Jesus v. Jerusalem: A Wasted Calling

With His face still set against Jerusalem (Luke 9:51), Jesus continued His journey, prosecuting His case against the adulterous city as He went. Picking up after the parable of the strong man (11:1-26), we will proceed further into that lawsuit.

As I noted before, Jesus fulfilled the prophet’s role of bringing a covenant lawsuit against an unfaithful covenant partner—in this case, Jerusalem. She had been unfaithful. Her idolatries amounted to spiritual adultery. This is why Jerusalem is called the “Great Whore” in Revelation 17-18. Earlier prophets had used the same theme (Jer. 3; Eze. 16:26; 23). Ezekiel 23 teaches that Jerusalem had committed even worse whoredom than her despised sister Samaria. Verses 16-17 say,

When she saw them [the Babylonians], she lusted after them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea. And the Babylonians came to her into the bed of love, and they defiled her with their whoring lust. And after she was defiled by them, she turned from them in disgust. When she carried on her whoring so openly and flaunted her nakedness, I turned in disgust from her, as I had turned in disgust from her sister [Samaria].

This sixth-century BC prophecy is a direct backdrop of Jerusalem’s greater apostasy which Jesus confronted in the first century. Thus we see a direct parallel in Revelation’s portrayal of the Great Whore, “with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality” (Rev. 17:2; 18:3,9).

During His journey to Jerusalem, Jesus’ primary mode of conveying the judgment message was by parable. He meant to deliver the truth to that city that her self-assurance was misplaced and deadly.

The Parable of the Lit Lamp

The parable of the lit lamp is about the broadcasting of a godly witness clearly to all the world. Jesus says, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light” (11:33).

Jesus had already taught this exact lesson a short time earlier in Luke 8:16-18: “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.” The difference was the audience. First, in Luke 8:16, Jesus had turned aside amidst the crowd to speak privately to His disciples. He had just told them that He speaks to the masses in parables, but that only a select few would be given the grace to understand them (Luke 8:10). In this passage, Jesus ends with the enigmatic (and seemingly cold) statement, “Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away” (8:18).

What is the meaning of this? If we try to apply this to all of mankind in general, it becomes vague and esoteric. But if we understand it in the context of Israel and her assumed inheritance in the land, it makes perfect sense. The “one who has” is the one who has faith and understanding. He will be given “more”—that is, the Kingdom. The “one who has not” understanding is the unbelieving Jew who appears to have, and who thinks he has an entitlement to the inheritance of the Kingdom, but does not. From him shall be taken even that which he thinks he has. Jesus wanted His disciples especially to know that a separation among the people was coming, based on His judgment upon the unbelievers and His grace to His chosen.[product id=”1430″ align=”right” size=”small”]

In Luke 11:33, however, the audience is difference. Jesus here addresses all the masses with the requirement that God’s people not hide their light—that is, their faithful witness to Him. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus elaborated on this theme: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt. 5:14). This gets to the heart of God’s covenant with His people. They were originally called into the land for the express purpose of being a witness unto all nations:

See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? (Deut. 4:5-8).

And it was God’s promise that through covenant faithfulness this witness would convert the entire world (Num. 14:21; Ps. 2; 72:5-8; Is.2:1-4; 11:9; Jer. 3:16-17; 31:31-4; Dan. 7:13-14). Isaiah portrays the vision of the enlightened world as the faithful success of that City on a Hill:

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore (Is. 2:2-4).

Jerusalem was literally a city on a hill, but God’s people had now failed miserably in their God-given mission, as they had so often throughout their history. Isaiah once likened their failure to a pregnant woman in labor: when she should have given birth, she only broke wind:

Like a pregnant woman who writhes and cries out in her pangs when she is near to giving birth, so were we because of you, O Lord; we were pregnant, we writhed, but we have given birth to wind. We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth, and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen (Is. 26:16-18).

Indeed, they had “accomplished no deliverance in the earth.” But God never fails in His promises. So there could be only one reason for this: the people had not kept the covenant, but had kept their light to themselves and hid it from the world. Jesus now confronted them again with the same message.

This understanding of this brief parable is consistent with Jesus’ teaching in the context. Just previous to this parable of the lit candle, Jesus had refused to give the crowds any on-demand miraculous sign of who He was. Instead, He called them an “evil generation,” and stated that they would fall beneath the condemnation of even some pagan nations who, with much less revelation from God, had readily accepted the light. He

This generation is an evil generation………… The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here (Luke 11:29-32).

The “evil generation” of Jews of Jesus’ day remained absorbed with their entitlement mentality and their faÁade of luxurious international prosperity. And so, Jesus secretly told His disciples that the parable of the lamp meant a great division of inheritance was coming based on those who remained faithful to the covenant (8:16-18). But the second time He tells the parable, it comes as an open rebuke to the failures of that
evil generation.

[product id=”433″ align=”left” size=”small”]This is indicated not only by the comparisons to the queen of the South and the men of Nineveh, but also by the condemnations of the representative Jewish leadership directly after the parable: Jesus openly condemns the hypocrisy, pride, and foolishness of the Pharisees (11:37-44), as well as the murderous litigations of the lawyers (11:45-52). They had not only refused the light themselves but had hidden it from others: they had “taken away the key of knowledge” (11:52).

And these faithless leaders stood as representatives of the evil generation as a whole. God’s vengeance, therefore, would come upon the whole as well: “the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world. . . . Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation” (11:50-51).

Jesus then goes on to warn the people against the “leaven of the Pharisees” (12:1), and the need for boldness in being a witness to Him (12:8-12). A great judgment was coming—a judgment in which those who only thought they had the inheritance would lose everything, and only those who upheld the true light would receive the Kingdom.

The Parable of the Rich Fool’s Inheritance (Luke 12:13-21)

As major theme in the judgment of the Great Whore (Rev. 17-18) is her abuse of wealth. God had blessed the nation, but she trusted in the wealth itself rather than in God. Rather than becoming a witness to all the nations by her adherence to God’s laws (again, the original purpose—Deut. 4:5-8), she took her favored position for granted and indulged in luxury and whoredom. She assumed that her wealth was her reward, rather than a tool to accomplish her mission. As a result, she would lose both.

Jesus expresses this particular condemnation of Jerusalem in the parable of the rich fool. The blessings poured in, but rather than use them for God’s glory, the fool heaped them up for himself. But then came the day of reckoning:

The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?” And he said, “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:15-21).

This again is paralleled in the condemnation of the Great Whore:

As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says, “I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.” For this reason her plagues will come in a single day, death and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her……

The fruit for which your soul longed has gone from you, and all your delicacies and your splendors are lost to you, never to be found again! (Rev. 18:7-8, 14).

References to her soul’s lust for luxury, and her sudden, tragic loss of it, continue through the end of Revelation 18.

This parable, like many, was given in direct response to the comments of an individual. A man had said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (12:13). The word “tell” here is in the imperative: the guy wanted Jesus to use His influence and command his brother to divide the inheritance. Jesus responded with the parable.

As an aside, getting God to tell our brothers how to act is most people’s view of religion. We want God to make someone else do something to benefit us. We never embrace sacrifice and dominion first as an avenue to prosperity. (This is well illustrated in use of State power to redistribute wealth and “benefits”: You pay at gunpoint, I benefit, and we’ll call it democracy and tolerance; and in the end I’ll say it was God’s answer to prayer. Thus is armed robbery called compassion; thus are moral wrongs called human rights. But I promise, I’ll still call you “my brother.” Just pay up.)

The whole spiritual import of this parable deals with fallen man’s greed: his insatiable lust for more. Instead of using God’s capital for God’s glory, we use it for our own, thereby essentially saying that we’re God. The issue goes right to the heart of man’s fall.

The immediate eschatological issue here, however, transcends the mere individual. Inheritance is a central covenantal issue. The land was a symbol of Israel’s inheritance from God, passed down from generation to generation. But the possession of the land into perpetuity was based on Israel’s faithfulness to God’s covenant, else the land would spew her out. The coming great divorce meant that she would lose all right to that covenantal inheritance; her reckoning was coming soon. Israel was the rich fool. The barns and storehouses would not be emptied, but would be left to another to inherit.[product id=”1445″ align=”right” size=”small”]

Jesus then turns away from the crowd to instruct His disciples privately. This, in essence, answers God’s question concerning the rich fool’s left-behind stores: “whose will they be?” It answers the question of “Who will inherit?” The answer is obvious: only the faithful of Israel will inherit. And the faithful are Jesus’ disciples. So He reveals to them the fuller teaching about wealth and priorities in God’s Kingdom (vv. 22-34).

We have seen this action of Jesus before, and will see it again. Jesus confounds the unbelieving Jews with parables they can’t understand or receive, but then graciously unfolds the meaning to His disciples. As we saw already in Luke 8:10: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’” The pattern is: confusion for the unfaithful, revelation for the faithful. Confusion is judgment, revelation is grace. In the immediate context this means judgment for unbelieving Israel, grace for the children of the Kingdom.

And the teaching Jesus gives them here, as we said, goes directly to the issue of inheritance. The heart of the teaching (12:22-34) is in verses 29-32:

And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Don’t be like the gentile nations—the rich fools—ignoring God, striving for wealth itself as an end. Rather, little flock—the disciples, not the left-behind Jews—seek ye first the Kingdom of God. This is about priorities. The inheritance of the Kingdom follows the faithful.

Where the Great luxury-devouring Whore Jerusalem had failed, Jesus instructs His disciples to succeed. Instead of selling yourself to the kings of the earth, uphold the Kingdom of God to them as a witness. Instead of striving after the treasures as if they were an end in themselves, use the treasures as a means to strive for the Kingdom. And toward this goal of spreading the Kingdom—the very goal for which the original covenant called—God would be absolutely pleased to give them treasures and the Kingdom.

Based on the continuity of themes—wealth, Kingdom, inheritance— Jesus’ teaching to the disciples should be considered of one piece with the parable of the rich fool. The section of Scripture, Luke 12:13-34, should be taken as a whole. And the immediate message was the disinheritance of Israel—who had wasted and sqaundered its calling—and the transfer of the Kingdom to the New Testament Church. This blessing, we are told, is the “Father’s good pleasure” (12:32).

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E Harris
E Harris

Dr. McDurmon, I'm sure you can see the parallels between the judgment against carnal Jews and in favor of spiritual Jews, as the judgment against the carnal church in favor of the true ekklesia. That is, if you want to see. The spiritual logic that you use, only in application to pre-70ad conditions, continues because the church (which the New Covenant addresses) continues. The truths of the scriptures and the kingdom belong to us. Those who have the outward form of relgion and godliness, but not the inward reality of grace through faith, will sooner or later lose the outward form as well. This is VERY relevant to every age, especially these days (in a hundred ways), and even during the highest drunken days of the Papacy.

Joel McDurmon
Joel McDurmon

I am inclined to agree, except I would not limit it to the papacy. Nine tenths of protestantism, et al, are little better.

E Harris
E Harris

Thanks, Joel. I totally concur! I've said this many times about denominationalism, and congregationalISM as well. If the ekklesia rallies around Jesus Christ, and is defined as THE PEOPLE OF GOD in any area (sometimes, regardless of any 'assembling together') then it makes sense that the TRUE ekklesia (of God) in the Old Covenant carried over into the New Covenant rather easily: they made up their minds to follow Jesus. So there was a rather 'smooth' transition, with a 40-year window-of-opportunity. A 40-year exodus. The same themes that apply to the Old Covenant ekklesia of God, also apply to the New Covenant ekklesia of God in a spiritual sense. The "Jesus v Jerusalem" theme that you are describing seems to match EXACTLY the same issues that the true ekklesia of God faced when confronting the Papal order... and also the same issues that saints wrestle over within themselves when dealing with denominationalism and fixed-member congregationalism. The kingdom of God comes like a wind and a fire (tongues of fire over every head). We cannot easily put wind in a box: it is something that is passing through. And we should not try to hide fire under a box, either. It will (sooner or later) burn the box, or the flame will disappear from view or be choked. Fire (in its natural form) is FREE. As you have freely received, so freely give. The correct "box" (wineskin) is truth known and then spread through edification. Truth is Self-Organizing (unlike 'comunity organizing'). By limiting your 'case' to the Jews only... I feel it gives an improper emphasis in this age, 2000 years later. When you limit your case to the Jews only, and refuse to broaden the same themes to the falling away (from God's ekklesia) that happened AFTER 70ad, your message basically impugnes only the Jews. This, however, creates a false distinction: Because the ekklesia (at the time many of the letters were written) already included Gentiles! The falling away that Paul was describing and warning about, wasn't ONLY in the direction of the old Jewish Temple, but also a much more sinister threat. Looking back through history, it isn't hard to discern what threat Paul was talking about. Secularists point it out ad nauseum, and it has become (today) a hinderance to the spread of the gospel. (In fact, this greater falling away is what gave Muhammad his example.) Christianity clearly began as a new, fresh move from God (based on Jesus Christ and His Spirit). And then the old relics of a dead & vacant system were judged. But these same principles of judgment & freedom/faith in Christ carry forward, as the ekklesia moved forward. 70ad was one falling away from the faith, but not the only falling away. In THE SAME WAY, self-appointed leaders within the early church began falling away and seeking to exalt themselves over the ekklesia, without any authority of Spirit. They began to set up all kinds of expectations, systems, and sects. It didn't take long for a clergy/laity divide...which only deepened into almost outright statism. Back to the approach of the "Scribes and Pharisees" (roughly speaking), only MORE DEVELOPED because it was based on twisting the deeper truths of the gospel message.

E Harris
E Harris

Frank Viola maybe a little too hard-line on some topics, but he has a good grasp of this subject of the clergy/laity divide, how it began. He's written a lot of books, including one book with George Barna (Barna Research Group) titled: Pagan Christianity. But I don't think even Viola understands the wide-ranging implications of Organic - House Church theology. It is definately a frontier that needs to be clarified using precise (in context) biblical word definitions and free market principles. I see MOST of eschatology pointing in this direction: Jesus Christ as the way, the truth, and the life (and our example). We follow, and his grace (not ours) is evident in us. And while we may be PARTIAL on the outside, we are FULL on the inside (because Christ's Spirit (the Holy Spirit) BECOMES the core of our being upon true, believing conversion. What is full (our salvation, inside) needs to be allowed to be worked OUT, individually. Coaches are infinitely helpful in this (friends who pastor us). We should lead precisely how Jesus led, with no higher or more dominant style than he had (at least that's my current impression). He avoided both the crown and the stones, until it came time for the Father to honor him. Yet we have many ministers, who use a multitude of tactics, because they are essentially entrepeneurs. And there is nothing wrong with that: just confess what you are. You are gifted and called, but claiming a 'title' before you name does not elevate you, in and of itself - any more than the guy who is gifted, called, developing and has not claimed those titles. What matters is who we are with Jesus, and how Jesus serves our friends through us. Externally (temporally) we may be partial, and we see in part. Inwardly (eternally) we are full of the Spirit, and have all of the blessings and promises. We ARE, but we have not yet (externally) seen. We ARE because He IS and is in us...when we really believe and know Him in Spirit and Truth. Our soul and awareness is only an external layer of this inward reality. This is how so many Spirit-filled christians can debate and divide themselves against each other in sects: because who we are outwardly isn't always in alignment/agreement with who we are in Christ. We are all called to be little walking Jesuses, doing many different things, but agreeing together as His Body on earth. (yes, I know, grammar. Jesuses. Well, he is called our eldest brother. The firstborn of many brethren. And we now a new species in Him. Work out our salvation, with fear and trembling, turning not to the right or the left, but listening to his still small voice.) The Full Preterists always insist that the "full" has come. Really? Are we all loving, mature, without mistakes? What THEY mean by the full has come, is (basically) that the Bible story has ended. A Christian Historicist would say that it is ALL His Story, and that the Biblical struggle between good and evil is still valid. And that good will triumph. Saying that something "ended" and calling that a "fullness" is mistaken. The fullness comes in maturing over and beyond the thing that ended. Just because something 'ends' doesn't mean we really understood WHAT 'ended' and what we are now in!! We must understand the errors of history, it will help us mature. The fullness that is in us (but not of us), is being worked out, in time. And when we are mature enough to greet Jesus (in the flesh) as a brother: that is when I believe he may return as our eldest. Right now, we must learn the ways of the Spirit which is BETTER than having him here with us in the flesh. (Can you imagine...2 billion + people all clamoring for his fleshly attention all at once???)