Some… will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God

Luke 9: 27

‘ I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God (coming in power).’

 This verse is much debated. Some think that ‘the kingdom of God’ is a reference to the transfiguration of Jesus, which Peter James and John were to witness. Others understand it as foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Again, some say it refers to the second coming of Christ. But, along with some other commentators, I believe Jesus is referring here to regeneration.  In other words, he is saying that some of the people there would become Christians.

 I think this is the best explanation because of what came before this statement.

 Jesus had asked his disciples who they thought he was. Peter’s answer, ‘The Christ of God’, was the trigger for Jesus explaining what his mission was – that the ‘Christ must suffer many things, be rejected by the elders and high priests and scribes, and be killed, then rise on the third day.’

 All this talk of Jesus dying was too much for Peter. He thought to snap Jesus out of this morbid state of mind by a few strong words. By this reaction, Peter showed that he was not yet thinking about his relationship with Jesus in the right way. Peter thought that he was fine as he was. There was no need for Jesus to die in Peter’s opinion. Besides, it seems that the disciples at that time were looking for some kind of nationalistic salvation, and thought that Jesus would be a king like David who would deal with the Roman oppressors. This thinking had to change.

 Our Lord Jesus knew far better than Peter what was needed for Peter, and any one else, to be reconciled to God. Sin had to be dealt with. Later, in a garden, Jesus prayed that a cup might pass from him. It was the cup of God’s anger and judgment against sin. But Jesus knew that he must take that  cup in the place of his sinful people, if they were ever to be saved from the condemnation due to their sin.

 Jesus knew that his death and resurrection were necessary so that the Holy Spirit could apply the benefits of His finished work to people like Peter. Peter needed to be born again, to use the language of John chapter 3 and I Peter chapter 1, or he would never understand or enter the kingdom of God. Our Lord implied as much in his address to the crowd (Luke 9: 23 – 26).

 Jesus started his talk with the word ‘if’.

 ‘If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.’

 He was talking to a mixed crowd of people, and his message is one of repentance. His words declare that their lives are wrong, and they need to admit it to themselves. This sort of confession, if it is to be real and permanent, has to be the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. It is a turning from death to life. If left to ourselves, we would continue to have an all-too-good opinion of ourselves. Such a change as Jesus describes is effected only by regeneration or the new birth.

 At the new birth, a person abandons their old Christ-less way of life. They then realise that, if they were to reject Christ, they would lose everything on the day of judgment and receive a well-deserved condemnation. They see that in losing their old way of life they gain instead eternal life in Jesus. Their former attitude to Jesus Christ  and his words is fundamentally changed. They begin to see him as the one who has the words of eternal life. They will follow him.

 Jesus implies that this change is for sinners; for people who in the past had been ashamed of Jesus’ words, as Peter had been. Jesus told the crowd that some of them would see the kingdom of God before they died. Some, like Peter, would be born again. They would take up the cross (the gospel) and follow Jesus.

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Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luke 13) — Part 1

If Christianity is a contest, we’ve lost already. A reading of Luke 13:1-5 suggests this.

Some who were present with him at that time told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate mixed with their sacrifices. In answer, Jesus said to them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans suffered such things because they were more sinful than all [other] Galileans? No, I tell you; rather, unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen [souls] who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them — were they greater debtors than all people who live in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; rather, unless you repent, you all will likewise perish.

I was once told that, ‘All you need to do to keep God happy is live by the 10 Commandments and Sermon on the mount.’

This is easier said than done. Jesus spent a great deal of time showing how far we are from doing ‘all we need to do’. People naturally think, if they think about these matters at all, that there is a hierarchy of goodness, and if you past 50% (or just do better than others) you’ll be ok. That’s where the Galileans come in.

Galileans, in the minds of your average resident of Judea, were either country hicks or revolutionaries. They were looked down upon by respectable Judeans. A fellow called Nathaniel initially questioned Jesus’ character on this basis: ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’

These particular Galileans were either in the temple making sin-offerings when Pilate took vengeance on them for some crime he thought they had done, OR they were terrorists caught in the act of killing Romans (or Roman sympathisers) and Pilate slaughtered them over the bodies of their own victims.

Were these Galileans worse than all Galileans because this sudden death came upon them? Did they receive a special judgment from God for their evil? Jesus said, ‘No’.

The Lord Jesus says we are all in the same boat as the Galatians; unless we repent, we will all perish.  He repeats this message with an example of his own — those who seem to have been taken in an accident – a tower in Jerusalem fell on them. Were they worse than others? No, they were just like us. Unless we repent, we all will likewise perish.

Jesus did not say this because he was somehow in a bad mood that day, and it was not said because Jesus had little concern for the people he was speaking to. His aim was to use some vivid and real examples to benefit people who were in great need but didn’t know it.

What is a Sinner?

Technically, sin is not doing what God requires of us, and it is also doing what God tells us not to do. The sober reading of the law of God shows us that we don’t do what God says and we do do what he forbids.

But in a more basic way, we are born covenant breakers. Our first parent Adam was made good and could do good, but decided not to.  By this disobedience, he sinned and brought death upon himself and all of us, his children.  David in Ps. 51 says “In sin my mother conceived me.”, meaning that from conception, David was a sinner, and so are all of us.

What is Repentance?:

  •  It is not ‘turning over a new leaf.’
  • Nor is it joining a support group (Alcoholics Anonymous, Weight Watchers, or the local church).
  • It is not acting according to ideas of positive thinking or some pop psychology.

 So what is repentance? It is a change of mind, not a change in behaviour (though true repentance results in changes of behaviour). In particular, is it a change in our opinion about our own basic ‘goodness’ and a change in our attitude toward the Lord Jesus Christ.

Continued in Part 2.

Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luke 13) — Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

We need to repent. That is, we need to change our thinking.

This means that we need to reconsider our own position, as Jesus had urged his hearers just before the talk about Galileans (Luke 12: 57-59).

Why is it that you do not judge yourselves rightly? As you go with your adversary to the magistrate, you should give every effort to be reconciled to him, least he drag you to the judge and the judge deliver you to the official and the official throws you into prison. I tell you that you will in no way go out from there until you have paid the last cent.

Jesus says that we don’t judge ourselves correctly. we think we can get away with our wrong doing somehow. The passage, however, implies we are in the wrong, and that our Adversary has us in his grip.

In this context, our adversary is not just a fellow we owe money. This is not just practical financial advice. In this story, our Adversary is God.  He is good and we are very wrong. We are on the way to judgment – to the Archon – the chief magistrate.  Jesus says, ‘Take pains to be reconciled,’ If we are not reconciled, we will pay last cent (1/4 of a farthing). The whole penalty will be exacted from us throughout eternity. This situation is not like modern, western courts. We need to see how bad our position really is without Christ. It is just like this: without our Judge as our Saviour, we are without hope in this life or the next.

Jesus tells that we need to see ourselves and our situation as it really is – this is part of what repentance is.

Repentance also means that we need to reconsider who Jesus is, what he has done, and what that means (Luke 12:54-56 – but see also Luke 19:42-44).

And he said to the crowds, ‘Whenever you see a cloud rising from the west, right away you say, ‘Rain is coming.’ And it does. And whenever a south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot.’ And it is. Hypocrites! You understand the face of the earth and sky, but why can’t you understand the times?

Jesus saw that his hearers were good at reading the obvious from the sky and earth.

  • clouds in the west mean rain is coming
  • wind from the south means hot weather is coming

But, those who heard Jesus could not see what was obvious about him. The Old Testament promised that God himself would come and save his people from their sin. Jesus, though obviously a real human being, was also obviously far more. He

  • healed with a word people who had incurable diseases,
  • feed huge crowds from a few scraps of food
  • commanded wind and wave and they obeyed him
  • spoke of himself as judge of the world
  • spoke of himself as the one who would die to save sinners who were otherwise un-saveable.

We too need to see the obvious, but we are reluctant to. From birth we are contrary to our Creator. We sinfully misjudge him. We make war in our minds against him. We need to repent.

Repentance is a gift of God, whereby, out of a sense and hatred of our sin, we turn from our in-born rebellion against God and see the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as our only hope.

We each have been given time to repent, but how much time? (Luke 13: 6-9)

Fig tree parable

The owner of a vineyard has a fig tree that produces no fruit after 3 years. This was the usual time for a fig trees to do so. The general wisdom was that fig trees that fail to fruit after 3 years are duds.

The owner decides to uproot the fig tree and throw it away. ‘Why should it deplete the ground of nutrients for no good reason?’

The gardener says, ‘Give me a year to fertilise it and improve its drainage. Let’s see what happens. If it produces no fruit at the end of the year, then we’ll take it out.’

We have time now to repent. Don’t waste the opportunity.

  •  We have already failed in Adam. We can’t fix the situation ourselves.
  • Repent while there is time. Christ has come, lived, died and risen again, to save sinners.
  • This message has come to us. While there is life there is hope.
  • Don’t assume that the opportunity to repent will be long-lasting.

Make every effort to be reconciled to your offended Creator. This means that we must

  • understand who Jesus Christ is, what he had done, and what that means, and then
  • trust ourselves to Jesus Christ.