Category Archives: Sunday School

Commentary on Luke 10 (The Good Samaritan)

Jesus is teaching and, within the crowd, an expert in the Old Testament stands up to challenge him. He asks Jesus a common question among Jews of the day: What do I do to guarantee I will be accepted into the kingdom of God when the end of the age arrives?

This question most likely references the description of the end times in Daniel 12:2. Daniel wrote, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” The lawyer wants to see how Jesus will answer this question, probably hoping to catch Jesus in an error.

Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer and asks the lawyer what his reading of the Law is on this important subject. The lawyer quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, which effectively command a person to love God and love his neighbor. Jesus commends the lawyer for his answer. Robert H. Stein, in vol. 24, Luke, The New American Commentary, provides some interesting background:

The expert’s answer consisted of two OT passages. The first (Deut 6:5) was called the Shema because it begins ‘Hear, O Israel.’ A devout Jew would repeat it twice each day (Ber. 1:1–4). In the Shema three prepositional phrases describe the total response of love toward God. These involve the heart (emotions), the soul (consciousness), and strength (motivation). The Synoptic Gospels all have ‘heart’ and ‘soul,’ Matthew omits strength, and all add ‘mind’ (intelligence). The second OT passage in the lawyer’s answer is Lev 19:18. It is found also in Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; and Jas 2:8. In Luke the two OT passages are combined into a single command, whereas in Mark 12:31; Matt 22:39 they are left separate. Whether these two OT passages were linked before Jesus’ time is uncertain. They appear together in the early Christian literature. That this twofold summary was basic to Jesus’ teaching is evident by its appearance in his parables (Luke 15:18, 21; 18:2; cf. also 11:42, where ‘justice’ equals ‘love your neighbor’).

Some Christians mistakenly believe that Jesus is advocating a salvation by works in this passage, but the commands to love God and love your neighbor are completely compatible and consistent with salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Stein expands on this topic:

To love God means to accept what God in his grace has done and to trust in him. Faith involves more than mental assent to theological doctrines. Similarly, love is not just an emotion. Both entail an obedient trust in the God of grace and mercy. The response of love to God and of faith in God are very much the same. This intimate association between love and faith is seen most clearly in Luke 7:47, 50. For Luke, as for Paul, salvation was by grace (Acts 13:38–39) through faith (Luke 7:50; 8:48; 17:19; 18:42), but this faith works through love (see Gal 5:6). At times the aspect of faith may need to be emphasized and at other times love.

Theologian Norman Geisler reminds us, in Systematic Theology, Volume Three: Sin, Salvation, that

True faith involves love, which is the greatest commandment: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ (Matt. 22:37). Unbelievers ‘perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved’ (2 Thess. 2:10). Paul speaks of ‘faith working through love’ (Gal. 5:6).

The lawyer, however, demands clarification from Jesus on who exactly counts as a neighbor. Instead of giving the lawyer a direct answer, Jesus delivers a parable. In brief, a Jew traveling alone from Jerusalem to Jericho is accosted by robbers and left for dead. An Aaronic priest and a Levite both pass him by without helping, but a Samaritan stops to help him. The Samaritan also transports him to an inn and pays for him to stay several weeks until he heals.

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was remote and dangerous. It was a 3,000 feet descent along a 17- mile road. There were plenty of places for robbers to hide.

Once the man is beaten, robbed, and left for dead, a temple priest (a descendant of Aaron) happens by. Why did the priest fail to help the man? Leon Morris, in vol. 3, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, speculates:

Since the man was ‘half dead’ the priest would probably not have been able to be certain whether he was dead or not without touching him. But if he touched him and the man was in fact dead, then he would have incurred the ceremonial defilement that the Law forbade (Lev. 21:1ff.). He could be sure of retaining his ceremonial purity only by leaving the man alone. He could be sure he was not omitting to help a man in need only by going to him. In this conflict it was ceremonial purity that won the day. Not only did he not help, he went to the other side of the road. He deliberately avoided any possibility of contact.

A man from the tribe of Levi then comes upon the man, but he also continues without helping him. Robert Stein explains:

The Levite was a descendant of Levi who assisted the priests in various sacrificial duties and policing the temple but could not perform the sacrificial acts. Luke was not suggesting that since the Levite’s duties were inferior to those of a priest he might have been more open to help because the problem of becoming defiled was less acute. Rather he was emphasizing that neither the wise and understanding (10:21) nor the proud and ruling (1:51–52) practice being loving neighbors.

Finally, a Samaritan man arrives and has compassion on the injured Jew. He binds his wounds and treats them with wine and oil. Wine was used for cleaning wounds, due to the alcohol in it, and the oil was used to provide pain relief.

The Samaritan goes even further, though. He places the man on his donkey and carries him to an inn where he can rest and heal. He offers enough money to the innkeeper for the man to be able to stay for several weeks.

The fact that Jesus uses a Samaritan as the hero in the parable is shocking to his audience. It is worthwhile to remind the reader of the history between the Jews and Samaritans. Stein writes:

The united kingdom was divided after Solomon’s death due to the foolishness of his son, Rehoboam (1 Kgs 12). The ten northern tribes formed a nation known variously as Israel, Ephraim, or (after the capital city built by Omri) Samaria. In 722 b.c. Samaria fell to the Assyrians, and the leading citizens were exiled and dispersed throughout the Assyrian Empire. Non-Jewish peoples were then brought into Samaria. Intermarriage resulted, and the ‘rebels’ became ‘half-breeds’ in the eyes of the Southern Kingdom of Judea. (Jews comes from the term Judea.) After the Jews returned from exile in Babylon, the Samaritans sought at first to participate in the rebuilding of the temple. When their offer of assistance was rejected, they sought to impede its building (Ezra 4–6; Neh 2–4). The Samaritans later built their own temple on Mount Gerizim, but led by John Hyrcanus the Jews destroyed it in 128 b.c. (cf. John 4:20–21). So great was Jewish and Samaritan hostility that Jesus’ opponents could think of nothing worse to say of him than, ‘Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?’ (John 8:48; cf. also 4:9).

When Jesus finishes the parable, he asks the lawyer who was the true neighbor to the Jew who had been robbed. The lawyer, without being able to say the word “Samaritan,” nevertheless identifies the Samaritan as the true neighbor.

The message is clear. The command to love our neighbor crosses ethnic, religious, and national boundaries. Stein comments:

For most Jews a neighbor was another Jew, not a Samaritan or a Gentile. The Pharisees (John 7:49) and the Essenes did not even include all Jews (1QS 1:9–10). The teaching of the latter stands in sharp contrast with that of Jesus.

Jesus commands us to love everyone as we love ourselves, including those whom we consider our enemies.

Commentary on John 8 (Jesus Declares Himself Equal to God)

Jesus has returned to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths). While he is there, he is teaching in the temple complex. A large group of Pharisees are questioning him about his identity. Some appear to even accept what he has to say about himself.

Starting in verse 31, however, he speaks directly to the Pharisees who have believed what Jesus has said about himself so far. A true disciple of Jesus will obey his every word and follow him for the long-term. In fact, it is only through following Jesus that a person can be set free from spiritual slavery.

The Pharisees answer that they don’t need to be freed from slavery because they are descendants of Abraham, and thus already children of God. Gerald Borchert explains, in vol. 25A, John 1–11, The New American Commentary,

In contrast to the Zealots, the Pharisees did not regard political liberty as the test of freedom. Being sons of God, a holy people, God’s possession, according to Deut 14:1–2, was for them the test of being free. So being circumcised, according to the rabbinic view, was the guarantee of escaping the bonds of Gehenna just as the people of Israel earlier escaped the bondage of Egypt (Exod. Rab. 19:81; 15:11). Or as the famed Rabbi Akiba reportedly stated concerning the Israelites, even the poor could be proud that they were ‘sons of kings’ because they were sons of the patriarchs (b. Šabb. 128).

Jesus corrects their understanding by pointing out that they are not children of God, but instead slaves to sin. In order for anyone to become a true child of God, they must be first freed from their slavery to sin. Only God’s Son, Jesus, has the power and authority to free them. Gerald Borchert adds:

He judged that they were slaves because they were sinners. Their confidence in their sense of internal liberty had been misplaced because being Jews and not Gentiles was no guarantee that they could avoid condemnation by God for their sinfulness. Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), which had just passed, should have reminded them that they too were sinners. In the presence of God both Jews and Gentiles stood condemned for sin (cf. Rom 3:23). Being sinful slaves before God, therefore, they were in need of a redeemer—one who could set them free. The Son who was personally sent by the Father was indeed capable of supplying them with such genuine freedom (John 8:36) because he was the Lamb who removed the sin of the world (1:29).

Knowing that some of the Pharisees are seeking to kill him, Jesus observes that his words to them are obviously not sinking in. In fact, the Pharisees are simply following the lead of their true spiritual father.

In verse 39 the Pharisees continue to argue with Jesus. They repeat that their true father is Abraham. Jesus responds that Abraham listened to God’s word and obeyed Him. The Pharisees are, instead, trying to kill a man whom God has sent, which again proves that their true father is not Abraham at all.

The Pharisees become incensed at Jesus’ accusation that they are not children of Abraham, and thus not children of God. Jesus explains that he knows this because God sent Jesus to the Jews, and they should therefore love Jesus because God sent him. Since the Pharisees don’t love Jesus, they cannot be children of God. Instead their true spiritual father is the devil!

Referring back to Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden of Eden, Jesus reminds his audience that Satan is a liar and a murderer. There is no truth in Satan. The reason the Pharisees are not accepting Jesus’ claims is because Jesus is speaking God’s truth. Those who have Satan as their spiritual father are incapable of hearing God’s truth and accepting it.

Jesus challenges their stubborn rejection of his words by asking a rhetorical question: “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” D. A. Carson, in The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, explains Jesus’ purpose in asking this question:

If the best theological minds, however much they may dislike Jesus’ claims and dispute his teachings, find it impossible to marshall convincing reasons that would convict him of sin in (the heavenly) court, should they not begin to question themselves? Perhaps he is telling the truth, truth that is identified both with what Jesus says (v. 43) and with what God says (v. 47; cf. de la Potterie, 1. 61–64).

At this point in the dialogue, the Pharisees begin personal attacks. They accuse Jesus of belonging to the hated Samaritans and of being demon-possessed! Jesus denies being demon-possessed and reminds them that they dishonor God by dishonoring him.

In verse 51, Jesus proclaims, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” The Pharisees, thinking Jesus is referring to physical death, mock him by reminding him that Abraham died, not to mention all the other great prophets. Just who does he think he is? Does he think he’s greater than Abraham?

Jesus answers, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” The Pharisees again ridicule Jesus by pointing out the obvious fact that Jesus could not have seen Abraham, who had lived roughly two thousand years before, given that Jesus was not even fifty years old.

Jesus responds with a shocking statement: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” Upon hearing him, the crowd picks up stones to kill him, but Jesus slips away before they could stone him to death.

Why did the Jews want to kill him? Quite simply, Jesus was claiming to be equal to God. Gerald Borchert writes that Jesus’ pronouncement

was a reminder of the claims for God in the Old Testament over against creation (cf. Ps 90:2; Isa 42:3–9) and of the self-designation for the comforting God of Isaiah (41:4; 43:3, 13). The claim of Jesus, therefore, was clearly recognized from the Jews’ perspective to be a blasphemous statement they could not tolerate. Accordingly, they again made their judgment call, and their verdict implied death by stoning (John 8:59; cf. Lev 24:11–16; 1 Kgs 21:10–13).

Craig Keener, in The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, also notes:

’I am’ was a title for God (Ex 3:14), which suggests that Jesus is claiming more than that he merely existed before Abraham. This title of God may have been fresh on the minds of Jesus’ hearers at the feast: during the Feast of Tabernacles, the priests were said to utter God’s words in Isaiah: ‘I am the Lord, I am he’ (Is 43:10, 13).

Commentary on Matthew 16-17 (The Transfiguration)

At this point in Jesus’ ministry, he has demonstrated to his disciples repeatedly who he is. Most recently, he fed a crowd of 5,000 men with 5 loaves of bread and then walked on the Sea of Galilee. In chapter sixteen, Jesus asks his disciples if they understand who he is. Peter correctly answers that Jesus is the Messiah who fulfills all the OT prophecies.

Starting in verse 21, however, Jesus reveals to his disciples, for the first time, where his ministry is ultimately leading. He will go to Jerusalem, be tortured and killed, and then be raised from the dead three days later. Verse 21 effectively introduces the rest of Matthew’s Gospel, because all of the following text will focus on the road to the cross.

Peter, the very disciple who just correctly identified Jesus, then takes Jesus aside and rebukes him! Peter tells Jesus that Jesus must be wrong about his suffering and dying at the instigation of the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem. In Peter’s mind, the Messiah should not suffer at all, but immediately start his glorious reign. Jesus responds to Peter by telling him that Peter is playing the role of the devil, for the devil does not want Jesus to accomplish his mission. Satan had already tempted Jesus in chapter four by offering him power over the entire earth. He could skip the suffering and death of the cross; all Jesus would have to do would be to worship Satan.

In a similar way, Peter is trying to convince Jesus to inaugurate his messianic kingdom, but without going to the cross. Peter’s desire for Jesus is directly counter to God’s plan. Peter has become a stumbling block to God’s plan.

In verses 24-26, Jesus teaches the disciples that following him (doing the will of God) will entail suffering and perhaps even death (this is the meaning of “taking up your cross”). And, in fact, according to church tradition, all of Jesus’ closest disciples would die as martyrs, except for John. The reward for suffering and possibly dying for Jesus is eternal life. Without gaining eternal life, this earthly life is pointless. The wealthiest person has gained nothing if she hasn’t dedicated her life to Jesus.

But why should followers of Jesus accept suffering in this life? Because Jesus is going to return to earth and judge everyone for the choices they made during their lives. Those who chose to faithfully follow Jesus will be rewarded according to their deeds. Those who chose to reject Jesus will be judged according to their deeds. Therefore, the person who suffers greatly for Jesus on earth will be more than compensated when the Messiah begins his future reign.

Many Christians are surprised that all people will judged for their deeds at the inauguration of the messianic kingdom, but this idea is clearly taught throughout Scripture (see Ps 62:12; Prov 24:12; Rom 2:6; 2 Cor 11:15; Rev 22:12). When Jesus speaks of himself as being the judge of all mankind, he is likely alluding to Daniel 7:13-14 and applying all of the OT passages on divine judgment to himself.

Jesus then reassures his disciples that some of them will receive amazing confirmation of his Messiahship before they die. That confirmation would come one week later for Peter, James, and John, Jesus’ inner circle. Jesus takes them up to the top of a mountain and before their very eyes he is transformed. “[H]is face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” Recall how Moses’ face shone with glory after his encounter with God in Exodus 34. Not only that, but Moses and Elijah are standing there speaking to him!

What does the presence of Moses and Elijah signify? Craig Blomberg, in vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary writes:

they were key representatives of the law and prophets [or, the entire Old Testament], they lived through the two major periods of Old Testament miracles, they were key messianic forerunners whose return was often expected with the advent of the Messiah, and they were often believed never to have died but to have gone directly to God’s presence (2 Kgs 2:1–12 makes this clear with reference to Elijah; in the case of Moses the belief is based more on intertestamental literature like the Assumption of Moses).

Michael Wilkins, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible), further elaborates on the presence of Moses and Elijah:

They represent the Law and the Prophets witnessing to Jesus as the Messiah who fulfills the OT (cf. 5: 17) and who has the eschatological role of initiating the kingdom of God (4: 17). Moses was considered the model prophet (Deut 18: 18) and Elijah the forerunner of Messiah (Mal 4: 5– 6; cf. Matt 3: 1– 3; 11: 7– 10). Both had visions of the glory of God on a mountain— Moses on Mount Sinai (Exod 24: 15) and Elijah on Mount Horeb (1 Kgs 19: 8).

Peter’s first reaction is to figure out a way to get Moses and Elijah to stay, so he offers to build shelters for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. But Peter is cut off when a bright cloud overshadows them and a voice booms out, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” God the Father repeats the same words He spoke when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, but He adds “Listen to him” to emphasize to Peter, James, and John that they are not to question his road to the cross. It is the road Jesus must take.

Blomberg reminds us how the cloud is connected to the God of the Old Testament:

The cloud reminds us of the one that overshadowed Moses on Sinai, leading to his dazzling splendor when he descended from the mountain (Exod 34:29–35, on which cf. also Paul’s remarks in 2 Cor 3:7–18), the cloud that enveloped the tabernacle when God’s glory filled it (Exod 40:34), and the cloud that followed the Israelites by day throughout their wilderness wanderings (Exod 40:36–38).

After the disciples fall on their faces in terror from hearing the voice of God, Jesus tells them to rise and not be afraid. When they arise, Elijah and Moses are gone. Jesus is standing there alone. Blomberg adds, “The disciples must focus on Christ alone. He will prove sufficient for their needs.”

#6 Post of 2016 – Commentary on 1 Kings 11 (Death of Solomon)

Under Solomon, Israel reached its historical pinnacle with regards to geography, peace with her neighbors, and material wealth for the king and his administration. Solomon also established a large military, trade with nearby nations, and an impressive bureaucracy to administer the kingdom of Israel.

For many years, Solomon more or less obeyed the Torah, as his father David did. But as time passed, Solomon accumulated hundreds of wives who would become his downfall. This is where chapter 11 of 1 Kings picks up the narrative.

In verses 1-3, we learn that Solomon has married hundreds of foreign women, most of them for the purpose of making treaties with other nations. It was common practice for kings of this era to marry princesses from other nations to stabilize political relations. However, Solomon was not the king of a typical nation. Paul R. House, in 1, 2 Kings: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary), describes Solomon’s errors:

First, he has disobeyed Moses’ law for marriage, which constitutes a breach of the agreement Solomon makes with God in 1 Kgs 3:1–14; 6:11–13; and 9:1–9. Moses says in Deut 7:3–4 and Exod 34:15–16 that Israelites must not intermarry with noncovenant nations. Why? Because God says ‘they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods’ (Deut 7:4). Judgment will then result. Second, Solomon has broken Moses’ commands for kings (cf. Deut 17:14–20). Moses explicitly says, ‘He must not take many wives or his heart will be led astray’ (Deut 17:17).

In verses 4-8, the author of Kings reports that Moses’s dire predictions all come true with Solomon. Solomon not only tolerates his wives’ gods, he builds worship centers for them. Thus the Lord punishes Solomon in verses 9-13.

Because of Solomon’s sins against God, Solomon’s son would lose part of the kingdom. God tells Solomon,

I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.

Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, would rule over the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, but another king would rule over the other 10 tribes of Israel. Who would this other ruler be? The answer lies in verses 26-40.

One of Solomon’s own administrators, Jeroboam, is met on the road out of Jerusalem by the prophet Ahijah. Ahijah tells Jeroboam that God is going to make him king over the 10 tribes of Israel, excluding Judah and Benjamin. The reason he is taking this part of the kingdom away from Solomon’s son (and David’s grandson), Rehoboam, is because Solomon has worshipped other gods and has not followed the Law (or Torah) as his father David did. God promises Jeroboam that if he obeys the Torah, as David did, God will bless him with a dynasty. Solomon learns of this promise to Jeroboam and he tries to kill him, but Jeroboam escapes to Egypt until Solomon dies.

Chapter 11 ends with the death of King Solomon. He ruled 40 years and his son, Rehoboam, succeeded him. What can we learn from chapter 11 about God? Paul R. House writes,

Theologically, the passage reemphasizes God’s faithfulness. This time the author depicts the Lord as the God who keeps promises even when the person who is the object of the promise fails to be righteous. For David’s sake, and for the sake of Solomon, the Lord refuses to obliterate the nation. Despite this mercy, however, Israel must still face the consequences of idolatry. God does judge.

House also emphasizes what the chapter says about leaders who sin:

Further, the text stresses how a leader’s sin can impact others. Although it is doubtful that Solomon can be held responsible for introducing idolatry into Israel (cf. the Book of Judges), his religious open-door policy serves to legitimize the practice in a way that no commoner’s similar actions could. Just as one holy person, such as Abraham or Moses, can bless a whole people, so one significant idolater can create spiritual cancer in a people. Had Solomon continued to seek God’s favor rather than wealth and power, he could have helped Israel continue to enjoy prosperity. Instead, he illustrates the principle that sin always affects others.

A final point to be made is that God still expects obedience even in a multicultural, pluralistic society. Solomon could not use the excuse that he needed to bend the rules of the Torah to survive in the ancient near east. Likewise, we can’t expect God to bend the rules for us today when His principles become unpopular. He simply will not do that.

#9 Post of 2016 – Commentary on 2 Kings 18-19 (Hezekiah and Sennacherib)

Chapter 18 introduces King Hezekiah of Judah, one of the godliest rulers of Judah since Solomon. As is the case with many kings of the time, he reigned with both his father and son in addition to reigning by himself. He reigned as coregent with his father Ahaz for 14 years (729–715 BC). He reigned alone for 18 years (715–697) and then as coregent with his son Manasseh for 11 years (697–686).

What is remarkable about Hezekiah is that, in direct contrast to King Hoshea of Israel, “he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done.” Only three other kings of Judah are given the same commendation: Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Josiah. We know that Hezekiah destroyed pagan worship centers, removed idols, and even broke into pieces the bronze snake that Moses had fashioned back during the exodus, for it had become an object of worship.

From the book of 2 Chronicles, we also learn that Hezekiah cleansed and re-consecrated the temple, and then reintroduced the sacred feasts and festivals that Judah had failed to observe. Hezekiah was so confident in the Lord that he rebelled against the Assyrians and successfully mounted attacks against the Philistines. As the idolatrous nation of Israel was being ransacked by the Assyrians, Judah was experiencing a revival under Hezekiah’s leadership.

Peace with Assyria would only last 14 years for Hezekiah, however. In 701 BC, the Assyrian King Sennacherib sweeps into Judah and overruns all of the fortified cities of Judah except for Jerusalem itself. (Note that the following section of 2 Kings 18:13-19:37 is also recorded in the Book of Isaiah [chaps. 36–37] with only minor changes.) What caused Sennacherib to launch this invasion?

Thomas L. Constable writes, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Old Testament), that

Sennacherib was a less capable ruler than his father. During Sennacherib’s first four years on the throne he was occupied with controlling Babylon. During this time an alliance had formed in which cities of Phoenicia and Philistia as well as Egypt (under Shaboka) and Judah (under Hezekiah) joined together to resist Assyria. Certain that Sennacherib would try to put down this uprising, as Sargon had done, Hezekiah prepared for an Assyrian invasion by fortifying Jerusalem (cf. 2 Chron. 32:1–8).

Sure enough, once Sennacherib had dealt with the Babylonians, he turned his attention to the rebellion in the south. After rolling through most of Judah’s territory, he sets up a temporary headquarters in the Judean city of Lachish.

Hezekiah panics and pays off Sennacherib by emptying his royal treasury and even removing the gold plating on the doors of the temple. However, this ransom does not succeed. Sennacherib sends an army along with three of his highest ranking officers to send a message to Hezekiah. The message to Hezekiah is received by three of his ministers and is summarized as:

  1. Hezekiah was foolish to align with Egypt against Assyria, since Egypt is weak.
  2. The God of Judah was obviously upset with Hezekiah because Hezekiah had removed the high places in Judah against God’s wishes. God had thus commanded Assyria to conquer Judah. Paul R. House, in 8, 1, 2 Kings, The New American Commentary, adds, “This sort of propaganda about other countries’ deities abandoning their adherents was a standard Assyrian ploy when they invaded and conquered another nation. Cogan notes that the Assyrians routinely told their enemies that their gods were angry with them, that the gods had abandoned them, and that these gods counseled them to surrender to the Assyrians. It is not unusual, then, for the spokesman to try such tactics on Judahites. What the speaker has not grasped, however, is that he addresses monotheists committed to separatist Yahwism, not the typical polytheists he is used to manipulating.”
  3. The people of Jerusalem will suffer greatly from the siege and Hezekiah cannot protect them.
  4. If they will surrender, they will be moved peacefully to a distant land where they will be able to live their lives and prosper. (This is an interesting way to sell deportation.)
  5. None of the other gods of the nations Assyria has conquered have been able to withstand the king of Assyria (who serves the Assyrian god Assur). Why would they think Judah will be the first?

In chapter 19, verses 1-7, Hezekiah sends his ministers to the prophet Isaiah to get his counsel. Isaiah assures the ministers that God will send Sennacherib away and that he will eventually be killed by the sword in his own land.

In verses 8-13, Sennacherib sends a letter to Hezekiah warning him not to be deceived by his god into believing that Jerusalem will be protected from the Assyrian army. He then lists 9 other nations that have fallen to the Assyrians and repeats that none of those gods protected those nations.

Hezekiah receives the letter, goes to the temple, and prays to God. Hezekiah appeals to God’s honor and the fact that Sennacherib has mocked Him. Hezekiah understands that Yahweh is the only real God in existence, but Hezekiah asks God to prove this fact to the rest of world by saving Jerusalem.

The prophet Isaiah announces to Hezekiah that God has heard his prayer and that He will indeed save Jerusalem. In verses 21-28, God speaks to Sennacherib and the nation of Assyria directly. God reprimands Sennacherib for thinking that he can conquer Jerusalem and for dishonoring the Holy One of Israel. Even though Sennacherib believes that all of his military successes are due to his own power and prowess, God corrects him and states that He is the One who has orchestrated everything that has occurred from the beginning. Because of Sennacherib’s arrogance, God will ensure that Assyria is treated just like she has treated her enemies.

God then speaks to the people of Jerusalem and tells them that they will survive the devastation brought by Assyria. Thomas Constable explains the meaning of verses 29-31:

For two years the people of Jerusalem would be able to eat the produce of their land. It would not be stolen by the Assyrians who would have lived off the land if they had returned to besiege the capital. The Judeans had not been able to plant crops outside the city walls because of the Assyrians’ presence. But God promised that He would feed them for two years by causing the seed that had been sown naturally to grow up into an adequate crop. The third year people could return to their normal cycle of sowing and reaping.

This provision of multiplied food was further designed to illustrate God’s plan to multiply miraculously the people of Judah who had been reduced to small numbers. Sennacherib claimed to have taken 200,150 prisoners from Judah. However, though Judah seemingly might cease to be a nation through attrition, God promised to revive it. Like the crops, a remnant of people would take root … and bear fruit, that is, be established and prosperous. God’s zeal on behalf of His people would perform this (cf. Isa. 9:7).

Finally, in verses 32-34, God reveals the immediate fate of Jerusalem:

Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the LORD. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.

That night, the angel of the Lord strikes down the entire Assyrian army camped outside Jerusalem. Sennacherib returns to his capital, Nineveh, without defeating Hezekiah and Jerusalem. Some 20 years later, Sennacherib is murdered by his two oldest sons in the temple of the Assyrian god, Nisroch. They were attempting a coup because Sennacherib had chosen their younger brother to succeed him as king of Assyria. Everything God said would occur did occur.

Commentary on Mark 6 (Jesus Feeds 5,000 and Walks on Water)

After Jesus has sent out his disciples to preach to the towns of Galilee (probably around the second year of his public ministry), they return to him and give him reports of what they accomplished. Jesus, seeing they need rest, takes them to a desolate place so that they can be alone.

Mark notes that this is a busy time, for “many were coming and going.” In the parallel account in the Gospel of John, we read that the Passover Festival was near, so this would explain why there were huge crowds of people “coming and going” during this time.

As Jesus and the disciples travel by boat on the Sea of Galilee to a remote place, a crowd of people spot them and follow along on land. Evidently, their boat was close to land and could easily be seen from the shore of the lake.

In verse 34, when their boat goes ashore, Jesus sees the great crowd that has followed them and he has compassion on them, first by teaching them and then by feeding them. James A. Brooks writes, in vol. 23, Mark, The New American Commentary,

’Sheep without a shepherd’ is an Old Testament picture of Israel without spiritual leadership (Num 27:17; 1 Kgs 22:17; Ezek 34:5). Jesus is pictured as the Good Shepherd who feeds the new Israel (cf. Ezek 34:23; Jer 23:4). First he ‘fed’ the crowd with his teaching. Mark frequently emphasized that Jesus taught.

The miracle that follows is recounted in all four Gospels, so the early church obviously considered the feeding of the five thousand to be an extremely important event in Jesus’ ministry. The only other miracle attested by all four Gospels is the resurrection of Jesus.

Because it was late in the evening and they are in a desolate region, the disciples ask Jesus to send the crowds away to buy food for themselves. Jesus responds by telling the disciples to feed the crowd. They complain that it would take 200 denarii to feed a crowd this size (between 15-25,000 people total).

One denarius was equivalent to an average worker’s daily wage. The average daily wage of an American today is about $210, so that would equate to about $42,000! Most of us don’t have $42,000 sitting around to feed a crowd of people who have come to hear us speak for free, so the disciples are understandably panicked.

Unperturbed, Jesus asks them to see how many loaves of bread they can find among the crowd, and they return with five loaves and two fish. Jesus instructs the crowd to divide themselves into groups of fifties and hundreds and sit down on the “green grass.” Note that the grass would have only been green in the spring around the time of Passover, so this little detail nicely harmonizes with the Gospel of John’s timing of this miracle.

Jesus then says a blessing over the food and sends the disciples into the crowd with bread and fish. When they return, everyone in the crowd has been fed and there are twelve baskets left over with bread and fish.

This miracle account refers in several ways to the Old Testament, as noted by James Brooks:

As already observed in the comments on 1:4, in the Old Testament the desert was the place where God met, tested, and blessed his people. Specially important was the experience of Israel in the wilderness following the Exodus. After the testing involved in that experience, ‘rest’ was promised. Note how Mark introduced that idea (v. 31). Also the ‘sheep without a shepherd’ (v. 34) recalls Moses’ description of Israel in Num 27:17; and the ‘hundreds and fifties’ of v. 40, the organization of Israel in Exod 18:21, not to mention the resemblance between the loaves and the manna. The literal rest in the desert and later in the promised land following the Exodus did not satisfy, and the prophets and psalmists began to look forward to a better rest in the messianic age. . . . Mark saw in Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand an eschatological Moses giving perfect rest to and supplying all the needs of his people. The feeding anticipates the messianic banquet at the end of the age. The kingdom is at hand. The miracle as such is not as important for Mark as what it reveals about Jesus. . . .

The prophet Elisha performed a similar miracle according to 2 Kgs 4:42–44. In fact, Mark’s wording owes something to this account and possibly 1 Kgs 17:9–16. Mark may also have seen in the event Jesus as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.

Immediately following the miracle of the feeding of five thousand, Jesus sends the disciples back into their boat to travel across the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee to meet him in a town called Bethsaida. Jesus goes by himself up on a mountain to pray alone.

Between 3 and 6 am, Jesus sees the disciples rowing their boat against the wind (they have gone way off course and are stuck out in the middle of the lake.) Jesus decides to go to them by walking on the lake. As he approaches the boat, they see him and think he is a ghost.

Jesus tells them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” John D. Grassmick, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, remarks:

The words It is I (lit., ‘I am,’ egō eimi) may simply convey self-identification (‘It is I, Jesus’), but they are probably intended here to echo the Old Testament formula of God’s self-revelation: ‘I am who I am’ (cf. Ex. 3:14; Isa. 41:4; 43:10; 51:12; 52:6).

Jesus climbs into the boat and the winds calm down. Mark records that the disciples are amazed because they did not understand who Jesus really was, even after seeing Jesus feed five thousand people.

The miracle of Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and John. Only Luke does not record it.

 

Commentary on Mark 6 (Death of John the Baptist)

The traditional view of the Gospel of Mark is that it was written by John Mark, a follower of the apostle Peter, during his missionary travels, between AD 50-70. Most biblical scholars believe that the Gospel of Mark was the first Gospel written, and that Matthew and Luke borrowed heavily from it when writing their accounts. Early church fathers wrote that Mark collected his stories about Jesus’ life from Peter.

Craig Evans, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible), explains the purposes of Mark in writing his Gospel:

Mark’s opening verse makes the Gospel’s purpose clear: ‘The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ (Mark 1: 1). Mark very carefully chose his language, deliberately echoing the language of the imperial ruler cult, as seen in an inscription in honor of Caesar Augustus: ‘the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning for the world of the good news.’ Mark challenges this imperial myth, asserting that the good news for the world began with Jesus Christ, the true Son of God (see Mark 15: 39, where the Roman centurion admits upon seeing the impressive death of Jesus: ‘This man really was God’s Son!’).

From this extraordinary claim at the beginning of his narrative, to the sudden and dramatic discovery of the empty tomb, Mark takes pains to show that Jesus is truly God’s Son, despite rejection by the religious authorities of his time and his execution at the hands of the Roman governor. The Julian emperors, whose latest and most unfortunate manifestation at the time of the publication of Mark is the demented Nero, can provide no compelling candidates for recognition as the Son of God, whose life and death are truly of benefit to humankind. To the Roman world Mark proffers Jesus and his message of the kingdom of God and by doing so encourages the faithful to remain steadfast, and enjoins the critics and opponents of the Christian faith to reconsider.

As Jesus’ ministry continues, his forerunner, the man who baptized him in the Jordan River, is executed. Mark tells the story of John the Baptist’s execution in chapter six, starting in verse 14.

In verses 14-16, Mark tells his readers that King Herod hears about Jesus and becomes concerned that he is John the Baptist raised from the dead. Herod assumes that a raised John the Baptist would have supernatural powers and be able to perform the kinds of miracles being attributed to Jesus.

There are other rumors about Jesus, however. Some say he is the second coming of Elijah (as prophesied in Malachi 4:5) and others say he is a new prophet sent by God to the Israelite nation. Herod, though, is convinced Jesus is the John the Baptist, back from the dead.

Before we continue, who exactly is Herod? The Herod of Mark 6 is more precisely named Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great (the Herod whom the magi visited when Jesus was born) and tetrarch of Galilee and Perea (4 BC – AD 39). When Antipas’ father, Herod the Great, died in 4 BC, his kingdom was split into three parts by the Roman emperor. Antipas was given the portion of the kingdom that encompassed the regions of Galilee and Perea (see map below from Nelson’s 3-D Bible Mapbook).

map

Antipas married Aretas, the daughter of king of the Nabateans (region in yellow above). But while visiting Rome, Antipas became infatuated with the wife of his half-brother; her name was Herodias. He promptly divorced Aretas and married Herodias (who divorced her husband as well).

Stealing his half-brother’s wife was truly scandalous and the Jews in his kingdom were horrified. John the Baptist loudly criticized the marriage as an offense against God, citing passages such as Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21.

Antipas arrests John the Baptist and places him in prison at the fortress of Machaerus (in the southern portion of Perea). According to Mark, Antipas does this because of pressure from his wife, Herodias. She despises John and wants him executed, but Antipas is hesitant to do so because he sees John as a holy man.

That would change when Antipas throws a birthday party for himself at one of his fortresses, possibly Machaerus. During the festivities, Antipas invites his teenage step-daughter to dance for a room full of drunken men. The young girl is named Salome, and she is the daughter of Herodias and her former husband.

Antipas is so pleased with her performance that he rashly offers her whatever she wants, up to half his kingdom. Only the Romans could divide his kingdom, so he is making a drunken promise that he can’t even keep.

Salome goes to ask her mother what she should request, and Herodias tells her to ask for John the Baptist’s head. At this point, Antipas will be publicly embarrassed in front of the Galilean nobility and military commanders if he refuses her request, so he gives the order and John the Baptist is executed.

David Garland comments, in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Volume One (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary):

The account reeks of gross impiety. Birthdays were pagan celebrations. Drunken revelry, a princess dancing at a stag party (she must leave to consult her mother), and execution without a trial all smack of rank paganism. The grisly detail of John’s head brought to them on a platter caps off a banquet already polluted by excess.

The Jewish historian, Josephus, confirms that John the Baptist was executed by Antipas at Machaerus. Josephus, however, stresses that John was killed for political reasons. Antipas saw John as a growing threat to his rule. Craig Evans writes:

Josephus confirms that Herod imprisoned and executed John the Baptist, but his details differ as to why exactly John was killed (Antiquities 18.116– 119). At most points the two accounts can be reconciled, and where they cannot be reconciled there is no good reason to give Josephus preference. Although Josephus chooses to emphasize the political dangers that John posed to Herod, and Mark chose to emphasize the moral dimension, the two accounts are in essential agreement. Herod’s disgraceful dismissal of his wife, the daughter of the king of the Nabateans, and his unlawful marriage to Herodias his sister-in-law prompted John’s condemnation. John’s condemnation focused on the immoral and unlawful aspects (which Mark mentions), while Herod’s fears focused on the political dangers (which Josephus narrates). Later, Josephus himself mentions the inappropriateness of Herod’s divorce and remarriage (Antiquities 18.136).

After John is executed, his disciples retrieve his body and give him a proper burial, a preview of Joseph of Arimathea’s burial of Jesus. John the Baptist is the forerunner of Jesus both in life and death.

Commentary on Matthew 13 (Parable of the Soils)

Jesus is teaching near the Sea of Galilee, but the crowds are so large that he climbs into a boat and moves out into the water. The crowds then gather on the beach to hear him. This takes place well into his ministry, possibly two years.

Unlike his previous teaching, he only communicates parables to the crowd. R. V. G. Tasker and I. H. Marshall explain the meaning in the New Bible Dictionary:

‘Parable’ is ultimately derived from Gk. parabolē, literally ‘putting things side by side.’ Etymologically it is thus close to ‘allegory,’ which by derivation means ‘saying things in a different way.’ Both parables and allegories have usually been regarded as forms of teaching which present the listener with interesting illustrations from which can be drawn moral and religious truths; ‘parable’ is the somewhat protracted simile or short descriptive story, usually designed to inculcate a single truth or answer a single question, while ‘allegory’ denotes the more elaborate tale in which all or most of the details have their counterparts in the application. Since ‘truth embodied in a tale shall enter in at lowly doors,’ the value of this method of instruction is obvious.

The first parable he teaches is known as the Parable of the Sower. The sower is scattering seeds on the ground to grow a crop. However, when the sower scatters the seeds, they fall on four different kinds of soil: soil along the path, soil on rocky ground, soil with thorns growing in it, and finally good soil. As most of Jesus’ listeners were familiar with scattering seeds, they would have understood the imagery Jesus is using to tell the parable. However, since we are two thousand years removed, here is some background from Michael J. Wilkins in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Volume One (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary):

Seed was sown ‘broadcast’ style by scattering it in all directions by hand while walking up and down the field. The average rate of sowing wheat varies from twenty pounds per acre (22.5 kilograms per hectare) upward, which allowed for wasted seed. Fields were apparently plowed both before the seed was sown and after, plowing across the original furrows to cover the seeds with soil. . . . It was common for seed to be scattered on the hard paths that surrounded the fields. Birds would swoop down as the farmer walked on and eat the seed.

Conditions for farming in many areas of Israel were not favorable. The hardships that many people experienced included insufficient amounts of water and soil. The terrain in most cases was uneven and rocky, with only thin layers of soil covering the rock. Seed that landed on this shallow soil could begin to germinate, but it couldn’t put down deep roots to collect what little moisture was in that parched thin layer of earth. Sprouting seed would soon wither and die in the hot sun (13:6).

Sometimes thorns were also hidden in the soil, so the farmer could not see them to pull them out by the roots. Therefore, when seed was planted beside the thorns, the thorns would grow rapidly and crowd out the seeds.

With regard to the good soil, Craig Keener notes in The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament:

Thirtyfold, sixtyfold and a hundredfold are tremendously good harvests from Galilean soil. The Jordan Valley normally yielded between ten- and a hundredfold, so a hundredfold need not be a miraculous harvest (Gen 26:12; cf. Amos 9:13). But for much of Palestine, the average yield was tenfold (meaning that 10 seeds were harvested for every seed sown), and all the figures Jesus reports here are very good yields.

Once Jesus has finished, his disciples pull him aside and ask why he has started teaching in parables. Jesus explains that only those who are truly following him (his disciples) will have the parables explained to them. The parables are revealing the secrets (mysteries) of the kingdom of heaven. Those who aren’t following Jesus will not hear the parables explained, and thus will remain ignorant about the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.

What does Jesus mean by the “secrets of the kingdom of heaven”? Up until Matthew 13, Jesus has been presenting himself to the Jews of Galilee and Judea as the Messiah, the long-predicted King of Israel. He has performed miracles, he has fulfilled prophecies, he has taught with authority, yet most Jews were rejecting his claims to be the Messiah. In fact, in Matthew 12, the Jewish leadership attributes his miracles to the power of Satan!

Given the rejection of Jesus as their King, Jesus will now start revealing to his disciples that the kingdom of God (heaven) that the OT predicted will be delayed until Jesus returns to the earth some time in the future. Until he comes back, however, the kingdom of God will exist, but in a different form than what the Jews would have expected. Jesus, then, is going to reveal to his disciples the characteristics of this new form of the kingdom which will exist between his first and second coming. This new form has never been revealed before, so that is why it is referred to as a “secret” or “mystery.”

Why would Jesus only want his closest followers to be told about the new form of the kingdom of God? Because the crowds that are coming to hear him speak are mostly composed of people who don’t accept his claim of being the Messiah and who don’t want to dedicate their lives to him.

Reflecting on verses 13-15, Craig Blomberg writes, in vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary:

The hidden aspect of the parables’ message is thus both a cause of and a response to people’s unwillingness to follow Jesus. ‘Seeing’ and ‘hearing’ are each used in two different senses here, once for simple sensory perception and then for the kind of insight that leads to acceptance of the gospel and discipleship. ‘Understanding’ is a key word for Matthew in this chapter, especially in vv. 19 and 23, where he adds the term to his sources. The language of v. 13 is taken almost verbatim from Isa 6:9–10, LXX. Jesus declares that the words of Isaiah are now being fulfilled.

The word for ‘fulfill’ here (anaplēroō) is different from before, the only time in the New Testament this verb is used with reference to Scripture. Verse 14a probably means the prophecy of Isaiah applies to them—i.e., the pattern of behavior in Isaiah’s time is repeating itself and being completed in Jesus’ day among those who reject him. . . . Meanwhile v. 15 explains the current plight of those who reject Jesus. God confirms such people in their hard-heartedness in response to their freely chosen disobedience (as in the larger context of God’s call to Isaiah to prophesy to rebellious Israel; cf. also the sequence of events in Rom 1:18–32). Jesus sees his preaching in parables, in part at least, as a kind of judgment from God upon unbelieving Israel.

As for Jesus’ disciples, they are blessed. They will be taught the meaning of the parables, and thus the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. They are learning things about the kingdom that not even the great prophets and saints in the OT were privileged to know.

In verses 18-23, Jesus explains the parable of the sower to his disciples. The seed represents Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of heaven. The four soils represent four different kinds of responses to Jesus’ teaching.

The first kind of person (soil on the path) never understands Jesus’ words and Satan snatches away the words before any understanding does occur. This does not a represent a person who simply needs more instruction to understand. This person willfully rejects the message they are hearing and they are therefore culpable.

The second kind of person (soil on rocky ground) receives Jesus’ words, but as soon as he is troubled or persecuted for his beliefs, he abandons Jesus.

The third kind of person (soil with thorns) also receives Jesus’ words, but money and earthly distractions make him an unfruitful disciple.

The fourth kind of person (good soil) receives and understands Jesus’ words, and becomes extremely fruitful in the kingdom of heaven. This is the only kind of person whom Jesus commends. To be fruitful means to be obedient to God in everything you do. Michael Wilkins adds his thoughts about the crop produced in the life of the good soil:

Many think that this ‘crop’ refers to converts won to Christ through the believer. This no doubt is partially correct, but in this context it refers to something more fundamental—the transformation of a person who has encountered the kingdom of heaven. In the fourth soil the crop represents the outworking of the life of the divine seed (cf. 1 John 3:9), with special reference to the production of the fruit of the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:22–23), and the outworking of the Spirit in the gifts of the Spirit in the believer’s life (1 Cor. 12). This results in personal characteristics produced by the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23), the external creation of Spirit-produced righteousness and good works (e.g., Col. 1:10), and indeed, new converts won through the believer’s testimony (e.g., Rom. 1:13). The ‘crop’ produced is the outward evidence of the reality of inward life of the kingdom of heaven.

Even though it is depressing to learn that only one of the four soils actually succeeds as a member of the kingdom of heaven, it should also be noted that the fourth kind of person produces a new crop that is thirty, sixty, or a hundred-fold. Thus the fourth soil more than makes up for the other three soils and their failure to produce.

A final word about the parable. Although the parable primarily speaks of fruit-bearing, there is a sense in which Jesus is referring to entrance to the ultimate kingdom of heaven. In other words, he is speaking about what we commonly refer to as salvation, or being saved.

Most commentators agree that the first soil is not saved and the fourth one is. However, there is no consensus about the second and third soils. Some argue they are not saved and some argue they are. I do not know the answer to that question, but I will say that everyone agrees that the only soil Jesus commends in the parable is the fourth. So, any Christian who does not aspire to be like the fourth soil is completely missing the point of the parable. The first three soils don’t cut it in Jesus’ kingdom.

Commentary on Matthew 6-7 (Sermon on the Mount, continued)

We continue to look at the Sermon on the Mount in chapters six and seven of Matthew. We will analyze the Lord’s Prayer, judging others, and the Golden Rule.

In chapter six, verse 5-6, Jesus instructs his disciples to pray in a way that does not bring attention to themselves. Prayer is a private matter between you and God, not an activity meant to show how spiritual you are. Craig Blomberg writes, in vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary,

As with almsgiving, Jesus does not rule out all public behavior but stresses the private side of piety. Public prayer is very appropriate when practiced with right motives. But public orations should represent the overflow of a vibrant personal prayer life. What is more, prayer ought not to be used to gain plaudits, summarize a sermon, or communicate information to an audience but should reflect genuine conversation with God.

In verses 7-8 Jesus warns his disciples to not pray like pagans. Pagans would typically recite long, formulaic prayers that would invoke numerous names of the deity they were praying to. The purpose was to use the right phrases and names of the deity to make the prayer efficacious. A mistake in the words chosen would mean that the deity would not respond to the prayer. Instead, we should think of God as our father who knows exactly what we need before we even ask. Jesus then offers an example prayer for his disciples in verses 9-13. This has come to be known as the “model prayer,” “Our Father,” or “Lord’s prayer.”

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”

The first step is to give proper respect to the name of God in your prayer. Recall that a name includes one’s nature, character, and authority. We are to reverence God.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

God’s will is already done in heaven where He has not allowed His creatures’ sins to pollute. But our prayer is that one day God’s reign and authority will reach to our world as well. We are praying that God will someday bring His sinless perfection to the earth.

“Give us this day our daily bread”

We are to rely on God every day to provide us sustenance. There are no guarantees of a long life, but each day we pray for God to provide the essentials.

“and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

We should ask God every day to forgive us our sins, but He will not do so if we refuse to forgive the sins others have committed against us.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Blomberg explains what this verse meant to Jesus’s listeners:

’Lead us not into temptation’ does not imply ‘don’t bring us to the place of temptation’ or ‘don’t allow us to be tempted.’ God’s Spirit has already done both of these with Jesus (4:1). Nor does the clause imply ‘don’t tempt us’ because God has promised never to do that anyway (Jas 1:13). Rather, in light of the probable Aramaic underlying Jesus’ prayer, these words seem best taken as ‘don’t let us succumb to temptation’ (cf. Mark 14:38) or ‘don’t abandon us to temptation.’ We do of course periodically succumb to temptation but never because we have no alternative (1 Cor 10:13). So when we give in, we have only ourselves to blame. The second clause of v. 13 phrases the same plea positively, ‘Deliver us from evil’ (or ‘from the evil one’ [NIV marg.], from whom all evil ultimately comes). This parallelism renders less likely the alternate translation of the first clause as ‘do not bring us to the test’ (‘test’ is an equally common rendering of peirasmos) either as times of trial in this life or as final judgment. If we are praying for rescue from the devil, he is more likely tempting than testing us (cf. under 4:1). God tests us in order to prove us and bring us to maturity (Jas 1:2–4; 1 Pet 1:6–9). Such tests should not be feared, nor should we pray for God to withhold them.

Verses 14-15 reiterate the thoughts in verse 12. If you are an unforgiving person, then God will likewise not forgive you.

As we move to chapter seven, Jesus tells his disciples how they should judge. Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus is not commanding his followers to never judge, but he is instructing us how to judge. Blomberg elaborates on verses 1-2:

’Judge’ (krinō) can imply to analyze or evaluate as well as to condemn or avenge. The former senses are clearly commanded of believers (e.g., 1 Cor 5:5; 1 John 4:1), but the latter are reserved for God. Even on those occasions when we render a negative evaluation of others, our purposes should be constructive and not retributive. So Jesus is here commanding his followers not to be characterized by judgmental attitudes . . . . The immediate practical rationale for his command is that others, including God, may treat us in the same manner we treat them.

Verses 3-5 illustrate the kind of hypocritical judgment that Jesus condemns. A person who is sinning badly has no right to judge another person for the same sin. We must first deal with our own sins before we judge the sins in others.

Dogs and pigs were scavenging animals in ancient Palestine. They often lived in squalor and ran around the streets of many towns looking for food. They were known to turn on humans and attack them. To Jews, calling someone a “dog” or “pig” was a grave insult. So when Jesus says, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you,” he is advising his followers not to waste giving truth to those who are hostile to what you are saying. When you give them truth, they will simply turn on you and attack you.

Verse 12 embodies what has come to be known as the Golden Rule. Jesus instructs his disciples to do to others what we wish they would do to us. He adds that this maxim sums up much of the Hebrew scriptures. Notice how this maxim is similar to “love your neighbor as yourself.” They essentially are saying the same thing.

Commentary on Matthew 5 (Sermon on the Mount)

In chapter four of Matthew, Jesus had commanded his followers to repent for the “kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This announcement would have caused those following him to ask questions. Louis Barbieri, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, places us in the mind of the Jews hearing Jesus.

Natural questions on the heart of every Jew would have been, ‘Am I eligible to enter Messiah’s kingdom? Am I righteous enough to qualify for entrance?’ The only standard of righteousness the people knew was that laid down by the current religious leaders, the scribes and Pharisees. Would one who followed that standard be acceptable in Messiah’s kingdom?

Chapters 5-7 in Matthew are known as the Sermon on the Mount and they consist of Jesus answering these questions for his disciples. Barbieri explains that

Jesus’ sermon therefore must be understood in the context of His offer of the kingdom to Israel and the need for repentance to enter that kingdom. The sermon did not give a ‘Constitution’ for the kingdom nor did it present the way of salvation. The sermon showed how a person who is in right relationship with God should conduct his life.

Verses 2-12 are known as the “Beatitudes.” Michael Wilkins, in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Volume One (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), explains the origin of the term:

The name ‘beatitude’ is derived from the Latin noun beatitudo, because the first word of each statement in the Latin Vulgate is beati (adj. related to the noun), which translates the Greek word makarios (traditionally rendered in English as ‘blessed’).

The Beatitudes are a description of the kinds of people who will populate the kingdom of heaven, which is both present, with Jesus, and future, when he returns to reclaim the entire earth for God at his second coming.

The “poor in spirit” are those who acknowledge their complete powerlessness and spiritual bankruptcy without Jesus. Those who are economically deprived (materially poor) are often more likely to acknowledge their reliance on God than those who are wealthy. The “poor in spirit” have the kingdom of heaven now and will have it more fully at the second coming.

Those who “mourn” are those who grieve over their personal sins and the sins of mankind in general. It could also refer to those who are suffering in this life. In the future kingdom of heaven, God promises to comfort these people.

The “meek” are those who are humble and gentle. They will rule with Christ over the new heavens and earth in the future kingdom.

Those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” yearn for God’s moral laws to be established and obeyed by all mankind. In the future kingdom, this will indeed be the case.

The “merciful” are those who are forgiving and compassionate toward others. They will receive this compassion from God in His kingdom.

The “pure in heart” are those who display a single-minded devotion toward God. Craig Blomberg, in vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary, writes:

Purity in heart refers to moral uprightness and not just ritual cleanliness. The Pauline theme of the impossibility of perfect purity in this life should not be imported here. Rather, as with ‘righteousness’ in general for Matthew, what Jesus requires of his disciples is a life-style characterized by pleasing God . . .  . The ‘pure in heart’ exhibit a single-minded devotion to God that stems from the internal cleansing created by following Jesus. Holiness is a prerequisite for entering God’s presence. The pure in heart pass this test, so they will see God and experience intimate fellowship with him. This Beatitude closely parallels Ps 24:3–4.

The “peacemakers” are those who work to reconcile people to God and to each other. They will be subjects in God’s future kingdom.

Finally, in verses 10-12 Jesus explains that the person who does all these things will be persecuted because the world rejects this lifestyle. A person who is living for God will inevitably be attacked, but Jesus promises that they will be rewarded in his future kingdom.

In verses 17-20 Jesus answers his critics who claim that he is undermining the Hebrew scriptures (“Law and Prophets” is shorthand for the entire Old Testament) with his teaching. Jesus corrects them by saying that he is not contradicting the Scriptures, but rather he is fulfilling them. Through his teachings, life, death, and resurrection, he will not only fulfill the messianic prophecies, but he will explain and demonstrate the intended meaning behind all of God’s Word.

Jews at this time believed that the only way to enter the future messianic kingdom was to adhere to the legalistic rules laid out by the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus, however, clearly states that the righteousness attained by following their rules is insufficient. How so? The scribes and Pharisees were focused on external and outward obedience to God’s Word. Jesus will teach in the remainder of chapter five that obedience to God’s Word starts inside a person. It must be inside-out.

Jesus will give six examples of Pharisaical teachings and then correct them. What is he trying to accomplish with these six illustrations? Michael J. Wilkins, in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Volume One of Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, explains:

This section of the Sermon on the Mount is commonly called ‘the antitheses’ because six times Jesus says a variation of, ‘You have heard that it was said . . . but I tell you.’ This has been mistakenly interpreted to mean that Jesus makes his teaching the antithesis of the OT itself (e.g., Luz 2007, 277– 79), as if he were overturning and declaring incorrect the testimonies of the OT. But in reality Jesus is contrasting his interpretation of the OT with faulty interpretations and/ or applications of the OT. In each of the antitheses, Jesus demonstrates how the OT is to be properly interpreted and applied, and thus, how the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled (cf. 5: 17). This elevates Jesus above all interpreters, making his pronouncements equivalent with Scripture itself.

The scribes and Pharisees held sway over the common people, mapping out a course for attaining righteousness through their interpretation and application of the OT. They emphasized legalistic, external obedience to the Law without calling attention to an inner heart-obedience. They were therefore ‘hypocrites’ in their practice of the Law (see on 6: 1– 18), and were responsible for leading the people into hypocritical practices. Jesus looks at several examples of how they had done this, and demonstrates how correct interpretation and application of the Law must be based upon proper intent and motive. Jesus does not say, ‘Hear what the OT says,’ but rather, ‘You have heard it said.’ He is not negating the OT, but the people’s incorrect understanding and application of it.

Given time constraints, we will skip to the fifth illustration in verses 38-42. In these verses, Jesus teaches his followers about retaliation when they are wronged. The OT guidelines, captured in the saying “eye for an eye,” are meant to limit retribution or retaliation. A person can only be punished in proportion to his crime. For example, if you stole a relatively inexpensive object from your neighbor, your neighbor is not allowed to seek capital punishment, as this is clearly disproportionate punishment.

Jesus, however, teaches that his disciples need to go even further with regard to personal retaliation against those who are oppressing them. If a person insults you (a slap on the cheek in Jewish culture), do not retaliate with an insult back at that person.

If a person sues you to gain some disputed property (in this case a tunic), do not fight his legal case, but offer him an even more valuable piece of clothing, a cloak. Wilkins explains the historical context of the tunic and cloak:

The tunic was the basic garment, a long-sleeved inner robe similar to a nightshirt that a person wore next to the skin. It was often worn short by men and ankle length by the women. The ‘cloak’ was the outer robe (cf. 27:35; John 19:23–24), which was an indispensable piece of clothing. When it was given as a pledge, it had to be returned before sunset, because it was used by the poor as a sleeping cover.

Roman soldiers were legally allowed to force Jews to help them carry their equipment for a distance. In this situation, a disciple of Jesus should not resist, but instead offer to carry the equipment even further.

If people ask you for help, help them by giving to them or letting them borrow something they need.

The sixth illustration, in verses 43-48, is perhaps the most challenging to Jesus’s followers. Jesus commands us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. God Himself provides the blessings of sunshine and rain for all people, even those who hate Him, therefore we are to imitate Him.  Jesus points out that if you only love your family and friends, then there is nothing special about you. Even tax collectors and idol-worshiping pagans do that. Craig Blomberg adds:

Christians must love their enemies (v. 44). Otherwise they are no different than tax collectors and pagans, two groups classically despised by orthodox Jews—the first for working for Rome in collecting tribute from Israel and the second because of their false religion (v. 46). Almost all people look after their own. The true test of genuine Christianity is how believers treat those whom they are naturally inclined to hate or who mistreat or persecute them.

In verse 48 Jesus tells his disciples to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Is Jesus giving his disciples an impossible task? Blomberg writes:

The paragraph begun in v. 43 closes with a command that may equally summarize all six antitheses. ‘Perfect’ here is better translated as ‘mature, whole,’ i.e., loving without limits (probably reflecting an underlying Aramaic tamim). Jesus is not frustrating his hearers with an unachievable ideal but challenging them to grow in obedience to God’s will—to become more like him. J. Walvoord rightly observes, ‘While sinless perfection is impossible, godliness, in its biblical concept, is attainable.’ But such godliness cannot be comprehensively formulated in a set of rules; the ethics of the sermon are suggestive, not exhaustive.