58. Preached To All The Nations

Mike Parsons
with Jeremy Westcott – 

We have seen how, in the passages leading up to Matthew chapter 24, Jesus was talking about covenant. Specifically, He was warning of the judgments of the Old Covenant which would come upon that generation of unbelieving Israel.

Birth pangs

"Kluft-photo-Carrizo-Plain-Nov-2007-Img 0327" by Ikluft - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kluft-photo-Carrizo-Plain-Nov-2007-Img_0327.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Kluft-photo-Carrizo-Plain-Nov-2007-Img_0327.jpg
San Andreas Fault [“Kluft-photo-Carrizo-Plain-Nov-2007-Img 0327” by Ikluft – Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons]
We are taking this verse by verse now, so let’s go on to Matt 24 vv4-8: ‘And Jesus answered and said to them, See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. You will be hearing of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

‘See to it that no-one misleads you’: in this whole passage, Jesus was talking to the church, to those who would be living in Jerusalem and in Israel at the time. They were being warned, so that when they recognised what was happening they could escape out of the city. ‘The end’ is not the end of the world; it is the end of Jerusalem and that Old Covenant system. And when Jesus talks about ‘birth pangs’, what is it that is being born? It is the new; it is the birthing of the church – the new ekklesia of God – in persecution, trouble and pain. The difficulty and pain in the birth of the new was caused by the fact that the old was still around to persecute it.

Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name (Matt 24:9). That is exactly what the Jews did in all the cities where the gospel was preached. They stirred up trouble against the church, against Paul and others, wherever they went.

Verses 10-13: At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.

There was persecution. Believers did fall away. There were false prophets. Many were misled. Lawlessness increased. People’s love grew cold. All these things took place in that period between AD 30 and AD 70. “But the one who endures to the end…”, that is, who endures until the destruction of that old system, “… will be saved”.

To all the nations

Now comes a verse which has caused a great deal of misunderstanding because, like much of this chapter, it has been taken completely out of its first century context. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come (Matt 24:14). Now you are going to tell me that the gospel could not have been preached in the whole world by AD 70, because most of it hadn’t even been discovered yet. My answer to that (and you will know this phrase very well by now) is: let the Bible interpret itself. Let‘s look at some scriptures and see whether this prophecy was fulfilled before the destruction of Jerusalem.

Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven (Acts 2:5). So already, the day the Holy Spirit came to the church at Pentecost, the gospel was preached to people from every nation – and you could quite legitimately say that the end could have come at any time from then on. But God, because He is gracious, left a generation for people to repent. And many priests, and many Pharisees and Sadducees, did indeed repent and become believers.

And there are more scriptures to consider. Look at these:

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have; “THEIR VOICE HAS GONE OUT INTO ALL THE EARTH, AND THEIR WORDS TO THE ENDS OF THE WORLD.” (Rom 10:1-18).

… the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world… (Col 1:5-6) and, the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven (v23).

The Bible says that the gospel was preached all over the world, to all the nations, at that time. That prophecy was fulfilled before AD 70. We are not still waiting for it to happen.

I hope you are catching this. We have been wrongly taught for so long that it can be a stretch for us to lay aside other people’s opinions and actually see what the scriptures say. And next time we will be doing more of the same.

57. This Generation Will Not Pass Away

Mike Parsons
with Jeremy Westcott

It is important to understand the covenant background to Matthew, chapters 21-25, and please do take a moment to read that here if you missed it, before we get into what Jesus said. Because this is quite a challenge.

Woe

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people… Woe to you, blind guides… Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!… You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of Gehenna? Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city…” (Matt 23:13, 16, 29, 33-34).

‘Woe’ is a covenant word which we are not really familiar with, but which they understood very well, and they were very offended by it. In fact it got them so mad that they began plotting to kill Jesus in earnest. In saying ‘woe’, He was prophesying that judgment was coming to them under the terms of the covenant. ‘Serpents, vipers’… He was calling them children of the devil, as they also understood very well. ‘Gehenna’ is often mistranslated ‘hell’, but what Jesus was referring to was the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Then, the bodies of thousands of the city’s inhabitants, including all the priests and other religious leaders, would be piled up in the valley called Gehenna (i.e. the valley of Hinnom), the rubbish tip outside the city.

He refers to that time again as He goes on to explain in more detail what the consequences would be for them: “so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth from Abel to Zechariah… Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! (Matt 23:35-38).

“On this generation” – there it is again. He was speaking of that generation living between the years AD 30 and AD 70, and warning that all the righteous blood ever shed upon the earth was going to come upon them.

‘This evil generation’

El Greco“Your house is being left to you desolate”. This again is covenant language that we really need to understand. Remember how Jesus came into the Temple and drove out the moneychangers and traders with a whip?  You can read Matthew’s account of that incident in this same section of his gospel, in chapter 21. And when Jesus left the Temple, swept clean and put in order, they had the opportunity to follow Him.

But what did happen? Well, Jesus had already described what would happen. You can find it in Matthew 12:43-45. “Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.

Did you notice that last sentence? Maybe because we are so familiar with it, we have just skipped over it. Jesus specifically says that this has an application for the generation of which He was part. And indeed, that is what happened to them and their Temple. Their last state was worse than the first. That is why the unbelieving Jews persecuted the church – they were demonised. Literally, the whole house was full of demonic influence.

Babylon

Rev 18:2 speaks of this: And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird”.

The book of Revelation is talking about the persecution of the church and the judgments that came upon Israel. And it is Israel who are described here as ‘Babylon the great’. Jesus said that the guilt of all the righteous blood was upon that unbelieving generation. In Revelation 17:6 and 18:20,24, we can see that same blood-guilt is assigned to this ‘Babylon’. Here is the Bible interpreting itself; and we need to know it, because accepting this is going to be a major difficulty for some as God begins to challenge the church.

Three questions

And so we arrive at Matthew 24. Jesus came out of the Temple, and was going away from there, with His disciples; leaving it desolate, because the Holy Spirit left with Him. That was the last time He went there. “Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down” (Matt 24:1-2).

So He was prophesying physical destruction of the Temple. The disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matt 24:3). So they were asking 3 things: ‘When will be the destruction of the Temple?’, ‘What will be the sign of Your coming?’ (to bring about this judgment, not His last coming), and ‘What will be the signs of the end of the age?’.

The next 30 verses, up to verse 33, are the answers to the first two questions. We will see that very clearly as we look at it in a little more depth in coming posts. For now let’s skip ahead to verses 33-34. “So, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door”. So they, His disciples, would see all the things mentioned in the previous 32 verses. And when they did, they were to know that He – Jesus – would be ‘at the door’ (that is, ready to come in judgment).

And then He goes on, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place”. I think that is clear enough, isn’t it? Everything in the previous 32 verses was to take place before that generation passed away. It was not to come upon a future generation, as so many of us have been taught, but upon that generation. It was on them that the curses of the covenant were to be outpoured.

Jesus was coming in covenant judgment.

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56. Covenant Blessings, Covenant Judgments.

Mike Parsons
with Jeremy Westcott – 

In looking at Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 21-25, we saw last time that we need to understand covenant blessings and judgments. So today let’s consider Deuteronomy 28:1-14 (blessings) and 15-68 (judgments, or ‘curses’).

Above all the nations

Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth… But it shall come about, if you do not obey the LORD your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you… (Deut 28:1, 15).

‘High above all the nations of the earth’ – doesn’t that sound like the mountain of the house of the Lord being lifted high above the other mountains? All the other nations were supposed to stream to them. They had a kingdom mandate. If they kept covenant and were obedient, they could expect blessings. But if they were disobedient, judgment would come.

Peace?

What would it be like when that judgment came? Deuteronomy 29:19-21 tells us:

It shall be when he hears the words of this curse, that he will boast, saying, ‘I have peace though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart in order to destroy the watered land with the dry.’ The LORD shall never be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the LORD and His jealousy will burn against that man, and every curse which is written in this book will rest on him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven.  Then the LORD will single him out for adversity from all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant which are written in this book of the law.’

‘Peace’. The first time this covenant judgment came upon Israel was when they were exiled to Babylon. At that time their prophets were prophesying peace and blessing, when they should have been prophesying judgment. ‘Stubbornness’: that sums up the attitude of the Pharisees and Sadducees, the rulers of Israel, who didn’t expect Jesus and didn’t accept His coming. There were bound to be covenant consequences (variously called ‘wrath’, ‘doom’ and ‘woe’).

As the eagle swoops down

Not so for us. Let’s be clear on this. God’s ‘wrath’ is not aimed at us, ever. It is an expression of His burning passion for us, not against us. But we will see where that wrath did fall.

“All the nations will say, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land? Why this great outburst of anger?’ Then men will say, ‘Because they forsook the covenant of the LORD, the God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt. Therefore, the anger of the LORD burned against that land, to bring upon it every curse which is written in this book; and the LORD uprooted them from their land in anger and in fury and in great wrath, and cast them into another land’” (Deut 29:24-28).

Initially this judgment was fulfilled in the exile to Babylon, but with a prophetic promise of return. After a time, God restored them to the land and gave them another opportunity to be obedient. If they continued to be disobedient, then further consequences were inevitable, and this is what Jesus is warning them about. He is referring to passages like these in Deuteronomy:

A people whom you do not know shall eat up the produce of your ground and all your labours, and you will never be anything but oppressed and crushed continually… The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand … It shall besiege you in all your towns until your high and fortified walls in which you trusted come down throughout your land, and it shall besiege you in all your towns throughout your land which the LORD your God has given you (Deut 28:33, 49, 52).

legion-444126_640The final fulfilment of this prophecy was that Jerusalem was indeed besieged and subsequently destroyed. That happened at the end of the generation to which Jesus was speaking, in AD 70. And look at the phrase ‘as the eagle swoops down’: you can also see how that could speak of the Roman armies, which carried an eagle as a standard.

This was to be followed by spiritual restoration. There was a promise of physical restoration after Babylon, which was totally fulfilled, and they were brought back into the land. But afterwards, all the promises relating to the new covenant were of a spiritual restoration in Christ.

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jer 31:31-33).

Restoration? Yes, for everyone, in Christ. This is new covenant language, and we see it again in Ezekiel. There would be a physical manifestation of this restoration, but it would be the kingdom of God filling the earth.

So much for the covenant background. Next time I want to consider in detail what Jesus said about all this, back in Matthew 21-25.

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55. God’s Covenant Purpose

Mike Parsons
with Jeremy Westcott – 

Over the next series of posts I want to set out for you clearly what Jesus said. We have looked before at the passage in Matthew 24 where the disciples asked Jesus “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” What were ‘these things’ that they were asking about?

To find the answer to this we need to go back several chapters (remember that there were no chapters in the original scriptures). Wherever you start from, you are in a sense jumping into the middle of events which were already going on, but there is a clear development of ideas which begins in Matthew 21.

God’s people

Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES’? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust” (Matt 21:42-44).

Jesus was talking about Himself, that He would be rejected and that there would be a consequence of that rejection for Israel. The mandate to be God’s people would be taken from the people who rejected the Stone, and it would be given to people who accepted the Stone. That Stone was to become the chief cornerstone of the church. In verse 44 we see that the Stone will fall on those who reject Him, and in due course we are going to see what happened when that Stone fell.

Let’s understand this: God’s covenant purpose has not changed. We can read it in Genesis 12:2 where God makes covenant with Abraham, “And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing… And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” globe-328140_640There is continuity here, you only have to look at passages like Gen 1:28, where God made covenant with Adam, in Gen 9:1 with Noah, and in Matt 28:18-20, where the church was sent out to take the gospel to the whole world. It is the same covenant purpose: to bring the kingdom of God to the earth.

We read in Galatians, The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU” (Gal 3:8). The gospel we preach has the same covenant purpose: to bring God’s kingdom to the earth. There is a unity in God’s purpose that we have not always understood.

For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith (Rom 4:13).

Abraham’s promise was not a small package of land in the Middle East. It was supposed to start there, but from there to spread, filling the whole earth with God’s kingdom. And it did not come by keeping the Law, even under the old covenant, but through the righteousness of faith. It was always by faith. You never could have a relationship with God other than by faith. The Law was only a tutor to protect that covenant until Christ would come and fulfil it. No-one could keep the law, so you never could be justified by the law, only by faith. The covenant with Abraham was made 430 years before the Law was given, and it was not nullified by that Law. In fact, it is still in place today – and that is why we are here.

A light to the nations

God’s covenant purpose through Israel was stated in very similar terms: just look at the language. “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod 19:5-6).

That is still the promise to God’s people today, by the way.

I am the LORD, I have called You in righteousness, I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You, And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations…” (Isa 42:6). They were supposed to be a light to the nations, but they weren’t. They kept it all to themselves and stopped anyone else receiving it.

“I will appoint You as a covenant to the people” (Isa 42:6). Time and again, we keep coming back to this: we need to understand covenant. In particular, we need to understand covenant blessings and covenant judgments, because those are what Jesus is going to refer to in this passage. We can see those concepts most clearly in Deut 28:1-14 (blessings) and Deut 28:15-68 (judgments, or ‘curses’), and that is where we will pick up next time.

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