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Hope in the Gospels (Matthew 4:18—5:16)

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Introduction

In our first lesson in this series, I suggested that one dare not attempt to study a subject by merely using a concordance program to search out a certain word. The use of “hope” in the Gospels is an excellent illustration. One would be completely mistaken to conclude that there is little “hope” in the Gospels because the word “hope” is found there only twice.2 The problem in the Gospels is that the “hope” which we find is a misguided hope. We will find that hopes (expectations) were running high in Israel at the time of our Lord’s earthly ministry, but they were mistaken hopes, based upon wrong motives and expectations.

Far from “hope” being absent in the Gospels, I would suggest that correctly understanding “hope” is one of the crucial keys to understanding what is happening in the Gospels. Reading the Gospels from the perspective of “hope” may be a new way of thinking through the life of Christ, but I believe that it is more than worth the time and effort to do so. And so I am devoting this lesson to the subject of hope in the Gospels.

Hope in the 400 Silent Years

The Book of Malachi ends with words that directly link this prophecy with the appearance of John the Baptist in the Gospels:

5 “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. 6 “He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:1-8).3

We know that there were 400 years of silence from the time of Malachi’s prophecy to the time when that silence was broken by the declaration of John: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2). During that period of silence, Rome became a dominant world power and effectively ruled Israel. We know that there was a faithful remnant of believers like Simeon and Anna4 who eagerly awaited the coming of Messiah. But during that time, the religious leaders had become more and more corrupt. The hopes of most Israelites were earthly, rather than heavenly.

The Silence is Broken

Several things happened to raise the hopes of godly Israelites, while creating fear in the hearts of others. The first incidents had to do with the birth of John the Baptist and God’s dealings with Zachariah, his father:

21 Now the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they began to wonder why he was delayed in the holy place. 22 When he came out, he was not able to speak to them. They realized that he had seen a vision in the holy place, because he was making signs to them and remained unable to speak (Luke 1:21-22, emphasis mine).

64 Immediately Zechariah’s mouth was opened and his tongue released, and he spoke, blessing God. 65 All their neighbors were filled with fear, and throughout the entire hill country of Judea all these things were talked about. 66 All who heard these things kept them in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the Lord’s hand was indeed with him (Luke 1:64-66, emphasis mine).

What happened to Zacharias was observed by a number of Israelites, and it created a sense of expectation. They did not have the Internet and advanced communication technology; nevertheless, gossip concerning the birth of John spread fast and far. God was up to something, and they were interested to see just what that was.

The birth of Jesus added to the sense of expectation in Israel. The shepherds’ report of their visitation by angels and of seeing the Messiah caught the attention of those who heard:

17 When they saw him, they related what they had been told about this child, 18 and all who heard it were astonished at what the shepherds said (Luke 2:17-18, emphasis mine).

When Jesus was brought to the Temple, Simeon and Anna were there to see the Messiah. Anna’s report was no doubt passed along to expectant Israelites:

36 There was also a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old, having been married to her husband for seven years until his death. 37 She had lived as a widow since then for eighty-four years. She never left the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment, she came up to them and began to give thanks to God and to speak about the child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-38, emphasis mine).

It seems to have been a number of months later that the Magi arrived in Jerusalem with news that troubled Herod and all those in Jerusalem:

1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, in the time of King Herod, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem 2 saying, “Where is the one who is born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When King Herod heard this he was alarmed, and all Jerusalem with him (Matthew 2:1-3, emphasis mine).

The slaughter of babies in the vicinity of Bethlehem5 must have caused many to wonder what threat was so great that Herod would take this kind of action. The appearance of Jesus at the Temple at the age of 12 must also have caused those who heard what happened to wonder what all of this was leading to.

46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard Jesus were astonished at his understanding and his answers (Luke 2:46-47).

Jesus and John the Baptist

For some time, John warned the people of Israel that the Messiah (and judgment) was coming, yet without knowing who that Messiah was.

1 In those days John the Baptist came into the wilderness of Judea proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:1-2).

The sense of expectation (hope) was now running high in Israel, for even though John performed no miraculous signs,6 the people flocked to him in the wilderness.

It was the baptism of Jesus that confirmed the identity of Jesus as the promised Messiah.

29 On the next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one about whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’ 31 I did not recognize him, but I came baptizing with water so that he could be revealed to Israel.” 32 Then John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. 33 And I did not recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining - this is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have both seen and testified that this man is the Chosen One of God” (John 1:29-34).

When Jesus made His public appearance, He echoed the words of John:

17 From that time Jesus began to preach this message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17).

As time passed, Jesus became more and more popular – more so than John the Baptist, causing consternation among his disciples – but not John.7 Yet, after spending time in Herod’s custody, John did begin to entertain some doubts of his own:

2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds Christ had done, he sent his disciples to ask a question: 3 “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Go tell John what you hear and see: 5 The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them. 6 Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me” (Matthew 11:1-6).

We will consider the reason for John’s doubts momentarily.

Jesus called the twelve to be His disciples and certain assurances were implied or stated, assurances on which their hopes should have been founded. There was, for example, the promise of His presence:

He appointed twelve (whom he named apostles), so that they would be with him and he could send them to preach (Mark 3:14).

Then there was the promise of His provision for their needs. We see this in Luke 5, where Jesus first miraculously provided an abundant catch of fish, and only then called them to leave their nets to follow Him.8

When Jesus sent out the twelve, it became clear to them that He was granting them the power to proclaim the gospel, accompanied by signs and miracles:

7 As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near!’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. 9 Do not take gold, silver, or copper in your belts, 10 no bag for the journey, or an extra tunic, or sandals or staff, for the worker deserves his provisions” (Matthew 10:7-10).

He likewise promised then both earthly and heavenly blessings:

29 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, there is no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the gospel 30 who will not receive in this age a hundred times as much - homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, fields, all with persecutions - and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30, emphasis mine).

While He promised certain earthly blessings, Jesus did not promise “peace and prosperity” in this present age. He discouraged some potential followers by informing them of the demands of discipleship. He made it clear to all that following Him would bring persecution:

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. 11 Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way. 13 You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its flavor, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people. 14 You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Matthew 5:9-15).

57 As they were walking along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 Jesus said to him, “Foxes have dens and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 59 Jesus said to another, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say goodbye to my family.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:57-62).

“And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38; see also 16:24).

Jesus’ twelve disciples did follow Him, but we know that there will be a time that they will forsake Him. The reasons for this become evident as we are told about some of their discussions and debates among themselves.

A dispute also started among them over which of them was to be regarded as the greatest (Luke 22:24).

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 36 He said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 They said to him, “Permit one of us to sit at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I experience?” 39 They said to him, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink, and you will be baptized with the baptism I experience, 40 but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give. It is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 Now when the other ten heard this, they became angry with James and John (Mark 10:35-41).

So when they had gathered together, they began to ask him, “Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

So, I believe it is safe to say that both John the Baptist and the twelve disciples of Jesus had “high hopes,” and yet they would all falter in their faith.9 I would suggest that there were several common characteristics between John the Baptist and the disciples of Jesus which caused them problems as time passed and as the future looked less promising than they had hoped, given their earthly expectations. Here are some of the reasons for the “dashed hopes” of John the Baptist and the disciples of Jesus:

1. They failed to realize that Messiah was to come to earth twice, with an interval of time in between – a fairly substantial one as we look back from our vantage point in history. To put it differently, they failed to recognize that the Messiah would come once to provide salvation for those who would believe, and that he would come again to judge the earth (rewarding true believers and bringing judgment on those who reject the truth).10 It was at this time that He would establish His earthly reign.

I don’t say this to indict them for this failure as this was a mystery that was not even known to the prophets (and John the Baptist was a prophet). But not knowing that the Messiah would appear twice, they expected Him to bring judgment and to establish His kingdom on earth during His first visitation.

2. They likewise failed to grasp the need for Jesus to suffer and die on the cross of Calvary, and then to rise again. If it was assumed that Messiah would establish His earthly kingdom in His first coming, then there would be no place for a suffering Messiah. This was not just a problem for John the Baptist and the disciples; it was a problem for all the Old Testament prophets:

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. 11 They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory (1 Peter 1:10-11).

No wonder Peter felt obliged to rebuke the Lord Jesus for speaking of His coming suffering and death in Jerusalem:

21 From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him: “God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you!” (Matthew 16:21-22)

3. Their focus was fixed on present earthly blessings rather than on future heavenly blessings. The disciples continually asked Jesus about the kingdom and when it was coming.11 Jesus had told them that they would sit on twelve thrones,12 and they were eager to do so. They even sought the places of greatest honor and authority – at the Lord’s right and left hand.

You can hardly blame the disciples for being so eager to see the Lord’s earthly kingdom come. But one must also recognize that Jesus had made it quite clear that being a disciple would be costly (in earthly terms), and that suffering and persecution were a part of the cost of discipleship. Jesus was also quite clear in distinguishing between the “now,” with its troubles and sacrifices, and the “then” of the kingdom, with all of its glorious benefits. This is not to say that there would be no present blessings, but Jesus did not obscure the line between present blessings and difficulties and eternal blessings. Thus, a disciple should live in the present in a way that “lays up treasure” in heaven.13

Having pointed out the weaknesses of John the Baptist and the disciples, we dare not fail to see that our Lord made use of these vulnerabilities in a way that accomplished the divine plan of redemption. It was necessary for the disciples to abandon Jesus for a short time. This way they were not put to death with Him. Their utter disillusionment and despair served to underscore the reality of the resurrection and the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter’s denial of his Lord was divinely utilized so that the restored Peter was better able to strengthen his brethren.14 My point here is simply to show that the disciples did not suffer from a lack of hope, but rather from the false expectations of a distorted hope. It will likewise be the self-centered hope of the masses which will lead to the sudden turn of events which culminated in the crowds calling for the crucifixion of Jesus and the release of Barabbas.

Jesus and Judas

I don’t pretend to understand the mind and heart of Judas, but I must say that thinking through the Gospels from the vantage point of hope has helped me to better understand the way in which his hopes vaporized as he observed the Lord’s earthly ministry coming to a close. The other eleven disciples of Jesus differed from Judas in one most important way: they were believers in Jesus as their Messiah, and Judas was not.15

We know that Judas was the treasurer for Jesus and those who followed Him. Likewise, we know that he was taking some of this money for himself.16 Judas, like the other disciples, had made many sacrifices to follow Jesus.17 He must have convinced himself that what he took from the bag was “his share,” a kind of return on his investment. While the disciples were unwilling to hear about our Lord’s crucifixion in Jerusalem, I believe that Judas took Jesus’ words more seriously. Like Thomas, He may have felt that going to Jerusalem with Jesus meant death for him, as well as for Jesus.18 It was becoming more and more clear to him that Jesus intended to die in Jerusalem and that the Jewish religious leaders were determined to kill Him. For a man who had pinned his earthly (but not heavenly) hopes on Jesus, it appeared that he was about to lose it all. His “investment” in Jesus was about to perish when He died.

I’ve heard a number of theories about why Judas chose to betray Jesus, most of them not very compelling. I would suggest a simple speculation (and it is speculation) that Judas, realizing Jesus intended to die and that the Jewish leaders intended to kill Him, thought of a way that would facilitate the purposes of Jesus and the Jewish leaders. As a member of Jesus’ disciples, Judas would know where Jesus could be arrested. And having this valuable information, he could turn a profit out of what would otherwise be a complete loss for him. Thus, Judas had already decided to betray Jesus six days before the Passover.19 The “why” was settled in his mind; the only question was “when” and “where.” The anointing of Jesus by Mary was the last straw for Judas. This prompted him to make his deal with the devil and with the Jewish religious leaders.20

You will recall that the religious leaders were determined not to arrest and kill Jesus “during the feast,” since they would likely face the wrath of the crowds, who still were enthusiastic about Him.21 Jesus carefully kept Judas from knowing where He would observe Passover with His disciples.22 But early in the observance of Passover, Jesus not only indicated to Judas (more so than to the others who were more interested in other things) that he would be betrayed by one of His disciples, but that the betrayer was Judas.23 Judas fled, knowing that he could never return. Now was the time he must betray Jesus. He knew where they would spend the night, where they had stayed previous nights.24 This was the only time, and this was the only place (from Judas’ point of view), and it was also the perfect timing for the Passover Lamb to die.

Judas had placed all of his hopes in Jesus as the revolutionary who would overthrow Rome and establish his kingdom on the earth. Now that he had betrayed Jesus, Judas concluded that there was no longer any hope for him in this life, and so he killed himself. No man has ever been more hopeless than Judas.

Jesus and the Masses

The preaching of John the Baptist created a sense of expectation (hope) regarding the coming of the Messiah. When Jesus began His public ministry, we can easily understand why the crowds were attracted to Him:

23 Jesus went throughout all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds [every disease]25 of disease and sickness among the people. 24 So a report about him spread throughout Syria. People brought to him all who suffered with various illnesses and afflictions, those who had seizures, paralytics, and those possessed by demons, and he healed them. 25 And large crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan River (Matthew 4:23-25, emphasis mine).

As Matthew continues to develop his account of our Lord’s ministry, it becomes apparent that Jesus not only has authority over “every disease,” but also over all of nature. And thus we will shortly come to the account of Jesus stilling the storm:

23 As he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And a great storm developed on the sea so that the waves began to swamp the boat. But he was asleep. 25 So they came and woke him up saying, “Lord, save us! We are about to die!” 26 But he said to them, “Why are you cowardly, you people of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it was dead calm. 27 And the men were amazed and said, “What sort of person is this? Even the winds and the sea obey him!” (Matthew 8:23-27, emphasis mine)

Our Lord’s authority was evident in yet another way. His teaching set Jesus apart from the Jewish religious leaders of His day. He identified Himself as the fulfillment of messianic prophecy, and He taught like the author of the Old Testament Law:

16 Now Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

      18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

      because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

      He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

      and the regaining of sight to the blind,

      to set free those who are oppressed,

      19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to tell them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled even as you heard it being read” (Luke 4:16-21, emphasis mine).

28 When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed by his teaching, 29 because he taught them like one who had authority, not like their experts in the law (Matthew 7:28-29, emphasis mine).

It was more than just His authority which attracted people to Jesus. While Jesus was the sinless son of God, He freely associated with sinners. His words and actions conveyed the assurance of mercy and hope for sinners, and thus sinners were drawn to Him:

2 Then he began to teach them by saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied”

(Matthew 5:2-6).

8 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry” (Matthew 11:28-30).

1 Now after some days, when he returned to Capernaum, the news spread that he was at home. 2 So many gathered that there was no longer any room, not even by the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some people came bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. 4 When they were not able to bring him in because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Jesus. Then, after tearing it out, they lowered the stretcher the paralytic was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the experts in the law were sitting there, turning these things over in their minds: 7 “Why does this man speak this way? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 Now immediately, when Jesus realized in his spirit that they were contemplating such thoughts, he said to them, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up, take your stretcher, and walk’? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” - he said to the paralytic - 11 “I tell you, stand up, take your stretcher, and go home.” 12 And immediately the man stood up, took his stretcher, and went out in front of them all. They were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:1-12, emphasis mine)

All were speaking well of him, and were amazed at the gracious words coming out of his mouth. They said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22, emphasis mine)

Jesus’ preaching gave sinners26 hope. He claimed and demonstrated His power to forgive sins. When the self-righteous Pharisees drug a woman caught in the act of adultery before Jesus, shaming her and seeking to dishonor Him, they left in shame, and this woman left forgiven.27 When the woman with a shameful past washed the feet of Jesus, the “self-righteous” wondered how Jesus could allow it. But once again the sinner went away cleansed, and the self-righteous went away stunned:

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:48-51).

Minimizing False (Merely Earthly) Hopes

We can easily see how our Lord’s arrival on the stage of human history created a flurry of excitement, fueling all kinds of hopes. If John the Baptist and our Lord’s disciples had misguided hopes, you had better believe that the hopes of the masses were misguided and distorted as well. When we read John’s account of the feeding of the 5,000, we see how the crowd became so excited that they sought to make Jesus their king:

14 Now when the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus performed, they began to say to one another, “This is certainly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Then Jesus, because he knew they were going to come and seize him by force to make him king, withdrew again up the mountainside alone (John 6:14-15).

In the light of this kind of enthusiasm, it is important for us to know that Jesus did everything possible to minimize false hopes. Let me mention three of the ways Jesus dealt with the danger of false expectations on the part of the people.

1. Jesus sought to minimize false hopes by His teaching. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7,28 Jesus makes a very clear distinction between “now” with its trials and tribulations and “then” with its eternal blessings. He encouraged people to lay up treasures in heaven,29 thus distinguishing the “now” of the present time from the “then” of heaven. He spoke of the blessings of suffering in this life, because of the blessings that await us in the next.30 Jesus taught the parable of the four soils, indicating that there would be many who would too quickly choose to follow Him (based upon false hopes), only to fall away when the cost of discipleship became evident.31 When Jesus presented Himself as the Messiah at the synagogue in Nazareth, there was immediate enthusiasm, but Jesus quickly ended their enthusiasm by informing the people that salvation would be for the Gentiles, as well as the Jews.32

Jesus discouraged those who were too enthusiastic about following Him by informing them of the cost of discipleship.33 He made it very clear to His disciples that following Him would involve persecution.34 When Jesus fed the 5,000 and the crowd wanted to make Jesus their king by force,35 Jesus sent His disciples away and then went off by Himself to pray, leaving the crowds. He taught the crowds about the “true bread” and informed them of the fact that He would bring salvation to men by His flesh and blood sacrifice at Calvary. To be His disciples, men and women must “eat His flesh” and “drink His blood.” This teaching prompted the crowd to abandon Jesus and go their own way.36

In the Olivet Discourse and His Upper Room Discourse, Jesus told His disciples that He would be rejected and crucified. He even informed His disciples that one of them would betray Him. Jesus did not “tempt” His disciples to follow Him by promising them immediate positions of power and prestige; He called them to pay the price of discipleship because of the rewards which were laid up for them in heaven.

2. Jesus also sought to deal with false expectations by minimizing the spectacular in His ministry. He did not perform miracles every time men wanted them; indeed, He did not always perform miracles when His disciples encouraged Him to do so. Jesus made it clear that preaching the gospel was His priority, not performing miracles:

35 Then Jesus got up early in the morning when it was still very dark, departed, and went out to a deserted place, and there he spent time in prayer. 36 Simon and his companions searched for him. 37 When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 He replied, “Let us go elsewhere, into the surrounding villages, so that I can preach there too. For that is what I came out here to do.” 39 So he went into all of Galilee preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons (Mark 1:35-39).

What could be more impressive than to have demons bear witness to your identity as the Son of God? And yet Jesus silenced them, for He did not want or need their confession, spectacular as that might have been:

Demons also came out of many, crying out, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them, and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ (Luke 4:41).

When Jesus performed miracles, He often did it in as private a manner as circumstances permitted. When Jesus healed the leper, He was prompted by compassion, not a desire for publicity. And thus He instructed the man to tell no one; instead, he was to go to the priest as the law required.37 When Jesus healed the deaf and dumb man, He took him aside from the crowd to heal him and then instructed him to tell no one.38 When Jesus healed the blind man, He brought him out of the village, and when he was healed, he was told not to go back to the village.39 When Jesus raised the synagogue official’s daughter from the dead, He first put everyone out, leaving only the parents and His three disciples to witness this spectacular miracle.40 Jesus did not seek to create false expectations by emphasizing the spectacular in His ministry.

3. Jesus sought to minimize false hopes by spending most of His time in Galilee, and making only occasional visits to Jerusalem. In the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), most of Jesus’ public ministry was conducted in Galilee. Jesus did not spend a great deal of time in Jerusalem, in spite of the fact that this was the place to make oneself known, as our Lord’s brothers pointed out to Him:

1 After this Jesus traveled throughout Galilee. He stayed out of Judea because the Jewish leaders wanted to kill him. 2 Now the Jewish feast of Tabernacles was near. 3 So Jesus’ brothers advised him, “Leave here and go to Judea so your disciples may see your miracles that you are performing. 4 For no one who seeks to make a reputation for himself does anything in secret. If you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 (For not even his own brothers believed in him.) (John 7:1-5)

John’s Gospel records most of those times when Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem. While Jesus may have gained popularity among the masses in Jerusalem, His ministry and teaching also served to intensify the opposition of the Jewish religious leaders and their resolve to be rid of Him. Indeed, it was the popularity of Jesus with the masses that filled the Jewish leaders with jealousy, thus prompting their opposition to Him.41 The religious leaders were so opposed to Jesus that people were afraid to even talk to one another openly about Him:

11 So the Jewish leaders were looking for him at the feast, asking, “Where is he?” 12 There was a lot of grumbling about him among the crowds. Some were saying, “He is a good man,” but others, “He deceives the common people.” 13 However, no one spoke openly about him for fear of the Jewish leaders (John 7:11-13).

Jesus had carefully orchestrated His appearances in Jerusalem so that He would be welcomed by the masses at the time of His triumphal entry. One significant part of this process was the raising of Lazarus in Bethany, a mere stone’s throw from Jerusalem. This had the mixed effect of attracting many to see Jesus (some of whom believed) and also of intensifying the Jewish religious leaders’ resolve to seize Jesus and put Him to death.

9 Now a large crowd of Judeans learned that Jesus was there, and so they came not only because of him but also to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests planned to kill Lazarus too, 11 for on account of him many of the Jewish people from Jerusalem were going away and believing in Jesus (John 12:9-11).

46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and reported to them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees called the council together and said, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many miraculous signs. 48 If we allow him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation” (John 11:45-48).

Hope and the Sudden Rejection of Jesus as the Promised Messiah in Jerusalem

The hopes of the masses in Jerusalem reached their highest point at the Triumphal Entry of our Lord.

6 So the disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road. Others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those following kept shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 As he entered Jerusalem the whole city was thrown into an uproar, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee” (Matthew 21:6-11).

In just a few days, the tide would turn against Jesus, and the multitudes would feel very different toward Jesus:

While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent by the chief priests and elders of the people (Matthew 26:47).

20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21 The governor asked them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas!” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Christ?” They all said, “Crucify him!” 23 He asked, “Why? What wrong has he done?” But they shouted more insistently, “Crucify him!” 24 When Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but that instead a riot was starting, he took some water, washed his hands before the crowd and said, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. You take care of it yourselves!” 25 In reply all the people said, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:20-25)

39 Those who passed by defamed him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who can destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are God’s Son, come down from the cross!” (Matthew 27:39-40)

How do we explain this sudden change of mood and attitude toward Jesus, a change that occurred within a week’s time? I would suggest several things to keep in mind.

First, let us bear in mind that the rejection of Jesus, His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection were in the eternal plan of God.

22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know – 23 this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles. 24 But God raised him up, having released him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:22-24).

God purposed the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus, as well as His resurrection and ascension. Jesus spoke of this on various occasions.42 While the disciples forgot this for a little while,43 those who crucified Him did not.44

Second, we have been prepared for this turnabout by earlier instances of men suddenly turning against Jesus in the Gospels. John the Baptist did not turn against Jesus, but circumstances did prompt John to change his tune, so that he had to reaffirm his previous conclusion that Jesus was the promised Messiah.45 Those in Nazareth were initially excited and enthusiastic because of what Jesus said, but they quickly turned against Him, seeking to kill Him, when He spoke of the salvation of Gentiles, along with Jews.46 The man who Jesus healed at the pool of Bethesda all too quickly turned Him in to those who wanted to kill Jesus.47 Those who wanted to make Jesus their king by force (because they had been fed by Him) quickly forsook Him when He spoke symbolically of His sacrificial death.48 In addition to this, our Lord’s parable of the four soils referred to those two kinds of soil who quickly responded positively to Jesus, and then quickly fell away.49

Third, throughout His earthly ministry and even at the height of Jesus’ popularity, there were differences of opinion as to who Jesus was.

12 There was a lot of grumbling about him among the crowds. Some were saying, “He is a good man,” but others, “He deceives the common people” (John 7:12).

25 Then some of the residents of Jerusalem began to say, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? 26 Yet here he is, speaking publicly, and they are saying nothing to him. Do the rulers really know that this man is the Christ? 27 But we know where this man comes from. Whenever the Christ comes, no one will know where he comes from” (John 7:25-27).

Yet many of the crowd believed in him and said, “Whenever the Christ comes, he won’t perform more miraculous signs than this man did, will he?” (John 7:31)

40 When they heard these words, some of the crowd began to say, “This really is the Prophet!” 41 Others said, “This is the Christ!” But still others said, “No, for the Christ doesn’t come from Galilee, does he? (John 7:40-41)

13 When Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 They answered, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:13-14).

10 As he entered Jerusalem the whole city was thrown into an uproar, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee” (Matthew 21:10-11).

It is true that some regarded Jesus as the coming Messiah, but many others were not willing to go so far, and many regarded Jesus as a deceiver. Thus, we should not think of the Triumphal Entry of our Lord as a unanimous declaration of His identity as the Messiah.

Fourth, I believe that the sudden change of sentiment toward Jesus in Jerusalem can best be explained from the perspective of the Israelite’s unfulfilled hopes. As the writer in Proverbs put it,

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,

but a longing fulfilled is like a tree of life (Proverbs 13:12).

Virtually every Israelite had it wrong when it came to their expectations (hopes) as to who Jesus was or what He had come to accomplish. There were a good many who had come to regard Jesus as a deceiver; others concluded that He was the promised Messiah. But no one (it would seem) expected Jesus to peacefully yield when the authorities sought to arrest Him, no one expected Jesus to remain silent when accused, and no one believed that Jesus would be crucified on a Roman cross outside the gates of Jerusalem.

I believe that Peter and his colleagues were sincere when they assured Jesus of their loyalty, even unto death:

33 Peter said to him, “If they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away!” 34 Jesus said to him, “I tell you the truth, on this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will never deny you.” And all the disciples said the same thing” (Matthew 26:33-35).

But Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death!” (Luke 22:33)

The disciples were not ignorant of the fact that opposition of the Jewish religious leaders to Jesus was strong, but they at least expected Jesus to put up a good fight. They were willing to die with Him – to go down fighting – if need be, though I believe they felt that if a fight actually began, Jesus would once again manifest His power and overcome His enemies, both Jewish and Roman. The turning point for Peter and his fellow disciples (and a little later the crowds as well) was when they saw that Jesus willingly, silently, and somewhat passively gave Himself over to those who would kill Him.

The people of Jerusalem and the disciples of Jesus had “high hopes,” but when they realized that they were not fulfilled, they were shaken. The unbelievers called for the death of Jesus and likewise for the release of Barabbas.

19 As he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent a message to him: “Have nothing to do with that innocent man; I have suffered greatly as a result of a dream about him today.” 20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21 The governor asked them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas!” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Christ?” They all said, “Crucify him!” 23 He asked, “Why? What wrong has he done?” But they shouted more insistently, “Crucify him!” (Matthew 27:19-23)

Why would the crowds possibly prefer Barabbas to Jesus? Because Barabbas was not just a robber; Barabbas was a revolutionary:

39 But it is your custom that I release one prisoner for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release for you the king of the Jews?” 40 Then they shouted back, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” (Now Barabbas was a revolutionary50.) (John 18:39-40)

A man named Barabbas was imprisoned with rebels who had committed murder during an insurrection (Mark 15:7).

18 But they all shouted out together, “Take this man away! Release Barabbas for us!” 19 (This was a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city, and for murder.) (Luke 23:18-19)

The Jewish people resented Roman occupation and control over them, and thus denied that it was even so (John 8:31-33). They had hoped that Jesus would liberate them from Rome’s dominion, but instead Jesus had submitted to those who opposed Him and would eventually die at the hands of Jewish and Roman leaders. Jesus was not going to throw off their political shackles and establish a new order. Barabbas, on the other hand, was a man who had already shed blood in his attempts to overthrow the government. If Jesus would not give them what they wanted, Barabbas was more than willing to attempt to do so. And thus the people sided with Barabbas, for he was more in line with their hopes than Jesus.

The problem is not with Jesus; the problem is with the unrealistic and unbiblical (out of touch with Old Testament prophecy and with the teaching of Jesus) expectations (hopes). Because Jesus refused to be conformed to the desires of the Jewish religious leaders, they rejected Him. Likewise, because Jesus refused to be conformed to the desires of the masses, they rejected Him as well. And, for a short while, even the disciples of our Lord abandoned Him, because He did not conform to their hopes either. And yet in all of this, the plans, purposes, and promises of God were perfectly fulfilled so that Jesus died as the perfect sacrifice, bearing the penalty for guilty sinners.

Conclusion

So, I believe we can see that there is much “hope” displayed in the Gospels, but most of it is the wrong kind of hope on the part of men, including the disciples of Jesus. It was these unfulfilled expectations (hopes) that prompted many to turn away from Jesus, rather than to cling to Him in faith. Now, I must quickly say that the hopes of many are revised and restored, thanks to the resurrection of our Lord and the coming of the Holy Spirit (as is emphatically indicated in the Book of Acts). But we’ll save that for another lesson, our next lesson.

The question for us is this, “What should we learn about hope from the Gospels?” The first thing we should see is this: Ill-founded hopes will not be realized. Only true hopes, those based upon the person, work, and promises of God as found in Scripture, will be fulfilled. All men (and women) have hopes; the question is whether those hopes are well founded.

The hope of the righteous is joy,

but the expectation of the wicked will remain unfulfilled (Proverbs 10:28).

When a wicked person dies, his expectation perishes,

and the hope of his strength perishes (Proverbs 11:7).

What the righteous desire leads only to good,

but what the wicked hope for leads to wrath (Proverbs 11:23).

“Do not suppose that I will accuse you before the Father. The one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have placed your hope” (John 5:45).

Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

Command those who are rich in this world’s goods not to be haughty or to set their hope on riches, which are uncertain, but on God who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17).

True hope is that which is found in the gospel, based on the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary.

8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, regarding the affliction that happened to us in the province of Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of living. 9 Indeed we felt as if the sentence of death had been passed against us, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from so great a risk of death, and he will deliver us. We have set our hope on him that he will deliver us yet again 2 Corinthians 1:8-10, emphasis mine).

3 We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard about your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the saints. 5 Your faith and love have arisen from the hope laid up for you in heaven, which you have heard about in the message of truth, the gospel (Colossians 1:3-5, emphasis mine).

God wanted to make known to them the glorious riches of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27, emphasis mine).

From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope (1 Timothy 1:1, emphasis mine).

1 From Paul, a slave of God and apostle of Jesus Christ, to further the faith of God’s chosen ones and the knowledge of the truth that is in keeping with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the ages began (Titus 1:1-2, emphasis mine).

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast, which reaches inside behind the curtain (Hebrews 6:19, emphasis mine).

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5, emphasis mine).

God’s way of salvation requires you to cast aside all hope in anything or anyone, other than the Lord Jesus Christ. You must forsake any hope that you will be able to please God by your own good works. You must forsake any hope in anyone other than in Jesus. Jesus is God’s one and only provision for the forgiveness of your sins and the assurance of eternal life. The Lord Jesus bore the penalty for man’s sin, and all you need to do is to receive it as a gift. The Lord Jesus died to the power and penalty of sin, and all those who trust in Him are likewise freed from the curse of sin. The Lord Jesus rose from the dead to live forever more, and all who trust in Him will live with Him forever. Those who reject God’s offer of salvation through the person and work of Jesus have no hope. Have you trusted in Jesus? Do you have this hope of eternal life? Receive it today by making Jesus your hope by trusting in Him.

This lesson contains much instruction for those of us who have trusted in Jesus. We should be very careful not to convey false hope to those who are lost. I don’t know how many funerals I have witnessed where the preacher reads or refers to “heaven” texts as though they should be a comfort to everyone present. Heaven is not for all men, without exception. Heaven is for those who have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. Hell is the dreaded fate of all those who reject salvation in Jesus. Let us not give unbelievers the false hope of salvation if they are lost. People need to lose all hope in themselves, in religion, in others to bring about salvation, and then they need to trust in Jesus as their only hope.

Let us not seek to persuade the lost to trust in Jesus by offering them false hope, by baiting them with promises that are not true. What we can promise with absolute accuracy and confidence is that trusting in Jesus is all that is required for salvation. Trusting in Jesus for salvation assures the sinner that their sins will be forgiven and that they will spend eternity in heaven in the presence of God. Trusting in Jesus does not promise one earthly ease, health and wealth and popularity. Indeed, the Scriptures speak plainly on this matter, assuring men that they will experience rejection, persecution, and earthly difficulties.51 Those who embrace the gospel because we have offered false hopes will not be prepared for the adversities that will come their way as Christians. Those who have true hope will be empowered to endure and persevere in the midst of their trials and tribulations.

Finally, we who have hoped in Christ need to be careful to maintain our focus on God, on the salvation He has accomplished for us in Christ, and on the blessings that are yet to come in eternity. The health and wealth gospel can be appealing to Christians, but we must reject it as false hope. We can be tempted to put our hope in earthly things like money,52 but this is also false hope. We, like Demas of old, can come to “love the present age” and thus desert the faithful for “the good life.”53

The good news is that when our hopes are eternal hopes, hopes based upon the person and work of our Lord Jesus, they will prove to be even better than anything we can imagine:

9 But just as it is written, “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Let us therefore fix our hope on Jesus, and the salvation He will bring to completion for all eternity:

13 Therefore, get your minds ready for action by being fully sober, and set your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:13).

2 Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is. 3 And everyone who has this hope focused on him purifies himself, just as Jesus is pure) (1 John 3:2-3)


1 Copyright © 2010 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 2 in the series Hope and Change God’s Way, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on March 7, 2010. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

2 I should say that “hope” is found twice in the Gospels in the KJV, NKJV, NASB, and ESV. It is found three times in the NET Bible and five times in the NIV.

3 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

4 See Luke 2:22-38.

5 Luke 2:13-18.

6 John 10:41.

7 See John 3:26-30; 4:1-2.

8 See Luke 5:1-11.

9 Judas, of course, never had faith (see John 6:64, 70; 13:11; 17:12).

10 See 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10.

11 See, for example, Matthew 24:3; Acts 1:6.

12 Matthew 19:28.

13 See Matthew 6:19-21.

14 See Luke 22:31-32.

15 See John 6:64; 13:10-11, 18-20; Acts 1:25.

16 John 12:6.

17 Matthew 19:27.

18 See John 11:16.

19 John 12:11.

20 See Matthew 26:6-16.

21 See Matthew 26:1-5.

22 Luke 22:7-13.

23 John 13:21-30; Matthew 26:20-25.

24 Luke 21:37.

25 “All kinds” is a possible rendering, but the point Matthew is making is that Jesus has the power to heal “every disease.” There is nothing beyond His power.

26 It is interesting to note that the term (“sinner”/”sinners”) is found 30 times in the entire Bible (NASB), and that 16 of these occurrences are found in the Gospels.

27 See John 7:53—8:11. Yes, I believe this account to be a part of the inspired text of Scripture.

28 See also Luke 6:20ff.

29 See Matthew 6:19ff.

30 See Matthew 5:10-12.

31 See Matthew 13:1-23.

32 See Luke 4:16-30.

33 See Luke 9:57-62.

34 See Matthew 10:16ff.

35 See John 6:14-15.

36 See John 6.

37 Mark 1:43-44.

38 Mark 7:31-36.

39 Mark 8:22-26.

40 Luke 8:49-56.

41 Mark 15:9-11.

42 See, for example, Matthew 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:18-19; John 2:18-22; 3:14-15; 10:14-18.

43 See Luke 24:1-24.

44 Matthew 27:62-66.

45 Matthew 11:2-6.

46 Luke 4:16-30.

47 John 5:1-18.

48 John 6:1-65.

49 See Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20.

50 The ESV, NASB, KJV, and NKJV render “robber”; the NET Bible, CSB, NIV, and NLT render this so as to identify Barabbas as a revolutionary.

51 See, for example, Matthew 10:16-39; 24:3-31; John 15:17-25; Acts 14:21-22; Romans 8:18-39; 1 Thessalonians 3:1-4; 1 Peter 4:1-19.

52 See 1 Timothy 6:17-19.

53 See 2 Timothy 4:9-11.

Related Topics: Spiritual Life