promise from Jesus? We know from the preceding context that “all these things” doesn’t refer to everything you might want. It only refers to your basic needs: things to eat, to drink, and to wear. But even with that caveat, we know many people have both loved Jesus and struggled in dire poverty. Having faith in Jesus has not eliminated their children’s malnourishment or covered their bodies during cold nights. So is Jesus giving us some optimistic half-truth or have we misunderstood the message?
Did you know that belief in a sudden rapture of the church at the end of time is a recent invention? John Nelson Darby (1800–1882) created the idea to fit his belief that all Old Testament prophecies about Israel’s glory days were going to come true for a future Jewish nation on earth. The popularity of his rapture doctrine grew at the end of the 1800s and into the mid-1900s because of DL Moody, Billy Sunday, and the Scofield Reference Bible. In less than 100 years, the idea went from unknown to a virtual litmus test for whether you believed what the Bible really says.
How could people so quickly adopt this new idea into their doctrinal statements? Because Jesus and Paul talk plainly about being “taken” during a future judgment. Jesus says in Luke 17:34-35, “I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left.” It certainly sounds like some people will be whisked away during whatever judgment Jesus is talking about in Luke 17:21-37. If you trust the Bible’s every word, how else could you read it?
Before we adopt this recent idea about the end times, we should investigate what being “taken” and “left” behind means when the Bible describes a coming judgment. The New Testament isn’t the first time these expressions were used. Mr. Darby might have misunderstood the meaning of “taken” and “left” behind by failing to read the language in the context of Old Testament prophecy.
Jesus’ response to Peter’s “Aha moment” about His identity as Messiah has baffled many Bible readers for centuries.
“You are Peter,
Jesus makes a string of three confident claims here. He had struggled for years to build the faith of his followers, but not anymore. Now that his disciples know he really is the Messiah, he doesn’t believe anything can stop his new movement. Not even the Gates of Hades.
But what are the “Gates of Hades”? Is it Hell or an evil city or a band of demons roaming the earth? And what rock is Jesus building on? To answer those questions, we must look around the region where Jesus said these words. There is a long history of divine assemblies on tall mountains and kings who return from the dead.
We like to have our truth, rather than be disrupted by the truth. Our aversion to alter what we have assumed reveals a nasty secret in our subconscious. What is that secret?
For centuries, Christians have assumed that Jesus wants us to emulate a poor widow’s sacrificial giving of her only 2 coins. As the story goes in Mark 14, Jesus was watching people put money into the Temple treasury. Rich people put in a lot of money. Then, a poor widow put in 2 small copper coins worth about a penny. Jesus saw a lesson here for the disciples so he gathered them together and said:
“this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury; for they gave out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, gave all she owned, all she had to live on.” - Mark 12:43-44
Jesus’ commentary makes it clear that the widow felt the impact of her contribution much more than all the rich people giving money they didn’t need. She gave the very money that she needed to buy food to survive. Her sacrifice had painful consequences in her poverty.
We have historically assumed Jesus is commending the widow’s example to us. We typically interpret the significance of the story just like Joy Allmond does on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association blog:
What matters to God is our heart toward our money and our possessions. Do we see them as ours, or as His? Regardless of how much we give to Kingdom work–whether it is $10 or $10,000–Jesus makes it obvious to us in Luke 21:1-4 [the story of the Widow’s mite] that He is most pleased with those who had to sacrifice to give that $10. What is your “mite?” Are you sowing sacrificially from your resources?
Before we can jump to personal application like this article does, we need to make sure we understand Jesus’ original meaning. Is the point of Jesus’ observation to praise the sacrificial heart and actions of the widow?
Jesus had more to say about money than both heaven and hell, but he didn’t have much good to say about it. Specifically, Jesus was quick to judge people with money. He put it simply in Luke 6:24, “But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.” The “woe” statement is a prophetic announcement that judgment is coming. He assumed the wealthy in first-Century Israel had done something wrong to deserve judgment.
We often miss Jesus' tough message about money because we hear only the parts we want to believe.
Jesus is not the “Messiah” people want: Mark’s Gospel redefines the dominant King the disciples expected
The Gospel of Mark hinges on a climactic turning point. After Jesus spends 8 chapters doing miracles that only the Son of God would do, the disciples finally figure out who he is. While other Israelites thought he was a special prophet like Jeremiah or Elijah, Peter proclaimed in Mark 8:29, “You are the Messiah.” That identification changes the trajectory and content of Mark’s Gospel.
Everything leading up to Mark 8:29 is designed to reveal who Jesus is, but everything afterwards redefines what the disciples think about the Messiah. Jesus immediately begins to correct their assumptions about what the Messiah will do. “And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31). Jesus had to teach them about his torturous destiny over and over again (Mark 9:12, 31-32; 10:33-34). Why? Because the disciples already thought the Messiah would kill all the bad guys, not get killed by them.
Jesus vs. Synagogues (Part 2): How he gave heaven’s authority to a new church where "two or three gather in His name"
Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi. His life’s fullest meaning can only be discerned in his Jewish context (see Jesus vs. Synagogues Part 1: Where he agreed with Rabbis). Even the word “Christ” is a Greek translation of the Hebrew term for an anointed ruler, Messiah. It isn’t his last name, but rather a theologically charged designation for the long-awaited redemptive role he was playing in an old Jewish story.
However, the overlap between First-Century Jewish culture and Jesus’ Way has limits. Jesus not only embodied his culture and embraced its accoutrements; he also challenged its everyday assumptions.
People often ask, "Why do some churches let women preach when 1 Timothy 2:12 prohibits it?" My Socratic response is: "Why do all churches let women braid their hair when 1 Timothy 2:9 condemns it?"
No one takes the Bible at face value. First, because no one grows up speaking Koine Greek and ancient Hebrew at home (so they can't read its "face value"), but second because English translations tell even the most novice reader that certain commands are culturally irrelevant. When you read Paul's repeated command to "Greet one another with a holy kiss" (Romans 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Thess 5:26), no one gets convicted and starts puckering up for church. Those commands were clearly intended for a different cultural context, and we recognize it. We know to distinguish the temporary cultural expression from its enduring principle.
The same cultural sensitivity must be applied to 1 Timothy 2. In first-century Ephesus where Timothy pastored churches, braided hair and female teachers were a bad idea. Why? The first one is easy. Braided hair, gold jewelry, and expensive clothing flaunted wealth. And Paul wanted "those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited" (1 Timothy 6:17). The injunction against female teachers and Paul's prescription for females to learn quietly in church gatherings are much more culturally nuanced.
"This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come." Do Jesus' words mean systematically sharing the gospel around the globe can speed up "the end"?
Many Christians think so. The Gospel Coalition (whose council members include John Piper, D.A. Carson, Tim Keller and Al Mohler) boldly cites George Eldon Ladd's 1959 book The Gospel of the Kingdom to make that claim. "When the Church has finished its task of evangelizing the world, Christ will come again. The Word of God says it." The Issachar Initiative backed by some of the largest financial gatekeepers in evangelical America (National Christian Foundation, Maclellan Foundation, Green Family, etc.) use the same logic to encourage reaching the unreached. As their Tweet below indicates, "We can choose to speed up Jesus's return."
Mission Frontiers magazine pushed readers toward this supposedly clear meaning of Jesus' words, for example, in the July-August 1994 issue entitled "Bring Back The King?". Editor Rick Wood wrote, "Matt. 24:14 clearly indicates that world evangelization is a prerequisite to the Lord's coming."
But why do so many Christians think Matthew 24:14 explains the prerequisite for Jesus' return when the verse doesn't even talk about him? We have to explore the context to discover why, and to discover why they are all wrong.
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