By John R. Ecob D.D.
The Lord’s final ministry to His disciples before He went to the cross is recorded in John’s Gospel chapters 12 to 17. Jesus was preparing them for the traumatic experience that lay ahead and for the new Covenant under which they would serve and see the Church established with the Gospel going to the Gentiles. In these chapters the Lord told them of His departure, of the coming of the Holy Spirit and of His return to one day receive them to Himself. Jesus prayed for them and for those who through the ages would believe on Him through their testimony.
In the synoptic Gospels; Matthew, Mark and Luke, we have recorded the Lord’s final message to the nation of Israel. It was the conclusion to His ministry to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6).
During the Lord’s earthly ministry He taught Israel the principles of the coming Kingdom in the sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5 to 7) and in Matthew chapter 13 he indicated how the Kingdom (Matthew 13) would come at the end of the age. Had the nation responded to the ministry of both John the Baptist and Jesus, the leaders would have been prepared to crown Him as King and the Kingdom age would have commenced but in the foreknowledge of God, Jesus came, knowing He would be rejected and that He would lay down His life a ransom for all.
As the Saviour approached the end of His ministry on earth He was very aware that He would be rejected by the nation and of the consequences their actions. After His most scathing denunciation of the hypocritical nation, Jesus cried,
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate (Matthew 23:37-38).
Most of the Lord’s earthly ministry was outside of Jerusalem; mainly in Galilee or in Gentile territory to the north of Galilee. Jesus went to Jerusalem for the feasts of the Jews but the last few months of His life on earth were spent in the wilderness of Judea beyond Jordan or at Ephraim, a wilderness city in Judea where He waited for the time to be fulfilled when He would go up to Jerusalem for the final Passover; there He would be the True Pascal Lamb, to “bear our sins in His own body on the tree” (1Peter 2:24).
After walking from Jericho to Bethany on the Friday the Lord rested on the Sabbath and His final testimony in Jerusalem began on Palm Sunday, the 10th of the month Nisan. After leaving Bethany just outside the city where He stayed with Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, Jesus sent his disciples into a village to bring an ass and its colt for His royal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus was of the lineage of David through both Mary and Joseph and the angel Gabriel had told Mary that
the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of his father David : And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end (Luke 1:32-33).
When David had his son Solomon crowned King of Israel, he said:
Cause Solomon my son to ride upon mine own mule, and bring him down to Gihon: And let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him there king over Israel: and blow ye with the trumpet, and say, God save king Solomon (2 Kings 1:33-34).
The first son of David was crowned in this way and Jesus, a son of David, fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy in a similar way:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass (Zechariah 9:9).
In the synoptic Gospels; Matthew, Mark and Luke, we have the Lord’s final testimony to the nation of Israel beginning with His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The parables He spoke and His discourses with the Jews reveal the fact that the nation was ripe for judgment and that God was going to turn to the Gentiles. For three days the Lord went into Jerusalem and openly taught in the Temple.
On Palm Sunday Jesus was welcomed by the multitude who
spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way … saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest (Matthew 21:8-9).
Jesus proceeded to the Temple and He overturned the tables of the money changers and drove out all those who sold doves. Then He healed the blind and the lame and the city was “moved”. People were asking, “Who is this?” The children in the Temple were singing the praises of Jesus saying, “Hosanna to the son of David” but the chief priests and scribes were “sore displeased” and tried to silence the praise so Jesus withdrew from the Temple and returned to Bethany.
Monday in the Temple
The next day, Monday morning, Jesus again came to the Temple but on the way He saw a fig tree. When He would have taken some figs He found the tree was barren of fruit and so He cursed the fig tree. This was a symbolic act for the grape vine and the fig tree were symbols of the nation of Israel. Hosea wrote
I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time (Hosea 9:10).
Jesus again went into the Temple and cast out the money changers and those who sold animals and the scribes and chief priests began to plot as to how they might destroy Him. He again withdrew to Bethany.
Tuesday – The Final Day in the Temple
On the Tuesday morning Jesus returned into the city and as they passed the fig tree that had been covered in leaves the day before, they saw that it had withered up and completely died. This was a solemn warning to the nation that they were under the curse of God and would perish.
When Jesus arrived at the Temple on Tuesday He found the chief priests and scribes and elders waiting for Him. They challenged His action in overturning the money changers tables and driving out all that sold animals. They asked, “By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things?”
Jesus asked them,
The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me. And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him? (Mark 11:30-31).
They answered, “We cannot tell.” If they said it was not from God they feared the people because most Jews believed John was a prophet. But if they said it was from God; John testified that Jesus was Messiah, the Son of God so why did they not believe him?
The Parable of the Vineyard
Jesus began to speak to them in parables. He told the story of a man who planted a vineyard and let it out to husbandmen before going into a far country. At harvest time the man sent a servant to collect the profits but the servant was beaten and sent away with nothing. A number of servants were sent and these were beaten and some killed so finally he sent his son thinking,
They will reverence my son. (Mark 12:6).
But they took the son outside the vineyard and killed him also. Jesus asked,
When the Lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen (Matthew 21:40-41).
The message was clear. The nation had rejected the message of God’s prophets and would slay the Son of God. The nation failed to bring forth the fruits of righteousness and would be destroyed.
The Parable of the Wedding of the King’s Son
Again Jesus spoke a parable to the chief priests. He told of a King who made a marriage for his son and issued invitations for guests to attend the marriage supper. Those who were bidden showed no interest and found excuses for refusing. Some even took the king’s servants, abused them and slew them. So the king sent his armies; burned the city, and destroyed the murderers. He then sent out his servants into the highways to invite any who would come.
The application was very clear. The Jewish leaders had rejected the message of the prophets and slain some of them. Jerusalem would be burned and the Jews destroyed because they were not worthy of attending the marriage supper of the King’s Son.
In AD70 Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews slain or captured. But the King of kings has sent out His servants into the highways and biways of the Gentile nations. The Church is the Bride of Christ and after the Rapture the marriage of the Lamb will take place in heaven but when the Lord returns after the Tribulation, the marriage supper will be held on earth. Those who have responded to the invitation during the Tribulation will be the guests but those who refuse the Gospel of the Kingdom will be “cast into outer darkness, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 22:13; 25:46).
The chief priests understood what Jesus was saying and were furious, wanting to kill Him but they feared the people. So they sent certain Pharisees and Herodians to “catch Him in His words ” i.e. to get evidence.
The Herodians favoured the Roman occupation and asked if it was lawful to pay tribute to Caesar? Jesus took a penny and asked, “Whose is this image and superscription? They said, “Caesar’s”. Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” The Herodians were silenced but the message was clear to the Jews. They would continue under the heel of Rome and God was going to turn to the Gentiles. The Gentiles would continue to rule.
The Sadducces on Resurrection
The Sadducces then came forward. They did not believe in a resurrection, in angels or anything miraculous yet they had witnessed Jesus’ miracles. They spoke of seven brothers; each died after marrying one woman and they asked,
In the resurrection … whose wife shall she be? (Mark 12:23).
Jesus answered that “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage” and He went on to affirm that there was life after death and there would be a resurrection. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would all rise from the dead. He said, “Ye therefore do greatly err!”
It was important to establish the truth of the resurrection for in a few days Jesus would rise from the dead and the message to the Apostles would be, “He is not here but is risen!” And it would not only be Christ who would rise, for the graves of “the saints which slept” (Matthew 27:52-53) would be opened and some would appear in the city of Jerusalem as a testimony to the fact that Christ had risen as “the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20,23).
The Pharisees on the Law; What Think Ye of Christ?
There was no love between the Pharisees and the liberal Sadducces and the Pharisees were pleased to see that the Lord believed in the resurrection. So a lawyer among them asked, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus replied,
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself (Matthew 22:37-39).
If they loved God with all their heart they would acknowledge that Jesus was the Son of God! So Jesus asked, “What think ye of Christ? whose son is he?” They say unto him, “The son of David”. Jesus quoted the prophetic psalm 110 where David called Messiah, his Lord who would come out of Zion and rule. Jesus was both the son of David, and Son of God who David said would “judge among the heathen” (Psalm 110:6). One day He would come in glory and power to reign. The Pharisees were religious but lost and were silenced.
The Temple to be Destroyed
As Jesus was leaving the Temple that Tuesday to walk across the valley of Kidron to the Mt of Olives, the Disciples drew His attention to the great stones that King Herod had placed in the structure of the Temple and Jesus said,
There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down! (Matthew 24:2).
When they arrived at the Mt of Olives they asked, “When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the age?”
The question indicates that the Disciples at last had come to understand who Jesus was. They did not question the destruction of the Temple nor that Jesus would one day come in glory and power. They wanted to be prepared and to know what signs would indicate the time of His coming to reign.
After describing “the end of the age” i.e. the great Tribulation, Jesus stated that He would come “immediately after the Tribulation” (Matthew 24:29). Israel, His repentant elect nation, would be gathered back to the land and “all (Gentile) nations” that survive the Tribulation would be judged. The “sheep” would “inherit the kingdom ” and the “goats” would “go away into everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:31-46).
Three signs were given to Israel that would indicate when the end of the age had come (Matthew 24:32- 41).
1) The “fig tree” that Jesus had cursed would “put forth leaves”. i.e. the nation of Israel that was destroyed by the Romans would be revived in the land in the last days (Matthew 24:32 -33). When this occurs “the Kingdom of God is nigh at hand” (Luke 21:31). This happened in 1948.
2) There would be lawlessness and wickedness like the days of Noah when the “imagination of the thoughts of mens’ heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
3) There would be a global disappearance of individuals; “one shall be taken and the other left”. When the Rapture of the Christians occurs the Jews will know the end of the age has come.
Parables of the Kingdom
Two parables of the Kingdom follow. Who will enter the Kingdom when Christ returns?
1) The parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins teaches Israel that they must have the oil of the Holy Spirit in their lamps to be ready for the marriage supper of the Lamb on earth after His return.
2) The parable of the talents teaches Israel that the Lord has departed for a long time but he is coming back and will require of the nation what they have done with the treasures He entrusted to them. God gave His Word to the Jews. Gentiles were never prophets of God. “Unto them (Israel) were committed the oracles (utterances) of God” (Roman 3:2). Both New Testament and Old Testaments were treasures that were given to Apostles and Prophets. They would be rewarded in the Kingdom according to how they had used the Word of God.