Spiritual work

Jesus’ parable of the talents illustrated the concept of spiritual work. He began his lesson by stating, “For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey” (Matthew 25:14-15). In order to convey the point he was trying to make, Jesus used an example that dealt with something his followers were familiar with. The idea that the master of a household would leave his home and go on a long journey was not that unusual in the time period in which Jesus lived. Today we think of business trips lasting no more than a week or two because we have airplanes and internet connections that speed up everything we do. It is likely that the image Jesus was creating was a trip from Israel to Spain or perhaps China, which could have taken months or even years depending on the mode of travel.

Jesus indicated talents were distributed to the man’s servants according to their “several ability” (Matthew 25:15). The Greek words idios (id´-ee-os) and dunamis (doo´-nam-is) have to do with miraculous power that is divided up among individuals with each one getting his particular portion or unique part (G2398/G1411). Jesus was probably referring to the gifts of the Spirit that are identified in 1 Corinthians 12. The Apostle Paul associated spiritual gifts with the Holy Spirit and said, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). The phrase “profit withal” comes from the Greek word sumphero (soom-fer´-o) which means “to bear together” (G4851). Sumphero is derived from the Greek words sun (soon) and phero (fer´-o). “Phero, as a verb, means ‘to bear, carry’ and is rendered ‘being moved’ in 2 Peter 1:21, signifying that they were ‘borne along,’ or impelled, by the Holy Spirit’s power, not acting according to their own will, or simply expressing their own thoughts, but expressing the mind of God in words provided and ministered by Him. It is used also of ‘bearing or bringing forth fruit'” (G5342). Jesus used the Greek verb phero when he talked about bearing spiritual fruit in his parable of the sower (Mark 4:3-8).

Jesus indicated in his parable of the talents that there would come a day when the man’s servants would be held accountable for their use of his resources while he was gone. He said, “After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them” (Matthew 25:19). The two Greek words that are translated reckoneth, sunairo (soon-ah´ee-ro) and logos (log´-os) are associated with the collective use of God’s word. It could be that reckoning has something to do with a replay of what Christians have said (or not said as the case may be) about Christ during their lifetimes. Jesus made it clear in his explanation of the parable of the sower that the seed that was being sown in the field was the word of God going out into the world (Luke 8:11; Matthew:13:38). Therefore, the spiritual work of spreading the gospel is what Jesus expected each of his followers to be doing while they were waiting for his return.

Advertisements

Chosen

Jesus used the parable of a marriage dinner to illustrate the process God is using to populate his kingdom. Jesus began by stating, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come” (Matthew 22:2-3). Initially, the family of Abraham, which later became the nation of Israel, was chosen by God to be his heir and was given the land “from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates” (Genesis 15:18). After 400 years of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites entered the Promised Land and occupied it continuously (except for the 70 years they were in captivity in Babylon) until Jesus, their Messiah was born. Jesus’ arrival on Earth was similar to a wedding because it signified the joining together or physical union of God and his chosen people.

Jesus indicated in his parable that when it was time for the wedding, those who had been invited wouldn’t come (Matthew 22:3). The word Jesus used that is translated bidden in Matthew 22:3, kaleo suggested the wedding invitation came in the form of a public announcement. Jesus may have been referring to his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. When he rode into town on the back of a donkey, Jesus was not only making an intentional effort to fulfill an Old Testament prophecy about Israel’s Messiah (Zechariah 9:9), but he was also acting out a tradition that he knew would be recognized by everyone that was of Jewish descent (1 Kings 1:33). The important thing to note about Jesus’ parable was that the intended guests made a conscious decision to not attend the wedding. He said, “But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: and the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them” (Matthew 22:5-6).

Jesus explained in his parable of the marriage dinner that God planned to use an alternate method to populate his kingdom. He said:

But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burnt up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. (Matthew 22:7-9).

Jesus depicted the spreading of the gospel as a type of roundup in which everyone that was available was invited to come to his wedding. In ancient times, highways represented a “a course of conduct” or “way of thinking” (G3598). In Jesus’ parable, the servants may have been sent to the highways in order to find people that were seeking a godly way of life or perhaps to look for individuals that were on a quest to find the meaning of life. The travelers on the highway were shown to be in active pursuit of something when they were contacted and invited to the wedding.

After stating that a man was cast into outer darkness because he wasn’t wearing the designated wedding garment, Jesus concluded his parable by making the point that certain types of individuals would be removed God’s kingdom. He said, “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). The primary difference between the Greek words translated called, kletos (klay-tos´) and chosen, eklektos (ek-lek-tos´) appears to be the conscious choice of selecting a favorite. What I believe Jesus meant by this was that the free gift of salvation entitles an individual to entrance into heaven, but it doesn’t exempt that person from meeting God’s standards or the expectation of appropriate conduct in heaven. When a person is born again, he must exhibit genuine repentance and want to be changed in his character. The evidence that I have not only been invited into the kingdom of heaven, but have also been chosen by God to be there is that I will behave like the Bible says a Christian should.

The kingdom of heaven

One of the topics that Jesus talked about frequently was the kingdom of heaven. Rather than a place far away, somewhere out in the cosmos, Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven exists here on planet earth. In order to create a mental image of the place he was talking about, Jesus told a series of parables that are recorded in Matthew 13:24-52. The first of these parables is referred to as the parable of the tares. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way” (Matthew 13:24-25). According to the footnote on Matthew 13:25, the tares Jesus spoke of in his parable were “probably darnel, which looks very much like wheat while it is young, but can later be distinguished. This parable does not refer to unbelievers in the church. The field is the world (v. 38). Thus the people of the kingdom live side by side with the people of the evil one.”

Jesus’ illustration of the kingdoms of God and Satan existing side by side in the world was most likely a reference to the Jews dispersion throughout the world after Jesus was resurrected. For almost 1900 years, the Jews didn’t have a homeland, but were integrated among other nations and lived without any political structure to sustain them. It wasn’t until after World War II, when their race was almost exterminated, that the Jews were granted access to the land that was once their inheritance from God. In his second parable, Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof” (Matthew 13:31-32). Since its reestablishment in 1948, Israel has continued to gain strength as a nation and has attracted worldwide attention because of what appears to be its supernatural preservation in spite of continual military attacks against it.

In his explanation of the parable of the tares, Jesus indicated there would come a time when Satan’s followers would be removed from the world. He told his disciples, “the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; the enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burnt in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world” (Matthew 13:38-40). After this explanation, Jesus used three illustrations to convey the extreme value of membership in the kingdom of heaven. He likened his kingdom to treasure hid in a field, one pearl of great price, and a net that was able to gather into it every kind of fish in the sea without breaking (Matthew 13:44-48). In his final remark to his disciples, Jesus emphasized the value both the Old and New Testaments of God’s word (Matthew 13:52). Whereas, some might have thought the history of God’s people was irrelevant, Jesus made it clear that it was important for them to know the whole story about God’s establishment of his kingdom on earth.

Understanding

Jesus’ teaching included some hard sayings that were often misunderstood by those that gathered to hear him speak. After the scribes and Pharisees began to twist his words and take them out of context, Jesus started using stories that were referred to as parables to convey truths about God’s kingdom. Jesus’ parables used comparisons or illustrations from nature and human life to convey messages that might be misconstrued if he were to talk about them openly among unbelievers. On one occasion, when there were so many people gathered by the sea side to listen to him teach that he had to get into a ship to keep from being crushed by the crowd (Matthew 13:1-2), Jesus used the parable of the sower to describe the effects of hearing the word of God. This parable included a key lesson that Jesus later interpreted for his disciples so that they wouldn’t misunderstand the point he was making. Therefore, its meaning was very important and Jesus wanted to make sure they didn’t misinterpret it.

When Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Why speakest thou unto them in parables?” (Matthew 13:10), it says in Matthew 13:11, “He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” The Greek word translated mysteries, musterion (moos-tay’-ree-on) means a secret or mystery (through the idea of silence imposed by initiation into religious rites)” (3466). What Jesus was implying was that membership in God’s kingdom was required for certain information to be revealed. In other words, unbelievers weren’t on the need to know list, therefore, Jesus didn’t tell them everything about the kingdom of heaven. When he explained the parable to his disciples, the key issue Jesus focused on was the unbeliever’s inability to understand or assimilate the word of God. Jesus said, “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand” (Matthew 13:13).

Understanding of the word of God occurs at a deeper level than information that is processed through our brains. Jesus likened the word of God to seeds because seeds need to be underneath the soil in order for them to germinate. Like farming, Jesus suggested that assimilation of the word of God was a process that took place over time and an important factor that was revealed in his parable was the quality of the soil, or in reality, the condition of a person’s heart. He said, “But he that received the seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. The Greek word Jesus used for understanding, suniemi (soon-ee’-ay-mee) is derived from the word sun (soon) which denotes union; “with or together, i.e. by association, companionship, process, resemblance” (4862). The process of taking in and fully understanding the information and ideas that Jesus taught about the kingdom of God occurred while the disciples were living with him over the course of three years.

Two sisters

Jerusalem and Samaria were described as two adulterous sisters in a parable that was intended to portray the two cities as corrupt and tied to the past by their habitual idolatry. (Ezekiel 23). The origin of the adulterous sisters’ behavior was an early exposure to sexual misconduct in the land of Egypt. The Israelites lived in bondage in Egypt for 430 years. When they were finally delivered from bondage by Moses, they had to be taken out of the land almost by force. During the 40 years they wandered in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land, the Israelites were continually reverting to old habits such as worshipping a golden calf (Exodus 32:4), and engaging in the fertility rites of Baal, the god of the Moabites (Numbers 25:1-2).

The parable of the adulterous sisters opened with a stark picture of violent sexual abuse. God said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother: and they committed whoredoms in Egypt: they committed whoredoms in their youth: there were their breasts pressed, and there they bruised the teats of their virginity” (Ezekiel 23:2-3). The accusation of having committed whoredom was due to a voluntary and willful choice of a particular lifestyle that was contrary to God’s commandments. As God’s chosen people, the Israelites were forbidden to worship any god other than Jehovah. Even before Moses was given the Ten Commandments, it was clear to Abraham’s descendants that they were not to engage in idolatry. Circumcision was symbolic of God’s ownership rights to Abraham’s offspring, and a token of his entering into a covenant with each man individually (Genesis 17:10).

In the parable of the adulterous sisters, Jerusalem, capital of the nation of Judah, was designated as the younger sister, Aholibah, who followed in the footsteps of her older sister, Aholah, who represented Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel (Ezekiel 23:4). After the fall of Samaria, Jerusalem was expected to heed God’s warning and turn back to him, but instead, Jerusalem became even more corrupt than Samaria by defiling God’s holy temple. The result was alienation from God and isolation from his messengers, the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

In the parable, Ezekiel was told, “And when her sister Aholibah saw this, she was more corrupt in her inordinate love than she…She doted upon the Assyrians her neighbors, captains and rulers clothed most gorgeously, horsemen riding upon horses, all of them desirable young men” (Ezekiel 23:11-12). Jerusalem’s reliance on military strength rather than God’s protection was evident when king Jehoiakim paid tribute or ransom money in order to receive protection from Pharaoh-nechoh of Egypt (2 Kings 23:35). In the end, king Hezekiah of Judah invited the Babylonians to view the treasures of his kingdom which were later taken by king Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 20:13; Ezekiel 23:16).

The royal bloodline

The princes of Israel were descendants of king David that ascended to the throne through a selective process that was intended to preserve the royal bloodline until the Messiah was born. Initially, when Jacob blessed his twelve sons, Judah was singled out as the designated leader of the family. It says in Genesis 49:8, “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee.”

Judah’s blessing foretold of the sovereignty, strength and courage with which the kings of Judah would rule over the people. Judah was portrayed as a lion’s whelp or cub that would be trained to kill (Genesis 49:9). In his prophetic discourse, Jacob declared, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be” (Genesis 49:10). The scepter was symbolic of authority in the hands of a ruler (7626) and Shiloh was an epithet of the Messiah (7886).

Clearly, it was foreseen that the sons of Jacob would multiply into a nation of people that would be ruled by the Messiah. What was most likely misunderstood about the reign of the Messiah was that it would mark the end of human rulership and was expected to put the entire world under the Messiah’s authority. As the kings of Judah gained strength and became skilled warriors, their power to rule over God’s kingdom became less and less effective, until finally, it was evident that they were unfit to represent God among his people.

In his parable about Israel’s princes, Ezekiel showed that the kings of Judah were acting in their own strength and according to their own human nature. The kings’ exercise of authority drew their enemies attention away from the fact that God was the true leader of Israel and made it seem as if the Nation of Israel could be conquered like any other kingdom. The capture of king Jehoiachin and placement of Zedekiah on the throne was an attempt by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to abdicate God’s sovereign rule over his people.

In order to maintain control over the lineage of the Messiah, God removed the infrastructure that had supported the kings of Israel and Judah. Putting an end to their ability to rule, God showed the kings he would not allow them to usurp his authority. Speaking metaphorically of the royal bloodline, God said, “And now is she planted in the wilderness in a dry and thirsty ground. And fire is gone out of a rod of her branches, which hath devoured her fruit, so that she hath no strong rod to be a sceptre to rule” (Ezekiel 19:13-14).

The harlot

The city of Jerusalem was likened to a harlot or prostitute because of the idolatry that took place within her walls. God described Jerusalem as the child of prominent parents that was abandoned at birth, perhaps the result of a failed abortion. God said, “And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy naval wast not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all. None eye pitied thee, to do any of these unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wast cast out in the open field, to the loathing of thy person, in the day that thou wast born” (Ezekiel 16:4-5).

God’s claim to the city of Jerusalem was based on a covenant he likened to a marriage contract. He said, “Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness; yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord GOD, and thou becamest mine” (Ezekiel 16:8). God’s relationship with his people was dependent on a land that would belong to them throughout eternity. In order to fulfill his promise to Abraham, God selected Jerusalem as the home where he would dwell with his people.

God’s commitment to the city of Jerusalem was met when king David made Jerusalem the capital of Israel and Solomon built his temple there. It was only because Good had chosen Jerusalem beforehand that these things were able to take place. Like a bride on her wedding day, God said, “Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver; and thy raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work; thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil; and thou wast exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper as a kingdom” (Ezekiel 16:13).

The city of Jerusalem became attractive to foreign kings because of the wealth that flowed into her gates as a result of God’s blessing. Without fully realizing what he was doing, king Hezekiah invited dignitaries from Babylon to tour his capital. It says in 2 Kings 20:13, “And Hezekiah hearkened unto them, and shewed them all the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah shewed them not.”

So that no one would be able to inhabit the city of Jerusalem besides his chosen people, God judged the land and caused it to become barren while his people went into exile. As if the land had committed adultery, God said of Jerusalem, “And in thine abominations and thy whoredoms thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth, when thou wast naked and bare, and wast polluted with blood…Behold, therefore, I have stretched out my hand over thee, and have diminished thine ordinary food, and delivered thee unto the will of them that hate thee, the daughters of the Philistines, which are ashamed of thy lewd way” (Ezekiel 16:27).