Problems with a parable

I want to talk about a parable that has been on my mind. The reasons why will become clear.

I am using Eugene Peterson’s Message for the parable,

Common vineyard (ca. 1910)

Common vineyard (ca. 1910) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

not because I am thrilled with it but it is broken down in a clear way, and he uses a dollar, something we can relate to. However, the parable, no matter what the translation, has nothing to with money; it is more about the manager’s choice to pay everyone that worked, our future in eternity, and how poorly we react when things do not go the way we thought they should.

Jesus had been talking about end times, so this parable is just a continuation of the theme.

“God’s kingdom is like an estate manager who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. They agreed on a wage of a dollar a day, and went to work. “Later, about nine o’clock, the manager saw some other men hanging around the town square unemployed. He told them to go to work in his vineyard and he would pay them a fair wage. They went. “He did the same thing at noon, and again at three o’clock. At five o’clock he went back and found still others standing around. He said, ‘Why are you standing around all day doing nothing? ‘ “They said, ‘Because no one hired us.’ “He told them to go to work in his vineyard. “When the day’s work was over, the owner of the vineyard instructed his foreman, ‘Call the workers in and pay them their wages. Start with the last hired and go on to the first.’ “Those hired at five o’clock came up and were each given a dollar. When those who were hired first saw that, they assumed they would get far more. But they got the same, each of them one dollar. Taking the dollar, they groused angrily to the manager, ‘These last workers put in only one easy hour, and you just made them equal to us, who slaved all day under a scorching sun.’ “He replied to the one speaking for the rest, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn’t we? So take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you. Can’t I do what I want with my own money? Are you going to get stingy because I am generous?’ “Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first.” (Matthew 20:1-16 MSG)

If we could equate our relationship with Jesus Christ to work, in what form do we get paid?

Our payment then would come in our salvation – a hope of being snatched off this earth before all hell breaks loose, and eternal life with the Father.

Is there anything that impedes that relationship?

There are always things that can pull your attention away from God, but overall, it is not that difficult, unless you start thinking too hard, complicating a simple life of loving people with religious rules, and become confused to the point where you are unable to sort out things like tribulation, resurrections, judgment, and who the dead are brought to the white throne at the end of the thousand years.

It is really not that difficult but I get into these conversations with people who are just stuck and refuse to consider truth. The unsettling conversations that I have had (they are unsettling because of the intense lack of mercy I meet) are about the dead brought before the white throne. Many have the understanding that all those brought before the throne, are judged immediately and thrown into the lake of fire with its eternal punishment. Sorry, but that is just not the case, and here is why.

We find the last judgment in two places, Revelation 20:11-15, and Matthew 25.

Revelation 20:11-15 NASB (11) Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. (12) And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. (13) And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. (14) Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. (15) And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

This passage comes across like a movie we once paid to see but is now on television, and they had to cut out some of the scenes we liked for the sake of time. This section of Revelation has a huge variable in it, which you find in verse 15. It says, “and if”. This is reminiscent of math class and it’s “if then” statements. Scripture tells us of books, not just one, so Jesus/God is probably reading from the only book important to Him, the Book of Life. I suppose “if” a name is not there, “then” it has to be in the other, and those in the other book have an appointment with hell. But keep in mind that Jesus was here on a mission and at this stage in the plan, it did not include judgment.

Revelation 20:11-15 is describing the same throne as Matthew 25:31-46. The exception is that Jesus, in Matthew’s gospel, fills in the background, explaining that there are sheep, and that they obtain mercy, but we do not see this aspect in Revelation, we only see judgment.

Matthew 25:31-46 NASB “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. (32) “All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; (33) and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. (34) “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. (35) ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; (36) naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ (37) “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? (38) ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? (39) ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ (40) “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ (41) “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; (42) for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; (43) I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ (44) “Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ (45) “Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ (46) “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

The first question I need to discuss is: How are these the same scenario?

If this is a misconception, it is a common one. Look at the terminology we see in Matthew’s gospel: “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.” Now, contrast this with Revelation 20: “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.”

Both exude the power and presence of a glorious king taking the throne, exactly what Israel was looking for. However, Revelation – the premier book that demonstrates God’s judgment upon the earth, and the rewarding of the steadfast – shows you the side willing to clean house, and taking the throne. Let there be no doubt that Jesus was and is the express image of the Father, both here on earth, and there in eternity. So, if you see God as sitting on the throne you would be right, because Jesus and the Father are one. However, this is Jesus here.

We find Matthew’s gospel using the phrase, the Son of Man. That is the terminology Jesus used in reference to Himself. Our impression, as the dead are brought to the throne, is still that of a shepherd who cares for a flock. My thought is, why these two personas? God has always loved his human creation, but it is obvious that it did not love him back. Here is where my human thinking gets in my way, for I think back on a relationship I had with a dog that could care less about me. Fortunately, God does not sink to our level of thinking, and no matter how lousy we have treated him, he still loves us and gave his only son, so that we could have the opportunity for a restored relationship with Him. That is why Jesus is portrayed a bit more gently in Matthew’s gospel.

Is Christ now on His throne?

Currently yes, we see him seated at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for us.

Hebrews 12:2 NASB fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Having the ear of the Father, Jesus is constantly running blockade and defending us to the Father as Satan fires off our failures at the throne like a mortar barrage, to defame and convict us.

Hebrews 7:25 NASB Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

That does not mean He stays glued to the throne.

  • We certainly see Him in the clouds, as He comes to snatch His church away;

  • we see Him at the end of the time of judgment (we mistakenly call it “the tribulation”.)

  • We see Him in the end, riding a white horse and slaughtering those who would choose to fight against Him;

  • we see Him standing upon the mount of olives as it splits in two, and we also see Him reigning in the new Jerusalem.

  • One last example of Jesus apparently off the throne. He is showing up in the dreams of Islamic’s on a consistent basis. They know who He is, and they either turn to Him or he directs them to someone who can explain who this Jesus is that they saw.

I can see where some might try to exclude Jesus from the throne of Revelation 20:11 because it talks about “Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them”, and we cannot perceive of Jesus as being or doing this.

Do you not recall how John defined Jesus?

John 1:1-3 NASB In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (2) He was in the beginning with God. (3) All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.

John 1:14 KJV And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

Jesus was and still is that Word, and he spoke this way about himself all the time.

John 8:51 NASB “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death.”

The only separation between He and the Father, was His choice to be a man, and that was because it was the only way to pay the ransom for this world full of people who the Father loved.

So picture this: The earth has been filled with peace for a thousand years. I cannot even imagine what that will be like. Christ reigns upon a throne in the new Jerusalem, as nations continue to come before him once a year and bow in obeisance during the feast of tabernacles. Even then, there is no forced compliance to accept God as the ruler of your heart, however there is a consequence if you do not. These people are still considered the nations. The thousand years comes to an end with a last battle, and now it is time to clean house. This is where we are as we look at Revelation 20, the Great White throne.

The dead are brought before the throne. At this point you need to keep your inventory straight.

  • Since the death and resurrection of Christ, all who have died in Him, are already in his presence, so we are NOT talking about them.

  • Prior to Christ’s death, those that died were either in torment, as the rich man was, or they were in Abraham’s bosom. Our definitions of where they are and condition comes from the parable about the beggar Lazarus, the psalmist’s declaration that the dead know nothing, and Jesus telling the thief on the cross that he would be with Him in paradise.

We are merely making assumptions that Paradise is the only place that Jesus “visited” upon his death. Seriously, think about what transpired there on the cross? Christ became sin, He did not merely take it on as a boxer might, He submitted himself as the sacrificial (“scape”) goat and took all the world’s sin upon himself. That goat was led off into wilderness or killed. This is what Leviticus is trying to tell us. The priest had to lay his hands on the head of the goat and they certainly laid their hands upon Jesus.

2 Corinthians 5:21 Moffatt NT (21) For our sakes He made him to be sin who himself knew nothing of sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

What changed that permitted anything different to happen to those incarcerated either in Abraham’s bosom or torment?

This is not a time to try to argue details, I hear that garbage all the time. It is time to accept the fact that God is beyond your control, and He did something so beyond your comprehension that you cannot explain it, so you fight against anyone that breaks with your tradition. That explanation was Jesus Christ, and He changed everything. What do we have to prove that, or as the cantankerous guy at bible study demanded, show me that in the bible! He was directed to Ephesians 4:7-10, to which he replied, where is that in my bible? My guess is that you can see the problem, but don’t laugh, it is a common one.

Ephesians 4:7-10 NIrV But each one of us has received a gift of grace, just as Christ wanted us to have it. (8) That is why Scripture says, “When he went up to his place on high, he led a line of prisoners. He gave gifts to people.” (Psalm 68:18) (9) What does “he went up” mean? It can only mean that he also came down to the lower, earthly places. (10) The One who came down is the same as the One who went up higher than all the heavens. He did it in order to fill all of creation.

Verse seven establishes that we are talking about Christ. Verse eight, in this translation, states that “he led a line of prisoners.” Other translations read, “he led captivity captive”, but how does that make any sense when they moments later refer to Him going up, and if Christ is going up, where is He going and why is He taking these “captives” with Him? The explanation comes when you go the source of the reference Psalm 68:18.

Psalms 68:18 NIrV When he went up to his place on high, he led a line of prisoners. He received gifts from people, even from those who refused to obey him. The LORD God went up to live on Mount Zion.

If you look at parable of the beggar Lazarus and the rich man, where do you find Lazarus? Resting in Abraham’s bosom. Does it sound like he is a prisoner, or captive? No, but that would probably be your first impression of the rich man’s destination. He is across a chasm that cannot be crossed, at least by Lazarus, which he was demanding Lazarus to do. There is no doubt in my mind that Christ was not only put there, but led those willing to come out with Him free, as he rose to the Father.

Revelation 1:17-18 (MKJV) tells us, “…, Do not fear, I am the First and the Last, and the Living One, and I became dead, and behold, I am alive for ever and ever, Amen. And I have the keys of hell and of death.”

My commentary typically sounds like this, “were the keys merely lying on a shelf up in heaven and Jesus simply had to go get them?” Not hardly, Satan had them and Jesus went to where he was and took them forcibly. Freedom was then offered to those trapped there, and obviously, many chose to follow Him out – who would not?

Remember, we are still trying to keep the inventory straight. So, who are the dead?

  • After the Harpazo – the rapture – all who die in Christ, the martyred saints, will be resurrected. This is the FIRST resurrection. (This is another place where we make huge assumptions. We religious tend to think that when we leave the earth we take the opportunity and method of salvation with us; we do not.) These martyred saints are no longer considered among the nations or the dead and reign over the earth for the thousand years.

  • The only people left are those whom we consider to be among the nations. This is the second resurrection. It does not matter your language or nationality, what matters here is that technically you died without a “formal, religious” recognition of God in your life.

These, brought before the Great White throne are those among the nations whom have died since Christ arose from the dead. This includes all who partook in the last rebellion, a strong determinate of which leader you intend to follow – there will, by the way, be no survivors in that last battle.

So, now that we have that sorted out, why do any of them gain mercy, and entrance into heaven?

This is where our parable of Matthew 25 kicks in hard.

  1. Because these did not do any of the mandatory religious acts we consider necessary, at we are not aware that they did.

  2. Having lived an unswerving life of devotion with a payment of heaven as my reward for not breaking any of the rules, these are coming in at the last-minute; even worse, God has brought them back to life and given them another chance.

  3. It seems that all they did was act in a manner outside of selfishness.

This may be a little too graphic, but I need you to think through something. God’s judgment falls upon those that what? Take the mark, AND, worship the beast. Those that do not are beheaded, or in general, martyred in some horrific fashion, all because they would not worship the beast. You cannot let this idea of a “beast” get you confused. It may be that the beast is Islam. I happen to find that very plausible, and by the way, Islam’s primary method of dealing with non-believers is, yes you got it – beheading. Since many of these “Christians” – they are in many cases given that title by Islamic fighters – are not so Christian by American church standards, so their last gasps for breath may merely be to deny the tenets of Islam and die. Ask yourself, is it possible that a merciful God sees that as a rejection of the enemy and an acceptance of Himself, the one true God? Even if it isn’t, having pointed out what Jesus does – as He sits upon the final throne – separating people because their heart moved them to act in a manner that God had actually prescribed. What was the answer when Jesus asked, “what is the greatest commandment? Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

I am sorry, I know this makes so many mad; Jesus would have made you mad as well then. Treat this as your wake up call, because time is short and God is calling you to set people free, not enslave them. Show them this Jesus.

See why a person could have a problem with Matthew 25. It is not because God’s word is disputable or untrue, but because it challenges our religious ideas. It also demonstrates a mercy that is beyond our comprehension, and opens the door for fools to try to gamble with God.

When I began to look at the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, I knew nothing about them, outside of what Jesus testimony was, and He points out, by the voice of the rich man’s demands, that the true nature of the man, was still strong and clear, even in hell. Having watched so many in recovery make great strides only to crash and burn, repeatedly, you come to realize that it is not so easy for a cow to change its spots. It is possible to live a life as a moral person, but in reading about God’s reasons for destroying the earth, the blatant evidence of selfishness and violence take precedent. It is much like swimming upstream in a strong current. Can you do that for a lifetime? Some do. I am not a strong swimmer, and not willing to take that chance, especially when I know that simply turning my life over to Christ, submitting to his will, puts me in his care, and Jesus said, I will never lose one of them.

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