A Kingdom of Mixture

Matthew 13 is a loaded chapter in the Gospels. It’s so full of rich parables that we often break them up into smaller pieces. That’s warranted and necessary at times, obviously. After all, the whole Bible is a unified story, but we can’t digest the fullness of the Bible in one sitting. However, if we only ever feed on disjointed fragments, and never bring those pieces together into a full picture, we end up not being able to see the forest for the trees. So, we’ll try to take a section of the trees in Matthew’s gospel and see what that part of the forest looks like.

First some ground rules: Read Matthew 13:1-52 before this article. Read it a few times. Then remember—context, context, context. Any study of the Bible requires an understanding of context. This involves understanding what all is being spoken as one continuous narrative, but also how that narrative fits into the greater story and the historical and cultural factors that influence the speakers/hearers. This will be a lengthy article, but to break it into sections would go against this very point! (Hah)

A general overview of Matthew 13’s context: Jesus is speaking to a crowd initially, but there are also places where he is teaching only his closest disciples. Jesus understands the dynamics of a crowd. You’ll always have a mixed audience. Some will be enthralled by the message, some will be indifferent, some will be enraged, and some aren’t even listening. A striking example of this is in John 6—right after Jesus feeds the five thousand, the crowd is offended by His claim that he is the true bread of life, and many turned away from him. Perhaps they were like the crowd in John 2:23-25, who really only followed Jesus to catch a glimpse of an exciting miracle. The crowd that gathers in Matthew 13 isn’t any different. With that in mind, and with the goal that we want to look at a full “episode” of teaching from Jesus instead of disjointed fragments, let’s examine a continuous episode from Matthew 13:1-52.

The Sower (Matthew 13:1-23)

This is one of the few parables in this section that Jesus provides an interpretation for. There is one sower (Christ), one seed (“the word of the kingdom”), and four different soils that the seed lands on. Only one of those four is soil that actually allows the seed to produce fruit. When the disciples ask Jesus privately to explain this parable, he confirms that not everyone who hears a message actually “hears” the message (“…seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” Matthew 13:13). Let’s look at the mixture of different soil types that Jesus describes.

1) First there’s the path. The seed that is sown here is eaten up by the birds, who Jesus equates with the evil one. Ground that is trampled into a path is firm and compacted. It has been shaped over a long time and is not easily molded. We can easily see the metaphor for a hard heart and a stubborn mind. That seed isn’t sinking in, and it’s not going to germinate. If we reject the seed because of our hard hearts, it’s easy pickings for the enemy.

2) Then there’s the rocky ground. There’s more opportunity for the seed to get buried here—in fact, there may be a perfect crevice that the seed could fit through, receive some moisture, and germinate. Jesus said this is like people who eagerly receive a teaching, but they have no root. As soon as difficulty comes, that plant withers away. This is reminiscent of the John 6 example mentioned earlier.

3) The soil with thorns will allow that seed to grow for a time, but then the thorns, which represent “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches,” choke the life out of the plant so that no fruit is born.

4) The good soil is one who hears the word, understands it, lets it take root, and allows God to produce fruit.

The “word of the kingdom” is sown over a mixture of soil types and is taken up (or not) at varying degrees. The types of soil may represent the mixture of different individuals overall, but also, we may display a mix of all these soil types throughout our own lives. Maybe we have thorns we need to remove. What cares of the world are preventing you from bearing fruit for the Kingdom? Worrying about things that might happen or about things outside of your control? That anxiety is choking out the truth of God’s word. Even worry about good things! Parents, are you constantly worried about your children? Is that consuming your heart? (I know some of you need to hear that—anxiety is something I’m working on pulling out of my own soil…) Maybe we need a tiller to break up the ground of our own heart. What or who are you hardened toward? Maybe some rocks need to get thrown out. What area of your life is suffering from an inability to receive God’s word? May your heart become increasingly good soil as you walk with Christ and bear much fruit!

As we go through the rest of this narrative, keep this initial teaching in mind: There’s mixture in the kingdom of God. It will be purified in the end, but right now we deal with the good and the bad. It’s not a utopia—not yet. It seems strange to consider God’s Kingdom as something that contains flaws, doesn’t it? But even if we discount those that actively look to sabotage the Kingdom from within, we know that none of us are perfect. John Nugent puts it well in his book, Endangered Gospel: “God’s treasure was meant to be carried in clay jars (2 Corinthians 4:7). The weakness of the messenger does not negate the strength of the message. The reality is, there can be no such thing as a perfect church. A church that fulfills its responsibility attracts new people. When new people come, they bring all of their imperfections with them. So the church is constantly in the process of helping imperfect people who do not yet seek first God’s kingdom to begin seeking it first.”

Jesus continues this theme in the following short parables. Reading them within that context sheds a lot more light on what he was getting at.

The Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30,34-43)

In the parable of the weeds, Jesus shifts the image from one good type of seed falling on a mix of different soil types to a mixture of seeds being sown in a field: one for wheat and one for weeds (or tares). The servants are confused—why are their weeds in our perfectly sown field of wheat? Why is there a mixture of good and bad, fruitful and non-fruitful? Should we go ahead and try to clean out the bad? The master tells them an enemy has sown the weeds, but they must wait until the time of the harvest or else when gathering the weeds, they would root up the wheat as well.

Jesus privately explains the meaning of this parable to his disciples as he did with the parable of the sower. The Son of Man is the one who sows the good seed, the field is the “world,” the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, the weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. Seems pretty straight forward, but consider that the weeds are growing right alongside of the wheat. They aren’t subdivided in any way. Jesus explains that at the end of the age the angels “will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers and throw them into the fiery furnace.” What do we do with this? There are weeds in God’s Kingdom?

(Wheat, left. Walther Otto Müller, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Darnel, right. Winkler, Eduard., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Darnel is the type of weed that Jesus would have been referencing. As you can see in the image, it looks very similar to the wheat!

We must realize that we’re all weeds without Jesus. It’s his life within us that has transformed us from weeds to wheat. He didn’t make us wheat just so we can point out those who we think are not wheat. We should be people that are willing to live as wheat among weeds, with the hope that our witness to the one who transformed us would impact those around us.

What about the teachings we have on church discipline (Matthew 18:15-20 and 1 Corinthians 5, for instance)? Isn’t that “identifying a weed?” I pondered on this question a lot and sought some insight from several folks I trust. To quote John Nugent: “He has not appointed his followers to be kingdom police checking out everyone else’s kingdom work. We should focus on what God has given us to do. We should not be going around looking for weeds. We should be sowing the seeds of God’s word. It’s a matter of focus.”

Certainly, if someone is leading the flock away from the truth, we should intervene, just as we should if we see a brother or sister walking away from Christ. But, as John Nugent continued, “We are not really in the business of driving people out who don’t quite get it right. We need to be patient, give God time to work on people, and trust him to judge when his time is right.”

And to that point, we should reference what Jesus says at the end of the Matthew 18:15-20 passage. He is with us if a decision of expulsion must be made. He is taking the lead. We must be sure that we always surrender the reins to him.

And so, I believe part of Jesus’ emphasis here is simply that we need to set realistic expectations, not that we need to be looking for weeds on an individual basis, trying to root them all up. The quote from Endangered Gospel above is again pertinent.

The enemy wants to sabotage the King’s field. We know that he ultimately won’t be successful, but we still have to deal with his attempts. That involves weeds masquerading as wheat. Many of the letters in the New Testament warn us of this threat. In Acts 20:29-31, Paul warns the Ephesian elders of fierce wolves that will be present within their own number. So as a general principle, this comes as no surprise. What was surprising to me is that those people are, for now, considered to be part of God’s Kingdom. But then I remember, even Jesus had a Judas in his inner circle!

In Gerhard Lohfink’s book, The Forty Parables of Jesus, he says: “Jesus’ preaching and practice did not correspond to [a] model of a holy, self-separating community…Above all, the Jesus movement was made up of despised people, social outcasts, and sinners. So, Jesus gathered, but he did not segregate…Jesus would certainly not have equated the sinners with whom he associated with poisonous weeds. The point of comparison would have been the association of holy and unholy, good and evil. Now, at this hour, a clear and clean distinction cannot be drawn. In fact, Jesus said elsewhere, we have to suppose that the real wickedness does not lurk among the sinners but is at home with those who elevate themselves above the outcasts and the sinful.”

Ouch! Have I acted like the Pharisee who despised the tax collector (Luke 18:10-14)? Our efforts are not to be directed at identifying and uprooting those we see as weeds. We live in him and by him, we grow, and we bear fruit. Just as he is the vine and we are the branches (John 15:1-11), so too is he the soil and we are the fruit from it.

The Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32)

Who hasn’t heard this parable? It’s often presented as a picture of the gospel growing from a tiny seed into a huge tree—it seems small and insignificant from the start, but it will become a great kingdom. To be clear, God’s Kingdom will certainly overcome all and is the everlasting kingdom! I fully affirm this fact. I just don’t believe that’s the point of this parable. If we look at this story without extracting it from its context, we’ll come away with a different interpretation.

First, what is this mustard seed that Jesus is referencing? There is no consensus among scholars. One common herb grown in that region was Black Mustard (Rhamphospermum nigrum), which has been said to grow up to ten feet tall. Typical growth, however, is only about three feet tall with a thin and wispy branching pattern. Since Jesus seems to be talking about a garden and that was a popular spice, I’m inclined to think this was the plant in mind, but I can’t say for certain. Another possibility is Nicotiana glauca, which is a woody plant (more of a shrub or small tree). If we go too far down this rabbit trail though, I think we’ll miss the point.

(Black Mustard, Rhamphospermum nigrum. Katrin Schneider, korina.info – CC-BY-SA-4.0, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

While growth rate is a point of emphasis for sure, I believe the emphasis is actually an abnormal growth rate. Black Mustard can grow rapidly, but for it to grow into a “tree” that birds could nest in would paint a picture of something highly unusual, especially in someone’s garden as Luke records it (Luke 13:18-19). This abnormal growth might even be looked as deviant, as the plant overshadows the rest of the garden. When we read all of Matthew 13, there is a lot of undeniable negativity—3 out of the 4 soils are bad, the weeds are bad, the net has a lot of bad fish, leaven is always bad (contrary to popular belief in this chapter). Jesus isn’t speaking in a bunch of disjointed short stories—he’s painting a consistent picture. There’s something about the Kingdom that he wanted his disciples (and us) to understand. He’s warning us that in this “already but not yet” period of the Kingdom, it’s not going to be perfect. There will be bad soil in the ground, there will be weeds in the field, and we may see some “mutant growth.” Doesn’t world history illustrate this perfectly when Christianity became the official state religion of the Roman Empire? When Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, suddenly becoming a Christian was a politically advantageous position. “Nesting” in this puffed-up “tree” of the Kingdom becomes a comfortable spot for the corrupt rulers of the day. And that leads us to the birds…

The nesting birds are a clear picture of corruption. Remember what the birds were an example of in the first parable. In fact, birds very often are used as symbols of the evil one or something unclean, so Jesus’ analogy is hardly a new thing. See Genesis 15:11-16 where birds of prey represent an evil omen of Israel’s future bondage in Egypt (which is cross referenced in Deuteronomy 28:26 and Jeremiah 7:33). Also, in Genesis 40:16-19, Joseph interprets the chief baker’s dream to mean that Pharoah will behead him, and the birds will eat his flesh! Hardly desirable images. This is certainly not to say that there are not positive usages of birds (the Holy Spirit is represented as a dove, for instance), but it is important that we interpret passages in their immediate and wider contexts. It bears repeating: Jesus is in mid-stride with a consistent teaching here. He has already defined the birds (Matthew 13:19). He has also already clearly established in this same conversation the idea of a mixture of good and bad together. Since we don’t have a side-bar explanation of this parable like we do the soils, the wheat and weeds, and the net (as we’ll see), it behooves us to base our interpretation of this parable alongside the others. The birds are like the weeds—making their home in and amongst the true kingdom citizens. And this home is made even more hospitable due to some abnormal growth.

Sometimes a lack of direct explanation is frustrating. Why can’t it just be laid out in black and white? Jesus’ first disciples wondered the same. But we know that Jesus wanted his message to reach only those who were truly seeking. All the disciples ever had to do was ask Jesus what he meant, as they did many times. Those who don’t have ears to hear or eyes to see won’t ask. They won’t seek. They won’t knock. (Matthew 7:7-11) Jesus is an artist. His metaphors and comparisons paint incredibly rich portraits for those who look on them intently. And the more we seek, the more we see! (Matthew 13:12).

When this parable is examined on its own (as is often the case), it’s easy to extract another meaning altogether. But that’s precisely the point: We were never supposed to lift these tiny fragments out of their place in the story. I believe this part of Matthew’s gospel is a notable example of the pitfalls of that study method. And another perfect example of that comes in the next verse…

The Leaven (Matthew 13:33)

We’ve all heard this verse in isolation. It’s commonly cited as a way to say that the gospel will slowly spread throughout the earth until everyone comes to the King. I wholeheartedly believe that one day every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11), and the Kingdom will one day be the only kingdom left standing. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus was talking about here. Not only does that idea not fit the flow of the narrative, but it completely ignores the consistent symbolism of leaven in all of Scripture.

Part of the context we always have to keep in mind is the audience Jesus is speaking to and their cultural background. The Jews listening are all too familiar with the symbolism of leaven—they’ve heard the story of the Exodus every year for their entire lives, and they’re quite familiar with the sacrificial system. Let’s start with Exodus to get more of that context.

The Israelites have been in bondage in Egypt for 400 years. God has raised up Moses for the mission of bringing them out of Egypt and into the promised land. Pharoah has not responded to the plagues, as God knew he wouldn’t. The warning of the final plague has gone out. The Lord will strike down every first born in the land unless the blood of a spotless lamb marks the doorway of the house. But first, some preparation! (See Exodus 12 for all the details.) For seven days, they were to only eat unleavened bread. Not only that, but they also had to get every speck of leaven out of their houses. And if they failed to do that, they would be cut off from Israel! (Exodus 12:14-15)

That sounds awfully harsh, doesn’t it? But look at the great mercy that God shows when the Israelites leave Egypt. It wasn’t just the Israelites who left. A “mixed multitude” left with them (Exodus 12:38)! God had an open-door policy to join in with his people. He even provided an avenue (circumcision) for that mixed multitude to officially become part of his people, to be as a native Israelite (to be “wheat,” if you will). If they didn’t want to be circumcised, God was merciful to still allow them to be with the people as a “stranger who sojourns among you” (Exodus 12:48-49). What an awesome and merciful God. Raise your hand if this is the first time you heard about a “mixture” leaving Egypt with the Israelites…

And certainly, Israel’s history is full of examples of “outsiders” that became great blessings—two perfect examples being Rahab and Ruth, who are even in the genealogy of Jesus! But we can’t ignore the problems that would come about because of this mixture either. For example, a son of an Israelite and an Egyptian blasphemed the Name. A decree was given that whether a native or a sojourner, blaspheming the Name would result in death (Leviticus 24:10-12). Also, the “rabble” (as the mixed multitude was called) had a strong craving for meat while they wandered in the desert. This influenced even the native Israelites to complain to God about the manna he provided. God, in his mercy, provided quail. But because of their lustful desire, they gorged themselves on God’s gift and he punished them severely. There are many more examples, both good and bad, of the results of mixture in the nation of Israel. It was most definitely a foreshadowing. And Jesus didn’t want his disciples to forget that just because he was inaugurating the new kingdom, a mixture was still going to be present.

(www.yourbestdigs.com/reviews/best-bread-machine/, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Why leaven? Why was that such an important symbol?

For one, the unleavened bread serves as a practical reminder of their rescue from Egypt. They had to leave in haste. They had no time to allow their bread to rise. They had to escape!

We know what the spotless lamb represents—it’s a picture of the blood of Christ. A gift that washes us, cleanses us, and makes us holy (Colossians 1:22). And because that blood represented a cleansing and allowed the Lord to “pass over” their house, they had to actually cleanse the impurity out of the house. Leaven represented that impurity. God was making Israel into his holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6). They are leaving behind their old life and being consecrated to God in a new life. This is a “new creation” story. They are starting fresh. Paul makes this same connection in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8. The word translated as “sincerity” there in vs. 8 is the Greek word for purity.

Jesus himself compares the bread of the Passover meal to his own body—the purity of the unleavened bread is matched with the purity of the body of Christ (Luke 22:19).

The Feast of Weeks, also known as Pentecost, also involves leaven—but this time Israel is told to present leavened loaves to God. So, it must represent something good and pleasing here, right? Nope. They are to present these loaves to God as a “wave offering,” and then seven spotless lambs, one bull, and two rams as a burnt offering. The leavened bread actually represents their own sin as a nation, while the burnt offerings represent the atonement for those sins. (Leviticus 23:15-18)

Leviticus 7:12-14 discusses more offerings of bread. First mentioned here is the peace offering. It is an offering of unleavened bread, and it’s a foreshadowing of the peace that Christ is to us, who through his perfect sacrifice reconciles to God (Ephesians 2:13-18). The second is the thanksgiving offering which involved leavened bread. Similar to the offering at the Feast of Weeks, this offering is one of thanksgiving that God has offered this peace to even impure beings. These leavened loaves are not burned (Exodus 23:18, Leviticus 2:11); they are actually given to the priest for food.

Again, we’re talking about the symbol of leaven, not leaven itself. Clearly the Israelites used leaven in their everyday lives to bake bread. In Matthew 16:6-12, Jesus even has to clarify that he’s speaking symbolically of leaven when he tells his disciples to beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They start looking around for literal bread to get rid of, completely forgetting that Jesus just did two huge miracles with leavened loaves of bread.

In addition to Matthew 16 and 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, other New Testament passages also carry forward the allegorical use of leaven for evil or sin (see Luke 12:1, Mark 8:15, Galatians 5:9). Paul uses the phrase “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” That’s not an original line from Paul—he took it straight from Jesus’ teaching here! “Purging the leaven” from the body of believers is also a direct reference to the Israelites purging the leaven from their houses during the Passover.

Jesus isn’t pulling a fast one on his listeners. He isn’t trying to get them to see leaven in a new light. He’s trying to get them to see the Kingdom in a new light! It’s precisely because of their understanding of the symbol of leaven that makes this a mind-bending exercise. Just as his other parables in this section are paradoxical, this one is no different. Yes, there are weeds in the kingdom and there is leaven in the kingdom…for now.

“But,” some might ask, “didn’t Jesus say the Kingdom of Heaven Is like leaven? If leaven is bad, how could God’s Kingdom be bad?” Let’s say, for instance, that leaven is equivalent to false teaching (which is what it was compared to in Matthew 16:5-12). Jesus isn’t saying the Kingdom of Heaven is like false teaching, but rather that there will be false teaching within the kingdom. The many warnings in the New Testament letters attest to that fact.

This sure is a long discussion for just one verse! Jesus is quite the artist—his words are rich, and those riches are inexhaustible (Ephesians 3:8)! As such, we have a few more items to mention for this parable:

Jesus says the woman hid this leaven in the flour. This has the connotation of a subversive act. The Greek word used in Matthew, enkryptō, can mean simply to “put in.” However, in Luke’s account of this parable (Luke 13:20-21), the Greek word more specifically means to “conceal” or “keep a secret.”

The mention of “three measures of flour” would have also brought to their minds the fellowship offering in Genesis 18:1-15 (see vs. 6 for the same measure of flour!). That wasn’t just some random coincidence. And that much dough makes way more bread than anyone would make on a typical day. No, Jesus is purposefully leading his hearers to this story. For Jesus’ Jewish audience, adding leaven to the fellowship offering, a meal with God and his angels, would have brought horror! This was a clear act of sabotage. It’s interesting too that Sarah is a point of focus here in Genesis—her lack of faith in God’s promise and her flippant attitude. Who did Abraham ask to make the “cakes” (unleavened, round, flat loaves)? Who did Jesus say hid the leaven in the flour? Sarah’s laughter, which she tried to hide from God, is the woman’s leaven, hidden in the dough. Whoa!

One other item of note that I make no conclusions about here but will mention out of sheer curiosity—there are seven kingdom parables in this teaching of Jesus. There are seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3. This parable of the leaven is the fourth parable told. The fourth letter to the church in Thyatira is about a woman (Jezebel) who sabotaged the church there by concealing false teaching under the guise of prophecy. In fact, there may be some interesting correlations with all the letters to the churches and these kingdom parables. I leave that to you to investigate!

The Hidden Treasure (Matthew 13:44)

The next parable of mixture Jesus presents is the treasure hidden in the field. The treasure is buried, covered by dirt and impurities. The man doesn’t just buy the treasure itself—he buys the whole field that contains the treasure. Going back to the wheat and the weeds, that field contained the true treasure (the wheat), but the master owns the whole field, weeds and all. At the proper time, the treasure will be taken up out of the field and enjoyed in its pure state.

There are two different perspectives we can examine this parable from:

Imagine the man in this parable represents Jesus. When he gave “all that he has” on the cross, he gave it all for the whole world (Philippians 2:5-11). He bought and redeemed the whole world (John 12:44-50), even dying for those who nailed him to the cross. But there is something incredibly special to him in this world—his bride, his church, his body. He gives us all an opportunity to be a part of that treasure.

Now imagine that you are the man. You’ve come upon that treasure that is God’s Kingdom. This is a free gift from God, but it comes at a great cost. We know what it cost Jesus. Just as it cost him his life, it should cost us ours as well! If we truly value this treasure, it’s not a difficult decision to give up everything else. Trading earthly treasure for heavenly treasure is an easy choice if we understand the true value (Matthew 6:19-21). Mike Breen in Building a Discipling Culture uses the parable of the dishonest manager (Luke 16:1-13) and the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-30) to discuss “spiritual capital” versus “financial capital.” We can only serve one of these two masters, and we will ultimately choose the one we assign the highest value. We know which one the rich young ruler valued most—he went away sorrowfully when Jesus confronted him with the truth in his heart. The disciples retort that they’ve given up their homes and lives to follow him. Jesus affirms their choice, saying that indeed they’ll receive so much more by laying aside the treasures of earth (Luke 18:28-30).

And this is one way that the “rabble” in the field will identify themselves in the end—they won’t forsake all to take hold of the treasure. They won’t buy the field. And in that choice, they will be weeded out of the Kingdom.

Have ears to hear! Ask deeper questions. Seek the treasure and you’ll find it. (Proverbs 2:1-5)

The Pearl of Great Value (Matthew 13:45-46)

This parable is similar to the treasure hidden in the field. Again, the merchant can represent Jesus or us.

Jesus gave it all for the pearl—his bride, his church, his body. This is the most precious jewel in Jesus’ eyes. He gave up even his equal position with God to obtain this jewel (Philippians 2:6-7).

Likewise, when we see the value of this pearl, it’s not a hardship to give everything else up for it. We value it most of all.

There seems to be many pearls in view here, but only one in that mix is the precious pearl of the merchant’s eyes. At first glance to the unsuspecting person, they might just see a collection of common pearls (like the weeds might look like wheat at first glance), but when we have eyes to see, the one pearl of great value comes into focus, and it is the only thing worth having.

(Muséum de Toulouse, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s also worth noting that an oyster is actually considered unclean by Jewish law (Leviticus 11:10-12). This precious jewel is enclosed in something unclean. Jesus is making something clean inside the unclean. There’s a purification going on in this mixture.

The actual process the oyster undergoes to create the pearl deserves a closer look. A contaminant (like a grain of sand) infiltrates the oyster’s shell. It endures this adversity by excreting a substance called nacre, coating the grain of sand with layer after layer of this beautiful component. The result is a precious pearl, the redemption of the suffering the oyster endured. Without Christ covering us and making us pure, we would be nothing more than that contaminant.

Again, the rabble won’t endure the hardship to create the pearl. They also won’t pay the cost to buy the pearl.

Frank Viola, in The Insurgence Podcast (episode #110) said: “We know we value something if we are willing to sacrifice for it.” Amen!

The Net (Matthew 13:47-50)

Jesus comes full circle with this last parable here, and again this time, like the wheat and the weeds, he offers an interpretation and highlights his teaching of the current mixture in the kingdom that will be sorted out in the end.

The sea of Galilee was full of all kinds of fish, but only a few species were edible. When fishermen lowered their net and dragged it through the water, they caught all the fish indiscriminately. It wasn’t until the nets were drawn onto the shore that the fish were sorted.

Jesus gives the interpretation: there are evil among the righteous. They’re together for now—in the same ground, in the same fields, in the same garden, in the same loaf of bread, in the same market, in the same net. At the proper time, He will do the sorting.

(Mehr News Agency, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)


We think of God’s Kingdom, and we think of perfection. And it will be so! But now we are still in the refining stage. And we thank God for his mercy! If we had to come to the Kingdom already refined, I’d be on the outside myself.

Jesus has invited all to his feast. In Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus compares the Kingdom to a king giving a wedding feast. When those who were invited first refused to come, the king tells his servants to extend the invitation to “as many as you find.” And so, the servants went out, gathering “all whom they found, both bad and good.” Both bad and good! But when the feast commenced, the king sorted through the guests. When the king determined a guest to be unworthy, he was cast out. Many are called, many are invited, but only a small number are chosen in the end (Matthew 22:14). The way is narrow, and few find it (Matthew 7:14).

Again, Jesus compares the Kingdom to ten virgins who took their lamps to meet the bridegroom (Matthew 25:1-13). Five of those virgins were foolish, five were wise. When the bridegroom came, the foolish missed his arrival because they didn’t have oil for their lamps. The bridegroom shut them out of the feast.

In The Insurgence Podcast (Episode #111), Jeffrey Harley brings out an interesting note from T. Austin-Sparks: Even Cain and Abel represent this mixture. They both acknowledged God and offered sacrifices to him. But when faced with the ultimate choice of following God or his own desires, Cain chose the latter (Genesis 4).

Don’t misunderstand—there is another kingdom that is totally outside God’s Kingdom. There are many fields of all kinds of other weeds, if you will, that are not included in this mixture. Afterall, Jesus said as he was handed over to be crucified: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36) Satan is referred to as the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11), the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), and the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). Satan has his own claim on this earth right now, but God has already won the victory. He is reclaiming the earth for himself, and we get to play a part in that! (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21) Satan’s rule and reign is on borrowed time. He and all who pledge allegiance to that world order will be destroyed in the end (1 Corinthians 15:24). The weeds in God’s Kingdom will also join them (Matthew 13:40-42).

So, we know we have enemies outside, but we must be aware that there are weeds within too. Rome wasn’t in Jesus’ inner circle, but Judas certainly was. We pray for refinement of those weeds, and we praise God for the refinement that he is currently offering to us. We shouldn’t be worried about pointing out the weeds in the field because we are all still in the process of refinement ourselves! If you are part of his body, you are at present being transformed, your mind is being renewed (Romans 12:2). Let us not focus on putting magnifying glasses on others in the kingdom, but rather let us continually examine ourselves. Do I have ears to hear and eyes to see? Am I keeping my heart open to his truths? May my soil never be so hard that his seeds cannot penetrate the surface.

Don’t label the soils of others, just sow the seed. Don’t try to pluck out the weeds, just be the wheat that produces the fruit. Don’t try to identify the fish, just be the good fish.

After Jesus tells these seven parables, Jesus asks the disciples if they understood. They claim to have grasped it—who’s to say if that was actually true at the moment. But Jesus explains that they are being trained to take what they have known and what is being revealed to them now. They are being specially prepared to paint the complete portrait of God’s Kingdom that until that time had been shrouded in mystery.

And even following this episode, the disciples get to see play out exactly what Jesus was teaching. That mixture in the kingdom is present even in Jesus’ hometown (Matthew 13:53-58). The Jews in Nazareth didn’t want to believe in him because they thought they already understood who he was. They were wise in their own eyes. They only treasured what was old and their current understanding and had no openness to what was new.

I sincerely hope this deep dive into the parables of the Kingdom in Matthew 13 was valuable to you. This subject has been marinating in me for a while—many conversations over breakfast with a dear brother, bouncing thoughts off my wife, in-depth studies with friends, listening to podcasts, reading articles, and having many brothers and sisters critique my notes. Much of it is still marinating now, but I had to go ahead and compile what I had, if for no other reason than for my own study down the road. I encourage you to do your own deep dive! Find another set of parables and dig in. Parables are meant to go well beyond the superficial. After all, Jesus used the parables to mask the message from those who were “wise in their own eyes” (Matthew 13:13, Isaiah 5:21) His kingdom truths are hidden from the wise but revealed to the children (Matthew 11:25-26, Matthew 13:16-17). It’s the great mystery that Paul speaks of (Ephesians 3:4-13, Colossians 1:26-27). Explore the mystery. The riches are inexhaustible!

I also encourage you to check out these awesome resources for further study into God’s Kingdom. A lot of the material in this article can be credited to these guys:

Jesus in Creation

The Bible is a unified collection of different types of literature that in some way, shape, or form point to Jesus Christ. Even way back in the Creation narratives. After all, he was there the entire time.

Jesus’ existence didn’t begin in that manger in Bethlehem. He has always been, just as the Father and the Spirit have always been. There are several New Testament passages that point to this:

  • John 1:1-5,18 – “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God. The Word was God…”
  • John 8:58 – “Before Abraham was, I am.” (Jesus uses the same name that God introduces himself to Moses with!)
  • John 17:4-5,24 – The relationship between the Father and Son “before the foundation of the world.”
  • Colossians 1:15-23 – “By Him all things were created…”
  • Hebrews 1:1-4 – Through Christ, God created the world.
  • Hebrews 4:3 – Christ’s works were already finished from the foundation of the world! (More on how time works from God’s perspective in another article perhaps, but God is beyond time. He is the beginning and the end all at once. Time is within him.)

So back to creation: What’s something in the Creation narratives that point to Christ? The easy one is Genesis 1:26 – “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”

But there’s so much more!

DAY ONE: Genesis 1:3-5 – God separates the light from darkness

Jesus is the light.

  • John 1:4-5 – “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
  • John 8:12 – “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

His Light shines through us as we live by his life.

  • Matthew 5:14-16 – “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
  • 2 Corinthians 4:6 – “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

DAY TWO: Genesis 1:6-8 – God separates the water from the sky

The Heavens are separated from the Earth. This is a prophecy of what will happen between man and God and what must eventually come to bridge that gap—Jesus’ sacrifice.

  • Isaiah 59:2 – “…but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”
  • John 8:23-24 – “He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”
  • Hebrews 9:28 – “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

DAY THREE: Genesis 1:9-13 – The dry ground appears out of the sea with fruit-bearing vegetation

The sea initially covers the earth—the sea represents chaos, darkness, and death. God calls the land to appear, representing LIFE coming out of death and fruit being produced!

Also, what day did Jesus arise from the grave?

  • Luke 9:22 – “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
  • Luke 24:6-7 – “He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”

Jesus is the Tree of Life. In the Garden of Eden, God invited Adam and Eve to partake of the Tree of Life. They opted instead for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and access to the Tree of Life was cut off. When Christ came to Earth, that access was restored!

  • John 5:21 – Christ gives us life.
  • John 6:33 – He’s the bread of life.
  • John 6:53-58, Matthew 26:26-28 – Jesus is the new tree of life we should eat from
  • John 11:25-26 – Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life
  • John 19:41, John 20:15 – Jesus’ body was laid in a garden after the crucifixion, and after he was raised Mary even thought he was the gardener!
  • Colossians 3:4 – Christ is our life!
  • 1 Corinthians 15:22,45 – Christ is our life-giving spirit
  • Romans 8:10 – Christ in us is life.
  • Ephesians 2:1-10 – “…But God…made us alive together in Christ…”

It’s also a picture of our own regeneration and new life coming out of death.

  • Romans 6:3-4 – “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
  • Romans 7:4 – “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.”

DAY FOUR: Genesis 1:14-19 – God creates the sun, moon, and stars

Jesus is the Sun!

  • Malachi 4:2 – “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.”
  • Luke 1:78 – “…because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high.”

His church is the Moon. The church has no light of its own, but reflects his light. The church witnesses over the night (the darkness in the world).

  • Psalm 89:36-37 – “His offspring shall endure forever, his throne as long as the sun before me. Like the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies.”

We as individuals are the stars.

  • Philippians 2:15 – “That you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights [stars] in the world.”
  • Daniel 12:3 – “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”

Jesus ascends back to the Heavens after his resurrection.

  • Mark 16:19 – “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.”

God wanted to co-rule with us!

  • Psalm 136:7-9 – “…to him who made the great lights, for his steadfast love endures forever; the sun to rule over the day, for his steadfast love endures forever; the moon and stars to rule over the night, for his steadfast love endures forever…”

DAYS FIVE & SIX: Genesis 1:20-31 – God creates sea creatures, birds, land animals, and humans

God fills the earth with lifeforms, culminating in the highest lifeform on Earth – humans. He gave them the Tree of Life to eat and the River of Life to drink so that they could live by HIS divine, eternal life.

  • John 6:53-58 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live by the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live by me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
  • Genesis 3:22 – “Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—”
  • 2 Peter 1:3-4 – “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”

DAY SEVEN: Genesis 2:1-3 – God rests, or reigns, from his throne with the Son

God ruled from his throne with the Son after creation.

  • Isaiah 45:6-7 – “That people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.”
  • Mark 16:19 – “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.”
  • Acts 4:24 – “…Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them…”
  • 1 Corinthians 15:24-27 – “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.”
  • Colossians 1:15-16 – “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”

God always wanted to co-rule with us!

  • Isaiah 45:6-7 – “That people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.”
  • Mark 16:19 – “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.”
  • Acts 4:24 – “…Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them…”
  • 1 Corinthians 15:24-27 – “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.”
  • Colossians 1:15-16 – “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”
  • Genesis 1:26-28 – “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
  • Genesis 2:15 – “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”
  • Ephesians 2:6 – “…and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

What an awesome God and Messiah we have!

America is Transitioning. So What?

We all have certain passages that we keep coming back to. The passages that stick in our brain that we just can’t help mulling over. Foundational passages. For me, one of those passages is from Daniel chapter 2. The chapter tells how King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream where he saw a massive statue with a head of gold, arms of silver, a body of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of a mix of iron and clay. King Nebuchadnezzar sees a giant rock hit the statue and it comes crumbling down. Daniel, as it turns out, is the only one who can interpret the dream for him, and Daniel goes on to tell the king how his empire is the empire of gold, and after his will be successive empires until it all crumbles down.

The United States was NOT founded as a Christian nation. Most of the founding fathers were deists, meaning they pictured God as a sort of clockmaker, who once he wound the clock never touched it. Thomas Jefferson edited out all the miracles in his Bible, turning it into basically a book of wise sayings. One of the articles in the 1798 Treaty of Tripoli, which ended the war the American Navy had been fighting against Muslim pirates in the Mediterranean, said:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility of [Muslims]; and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Fast-forward 150 years and the United States was no longer at war with Muslim Pirates, but Communist Soviet Union. Without getting into the ins and outs of Communist theory, Communist Russia was staunchly atheist. Because the United States was fighting the Soviets in a Cold War as opposed to a “hot” war, it was fought with things like culture, economics, and religion; not tanks and guns (in political theory this is called soft power over hard power). This meant that the United States had to portray itself as the exact opposite from the Soviets, religion included. The Soviets were the godless horde, so the United States had to be Christian. For the first time ever, the President instituted a National Prayer breakfast, and even more impactful, in 1954 the US added “One Nation, Under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. In 1955 the US added “In God We Trust” to money. For the first time the United States was portraying itself as Christian: to be a good American, you had to be Christian; to be a good Christian, you had to be American. For the next seventy years, this was largely the status quo.

That status quo is now ending. America is returning to its secular roots. To be a good American, you no longer have to be a Christian. It’s a big shift, to be sure. But how does this shift impact us in 2023? I’d argue, it doesn’t, or at least it shouldn’t. In the movie Men In Black, when Will Smith joins MIB he is told “You are no longer part of the system; you are above the system. Over it. Beyond it.” For us, since we have joined the Kingdom of Jesus, we are no longer a part of the world system. Going back to Daniel 2, Babylon was described as the golden head, yet even the best part of the statue was smashed by the rock, which Daniel goes onto say is the Kingdom of God. it doesn’t matter whether the United States of America is the silver, bronze, iron, or clay part of the statue, it is going to get smashed by God. It is an insignificant worldly kingdom that is going to be smashed by God. It doesn’t matter what is happening in America because for all spiritual intents and purposes, a citizen of God’s Kingdom is no longer American.

Satan wants to divide us—divide and conquer is a tried-and-true strategy. Long ago, the Enemy realized persecution only united God’s people, that’s why I believe that mass style of persecution is never coming back in any global way. Where are the places Christianity is growing fastest? In the Middle East and in China, places of real, actual persecution. And if real persecution does come to America, all the better because then we truly put it on the line for Jesus. But it isn’t. No, the best way to destroy God’s people is from the inside. A house divided cannot stand. Satan wants us to get sucked into fighting over culture wars in America that ultimately don’t matter. It distracts us from the mission we have as God’s Kingdom people—proclaiming his reign and being a tangible manifestation of that reign in our communities.

One of the big culture wars of the 1920s was left-handedness. Some Christians associated being left-handed with practicing witchcraft, evilness. Christians even claimed Satan was left-handed! Here is a chart of left-handedness in the United States over the last 120 years:

The number of left-handed people didn’t magically explode in 1940s America and then plateau. No, the number of left-handed people remained the same; the difference was people were allowed to be lefthanded. It became a non-issue, culturally. A similar thing happened in the 1960s with interracial marriage. Some Christians protested out in the streets saying interracial marriage should remain illegal because it was a sin for the races to mix. Worldly culture doesn’t matter. It has always been fallen; it will always be fallen. Just like with the Men In Black quote, we are beyond the world now. We still live in it, but we must be above it. Does the person believe that Jesus is the Son of God? That he died for us when we were still sinners and rose from the dead, and through Grace undeserved allowed us to be adopted into the Kingdom? And that we are called to go forth and be disciples that make disciples? If yes to all three then it really doesn’t matter what that person thinks otherwise, because anything else we are arguing over isn’t a Kingdom issue, but a left-handed issue.

An Unoffendable Heart: Keeping the Faith in God’s Sovereignty

Things don’t always go the way we plan them. Maybe that house offer didn’t go through. The job you interviewed for never called you back. Your dream school didn’t accept your application. Maybe it’s something even more serious; tragic even. Some may say it’s fate. Simple bad luck perhaps? Someone you know will tell you all things happen for a reason. None of that makes us feel any better in the moment.

Even if we speak the words “God is still working,” it can be hard to truly believe it. And perhaps we don’t even want to speak those words. It’s easy to feel like God let you down. “Where is he? I thought he cared about me. How could he let this happen?” The vision we had for the foreseeable future is thrown for a loop. Now what?

Paul undoubtedly had his life planned out. He was a leading Pharisee; zealous for his faith, even happy to kill those that threatened it. God, however, had other plans for Paul. Not only would he follow the one he once believed to be an enemy, but he would take the saving message of the Messiah to a population that he once saw as lower than dogs…

Paul’s response on the road to Damascus wasn’t a rebellion from the God he thought he knew. To the contrary, from that moment, he became completely obsessed with his Lord. Everyone he encountered was going to hear about Jesus Christ and his kingdom!

Surely from that point on, since he was finally on the right path, everything would be smooth sailing. Both literally and figuratively, that could not have been further from the truth.

But Paul knew that. He had an intimate and deep understanding of Christ’s selflessness and humility, and he knew well the call to share in the suffering of Christ. He wasn’t the exception—the Scriptures are filled with examples of disciples who put it all on the line for their Lord.  

I have a lot to learn from them all…

Toward the end of the book of Acts, Paul is dragged in front of the Roman authorities because of the baseless claims of the Jewish leaders. He is unjustly imprisoned for more than 2 years before his case is even properly heard. Finally, he presents his case to King Agrippa and tells him “To this day I have had the help that comes from God.” (Acts 26:22)

Not only is Paul unoffended by God’s plan for his life, but he also credits God for his constant help and providence!

Festus and Agrippa think he’s crazy, saying “Paul, you are out of your mind!” (Acts 26:24). If God was helping him as he thinks, he wouldn’t have been imprisoned for years and on trial for his life for no good reason. Right? Why didn’t God grant him his freedom?

Freedom from Rome wasn’t God’s goal for Paul, and it wasn’t Paul’s goal either. Paul’s goal was to proclaim Christ wherever God willed. In this case, the mission was to Rome, and to Rome he would go! (Acts 23:11) Paul’s life was now Christ’s life (Galatians 2:20). How God chose to use that life was completely up to God himself. Afterall, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Paul wasn’t concerned with his physical comfort or happiness. Sometimes it seems this verse in Romans gets twisted in a bid for a “happy ending” in our struggles:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…” Romans 8:28

God works all things for our comfort? our happiness? our dreams? No, he works things out for good. The good. His will, which is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

This is a struggle. We may wrestle with God with fervent prayer over a situation in our lives. We think we know the best outcome in many cases, and perhaps what we think or want does align with God’s plan. But sometimes the good that God has planned is different than what we want. Sometimes the good that God has planned is anything but comfortable.

Not that Paul didn’t ask for deliverance at times. The “thorn in his flesh” is something that he desperately wanted to be freed of. But ultimately, Paul surrenders to God’s will. We may not know exactly what that thorn was, but it’s safe to assume it was uncomfortable and a significant stressor on Paul’s life. But as the Lord told Paul—“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Will we keep the faith in those moments? Will we be able to say like Paul that despite our circumstances, God is faithful and he is good? That his grace is sufficient? That it’s when we are weak that we are truly strong?

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24)

Is my faith based on the circumstances I’m in, or is it based on the God that is sovereign in all circumstances?

It’s reminiscent of a powerful example in the Old Testament. Three young Jewish men, living in Babylonian captivity, refuse to bow down and worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol. Brought before the king, they are given the chance to relent. If they still refuse, a fiery furnace was ready to cremate the men alive.

That’s a rough circumstance. That’s a test of faith. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood firm.

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:17-18

“Even if this physical harm comes to us, our God is our God and he is faithful.”

Just like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were saved from the fire in the furnace, we too will be saved from the fire—regardless of our physical circumstances and regardless even of physical harm or death. We’ve already been delivered. The same one who walked in the furnace with those three men is the same one who walked with Paul through his trials and is the same one who walks with you and me. Rest in him, even if…

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand…” Psalm 31:14-15

Being Reclaimed!

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…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.” – Acts 1:3,6-8

Have you ever wondered where you fit into the story of the Bible? Has that story seemed disjointed and too complicated to follow? How can I relate to all the wild things we read in the Old Testament? What is God doing right now? 

If so, you’re not alone. Seeing the Bible as a unified story is something I’ve struggled with for a long time. I mean, the New Testament is difficult enough anyway, why try to add the seemingly enormous complexity of the Old Testament to that? 

I’ve recently gone through a study by an author I follow that shed a tremendous light on a significant unifying thread throughout the whole of Scripture—the gospel of God’s Kingdom. 

Let’s start in Acts. Jesus has resurrected from the grave and is about to ascend into Heaven to sit at the right hand of God. He tells his disciples that they will receive the Holy Spirit, and they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). Highlight that part in your Bibles…

Then the day of Pentecost arrived. A “wind” (which is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word “Ruah” meaning spirit, wind, or breath) filled the whole house (Acts 2:2). Divided tongues represented by fire rested on each of the disciples (Acts 2:3), and they began to speak in other languages so that Jews from every nation under heaven could understand them (Acts 2:4-5). They were bewildered because they could understand these men in their own tongues (Acts 2:6). People from Parthia, Media, Elam, Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, Rome, Crete, Arabia—all were amazed and wondered “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:9-12). 

We might ask the same question…

To get the full picture, let’s go back to Genesis.

In the beginning… 

God created the earth and he dwelt with his chosen people in the perfection of the Garden of Eden. Then the people there rebelled and took authority into their own hands. They were banished from the garden. Evil corrupted the population to such a degree that in Genesis 6, God is faced with no choice but to start all over again to establish His Kingdom. He chose a man and his family who he would use to usher that Kingdom into the new world (Genesis 6:1-8). 

When the waters receded, God gave Noah the same commission he had first given Adam and Eve—“Be fruitful and multiply”—and even reminded him that God made man in His image (Genesis 9:1-7). 

But it didn’t take long for things to go awry again. The descendants of Noah’s son Ham are the perpetual antagonists throughout the Old Testament. Ham brought the evil that God wiped out with the flood right back into the new world. Again, this evil culminates into a colossal event that is recorded in Genesis 11—the Tower of Babel. 

The story starts off sounding really quite positive—people from the whole earth had one language and were united in one purpose. Except that purpose was born of the same evil root that caused Adam and Eve to rebel against God—the desire to make a name for themselves instead of living under God’s authority. 

God again is faced with a difficult choice about how to handle the corruption in the human race. He confused their languages and scattered those people all over the face of the earth; exactly what they were trying to avoid (Gen 11:4, 11:8-9).

Genesis 10 is a record of what all those nations and languages were and then Genesis 11 tells how they came to be. Depending on the manuscript, there are 70-72 different nations described in this “Table of Nations” record. 

Right after this account, we have God calling Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). Just like with Adam and Eve and with Noah, God establishes a covenant with Abraham. He will make him exceedingly fruitful; the father of many nations (Gen 17:4-8). 

So, God divided the nations of the world up and established a new nation just for himself. He didn’t destroy the others like he did in Noah’s day. He disinherited them. He gave them over. But to who? 

When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage. – Deuteronomy 32:8-9

He gave the authority of those other nations to other celestial beings, the heavenly hosts. He divided mankind (interestingly the same word used in Acts 2:3) and confused (same word used in Acts 2:6) their languages. But he kept a remnant for Himself. Israel would be HIS inheritance and it started with Abraham. 

But drama unfolds again. The heavenly hosts ruling the nations also rebel against God. Just like Adam and Eve, they wanted to be in the place of God himself, so they seek worship and allegiance. They become the false gods of the nations that we read about throughout the Scripture. 

Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 10:20-22 that the false gods of the world are truly spiritual entities, demons ruling over the world. Paul again in Ephesian 6:12 reminds us that our struggle isn’t physical, but rather against the “cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” 

In the apocalyptic book of Daniel, the archangel Michael is said to be fighting against the prince of Persia and the prince of Greece (Daniel 10:20-21). These aren’t human princes! They are the celestial powers over those nations. 

This was mind-blowing to me. Where did I think the false gods came from before? I guess I thought someone just imagined something and then somehow convinced a lot of people to go along with their imagination. But it’s much more potent than anything we as humans could come up with. So potent that God warned Israel over and over not to be influenced by the other nations of the world and not to follow their gods. 

And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day. – Deuteronomy 4:19-20

Israel was God’s inheritance. He allotted those celestial beings to the other nations, not to Israel. They were His! 

But alas, Israel was seduced by the gods of the other nations. They worshipped idols (Deuteronomy 29:26) and sacrificed to the false gods (Deuteronomy 32:17). The Old Testament is an awesome epic of the Israel against the nations and God against the false gods. 

What is God to do? He’s dealing with rebellious people and spiritual beings. In Psalm 82, we see God is presiding over his heavenly court. He doesn’t withhold judgment from these spiritual beings (2 Peter 2:4). Because they have revolted against God, he decrees that they will be stripped of their immortality (Psalm 82:6-7). More importantly, it is declared that God will one day re-inherit ALL the nations (Psalm 82:8). He will reunite those who were scattered. 

Seeing the connection yet to our Acts passage?

Remember how many nations are recorded in the Table of Nations in Genesis 10? 

How many disciples does your Bible say Jesus sent out in Luke 10? 

The decision to pick 12 people to be his first disciples was no coincidence. The decision to send out 70-72 disciples wasn’t either. 

This was a rescue mission. This was a RECLAMATION of the scattered nations. Jesus was announcing the coming of God’s Kingdom—reclaiming people under the dominion of the fallen celestial powers and bringing them back under the authority of Almighty God. God was re-inheriting the nations just as he said he would. Isaiah 66 was being fulfilled (Isaiah 66:18-23). All authority in heaven and on earth was being given to Jesus—he was sending his disciples out to all nations to reclaim them for His Kingdom (Matthew 28:18-20). 

The reclamation has begun. God is laying claim on the nations again after handing them over to the heavenly hosts at the Tower of Babel. The gospel of God’s Kingdom is going out. Jesus started it in Mark 1:14-15, passed it on to his disciples, and it continues today!

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. – Matthew 24:14

Why? Why does God want to re-inherit the nations? So we can all go to Heaven when we die? It’s so much more than that… He wants to deliver us from the dominion of darkness and transfer us to the Kingdom of His Son! (Colossians 1:13). He wants to set us free from the power of the evil one. He wants to break us free from bondage. He loves us so much that he gave his only son in order to accomplish this! Never has John 3:16-17 had so much meaning.

So, what’s happening in Acts? Babel is being reversed!

At the Tower of Babel, the people were dispersed and divided. In Acts 2, these many people are being brought together. Languages were made different and people were confused at the Tower of Babel. Now a miraculous utterance and understanding of different tongues removes that confusion and places a whole new bewilderment on the people. The Spirit of God comes down on them like fire and signals that there’s a new temple and a new Kingdom in place now. 

Jesus said the gospel of the Kingdom would go out from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. 

Acts is a record of that very thing. 

In the first part of Acts (chapters 2-12), the gospel is being proclaimed to the Jews and in Judea and Samaria. In the second part of Acts (chapters 13-28), the gospel is being proclaimed to the Gentile nations. 

Paul takes the message and heads west, to the end of the earth. In Romans 15:22-24, Paul tells the church there that he will be passing through Rome on his way to Spain. In the Table of Nations, what is the most westward nation recorded? Tarshish. And what is Tarshish today? Spain! Paul is carrying out God’s plan to re-inherit the nations. 

In Romans 11:25-27, Paul says that when the full number of the Gentiles has heard the gospel of the Kingdom and God has reclaimed the nations, then the end will come. All of us who are disciples of Jesus are part of this global reclaiming of the nations that God has been doing since Jesus sent out the 70! 

We are part of Jesus’ promised inheritance. By his blood, he ransomed the people of all nations and is regathering the scattered of Babel (Revelation 5:9, Revelation 7:9). 

“And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” – Daniel 7:14

Have you pledged allegiance to that Kingdom yet? We have been called to something with glory beyond our full comprehension. We have been called to be a people of his inheritance. To be seated with him in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). We should be shouting this from the rooftops!

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nationa people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” – 1 Peter 2:9-10

How to Read Biblical Prose Discourse

Writers who use a prose discourse style present an argument to their readers in the hope that their response will be a change in behavior and thinking. Prose discourse will often rely on conjunctions to tie ideas together, and in doing so, can bring greater contrast or emphasis to interconnected clauses – or statements. Transition words like “therefore, if/then, because, etc.” get used to emphasize some sort of action, purpose, or consequence, which urges the reader to act. These key words often introduce dependent clauses that otherwise would have little meaning or context by themselves but hold great significance when attached to another statement.

In Ephesians 4, Paul is trying to persuade the Ephesians to unify as one and to grow/mature in Christ as one body. Paul’s desire is for the people to put aside any cultural and ethnic differences that previously acted as a divider, and instead, join one another to build up the body of Christ. Within this chapter, we find that Paul uses prose discourse to incite action and to express the importance of humility and unity in Christ. The below excerpt from Ephesians 4:11-16 provides an example of certain transition words (highlighted below) used to connect ideas together and present a logical flow that gives credence to the arguments being made. 

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God,  to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children,  tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

In Episode 3 (New Testament Letters: Literary Context), the video explains that the use of transition words isn’t exclusive to connecting ideas in a single chapter of the Bible but can expand to providing transitions between entire sections of the Bible, such as what we see between Ephesians Ch. 1-3 and Ch. 4-6. 

If we really want to have a thorough understanding of what Paul and other Biblical authors were trying to communicate in the New Testament letters, we must have a familiarity with prose discourse, and why they chose to use it. Coupled with an understanding of historical context (Episode 2), we can see that the Bible is still just as relevant to our lives today. 

Here are the three corresponding Bible Project Videos for this week:

How to Read Biblical Poetry

While Poetry is the second biggest category of the biblical genres, it is also the hardest to read for most Christians. One of the hardest things about Biblical poetry is the fact that there is not just one type. Even within the works of the same author (like Solomon) there are dramatically different styles and motifs. For example, while Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon are all attributed to the wise king, they are all distinct in their subject. Another example of different poetic styles in the same work is how the prophets switch between poetry of extreme destruction and extreme redemption in an effort to convince the Israelites to turn back to God. Since this is true within the works of one author, it is especially true across the collection of writings that makes up the Bible. The last distinct type of poetry is Apocalyptic poetry or Apocalyptic literature which consists of Ezekiel, Daniel, Revelation and other sections of other books. Over the course of two millennia this is the literature that has gotten Christians in the most trouble. Around the year 1000, thousands of people flocked to Jerusalem because they thought the end of the world was nigh. Even recently every few years someone will try to line up things happening in our fallen world with signs in Revelation and say the end is nigh. As Christians we should be cautious about making concrete claims, and this is especially true with Apocalyptic Literature. Only the Trinity knows when the Second Coming will be.

Why should we read Poetry? Our God is a God of emotion. God loves us with a depth and breadth that is impossible for us to comprehend. He is also a jealous God. He is also a Wrathful God. He is also a Grieving God. Poetry displays to us just how much God yearns for us to follow him. Poetry shows us how jealous God is when we turn towards the fallen world. Poetry describes God’s anger when we refuse to follow him. Poetry captures the depths of God’s sorrow when we are punished and when he lifts up his Son only the be cast down, only to be raised even higher. Narrative is certainly important in conveying God’s story to us and likewise for us to witness to other people. That is why narrative makes up the majority of Scripture. However, sometimes it is difficult for narrative to capture the emotion of the moment, which is what poetry excels at. Narrative helps us discern to what degree we can, along with help from the Holy Spirit, the mind of God. Poetry on the other hand gives us a glimpse into God’s heart. 

The Bible Project – The Art of Biblical Poetry

Exodus 15:1-21

The Bible Project – Poetic Metaphor

Psalms 69:1-6

Isaiah 17:9-14

The Bible Project – The Book of Psalms

Psalms 2:1-9

Psalms 117

The Bible Project – The Prophets

Jeremiah 1

The Bible Project – The Books of Solomon

Song of Solomon 2

The Bible Project – Apocalyptic Literature

Daniel 7:13-27

How to Read Biblical Narrative

Almost half of the Bible is written in narrative form. So how should we approach this literary style as we meditate on and digest the Word? We hope these videos from the Bible Project and our suggested readings will help!

It’s critical to catch the whole plot of God’s characters. Through the whole plot, we see God’s commitment to use weak people to accomplish big things. The following are two examples. Read just one or both and see how God transforms people and their hearts to use them for His Kingdom. He can do the same with you!

We can watch these characters through the Bible, the choices they make, and the consequences of their choices. “Biblical stories use characters as a mirror so we can see ourselves and discover our own human nature in the reflection.” Biblical writers limit detail of physical characteristics so when they are given, they are critical to the story. For instance, Jacob’s skin is described as smooth (just like his talk!)

  • Genesis 25:24-34
  • Genesis 27:11 (Gen 27:1-31 optional)
  • Genesis 32:24-32 – It is at this point and in the following chapter that we see Jacob seeking God’s blessing and his brother’s forgiveness.
  • The Bible Project – Character

The character and relationship struggles these two have are relatable to the struggles in relationships we have today. We can look at Jacob’s story and see how God is with us in our struggles, even when we are in the wrong. He blesses us, even when we don’t deserve it. Because of this blessing and forgiveness, we know how to seek forgiveness from others.

The setting is where the action took place. The biblical authors use the setting to set up what is going to happen. The settings are used to prepare you for what is going to happen. “Settings evoke memories and emotions because of other stories you know that happened in similar places.” These settings throughout the Bible are used like themes. If we know about Egypt, we can know that bad things happen in Egypt (at least until the upside-down Kingdom is at hand!) We can know that moving eastward seems to be related to exile as moving west (or from the east) is a return to the garden and presence of God.

  • Genesis 12:10 – The start of trouble in Egypt for Abram
  • Genesis 42:1-3 – How the Israelites got to Egypt
  • Deuteronomy 17:16 – Don’t have anything to do with Egypt…
  • 1 Kings 3:1 – Then King Solomon has something to do with Egypt…
  • Matthew 2:13-23 – The tables have turned. Jerusalem becomes Egypt.
  • Hosea 11:1 – Egypt’s role is flipped from a place of pain (slavery) to a place where redemption comes from
  • EAST
  • Genesis 3:23-24, 4:16, 13:11 – Exiled to the east
  • 2 Chronicles 36:15-20 – Exiled to the east again (Babylon)
  • The Bible Project – Setting

“The biblical authors have used character, setting, and plots to create a series of repeated patterns that weave through story after story and bind them all together.” This builds key themes using reoccurring words and images. One such theme that is used throughout the Bible is seeing something desired and then taking it. Then Jesus transforms this, setting his own desires for God’s.

Each of these 4 books, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are trying to connect Jesus’s story to all the rest of the Bible. The good news is about Jesus’s Kingdom arriving. The story begins with God creating a good world and leaving humans responsible for its care but through them, sin, death, and destruction enter the world. The Gospel brings hope with the Kingdom of God and the Son of God, to restore humanity to its role of ruling the world with God. Jesus invites people to live in a new world, bringing the whole biblical world to its fulfillment. Each book quotes the Old Testament to show that all the stories before pointed to Jesus. All four books show how the life of Jesus leads up to the cross where Jesus is enthroned on the cross. When he is raised from the dead, we are watching the beginning of a new creation. “The Gospel is designed to persuade us to trust and follow Jesus so we can follow Jesus in the new creation He began.” Each book of the Gospel presents the good news of the Kingdom from its author’s unique perspective.

  • Matthew presents Jesus as a greater Moses so he groups Jesus’s teachings into 5 sections, just like in the Torah. It was written primarily for the Jews so Matthew presents Jesus as the Son of David and the Son of Abraham (Matt 1:1). Matthew tells how Christ speaks of “the throne of His glory” (Matt 19:28, 25:31). He refers to Jerusalem as “the holy city” (Matt 4:5). He is speaking to Jews who are anticipating the coming of a new king, and revealing instead the Kingdom of God, also referred to as the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • “Mark presents Jesus as a new start for humanity bringing the mystery of God’s new creation crashing into the present.” Mark writes to the Roman world and very quickly introduces Jesus’s purpose in Mark 1:14-15.
  • “Luke highlights how Jesus is God’s royal servant from Isaiah who brings God’s light to the nations.” He wrote primarily to the Greeks. He presents Jesus as the Servant of the Lord while also being human, sent to accomplish a specific work for God. As the servant of the Lord, Jesus fulfills Messianic prophecies such as Isaiah 42:1-2 and Isaiah 61:1-2 (See Luke 2:32 and Luke 4:16-30). He is the one who speaks the most of Jesus’s childhood, revealing his humanity.
  • “John focuses on Jesus’s claim to be Yahweh, the God of Israel, to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. John defined his purpose in John 20:31, presenting Jesus as the Son of God (Jn 1:34, 49). John defines who Jesus is with the “I am” statements.
  • The Bible Project – The Gospel

“Jesus didn’t tell parables to make everything clear. Rather he wanted to provoke the imagination and invite people to see what God is doing in the world from a new perspective.” These can be read many times with new revelations taken away each time and can be read by multiple people to reveal many different perspectives and insights!

  • Matthew 13:10-17 – The purpose of the parables
  • Matthew 11:25-26 – The truth will be revealed to those who have the faith of children
  • John 12:23-36 – Jesus brought the light, but many did not have eyes to see or ears to hear
  • Matthew 7:7-11 – Seek Him and you will find Him. Bring this desire to your readings of the parables
  • Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 – The parable of the sower. Which soil are you today? Yesterday?
  • Luke 8:18 – How are you hearing?
  • Isaiah 5:1-7, Matthew 21:33-46 – Parables of a vineyard
  • The Bible Project – The Parables of Jesus

The Parables of Jesus are enough for decades of study just by themselves. Realizing the importance of them is key and how we should apply them. Jesus tells his disciples in Mark 4:13, just after telling them the parable of the sower, that if they don’t understand that one, how will they understand any of them? What do you think that means? Why is that parable so important?

May we all develop eyes to see, ears to hear, hearts to seek, minds to grasp, and faith to grow!

How to Read the Bible

We’re entering into a series on how we should handle that thick book many of us have or that app on our phones. The Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus–but if you’ve ever tried to sit down and read it from beginning to end, don’t be ashamed if you quickly became overwhelmed. Maybe it didn’t seem very unified. Maybe it was hard to see Jesus in a lot of the Old Testament. You’re not alone.

The Bible is a sophisticated compilation of literature with different styles and objectives. To make it even more difficult: it was written to completely different cultures in completely different languages. We have an uphill battle when trying to read and interpret the Scripture from a modern, English-speaking context. We also have to remember that while the books and letters in the Bible were written for us, they were not written to us. That alone should change how we approach the texts.

The New Testament can be difficult enough, but the Old Testament can feel even more foreign to many of us. Sandra Richter in her book “The Epic of Eden” compares the Old Testament to a messy closet–a jumble of stories that we are somewhat familiar with, but no organization in our minds and no idea what’s on the top shelf or deep in the corners.

Often the discussion arises about whether we should read the Bible literally or not. Or maybe parts of it should be taken literally and parts figuratively? What does reading the Bible “literally” even mean? John Walton (the author of The Lost World of Genesis One, and other “lost world” books) discusses the importance of reading each text in the way that the author intended. In that sense, the whole Bible should be read literally; meaning we discover the original intent of the author. That can be a very complex thing, especially for us reading it from a completely different culture and in a completely different language. Many of the intricate literary devices just don’t translate well. Many of the metaphors are lost. Just the translation process itself involves an “interpretation” that may or may not be what that author intended.

Thankfully we have the Spirit to guide us through. Without him, we couldn’t hope to digest the powerful words that make up the Scriptures. It can be tempting to rely on ourselves and our own understanding at times, and perhaps we even rely too much on the printed <English> words on a page that have been translated and interpreted by men over hundreds and hundreds of years…

The Bible Project has put together a great video series that they call “How to Read the Bible.” We’ll go through each part of this series and hopefully be strengthened in our faith and encouraged to read and digest the Word even more. Each week will have 3-6 short videos and some readings to go along with them. Join in!

  • Bible Project – What is the Bible?
  • Exodus 19:5-6 – A purpose for Israel
  • John 1:1-5 – The Word was with God and the Word was God
  • Mark 1:14-15 – The Kingdom of God is at hand
  • Luke 24:44-49 – The mission launches from Jerusalem to all the nations
  • 1 Peter 2:9-10 – A purpose for us
  • Bible Project – The Story of the Bible
  • Genesis 1:1-2, 26-28 – In the beginning
  • Genesis 11:6-9 – Tower of Babel
  • Genesis 12:1-3 – The promise to Abraham for all
  • Matthew 7:13-14 – The wide gate and the narrow gate
  • Acts 1:6-8 – The mission is given, be fruitful and multiply
  • Acts 2:1-13 – The multiple languages of Babel is reversed! Reunification under Christ
  • Rev 21:3-8 – God dwells with man again

Becoming One

I’ve been studying quite a bit on marriage lately. Much of this post I learned by going through an extensive series on marriage/divorce/remarriage delivered by the After Class Podcast. These brothers in Christ are such a great resource. I highly recommend you listen to this 8-episode series. (After Class Podcast: 4.36 – Marriage – Part 1 (libsyn.com))

Recently, I wrote a social media post inviting discussion on the differences between “legal wedlock” and wedlock in the eyes of God. This was prompted by a discussion on the guilt and stigma often associated with couples who get pregnant before they officially walk down the aisle. My belief is in these cases, assuming no adultery or porneia (more on that word later), that couple has entered into a union of one flesh that is in keeping with God’s good design. All the other things we typically think about with marriage (ceremonies, licenses, rings, etc.) are superfluous to God’s working between the man and woman. Throughout Scripture, sex is defined as the marital act. This is not at all to say that the looseness we see in society is in keeping with that. Abuse of that marital act is where the breakdown occurs (and it is rampant) but adding a ceremony and some paperwork is not the cure. We need a robust understanding of what marriage even is in the eyes of God. Tradition runs deep here, and it’s not always easy to sort out God’s ideas and man’s ideas.

I’m not against weddings or other marriage traditions. I was blessed to be a groomsman in some dear friends’ wedding several weeks ago, and I’m going to another wedding today! Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding feast. A marriage is something to celebrate! But the events around a marriage should be to celebrate what God is doing. The ceremony doesn’t make the marriage. The preacher’s words don’t bring the two into one. The government’s paperwork isn’t filed in Heaven. To allow our government (dare I say even our religious organizations) to have the ultimate authority on what we consider “marriage” through licenses and other official documentation, are we not taking away God’s ultimate authority in the one flesh union that he has been overseeing since the Garden of Eden? This is God’s institution. We didn’t invent it. Malachi 2:15 says: “Did [God] not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?” Jesus echoes this in Matthew 19:6: “What God has joined together, let not man separate.” It’s not what man has joined together. It’s not what our government says is joined together. It’s what God has joined together.

This is all written with the believer in mind. The world will do what the world wants to do. I don’t put much stock into what my country or state calls marriage. That ultimately has no bearing on me or God’s Kingdom. But, throughout history, the world has contaminated the hearts and minds of God’s people and led us astray. As believers, we should always pursue deeper understanding of God’s truths.

In the Beginning…

When Jesus speaks on the topic of marriage, he takes us back to the very beginning, so it’s fitting we start there too. Genesis 2:20-25 paints a beautiful picture of God creating man and woman for each other, they become “one flesh,” and therefore are made husband and wife.

I can’t read Hebrew, but I’ve grown to see how much we miss by only studying our various English translations. The story of Adam and Eve is just one of many examples of that.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the story: God saw that Adam needed a partner in the Garden, so he put him under some divine anesthesia, plucked out a rib, and formed Eve (Gen 2:18-25).

But that version misses so much. First, the name “Adam” is simply a Hebrew word for “human.” So, Adam is just “human” at the start of this story. That’s important. He’s also formed from the ground, or in Hebrew, “adamah.” Then God makes Adam a helper, which better translates to “completer” or “savior.” Also, when our English translations say God took a “rib” from Adam, there is no Hebrew word that means “rib” in that sentence. The word translated to rib is really “sela” and it typically means one of two opposite sides of a building. So, God really separated the human into two separate sides and created man (Ish)and woman (Isha). When Adam wakes up and sees Eve, he utters a beautiful poem:

      “This at last is bone of my bones

      and flesh of my flesh;

      she shall be called Woman,

      because she was taken out of Man.” – Genesis 2:23

He is now half of a whole. She’s bone of his bones, flesh of his flesh.

Doesn’t the next verse make more sense now?

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” – Genesis 2:24

Those two halves were always meant to come back together in perfect unity. And how has God divinely ordained that happen? By designing sexual intercourse—a both literal and figurative expression of that new identity.

Inauguration of a Marriage

What initiates a marriage? Is it a ceremony? Vows? Marriage was primarily handled between the families in ancient times, and religious institutions were not even involved in the process. Marriages became marriages when the two were joined together, becoming one flesh through sex. Some cultures even have third-party witnesses to make sure the marriage is consummated! Cultures all over the world have various traditions revolving around marriage. And many harmonize well within God’s design. But how often are we tempted to think that our ideas about something must also be God’s ideas because that’s what we’re comfortable with?

Biblically, how are marriages started? Through the marital act of sex. (By the way, it’s always marital. There is no pre- or extra-marital sex. More on that later…) This marital act literally brings the two halves perfectly together and it figuratively brings those two lives together until death.

Adam and Eve were married. Not by a priest. Not in a church. Not with a ceremony. They were joined together by God and made one flesh through the marital act of intercourse. Isaac and Rebekah’s marriage is also described in this way in Genesis 24:67. Also, Jacob and Leah (and Rachel, and Bilhah, and Zilpah… more on that in a bit). In Deuteronomy 21:10-14, instructions are given for how to treat females from enemy nations taken captive. In the context of taking care of them and giving them a home, they may be taken as a wife (after being allowed to mourn). The phrasing used here is: “After [the mourning period] you may go into her and be her husband she shall be your wife.” (Deut 21:13) Also in Deuteronomy (Deut 25:5-10), instructions are given for how to take care of a widow if she has no sons. Again, as strange as this may seem to us as modern readers, these laws were critical in that culture to ensure the woman was cared for and not forced into desperate situations. The brother of the man is supposed to take her as a wife and produce children for his dead brother. The phrasing? “Her husband’s brother shall go into her and take her as his wife to perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.” (Deut 25:5)

In God’s design, the one flesh act is the ultimate symbol of unity and should provide a glimpse at the perfect unity between Christ and His church. It’s a bond that can’t be broken during this life. One man. One woman. One flesh. That is the ideal, and that’s why Jesus points to it when questioned about marriage in Matthew 19. Unfortunately, people don’t always follow the ideal path…

Inaugurated but Disrespected

In some cases, marriages are inaugurated, but not recognized. The marital act of sex is so commonly abused. The sacred joining of those two halves into one flesh is initiated with the act of sexual intercourse whether the participants understand the weight of that or not. Is this sacredness always realized? No. Respected? No. Have people throughout history always followed God’s design for this bond? No.

In fact, several laws in Torah were written specifically because of the people’s inability to maintain God’s good design the way he intended. Unfortunately, many of those laws were taken out of context by the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, and even still today.

Some Pharisees come to question Jesus about his understanding of the Mosaic Law for divorce, really intending to test which Rabbinical interpretation he would side with, hoping to stir division and discredit him. This is recorded in Matthew 19:3-12. He responds simply: “Don’t you remember what was said in the beginning? God created them, male and female, and the two will become one flesh. What God has joined together let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6) He reminds them (and us) that if we want to understand God’s plan for marriage, we can’t look at the laws given to govern a fallen people as a baseline (they were referencing Deuteronomy 24:1-4, albeit with poor understanding). Instead, we should go back to the beginning. God’s plan for marriage was perfectly implemented in the Garden.

It bears repeating:

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” – Genesis 2:24

But the humans didn’t get to stay in the Garden for long. This is not a perfect world, and we are certainly not a perfect people.

One prominent example of God having to work through imperfect people is Jacob. He is certainly an example where the ideal path of marriage wasn’t followed. And to be fair, not all of that was his fault. That part of the story starts in Genesis 29. Jacob is in love with Laban’s daughter, Rachel—so much so that he agrees to work for Laban for seven years to have her as his wife. When the day finally arrives, Laban pulls a fast one and swaps Leah for Rachel at the last second. Whether Jacob was drunk or if it was just dark and she had on a full burka no one knows, but Jacob didn’t realize the switch until after the one flesh act, the marital act, had already happened. Of course, in the morning, Jacob realizes that he’s with Leah and goes to confront Laban. But not once does Jacob claim that what happened between Leah and him “didn’t count.” He knew they were one flesh and there was no going back. Even though there was no ceremony for Leah, there was no party for Leah’s engagement—Jacob and Leah were husband and wife. He couldn’t give her back after they had sex. But he still loved Rachel. He agrees to work another seven years for her to have her as his wife as well. Was that God’s plan for marriage? No. Just because something is recorded in the Bible doesn’t automatically mean it’s good. I believe it was the After Class Podcast where I heard the phrase “Description does not equal prescription.” In fact, the rest of chapter 29 and into 30 records the intense conflict that came about because of this twisting of God’s good design. Later, a law comes about in Torah to specifically prohibit sisters being taken as wives of the same man (Leviticus 18:18). Even more conflict arises when Leah and Rachel give their servants, Bilhah and Zilpah, to Jacob as wives. But God redeems Jacob’s situation. He becomes the father of the 12 Tribes of Israel. God can still use imperfect people and imperfect conditions.

That’s just one example of polygamy we see in the Bible. Some may be tempted to think that God supports polygamy, but again, description does not equal prescription. God had a perfect plan for a lot of things, and humans have successfully perverted them all. Lamech was the first to abuse marriage with polygamy, and he is not a guy any of us should emulate (Gen 4:19-24). In addition to the conflicts among Jacob’s wives, his grandfather Abraham’s wives also had major conflicts (Genesis 16 and Genesis 21). King David and King Solomon are no stranger to the problems brought about by polygamous lifestyles. Despite a clear law in Torah forbidding Israel’s kings from having multiple wives (Deut 17:17), David and Solomon allowed themselves to be pulled away from God’s plan. These are the most entitled people in the kingdom—if they weren’t allowed to have multiple wives, what should that say about everyone else?

God’s plan was one man, one woman, for life (Gen 2:24). The law of Moses that came later was meant to address the failings of the people in a lot of ways. Sometimes we can read that as if certain things were allowed, but many times the law is addressing how to make the best out of a bad situation when there is a failure—not to facilitate a detour a from God’s design.

But didn’t Solomon also have a bunch of concubines too (1 Kings 11:3)? They weren’t his wives, were they? Turns out a lot of characters in our Bible had concubines (Abraham, Jacob, and Saul to name a few). Concubines were an abuse of the marital act (as were multiple wives in most situations, excepting Deut 25:5-10). Concubines were exploited by the wealthy for sex without giving them the status of wife and the benefits therein. But just because they failed to recognize them as a wife doesn’t mean they were any less “one flesh.” They would be akin to a prostitute, which Paul very clearly states in 1 Corinthians 6:16 that you do in fact become one flesh with them. This sets up the context for 1 Corinthians 7 which is commonly used to talk about “pre-marital sex”…

Marital, Pre-marital, Extra-marital?

In God’s eyes, all sex is marital. There is no such thing as “pre-marital sex.” Jacob was planning on marrying Rachel, but his uncle tricked him, and he unknowingly slept with Leah. This was a marital act. Jacob was then married to Leah. He knows it and accepts it as we discussed before.

The problem is the extensive abuse of the marital act. What we have going on in our world today is “serial polygamy”—a lot of people very loose with sexuality entering into one flesh relationships with many people with no regard for what that bond truly means. Biblically speaking, polygamy is going on all over the US—not just in certain small, isolated communities in southern Utah. But it’s not new to our current time and place.

1 Corinthians 7:2 is sometimes interpreted to be a warning against so-called “pre-marital” sex. But this fails to consider the full historical context of this passage. As stated above, 1 Corinthians 6:16 talks about becoming one flesh with a prostitute. This is the immorality Paul is referring to in 1 Cor 7:2. The Corinthians were constantly confronted with temple prostitution in their culture, and many of them came from that way of life directly. The word translated as “sexual immorality” there is porneia, which typically describes something totally against God’s design (such things as in Leviticus 18 and prostitution). So, Paul is telling them it’s better that they marry so they will not be tempted to visit the temple prostitute.

Even if porneia is translated as “fornication” in some versions of our English Bible, we have to be careful not to read back into the text a modern definition of a word. Just because we can find “pre-marital sex” under the definition of fornication in our dictionary does not mean that’s how authors and readers of the Biblical texts defined those words. When we’re interpreting the Bible, we must remember that none of it was written in English. Translations are never perfect, and vocabulary is relative and contextual. This takes study. This takes research. This takes learning from experts. We must be responsible in how we interpret the text.

The woman Jesus meets at the well in John 4 is also brought up as someone who is in a sexual relationship outside of marriage—and indeed she is, but not because they didn’t walk down the aisle so to speak. This woman has clearly had some struggles in her life, but as God always does, He is looking out for those that are poor in spirit, humble in heart, and truly seeking Him. Jesus points out these struggles not to bring guilt upon her, but to show her that he sees her; that she is not lost on him. Look at John 4:16-18 specifically. Jesus says to her “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband;’ for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” I would previously emphasize “not” in that last part. But it makes more sense to emphasize “your.” He’s talking about her other husbands and then says “the one you have now”—so she has him as a husband, but he’s not her husband because he is supposed to be living as the husband of someone else. This was an adulterous relationship. This reading of the text then is easily aligned with all the other texts we’re discussing.

Speaking of adultery, it’s interesting that even Abimelech, king of the Philistines, knew adultery was wrong. When both Abraham and his son Isaac lied to him about their wives being their sisters (Gen 20:1-18 and Gen 26:6-11), Abimelech was appalled at the predicament he was put in. “What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.” (Gen 20:10) Abraham also pulled this trick on Pharoah in Gen 12:10-20 who was also sensitive to this sinful act.

So, what are the ramifications of all this? Sex is the marital act. Random hook-ups had (and still have) serious implications. Whether you want/recognize it or not, you now have a spouse. You participated in a marital act. You’ve entered into a bond that only ceases by one thing…

Only One Thing Ends a Marriage: Death

Back to our Matthew 19:3-12 passage. Jesus’s definition for marriage is plainly given here. The Pharisees seemingly want Jesus to rattle off a long list of what “indecencies” would warrant a divorce, citing a “command” of Moses in Deuteronomy 24:1-4.

But is that really the intent behind that passage of Torah?

If she finds no favor in his eyes and a man writes a certificate of divorce…”

This is not a command. It’s not even really a concession. It’s an acknowledgment that humans are broken and are going to do things that go against God’s good design. Much of Torah is all about what has to be done after men have taken matters into their own hands and messed up God’s plans for them. And the consequence for that action of divorce is simple in this passage: If you send her away, and she begins another one-flesh union, she can’t be your wife again. John Nugent refers to this as the “no take backsies” rule.

We also see in Deuteronomy 22:13-21 that a man knew divorce was not an easy option. A man that accuses his new wife of not being a virgin must prove that fact. This suggests “writing a certificate of divorce” is not as simple as it sounds, or else the man accusing his wife of this would just go that route instead of risk being whipped when the woman can prove her virginity after all.

Another passage that some try to use to support divorce as a legitimate way to end a marriage is Exodus 21:7-11. The problem with using this as a passage about divorce is that it is primarily a passage about slavery. This is not the type of slavery we tend to think about in the US—it was a consensual practice to help meet economic needs, and it was strictly regulated. Israel was not meant to be built on slave labor. Men taken as slaves had to be released on the seventh year whether their debt was repaid fully or not (Exodus 21:1-2). Since Israel was a patriarchal society, the men had family land and inheritance that they must take control of. This was not the case for the women; therefore, the rules governing the treatment of women were created to protect them as the more vulnerable of that society—quite a progressive system compared to the world around them.

So, in that Exodus passage, a man may have certain debts that he can only repay by accepting an early dowry for his young daughter. She is essentially taken in under an agreement of betrothal to this family. The person taking the girl in also benefits by being able to ensure that the girl “fits in” with their family and the dowry is less expensive. Now, if she doesn’t fit in, the family would have a lot of incentive to treat her poorly. This law helps prevent that potential abuse. If the man ends up wanting to take her as his wife down the road, that’s great—she’s in the family and cared for. Once she’s a wife, she’s not a slave anymore though (this would be how concubines were treated). If he decides not to take her as his wife, her family can buy her back (she can be redeemed). She can’t be sold off to a foreign people for a profit. If she is to marry the man’s son, she cannot be treated like a slave anymore, but as a daughter. And if the man takes another wife instead of her and she is still living with them (not redeemed), he still must provide for her basic needs, or she is free to go. The Hebrew word that is commonly translated “marital rights” there is “onah,” but this word can also mean oil or shelter. It’s unclear because this is the only time it appears in the Bible. But, if this passage is referring to the man taking an additional wife, it’s a command that she should still be treated equally as a wife (and not receive a “demotion” to slave). Since the man has already departed from God’s design for marriage, if he does begin to treat her as a slave instead of a wife, God steps in to let the woman go free (back to her home) where she can be treated fairly even if she is in a bad position for remarriage. Either way, this law addresses sex slavery and human trafficking. This is meant to protect the weak and the vulnerable—something that God is always doing. This protects women that may find themselves in a situation like Hagar, for instance.

But Jesus does not go down these roads to support the practice of divorce. Jesus paints an extremely high view of marriage and the marital act of sex. He points these Pharisees beyond Moses and takes them back to the very beginning—one man, one woman, for life. The laws came because of men’s hard hearts, but God’s plan was good and perfect right out of the gate. Remember that had it not been for man’s fall, God’s plan was for them to never die in the first place, and they would live with Him forever in perfect peace and unity. That was the ideal—one flesh forever.

But alas, death did enter the world. And that is what separates the God-instituted one-flesh bonds. Paul makes this clear in Romans 7:2-3 and 1 Corinthians 7:39-40. He also has a record of encouraging singleness in these situations as well, perhaps to magnify the sanctity of marriage and the one flesh bond even more. The other interesting thing here is that if a believer is going to pursue a new marriage after the death of their spouse, it should be limited to someone who is also in the Lord.

We as believers should be concerned about displaying the sanctity and purity of marriage. Our marriages are critical to our overall witness for God’s Kingdom to the world around us. Similarly, the Levitical Priests were to be a display of the ideal picture of God’s perfect plan for marriage—knowing that the rest of the nation and world would be distorting that picture to varying degrees. The Priests were only to marry a virgin, and it was a once for life situation. Even though it was acceptable for a widow (or widower) to remarry in the general population, the Priests were explicitly barred from marrying a widow, a divorced woman, or a prostitute (Lev 21:10-15). Are we not all considered priests today (1 Peter 2:9-10)? Perhaps that should further shape how we view marriage…

So, ultimately, Jesus says that divorce is not an option to end a marriage. Jesus’s view of marriage is also recorded in Matthew 5:31-32, Mark 10:2-12, and Luke 16:18. The Mark and Luke passages are quite blunt. A divorce and remarriage equals adultery. End of story. Death is the only thing that ends a marriage. A legal document of divorce does not remove your one flesh bond. And neither, as we’ll discuss below, does an act of adultery.

Didn’t Jesus Give an Exception?

Interestingly, both Matthew passages (Matt 5:31-32, 19:3-12) seem to include an “exception clause.” Both passages have the phrase “except on the ground of sexual immorality.” Was Jesus condoning divorce here? Why did Mark and Luke record it differently? The Greek word in this “exception clause” is porneia. In some English translations, it may read as sexual immorality, marital unfaithfulness, or unchastity. However, just before this part in Matthew 5, Matthew records Jesus’s teaching on adultery (Matt 5:27-28). The Greek word translated to adultery there is moicheia. Matthew is familiar with that word, but he switches to porneia for this so-called “exception clause.” Why does Matthew change terms? Why do some English translations assume he means an act of adultery? What does porneia mean here? What was Jesus really saying? Why do Mark and Luke not include this clause? Seems like it might be an important detail to leave out if it’s the only “way out” of a marriage… Why does Matthew (Matt 15:19) and Mark (Mark 7:21) use porneia and moicheia side by side if they are interchangeable? This takes much consideration, and we should dig deeper than our English translations and modern dictionaries. As is always the case with Scripture, we need to let the context help us understand…

The Jerusalem Council is recorded in Acts 15. The Gentiles were coming to Christ, and the believers of Jewish background were trying to discern exactly how to handle this. Should they all be circumcised? What part of Torah, the law of Moses, should be imposed on them? After much deliberation and with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, a decision was reached. The Gentile believers would have these requirements: abstain from idols, blood, food that had been strangled, and sexual immortality (porneia). These four things came straight from the law of Moses, as Acts 15:21 says: “For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” Abstaining from idols is easy to understand—no one can profess to follow Christ while deliberately worshipping idols. Also, the blood guilt laws were still in effect. The life was in the blood. Food laws were no longer binding (i.e., no “kosher” requirement) except that the animals must be drained of the blood (again back to the blood laws).

What about porneia? If these four requirements came from Moses, where did Moses talk about the term? This is where the Jewish people would have derived their understanding for the word.

The Torah discusses porneia in Leviticus 18 and Leviticus 20 and it covers all sorts of cases of incest, same-sex eroticism, bestiality, and yes, even situations of adultery. Prostitution is later included in this term (1 Cor 6:12-20), and child molestation is easily understood to fall into the spirit of porneia as well.

Maybe the traditional understanding of the “exception clause” is correct, but just not broad enough? However, another important principle of interpreting Scripture is to always use the more clear passages to help discern the less clear passages.

We do have clear passages on this. Luke 16:18 says: “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” Mark 10:11-12 says: “And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 says: “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.”

Let’s dig into Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians a bit more. He specifically says this word is from the Lord. This is supposed to directly reflect Jesus’s teaching, but where is that “exception clause”? It’s plain. Neither the wife nor husband should divorce. Period. The “if she does…” statement also should not be understood as Paul giving his readers a way to work around Jesus’s teaching. The English translation makes it sound like we can disagree with Jesus and have a detour to follow. The Greek there suggests this is someone who is already in that situation. Paul is saying that if that’s the situation you find yourself in, leave the door open for reconciliation. Don’t pursue another one flesh relationship if your spouse is still alive. Isn’t that why we all became disciples in the first place? We should be people that are all about the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

Porneia can be used more narrowly in some cases and more broadly in others (hence Matthew and Mark using porneia and moicheia side by side). Based on Matthew’s use of the word and the other cross references to this passage/topic, it becomes increasingly clear that this “exception clause” isn’t so much of an exception clause at all. Marriage is for life. Jesus seems to be saying that the only thing that should dissolve a marriage is if it’s a union that was a total aberration to God’s design in the first place. This would call for repentance. This is not Jesus delivering a new exception to the law of Moses—it’s actually keeping the law of Moses. As an (extreme) example, if a 30-year-old man is “married” to a 10-year-old girl and he comes to Christ, it should be obvious that this relationship is something that must end. He is not causing her to commit adultery if she grows up and gets married someday. Mark, Luke, and Paul may suggest that of course ending a “marriage” in that case goes without saying—that was an horrible aberration to God’s design.

Some translations of this so-called “exception clause” muddy the waters further, allowing for even broader interpretation. Versions that read “except for marital unfaithfulness” (like the MEV), could be stretched to mean any sort of unfaithful behavior—not helping around the house, not giving enough attention, not providing sufficiently, etc. Are those things problems? Absolutely! But this is not what Jesus is talking about. There is a way to address those things that all too often goes underutilized, and it’s talked about in Matthew 18:15-20. We as a body of believers should be holding each other accountable.

Important Clarifications

There may also be severe cases where there is violence or other forms of abuse within a marriage. There is nothing that suggests a wife should stay in the house with an abusive husband, or vice versa. The church should also be implementing Matthew 18:15-20 in these cases, as well as bringing in the civil authorities when needed. The discipline of the offending spouse discussed in Matthew 18 must be carried out all the way. If they repent, that is wonderful—that’s the job we all signed up for as disciples. If they don’t, they are then considered an unbeliever. Paul gave very specific instructions on how that situation can be handled in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16. (Jesus never had to talk about this because there were no cases where a believer was married to an unbeliever at the time of his ministry.) The victim of abuse does not have to stay under the same roof as their spouse, but they are still one flesh. Physical separation doesn’t change that. The church should take on the difficult role of helping provide for the victim of this scenario. One day, the offending spouse may opt to end the marriage. Paul says that the believing spouse has no responsibility to keep the unbelieving spouse from pursuing that option and are at that point freed from the marriage. One question that isn’t answered is whether the believing spouse is then free to remarry. We can’t be sure, but it’s possible Paul assumes that the overall teaching is clear enough to suggest that person should remain single (until the death of the spouse breaks that bond). It’s a sacrifice to hold up the sanctity of marriage in such a difficult situation. But we should never encourage someone to remain in the house under threat of violence or abuse. We as the body must step in to help in those situations.

Another way that the sexual act is abused is through situations of rape. There’s an important passage about this in Exodus 22:16-17. Even though it wasn’t a consensual act, it was still an abuse of the marital act. This passage makes clear that because of that, the perpetrator must pay the bride price. And if she is betrothed, the consequences would be even more severe (discussed below). And it’s important to note: The girl has a choice in this situation. Maybe this was just two people who took things too far, but the woman does love the man. She can opt to live as his wife. Her father acts as her representative, and if she doesn’t want to be with this man, she is not bound to him because of this violent act.

Rape is not a true one flesh union. One party is not giving themselves to the other. The perpetrator is effectively using the victim to masturbate. The victim did not inaugurate or initiate any one flesh bond with the attacker. But the attacker took something from the victim. She is now defiled. In the culture of ancient Israel, it will be very economically challenging for her from that point on. Therefore, the attacker, who instigated this marital bond, must pay the dowry, but the woman is free to decide if she wants to be with this person or not.

Ancient Israel and other nations with strong honor-shame cultures also had other ways of dealing with these situations. Just look at how Jacob’s sons dealt with the rape of their sister Dinah in Genesis 34.

In Deuteronomy 22:25-29, more instruction is given for how to deal with those that violate the marital act. If both parties were guilty, capital punishment was invoked. If the rape happened in the country where the betrothed woman could not have summoned help, the man was punished by death. And if a virgin was raped, he had to pay the bride price and assume responsibility for her because of what he took. This sounds unfair to the woman, but it was primarily meant to ensure she was cared for. Also, the Exodus passage later clarifies that her father could step in on her behalf.

Let Not Man Separate

Jesus’s view of marriage is so high that his disciples say (basically) in Matthew 19:10: “Whew, if that’s the level of commitment it takes, it’s better not to marry at all!” The Pharisees are approaching him wondering how many ways someone can get out of a marriage, but Jesus says what God puts together man can’t separate. (Why is it I’ve heard that at every wedding ceremony I’ve ever been to, but am just now realizing the true gravity of that statement? And sadly, how many weddings have that passage recited, but the marriage still ends with the people separating anyway?)

In response to his disciples’ amazement, Jesus affirms that indeed some people have a special gifting to serve God’s Kingdom as singles, but not all. Paul talks about this special gift too in 1 Corinthians 7:6-7,40. But God has a role for the married and the single. In fact, it’s clear in Genesis 2:18 that God gave us marriage for our benefit. He made us, man and woman, as two halves that are meant to come together as a perfect whole.

God’s Grace is Greater

What I’ve written here may be difficult to swallow. You may disagree with some or many of my conclusions. I write this not to bring guilt upon anyone, but to try to help us achieve a greater understanding of God’s good design. That way, even if an individual has not followed through with that design, they can still be a champion of it. We don’t have to “baptize” our past mistakes. God’s capacity for forgiveness is inexhaustible. Let’s accept where we’ve fallen short and pursue God from wherever we find ourselves today.

A legal divorce granted through our government systems does not remove the one flesh bond that couple shares. But, praise God that adultery and divorce are not unforgivable sins. God can redeem imperfect scenarios—he did it repeatedly throughout Scripture. A perfect example of this is the story of Hosea and Gomer. Gomer was a prostitute, but God told Hosea to take her as his wife and love her despite her past. She represented Israel and their adultery with other gods. But God was always ready to redeem them.

We can’t un-ring a bell and we can’t go back in time. If you’ve already entered into a marriage after a divorce, you are now one flesh with the current spouse. The second marriage is as real as the first. Let God redeem that. Honor God through it. Commit to him that this is a bond that is “until death do you part.”

And if you had wild days in college or high school—yes, you abused the marital act. No, you don’t have go back and take them all as your spouse. Recognizing a past fault does not always require that we “fix it.” Many times, there’s nothing we can do. But we move from ignorance in an area to enlightenment, and we grow along the way.

God’s grace is truly amazing. His forgiveness is complete. Our walk with him is all about recognizing our brokenness and submitting to him. We have to come to him as we are and commit to moving forward (1 Cor 7:17-24). Remember the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11)? This was an offense punishable by death under Torah. Jesus flips the script. Even a capital offense didn’t garner capital punishment. That grace is offered to you today as well.


This isn’t how many of us have been taught to think about marriage, and it leads to lots of questions. A blog article is hardly adequate to tackle all of this, and especially a blog article written by me, but I do hope this starts a discussion and leads to further study and growth for all of us. Don’t take my word for it. Engage in honest study for yourself. Check out that podcast series or other scholars’ work. Pray for wisdom and understanding.

Grace and Peace.