Bewildered, Amazed and Perplexed.

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” Acts 2:5-13 ESV

The Feast of Pentecost took place 50 days after Passover, and Jews from all over the known world of that day would have made their way to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. But they would have stayed in town to participate in the Feast of Pentecost, also known as the Festival of Harvest. This was one of the three times during the year that all male Jews were required by law to make the journey to Jerusalem.

22 “You must celebrate the Festival of Harvest with the first crop of the wheat harvest, and celebrate the Festival of the Final Harvest at the end of the harvest season. 23 Three times each year every man in Israel must appear before the Sovereign, the Lord, the God of Israel. – Exodus 34:22-23 NLT

As is evident from the text, there were Jews present in Jerusalem from all over the Roman empire.

9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians… – Acts 2:9-11 ESV

And many of these very same people had been drawn by the sound of the mighty wind that had filled the room where the disciples had been gathered. Evidently, that roaring sound had been loud enough to be heard in the streets, and at some point, the disciples had made their way down from the upper room and into the crowds that had gathered. And Luke tells us that those in the crowd were “bewildered” by what they heard. Each of the, regardless of their nation of origin, was hearing the disciples speak in his own language. Luke uses the Greek word, sygcheō, which can mean “to be in an uproar.” So, in essence, Luke is saying that at the sound of the uproar from the upper room, the Jews were in an uproar. They were confounded and confused. They had never seen or heard anything like this before. And Luke makes it clear that what they heard was the disciples “telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11 ESV). Luke gives us no indication of what it was the disciples were saying. But it is likely that they were telling of Jesus’ death, resurrection and His appearances to them over that 40-day period before He ascended back to heaven. Whatever it was that they were saying, we can safely assume that it was under the inspiration and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Jesus had told the disciples that the day would come when they have the Holy Spirit to help them speak. In fact, He would speak for them.

“…do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” – Mark 13:11 ESV

We can only imagine the excitement and enthusiasm of the disciples as they got caught up in the moment, realizing that they were able to speak in languages they didn’t know or understand. Whether they were speaking Aramaic and the words were coming out of their mouths in a different language, we don’t know. But the whole affair must have been amazing to watch and even more remarkable to be a part of. Two separate times in these verses Luke  describes the audience as “amazed and astonished” and “amazed and perplexed”. The word “amazed” in the Greek is existēmi and it conveys the idea of slack-jawed wonder. They couldn’t believe their ears or eyes. What they were witnessing was extraordinary and bewildering. And it left them “astonished” or in a state of wonder as they marveled over what was taking place right in front of them. But in verse 11, Luke describes the crowd as “perplexed” or diaporeō, a Greek word that can be translated as “at a loss.” They were amazed, but also confused over what was going on. They couldn’t figure out the meaning behind what they were witnessing. It made no sense to them. And some asked, “What does this mean?” They were hearing the wonders of God spoken in their own languages. But why? What was the purpose? And why these Galilean disciples?

It’s important to remember that these people were in Jerusalem for Passover and the Feast of Harvest. They were there on a religious pilgrimage, but they most likely had not expected anything like this to happen. The normal aspects associated with their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the holy city, had been suddenly rocked by these unexpected and inexplicable events. What they had just witnessed was out of the ordinary and out of their comfort zone. While Passover was meant to commemorate and celebrate God’s miraculous deliverance of the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt, the Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem that day were not expecting anything miraculous to happen in their midst. They had not come to town expecting to hear or see the wonders of God. But that’s exactly what had happened. And sadly, some simply concluded that the scene they had just witnessed was the result of drunkenness. Using human reason and logic in an attempt to explain the miraculous, they simply wrote off what they had seen as nothing more than the result of a handful of inebriated Galileans. “But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, ‘They’re just drunk, that’s all!’” (Acts 2:13 NLT). It reminds me of Paul’s warning to the Ephesian believers: “Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18 NLT). The 120 disciples had been filled with the Spirit of God and, as a result, had been completely under His influence. They were speaking in languages they didn’t know. There were declaring the wonders of God to all those who could hear them. They had been transformed from timid followers sequestered in that upper room into bold witnesses for Christ, shouting the glories of God out in the streets of Jerusalem.

Any thoughts about the religious leadership looking for them, or fear that they could suffer the same fate as Jesus had, were gone. The Spirit had come and they were no longer the same, and everyone, including them, were bewildered, amazed and perplexed. Astonishment and wonder accompanied the Holy Spirit’s arrival. His coming was anything but pedestrian in nature. The “devout” Jews who had gathered in the holy city to celebrate the Passover and Pentecost suddenly found their regular religious rituals turned upside down by the Spirit of God. They had come to Jerusalem to celebrate God, but had not expected to encounter Him. They had arrived in town fully expecting to honor Him for all He had done in the past, but never dreamed He would show up in the present. For them, the power of God was past tense. Any deliverance by God was the stuff of ancient history, not current events. They were devout and willing to keep the rules established by their God, but they were doubtful that their God was ever going to keep the promises He had made to them. The practice of religious rituals had long ago replaced any expectation that their God was present and powerful. The centuries they had waited for the Messiah to show up had caused their faith to fade and their hope of deliverance to become little more than wishful thinking illustrated by a religion that had become little more than rote rituals and habitual practices devoid of heart.

But they were in for a surprise. God was not done yet. The Holy Spirit was not finished and the disciples had far more to say. For those who were wondering what it all meant, the answer was just minutes away.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Not What They Expected.

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2:1-4 ESV

The disciples had been waiting in that upper room, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had commanded them to return to Jerusalem and to await the Spirit’s coming.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”– Acts 1:4-5 ESV

This reference by Jesus to John’s baptism ties the coming of the Holy Spirit back to those days when John was baptizing in the Judean wilderness. His had been a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3). He had been a precursor and herald of the coming Messiah, announcing that the Kingdom of God was at hand. And his offer to the Jews in his audience to submit to baptism had been a call to turn from their sins and prepare for the coming of the Kingdom. John the Baptist called on them to change their ways. He demanded that their behavior be different than before.

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”– Luke 3:10-14 ESV

The people didn’t know what to make of John the Baptist, Some even wondered whether he was the long-awaited Messiah. But he told the people, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16 ESV). A direct reference to what was about to happen in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. Jesus was going to usher in a new era, and provide a new means by which men and women could live radically different lives. John had told the people to change their behavior, but Jesus was going to provide the means to make it possible.

Luke records in his gospel the baptism of Jesus.

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”– Luke 3:21-22 ESV

The very same Spirit who would appear to and rest upon the disciples at Pentecost, had descended upon Jesus, empowering Him for His earthly ministry. While Jesus was the Son of God and had all the power of deity available to Him, He conducted His earthly ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit. He lived as a man, submitting Himself to the direction and empowerment of the Spirit of God. He was led by the Spirit. He was ministered to by the Spirit. He was given power by the Spirit to perform miracles. And, after His death, He was raised back to life by the Spirit. And that very same Spirit that had descended upon Him at His baptism, was about to fall on those who were obediently waiting in that upper room.

Luke describes what happened:

Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. – Acts 2:2-3 NLT

This time, the Spirit didn’t descend as a dove, He was accompanied by sounds and signs that were unmistakable and impossible to miss. There was the sound of a rushing wind. It was a roar, not a gentle breeze. There was something powerfully significant about to happen. And it recalls the conversation Jesus had with Nichodemus, the Pharisee, regarding being born again. Jesus told him:

5 “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” – John 3:5-8 NLT

The wind, the Spirit, is uncontrollable and unpredictable. He does as He wishes. He is inexplicably powerful, unseen to the human eye, and able to accomplish the impossible. It’s interesting to note a conversation Jesus had with the disciples right after His resurrection. He appeared to them quite suddenly and unexpectedly as they were gathered together behind locked doors in the upper room.

19 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” – John 20:19-23 NLT

He breathed on them. He literally blew on them with His breath. What a radically different image than the one that took place in that same upper room on the day of Pentecost. I believe Jesus was giving the disciples a subtle foretaste of what was to come. His breath, limited by the restraints of His human body, would turn into a mighty wind when He returned to His rightful place at the Father’s side. He glorification would allow Him to blow the wind of the Spirit in unlimited power and accompanied by unmistakable signs of God’s presence.

The sound of the rushing wind was accompanied by the visual manifestation of flames of fire – just as John the Baptist had said would happen. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16 NLT). The disciples were being baptized with the Spirit and with fire. All throughout the Old Testament, fire represented the presence of God. He led them through the wilderness in the form of a pillar of fire. He appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush. Every time He spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, His presence was illustrated by smoke. The author of Hebrews describes God in terms of fire.

28 Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. 29 For our God is a devouring fire. – Hebrews 12:28-29 NLT

What appeared as a single flame separated and “settled on each of them” (Acts 2:4 NLT). Every single individual in the room received the filling of the Holy Spirit. They each had a tongue of flame hovering over their heads, and each one was able to see this visible manifestation. So, it was not just the original 11 disciples who received the Spirit, but every single individual who was gathered in the room that day. The Spirit was non-discriminatory. And what these people received was power from on high. They were indwelt with the very power of God, the same power that had raised Jesus from the dead. And what is significant about this is that the 120 disciples gathered in the upper room received the divine power that would allow them to live out what John the Baptist had said to the Jews whom he had baptized.

“Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. – Luke 3:8 NLT

The Jews who experienced the water baptism of John were incapable of pulling off what he told them to do. They lacked the power. They were limited by their sinful dispositions. But when the Holy Spirit came, it was a game-changer. Suddenly, those 120 disciples were equipped with a power they had never known before. And it was going to become immediately evident that their lives had been radically transformed and their capacity to live godly live had been dramatically improved. What happened next was a visible and audible demonstration of the Spirit’s power and their newfound potential as God’s instruments of reconciliation.

And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. – Acts 2:4 NLT

Again, notice that Luke says, “everyone”, not some. There was no mistake that every single individual had been filled with the Spirit. If the tongues of flame hadn’t proved it, the audible tongues did. They were suddenly able to speak in languages they didn’t know. Each one was speaking a different language. Can you imagine what this scene must have looked and felt like to all those present. There is no indication the sound of the rushing wind had stopped. The tongues of flame were probably still floating above each person’s head. There was a cacophony of noise as the various languages mingled with one another and the 120 disciples experienced the awe and wonder of what has happening to them and around them.

None of this would have made sense. Not one of the disciples would have understood what the others in the room were saying. They would not have understood the words coming out of their own mouths. The sound in the room would have been deafening. The flames of fire would have been frightening. And the whole experience would have been a bit confusing. None of it would have been what they had expected. But it was exactly what Jesus had promised. And it’s significance was about to spill out of the room and into the streets of Jerusalem and the lives of the lost. The Spirit had come and the world would never be the same again.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Some Last-Minute Business.

15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms,

“‘May his camp become desolate,
    and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and

“‘Let another take his office.’

21 “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” Acts 1:15-26 ESV

So, what happened to Judas? We know he died, but how? Matthew records that, after having returning the money he had been paid by the Jewish religious authorities, he went out and hung himself.

And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. – Matthew 27:5 ESV

But in today’s passage, we have Luke’s record of Peter’s words, which describe a seemingly different scenario.

Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. – Acts 1:18 ESV

Did he hang himself or jump off a cliff? In Matthew’s account, it states that the Jewish religious leaders took the silver coins that Judas had returned and “bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers” (Matthew 27:7 ESV). In Peter’s recollection, recorded in the book of Acts, he indicates that Judas “acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness” (Acts 1:18 ESV). Which was it? What really happened here? Is this a contradiction in Scripture? The answer is, “No” and the solution is simple. Judas, in his dismay at finding out his betrayal was going to result in the death of Jesus, was grief-stricken and attempted to return the blood money he had received. He confessed that he had betrayed an innocent man (Matthew 27:4). But the leading priests and elders of the people could have cared less. They had no concern for Judas’ remorse. They only problem they had was deciding what to do with the money he had returned.

“It wouldn’t be right to put this money in the Temple treasury,” they said, “since it was payment for murder.” – Matthew 27:6 NLT

After some discussion among themselves, they determined to buy a field with the 30 pieces of silver. And since the transaction required a name, they most likely used that of Judas. The field became his by default. So, in essence, he did buy a field. And the likely scenario surrounding his death was that he did hang himself. Most likely from a tree. And when it came time to dispose of his body, he was thrown into the field that had been purchased with the 30 pieces of silver, where his already decomposing body burst open, creating the graphic scene described by Peter. And it was likely this image that resulted in the potter’s field being renamed, Akeldama (Field of Blood).

Now, why does Peter go into such great detail to describe the death of Judas? Because he wants to address an important issue that this former disciple’s death has created. Jesus had originally chosen 12 disciples. Now, there were only 11. The number 12 had special significance to the Jews. It was the number of the tribes of Israel. And Jesus had told the disciples something very significant regarding their role in His future Kingdom.

Jesus replied, “I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” – Matthew 19:28 NLT

They were one disciple short. And Peter, quoting from two of the psalms of David (Psalm 69:5; Psalm 109:8), uses these Old Testament writings as proof that Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was part of God’s plan. Peter, most likely under divine inspiration, recognizes that Judas must be replaced. The Psalm 109:8 passage clearly says, “Let another take his office.” They could not continue their ministry a man down. So, Peter proposed that they remedy this problem immediately. They needed to take action and find a replacement for Judas as quickly as possible, before the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise of the Spirit took place.

What happens next is interesting. First of all, Peter laid out the criteria for their candidate search. The man they were looking for would have to be someone who had been there from the beginning.

21 “So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus— 22 from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection.” – Acts 1:21-22 NLT

This couldn’t be just anybody. They had to be someone who had been a part of Jesus’ entourage from the very start of His earthly ministry. They also had to have been an eye-witness of Jesus’ resurrection. These requirements would have narrowed the field significantly. And it leaves them with the names of two men: Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. Both met the qualifications. Now, it was a matter of which one God wanted. This is where it gets interesting and a bit confusing. First of all, they prayed.

“You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” – Acts 1:24-25 ESV

Then, they cast lots. What? How in the world was this a spiritually viable means of determining the will of God? It seems like little more than a case of blind luck. But we have to keep in mind that both of the men they had picked were viable candidates for the role of replacing Judas. Now, it was a matter of which one God wanted. That was an important point. Jesus had chosen the original 12. So, it was important that God be the one to choose Judas’ replacement. This was not to be up to the disciples. They would not have a vote and go with the majority. Casting lots was a common way of making a determination over an important matter, because it left the decision up to God. They firmly believed that, after they had prayed over the matter, God would answer their prayer and reveal the right candidate. And the lot fell to Mathias.

The question we must ask ourselves is whether or not this scene creates a prescriptive model for the church to follow. In other words, is this an indication of the methodology we are to use within the church to determine God’s will regarding important decisions? The answer would seem to be no. Once the Holy Spirit comes, there is no other example of lots being used by the disciples or anyone else in the early church to make decisions. The coming of the Spirit and His indwelling of all believers seems to have created a new capacity for believers to know the will of God. They were given a Spirit-empowered discernment that they had not had before. So, lots were no longer necessary. Therefore, we are not dependent upon this methodology in order to know God’s will.

There are some who argue that Peter was impulsive and out of bounds in orchestrating this selection process. They believe that Peter acted on his own initiative and without the clear direction of God. Their argument is that Paul was God’s intended choice to replace Judas, but that Peter would not have known this. The problem with this viewpoint is that Paul would not have met the requirements set aside by Peter. Paul was not there from the beginning. He had not been a constant follower of Jesus from His baptism all the way to His death. In fact, at the point that this decision was being made, Paul was not a follower of Jesus at all. He was a Pharisee who could become a fierce opponent of any and all who claimed to be followers of Christ. And, while Paul would later be called by Christ and have a personal encounter with the resurrected Savior, he would spend a great deal of his ministry life defending his apostleship because he did not seem to fit the established criteria. Was he an apostle? Yes. Should he have been Judas’ replacement? Not likely. There is no indication from Luke that this election or selection process conducted by Peter and the other disciples was out of bounds or inappropriate. God never condemns there efforts. In fact, it seems that God confirmed the selection of Mathias through the casting of Lots. And as we will see, this selection process is immediately followed by the coming of the Holy Spirit, and Mathias was one of those who found himself filled with and empowered by the Spirit of God that fateful day.


English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Watch and Pray.

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. Acts 1:12-14 ESV

Just before His ascension, Jesus had instructed the disciples to return to Jerusalem and to wait the arrival of the Holy Spirit.

And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” – Luke 24:49 ESV

And that is exactly what Luke says they did. They traveled back from Olivet, located just outside the eastern city walls of Jerusalem, passing through the Kidron Valley and returning to the upper room where they had been staying. In the listing provided by Luke, we are given the names of the 11 remaining disciples. Missing is Judas, the one who had betrayed Jesus and who had taken his own life as a result. Matthew records in his gospel the final hours of Judas’ life.

When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.”

“What do we care?” they retorted. “That’s your problem.”

Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself.

The leading priests picked up the coins. “It wouldn’t be right to put this money in the Temple treasury,” they said, “since it was payment for murder.” After some discussion they finally decided to buy the potter’s field, and they made it into a cemetery for foreigners. That is why the field is still called the Field of Blood. This fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah that says,

“They took the thirty pieces of silver—
    the price at which he was valued by the people of Israel,
10 and purchased the potter’s field,
    as the Lord directed.” – Matthew 27:3-10 NLT

It seems that Judas had second thoughts about his betrayal of Jesus and had attempted to absolve himself of any guilt by returning the silver paid to him by the Jewish religious leadership. He had not anticipated the intense ramifications of his decision. He never intended for Jesus to be killed. Perhaps he had simply been trying to force Jesus’ hand and get him to inaugurate His kingdom. But it was too late. The deed was done. The die had been cast and Jesus had been crucified. So, in a state of despair, Judas had killed himself.

But his betrayal had not derailed the ministry of Jesus. Had he waited, he would have learned that Jesus was far from dead. The kiss he had delivered to the cheek of Jesus that fateful night in the garden had been a death sentence, but it had not put an end to the plan of God for the redemption of mankind. Jesus rose again, and He appeared to the 11 remaining disciples. He had given them instructions and now there gathered in that upper room waiting for the arrival of the Holy Spirit.

And Luke tells us they were not alone. There in the room with them were others who had followed Jesus and supported His ministry, including the four half-brothers of Jesus: James, Joses, Judas and Simon (Mark 6:3). Mary, the mother of Jesus, was also there, along with other women who had been His faithful followers. And Peter tells us that “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14 ESV). They were waiting, but they were busy. In spite of Jesus’ assurance that the Comforter would come, they had no idea what to expect. This was all unexplored territory for them. Jesus was gone and they were on their own, facing the continuing hostility of the Jewish religious authorities. They knew something was going to happen, but they had no concept of what it would entail. So, they prayed and they waited. No doubt, they talked and reminisced about the days when Jesus walked and ministered among them. They probably took turns telling stories that recalled the three years they had spent with Him. They most likely discussed His resurrection and the unexpected joy of finding Him alive. These must have been confusing and exciting days, as this small remnant of faithful followers huddled together in the close confines of that upper room. There must have been an eager air of anticipation mixed with a healthy dose of fear and anxiety.

They must have recalled and discussed the words of Jesus, spoken just before His death.

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” – John 15:18-20 ESV

Were they going to suffer the same fate as He did? Would their waiting end up in persecution or possible execution? They had no way of knowing. They had seen how Jesus’ life had ended. Would theirs end the same way? They had plenty of reasons to think this way, because Jesus had inferred it.

1 “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. – John 16:1-4 ESV

Was this the hour to which Jesus had been referring? Were they going to face death? Would the coming of the Holy Spirit be accompanied by their own martyrdoms? They had not way of knowing. All they could do is wait and pray. But what were they praying for? Luke doesn’t tell us. But we can assume that they prayed for God’s comfort, strength, mercy, protection and peace. And that last thing would have been significant because it is exactly what Jesus desired for them to have.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 ESV

The days ahead were filled with the unknown. They were about to receive the promised gift of the Holy Spirit, but had no idea what that would entail. Jesus had told them the world would hate them. He warned them that the world would persecute them. But He had also promised to send the Holy Spirit to comfort, guide, assist and empower them.

13 “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” – John 16:13-14 ESV

As I think about the disciples sitting in that upper room waiting and praying, I can’t help but recall that night in the garden when Jesus had asked the disciples to watch and pray as He went alone to talk with the Father.

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” – Matthew 26:36-38 NLT

But when Jesus returned, he found them Peter, James and John all asleep, and He said to them, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:40-41 NLT). Two additional times, Jesus returned to find the three disciples sound asleep. The final time, He said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand” (Matthew 26:45-46 NLT).

But as the disciples sat in the upper room, they were wide awake and alert. They had learned to expect the unexpected. They had discovered the secret that following Christ was never quite what you thought it would be. They had no idea what was coming, but they were far from sleepy. Their minds were on high alert, eagerly anticipating the next phase of this incredible journey of faith as followers of Jesus. And isn’t that exactly how it should be? Outside the doors of that upper room there was a world who hated them. There were Jewish religious leaders who had it out for them. Death was a distinct possibility for them. But Jesus had told the, “take heart; I have overcome the world.”

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Different Kind of Kingdom.

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:6-11 ESV

Jesus has been resurrected from the dead and has appeared to the disciples on a variety of occasions over a 40-day period of time. Their sorrow at His death has been turned to joy and their attention has been turned from thoughts of defeat to victory. Which is what led them to ask Jesus, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” (Acts 1:6 NLT). Their question revealed where their minds were. With their friend and Messiah alive and well, they must have assumed that this was start of something big. He was back, and He was going to do what they had hoped He had come to do all along: Set up His Kingdom of earth. They were still thinking of an earthly Kingdom, with Jesus ruling and reigning in Jerusalem just as King David had. It was their desire for this Kingdom that had led James and John to make a bold request of Jesus:

“When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” – Mark 10:37 NLT

They had been looking for places of power and prominence in Jesus’ royal administration. But Jesus had responded to their request with a question:

“You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?” – Mark 10:38 NLT

And when they assured Jesus they were willing and able, He told them:

“You will indeed drink from my bitter cup and be baptized with my baptism of suffering. – Mark 10:39 NLT

With Jesus risen from the dead, they thought all their troubles were over. But they were about to begin. Jesus had warned the disciples that the world would hate them, just as they had hated Him. He also told them that they would be persecuted by the world, just as He had been persecuted (see John 15). And later on in the book of Acts, we will read that James was put to death by Herod.

1 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. – Acts 12:1-3 NLT

John wrote of his Rome-enforced exile to the island of Patmos in the opening lines of his Book of the Revelation.

I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. – Revelation 1:9 NLT

So, these two brothers, who had hoped to sit on either side of Jesus in His earthly Kingdom, were to suffer for the kingdom instead, just as Jesus had predicted they would.

But in those halcyon days just after Jesus’ miraculous resurrection from the dead, the disciples were all thinking about an earthly kingdom, with them serving in positions of power and prominence. But when they had asked Jesus if the time had come for Him to set up His Kingdom, He responded, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know” (Acts 1:7 NLT). In other words, Jesus told them not to worry about it. That was not to be their focus. Instead, He tells them about something else of greater importance that was going to take place.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 NLT

They were going to receive power, but of a different kind than they had imagined. This would not be the kind of power that comes with a position of authority. It would be the power made available to them through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was talking supernatural power from within, not some form of assigned or appointed power that came with a position or title. And this power came with a very specific purpose. They were to be witnesses. But Jesus uses a very interesting Greek word to describe their Spirit-empowered role. It is the word, martys, which is most often used in the New Testament to refer to someone who has been a first-hand observer of an event. But it can also mean “martyr” – those who after Christ’s example have proved the strength and genuineness of their faith in Him by undergoing a violent death (Outline of Biblical Usage). It is interesting to note that the disciples would indeed become witnesses in the more traditional sense of the word, but virtually all of them would end up dying martyr’s deaths as a result of their efforts. Like the prophets of the Old Testament, these men were receiving a God-ordained responsibility to speak of all that they had seen and heard about Jesus. And they would be empowered by God for their task, because they were going to need it. Their message would not be well-received. Telling people about Jesus, while often referred to as the “good news”, would be a costly proposition for the disciples. As we will see, Peter and the others were repeatedly jailed for his efforts. They found themselves the subjects of arrest and severe beatings. Stephen was actually stoned to death immediately after preaching a message to a gathering of Jews.

And what the disciples were going to learn through all this was that the Kingdom had come, but not as they had expected. Jesus’ reign was a spiritual one, and it manifested itself in the lives of men and women. His power and authority was made visible through the transformed lives of those who placed their faith in Him as their Savior. And as we will see, His Kingdom would begin to grow in leaps and bounds, as His followers increased in number with each passing day.

There is an interesting encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees, recorded by Luke in his gospel. They come to Him and ask Him a question.

One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” – Luke 17:1 NLT

This is almost the same question that the disciples asked. They had wanted to know when Jesus was going to restore kingdom status to Israel. The Pharisees had a different motive. They were wanting Jesus to talk about His Kingdom so that they could accuse before the Roman authorities as an insurrectionist. They didn’t believe He was the King of the Jews or the Messiah. They saw Him as a fraud and wanted to expose Him as nothing more than a political troublemaker. But Jesus responded to their question anyway.

“The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you. – Luke 17:20-21 NLT

Once again, Jesus had a different definition of the Kingdom of God. During one of His trials, Jesus had been asked by Pilate, the Roman governor, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (John 18:33 NLT). And Jesus answered quite plainly, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36 NLT). Notice that Jesus does not deny being a king, He simply says His Kingdom if not of this world. It is far more significant than any earthly kingdom. And when Pilate asked Him again, “So are you a king?”, Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true” (John 18:37 NLT). Citizenship in Jesus’ Kingdom was not based on birth, but new birth. It was not based on ethnicity or lineage, but on faith. Members of the Kingdom of God are those who have placed their faith in His Son, believing the truth about who He was and what He came to do. Jesus came to restore sinful men and women, separated by their sin from God, to a right relationship with the Father. The apostle Peter describes us as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9 ESV).

But that day, standing in the presence of Jesus, their risen Lord and Savior, the disciples were forced to watch as He disappeared from their sight. Once again, they found themselves losing the One in whom they had placed all their hopes.

10 As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” – Acts 1:10-11 NLT

He was leaving, but He would be far from gone. He was sending His Spirit to indwell and empower them. Matthew records these final words from Jesus, spoken to His disciples.

18 “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20 NLT

Jesus would be with them, in the form of the Holy Spirit. His power would flow through them. His ministry would continue because of them. And, the angels assure them, one day Jesus will return. And John, in his Book of the Revelation, records what that day will be like.

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. – Revelation 1:7 ESV

He is gone, but still here. He has returned to His rightful place at His Father’s side, but He is coming back. He is King of a spiritual Kingdom, but one day, He will establish His Kingdom on earth. So, when the disciples asked, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”, the answer was, “Not yet.” But that day is coming. Because Jesus is King.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Promise.

1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.Acts 1:1-5 ESV

It is widely accepted that this book was written by the same individual who wrote the gospel of Luke. It is believed that Luke was a Gentile, possibly a Greek, who had come to know and become the friend, traveling companion and personal physician of the apostle Paul. We know Luke was a physician from Paul’s brief description of him from his letter to the Colossians. “ Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas” (Colossians 4:14 ESV). Luke is also the author of the longest of the four gospels, the one that bears his name. In his prologue to that gospel, Luke opens up with an explanation as to why he had chosen to write it.

1 Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught. – Luke 1:1-4 NLT

Luke was well-acquainted with the ministry of Jesus and must have been an early follower of this rabbi from Nazareth. While his name in only mentioned three times in the New Testament, Luke would play a significant, Spirit-inspired role in the creation of the New Testament Scriptures by writing more than any other New Testament writer, including Paul. It seems from the two books he penned, that Luke was not only a physician, but an amateur historian. As we can see in his prologue to the gospel of Luke, he “carefully investigated” and then chose “to write an accurate account”. With his penchant for detail, he was used by the Holy Spirit to chronicle the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, but then follow that up with the birth and spread of the church. The two books he wrote, Luke and Acts, are considered companion books and provide us with an ongoing narrative that includes Jesus’ departure, the Holy Spirit’s arrival, and the gospel’s meteoric spread throughout the known world of that day. Traditionally called “The Acts of the Apostles”, it is better seen as the continuation of the acts of Jesus, carried on by His followers in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had told His disciples, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father” (John 14:12 NLT), and we see that promise being fulfilled throughout the pages of the book of Acts.

Luke even opens this book with the words: “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up” (Acts 1:1-12 NLT). Clearly referencing his gospel, Luke says that he wrote it in order to provide an accurate history of all that Jesus began to do and teach. In other words, in Luke’s mind, Jesus had not stopped His ministry just because He had ascended back up into heaven. He was still actively at work in the world, but He was ministering through those He had left behind and to whom He had given His Spirit. Luke mentions that Jesus “had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen” (Acts 1:2 ESV). The last thing Jesus had told His disciples before He ascended into heaven was “now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven” (Luke 24:49 NLT). Luke is unapologetic in his belief that Jesus rose from the dead and repeatedly appeared to His followers over the span of 40 days.

He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. – Acts 1:3 ESV

And Luke reiterated what he had recorded in his gospel, that Jesus had commanded His disciples to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came.

4 …he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” – Acts 1:4-5 ESV

In the following verses, which we will look at in detail tomorrow, Luke will provide additional insight into that final conversation Jesus had with His disciples before His return to His Father’s side. Luke references the words of John the Baptist, who had been the herald of Jesus’ coming. It was he who had said: “I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11 NLT). And Luke is preparing to tell his friend, Theolphilus, and us, just what John was talking about. This obscure reference by John to the baptism of the Holy Spirit would have meant little or nothing to the disciples. And even though Jesus had told them that the Holy Spirit was coming, they had no way of knowing the significance of that promise. They had no real experience with or understanding of the Holy Spirit’s role. But they were about to find out, in a big way. Jesus had promised to send them the Holy Spirit, and He had made it clear that the Holy Spirit’s arrival would be critical to the success of their future mission.

26 “But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me. 27 And you must also testify about me because you have been with me from the beginning of my ministry.” – John 15;26-27 NLT

It is important to keep in mind that the disciples had all been witness to Jesus’ gruesome death on the cross. They had seen Him die and then buried in a tomb. There had been a finality to His last days on earth. His mission had ended in defeat. He was dead and they were at a loss as to what was going to happen next. Then He had suddenly reappeared to them. He talked with them and ate with them. And in that 40-day period He had reiterated His promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Then, when He had left them for the last time, He had given them instructions to return to Jerusalem and wait. And Luke records the dramatic change that had come over them as a result of having seen Jesus alive.

52 So they worshiped him and then returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy. 53 And they spent all of their time in the Temple, praising God. – Luke 24:52;53 NLT

What happens next would change these people forever. They would never be the same and neither would the world be. What Luke is about to describe is the single-most important event to happen in the history of mankind, short of the coming of Jesus as recorded in his gospel. And Luke wants us to know that this is not fantasy or the byproduct of man’s vivid imagination. What we will be reading on the pages of Luke’s account are actual events, an historical record of what really happened. And the world is a radically different place because of these events. What Jesus had promised would happen, did happen. The Holy Spirit came. The promise was fulfilled. And the gospel has spread throughout the world, changing lives with the hope of salvation through Jesus Christ.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

How Will He Find You?

14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 2 Peter 3:14-18 ESV

Peter has just stated that time is not an issue for God: “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8 ESV). So, if there appears to be a delay in the fulfillment of His promises, we have no reason to worry or doubt. God isn’t bound by time. Which means, we are to continue to wait, eagerly and expectantly, knowing that neither the circumstances around us or what appears to be a lack of activity on God’s part, are cause for concern. In fact, Peter reminds them, “the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment” (2 Peter 3:10 NLT). With that in mind, he says, “while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight” (2 Peter 3:14 NLT). In other words, leave the timing of “these things” up to God and spend more time concerned with how you live your lives. Let God do His job and do what He has commanded you to do. And what does God expect of us? Remember what Peter said:

6 …make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. – 2 Peter 1:5-7 NLT

Faith involves trusting God for what He has promised to do. He has promised to send His Son again, and we must rest in that promise, not allowing anyone to distract us from our reliance upon God’s Word. But as we wait, we are to be busy growing in our understanding of God and in likeness to His Son. “The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8 NLT). This seeming delay on God’s part has a purpose. For one thing, we are to take advantage of the time in order to grow spiritually. We are to use the time wisely, supplementing our faith with the character qualities of Christ Himself.

In chapter 24 of the gospel of Matthew, we have recorded Jesus’ words concerning the end times. He provides the disciples with a glimpse into future things, but then tells them, “no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows” (Matthew 24:36 NLT). Then, Jesus gave the disciples a series of parables concerning these end time events and their relationship to them. He wanted them to know how they were to live while they waited for these future events to take place. In the first parable, found in chapter five, he tells of 10 bridesmaids, who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. But the bridegroom was late. “When the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep” (Matthew 25:5 NLT). Now, the problem was that five of the bridesmaids had not brought extra oil for their lamps. So, at midnight, they were all awakened by the news that the bridegroom had arrived. When they went to prepare their lamps to meet him, five found that their lamps had run out of oil. They begged the other five to lend them oil so they too could greet the bridegroom, but they were refused and told to go to the store and buy more. While they were gone, the bridegroom came and they missed him. Not only that, when they arrived at the wedding feast, the doors were locked, with them on the outside. Jesus describes the scene:

11 Later, when the other five bridesmaids returned, they stood outside, calling, ‘Lord! Lord! Open the door for us!’

12 “But he called back, ‘Believe me, I don’t know you!’” – Matthew 25:11-12 NLT

Then Jesus ends this parable with the words: “So you, too, must keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of my return” (Matthew 25:13 NLT).

Then, Jesus tells the parable of a man with three servants.

14 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. 15 He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.” – Matthew 25:14-15 NLT

The first servant invested his silver and turned it into a healthy profit. The second servant did the same. But the third servant buried his silver in the ground and did nothing with it. He failed to invest it at all. And Jesus states, “After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money” (Matthew 25:19 NLT). Notice His words: “After a long time.” There was a lengthy delay. The first two servants used that delay to invest what they had been given and turn it into something even greater. The third servant squandered the opportunity by doing nothing. To the first two servants, the master gave the same response: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’” (Matthew 25:23 NLT). But the third servant, rather than give the master a return for his money, gave him excuses. “I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back” (Matthew 25:25 NLT). And the master, more than a little put out by this man’s actions and attitudes, said: “You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it” (Matthew 25:26-27 NLT). What happens next is both disturbing and enlightening.

28 “Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. 29 To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. 30 Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ – Matthew 25:28-30 NLT

This man loses everything. And the inference seems to be that this servant had never really been a faithful servant at all. The absence of his master had only revealed his true heart. The delay of his master’s return exposed unreliable, unregenerate character. And he suffered as a result.

What these two parables reveal are the character qualities of those who claim to be children of God and members of the Kingdom of God. But notice that the delay involved in both stories, either reveals the faithfulness of some or the wickedness of the others. There are those who are prepared, ready and waiting for the return of the one to come, and there are those who are lazy and lacks in their preparation, acting as if the bridegroom and the master will never show up.

Peter emphasizes that the delay of Christ’s return not only gives His people time to prepare, but it creates an opportunity for others to come to faith. The longer Jesus delays His return, the more time we have to share the gospel with others. We get extra time to grow up in our salvation, while others get the opportunity to come to salvation.

And Peter reminds his audience that they had heard these very same words from the apostle Paul in a letter he had written them. Peter admits that some of what Paul wrote was difficult to understand and that some people had tried to twist the meaning of his words, but the bottom line was that Peter viewed the writings of Paul as equal in weight and authority as the Old Testament Scriptures. So, in essence, he was telling his readers that if they didn’t want to take his word on the matter, they should at least listen to Paul.

The bottom line for Peter was spiritual growth. He wanted those to whom he was writing to be ready for the coming of the Lord. He wanted them to live as if Jesus could come back any day, and he wanted them to be ready, having made the most of the time given to them by God. So, he ends his letter with these words:

“…be on guard; then you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. – 2 Peter 3:17-18 NLT

 

He didn’t want them to get lulled into a false sense of complacency, as if Jesus was never going to come back. He wanted them to be alert to those false messages that might distract them from their true calling and become more concerned with this life than the once to come. Peter wanted them to grow. He wanted them to understand the any delay in the Lord’s return was really the grace of God, allowing them more time to grow in their knowledge of Christ and their likeness to Him. The question wasn’t whether Jesus was coming back. It was whether or not He would find His people ready when He did. How will He find you?

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

What Sort of People Ought You To Be?

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 2 Peter 3:8-13 ESV

The false teachers Peter has been exposing were guilty of denying the promise of Jesus’ second coming. Because it hadn’t happened yet, they assumed it wasn’t going to happen at all. And they had been purposefully contradicting the teaching of Peter and the other apostles, trying to persuade the believers to whom Peter was writing that waiting for Christ to return was pointless. He wasn’t coming back. Which is what led Peter to point out that God’s seeming delays are not to be interpreted as proof that His lack of involvement in the lives of men. Just because God had allowed sin to run rampant on the earth during the days of Noah, didn’t mean He was approving of it or indifferent to it. Because He eventually brought judgment in the form of a devastating, world-wide flood. To deny that “the day of the Lord”, as Peter refers to it, even exists, is a risky proposition. Jesus return is going to be associated with judgment. The apostle John, in his Book of the Revelation, gives a powerful description of Jesus as He appears at His second coming.

11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

He is coming again. And this time, He won’t be coming in the form of a helpless baby, born in obscurity in some backwater village in the land of Israel. No, He will be coming in might and power, and as a powerful, conquering King. He will come as the Judge of the world. And just because it hasn’t happened yet does not mean it is never going to happen. God has His timing and He has not divulged it to anyone, including His own Son. Jesus made this point clear when speaking to the disciples regarding His return for the church.

“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. – Matthew 24:36 NLT

Even after His resurrection, on one of the numerous occasions when He had appeared to His disciples, they asked Him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” (Acts 1:6 NLT). They were thinking that this must be the day. He had been murdered, but had come back to life. Surely, this was a significant sign that He was truly the Messiah and was going to set up His Kingdom on earth. But Jesus simply replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know” (Acts 1:7 NLT). They were worrying about things that were above their pay grade. So, Jesus told them to set their minds on what was going to happen next. He wanted them to know that they had work to do. Rather than worry about when He was coming back, they needed to prepare themselves for what was about to take place. So He told them, But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NLT).

God has a plan and He is working that plan to perfection. There are things that must happen and they must take place in the order God has established for them. Jesus was soon to leave and the Holy Spirit was to come in His place. And it was the coming of the Spirit that empowered the apostles to become the men who radically changed the world through their spreading of the gospel “to the ends of the earth”.

The coming of the Holy Spirit inaugurated the beginning of the church age. We are living in the last days, as Peter and the apostles referred to them. How long will they last? We have no idea. Peter and his compatriots lived as though Christ could return at any moment. So should we. But the longer time goes on and we don’t see Him coming back, it becomes easy to doubt whether He is ever going to do so. And there will always be those who will try to convince us that His return is neither eminent or relevant. They will present this life as the only life. They will try to sell ideas like “Your Best Life Now” when Jesus talked about the abundant life to come, life everlasting.

Peter pointed out an aspect concerning God that we must never fail to remember. God is not bound by space and time. He is eternal. So, time as we know it, means nothing to Him. Which is why Peter states: “A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day” (2 Peter 3:8 NLT). What appears to us as a lengthy delay, is nothing more than the blink of an eye to God. This lengthy timeline on which we track the decades and centuries of mankind’s existence and see no sign of His Son’s return, is meaningless to God. He sees tomorrow just as we see today. Past, present and future are all one and the same to Him. In Psalm 90:4, Moses penned a prayer to God in which he too acknowledged God’s timelessness.

For you, a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours.

And Moses goes on in that same Psalm and expresses His desire that God would end what appears to be His delay.

13 O Lord, come back to us!
    How long will you delay?
    Take pity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love,
    so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives.
15 Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery!
    Replace the evil years with good.
16 Let us, your servants, see you work again;
    let our children see your glory.
17 And may the Lord our God show us his approval
    and make our efforts successful.
    Yes, make our efforts successful! – Psalm 90:13-17 NLT

But Peter would tell Moses to stop worrying about when God is going to come back and start concentrating on how God would have him live in the meantime. God has left His people here for a reason. He has a divine purpose behind the seeming delay of His Son’s the return. And here it is.

The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. – 2 Peter 3:9 NLT

What appears to us as a delay is really a sign of God’s mercy. He is providing time for all those who are going to come to faith to do so. He is not going to send His Son back until all those who have been chosen by Him for salvation are gathered in. There seems to be two returns of the Lord mentioned in these verses. The first concerns Jesus’ return for the church, which is referred to as the Rapture. This event will bring an end to the church age and usher in the period of the Tribulation. In his letter to the Romans, Paul states, “Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ” (Romans 11:25 NLT). Notice that it says, “the full number”. There is evidently a quota or number of those who are going to come to faith and only God knows what that number is. In other words, there is a fixed number of individuals who will come to faith in Christ. And when that number is reached, Jesus will return for His bride, the church. Paul describes this day in his first letter to the Thessalonians.

16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 NLT

But there is a second coming of Christ. Peter refers to it in verse 10.

But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.

This coming will take place at the end of the seven-year long period of the Tribulation. This return will be associated with judgment. But it will also involve Jesus gathering His chosen ones, the people of Israel, who have come to faith in Him during the days of the tribulation. He spoke of this day to His disciples.

30 And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven. – Matthew 24:30-31 NLT

Then will come to final judgment of the world. “On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames” (2 Peter 3:12 NLT). But Peter tells his readers to not worry about all that. Instead, he encourages them, “But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13 NLT). We don’t know when Jesus is coming back. We have no idea when the Rapture will be. We have no clue when His second coming will take place. And we don’t need to worry about either. We just need to trust God and rest in His promises. And in the meantime, keep our minds focused on what sort of people we ought to be.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

No Doubt About It.

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 2 Peter 3:1-7 ESV

In these verses, Peter is going to deal with some specifics regarding the dangerous content of the message of the false teachers. First of all, they were disparaging the whole idea of Christ’s eventual return. In their estimation, the second coming of Christ was not going to take place. As far as they could tell, if it was going to happen, it already would have by this point. They took a look around and concluded, “From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created” (2 Peter 3:4 NLT). In other words, nothing had changed. This was a case of overstatement, but as far as they could tell, the world just kept rolling along just like usual, with no indication that Christ’s return was eminent or even necessary. Their assessment led them to deny that Jesus was ever going to come back to earth. It was nothing more than wishful thinking propagated by the apostles. But Peter flatly denied this assertion and labeled these false teachers as scoffers or mockers. They were guilty of making fun of the whole concept of the second coming.

But Peter wants his readers to know that these false teachers were contradicting the very words of the prophets of God. These men had predicted the incarnation of Jesus, but also His return.

13 As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed. – Daniel 7:13-14 NLT

44 “During the reigns of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed or conquered. It will crush all these kingdoms into nothingness, and it will stand forever. 45 That is the meaning of the rock cut from the mountain, though not by human hands, that crushed to pieces the statue of iron, bronze, clay, silver, and gold. The great God was showing the king what will happen in the future. – Daniel 2:44-45 NLT

3 Look! The Lord is coming!
    He leaves his throne in heaven
    and tramples the heights of the earth.
The mountains melt beneath his feet
    and flow into the valleys
like wax in a fire,
    like water pouring down a hill. –
Micah 1:3-4 NLT

On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. And the Mount of Olives will split apart, making a wide valley running from east to west. Half the mountain will move toward the north and half toward the south. You will flee through this valley, for it will reach across to Azal. Yes, you will flee as you did from the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all his holy ones with him. – Isaiah 14:4-5 NLT

Not only does the Old Testament repeatedly speak of the return of Christ, so did the apostles.

12 And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. 13 May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. Amen. – 1 Thessalonians3:12-13 NLT

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. – Revelation 1: 7 ESV

Jesus Himself predicted His own return and promised the disciples that it was going to happen.

2 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. – John 14:2-3 NLT

29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. – Matthew 24:29-31 ESV

In spite of all of this, these “scoffers” sarcastically ask, “Where is the promise of his coming?” “If He’s going to return, where is He?”, they mockingly ask. But Peter warns them that just because they don’t see any sign of His return, doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen. They can mock and scoff, but that doesn’t eliminate the reality of Christ’s second coming. They can doubt it’s validity, but it won’t do anything to lessen its inevitability. And Peter gives them a convincing illustration. In terms of the creation of the world, God used two essential things: His word and water. Genesis 1:2 tells us, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” Genesis goes on to tell us that God separated the waters in order to create the sky.

Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” And that is what happened. God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens. God called the space “sky.” – Genesis 1:6-8 NLT

Then He formed dry land out of the waters.

Then God said, “Let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place, so dry ground may appear.” And that is what happened. 10 God called the dry ground “land” and the waters “seas.” And God saw that it was good. – Genesis 1:9-10 NLT

Then Peter fast-forwards to the flood. Once again, God used to means to accomplish His will. He used His word and water. But this time, rather than using these two things to create, He used them to destroy. God reversed what He had done at creation, and covered the dry land with water. He spoke, and it happened. And Peter warns that, one day, God is going to speak again. He will utter the word and the world, as we know it, will come to an end.

And by the same word, the present heavens and earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed. – 2 Peter 3:7 NLT

This time, His word will be accompanied by fire, not water. This future judgment will take place after the second coming of Christ. The old earth will be replaced with a new and improved earth. God will make all things new. The creation, which is now groaning because of the curse of sin, will be made new.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. – Revelation 21:1 NLT

20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. – Romans 8:20-21 NLT

These false teachers could mock the return of Christ, but it wasn’t going to keep it from happening. And Peter wants his readers to rest in the reality that Jesus was going to come back and that the redemption of mankind and creation would be finally completed. They could doubt it and even deny it, but they could do nothing to prevent it. And for us as believers, we hope in the return of Christ. And the apostle Paul tells us why we should.

23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. 24 We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. 25 But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.) – Romans 8:23-25 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Avoid At All Costs.

17 These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. 18 For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. 20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” 2 Peter 2:17-22 ESV

In describing the false teachers who were negaively impacting the believers to whom he is writing, Peter uses some comparisons that are reminiscent of Jude.

…they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you. They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness. – Jude 1:12-13 NLT

They are not what they appear to be, and they don’t deliver on what they promise. Like a waterless spring, they can only offer the hope of refreshment, but they lack the means to make it happen. Like a reef lying just below the surface of the water, they are a hidden danger, waiting to reek havoc on and all who come into contact with them. They are cloudless rains, suggesting the hope of much-needed rain, but failing to deliver. They are as unreliable as a wandering star. In a day when people used the stars to direct their paths by focusing on their location in the night sky, a wandering star would be a pathetically poor marker on which to base one’s journey. You would only end up lost and nowhere near your intended destination. And that is exactly what Peter is trying to say about these false teachers.

They were proud and arrogant, filled with boastful words that were little more than proof of their own foolishness. These men were ignorant, not knowing what they were talking about, but putting up a good front. They were persuasive and able to convince others that what they were saying was true. But Peter exposes them for what they really were: Liars and deceivers. “They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves of sin and corruption. For you are a slave to whatever controls you” (2 Peter 2:19 NLT). Like a blind person describing the beauty of a sunset he has never seen, these men were speaking about things they were incapable of knowing. They could talk a good game, but it was meaningless, because they had no idea what they were talking about. These men were prisoners of their own lustful desires,

One of the things that makes false teachers so dangerous is their appeal. They have this innate ability to entice others into falling for their lies by appealing to their base desires. That’s why Peter says, “With an appeal to twisted sexual desires, they lure back into sin those who have barely escaped from a lifestyle of deception” (2 Peter 2:18 NLT). New and relatively immature Christians are susceptible to their rhetoric. Those who have just recently come to faith in Christ, having walked away from a lifestyle of sin and immorality are especially easy prey to the words of these deceivers. False teachers appeal to the senses, preying on feelings and emotions. They use man’s base passions like a bait to lure immature believers back into a lifestyle they had once left behind – all under the guise of spirituality. We can see it today in the messages of those who preach the prosperity gospel message. They appeal to men’s desire for material things, promising that God wants to make them healthy, wealthy and wise. They promise your best life now, complete with all the trappings of material success and financial reward. And people are drawn to these messages like a fish to a lure, not knowing that death, not life, awaits them.

Verses 20-21 have caused many to assume that Peter is teaching that those who place their faith in Christ can fall away from that faith. In other words, they can lose their salvation, “the last state has become worse for them than the first” (2 Peter 2:20 ESV).  But if Peter has been pointing out the falsehood of these teachers, it would seem that he is once again addressing them. He describes them as those who have been exposed to “the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”, and appear to “have escaped the defilements of the world” (2 Peter 2:20 ESV). In other words, they look like Christians. They talk as if they have become followers of Christ, but “they are again entangled in them and overcome” (2 Peter 2:20 ESV). And, as a result, they are in a worse state than before. Why? Because they have been exposed to the truth of the gospel, but have rejected it. They never became true Christ-followers. In fact, they ended up preaching a different gospel. Paul spoke of these kinds of people in not-so-flattering terms.

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. – Galatians 1:8 NLT

 

And he accused the believers in Corinth of willingly putting up with and buying into the message of these people.

You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed. – 2 Corinthians 11:4 NLT

The people Peter refers to as false teachers were not true believers. They were wolves in sheep’s clothing. Jesus warned about these kinds of people. “”Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves” (Matthew 7:15 NLT). He went on to say that you have to judge these people by their fruit, not their fur. They may look the part, they may say all the right things, and they may fool you into thinking they belong to the body of Christ, but “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act” (Matthew 7:16 NLT).

Peter makes a sobering assessment of the state of these false teachers, saying, “ It would be better if they had never known the way to righteousness than to know it and then reject the command they were given to live a holy life” (2 Peter 2:21 NLT). In other words, they would have been better off if they had never heard the truth of the gospel and the salvation from sin made possible by Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. But to have heard it and then, ultimately to have rejected it, only makes their immoral lifestyle that much worse. Peter makes an interesting, yet often overlooked observation in this verse. To know the way to righteousness is a reference to understanding justification or a right relationship with God is only possible through faith alone in Christ alone. In other words, we don’t earn salvation by our good works. But Peter points out that our faith is to be followed by an obedience to the command of God that we live a holy life. That is the predominant message of Peter’s first letter.

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV

Had these false teachers been truly saved, their faith in Christ would have been followed by a change in behavior. But their actions had not changed because they had never accepted Christ as their Savior. As a result, they were conformed to the passions of their former ignorance. They had heard the message of justification, but had not accepted the free gift of salvation made possible through Jesus. And having heard, but rejected the offer, they stood doubly condemned. And Peter describes their state in fairly graphic and memorable terms: “They prove the truth of this proverb: ‘A dog returns to its vomit.’ And another says, ‘A washed pig returns to the mud’” (2 Peter 2:22 NLT). Notice that he refers to them as dogs and pigs. These are not terms Peter would have used of fellow believers. He sees them as what they are: Unsaved, unregenerate individuals who have turned up their noses at the true gospel and created their own version, which they use to justify their sinful passions and to lure others into their same false sense of security.

So, what is Peter’s point? Avoid these people at all costs. Stay away from them. Learn to spot them and then keep your distance from them. Be aware that they are an ever-present danger in the church. They will always show up in a local fellowship, like wolves in sheep’s clothing, infiltrating the flock and attempting to lead the weak and immature astray. The words of Paul to the elders at Ephesus would be wise for us to hear and heed.

28 “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders. 29 I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. 30 Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. 31 Watch out! – Acts 20:28-30 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

2 Peter 1:16-21 ESV