“Taking the bunny trail” is a euphemism associated with getting off subject, wasting time and energy, or pursuing something that will likely be an exercise in futility. But in studying scripture and/or being open to the Spirit of God, it is sometimes best to explore. Since my last blog post, I have been traveling down the rabbit trail in the “Kingdom (or reign) of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven” sayings of Jesus. It started with the “narrow” gate or door in Luke 13, as well as the “many” versus the “few” referenced in Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell. As I read the context, I see much in common with what is known as the Sermon on the Mount, a well-known message Jesus gave to a crowd of people including the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and other messages Jesus taught. I realize that it is beneficial for me to formulate a “big picture” understanding of how the “narrow” way relates to Jesus’s other teachings.
Many theologians believe that Jesus taught the same or similar messages over and over again, wherever He went. For example, in Luke 6 we read:
And it came to pass in those days, he went forth to the mountain to pray, and was passing the night in the prayer of God, and when it became day, he called near his disciples […] and having come down with them, he stood upon a level spot, and a crowd of his disciples, and a great multitude of the people […] who came to hear him […] And he, having lifted up his eyes to his disciples, said: “Happy the poor – because yours is the reign of God [etc…]”
But in Matthew 5, we read:
And having seen the multitudes, he went up to the mount, and he having sat down, his disciples came to him, and having opened his mouth, he was teaching them, saying: “Happy the poor in spirit – because theirs is the reign of the heavens [etc…]”
So did Jesus give His sermon on the way up the mountain or on the way back down? Do Matthew and Luke have their times and places confused? Why does Matthew quote Jesus saying “the poor in spirit” while Luke records Jesus saying simply “the poor”? What is the difference between the “reign of God” and the “reign of the heavens”? Perhaps Jesus gave the same message, although not word-for-word, twice, once on the way up and once on the way down. What is important here is the message itself, and how the hearers received it. One regular blog reader, Mary Vanderplas, sums up the situation nicely in her comments on the previous blog, “Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Croissants Falling from the Sky“:
I like what you say about Jesus’ frequent use of metaphorical speech and about the need to interpret such speech rightly. I think you’re right, too, in asserting a connection between the preceding parables in Luke 13 and this text in verses 22 and following, though I doubt that the person’s question was prompted by the parables. It is far more likely that Luke arranged the materials thus as part of his “Travel Narrative,” which begins in 9:51. (Matthew has them in separate places – Matthew 13:31-33; 7:13-14, 22-23; 19:30.) At any rate, I think you’re right to see here a connection between Jesus’ teaching in these parables – which call into question conventional ways of thinking about God’s kingdom – and Jesus’ response to this questioner. Specifically, the images in these parables shatter commonly-held views of how God works, much as the final salvation of God will overturn the expectations of those who assume that they are guaranteed a place in the kingdom.
(*Readers can access most of the texts, in context, that I will examine in this blog by clicking this link.)
The audience consists of a large number of people, whether this is two similar sermons or only one. Some people might argue against this point, which is fine, but I’m not spending too much time defending the idea in this blog. (For further information, study internal evidence for a single event with two accounts and reference Matthew 5:1, 7:28 and Luke 6:13 & 17-18 for descriptions of the audience.) Jesus’s audience can be divided into three groups – the twelve disciples chosen from among Jesus’s many other disciples, the disciples who are not included among the twelve, and the “multitudes” of Abraham’s descendants (possibly including a few curious Gentile onlookers).
Jesus describes what kind of people enter into the reign of God – the poor in spirit, the meek, the hungering, the peacemakers, those persecuted for righteousness sake, etc. This is not a list of qualifications or rules for admittance into the reign of God. Jesus is simply creating a picture of the attributes one might expect to find among those who possess the life He gives. By human standards, this is a sad, sorry group of unimportant, unsuccessful people. By God’s standards, these people have discovered their salvation, they are not preoccupied with important positions in life, and they measure their success in the perfect life of Jesus Christ. This called-out group of people have a function in the world – to be salt and light to the others. In Jesus’s time, these two words packed more of a punch than they do now, because back then, there was no electricity, hence, no instantaneous flick-of-the-light-switch and no refrigeration to preserve meat (they used salt). Check out any long-term survival guide, and you will find salt and lighting supplies on the list of must-haves. There’s a bit of humor in the salt metaphor for the in-your-face-super-religious types of people, that is, salt is essential to animal life, but in excess, it is harmful.
Jesus describes the difference between what people have been taught by religious leaders regarding the law and the actual law itself. Elsewhere in scripture, Jesus says “It is written,” but here, he says, “You have heard it said…” For example, Jesus said:
Ye heard that it was said: “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth;” but I – I say to you, not to resist the evil, but whoever shall slap thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other; and whoever is willing to take thee to law, and thy coat to take – suffer to him also the cloak. And whoever shall impress thee one mile, go with him two, to him who is asking of thee be giving, and him who is willing to borrow from thee thou mayest not turn away.
The law to which Jesus refers, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth,” was established for these and other good reasons: to maintain through fear of punishment the general peace and order in society, to ensure that the punishment was neither too lenient nor harsh- that it fit the crime, to ensure that wealth or race or social status did not result in legal bias, and to prevent the violent chaos of disproportionate personal revenge. The Scribes and Pharisees perverted this law through sophisticated arguments, taking the civil laws into their personal lives, applying the “Eye for an eye” concept to exact emotional, physical, and financial retaliation outside of the court system. It was used as a means of justifying not only racial inequality, but the outright abuse or even death of non-Jews (Gentiles). Heathens were not considered “neighbors”, therefore the law did not apply to them, and punishment for crimes against them were more lenient than punishment for crimes against fellow Jews. (*See note 1 at end of blog.)
I did not randomly choose “Eye for an eye” as an example of Jesus’s teaching, I chose it because it is a smooth segue into the next portion of the blog regarding the political climate during Jesus’s ministry. Martin Luther King Jr. was asked in an interview to explain passive resistance, and he replied:
It was the Sermon on the Mount, rather than a doctrine of passive resistance, that initially inspired the Negroes of Montgomery to dignified social action. It was Jesus of Nazareth that stirred the Negroes to protest with the creative weapon of love. […] The method is passive physically but strongly active spiritually. It is not passive non-resistance to evil, it is active nonviolent resistance to evil. It does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding. The attack is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who happen to be doing evil. [It] is a willingness to accept suffering without retaliation, to accept blows from the opponent without striking back. […] The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent, but he also refuses to hate him. […] the use of violence in our struggle would be both impractical and immoral. To meet hate with retaliatory hate would do nothing but intensify the existence of evil in the universe. Hate begets hate […] We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love […]
(*See Note 2 at the end of the blog.)
It is too bad that Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t around to influence the Jewish religious zealots of early first century. But if they didn’t listen to Jesus, they surely would not have listened to King Jr. The political situation between certain sects of Jews in Jerusalem and the Roman law enforcement was volatile. Had these people taken Jesus’s dire warnings seriously, they might have avoided the bloody, violent end Jesus described:
[Jesus said,] “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that is killing the prophets, and stoning those sent unto her, how often did I will to gather together thy children, as a hen her brood under the wings, and ye did not will. Lo, your house is being left to you desolate […]” And when he came nigh, having seen the city, he wept over it, saying – “If thou didst know, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things for thy peace; but now they were hid from thine eyes. Because days shall come upon thee, and thine enemies shall cast around thee a rampart, and compass thee round, and press thee on every side, and lay thee low, and thy children within thee, and they shall not leave in thee a stone upon a stone, because thou didst not know the time of thy inspection.”
When Jesus spoke to the Jewish multitudes, His audience was God’s covenant people, people who God had promised to cleanse of sin. Their blindness and stubborn rebellion came as no surprise to God. Yes, Jesus wept, because He knew what was about to happen to them, how they would suffer the consequences of their decision to take up arms against the Roman soldiers. But Jesus also knew that God’s glorious Plan of the Ages would result in not only the salvation of Israel, but the salvation of the whole world. Paul explained this concept in Romans 11:
For I do not wish you [the church in Rome, mostly Gentile Christians] to be ignorant, brethren, of this secret – that ye may not be wise in your own conceits – that hardness in part to Israel hath happened till the fulness of the nations may come in; and so all Israel shall be saved, according as it hath been written, “There shall come forth out of Sion he who is delivering, and he shall turn away impiety from Jacob, and this to them [is] the covenant from Me, when I may take away their sins.” As regards, indeed, the good tidings, [the Jews who persecute Christians are] enemies on your account; and as regards the choice – beloved on account of the fathers; for unrepented of [are] the gifts and the calling of God; for as ye also once did not believe in God, and now did find kindness by the unbelief of these: so also these now did not believe, that in your kindness they also may find kindness; for God did shut up together the whole to unbelief, that to the whole He might do kindness.
If we closely examine Jesus’s words, we can see the beginning of the revelation brought to light by the apostle Paul regarding the future of those Jewish zealots who died between 66 and 70 AD. For example, Jesus said, “If thou didst know, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things for thy peace […]” Notice how He clarifies that at this time they did not know the things for their peace. It may be a stretch for the evangelical mind to see the implications – that Jesus longed for them to know now instead of later. I realize that this portion of the text, alone, does not fully support the point I am making, but if we keep reading, it will become more obvious. Jesus said, “Lo, your house is being left to you desolate, and verily I say to you – ye may not see me, till it may come, when ye may say, “Blessed [is] he who is coming in the name of the Lord.” There will come a day when these people, who persecuted the “few” and rejected the “narrow” gate in favor of the “wide” path leading to destruction, will see their Messiah. Jesus even prophecies the words they will speak, words which indicate a change of heart.
Some readers may be questioning whether those who died in 70 AD can be rightly identified as the “many” to whom Jesus referred in the Sermon on the Mount, so let’s take a look. There are three points we should examine. First, the admonition to enter the narrow gate is immediately followed by a warning against false prophets. Second, there is an urgency to enter the reign of God while there is still time, before the door is closed, because the reign of God was “about presently to be made manifest”. Third, the two groups (“few” and “many”) are clearly described: those who enter in before the door is closed and those who are shut out.
The warning against the false prophets is a theme repeated throughout the gospels and scripture in general. Jesus said that the few would know who the false prophets were based on their “fruits” or results of their actions, and He uses similar language to describe hypocrites and Jewish opponents – it may be that the “many” include all these people groups, who exhibit the same “fruits”. For example, Jesus says,
Take heed your kindness not to do before men, to be seen by them, and if not — reward ye have not from your Father who [is] in the heavens; whenever, therefore, thou mayest do kindness, thou mayest not sound a trumpet before thee as the hypocrites do, in the synagogues, and in the streets, that they may have glory from men; verily I say to you – they have their reward! But thou, doing kindness, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth, that thy kindness may be in secret, and thy Father who is seeing in secret Himself shall reward thee manifestly. And when thou mayest pray, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites, because they love in the synagogues, and in the corners of the broad places – standing – to pray, that they may be seen of men; verily I say to you, that they have their reward.
It is obvious, based on the way Jesus describes them, that the “many” are more concerned with appearing righteous than they are with actually being righteous. Matthew records Jesus’s scathing, open rebuke of the “many”, highlighting their bad fruits for His audience:
On the seat of Moses sat down the scribes and the Pharisees
Jesus identifies the many directly – they are those religious leaders who do the following:
they say, and do not; for they bind together burdens heavy and grievous to be borne, and lay upon the shoulders of men, but with their finger they will not move them. And all their works they do to be seen by men, and they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the fringes of their garments, they love also the chief couches in the supper, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the salutations in the market-places, and to be called by men, Rabbi, Rabbi. Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye shut up the reign of the heavens before men, for ye do not go in, nor those going in do ye suffer to enter.
When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the many were more concerned about the political ramifications than they were with whether Jesus actually was Who He claimed to be. Instead of using their powerful and influential positions to champion Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, they worried about what they might stand to lose because of this miracle. They held a meeting, as follows:
[…] the chief priests, therefore, and the Pharisees, gathered together a sanhedrim, and said, “What may we do? because this man doth many signs? If we may let him alone thus, all will believe in him; and the Romans will come, and will take away both our place and nation.” And a certain one of them, Caiaphas, being chief priest of that year, said to them, “Ye have not known anything, nor reason that it is good for us that one man may die for the people, and not the whole nation perish. […] From that day, therefore, they took counsel together that they may kill him.
What seemingly better way to “shut up the reign of the heavens before men” than to do away with the One Who is ushering in the reign?
Jesus continues to describe the many to His audience:
Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye eat up the houses of the widows, and for a pretence make long prayers, because of this ye shall receive more abundant judgment. Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye go round the sea and the dry land to make one proselyte, and whenever it may happen – ye make him a son of gehenna twofold more than yourselves.
Remember in the Sermon on the Mount, how Jesus said:
I say to you, that every one who is angry at his brother without cause, shall be in danger of the judgment, and whoever may say to his brother, Empty fellow! shall be in danger of the sanhedrim, and whoever may say, Rebel! shall be in danger of the gehenna of the fire.
Jesus knew that the judgment of Israel was quickly approaching. God would very soon remove His hand of protection from them, creating a vacuous space for their enemies to destroy them. Not only would those who follow the false prophets be subject to judgment by religious leaders (sanhedrim), but they would also be subject to the gehenna of fire (Jerusalem, 70 AD), a spiritual garbage dump. In this way, the Scribes and Pharisees make the proselyte “a son of gehenna twofold more than” themselves.
Jesus continues to rebuke the religious leaders in the presence of His audience, the masses of Jewish listeners:
Wo to you, blind guides, who are saying, “Whoever may swear by the sanctuary, it is nothing, but whoever may swear by the gold of the sanctuary – is debtor!” Fools and blind! for which [is] greater, the gold, or the sanctuary that is sanctifying the gold? And, whoever may swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever may swear by the gift that is upon it – is debtor! Fools and blind! for which [is] greater, the gift, or the altar that is sanctifying the gift? He therefore who did swear by the altar, doth swear by it, and by all things on it; and he who did swear by the sanctuary, doth swear by it, and by Him who is dwelling in it; and he who did swear by the heaven, doth swear by the throne of God, and by Him who is sitting upon it. Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye give tithe of the mint, and the dill, and the cumin, and did neglect the weightier things of the Law – the judgment, and the kindness, and the faith; these it behoved [you] to do, and those not to neglect.
Let me demonstrate how the concepts Jesus taught, if they had been practically applied, could have saved the many from destruction. Caligula (the cruel and likely insane Roman Caesar) decided that a statue of himself should be set up in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Petronius, the man Caligula put in charge of doing the deed, was impressed by the fact that the Jewish religious leaders would rather die, and in fact, let the whole nation die, before they would allow Caligula’s statue to be set up in the temple. Although their angry tenacity seems to be commendable, we must remember that Jesus is “God with us”, and that the Spirit of God claimed the vessels (bodies, hearts, minds) of believers as the new “temple” of God. The religious system and all its trappings were no longer the dwelling place of God among men. They had become mere buildings, used by people who imagined for themselves elaborate lists of rules and regulations. The Jewish religious leaders were unable to recognize that the reign of God was not in the Holy of Holies of their Temple building, the reign of God should have been within them! How could Caligula possibly set up a statue there? Caligula’s demands should have been disappointing to them, but it should never have been considered an act worth resisting to the point of the bloodshed and enslavement of millions of lives. Clearly, they did, as Jesus said, neglect “judgment, and the kindness, and the faith” to let God be the One to judge Caligula’s stupidity. Consequently, God did just that, because it was not yet the appointed time for the “abomination of desolation” to take place. (I’ll explain this further shortly.) Petronius decided to disobey orders. Caligula found out about it and wrote an order for Petronius to be put to death. But while the written order was en route, Caligula died at sea because of bad weather. The letter arrived after the news of Caligula’s death, so Petronius was never executed. Nevertheless, a rift between the Jews and Romans was created, and it would continue to grow…
Jesus said of the Scribes and Pharisees:
Blind guides! who are straining out the gnat, and the camel are swallowing. Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye make clean the outside of the cup and the plate, and within they are full of rapine and incontinence. Blind Pharisee! cleanse first the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside of them also may become clean. Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye are like to whitewashed sepulchres, which outwardly indeed do appear beautiful, and within are full of bones of dead men, and of all uncleanness; so also ye outwardly indeed do appear to men righteous, and within ye are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Wo to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and adorn the tombs of the righteous, and say, “If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.” So that ye testify to yourselves, that ye are sons of them who did murder the prophets; and ye – ye fill up the measure of your fathers. Serpents! brood of vipers! how may ye escape from the judgment of the gehenna? Because of this, lo, I send to you prophets, and wise men, and scribes, and of them ye will kill and crucify, and of them ye will scourge in your synagogues, and will pursue from city to city; that on you may come all the righteous blood being poured out on the earth from the blood of Abel the righteous, unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the sanctuary and the altar: verily I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation.
Jewish zealots violently raided Jerusalem, revolting against Roman rule, and for a while, they succeeded. They raided the homes of local Jews and stole their food. The Roman soldiers then destroyed the food supply, and people were dying of starvation. The Jewish sects were vicious to one another in the fight for survival within the city, and the Roman army reorganized and gathered around the city, just as Jesus said. The Romans gave the people an opportunity to surrender, but they would not – they were more concerned about the appearance of righteousness (having a temple and an orderly system of religious ceremonies) than righteousness itself (love your enemies… do good to those who hate you, etc). By the time the Roman soldiers were able to enter the city, they were so enraged that they did not wait for orders; they immediately destroyed the temple and slaughtered many Jews. All of this took place about within the Biblical generation (40 years) of when Christ made His prophetic pronouncement. The bad/evil fruits of the false prophets, indeed, led to the destruction of the many who followed them along the wide path.
Jesus’s warning against entering the wide gate, accompanied by His description of the many as “false prophets, who come unto you in sheep’s clothing, and inwardly are ravening wolves”, say “Lord, Lord” but do not do the will of the Father, hear but don’t do Jesus’s words, are not known by the “master of the house”, believe that their association with the master (eating and drinking with the master, the master taught in their “broad places”) will be enough to secure their entrance into life, and are “workers of unrighteousness”. By now, we should be getting a clearer picture of the many.
In contrast, Jesus’s admonition to enter the narrow gate is accompanied by His list of the attributes of the few, that is, they have a righteousness that “abound[s] above that of the scribes and Pharisees”, “seek first” the reign of God over physical needs, do the will of the Father, are known by the “master of the house”, and the progressive triplet – they come to Jesus, hear Him, and do His words. We also have a clearer picture of the “few”.
Notice that both the few and the many do works. The few hear the will of the Father from Jesus Christ and put what they hear into practice. The many suppose or pretend they are doing the will of the Father, but their works are unrighteous. The reason for this is not because the few are better or smarter or put forth a greater effort. If this were the case, then we would have to assume that righteousness is a human effort, achievable apart from Christ. The possibility of a fallible, spiritually dead human being possessing the inclination or ability to do the will of the Father comes only through Jesus Christ, because it is only through Jesus Christ that the Father reveals His will and establishes His reign in and among individuals. His kingdom is not about average people trying to attain spiritual perfection. His reign is a “life” relationship between Himself and His people, and it is also a “life” relationship between His people and others. It is what Jesus calls “My Father’s will” – a new way to relate to one another and to God because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Robert Guelich, in his book, A Foundation for Understanding The Sermon on The Mount, writes:
Inherent to “my Father’s will” was the christological basis of Jesus Messiah, the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise for the day of salvation, that brought about a different orientation to the Mosaic Law. Therefore, any “prophecy” that attempted to apply rigorously the Mosaic Law failed at precisely the same point where the Pharisees broke with Jesus’ ministry, namely, at the implications of his coming for the old order, the Law in Judaism. Put another way, those seeking to live and to influence others to live under the “Sinai Torah,” the Law of Moses legalistically understood, had not accepted Jesus Messiah and the accompanying “Zion Torah” whose basis was the presence in history of the new age with its message of salvation and reconciliation between God and his own. They had ultimately failed to hear the “gospel of the Kingdom,” which offered a new basis and power for conduct, “righteousness” as seen in [Matthew 5-7].
Let’s suppose that the early first century Jewish zealots experienced the same, life-changing spiritual birth as the disciples or the apostle Paul. How might things have gone differently? Perhaps they would have recognized the events foretold by Jesus as recorded in the gospels and by John in Revelation unfolding before their very eyes.
Jesus said, “Do ye not see all these [temple buildings]? verily I say to you, There may not be left here a stone upon a stone, that shall not be thrown down.”
The disciples asked, “Tell us, when shall these be? and what [is] the sign of thy presence, and of the full end of the age?”
Take heed that no one may lead you astray, for many shall come in my name, saying, I am the Christ, and they shall lead many astray,[…] Whenever, therefore, ye may see the abomination of the desolation, that was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever is reading let him observe) then those in Judea – let them flee to the mounts […] for there shall be then great tribulation.
(The “abomination of desolation” in Daniel is a prophecy about a ruler causing sacrifices to cease for about three and a half years and the profaning of the temple – if it is to be interpreted literally.)
John, likely comparing the Roman Empire to a beast, writes, that a “beast with seven heads” that “was given to it a mouth speaking great things, and evil-speakings, and there was given to it authority to make war forty-two months, and it did open its mouth for evil-speaking toward God, to speak evil of His name […]”
According to historical records, Nero Caesar (whose Hebrew numeric name-value is 666 and who was called a “beast” in his time), one of the most ruthless rulers ever, claimed to be the sun-god Apollo and demanded the honor of divinity. He was the first ruler to institute the persecution of Christians, which lasted from 64 AD until he died in 68 – about three and a half years later. The zealots rebelled and encouraged the general Jewish population to rebel against Roman rule, to rid Jerusalem of the Roman Empire by force. Eventually the temple was profaned, as described by Jesus in the book of Luke:
And when ye may see Jerusalem surrounded by encampments, then know that come nigh did her desolation; then those in Judea, let them flee to the mountains; and those in her midst, let them depart out; and those in the countries, let them not come in to her; because these are days of vengeance, to fulfil all things that have been written. And wo to those with child, and to those giving suck, in those days; for there shall be great distress on the land, and wrath on this people; and they shall fall by the mouth of the sword, and shall be led captive to all the nations, and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by nations, till the times of nations be fulfilled.
What if the zealots and warring Jewish factions had done the works they heard from Jesus Christ?
Love your enemies, bless those cursing you, do good to those hating you, and pray for those accusing you falsely, and persecuting you, that ye may be sons of your Father in the heavens, because His sun He doth cause to rise on evil and good, and He doth send rain on righteous and unrighteous. For, if ye may love those loving you, what reward have ye? do not also the tax-gatherers the same? and if ye may salute your brethren only, what do ye abundant? do not also the tax-gatherers so? ye shall therefore be perfect, as your Father who [is] in the heavens is perfect.
What if they had heeded the clear warning to “flee to the mountains” and “depart out” and “not come in to [Jerusalem]” when they saw that it was surrounded by armies? Normally, when an area is under attack, the safest place to take refuge is within the city walls, but this is not true of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Jesus knew it, and He warned His listeners to enter His reign while there was still time, before the door would be shut to them. Few people understood this. Many did not. This sheds new light on the meaning of what Jesus said to His disciples when they asked Him why He always taught in parables (here translated similes):
To you it hath been given to know the secrets of the reign of the heavens, and to these it hath not been given, for whoever hath, it shall be given to him, and he shall have overabundance, and whoever hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken from him. Because of this, in similes do I speak to them, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor understand, and fulfilled on them is the prophecy of Isaiah, that saith, With hearing ye shall hear, and ye shall not understand, and seeing ye shall see, and ye shall not perceive, for made gross was the heart of this people, and with the ears they heard heavily, and their eyes they did close, lest they might see with the eyes, and with the ears might hear, and with the heart understand, and turn back, and I might heal them. And happy are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear, for verily I say to you, that many prophets and righteous men did desire to see that which ye look on, and they did not see, and to hear that which ye hear, and they did not hear.
Before I close, I must admit that I do not yet have a complete understanding of some portions of the scriptural texts to which I refer. Undoubtedly, blog readers will comment or email me concerning apocalyptic language and parables and the like, which is fine, but I’d like to preemptively offer that many prophetic passages in scripture are fulfilled in a progressive, layered manner. The more I learn and understand, the less tightly I hold to my former futuristic view of many scriptures. I do not condemn those who hold to the rapture-seven-years-antichrist-one-world-government type of teachings, and although I have increasing doubts regarding such things, I do recognize my own ignorance. For all I know, they could be right. Regardless, I feel very confident that the things I have written in this blog are also accurate.
I also want to add that just because there was a first century fulfillment of the few and many and narrow gate and wide path, this does not mean that these scriptures are no longer applicable. Just to give one example, the many – do works “in the name” of Jesus Christ, yet those who rejected Christ and suffered destruction in Jerusalem probably did not claim the name of Christ for their actions. This is definitely food for thought.
Matthew and Luke retell Jesus’s stories and teachings from different angles. When I say different, I don’t mean that one is right and other is wrong. They compliment each other, and lend support to the idea that the warnings Jesus gave to His immediate audience should also be taken seriously by modern-day hearers of His words, especially those who claim to be disciples of the Good Shepherd. The larger context of His words should not be dismissed just because the immediate context of His words have already played out in history.
Matthew presents Jesus’s words in such a way that should make the religious leaders of today’s institutional church shudder. Perhaps they were actually included among Jesus’s intended audience. After all, Jesus knew His words would be recorded and read in future generations, didn’t He? Jesus knew that people would seek to validate and legitimize their actions by doing them “in His name”. Jesus knew that His name would be abused by those who want positions of honor and power as wolves among sheep. Not everyone comes to Jesus in this age. Not everyone who comes to Him hears Him. And not everyone who hears Him enters into the life He gives, a perfect, righteous life that results in the hearer actually being willing and able to do the will of God. The “leaven of the Scribes and Pharisees” is still working its way through the dough of humanity. However, the kingdom of God or reign of God is “like leaven, which a woman, having taken, did hide in three measures of meal, till that all was leavened.” The three measures (who I suspect are the believers who are overcomers, the believers who are not overcomers, and the unbelievers) will all be leavened, that is, subjected to His will, which is the only will that results in life – abundant life.
*Note 1: It is interesting that the concept of eternal torment in Hell as “just” punishment makes the practices of the Scribes and Pharisees look absolutely righteous. In fact, if a Pharisee were to beat a Gentile to death for telling a lie, then he would be more merciful than the god-of-eternal-torment, because at least he brings the punishment to an end. What does this say about the eternal torment doctrine? If this were true, then don’t you think that God takes “eye for an eye” to a new and utterly brutal level?
*Note 2: It is interesting that if Martin Luther King Jr. were to have taught his followers to behave like the god-of-eternal-torment, then American history would be much bloodier than it already is. Is Martin Luther King Jr. better at following the will of God than God Himself? Why is Martin Luther King Jr. praised for responding to hate with love? Because it is the right thing to do – what Jesus taught. If Jesus said, “My message is not my own; it comes from God who sent me,” then doesn’t this mean that God has a loving way to deal with hate? What does this tell you about the doctrine of eternal torment?