Category Archives: Judgment

2 Samuel 10

A Despised King

Discussion Question

Is there anyone in the world that does not deserve the kindness of God?

Background (Context)

2 Samuel Chapter 10 contains a few place names that we need some background information on. A good bible dictionary can really speed up research like this but remember that 99% of what we need to know about places in the Old Testament come from the Old Testament itself. Therefore, a good bible search tool or cross-reference bible are both very helpful.

The Ammonites are descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. The Israelites were commanded not to harm or take the land from the Ammonites in Deuteronomy 2:19 because God had made a separate promise to Lot. But the Ammonites were also forbidden to join in the Israelite blessing (Deuteronomy 23:3-6) because they had hired Balaam to prophesy against Israel. Nahesh, king of the Ammonites besieged Jabesh-Gilead (an Israelite town) at the time when Saul became king. Saul rescued Jabesh-Gilead. We are told in 2 Samuel 10:2 that David had a good relationship with King Nahesh.

In Chapter 8, we read of David defeating Hadadezar, king of Zobah. David took a lot of gold and bronze from Hadadezar. People from Damascus tried to help Hadadezar but failed. It appears that the people of Zobah and of Damascus and of Rehob are also part of a common group known as the Arameans – the Arameans of Damascus, of Zobah and of Rehob for example. Hadadezar oppressed the people of Hamath who then thanked David for defeating Hadadezar.

Joab was a commander in David’s army (2 Samuel 8:16).

The theme of Chapter 9 was about the kindness of God shown through David to Mephibosheth. The events of Chapter 10 continue the theme of God’s kindness but this time as it is directed to the nations around Israel.

Read 2 Samuel 10

10 In the course of time, the king of the Ammonites died, and his son Hanun succeeded him as king. David thought, “I will show kindness to Hanun son of Nahash, just as his father showed kindness to me.” So David sent a delegation to express his sympathy to Hanun concerning his father.

When David’s men came to the land of the Ammonites, the Ammonite commanders said to Hanun their lord, “Do you think David is honoring your father by sending envoys to you to express sympathy? Hasn’t David sent them to you only to explore the city and spy it out and overthrow it?” So Hanun seized David’s envoys, shaved off half of each man’s beard, cut off their garments at the buttocks, and sent them away.

When David was told about this, he sent messengers to meet the men, for they were greatly humiliated. The king said, “Stay at Jericho till your beards have grown, and then come back.”

When the Ammonites realized that they had become obnoxious to David, they hired twenty thousand Aramean foot soldiers from Beth Rehob and Zobah, as well as the king of Maakah with a thousand men, and also twelve thousand men from Tob.

On hearing this, David sent Joab out with the entire army of fighting men. The Ammonites came out and drew up in battle formation at the entrance of their city gate, while the Arameans of Zobah and Rehob and the men of Tob and Maakah were by themselves in the open country.

Joab saw that there were battle lines in front of him and behind him; so he selected some of the best troops in Israel and deployed them against the Arameans. 10 He put the rest of the men under the command of Abishai his brother and deployed them against the Ammonites. 11 Joab said, “If the Arameans are too strong for me, then you are to come to my rescue; but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come to rescue you. 12 Be strong, and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. The Lord will do what is good in his sight.”

13 Then Joab and the troops with him advanced to fight the Arameans, and they fled before him. 14 When the Ammonites realized that the Arameans were fleeing, they fled before Abishai and went inside the city. So Joab returned from fighting the Ammonites and came to Jerusalem.

15 After the Arameans saw that they had been routed by Israel, they regrouped. 16 Hadadezer had Arameans brought from beyond the Euphrates River; they went to Helam, with Shobak the commander of Hadadezer’s army leading them.

17 When David was told of this, he gathered all Israel, crossed the Jordan and went to Helam. The Arameans formed their battle lines to meet David and fought against him. 18 But they fled before Israel, and David killed seven hundred of their charioteers and forty thousand of their foot soldiers. He also struck down Shobak the commander of their army, and he died there. 19 When all the kings who were vassals of Hadadezer saw that they had been routed by Israel, they made peace with the Israelites and became subject to them.

So the Arameans were afraid to help the Ammonites anymore.

What did you see? (Observation)

For the sake of clarity, here is a quick summary of Chapter 10! David wanted to extend his friendship to the next king of the Ammonites but instead of friendship, king Hanun humiliated David’s men. The Ammonites then hired 20,000 Aramean foot soldiers and others. David sent Joab and his whole army to fight the Ammonites. The Ammonites stood outside their city to wait for Joab while the hired men went behind Joab. Joab took half of his men to turn and fight the Arameans while Abishai, his brother, took the other half to confront the Ammonites. The Arameans got scared and fled. The Ammonites got scared and retreated into their city. Joab returned to Jerusalem but the Arameans regrouped and descended, along with more men from the Euphrates to a town called Helam. David himself came out with his men to fight at Helam and he defeated them. Everyone who was once subject to Hadadezar now became willing subjects to David.

Structure

  • The King’s kindness extended (1-2)
  • The kindness rejected (3-5)
  • The conflict that followed (6-16)
  • The king who ended the conflict and those who thanked him (17-19)

The King’s kindness extended (1-2)

“In the course of time, the king of the Ammonites died…” As mentioned in the Context section, we may read this chapter as what happened when the Ammonite king died, rather than ‘what happened next’ chronologically. This chapter is a story about what happened when this king died. A time that is fragile for kingdoms – an opportune moment for other nations to take advantage of their transition.

“David thought, “I will show kindness…”” The theme of this chapter is also kindness just as Chapter 9. This kindness is stretched out beyond the borders of Israel. The Ammonites were East of the Jordan River. The Kingdom of David, which foreshadows the Kingdom of God, is to be an international blessing. Abraham was told that his descendants would be a blessing to all the nations.

“…just as his father showed kindness to me.” This is surprising since they had not shown kindness toward Saul but we take David at his word. At the least, there was no hostility between David and Nahash. Their relationship may have gone further but we do not know.

“So David sent a delegation to express his sympathy…” David sent messengers with his condolences. Although David did not go in person, he sent people with authority to announce his words. We may ponder how God has sent prophets and apostles into the world to announce His intentions for peace.

“When David’s men came to the land of the Ammonites…” Now the problem of the story is ready. David’s men have travelled across the Jordan into foreign territory to represent the king of Israel. What reception will they get?

The kindness rejected (3-5)

“…the Ammonite commanders said to…their lord, “Do you think…” In contrast to David being in command of his men and sending them based on his thinking, the commanders in Hanun’s court speak to their lord and try to influence his thinking. I’m not sure how big a deal this difference makes except to contrast David’s command with Hanun’s.

“So Hanun seized David’s envoys, shaved off half of each man’s beard, cut off their garments at the buttocks, and sent them away.” If I could put an emoji here it would be the one with no mouth and wide round eyes! David’s men may not have even had the opportunity to speak what they had been sent to say. King Hanun despised the kindness of King David. The half shaven beard and the trouserless men were sent away humiliated. The darker side of Nahash (1 Samuel 11:2) is seen in his son, Hanun.

“David…sent messengers to meet the men…”Stay in Jericho till your beards have grown…” David’s kindness is seen again. He was alert to the news of what had gone down and didn’t wait for the men to return to Jerusalem. He knew that they would be ashamed to come to Jerusalem as they were. Even if they had acquired clothing on their journey back, they still had their shaved beards to bare (see Leviticus 19:27; Jeremiah 48:37 and Ezekiel 5:1 for examples of how the beard was a sign of dignity).

The conflict that followed (6-16)

“When the Ammonites realised that they had become obnoxious to David…” Another clue here is given to show David’s care for his messengers. The way that his messengers were treated were directly felt by King David. They were truly his flesh and blood – part of the body of Israel with David as the head. We don’t hear what David thought of the Ammonites but they devised that they had become a stench to David. A strong rejection was felt from the point of view of the Ammonites. But what will they do in response to this awareness?

“…they hired twenty thousand Aramean foot soldiers…” They could have opted for an apology – to repent – but they chose to go all in and gather supporters. Enter the Arameans of Beth Rehob and Zobah (where Hadadezer is from) plus some from Maakah and Tob. See Romans 2:4 to remember the kindness of God toward sinners.

“On hearing this, David sent Joab out with the entire army of fighting men.” O-Oh…they’re in trouble! David has remained at Jerusalem but his whole fighting army has gone out with the commanding officer. We ought to picture a righteous response to the aggression initiated by the enemy of Israel. We ought also wonder what the result will be since David is not with them and there has not been that particular habit of enquiring of the LORD.

“The Ammonites came out…at the entrance of their city gate, while the Arameans…were…in the open country.” Picture the city of the Ammonites guarded by soldiers in front and the Israelite army approaching but a third army forming behind the Israelites. The people of God have been sent by God’s king into the world and the nations are hostile all around them.

“Joab saw that there were battle lines in front of him and behind him…” The surprise attack was revealed. Joab saw what was literally happening on the battlefield – in contrast to how the Ammonites saw that they had become obnoxious to David (Verse 6). The Ammonites were reacting to an inner fear while Joab was seeing real hostility forming around him.

“…best troops in Israel…against the Arameans.” The greater threat to Israel appeared to be the Arameans rather than the silly Ammonites who cut beards and dack their enemy.

“Joab said…” The speech from Joab is unexpectedly long in this passage. A good rule in reading the bible is to take note of what people say in the narratives. They reveal their intentions (derr) but the narrator (Holy Spirit driving the writer) uses speech to disclose important details.

“Be strong, and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God.” When brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God are in battle, spiritually and through interacting with the world we live in, how good is it to hear something like: take courage, be strong, think of what we are doing here. Let us support and rescue one another and be mindful that we are doing battle with the enemy of God. We need to unpack how this translates to Christians fighting which we will look at in the application.

“The LORD will do what is good in his sight.” After the plans of Joab have been laid out, we hear of his faith or at least his understanding of God’s sovereignty. The fighters in David’s kingdom know that they are part of the plans of God. They make the plans but God will direct the outcome. He may not know what God would do but he does know that whatever God does will be good.

Let me quote John Woodhouse on this speech from Joab…

“Joab’s words to Abishai stand at the heart of this chapter. He makes the only direct reference to God in the whole chapter, and what he said illuminates the whole episode. The words are a wonderful expression of faith in God. Faith is knowing that the Lord is good and that he does what is good. What is good is decided by God, not us.42 But with this faith we can face any enemy, any situation, any threat with a strength that comes from this faith. As we walk honestly before God, doing what he approves, he will give us strength that surpasses whatever power confronts us (cf. Romans 8:31–39).”

“…Joab returned from fighting the Ammonites and came to Jerusalem.” Both hostile armies fled. There was no need for Joab to support Abishai nor Abishai to support Joab. There were no recorded deaths in this battle. The enemy fled in both directions. The first outcome seems like a win for God’s people. Joab was able to return all the way to Jerusalem.

“After the Arameans saw…they regrouped.” The enemy gets their second wind. One battle had been won but the enemy takes every opportunity to attack. Even a quick beating will not resolve this situation. The enemy is relentless.

“Hadadezer…” He is mentioned in Verse 16 for the first time in this chapter but is named twice more. We met him in Chapter 8 when we heard of his defeat and David acquiring much gold and bronze from him. He is the king of Zobah and has therefore been part of this conflict since Verse 6. Hadadezer means “Hadad is [my] help”. Hadad was a pagan storm-god known as “the one who smashes.”

“…brought from beyond the Euphrates River; they went to Helam…” The enemy regrouped but came back even stronger and came to Helam. The location of Helam is not certain but way closer to home. Perhaps some 60km east of the Sea of Galilee.

While the Ammonites had retreated to their city, their hired help were now determined to show their strength against Israel. So far it has been a battle led by commanders, Joab and now Shobak. The enemy are poised to engage with more force than the first time.

The king who ended the conflict and those who thanked him (17-19)

“When David was told this…” The next stage of the story begins here – the resolution. David is now brought back into the story and we watch to see what he does.

“…he gathered Israel, crossed the Jordan and went to Helam.” He doesn’t send this time but he gathers and goes. The king is going to war.

“The Arameans formed their battle lines to meet David and fought against him.” Both sides are engaged to fight with all the force they can gather. It’s multiple tribes of the Arameans against David.

“But they fled before Israel…” It’s all over folks. Nothing to see here. David wins. This time, however, there is more than just the enemy fleeing…

“…David killed seven hundred of their charioteers and forty thousans of their foot soldiers. He also struck down Shoback the commander of their army, and he died there.” David not only won but he disabled any future attacks from this evil people. There were a few points in this chapter which would have allowed the enemy to live. They first of all should not have sided with the city that shunned David’s kindness. They should have also kept away after the first battle. These were a people bent on attacking God’s people.

“When all the kings who were vassals of Hadadezer saw…they made peace with the Israelites and became subject to them.” We learn here that Hadadezer, king of Zobah, was lord over other kingdoms too. These other kings were subject of him with a kind of feudal allegiance. He would not harm them if they saluted him. Likely they paid tribute or taxes and perhaps they would receive some protection from him. The details of the arrangement can differ but he was their dominant rival. They get to keep their land but as subjects of Hadadezer. But they see that David has defeated them. They make peace with David – accepting the kindness that was initially offered to the Ammonites. They reject the power of king Hadadezer and come to David now as their King.

“So the Arameans were afraid to help the Ammonites anymore.” The Arameans were defeated but the story leaves us to contemplate the future of the Ammonites. They were the ones that were offered David’s kindness. They rejected it. They did not relent but looked for help from others. Now, they do not have the kindness of King David nor the help from anybody else. They are left on their own. Alone in the world and without the friendship of God’s King.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

The kindness of God’s king is offered to the nations of the world. If only they would learn to trust in the offer that God makes instead of choosing to hate His friendship. Those who oppose the goodness of God will face the judgement of God. There are those in command who stand up against God’s kingdom but there is One True King who will receive all who come to Him and call Him Lord.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: The gospel for all nations. The story opens and closes with the message of kindness to nations outside of Israel. David opens his hand to a foreign king and it is rejected. But the conclusion of the story is of other nations coming to David – recognising that he is the king to be at peace with. The gospel is very much like this. Romans 10:9 tells us that salvation is about declaring Jesus as Lord. How can people do that if they do not know because they have not heard. Did you notice along the story how everybody acted on what they saw (V6, 9, 15, 19)  and on what they heard (V5, 7, 17). The gospel is not a secret to be kept but a message of what God has done, what He is like, and how He wants to make peace with all who will not stand up against Him.

Topic B: The encouragement of a Christian brother or sister. As noted, Joab’s speech is a significant one. It is a conversation between two brothers fighting for the same king and trusting in the same God. The battle ahead would be daunting especially when they felt trapped by two armies. But their trust was in the LORD to do what the LORD sees as good. They were of one mind with regard to their mission. Their faith was in God who they trust will do good. The word of encouragement is not simply to toughen up but to see the bigger picture and know that Yahweh is God. And to go even one step further, they are to be ready to rescue one another. It is important for us all to have friends. Not just work colleagues or fellow church goers but friends. It is so great when we have a friend who will talk to us about God and give us courage to keep trusting in the LORD.

Topic C: The trouble with kindness is that it is too subtle for fools. The kingdom of God has two faces – the face you see depends on your response to the kingdom. On the one hand there is kindness. God created a good world, damaged by the sin of humanity, but kept mercifully going by God, his wrath held back so that many can be saved. This is the loving kindness of God to the world that says, “God gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him will…have eternal life.” What a wonderfully generous offer that we all ought to accept straight away! But the other face of the kingdom is punishment on fools who say that there is no God, or that God does not deserve to be recognised. John 3:16 implies that if we continue in our unbelief then we will perish.  John 3:36 puts it like this: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” All of humanity are experiencing the kindness of God while He refrains from pouring His wrath on those who have not yet turned to the King. Our race mistakes God’s kindness as idleness when really it means salvation. As Romans 2:4 says, “do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realising that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

Luke 23:26-43

The King’s future

Discussion Question

Have you ever observed an injustice and not done anything about it?

Background

Jesus has been betrayed, arrested, mocked and sentenced to death unjustly. The teachers of the law and leaders of Israel hated Jesus for preaching the kingdom of God in a way that did not paint them in a wonderful light. While they continued to accuse him with lies they persuaded the Roman government to execute Jesus on the basis of their hatred. They would rather a known murderer go free than to let this man continue to teach the people things that they did not agree with.

Read Luke 23:26-43

26 As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then

“ ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”

and to the hills, “Cover us!”’

31 For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”t And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

What did you see?

Structure

  • Carrying the cross (26-31)
    • Simon of Cyrene (26)
    • Daughters of Jerusalem (27-31)
  • At the cross (32-43)
    • Two criminals with Jesus (32-33)
    • They don’t know what they are doing (34-38
    • One criminal with Jesus (39-43)

Carrying the cross (26-31)

Simon of Cyrene (26)

“…[the soldiers] seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country…” Mark 15:21 tells us also that Simon is known as the father of Alexander and Rufus – the same Rufus, perhaps, whom Paul knew and regarded his family so highly (Romans 16:13). Cyrene is a port city in North Africa. The city encouraged Jews to settle there. A synagogue in Jerusalem, called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, was used by people of Cyrene and Alexandria (Acts 6:9). It is likely that Simon was a practicing Jew who had come from Cyrene for the Passover festival.

“…and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.” The synoptic gospels (Matt-Mark-Luke) all mention this fact of Simon being part of the suffering of Jesus. John does not include this detail in his story. It is easy to stretch the purpose of Simon’s story too far but I feel comfortable noting the involvement, in God’s sovereignty, of a man beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem and Judah taking part in the suffering of Christ. I will not make too much of this but to say that the kingdom of God is and always has been for the whole world to take part in. Perhaps the gospel writers, apart from stating what actually happened, like to include this piece of information because they know that the kingdom of God is about to go global. Luke includes, in the next section, a reminder that Jerusalem is not going to stand for much longer – it’s time will end but the gospel is bigger than Jerusalem.

Daughters of Jerusalem (27-31)

“A large number of people followed him…” This ‘him’ would refer to Jesus as the rest of the sentence makes clear. The order of procession is Jesus, followed by Simon of Cyrene, followed by the crowd, but it is Jesus as the one they are all following.

“…including women who mourned and wailed for him.” Luke 8:52 describes a similar tradition of wailers and mourners over the death of someone. Jesus is a dead man walking. But Jesus will turn the mirror back onto them.

“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children…” These women of the city where Jesus is being condemned were weeping over the unfortunate death of Jesus. They may be sincere followers, or simply women who know that this is a sad end to a good man. Not everyone in that day hated Jesus. This passage reveals the women here who mourn and later a criminal who concludes that Jesus is the King. But the representative leaders of Jerusalem hated him. Jesus tenderly warns them that it is themselves and their children that they ought to mourn for. Jesus is going to the cross as is predestined. And the city of Jerusalem will be judged for killing him. Jesus has spoken about this on a number of occasions in this gospel (Luke 11:49-50; 131:34-35; 19:41-44; 21:20-24). Jesus himself had wept for Jerusalem (19:41). The historic events of the siege on Jerusalem in 70 AD were gruesome on the people in the city. Zechariah 12:10-14 may be alluded to.

“For the time will come when you will say, “Blessed are the childless women…” Jerusalem will receive judgement from God for all of the prophets who have been killed in the past and for the killing of the Son of God. Luke 20:9-18. The Romans lay siege to the city in April 70 AD and starved the Jews. By August, the Romans took the city, destroying the Temple. It is these few months of siege leading to the destruction that Jesus directs these women to mourn. His death in imminent, but theirs is also.

“They will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”” Again, a time is coming when death will seem better than life. This is a specific event fulfilled in 70 AD and yet is a forerunner to judgement day for all humanity. See Hosea 10:8 and Rev 6:16. At this point we’ll just remember that Jesus was the Great Prophet and continues to prophecy even as he goes to the cross.

“For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” This is a lesser to greater kind of argument: if this happens when the tree is alive, what will happen when it is dead? The Son of God is physically present with the people of God in the city of God and they choose to put Him to death. Imagine what evils people will do when God is not so present and merciful. In the instance of the siege on Jerusalem, the people were driven to madness with famine. When the Romans eventually took the city, they barely needed to execute anyone because the city had been starved to death. For anyone interested, here are the records of Josephus on the seige (sections 10, 12 and 13 focus on the difficulties in the city)…

 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/josephus/works/files/war-5.htm .

At the cross (32-43)

Two criminals with Jesus (32-33)

“Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.” The scene changes with new characters introduced but they remain unnamed. They represent two types of people who will interact with Jesus and stand for two ways to live. Neither will represent godly living since they are about to die as criminals.

“…the Skull…” The location was well known in the day of Luke’s writing. With the passing of time and thousands of years of wars and construction, this landmark is up for debate. When Luke wrote the gospel, as with Matthew 27:33, Mark 15:22 and John 19:17, this was a knowable landmark. The point is that the location of Jesus’ death was known. Nobody mistook what took place that day, where or when. Neither did they mistakenly crucify Judas and everyone think that was Jesus or whatever crazy conspiracy can be imagined and believed. Perhaps the place looked like a skull or perhaps, with the crucifixions occurring there, it had the name of the Skull (Golgotha in Aramaic).

“…one on his right and one on his left.” Jesus is slain as a lawbreaker, with criminals at his side. See Isaiah 53:12 and Luke 22:37.

They don’t know what they are doing (34-38

“Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”” I love the words of JC Ryle, “as soon as the blood of the Great Sacrifice began to flow the Great High Priest began to intercede.” Who is he praying for exactly? It would be wise to keep the forgiveness here to the extent that these people are still able to repent and receive forgiveness – as about 3000 do on the day of Pentecost! They do know what they are doing, in that they are nailing a man to a cross, but they do not understand fully that they are nailing the true Messiah to the cross! See Acts 3:17 and 1 Cor 2:8.

“And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him.” A direct fulfillment of Psalm 22:7,18. The people are so ignorant of the events and yet they are all events predicted in the scriptures. The mocking of this man paints the picture of how low our sin takes us. At the lowest point in human history, we stood before the Son of God, we bowed down low and gambled for his clothing in mockery. We would rather worship material things that the One who created us. Psalm 22:8 is mimicked as they call on him to save himself.

“…God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” A tautology? The Messiah is the Chosen One. Isaiah 42:1.

“The soldiers…offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king…” The wine was cheap wine used by the poor. The soldiers were getting in on the mocking too – showing that Jew and Gentile were all against the Son of God. Their action paired with their words seem that they are bringing him wine as a servant would bring it to a king – but they mock.

“…a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” His death and his birth are both marked with mockery of this fact (Matthew 2:2). Mark 15:26 describes the sign as the written notice of the charge against him. John 19:19 informs us that Pilate had the notice placed there and John’s gospel expands on the objection that the Jews had to this sign (John 19:19-22). Jesus is being put to death for this claim. Pilate is making the Jews aware that this is the treason that he is condemned for. The Jews do not like this sign because they reject everything about it. As a reader of this event, we see the man on the cross clearly labelled and bleeding out for his people. The king of the Jews is the suffering servant. Mark 10:45.

One criminal with Jesus (39-43)

“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him…” We are back to the criminals and even ‘they’ get in on the mocking. It is the same cry: save yourself! But the reason he hangs on the cross is not because he can’t save himself but because WE can’t save ourselves! He hangs there in order to save us – criminals of God’s kingdom.

“But the other criminal rebuked him…then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Let’s reflect. Simon of Cyrene carried the cross for Jesus but he was ordered to do that and he said nothing to allow us to know where he was at (but we think kindly of him). The women mourn for Jesus and yet we aren’t sure completely of why they mourn. Do they love Jesus or are they merely weeping over the occasion? We empathise with them too but we don’t know for sure where their hearts are at. Everybody else in the story have clearly mocked Jesus and so we know where they are at. And now we come to the second criminal. He is guilty and deserves death. He confesses this clearly to his fellow criminals. But looking at Jesus he remarks that Jesus has a kingdom that he owns and that it is up to Jesus whether this man is able to enter it or not. But he asks Jesus directly for entrance. Totally underserved. Totally unworthy. But he asks. And Jesus says…

“…today you will be with me in paradise.” This means one thing for sure and opens up further questions. The thing we know is that Jesus confesses to being able to give access to his kingdom. Either he went to his death truly believing nonsense in which case Jesus is a lunatic. Or He really is the King of the Kingdom and can grant access to whoever he pleases. And now that the sacrifice has begun, access is granted. It is granted on the basis of two things. The confession of sin or the admission of guilt and the confession of Jesus as LORD. The latter is the most clear in this case. The man does not say, ‘Jesus please forgive me for my sins.’ But, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ In other words, ‘Jesus, you are the king, will you know me in your kingdom?’

The question that it opens up is that of when. When will the man be in paradise? The straight forward answer is today, but what about the concept of the dead sleeping and that they will be raised on the last day? The questions of what happens after death fall into the category of wait and see. Just as the Old Testament promised the coming king but how he comes and what he does wait and see. And those putting Jesus to the cross did not know what they were doing. When we enter the kingdom ourselves, all will be clear. It may well be that we die and enter the timeless future of eternity when the second coming has already occurred. That is one theory. See Revelation 2:7.

What did we learn?

In the midst of prophecy concerning the judgment of God coming on Israel, the people proceed to put the beloved Son of God to death. His execution was humiliating and full of mockery and yet irony also. He was dying in order to save those who would mock him. His sacrifice opens up the way for forgiveness. It will not be the self-righteous who are saved but sinners who come to the King to call Him their Lord.

Now what?

Topic A: Prophet, Priest and King. The Old Testament described and prescribed three distinct offices of prophet (one who received the word of God and spoke it in the people’s hearing for a purpose), priest (the mediator role of Aaron and the Levites to offer sacrifices to God for the people) and King (obviously the ruler of Israel). These three offices come together in Christ and we have observed them all in this very passage. His prophecy of dark times ahead for the daughters of Jerusalem, his offering to forgive through the sacrifice he gives of himself and his Kingship in granting the criminal access to Paradise at his welcome. Now, there are other facets to Jesus than this (such as wise-man) and we don’t need to force Jesus into a tick box of theology but the book of Hebrews takes this approach to highlight how amazing our Saviour is. He is better than Moses, better than the Levitical priests and he is the very Word of God who has made atonement for sins and sat down on the throne in heaven.

Topic B: What it takes to be saved. It took the compassion, patience, humility, mercy, kindness, graciousness and love of God to send his willing Son to the cross. If there were another way, the Father would have granted it by Jesus’ prayer in Luke 22:42. For us, it takes ownership of our transgressions and the confession of Jesus as LORD – as our LORD. This is Romans 5:8 and 10:9 combined.

Topic C: God is not all about love and forgiveness. While the cross of Christ shows us the love and mercy of God on us sinners, there stands the need to be forgiven lest the wrath and judgement of God fall on us. Jesus’ warning to the daughters of Israel was about the historic fall of Jerusalem, by the arm of the Romans but as the consequence of repeated rejection of God. He will not forgive everybody just because. Merciful and loving as he is, the death of Christ shows us that there is wrath to be avoided. If we do not reconcile with the Son then we have no other mediator to stand between us and God’s righteous anger. John 3:36.

Luke 21:5-38

The end of the beginning

Discussion Question

What is something that you have had great love for and use for which one day you needed to throw away?

Background

Jesus arrival into Jerusalem after the long journey with his disciples was met with the teachers of the law being unhappy with Jesus’ actions and teaching. They had asked him for some credentials for the authority he was displaying. Jesus did not answer them directly but his interaction with the leaders of Israel throughout Chapter 20 was to underscore the lack of authority that they possessed.

He finished responding to their various questions in Chapter 20 with a harsh description of the teachers of the law loving to parade around in long robes and be recognised in public and be given special treatment. Their religion is empty as they fail to teach correctly about the Messiah and fail to care for those who are in need. Jesus watched both the wealthy and the very poor giving financially for the upkeep of the Temple and the wages of its ministers. We move now from the description of the Jewish teachers to the disciples remarking on the beauty of the Jewish Temple itself. If the Jewish leaders have lost their religion, what about the future of the central hub of the Jewish religion? What is to become of the house of God?

Read Luke 21:5-38

5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”

8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

20 “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

37 Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, 38 and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple.

What did you see?

Please note that this is a particularly long blog this week. The benefit of starting with the structure is to draw the eye to the flow of the passage. It may be enough just to recognise what Jesus is saying by thinking over the structure. More details are given for some moments in the passage that can cause confusion or controversy.

Structure

  • Investing in rubble (5-6)
    • Watch out for false prophecy (7-11)
    • Firstly, the Jews will reject Jesus’ ministry (12-19)
    • Secondly, the Jews will be judged by God (20-24)
    • Then, the end of days? (25-28)
    • So, live like you know what is coming (29-36)
  • So Jesus routinely taught and prayed (37-38)

This passage has parallel accounts in Matthew 24; Mark 13 and Matthew 10:17-22. They embrace the same themes and message but the sequence of Jesus’ sayings differ. While studying all of them together in order to piece a picture of the future is a worthwhile exercise, it seems that Matthew, Mark and Luke have each placed this account in the context of their own accounts of Jesus’ ministry and it is best to listen to each of them individually. The issue is not about contradiction but about order and emphasis. So, let’s listen to Luke’s narrative of Jesus answering the disciple’s question about the future of the Temple and the kingdom of God.

Investing in rubble (5-6)

“…remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God.” The story of the poor widow is the immediate context of this statement. She has given her all as a dedication to God it would seem. The Temple was looking awesome! Tours across Europe and the UK can be filled with church watching and there are many buildings which look impressive and tell of a great history of people dedicated to the glory of God. Standing in some churches can literally lift your eyes up to the heavens. Many of them, however, are empty of true worship.

“…the time will come when not one stone will be left on another…” Think of all that money and effort that has gone into maintaining that Temple – a building that God Himself had designed and instructed Israel to finance and build with great precision and skill (Exodus 25-26) – and yet Jesus declares that it is going to be smashed to nothing. That poor widow is giving her livelihood to something that God is about to abandon and destroy.

The theme is now set for the rest of what Jesus is going to teach: be careful what you invest your life and faith in. God has plans for the future and it is important for us to have our hearts and minds in line with God’s plans. The age of the Temple made of stone has passed.

Watch out for false prophecy (7-11)

“Teacher…when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” A good question. Jesus is going to answer this one pretty well but also lead us all to a greater lesson and that is to always be ready. The question is specifically about the destruction of the Temple but Jesus will expand his answer to include the end of all things.

“…Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name…” I often forget how controversial Jesus is/was. He is announcing right here that his name will be used in the future as an identifier of authority. What is he insinuating when he says “in my name”? He is announcing that many will proclaim the name of Jesus and that they come in his name and have a new announcement to make – in his name! Jesus has not died or risen yet but he knows that he is the man to follow and nobody else can imitate him. So, Jesus is already announcing that his name is important – that he has authority. He is not just a prophet coming in the name of the LORD – he IS the LORD! Next, we must ask ourselves, what does it mean to be a Christian church? That is, how do we identify a true church of God versus a church that simply has Jesus in the title? Well, his following words suggest that they will speak something more than what Jesus has allowed them to know.

“…claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ One characteristic of a cult is that there is one leader who claims to be more informed and authoritative than everybody else. Even if they do not claim to be the Messiah, they will try and convince their followers that they have a unique and special revelation from God. Having a certain knowledge of the future is a notable clue that someone is not speaking the word of God but simply scaring others with false knowledge. Jesus continues to expand on such knowledge.

“…do not be frightened. These must happen first, but the end will not come right away…There will be…great signs from heaven.” Scary events will come and go and have come and gone and while they do communicate something to the world, it is not that the end is necessarily at the door. Verses 10 and 11 list international conflicts and natural disasters across the world which are signs from heaven but none of them are a signpost that the end is coming right away. The Black Death came and went about 1,000 years ago. It wiped out 1/3rd of Europe. We’ve had 2 World Wars and yet the world is still spinning. Tsunamis, draughts, ice-caps melting or Aids have all been international news for some time. Which of these is telling us that the world is about to end? None of them and yet all of them. They all signal that the kingdom of this world is under the curse of sin. They all signal that this world is broken. None of them have announced that this is the final end. International conflict and natural disasters all communicate that the end is coming – none of them specifically tell us that it is time now.

Jesus does have insight into the future, however, and he goes on to describe a few things to look out for AND what response to make to each…

Firstly, the Jews will reject Jesus’ ministry (12-19)

“But before all this…” Jesus does communicate an order of events here. Prior to nations rising against nations and prior to earthquakes and famines and fearful events and great signs from heaven. Before we get to those things, Jesus informs his disciples of something to look out for.

“…they will seize you and persecute you.” On the day that the disciples talked with Jesus, admiring the beauty of the Temple, Jesus told them that they would be seized and persecuted. The Jewish people from the synagogues (local places of Jewish worship like a church) would put them in prison and have to stand in front of kings and governors as ministers of the gospel. Because they speak in Jesus’ name, they will be persecuted. Ironic that Jesus says not to be deceived by people who claim to come in Jesus’ name and that they will be rejected themselves because they speak in Jesus’ name. As they look and admire the Temple of God, Jesus prepares them not to expect to be doing ministry in that Temple. Perhaps they even expected that they would move in there with Jesus and establish that Kingdom of God with him. Jesus instructs them to put that out of their minds completely.

But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words…” They have been told now that they will be persecuted. What they are to do with that info now is to decide not to be concerned about how to respond since Jesus’ words will be with them. At this point I am hearing this as a promise from Jesus to those disciples. It is not given as a promise specifically and globally to all followers of Christ. The apostles will be equipped to testify about Christ in a way that cannot be resisted or contradicted.

“Everyone will hate you because of me.” Jesus is speaking in extremes. His speech to the disciples is in the context of admiring this great Temple. His response to them is a warning about what is to come. When they choose to speak in his name, they will receive negative reactions. While Jesus is speaking directly to his 12 students, we can nod to this ourselves. The message is not that every single person that you meet will hate you because you are a Christian. But there will be great strain on relationships on account of Him. Jesus will be the source of great division in the world.

“Stand firm and you will win life.” What a great sentence! “Winning at life” is a humorous phrase someone might say when they have a small win or discover a new habit that is and works etc. Jesus is perhaps the first to coin the phrase. It may seem odd or quirky and a bit of an afterthought in the whole speech from Jesus but I wonder if this phrase is really the key to it all. The disciples were in awe over the Temple. Jesus tells them straight that the Temple has no future. Don’t look to that and don’t look for the praise of people. In fact, even your own parents will turn away from you. But stand firm testifying in the name of Jesus and you will have life. Gain life. Win life. This ends the first phase of Jesus’ answer to them. His point: know where to direct your attention – the authentic testimony about Jesus. It will be distorted by others and rejected by the rest. But when you stand firm, you win.

Secondly, the Jews will be judged by God (20-24)

“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies…” Jesus begins to describe something that takes place in 70AD. The content of his description here in Luke and the fact that the intense event is not even alluded to in the book of Acts gives a lot of weight to the book of Acts being finished before 70 AD and therefore the book of Luke completed much earlier than that again! It is one significant key to the early authorship of the gospels. I will not go into the detail further here but thought it right to mention.

“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies…” (part 2) Perhaps think like one of the disciples for a second. They might be still holding out hope that Jesus will stand up in Jerusalem one day and declare himself to be the true heir of the kingdom of David and it is time to take over. So what might they expect Jesus to say about armies surrounding Jerusalem? To trust God that he will fight for them? No. In fact, Jesus continues to inform them now that the destruction of Jerusalem is in God’s plans.

“…and let those in the country not enter the city.” When Jerusalem was taken, it began at the time of the Passover when people living outside the city would visit. They were allowed to enter but not allowed to leave.

“For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written.” Leviticus 26:31-33 and Deuteronomy 28:49-57 will be enough to scratch any itches over what has been written. They are to be taken as both specific and general. The blessing of God on Israel was on the basis that they would be His people and He would be their God. There general rejection of God over the generations and especially in this generation that has met the Messiah is to be fulfilled. It is not a coincidence that the destruction of Israel after the rejection of the Son of God has been continued to this day! Luke wrote of Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem on other occasions too. See Luke 11:49-51; 19:41-44; 20:9-16 and 23:28-31.

“How dreadful it will be in those days…” The graphic scenes of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD are documented by historians. It was ugly. Terrible. Horrifying in fact. Jesus’ first forecast for the disciples to hear is of something that will happen in their very generation.

“Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” He then transitions from this event fulfilled in 70 AD to the next phase of the future. The age of the Gentiles where there will be no focus from God on a people group like the Jews. But that age will come to an end – its’ purpose will be complete also.

Then, the end of days? (25-28)

“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars…for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” Jesus’ language becomes slightly apocalyptic. His attention moves from 70 AD to the end of time and he alludes to imagery depicted in the Old Testament such as Isaiah 13:9-10 and Joel 2:30-31. The apostle John describes the same imagery in Revelation 6:12-13. Whether this is an actual description of the future (sun stops, moon turns red and the stars fall) or simply the familiar imagery that the bible has used to point to the end – it doesn’t matter. It is describing the end of things before the Son returns.

“…will see the Son of Man…lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Jesus speaks to the disciples now knowing that he really speaks to all future disciples of Christ. In this life, we will find sorrow and hardship – all are reminders of a broken and aching world. But there will come a day, which all of this brokenness points us to, when we will see the Son of Man and we will lift up our heads because he will come to take what he has purchased.

We live in the age of the now but not yet. Jesus’ words here encourage us to not think of the world as we know it as the true reality of eternity. We live for the kingdom to come. Jesus warns us to look at the world around us and choose to stand firm rather than run around confused and scared.

The Son of Man is a title that Jesus often used of himself. It finds a neat Old Testament reference in Daniel 7 but even that reference is an allusion to the idea of a true human that lives and reigns as humans were truly made to. Adam failed. But Jesus wins life and has won it for us who stand firm.

So, live like you know what is coming (29-36)

“…when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” Jesus has warned us before not to get scared by people claiming that the time has come! What he means now is that we will see things that our anxious minds will want to be fearful of, but they are all signs that the kingdom is near. The plans of God will not be stopped. Use the signs to affirm you faith rather than crush your spirit.

“Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” While ‘generation’ can be interpreted to mean something like ‘the age of this earth’ or something like that, it seems reasonable to think that Jesus is referring to the destruction of the Temple as definitely happening in the very generation of the disciples. His second sentence about his words not passing away fit neatly with his prediction of the end of all things.

“Be careful…be always on the watch, and pray…” Jesus prescribes the right approach to waiting. It is not to load up baggage in our life with things that put this life on a pedestal. Jesus lists carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life. Are these not good illustrations of a person who is putting an emphasis on this life? Making the most of this life as if it is the one chance we have for fun? When it is not working out for us then we get all anxious and worried. But our concern ought to be about standing firm until the end. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and all who practice it gain understanding. It is an act of grace and dependance on God that enables us to stand firm and so we watch and pray.

So Jesus routinely taught and prayed (37-38)

“Each day Jesus was teaching…and each evening he went out to…the Mount of Olives…” Rather than entering Jerusalem to take a seat on David’s throne, Jesus continued his mission to teach people about the kingdom of God. He left the Temple area by evening to stay on the Mount of Olives. We read in Luke 22:39ff of him praying there and it seemed like a common thing for him to have done. The Mount of Olives was his base for the week he stayed in Judea prior to his arrest. Jesus watched and prayed.

“…and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple.” His habit was established early and he committed himself to teaching the people. While the teachers of the law were not happy with him, the people in general were.

What did we learn?

God’s plans for the future will centre around the return of His Son. Those who follow Jesus are not to expect warm receptions by others nor a life on this earth that will bring satisfaction and joy. The joy will be found in knowing that we are included in God’s plans for the future as his redeemed people. The rest of the world will not be ready. We are warned to watch and pray. The age of the Temple is past, the age of the Gentiles is present but the age of the Son is near.

Now what?

Topic A: Beware of being deceived about the times. It is tempting to conclude that the end must be really soon because of the great rejection of God going on around us. Or because of global warming. Or because of floods and droughts and heatwaves etc. Evil has been in the world since before Cain was a boy. Natural disasters are nothing new. Some are drawn toward certain parts of the bible that seem to describe the end of days and pour their minds into the interpretation of them. Jesus’ warning here is to not be deceived by such talk. The end will come one day. That is a certainty. We can get blindsided by the real purpose of life, however, when we are drawn toward conspiracy theories or to church leaders who preach too specifically about the future.

Topic B: Turn the calamity of life into clarity about the future. The other way of being deceived is to think that this life is where meaning is to be found. When we have bought that lie, then every moment of suffering, every relationship breakdown, every unfulfilled dream can seem like the end of the world. Our prayers can be nothing more than “please God get me out of this one.” But knowing that we live in a world just waiting for the second coming, will keep us clear headed when disasters big or small come. International conflict and a small child’s broken leg are all signs that we do not live in God’s house yet. When our focus is on getting this life right, then we take our eyes off living for the kingdom above. When we focus on this age as the best there will be, then we will be crushed when we find out that it is not that good. When we know that the best is yet to come and that the crumbling state of this world are just labour pains then it can direct our thoughts to prayer and being thankful that God will one day take home what he has already purchased through His Son.

Topic C: Stand before the throne of God today. Jesus applied this passage by saying, “Be always on the watch, and pray.” We can put this into practice now. Pray with your Growth Group right now about the broken nature of this world and the promise of redemption. We can also pray every day that we shall live our life ready to stand before the Son of Man. Perhaps today will be the day!