Eternal Hope – Part 36

Eternal Hope – Part 36

November 2009

Dear Co-Laborer,

Eternal Hope
Part 36


When we arrive in the New Testament we discover a new atmosphere. The various fragments of eschatology found in earlier writings come together in a comprehensive, harmonious whole characterized by the following:

1 – Messiah does not fulfill expectations set forth in Old Testament prophecy. Instead of establishing an earthly kingdom, He becomes a sacrifice for sin.

2 – Membership in His kingdom requires individual commitment rather than corporate membership; being a citizen of Israel is no longer adequate. “For the Messiah now assumes a position undreamt of in the past, and membership of the kingdom is constituted, firstly and predominatingly, through personal relationship to its divine Head… in the teaching of Christ and of Christianity the synthesis of the eschatologies of the race and of the individual has at last been fully and finally achieved.”[1]

3 – In the writings of the prophets from the Babylonian captivity forward there begins a shift from emphasizing the nation to the importance of the individual. In the New Testament the break is complete; Jesus speaks pessimistically of the nation while giving hope to the individual.

4 – As the writers of the Old Testament begin emphasizing the importance of the individual, they teach that a person must be of pure character to find acceptance with God. This emphasis on a works-righteousness is carried forward through the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and into the Synoptic Gospels. Although you find traces of salvation by grace in John’s gospel, you don’t find it emphasized until the epistles, and then almost exclusively in Paul’s letters.

5 – With the emergence of salvation by grace, works became the basis for determining the quality of heaven’s rewards rather than the ground for being saved.

6 – With the individual receiving rewards in heaven based on his works, the blessing accrued from national membership ceased to play a role in his life. Paul, in Romans 11, argues for the continuity of God’s commitment to the nation, but for all practical purposes, it played no role in how the individual believer lived his life. To rectify what it perceived to be unhealthy individualism, the church argued that as an institution it became heir of God’s commitment to the nation of Israel. Salvation could no longer be considered an individual matter; there was no salvation outside the church.

7 – The New Testament sees the Messianic kingdom, promised by the Old Testament prophets, lasting only 1000 years and ending in failure.[2] No longer is a reconstituted earth adequate; hence, not a Messianic kingdom, but heaven itself, becomes the hope of the believer.

Reflections on the Gospel of Matthew

Jesus gives us our first clue that we will be dealing with individuals, not just the nation, with the words: “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.”[3] John the Baptist preaches, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”[4] Thus, when Jesus references the kingdom of heaven in His Sermon on the Mount, the audience would naturally think of a physical kingdom Messiah came to establish – fulfilling Old Testament promises. It would not be eschatological in the minds of the listeners, as it is in our thinking today – for them it was a present reality rather than a future hope. Furthermore, it probably emphasized God’s commitment to the nation vis-à-vis the individual. Thus, throughout the gospels, and especially the synoptics, you find running concurrently both an emphasis on the nation and the individual. Not until Jesus sensed the nation rejecting Him[5] did He begin to emphasize the individual at the expense of the nation.

Note what we glean from the “Sermon on the Mount.” In Matthew 5:8 people will see God; verse 12 people will go to heaven. As far as I can tell, this is the first reference in Scripture to people going to heaven. The way Jesus makes the comment leads me to think that this was common knowledge among the Jews. From where did the idea come, if not from the Pseudepigrapha? The Baptist talks about God burning the chaff “with unquenchable fire.” [6] In Matthew 5:22, 29 Jesus talks about “Gehenna fire.” In 1Samuel 28 Saul goes to the Witch of Endor and she calls Samuel back from the dead. Samuel rebuked Saul for disturbing him (v. 15), and tells Saul that on the morrow he and his sons will visit him (v. 19). Samuel has the appearance of an old man (v. 14), and there is no indication that the abode of Samuel was either bad or particularly good. Evidently, it was Sheol, although the text does use that word. Not until you get to the Intertestamentary times do you find Sheol as hell. As far as I can tell, Matthew 6:19-20 is the first instance in Scripture where the follower of God is told to invest in the eternal rather than the temporal. Matthew 7:13-14 deals with following the path to life vis-à-vis destruction; the eternal may be assumed, but it is not mentioned. At this point we still don’t know if the kingdom of heaven pertains to heaven or the Messianic kingdom on earth.

Jesus, commenting on the faith of the centurion, said that Gentiles would “sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” [7] Evidently, when Jesus preached the coming of the kingdom, He did introduce an eschatological dimension to it. Interesting, we don’t have a record of the content of that message.

Jesus says, “Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Day of Judgment, than for that city.”[8] This is the first instance, of which I am aware in Scripture, where God says that He will, in the future, judge a city that no longer exists. In Matthew 12:41-42 we find the eternal in Jesus preaching judgment. Thus far the eternal is more to be feared than anticipated. Judgment occupies most of what Jesus says on the subject. He also says, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell… Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.”[9] Jesus includes this in His instructions to the twelve as He sends them out to minister. We “fear” in the direction of our hope. Jesus tells us to fear God, and to the degree we obey Him, we lose our fear of the world. If, in our fear of the world, we deny Christ, He will deny knowing us at the Day of Judgment.

Beginning in Matthew 13 Jesus teaches in parables for the first time. When asked why, He says He does not want the people to know “the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.”[10] Evidently, in preaching the kingdom of heaven, Jesus did not tell them all there was to know. As He gives other parables, we learn that a person enters because he is righteous, and the unrighteous are “thrown into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.”[11]

After revealing to the disciples that He is Christ, Matthew says, “From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.”[12] From the response of the disciples in John 13-16, they did not allow His words to have their way.

Our Lord asks, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Jesus says that because we are eternal, our souls are of greater value than the sum of the world’s wealth. He then warns, “For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.”[13] The Law of the Harvest: what a man sows in this life, he reaps in the life to come; the judgment of God is a judgment of man’s deeds. In Matthew 16:24-28 Jesus talks about how this life influences eternity. The Savior warns, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”[14] Jesus makes this reference to their need to “turn, change.” In Matthew 18:7-9 Jesus talks about it being better to enter life maimed than be thrown into eternal fire. In Matthew 19:16 a man comes to Jesus asking how he can obtain eternal life. Throughout these passages people talk about life after death as though there is a general understanding of what it entails.

In His parables, Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” But He never tells us what the kingdom of heaven is. In Matthew 20:18 Jesus again tells them that He will go to Jerusalem to die at the hands of the chief priests and scribes.

“Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.”[15] In this, the conclusion of Jesus’ parable of two sons, He teaches that sinners enter His kingdom before the religious leaders, because the sinners repent and believe. “Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.”[16] In this parable of the wedding feast (found only in Matthew), Jesus teaches that unless certain requirements are met, people will be expelled from His feast. The “outcast” was called, but God refused to choose him due to his inadequate preparation.

Jesus says, “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in… Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?”[17] In this pronouncing of judgment upon the religious leaders, Jesus tells us that they not only go to hell, but they keep people from going to heaven.[18]


Again, we will break before finishing Matthew, picking up the remaining material in the next issue.

In fear of His judgment,


[1] Op cit, Charles, Eschatology, page 307
[2] Cf. Revelation 20:1-10
[3] Matthew 4:19, KJV
[4] Matthew 3:2, KJV. Jesus preaches the same thing in 4:17.
[5] It seems to me that this can be first seen in the closing verses of Matthew 12. Beginning with Matthew 13 Jesus uses parables for the purpose of obfuscating (cf. Matthew 13:10-17).
[6] Matthew 3:12, KJV
[7] Matthew 8:11-12, KJV
[8] Matthew 10:15, KJV. Cf. also Matthew 11:24
[9] Matthew 10:28, 32-33, KJV. Cf. also Mark 8:38 and Luke 9:26
[10] Matthew 13:11, KJV
[11] Matthew 13:50, KJV
[12] Matthew 16:21, KJV
[13] Matthew 16:26-27, RSV
[14] Matthew 18:3, KJV
[15] Matthew 21:31, KJV
[16] Matthew 22:13-14, KJV
[17] Matthew 23:13, 33, KJV
[18] Matthew 23:8-39 is not found in the other gospels