The Period of the Perean Ministry (Part 7)
35. The Rich Young Ruler
References: Matt. 19:16-30; Mk. 10:17-31; Lk. 18:18-30
In our interpretation of this story it must be remembered that it took place under the dispensation of Law. When the rich young ruler asked, “What good thing must I do to have eternal life?” the Lord replied with the requirements of the Law. In the dispensation of grace when the jailer asked Paul the same question, Paul replied: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” The question arises, Does the Bible teach two different ways of being saved: by law keeping and by grace apart from law keeping?
Paul makes clear two facts in his epistles. The first is stated in Rom. 2:6,7,13 that “God will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life. (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified).” On the surface this sounds as though Paul is teaching that man can be justified by keeping the law. It is rather a statement of God’s just dealing with man. And Paul goes on to show the second fact that there has never been a man since Adam’s fall that could measure up to that standard; for he proves that all have sinned and the conclusion is inescapable: “Therefore by the doing of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20).
Although the young ruler claimed to have kept the Law from his youth, Jesus showed him he had broken the two great commandments of the Law. He didn’t love his neighbor as himself, for he refused to share his wealth with the needy, and he did not love the Lord with all his heart, for he turned away sorrowful and refused to follow the Lord. The ruler had called Jesus Good Master, and Jesus had said, “There is none good, but one, that is, God.” If Jesus was good then He was God. The ruler was not God, therefore he was not good, as he supposed himself to be in his self-righteousness.
The law was given to show man that he is not good, but the Jews as a nation never learned the true intent of the law, as Paul explains in Rom. 10:1-3. Faith is the one thing necessary for pleasing God in every dispensation, but faith was demonstrated in different ways in different dispensations. If God said a flood was coming, faith believed and built an ark. If God said, “without the shedding of blood is no remission,” faith believed and brought an animal sacrifice. But after God had proved the whole human race guilty and had given His Son as the once for all sacrifice for sin, faith no longer engages in things required by the ceremonial law but believes and receives Christ as the all-sufficient sacrifice.
The disciples were astonished by Jesus’ remarks concerning the difficulty of a rich man entering the Kingdom and asked: “Who then can be saved?” Jesus said, “With men it is impossible,” that is, it is impossible for man to save himself. But, “with God all things are possible.” God has done what for man was impossible. He has found a way to justify the ungodly, entirely apart from human merit or goodness.
Matthew, being especially the Kingdom Gospel, records the further remarks of the Apostles which were called forth from Christ’s dealings with the young ruler. They said, “We have left everything and followed you. What will we have?” Jesus told them, “Verily, I say unto you, In the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me shall also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” This is a special reward which Jesus will give to these men, and these only, when He returns to establish the Kingdom of God in this earth. There is personal, spiritual regeneration which the sinner receives when he believes the Gospel and is saved. There is also a regeneration in nature which will occur when Christ returns and removes the curse from nature and restores the earth to its original glory. Peter called it “the times of restitution of all things which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (cf. Isa. 65:17-25; Rom. 8:21).
36. The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard
Reference: Matt. 20:1-16
In order to get the setting for this parable we must go back to the conclusion of Ch. 19. The last verse of that chapter reads: “But many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” And the parable ends: “So the last shall be first, and the first last; for many be called, but few chosen.” The parable was told to illustrate the truth at the end of the previous chapter.
The parable also illustrates the sovereignty of God and His purpose in election. The householder went to the marketplace to hire laborers, going very early in the morning, then at nine o’clock, then at noon, and again at three in the afternoon, and finally at five o’clock, each time hiring idle men. He agreed on a wage with the first ones and told the others he would pay them what was right. At the end of the day he called the laborers together and told his steward to pay them, beginning with the last and ending with the first. The ones who worked only one hour got a penny and when the steward came to those who were hired early in the morning, they supposed they get much more, but they too got one penny. When they complained of injustice, the householder replied: “Didn’t you agree to work all day for a penny? It is not lawful for me to do with my own what I desire? Is your eye evil because I am good? It is my will to give unto these last even as unto you.” We are quite sure that modern labor unions would have taken this householder to court for unfair labor practices, even though the men who worked all day got what was generous pay for that period in history. Man, of course, is not sovereign, but God is, and the householder in the parable represents God.
There are several significant things to notice about the parable. The men in the marketplace were idle. They were unemployed. They did not go out looking for work; instead, the householder came to them and gave them a job. This is a picture of man in his lost condition. He is not seeking God, but instead God seeks the sinner (cf. Rom. 3:11; Lk. 19:10). No one would have been saved unless God had taken the initiative and sought out the sinner.
The interpretation of the parable has to do with rewards in the Kingdom. Martin Luther and others have taught that the penny or denarius represents salvation which each receives whether he has labored much or little: all get the same eternal life. However, such an interpretation makes salvation a reward for work, and salvation is always a free gift. Others have supposed the parable teaches that although salvation is a free gift, all of the saved will receive exactly the same reward for their service, but of course such teaching is contrary to almost every passage dealing with rewards (cf. Matt. 16:27; Rev. 20:13). Some have tried to see in the first who were called the Apostles and the later ones the Gentiles, down to the very last ones to be saved before the Lord comes. The context does not bear out such an interpretation. If the Apostles are represented by the workers hired first, then the parable must teach that they will be the very last and least in the Kingdom, which is contradicted by our Lord’s promise that they are going to be reigning as judges over the twelve tribes of Israel.
It appears that the parable was called forth by Peter’s question: “What are we going to get as rewards for our work?” When a child of God takes the attitude expressed by some who were first called that they deserve more than others, that they have done more for the Lord, it is evident that his motive for service for God is wrong. God will not forget any labor of love (Heb. 6:10), but work that is done, simply for self-aggrandizement is really not a labor of love. Some great world-renowned evangelist may be surprised at the judgment seat of Christ to discover that some humble believer whose name the world has never heard will receive as great, if not greater reward than himself. God is the One who gives abilities and opportunities and apart from His gifts we could do nothing for Him. We may take credit for leading a soul to Christ, when in fact ten other people had more to do with the result than we did. We must ever remember, as Paul tells us, that the worker is really nothing: he may plant or water the seed, but only God can give the increase (1 Cor. 3:5-8). Some who thought they would be first may end up at the end of the line, and others who took no credit to themselves and placed themselves last may end up at the head of the class.
37. Christ Again Predicts His Crucifixion
References: Matt. 20:17-19; Mk. 10:32-34; Lk. 18:31-34
Jesus is here on His final visit to Jerusalem. He was walking ahead, leading the procession of His disciples. Mark alone tells us of the emotional condition of the disciples. He says they were amazed and afraid. Other translators say they were filled with alarm, were astonished, filled with terror and dread, dismayed and afraid, in a daze and apprehensive, filled with awe and afraid. There must have been something in the demeanor of Jesus, something strange and foreboding in His manner which struck fear into their hearts.
Jesus, knowing their fears and knowing all that would happen to Him in the next few days, took the disciples aside and told them again of all that would befall Him in Jerusalem. He would be delivered to the chief priests and scribes and then to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged, to be killed, and after three days to rise from the dead. And Luke adds: “And they understood none of these things; and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.” The fact that they didn’t understand is evident from subsequent events as seen in the statement of the two on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:21), and in the fact none of them believed He had arisen even after the report of the women who first saw Him after His resurrection (Mk. 16:10-14).
As pointed out earlier, although these apostles had been preaching the gospel of the Kingdom for over three years, it is evident that their preaching contained nothing about the redemptive death of Christ and His resurrection, which truths in our dispensation comprise the very heart of the gospel, (1 Cor. 15:1-4). That is why we must turn to the epistles to learn the secret of the Gospel. We find the revelation of the meaning of the death of Christ only after He had accomplished the work of salvation and had ascended back to heaven, from whence He made known the glorious truth of the gospel of the grace of God.
38. Ambition of James and John
References: Matt. 20:20-28; Mk. 10:35-45; cf. Lk. 12:50
This incident of the two brothers, along with their mother, requesting a place of preeminence in Christ’s Kingdom is first of all a proof that Christ actually taught that He was going to establish a kingdom here on the earth, which was different from the universal Kingdom of God which has always existed. There are so many proofs of this truth in the Gospels that it might seem trite to even mention it, but there are many evangelical Christians who teach that the Jews were completely mistaken in supposing that the Messiah would establish a literal Kingdom upon the earth and therefore there will never be a Millennial, Messianic Kingdom. This teaching is known as A-millennialism. But if the disciples were so carnal and mistaken in believing that Christ was going to establish such a kingdom in the future, why did Christ not correct their false notions about such a kingdom, instead of telling them it was not in His power to make such decisions? There was surely a Kingdom of God in Old Testament times, as well as when Jesus was on earth, but everywhere in the teachings of Christ His Kingdom was always future. It was near at hand but it was not yet a reality. Therefore, there must be a difference between that which was then present and that which had not yet come into existence.
The request of this mother for her two sons, which stirred up such indignation among the other disciples, simply points out one of the weaknesses of fallen human nature: self-aggrandizement. Man likes to exercise authority, to be able to lord it over others. But the prerogative of lording it over belongs to God alone, so that in Christ’s Kingdom or for that matter, in the life of the Christian today, the Lord should be the only lord. If one wants to be greatest, he should be greatest in caring for and serving others. Paul teaches the same spiritual principles (cf. 1 Cor. 12:25; Phil. 2:3,20,21).
The cup and the baptism to which Christ referred (cf. Lk. 12:50), both point to His sufferings and death and the intimation is that the disciples also would suffer a like fate at the hands of the unbelieving world.
39. The Blind Men Near Jericho
References: Matt. 20:29-34; Mk. 10:46-52; Lk. 18:35-43
There is a supposed contradiction between the Gospels here, in that Matthew says there were two blind men who were healed, whereas Mark and Luke mention only one, and to further complicate the problem Matthew and Mark both say the healing took place as Jesus was leaving Jericho, and Luke says the healing took place as He approached Jericho. If Mark and Luke had stated that Jesus healed only one blind man at Jericho there would be a contradiction with Matthew. It is not a contradiction to mention only one of the two who were healed. As to the other seeming contradiction it should be pointed out that Jericho in the time of Christ was a “double city.” Cobern states regarding excavations made by Dr. Ernest Sellin: “They did however find a large Jewish town (600-400 B.C.), and proved that the Jericho of Jesus’ day was a double city spreading itself out on both sides of the wadi.” Thus Matthew and Mark spoke of leaving one part of the city and Luke spoke of approaching the other part of this double city.
Mark alone gives us the beggar’s name, Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus. He was probably a well-known character in the community, whereas the other beggar was not, and that is probably the reason only Bartimaeus is mentioned. Mark also relates that when told by the crowd that Jesus had stopped and called for him, he not simply “arose,” as in the A.V., but literally “leaped up.”
Jericho was a cursed city (Josh. 6:26 cf. 1 Kgs. 16:34), but wherever Jesus went the curse was lifted. This is no doubt a picture in miniature of what will happen when Jesus returns and takes away the blindness of Israel and lifts the curse from creation which sin has brought. Christ was made a curse for us to deliver us from the curse of the Law (Gal. 3:13).
40. The Conversion of Zacchaeus
Reference: Lk. 19:1-10
The Greek grammar shows that Zacchaeus was not bragging about all of the good works he had done in the past, but of what he was going to henceforth do as a result of his conversion. It was common practice for tax-collectors to overcharge, to place fictitious values on property or income in order to enrich themselves. Zacchaeus vows now to restore four-fold to those he had cheated. According to Ex. 22:1 this was the restoration required of a thief. He was thus confessing his sin and calling it by the proper name. The expression in vs. 8, “I give,” has the force of “I now give,” or “from now on I will give.” He was not only going to restore four-fold where he had cheated others, but was going to give half of his wealth to the poor. He thus stands out in bold contrast to the rich young ruler, who was not convicted of his sinfulness and refused to give his wealth to the needy.
There is an interesting play on words in the Greek text. The tree into which Zacchaeus climbed (translated “sycamore”) was the fig-mulberry (sukomorean, a compound of suke, fig, and moron, mulberry). Then in vs. 8, the expression, “taken by false accusation” is the word sukophanteo, a compound of suke, fig, and phanein, to show: a fig-shower or fig-informer (an informant of the law forbidding the exportation of figs from Greece). It is our English word “sycophant.” The word is used only one other time (Lk. 3:14) where it is translated, “accuse falsely.”
Zacchaeus did not let his physical limitations keep him from his determination to see Jesus. We are reminded of the four men who made a hole in the roof in order to let down the palsied man into the presence of Jesus.
Zacchaeus must have been amazed to hear Jesus call him by name when he had never even seen Jesus before. This must have impressed him of the supernatural character of Jesus. Jesus’ words: “Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down, for today I must abide at thy house,” have the ring of kingly authority. Zacchaeus did not extend an invitation, nor did Jesus ask, “May I stay at your house?” It was a command: “I must stay at thy house.”
41. Parable of the Postponed Kingdom
Reference: Lk. 19:11-28
We are informed that Jesus told this parable because He was near to Jerusalem and because the people supposed the Kingdom of God was going to be set up immediately. The purpose of the parable was to show that the Kingdom would not be established immediately; that the rightful King had to first go into a far country to receive the authority for the Kingdom; and then return to take over the actual Kingship.
It is helpful to understand that a few years prior to this both Herod and his son, Archelaus had gone to Rome to receive authority from Caesar to reign over Judea and had returned to take over the kingship. It is interesting also to note that Jesus spoke this parable in Jericho, the very city from which Herod had gone to Rome and to which he returned and built his palace. Thus the parable is built on an actual historical incident with which the people were familiar.
There is no doubt but that the nobleman represents Jesus Christ, and that the far country represents heaven, and the One from whom the authority is received is the Father. The return must represent the second coming of Christ to earth. There are many Bible interpreters who are fond of spiritualizing the Scriptures, as they call it, although there is nothing spiritual about it. They teach that the Kingdom is purely spiritual; that after His death Jesus went back to heaven in order to establish His Kingdom; that He is now reigning as King, and that all of the promises in the Bible of a literal, physical, earthly kingdom must be spiritualized to mean those blessings which Christians now enjoy; that Jesus will never return to establish a Kingdom on earth, but rather that when He returns He will bring an end to the world with the final judgment and resurrection.
All of these ideas are completely opposite to the teaching of this parable. Herod did not go into the far country and set up his throne there in Rome, and neither is it stated that Christ went to heaven to set up His throne there. Today Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father’s throne (Heb. 8:1; 12:2). And just as Herod’s citizens had sent a message to Caesar saying, “We will not have this man to reign over us,” so the Jews declared they would not have Jesus to reign over them. And as Herod destroyed his enemies when he returned as king, so there will be a judgment when Christ returns as King and the wicked will be destroyed from off the earth. But those servants who were loyal to the King and had taken care of His business while He was away will be rewarded by being made rulers over various cities in the Kingdom. This is one of the clearest and most important dispensational parables concerning the establishment of the Millennial Kingdom at the return of Christ to earth. There is a somewhat similar parable in Matt. 25: 14-30, told a few days later in the Olivet discourse.
42. Anointing of Jesus By Mary of Bethany
References: Matt. 26:6-13; Mk. 14:3-9; John 11:55-12:11
There are certain problems related to the correlating of these three passages. While the three accounts have much detail in common, there are some differences. The account of the supper at Bethany and the anointing as given by both Matthew and Mark is prefaced by the statement: “ye know that after two days is the feast of passover.” John tells us: “Jesus therefore six days before the passover came to Bethany.. . so they made him a supper there.”
In Matthew and Mark the supper was in the house of Simon the leper, and the woman who anointed Jesus is not mentioned by name. In John nothing is said about Simon the leper, and the woman is named as Mary. This has led some to believe that there were two suppers and two anointings. However, almost everything that transpired at the supper is common to all three records. Most expositors believe that both Matthew and Mark inserted the supper account out of chronological order for a special effect and that therefore there was just one supper. Matthew does not say the supper took place two days before passover, but simply, “When Jesus was in Bethany.” Some have speculated that Simon the leper, now healed, of course, was the husband of Martha.
Martha, Mary, and Lazarus are mentioned by name only by John. Matthew and Mark state that the woman anointed the head of Jesus; John the feet of Jesus. Mark says the ointment was worth above three hundred pence; John says three hundred pence. Matthew and Mark have the disciples indignant over wasting this amount of money; John says it was Judas Iscariot who objected.
None of the differences are really contradictions. Mary could have anointed both His head and His feet. Judas may have started the objection that the ointment could have been sold for three hundred pence, and other of the disciples could have taken sides with Judas and said it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence.
Besides the Lord Jesus there are three characters that stand out in the story. One is Mary. She had sat at the feet of Jesus and learned of Him. She was the only one of the disciples who understood and believed that Jesus would rise from the dead. She anointed His body for burial beforehand. She was not in the group that went to the tomb with spices to anoint His dead body. The Lord rewarded Mary’s love and understanding and devotion by having her name placed in Holy Scripture for millions of people to read about as a memorial to her.
Another character is Judas Iscariot. Here we learn that he was the treasurer for the Apostles and that he was a thief. He objected to what he called Mary’s waste in anointing Jesus with the costly spikenard, because he would like to have seen it sold for three hundred pence and the money put in his bag for his personal use. It may seem strange why Jesus chose a man to be one of His apostles when He knew that he was unsaved. In fact, Jesus stated in John 6:70: “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” And knowing he was a thief, why would He permit him to be the treasurer for the group? It may be speculation, but it may be that Jesus chose such a one because He knew that in any group of God’s people in this world there will always be one or more who are not truly saved. If it could happen in a group which Jesus Himself chose, how much more likely it is to happen in assemblies where ordinary men do the choosing? Therefore, as a practical lesson for today, churches need to constantly be on their guard, especially about those who have to do with money matters. Even a saved person may be such a lover of money that he will steal or misapply church funds. Every safeguard possible should be used to protect both the congregation and the one who is in charge of finances.
Paul was very careful about the handling of money from the churches, but in spite of that he was falsely accused of being dishonest. Paul gives some good advice to churches. One of his qualifications for an officer in the church is that he is “not greedy of filthy lucre” (1 Tim. 3:3). He warns against those who will to be rich (1 Tim. 6:9). And he set an example when he took up offerings from the Gentile churches to help the poor saints at Jerusalem. The churches chose certain ones to travel with Paul to see to it that the money got to its proper destination (cf. 2 Cor. 8:16-24).
The third character is Lazarus. John tells us that many of the common people heard that Jesus was there, and they came, not only to see Jesus, but Lazarus who had been raised from the dead. A great number of Jews had become believers through the testimony of Lazarus, so much so that the religious authorities were seeking how they might put Lazarus to death also. We should like to know what experience Lazarus had during the four days he was dead, but God has not been pleased to satisfy our curiosity. We have no idea if Lazarus spoke anything about that experience. When Paul was caught up to the third heaven he saw things which He was forbidden to reveal (2 Cor. 12:4). Perhaps it was the same with Lazarus.
(Main Source: Understanding The Gospels – A Different Approach – Charles F. Baker)