Confession and Persecution

by Spiros Zodhiates

Editor's Note: Dr. Zodhiates continues his exposition of Matthew's gospel.

[34-36] Jesus preempted any thoughts that He came to bring peace and failed.

"Think (nomsete, the aorist subjunctive of nomzo  [3543], to think) not (me  [3361], the relative "not") that I came (elthon, the aorist tense of érchomai [2064], to come) to bring (balen, the aorist active infinitive of bllo  [906], to cast) peace on the earth. I came not (ou [3756], the absolute "not") to bring peace, but a sword (mchaira [3162]). For I came to divide (dichsai, the aorist active infinitive of dichzo  [1369], to divide) a man against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man's foes (echthro [2190], enemies) shall be those of his own household" (a.t.).

According to Luke 2:13, 14, the advent of the Messiah was accompanied by a heavenly heraldry of peace from, ironically, a "multitude of soldiers (stratis [4756])", saying: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men of good pleasure (eudokas, the genitive of eudoka [2107], good pleasure, good will, approval)" (a.t.). Given this announcement, what were the disciples to think of conflicts that arose as the result of their witness?

They were to realize that the division within families (dichostasa [1370]) would be accidental to any intentions on their part; in fact, it would be the product of the peace of Christ in their hearts. Family members confronted with these radical, unfamiliar changes, especially peace, succumb naturally to alarm or jealousy. What anxious heart can endure the presence of a peaceful one? Accordingly, among other reasons, the chief priests delivered up Christ "for envy" (Mark 15:10).

Jesus carefully differentiated inner peace from conflict that exists in the external world:

"These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace (eirenen [1515]). In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

From the fall of Adam, history has been filled with local, national (civil), and world conflicts. Yet the peace of Jesus Christ has ruled (Col. 3:15) in the hearts of many believers surrounded by strife. Note the precise wording in the above verse: The peace heralded by the angels in the second chapter of Luke is qualified by Jesus as in Him, not in the world. The Lord's promise of peace is particular, not universal, although He is infinitely larger than the world. In our composite world of good and evil, light and darkness, He said, "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." On the island of Patmos, John saw a vision of the last days: "It was given to him that sat [on the red horse] to . . . take peace from the earth in order that they might kill one another" (Rev. 6:4; a.t.).

The inner peace of the believer is the result of personal justification: "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:1). Thus, our first peace is with God, not people. Prior to reconciliation, the Lord wars against unbelief and hypocrisy.

"Repent, therefore, for if not, I [Jesus] come to you [the entire church of Pergamos] suddenly, and I will wage war (polemeso , the future active tense of poleméo  [4170], to wage war, to fight) with (not kat [2596], "against", implying that the Lord is fighting indirectly; but rather met' from met [3326], with, meaning both parties are battling) them [unbelievers within the church] with the sword (romphaa [4501]) of My mouth" (Rev. 2:16; a.t.).

When people are justified through faith, the Lord no longer battles to initiate repentance, even though the Spirit of God continues to strive against the flesh (Gal. 5:17). God and new believers in Christ lay down their swords and peace ensues. This is called reconciliation (katallage  [2643]; Rom. 5:11; 2 Cor. 5:18-19).

Since the Lord Himself "wages war" against our enemies, even family members, to pressure them to repent, this should raise our confident expectations. Thus, while division causes immediate, short-term conflicts, it may ultimately produce repentance. Consider two teachings from the apostles Paul and Peter: "In nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evidence [both] of their destruction and your salvation, and that from God" (Phil. 1:28; a.t.); "If any obey not the Word, they also may be won without word[s] by . . . conduct (anastrophe  [391], lifestyle, manner) . . . as they behold your pure (hagns [53]) conduct in fear" (1 Pet. 3:1, 2; a.t.).

Without "division"-differentiation or schism (schsma [4978], tear), an equivalent Greek concept-there would be no "evidence of destruction" or "pure conduct" for unbelievers to notice. God creates this division by removing unbelievers' hearts of stone and replacing them with hearts of flesh (Ezek. 11:19; 36:26), making them new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15).

Jesus acknowledged the family as a divine institution by becoming (génesis [1078]; see Matt. 1:1) a man and participating in a human family. Though dissension may be in a family unit because sin has affected its members, the Lord does not intend to destroy the sacredness of the family. The Greeks have a special word for family love, storge . In Scripture, the adjective is found only in the negative, storgoi ([794], without family love), something that characterizes the end times (2 Tim. 3:3) just as it did in the earliest days of humankind (Rom. 1:31). When Jesus was dying on the cross, He committed His mother to the care of John (John 19:26-27), one of His disciples. So Jesus encouraged family love and practiced it Himself, even during His agonizing moments on the cross.

Two other kinds of love advance beyond familial affection. They are agpo ([25]; John 3:16), to love sacrificially the way God loves, and philéo  ([5368]; v. 37), to befriend, from which we have the noun phila (5373), friendly love. When God's love (agpe ) is appropriated by one family member but rejected by others, opposition is created. Division (dichsai as in v. 35) occurs. The peace of Christ in the heart and life of the one stimulates the anxiety of the others: "A man's foes shall be they of his own household."

[37] But we are to stand firm against such opposition:

"He (ho [3588], the definite article) who loves (philon, the present participle of philéo ) father or mother more than (hupér [5228], above) Me, is not (ouk [3756], the absolute "not") worthy (xios [514]) of Me" (a.t.).

When family members persecute us, we should defer to our higher love for Christ. If we value relatives, even fathers or mothers, above Christ, we have not truly recognized His unique status as the incarnate God who gives new birth. We must rest in the fact that accountability for family divisions falls on those who reject the Spirit of Christ within us.

We must rank our love for the Lord first (protos [4413], cf. proteon in Col. 1:18), thus Christ's warning to the church of Ephesus: "I have this against you, that you left your first (proten) love (agpen)" (Rev. 2:4; a.t.). John explains that "we love [agapomen, the present tense of agapo ) Him, because He first (protos) loved (egpesen, the aorist tense of agapo ) us" (1 John 4:19). This reciprocating love is the product of the Holy Spirit in us: "The love [agpe ] of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us" (Rom. 5:5).

Here in verse 37, however, the verb philéo  means to befriend, and the present participle calls our attention to the habit of befriending. James tells us that Abraham was called the "friend (phlos [5384]) of God" as the result of his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac (James 2:23). This event mirrored God's sacrificial love for the world: "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10).

[38] This leads to another positive principle for us as believers. Whereas we must endeavor to maintain family love (storge ), we must also realize that the acceptance of God's unique love (agpe ) will weaken human relationships (phila). Such diminishing is a "cross" (staurs [4716], striking the bar across) to bear. Ironically, the bearing of this cross of death is the path to life, to being "worthy of Me [Christ]."

[39] The phrase "he that findeth" translates ho heuron, (the definite article [3588] and the aorist active participle of heursko  [2147], to find). The aorist marks entry into the kingdom, the initiation "of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all" (Rom. 4:16). Abraham trusted in God's righteous provision for a sacrifice in place of his son Isaac.

The word translated "life" is psuche  ([5590], soul). Thus, we believers lose or destroy our souls in order to find them in Christ. The word "lose" is apolései (the future active tense of apllumi [622], meaning "to destroy"). The souls of our old natures are crucified or destroyed in salvation, and our newly created spirits give life to our bodies (Rom. 8:10, 11). Those whose spirits have been re-created in Christ (Eph. 2:10) are willing to risk them for our Lord, since people can kill our bodies but not our souls. We know that our regenerated spirits liberated from our bodies will live on forever in Christ's presence (2 Cor. 5:1-8; Phil. 1:21).

Dr. Zodhiates is president emeritus of AMG International and publisher emeritus of Pulpit Helps.

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