Why exile? (Zechariah 5)

As Zechariah calls the exiles home, he sees two explanations of why they went to Babylon.

Read Zechariah 5.

Zechariah began with God’s promise that he would return to reign over his people if they returned to him from Babylon (1:3). Like a married couple getting together after a separation, it’s important that they don’t just repeat the mistakes of the past. They need to learn from their ancestors’ mistakes (1:2-6).

God promised he would restore his leaders for the community, the high priest and the Davidic king. They would lead God’s people to rebuild the temple where God would be present among them and lead his people (Zechariah 2–4).

But why did God send them into exile in the first place? That’s what the two visions of Zechariah 5 address.

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Rulers of the restored kingdom (Zechariah 4)

Two olive trees supporting the menorah? How does this relate to Jesus?

Read Zechariah 4.

Matthew promotes Jesus’ agenda — the kingdom of God — as the fulfilment of the promises God gave through the prophets, with numerous allusions to Zechariah. We’re looking at how Zechariah’s visions informed Jesus’ agenda.

When the kingdom fell apart and the people were exiled to Babylon, Zechariah delivered God’s call for the exiles to return (1:3), declaring that God would lead them home like a new exodus (2:6-12). He said they would see the twin signs of God’s leadership over them: Joshua the cleansed high priest in God’s house, and “the Branch” of David’s house who would reign as God’s anointed (3:8).

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Priest of the restored kingdom (Zechariah 3)

How does Zechariah’s story about a high priest in filthy rags relate to Jesus?

Read Zechariah 3.

The prophets inspired Jesus’ kingdom vision. After God’s nation disintegrated in the exile, prophets like Zechariah delivered God’s promise to restore his kingdom. He said that God had scattered them among the nations because of their unfaithfulness, and God would gather them as his kingdom again because of his covenant faithfulness (Zechariah 1–2).

The two markers of God’s kingship in Jerusalem were gone: the house of God (the palace for his throne), and the house of David (the anointed kingship representing his reign). Zechariah addresses these two problems in Chapters 3 and 4.

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Zechariah’s hope of kingdom restoration (Zechariah 1–2)

Prophets like Zechariah delivered God’s promise to restore his kingdom after the exile. What they said informed Jesus’ kingdom ministry.

Jesus was not the first to proclaim the kingdom of God. That was already Israel’s story when God anointed David to rule on earth, and when God established Israel as his nation at Sinai. It was the hope for the nations promised to Abraham. It was the covenant God made with all people through Noah. By design, humans exist as images of the heavenly sovereign in his earthly creation.

What was unique was Jesus’ vision of how the kingdom of heaven would be restored to the earth. There was a whole history of getting off-track in the generations of Adam, Noah, Israel, and David. Then it completely fell apart when Babylon took the nation into captivity, destroying the symbols of God’s kingship: the house of God (with the ark that represented his throne), and the house of David (the anointed kings who that represented his reign).

So, how did Jesus envision the restoration of God’s reign? In part, his kingdom vision was shaped by the promises God gave through the prophets, particularly Zechariah.

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Christ in Ephesians (Joshua Jipp)

Joshua Jipp explains what “Christ” means in Ephesians, and who we are in Christ.

I’ve never met Joshua Jipp, but I think of him as a friend. He understands how central the kingdom of God is to the New Testament, and he explains it in The Messianic Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2020).

Here’s a little of what he says about Ephesians. We miss the message if we treat “Christ” merely as a name for Jesus rather than as God’s anointed ruler bearing his authority:

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My blood of the covenant (Matthew 26:28)

What did Jesus mean by this phrase? The backstory is not to be missed.

I’m meditating on a phrase Jesus used at his last supper: This is my blood of the covenant (26:28). What did he mean by my blood? How is his blood covenantal?

Since this was a Passover meal, I’ve heard people say that Jesus was the Passover lamb sacrificed for us. You can draw that parallel (as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 5:7, to ask us to live unleavened lives). But I doubt that’s what Jesus was saying.

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The king’s gospel

How does our culture shape what we hear?

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Trouble is, I never do know the whole truth. God alone has that privilege. My fragmentary view is so partial that the best I can do is listen carefully and share humbly.

I even face this problem as I read the Bible. God didn’t give us an encyclopedia of absolute truth on all topics. He gave us a record of his involvement with human beings who often didn’t know or do right. Some practiced polygamy, or believed in other gods. To handle Scripture well, we need to discern between what they did and the revelation God gave them.

We face the same issue. We live in a culture that isn’t all that God intends, but we’re often unaware of how our culture distorts our understanding of God.

So, how can I be more mindful of my cultural bias? I need to hear people from other cultures, people from other eras, and people who understand how our worldview developed over time.

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Giving up your king (Matthew 26:14-16)

When it goes dark, it’s not the time to give up on the light.

Matthew 26:14-16 (my translation, compare NIV)
14 Then one of the twelve — the one called Judas Iscariot — went to the high priests 15 and said, “What are you willing to give me, and I’ll hand him over to you?” They settled on thirty silver coins. 16 From then, he was looking for the right moment to hand him over.

What did this mean for Jesus? And what did it mean for Judas? This doorway has two sides.

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An unexpected gift (Matthew 26:6-13)

Sometimes people honour Jesus in ways we don’t expect.

Jesus was a king, but he didn’t ask for the luxuries that usually attend royalty. With his inversion of power where the king served everyone in his kingdom, his servants actually thought it was crazy to give the king an extravagant gift:

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Why did Jesus die? (Matthew 26:1-5)

Ask why Jesus died on the cross, and people usually tell me he died in my place, to forgive me for my sins. Shortly we’ll be looking at the explanation Jesus gave at his last supper, but listen to how Matthew introduces the passion narrative, Jesus’ looming death:

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Who are “my brothers?” (Matthew 25:40)

Who was Jesus expecting us to help when he said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”?

Who are Jesus’ brothers/sisters in this statement?

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40 NIV)

The context is where he’s sorting sheep from goats, based on how they took care of his needs. The sheep ask, “When did we ever see you in need and help you?” And that was the king’s response.

So, was Jesus thinking only of Christians as his brothers and sisters? Or did he have the whole human family in view? It matters, because the church needs to be clear about its mission. The answer you give reveals how you understand the scope of Jesus’ kingship.

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How the king evaluates his people (Matthew 25:34-46)

Our criteria don’t match his.

We’ve been celebrating how the world will be when Christ’s kingship extends to all the people of the world, when all the nations are under his reign. This is what finally brings peace, resolving every conflict.

How does he achieve that goal? His Father, our eternal sovereign, gives the kingship to the son of man, so he has the responsibility to sort out all the people of the earth. Like a shepherd, he separates sheep from goats (25:32).

So how does he know the difference? What criteria does the king use to evaluate his subjects and decide who are his?

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The king who sorts it out (Matthew 25:31-33)

Jesus’ final teaching story in Matthew reveals him as king of all nations, the only leader who can remove what’s wrong with the world and restore God’s reign.

This is the ultimate teaching from Jesus before the final passion narrative in Matthew’s Gospel. Everything Jesus has said about the kingdom of God comes together in this story as the son of man receives the kingship and resolves the justice issues of the world.

This final story contains the most explicit description Jesus ever gave of how he expects humans to live in his kingship. What he expects of his subject is so simple, and his wisdom is so decisive:

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The joy of serving (Matthew 25:14-30)

Two workers found the joy partnering with someone who gave them huge opportunity, while another dug a hole and discovered how small the world of the self becomes. We know it as the “parable of the talents.”

Jesus told a story about a businessman trusting his assets to his staff while engaged elsewhere. How is this “parable of the talents” a story of the kingdom? Is it about Jesus’ return at the end of the era, or does it have a broader application?

First, let’s clear up some misunderstandings:

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Missing the wedding (Matthew 25:1-13)

Lighting the king’s procession.

Jesus continues with three more stories of his coming to kingship. The first is about a wedding where some of the young guests were looking forward to the bridegroom’s arrival, but missed it because they weren’t prepared.

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Serving in God’s house (Matthew 24:45-51)

So, what is the church called to do? A practical answer from the Master of the house.

Okay, so you’re a pragmatic person, and you need to know what practical difference all this stuff about the coming of the son of man makes for how we live our lives now? This post is for you. Jesus answered your question at the end of Matthew 24.

So what does the king want his servants to do now in anticipation of the whole world under his care? Here’s what he does (and does not) want us to do. This is what serving Christ looks like:

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Coming like a thief (Matthew 24:42-47)

Burglars are as unpredictable as they are unwelcome. But a king’s arrival wouldn’t normally be compared to a burglar breaking in to rob the house. What’s going on?

How would you describe Jesus’ role in God’s household? Is he the master of the house, entrusted by the heavenly Father with restoring order to his earthly house? Or is he coming as a thief to take power from those who currently claim to run the world?

A wicked sense of humour probably isn’t the right descriptor for Jesus, but he certainly spun yarns and mixed metaphors in crazy-creative ways. You don’t expect the heaven-anointed king to come like a thief in the dark to rob the householder!

But before you can ask, “Say, what?” he flips the metaphor. Suddenly he’s running the household instead of robbing it:

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One taken; one left (Matthew 24:37-41)

All people should be treated equally. That’s basic ethics. So, is the world unjust if two people doing the same thing are treated differently?

One is taken, and one left. Which is which? Jesus has been speaking about Rome invading, advising the people of Judea to head for the hills (24:16). Is he speaking of soldiers capturing one, and letting the other go?

Or is God doing the taking/releasing? The immediate context says Noah’s flood took them all away (24:39). That didn’t leave many. Is this about God taking some people in judgement, and leaving others? Or is God taking some to save them, leaving the others to be damned?

If you’ve never considered these possible meanings, you may be surprised to know that Bible commentators seriously weigh these options. The commentaries I checked were quite divided over who’s who in this brief story. Jesus didn’t spell it out for us.

That left me wondering if we’re missing the point. We’ve assumed that it must be about the godly being saved and the ungodly being lost, but Jesus’ story doesn’t have those categories. It wasn’t about a bandit and a sheriff. He drew no distinction between them:

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