Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 18:15–17

Revelation 18:15–17
The merchants who sold these things, who got rich from her, will stand a long way off because they are afraid of her torment. They will weep and mourn, 16 saying, “Woe, woe, O great city– dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet clothing, and adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls– 17 because in a single hour such great wealth has been destroyed!”
(NET Bible)

Babylon/Rome’s future loss of . . . everything!

Every time a ship or airliner sets out to cross the ocean, it eventually reaches the point of no return. At that halfway point in the journey, the path onward to the destination is shorter than turning around to go back.

Each of us has advanced in a journey toward being fully conformed to the social, material and sexual values of Babylon. Have we passed the point of no return? Can we still turn toward being conformed to the image of Christ?

In yesterday’s lesson we had the first funeral dirge from the kings of the earth (18:9–10) for Babylon the great. Today we have two more dirges. Grant Osborne says: “The three funeral dirges are sung by three groups who profited most greatly from the largesse of Babylon/Rome: the kings who grew rich from her, the merchants who shared her expanding markets, and the shipping people who carried her cargo all over the world.” [1]

Craig Keener gives insight into Roman commercial practices, which affected John’s first readers, when he says: “Pagan symbols were prominent at major Mediterranean ports, and activities of the shipping lines and merchant guilds involved aspects of the [Roman] imperial cult [i.e. worship of the emperor].”[2] Anyone who wanted in on the flow of wealth had to play the game of idolatrous patriotism. Christians unwilling to worship the emperor might be cut out altogether.

The extensive cargo list of Revelation 18:11–14 demonstrates the comprehensive scope of economic interests during the Roman Empire. Keener[3] explains how Rome’s new rich flaunted their gold from Spain, pearls from India, silk from China, citron wood from Morocco, ivory from Syria and Africa, bronze from Corinth and marble from Africa and Greece. They enjoyed cinnamon from Zanzibar, frankincense from South Arabia, and fine wine from Spain. Deny yourself nothing!

Keener adds: “Africa and Egypt supplied most of Rome’s ‘wheat’ via the imperial grain fleet, which consisted of thousands of ships run by merchants but supervised by the state. Much of this wheat came from taxes on the provinces [often paid in wheat], but it was distributed free to Rome’s inhabitants.”[4] This is just one example of how the whole system took from the common citizen of the Empire to give to the Roman elite.

The final item in the list (“bodies and human lives” NET, or “slaves, that is, human souls” ESV) is likely a reference to slaves (18:13). NT scholar Ben Witherington says, “Estimates vary, but most scholars believe that one-third to one-half of the population of the Empire were slaves. . . . Indeed, one could say that the Roman Empire as it was would have been impossible without slavery.”[5] Slaves — human beings — were just another luxury.

The indictment of 18:23b is ominous. The tycoons — so NET says, but better “important people” with the NIV 2011 — were merely instruments of Satan (ultimately), and their culture of luxury, sexuality and power were the figurative magic spells that deceived the nations. Carried to the extreme, under the beast, these values led to the slaughter of the saints and many others (18:24).

In contrast to this depraved situation, 18:20 commands heaven, the saints, the apostles, and the prophets to rejoice over the destruction of Babylon. It will fall and never rise again!

Who, then, are we?

It cannot be comforting to read what God says about Babylon, because we have drunk water from the same well. Keener says it pointedly: “Today, as in John’s day, profit margins matter more to some people than justice. God has promised to set those matters straight.”[6] We need to bring that idea down to a personal level.

Jesus plainly said to us, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked” (Luke 12:48). We individually and as a nation have been given much, and we will answer to Jesus for it all.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 644.

[2] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 427.

[3] Keener, Revelation, 428-429.

[4] Keener, Revelation 429.

[5] Ben Witherington III, Revelation, The New Cambridge Bible Commentary (New York: Cambridge University Press) 229.

[6] Keener, Revelation, 446.

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 14:6–10

Revelation 14:6–10
Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, and he had an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth– to every nation, tribe, language, and people. 7 He declared in a loud voice: “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has arrived, and worship the one who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water!”
8 A second angel followed the first, declaring: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great city! She made all the nations drink of the wine of her immoral passion.”
9 A third angel followed the first two, declaring in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and takes the mark on his forehead or his hand, 10 that person will also drink of the wine of God’s anger that has been mixed undiluted in the cup of his wrath, and he will be tortured with fire and sulfur in front of the holy angels and in front of the Lamb.”
(NET Bible)

The Tale of Two Cities

Revelation 14 reminds us not to become victims of divided interests. We cannot serve both God and the things offered by this world. Those who try to have it both ways always find in the end that the powerful tug of sexual immorality, power and wealth are too great to resist.

And we all know how that works out, do we not?

If Revelation 13 presented the conquest of the saints, Revelation 14 shows that the beast’s victory will not last. Revelation 14 begins the “Tale of Two Cities,” a contrast between the city of God (Zion, 14:1) and the city of the world (Babylon, 14:8).

This helps explain the otherwise difficult 14:4, which says of the 144,000 that they “have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins.” That is a figurative statement, which Craig Keener explains by saying: “These 144,000 have refused to commit immorality with Babylon, the prostitute (cf. 18:3). The symbolism thus makes a strong point: Christians must be pure and faithful to Christ if they wish to be prepared for and engage in the Lamb’s holy war. Unlike the world (13:17), believers cannot indulge in divided interests.”[1]

Revelation 14:6 marks a signal moment in human history: the very last offer of the gospel to lost humanity. Grant Osborne says: “Everywhere that [Greek] euangelion [“gospel”] is found in the NT, it implies the gracious offer of salvation.”[2] When you consider how the people dwelling on the earth have helped the beast kill Christians, and probably Jews as well, this final extension of grace speaks of God’s preference for mercy over judgment (James 2:13).

A second angel follows (14:8) with a momentous announcement: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great city!” The angel speaks of a future event (see 16:19 and 18:2–4) as if it had already taken place. God’s promised future actions are so certain that they may be stated in the same manner as completed history!

Concerning the name Babylon, Keener informs us:

There can be no question that this text [14:8] implies especially Rome. Early Jews often used Babylon as a code name for Rome, as did early Christians (1 Peter 5:13). Such allusions made sense; as Israel once experienced exile under the evil empire Babylon, now they are experiencing the captivity of a new evil empire in Rome. Both Babylon and Rome destroyed the temple.[3]

Both Babylon and Rome were known for three things that resonate with the end of history: power, wealth and sexual depravity (Isa. 13:19–22; 14:20–23; Jer. 25:12–14; 50:35–40; 51:24–26.). The added metaphor in 14:8 of drinking someone’s wine means to participate in their lifestyle. Like Babylon and Rome, the beast’s empire will force others to participate in “the wine of her passionate immorality” (BDAG-3, the standard lexicon for New Testament Greek).

A third angel ( 14:9–11) warns the world that those who have a taste for the beast’s wine will “also drink of the wine of God’s anger that has been mixed undiluted in the cup of his wrath” (14:10). Keener explains: “Ancients normally diluted wine with two parts water to every part wine, except when they wished to get drunk. But God will administer this wine of his anger ‘full strength’ (14:10).”[4] Those who drink with the beast will be made sloshing drunk with the wine of God’s wrath!

The final interpretation-issues for chapter 14 involve 14:14–20. The key issue is to determine the nature of the two harvests (14:16 and 14:19). For brevity, I will give my conclusions. Osborne says, “It is likely that 14:15 describes the harvest of the redeemed and 14:17–20 of the unsaved.”[5] Presumably the redeemed are those who responded to the final offer of grace (14:6–7).

Through an angel, God speaks from the temple to Christ, who reaps the redeemed before the harvest of others for the “great winepress of the wrath of God” (14:19). God makes no apology for dealing finally and effectively with the wicked rebels who refuse his mercy (14:17–20).

The output of the great winepress will be blood (14:20) — a very great deal of blood!

Two roads and a winepress

The discerning reader will realize that in the end times there will be no neutral parties. There will be those who are marked as the beast’s own and those who belong to the Lamb, who are mostly killed for their faith. The wide road that leads to destruction will have plenty of worldly reward, while the narrow way that leads to life “requires the steadfast endurance of the saints” (14:12).

Did I mention that the wide road leads to a great winepress?

Craig Keener, whose insights we frequently enjoy, says that many today try to avoid scaring people into the kingdom. Then he reveals that as a young atheist he decided the doctrine of hell made the stakes too high to ignore. He gave his life to Christ and has no regrets. [6]

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 371.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 535.

[3] Keener, Revelation, 373.

[4] Keener, Revelation, 374.

[5] Osborne, Revelation, 552.

[6] Keener, Revelation, 382.

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 1:1–3

Revelation 1:1–3
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must happen very soon. He made it clear by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who then testified to everything that he saw concerning the word of God and the testimony about Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy aloud, and blessed are those who hear and obey the things written in it, because the time is near!
(NET Bible)

Unveiling the future

Perhaps you have heard the old news-joke: “End of the world! Film at 10:00.” These days we might wonder what kind of Twitter messages — called Tweets — would be posted when dire judgments unfold and sweep the earth.

Perhaps you have also heard that this world is not going to go on forever. Fact check says, “TRUE.” But surely that cannot happen on your watch, can it? Can it?

“The revelation of Jesus Christ” looks to us like the beginning of a sentence, but it is actually the title of this written account, which records the visions given by God to the Apostle John. To understand what a revelation is, think of the sudden appearance of a new car model as the covering drape is pulled aside. New Testament scholar Grant Osborne says, “In the NT the word group occurs 44 times . . . nearly always with the basic thrust ‘to uncover what has formerly been hidden.’”[1]

So, what is being uncovered? We get a big clue in the phrase “the revelation of Jesus Christ ” (1:1). The Greek underlying the italicized phrase does not tell us whether the revelation is from Jesus Christ or about him. In fact, I agree with Daniel Wallace, who thinks the answer is both.[2] Jesus Christ is both the source of the information given to John and its subject as well.

We encounter a difficulty in the clause “what must happen very soon” (1:1) in that over 1900 years have passed since the revelation was recorded. New Testament scholar Craig Keener makes the point that the phrase “the time is near” in 1:3 sheds light on the issue. He says, “Whatever else ‘the time is near’ (1:3) might mean, it probably means that the events of the end will be unexpected and that we should be ready for them at any time (Mark 13:32–37; 1 Thess. 5:2), so that believers should live ‘every moment as though it were our last.’”[3] So, we must stay on constant alert.

The phrase “very soon” (1:1) is used seven times in the New Testament. It is interesting that John opens Revelation with an emphasis on the any-moment-onset of the predicted events and closes the book on the same note. Jesus expressed this idea when he said, “But as for that day and hour no one knows it – not even the angels in heaven — except the Father alone” (Matt. 24:36). Almost immediately Jesus applied the concept by saying, “Therefore stay alert, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matt. 24:42).

John mentions his own role, that of being a witness to the word of God and what he has seen (1:2). The combination of word and witness is thematic. These references make clear that giving witness to the Word of God and to Jesus can result in both exile and death, a fact not well appreciated in the safety of the United States.

Note carefully that John calls what he has written a prophecy (1:3). On this basis, Osborne[4] expresses the idea that Revelation must be characterized not as apocalyptic but as prophetic-apocalyptic. The prophets did not merely spin out visions; they demanded accountability from the people to God!

John quickly turns attention to those receiving the revealed knowledge he has recorded (1:3). Verse 3 is notable for having forms translated in present tense: “the one who reads” and “those who hear and obey.” Osborne sums up their combined emphasis by saying, “God’s blessings will be experienced by those who persevere.”[5] Notice that the sequence of blessing starts with knowledge gained from the one who reads, but the blessing only extends to those who both hear and obey. So, the study of God’s Word is foundational to pleasing him, but it must be obeyed not just read.

Keener captures much of the significance held by John’s prophecy when he describes what the return of Jesus will provide: “[God promises] a happy ending to God’s people but a tragic one for all who chose to reject his way. Because the specific time is unknown and near, no one dare postpone repentance.”[6]

Do Not Stop Short!

How satisfied would your boss be if you told him that you had driven three-fourths of the way to work? Not very! Did you do the required reading but not the required report? Not likely! In a similar way, you would be foolish to read Revelation only for its predictions about end-times events. The greater blessing comes when you hear and obey, because that is what God requires.

Jesus made himself very clear: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock.” (Matt. 7:24–25). The final storm is coming to test every house!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 52.

[2] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 120–121.

[3] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 61.

[4] Osborne, Revelation, 58–59.

[5] Osborne, Revelation, 57.

[6] Keener, Revelation, 61.


Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:19-21

Matthew 6:19-21

Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
(NET Bible)

Where do you do your spiritual banking?

At the shooting range, you learn early that the proper sequence is: Ready; Aim; Fire!

Too many of Jesus disciples are living their lives by the sequence: Ready; Fire; Aim. If you leave the aiming of your life to the end, do not be surprised when that trajectory takes you somewhere you do not want to go. What is the spiritual target you are shooting for? How is your aim?

The introduction to this lesson asserts that too many Christians are aimless about how they conduct their lives. Of course, they are not the only ones. Recently an American actor died after living a life in which he starred in two popular movies, drank a lot of alcohol and took a lot of drugs. Yet he was called a legend. I think not! But he did accomplish what he aimed for.

Jesus raises with his disciples the question of how their lives are being lived; he does so using the metaphor of accumulating treasures. He combines that metaphor with the powerful contrast between the phrases on earth (6:19) and in heaven (6:20). Those two locations describe potential storage points for the accumulated treasures (6:19, 20).

Craig Keener informs us about wealth in the world of the first century: Views on wealth varied among thinkers in the Greco-Roman world, but most people then like most people today pursued whatever material advancement was available. . . . Because people often kept all their monetary savings in strongboxes in their own homes or buried beneath their floor, the danger of thieves and corruption was quite real.[1] Since homes for most people were made of sun-dried mud bricks, a thief had only to dig through the outer wall of the house.

Greek grammar experts[2] make the point that Jesus was likely using forms that mean the disciples must stop storing up for yourselves treasures on earth (my translation of 6:19a). In other words, they had already been doing the wrong thing and must quit!

The strongly parallel wording of verses 5:19-20 focuses attention on the few words which differ. The word not, present in verse 19, disappears in verse 20, because Jesus switches from a prohibition (5:19) to a positive command (5:20). The main focus falls on the phrases on earth (5:19) and in heaven (5:20). This means that any disciple aiming earthward is making a dire mistake; instead, they must focus heavenward. Obeying Jesus is all a matter of where a disciple aims.

Verse 5:21 gives the reason for what Jesus commands. Treasures exert something similar to gravitational attraction. The more we accumulate treasures on earth, the more our hearts will be pulled to the concerns of the earth. But the disciple of Jesus will give priority to the demands of the kingdom, and that will result in treasure in heaven. For this reason, one mark of a Christ-follower is to give generously to the needs of others; that giving is contrary to earthly values. So is serving selflessly, another mark of one who obeys Jesus words.

The pronoun you in the form your (6:21) is singular. Jesus is bringing the responsibility to guard the heart right down to the individual level. No one can do this for you!

David Turner makes a significant point when he says, Seeking heavenly treasure, however, does not amount to avoidance of earthly involvement.[3] We are sojourners on the earth as we watch for the return of Christ, and he does not call on us to retreat into monasteries.

Time to check your aim

Since we have found that living aimlessly is opposite to what Jesus commands his disciples, we have to assess what we are aiming at.

You may strike out on earth, but the chief goal of life is to hit a home run with God. Make sure you are swinging for that heavenly fence!

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 230.

[2] See Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995) 724, and A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 3rd rev. ed. (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1919) 851852.

[3] David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008) 196.


Sermon on the Mount: Matt. 6:5-8

Matthew 6:5-8

Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. 7 When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

What impresses God?

My favorite definition of an opportunist is a person who has a keen eye for the main chance. The guiding light for such a person is not principle — they take all kinds of contradictory positions — it is advantage. Short-term advantage is what an opportunist seeks.

An opportunist can often manipulate people, but can they manipulate God? How?

Some people know how to turn on the charm when the cameras are rolling. Since there were no cameras in the first century, some Jews did the next-best thing: they sought places where lots of eyeballs would be gathered, like a street corner or an assembly. There they would recite their daily prayers so that people can see them (6:5). We could also translate that phrase as “so that they might shine for men” (my translation).

Jesus did not deny that this strategy worked, but he vowed that momentary attention was all the reward such prayers would bring. Craig Keener points out that Jesus was not forbidding public prayer — as shown by 18:19-20; 21:13; and 1 Tim. 2:8 — but was banning prayer designed to gain personal approval from others.[1]

Jesus next provides the contrasting principle that should control his disciples prayers: privacy (6:6). Keener says that Galilean homes had one or two rooms, and the only one with a door would be the storeroom.[2] There you may pray to your Father who is in secret (ESV and HCSB for 6:6). While the Father is unseen, he sees the seeking heart of his children and rewards them.

Instead of understanding this instruction as a literal formula for prayer, the whole point is that the private person is seeking God while the public person is seeking people. While Jesus often prayed privately, he also prayed aloud in the hearing of others (11:25; 14:19; 26:39, 42), so it is plain that he is not forbidding public prayer. The actual, deeper issue is: why are you praying?

In 6:7-8, Jesus also criticizes the prayers of religious outsiders, people who do not understand what it means to know God as a heavenly Father.[3] The verb translated babble repetitiously means to speak in a way that images the kind of speech pattern of one who stammers, use the same words again and again, speak without thinking.[4] Jesus explains that this practice is based on a false belief that piling up words will move God to act (6:7). To the contrary, the Father already knows what you need (6:8) before you open your mouth!

A fascinating example of useless babbling is presented in 1 Kings 18:16-29. That is followed by a short model of public prayer by Elijah (1 Kings 18:30-39). Check out the difference!

I suggest that a key theological test of prayer offered in public is that the person praying must actually be speaking to God— perhaps on behalf of the gathered believers — and not to the people listening. You will know the difference! Further, if you do not speak to God frequently in private, allow those who do pray to lead you to his throne of grace in public.

The goal is to shine for God!

In explaining what Jesus taught about prayer, some may feel I have crossed over from teaching into meddling! Prayer practices are a sensitive subject, but Jesus is the one to tell us how it is done.

In private prayer, there is no temptation to play to the people, because the sole audience is God. All your prayer should be heart-felt, and delivered in plain words. Then your prayers will shine! Your Father in heaven already knows what you need, and he will hear all you say with love.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 211.

[2] Keener, Matthew, 210.

[3] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 240.

[4] BDAG-3, battalogeo, babble, speak without thinking, q.v.


Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:1-4

Matthew 6:1-4

Be careful not to display your righteousness merely to be seen by people. Otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven. 2 Thus whenever you do charitable giving, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in synagogues and on streets so that people will praise them. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. 3 But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your gift may be in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.
(NET Bible)

Who is our audience?

Through the voice of Macbeth, the playwright Shakespeare talked about life as a performance:

Lifes but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.[1]

During your hour upon the stage, will you behave for the pleasure of men or the approval of God?

Matthew 6:1 states the principle that governs all of 6:1-18. Jesus answers the question: How do I carry out the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees?

The answer Jesus gives is equally simple: do everything before the searching gaze of God, not for the approval of people. This idea is treated in three classic areas of Jewish piety, giving to others, prayer and fasting. In this post we deal only with the general principle and giving to others.

The presence of the word merely in the NET Bibles translation of 6:1 is questionable. [Take a moment to read the verse.] No Greek word explicitly underlies this word, and it gives the unfortunate impression that your performance of righteousness may have two audiences. That is contrary to what Jesus is teaching. It will soon be obvious that people need not see your righteous deeds at all! In the court of heaven, all that will matter is what God thinks of your deeds.

Jesus will contrast the way commanded for his disciples with that of the hypocrites (6:2). The hypocrites — read here the scribes and Pharisees— do their deeds for public show. In what way is this hypocrisy? The hypocrite wants you to think his actions are serving God, but in fact they are designed to get attention resulting in public approval. It is a sham, like the old sheriff who said, Son, were going to give you a fair trial followed by a good hanging!

What is the outcome of performing righteous deeds for popular approval? You get such approval, and that is all! NLT correctly translates, I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get (Matt. 6:2). The Greek verb was used in financial transactions and means to provide a receipt for a sum paid in full.[2] God will not pay them again on judgment day.[3]

The religious leaders not only performed for public approval but also did it with great fanfare; the trumpets (6:2) are probably figurative, but they indicate little subtlety in the act of giving!

To make his point in a memorable way, Jesus again uses exaggeration when he speaks of one giving hand not knowing what the other hand is doing (6:3). Craig Keener points out that the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius used a similar idea when he said, Do not let your own ear hear you.[4]

The charitable giving done by a disciple must be done in secret so as to clearly appeal to God alone for reward (6:4). And the Father, who keeps on seeing in secret, will reward the giver (6:4).

An exclusive performance

If you do acts of righteousness to impress people, all you will get is a receipt that says Paid in Full! But the deed done for Gods approval alone is the one that wins lasting reward.

If you have ever seen a minister or other disciple involved in self-promotion, it probably turned you off. What is more important is that you take a different path, one designed to please God. The reward that comes later from Jesus is far beyond the fickle praise people may offer now.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5, lines 24-26.

[2] BDAG-3, apecho, receive in full what is due, q.v.

[3] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 208.

[4] Keener, Matthew, 208.


Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:46-47

Matthew 5:46-47

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? 47 And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they?
(NET Bible)

Called to a higher love

Many people are trying to score brownie points with God, but may be accomplishing nothing. A character in P.D. Jamess 2003 novel The Murder Room certainly thought so when he said, I find it difficult enough to behave with reasonable decency here and now without agonizing to acquire celestial brownie points for some fabled hereafter.

Jesus would have agreed that a lot of people are accomplishing nothing that impresses God because they only love the lovable. Is that true of you?

Far from loving their enemies, Jesus found the love exercised by his disciples to be deficient. Craig Keener says: Even those they considered the most immoral met the standard of righteousness practiced by Jesus most pious hearers. Jesus thus provokes his hearers to shame by comparing their ability to obey the love commandment with that of tax gatherers and non-Jews.[1]

To understand the depth of the insult, it helps to know how taxes were gathered in first-century Israel. First, the amount of tax owed was not known by the subject peoples whom the Romans taxed. The Romans allowed those Jews who wished to collect taxes to bid on the job, and the winner was told how much to collect. But a tax collector could not make a living by collecting the exact tax and handing it over to the Romans, so they inflated the required tax communicated to each person. Everyone knew that the tax collectors were cheating them for personal gain.

So, why did people pay their inflated taxes? They remembered Cassius, the proconsul of Syria, who had sold four Judean towns into slavery and tore down their homes when tax payments were not made on time.[2] The Romans were quite finished with Jewish resistance!

Who loved a tax-gatherer? Only another tax-gatherer! Jesus chided his disciples for reaching no higher with their love than the same standard held by those considered traitors to their own people. Jesus argues from the lesser to the greater. If the lowly tax gatherer loves his peers in the same manner as the supposedly more righteous disciples of Jesus (5:46), then the disciples should expect from God the same thing the tax gatherer would get nothing!

To seal the point, Jesus makes exactly the same argument with Gentiles, a group considered notorious idolaters. Unless the love demonstrated by Jesus disciples rises above the love of Gentiles for their own kind, why should they think themselves special before God (5:47)?

Entering the kingdom of God is more than just showing up with your hand outstretched!

A greater love

If you want to make a mark for God, you have to do more than imitate the common standards of your society. Jesus calls his disciples to love the unlovable and even to love their enemies.

Remember, the one you call Lord is the one who said, Unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20). You know he will strengthen you and empower you through his Holy Spirit to do all he commands. You will have all you need to love others in a way that pleases God.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 205.

[2] Yohanan Aharoni and Michael Avi-Yonah, The Macmillan Bible Atlas (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1968) 137.