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Chapter Seven: Jesus’ Teachings about the Kingdom of God

 

Besides proclaiming the imminent arrival of God’s kingdom, Jesus is concerned with preparing people to enter it. He is like John the Baptist in that respect. John washed away sins through baptism. Jesus teaches the proper attitudes to have when the present world ends. The fact that the end is near colors all judgments. It were as if someone were told that he had only a week to live: He would adjust his plans accordingly. The imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God is an event of such overriding importance that all other considerations pale in comparison.

Not everyone who lives in the last generation will enter the kingdom of Heaven but only those found pleasing to God. Jesus tries to steer people in that direction. What should they do to prepare themselves for the moment of Judgment? They should cultivate the type of attitude which God finds pleasing. Jesus takes great pains to explain to them God’s point of view. What people think and do during their lifetimes will determine whether they are admitted to the Kingdom of God. Once the Kingdom comes, it will be too late.

A Higher Degree of Righteousness

Traditionally, religious Jews have thought that God prefers righteous persons. Righteousness means obeying the Law of Moses and rules intended to regulate life in obedience to the Law. Jesus teaches that this is not enough for salvation. One should obey the spirit of the law as well as its letter. “I tell you,” said Jesus, “unless you show yourselves far better men than the Pharisees and the doctors of the law, you can never enter the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5: 20)

Jesus is more interested in inward thought than external action. “The Law is not, in his view, concerned with this or that sinful act, but with the thoughts that lead to it. The prohibition of murder includes hatred and the implacable spirit. That of adultery means that the entertainment of sinful lust is equivalent to the sinful act. In that of perjury we are shown how questionable all oaths are. A simple yes or no ought to be as dependable as any oath.” (Schweitzer, p. 82)

The Beatitudes name attitudes associated with true righteousness:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven ...
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God
.”
(Matthew 5: 4-9)

In this statement, Jesus suggests inward spiritual qualities that indicate membership in God’s kingdom: simplicity of mind, humility, peaceful aspirations, absence of sinful thoughts. Then, in second clause, he suggests that persons with these qualities will participate in the Kingdom of God. The reference to inheriting the earth, for instance, “is meant to convey that, as once the people of Israel moved into the land of Canaan which God had promised them, so they will have as their dwelling-place the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God the hunger and thirst of the pious for (true) righteousness will find its satisfaction. In the Kingdom they will see God face to face and be manifested as his children. Those who showed mercy during their lifetime will receive mercy at the Judgment ... The poor in spirit are those who have retained the simplicity of heart which is necessary in order to understand the message of the coming of the Kingdom. ” (Schweitzer, p. 81-82)

Jesus himself broke certain laws as a way of teaching the right attitude. When the Pharisees criticized the disciples for picking corn on the Sabbath, Jesus cured the sick on that day. When the disciples fastidiously washed their hands before eating, Jesus pointed out what was important was not what went into the mouth but what came out as directed by the heart. “Wicked thoughts, murder, adultery ... these all proceed from the heart; and these are the things that defile a man; but to eat without first washing his hands, that cannot defile him.” (Matthew 15: 19-20)

Because the Pharisees were concerned with outward behavior and Jesus with inward motivation, Jesus fiercely criticizes members of this sect for posing obstacles to the Kingdom of God. Their insistence upon observing the Law misled people. Jesus launched into a tirade against the Pharisees in Jerusalem:. “Alas for you, lawyers and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like tombs covered with whitewash ... outside you look like honest men, but inside you are brim-full of hypocrisy and crime ... You snakes, you vipers’ brood, how can you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23: 27-33)

Jesus’ preference for inward motivation is illustrated by the story about donations in the Temple. Rich people were donating large sums of money. A poor widow dropped “two tiny coins” into the chest. Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you this ... This poor widow has given more than any of the others; for those others who have given had more than enough, but she, with less than enough, has given all that she had to live on.” (Mark 12: 43-44) Her greater degree of righteousness reflected the donation not in absolute terms but relative to her ability to give. Intention meant more than the amount of money contributed.

According to Jesus, the Kingdom of God requires nothing less than observing the highest standard of righteousness. While scripture allows divorce, Jesus does not allow it except for the wife’s unfaithfulness. While scripture gives the right to demand “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”, the higher righteousness requires mercy. One should put up with injuries inflicted by another person and not seek retribution: “Do not set yourself against the man who wrongs you. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn and offer him your left. If a man wants to sue you for your shirt, let him have your coat as well ... You have learned that they were told, ‘Love your neighbor, hate your enemy.’ But what I tell you is this: Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors; only so can you be children of your heavenly Father, who makes his sun rise on good and bad alike.” (Matthew 5: 39-45)

Judging and Forgiving Others

Jesus advises against judging other people: “Pass no judgment, and you will not be judged. For as you judge others, so you will yourself be judged ... Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye, with never a thought for the great plank in your own? ... You hypocrite! First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s.” (Matthew 7: 1-5) This statement offers practical advice with respect to entering the Kingdom of God. Those who fear harsh judgment by God need to avoid judging other people harshly: for God will treat them as they have treated others. If one does not judge others harshly, in the same way will one be judged when God’s kingdom arrives.

With respect to forgiveness, Schweitzer writes that “no limit is permitted to forgiveness. When Peter asks if it is sufficient to forgive his brother seven times, he receives the reply, ‘Not seven times, but seventy times seven.’” (Schweitzer, p. 84-85) Jesus urges forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us the wrong we have done, as we have forgiven those who have wronged us.” (Matthew 6: 12) After saying this prayer, he repeats the point: “For if you forgive others the wrongs they have done, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, then the wrongs you have done will not be forgiven by your Father.” (Matthew 6: 14-15)

The Ethic of Love

A lawyer asked Jesus the question: Which is the greatest commandment? It was a question often asked in those days. Jesus replied: “This first is ... ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” When the lawyer made statements seeming to agree with that principle, Jesus said to him: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12: 28-34)

Jesus stretches love to an unusual length. He demands not only that one should love one’s neighbor but one’s enemy as well. One should pray for one’s persecutors. It was an idea which had begun to be discussed in Jesus’ time. A more traditional view in Jewish religion was that one should treat the foreigner kindly, remembering how the Jews had been strangers in the land of Egypt. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus shows that kindness should not be limited to one’s own people. A priest and a Levite passed by an injured man but only the Samaritan, a foreigner, stopped to help. Which of the three was the man’s true “neighbor”? It was the despised Samaritan. “Go and do as he did,” Jesus commands. (Luke 10: 37)

Kindness and love should be present in one’s attitude toward each person one meets. At the coming of the Kingdom, the Son of Man will judge each according to how he has treated the least in society. With some sitting on his right side and others on his left, the Messiah will say to those on the right: “You have my Father’s blessing; come, enter and possess the kingdom ... For when I was hungry, you gave me food; when thirsty, you gave me drink; when I was a stranger you took me into your home, when naked you clothed me....” The righteous will ask when they did any of those things. “And the king will answer, ‘I tell you this: anything you did for one of my brothers here, however humble, you did for me.” As for the unrighteous, they neglected to help the Messiah when they slighted these humble ones. “And they (the unrighteous) will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous will enter eternal life.” (Matthew 25: 31-46)

Doing the Will of God

Whoever wishes to enter the Kingdom of Heaven must be focused on doing God’s will. Nothing else matters. Jesus said to his followers: “Not every one who calls me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of my heavenly Father.” (Matthew 7: 21) It does not matter how close one is to Jesus personally. Members of Jesus’ birth family have little advantage. “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?, “ Jesus asked. “And looking round at those who were sitting in the circle about him he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother, my sister, my mother.’” (Mark 3: 33-35)

Jesus does not believe in Original Sin. All men are capable of doing good when they are in earnest about it. “You are light for all the world ... When a lamp is lit, it is not put under the meal-tub, but on the lamp-stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. And you, like the lamp, must shed light among your fellows, so that, when they see the good you do, they may give praise to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 14-16) “Is there a man among you who will offer his son a stone when he asks for bread, or a snake when he asks for fish? If you, then bad as you are, know how to give your children what is good for them, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7: 9-11)

Even so, entrance to Heaven is denied all but those who show an extraordinary goodness. God’s standards far exceed those of man. When a stranger asks Jesus, “Good Master, what must I do to win eternal life?”, Jesus replies: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” He then recites several of God’s commandments which had to be kept. “But, Master,” says the stranger, “I have kept all these since I was a boy.” Jesus looks at him and says: “One thing you lack: go, sell everything you have, and give to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; and come, follow me.” At this instruction, the man’s heart fell, “for he was a man of great wealth.” (Mark 10: 17-22)

Attachment to wealth is a stumbling-block for those wishing to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus says: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10: 25) Jesus is not against wealth per se, but against its ability to control mens’ hearts. “No servant can be the slave of two masters,” Jesus declares, “for either he will hate the first and love the second, or he will be devoted to the first and think nothing of the second. You cannot serve God and Money.” (Matthew 6: 24)

Again, all must be focused on doing God’s will to gain entrance to Heaven. That is a hard task for persons living in this world but not an impossible one. The disciples despair of salvation after Jesus compares the rich man to a camel passing through the eye of a needle. Jesus comforts them saying: “For men it (salvation) is impossible, but not for God; everything is possible for God.” (Mark 10: 27)

Jesus’ View of the Kingdom: Is it Spiritual?

It is customary to interpret Jesus’ views and purposes in terms of our own. In Jesus’ time, Greek thought had great influence. Plato believed that ideas were superior to the physical world. It is assumed that Jesus was saying much the same thing. When he said, for instance, that his kingdom was “not of this world”, he might have been talking about a spiritualized kingdom rather than a political one. Perhaps this kingdom was “within us” as we immerse ourselves in spiritual pursuits. Schweitzer argues against this point of view. Jesus was adhering to views of the Kingdom found in the prophets of late Judaism. That kingdom was neither spiritual nor ethical but supernatural.

Jesus may have had a spiritualized ethics, but his view of the Kingdom was not spiritual. “Historical research devoted to the life of Jesus long assumed as self-evident that he interpreted not only ethics, but also the Kingdom of God, in a spiritual way. Scholars were convinced that he rejected the expectation of the Kingdom of God current in the Judaism of his time as too materialistic and taught a more spiritual doctrine, as he did in ethics. It was likewise assumed that he did not feel himself to be the Messiah in the sense in which he was generally expected, but sought to bring the people to see in him a Messiah of a different sort. This was a Messiah who did not come in supernatural form or with supernatural might, but as a man uniquely endowed with the power of the Spirit of God. He founded the ethical Kingdom of God on earth with his preaching and summoned men to join in its realization.” (Schweitzer, p. 89)

Schweitzer rejects that view. True, in the Gospel of John “Jesus does put forth a type of teaching which he opposes to the Jewish as being more spiritual.” (Schweitzer, p. 89) However, this teaching is more closely related to the Greek idea of the Logos than to Jesus’ own view. In Schweitzer’s estimation, the Gospels of Matthew and Mark are a more reliable source of information than John. Following them, “it became much more difficult to maintain the view that Jesus had a spiritualized conception of the Kingdom and his Messiahship.” (Schweitzer, p. 89) There is nowhere in these two Gospels any indication that Jesus put forth a new doctrine concerning them. “If Jesus had wished to replace the view of the Kingdom and the Messiah current among his hearers with a different one, he would have had to give clear expression to his views, and in doing so would have provided the scribes and Pharisees with plenty of material for controversy.” (Schweitzer, p. 90)

If Jesus had wished to promote a new view of the Kingdom, he might have rebuked his disciples for their materialistic values when they argued among themselves about which of them would be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus merely instructs them on qualifications for entering the Kingdom: they must be humble as a child. (Matthew 18: 1-4) Again, when Peter asks what will be his reward for following Jesus, Jesus does not criticize the selfishness implicit in this question. Instead, he informs Peter that each of the twelve disciples will have his own throne in Heaven where he will sit to judge one of the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matthew 19: 27-29)

James and John want a preferred place in the Kingdom. Jesus is not offended by their request but points out that, among his followers, those who are greatest do not lord it over the others but, instead, are their servant. This arrangement applies even to himself. (Mark 10: 42-45)

What is Jesus’ Own View of the Kingdom?

“The Son of Man-Messiah is, according to Jesus, a supernatural being. He appears on the clouds of heaven, surrounded by his angels, when the time for the Kingdom has come ... When the High Priest asks him whether he is the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of God, he replies, ‘Henceforth ye shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ “(Schweitzer, p. 91) The High Priest takes this statement as evidence that Jesus claims to be the Messiah. It also indicates Jesus’ conception of the Messiah - as “Son of Man” sitting on God’s right hand who comes “on the clouds of heaven” when the Kingdom of God arrives. This Messiah comes in a supernatural way.

Jesus sheds light on the Kingdom in the parable of the darnel in the field. He says: “The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world; the good seed stands for the children of the Kingdom, the darnel for the children of the evil one. The enemy who sowed the darnel is the devil. The harvest is the end of time. The reapers are the angels. As the darnel, then is gathered up and burnt, so at the end of time the Son of Man will send out his angels, who will gather out of his kingdom whatever makes men stumble, and all whose deeds are evil, and these will be thrown into the blazing furnace, the place of wailing and grinding of teeth. And then the righteous will shine as brightly as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Matthew 13: 37-43)

The parable of the fish teaches a similar lesson. “Then the men sat down and collected the good fish into pails and threw the worthless away. That is how it will be at the end of time. The angels will go forth, and they will separate the wicked from the good, and throw them into the blazing furnace, the place of wailing and grinding of teeth.” (Matthew 13: 48-50)

What we see is a picture of destruction which, as in the prophecies of Amos and Malachi, involves a fire-like process to determine who will perish and who will be saved. The devil has created wickedness in the world. Angels of God pick the good apart from the bad and destroy the latter. Elsewhere, it is the Son of Man, accompanied by angels, who separates the two groups. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, he will sit in state on his throne, with all the nations gathered before him. He will separate men into two groups, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25: 31-33)

Jesus is describing here a purely supernatural kingdom. In this Kingdom, “everyone exists in the supernatural form of those who have risen from the dead. They are in possession of eternal life.” (Schweitzer, p. 92) When the Sadduccees ask Jesus the question about resurrected peoples’ marriages, Jesus replies: “You are mistaken ... When they (human beings) rise from the dead, men and women do not marry; they are like angels in heaven.” (Mark 12: 24-25)

Jesus also says: “Many, I tell you, will come from east and west to feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 8: 11) In other words, the patriarchs of ancient Israel will also be resurrected from the dead in the final days; it will be possible then for some from the last generation to share a meal with them. Jesus promises his disciples at the Last Supper that he, too, will eat and drink with them after the resurrection. He says: “ I tell you, never again shall I drink from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in the kingdom of my Father.” (Matthew 26: 29)

“There is no escaping the conclusion from these passages that Jesus was expecting a completely supernatural Kingdom of God of the kind described in the prophetic writings of the late post-Exilic period ... It is clear from the fact that as a rule he speaks of the Son of Man rather than of the Messiah that his outlook has its closest affinity with the Book of Daniel and the Book of Enoch. It is closest to that of Enoch. Jesus shares with Enoch the peculiar views that it is not God, as in the later post-Exilic prophets and in Daniel, but the Son of Man, assisted by his angels, who holds the Judgment, that the Judgment extends over the fallen angels as well, that there are great and little in the Kingdom of heaven, and that the rich must be regarded as lost from the very beginning.” (Schweitzer, p. 92)

The Apocalypses of Ezra and Baruch, written a generation after Jesus’ death, envisioned two kingdoms: a Messianic kingdom of limited duration followed by an eternal Kingdom of God. The dead would be resurrected after the first ended and before the second arrived. That is not Jesus’ view. “Jesus knows only the Kingdom which follows upon the resurrection. The expression Kingdom of heaven, which he frequently uses, is identical in meaning with Kingdom of God. It does not indicate that the Kingdom is in heaven, but that it comes to earth from heaven, so that the earth thereby acquires a supernatural perfection.” (Schweitzer, p. 93)

Why Did Jesus Adopt this View?

According to Albert Schweitzer, Jesus’ view of the Kingdom of God is “that of late Judaism. It follows that his ethics are not the ethics of the Kingdom, but those appropriate to preparation for its coming. The Kingdom, being supernatural, is beyond ethics. Those who have entered it live there as perfect, angel-like beings in a world which is perfect in every respect. As such, they cannot sin.” (Schweitzer, p. 93)

The view of God’s Kingdom in late Judaism is different from that in earlier prophets such as Amos, Jeremiah, and Second Isaiah. “For them, the Kingdom is essentially a spiritual and ethical entity. Indeed, it comes into existence when God transforms the hearts of men by imparting to them his Spirit and delegates dominion over all nations to a king of the House of David who has been equipped with the Spirit. In Jeremiah, Ezekial, and Deutero-Isaiah the Kingdom consists in a new everlasting covenant which God makes with his people, by which he gives them the strength to endure through imparting his Spirit to them.” (Schweitzer, p. 93)

Jesus might have followed that lead. “There was nothing to prevent Jesus ... from going back from the late Jewish conception of a completely supernatural and super ethical Kingdom to the earlier idea of a spiritual and ethical Messianic Kingdom, and giving it new life and depth in accordance with his deeper ethical insight. This is not what he does; instead he accepts the late Jewish view and directs his ethics toward one purpose alone. This is to prepare those who belong to the last generation of mankind ... for entry into the Kingdom, thus making the most of the last moments of the present time order between his announcement of the imminence of the Kingdom and its advent.” (Schweitzer, p. 94)

A reason why Jesus adopted the late Jewish view of the Kingdom is that he accepted the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. That doctrine was needed to do justice to the righteous persons of past generations who had died before the Kingdom of God arrived. They had believed in the promise of the Kingdom and had lived their lives in righteousness but had not enjoyed a reward for that effort. It would seem that their efforts had been in vain.

That situation was morally intolerable. However, to include those righteous persons in the promise of the Kingdom, it was necessary to suppose that the dead of past generations would be resurrected when the Kingdom came. “But this meant a fundamental change in the nature of the Kingdom. Those who have risen from the dead and men in their natural state (the survivors of the last generation) cannot both be in the Kingdom together. They must all be supernatural beings, the one through the resurrection, the others through a transformation which they will undergo at the appearance of the Kingdom.” (Schweitzer, p. 94-95)

Another reason that the view of the Kingdom had to change was that later prophets spoke of a universal God, the God of all nations and not just Israel. The Day of Yahweh, as conceived by Amos, was a day leading to the victory of the Jewish nation over its enemies. This would be a purely historical event. Later prophets, however, foresaw that God would triumph over the forces of evil and death in the world. These forces could not be conquered in the course of ordinary history but only in a supernatural order following history. The conception of the kingdom had to be “higher” than before. “The faith which sets its hopes highest and dares to expect that God will shortly make an end to the present era and bring in the age of perfection can entertain no other view but that of a supernatural and super-ethical Kingdom of God. That is why Jesus adopted the outlook of late Judaism.” (Schweitzer, p. 95)

What Impact did a Supernatural Kingdom have on the Ethics of Jesus?

Schweitzer claims that expectations of a supernatural kingdom were “responsible for a depreciation of the existing transient and imperfect world in comparison with the eternal and perfect world to come. For Jesus this is greatly accentuated by his belief that the time allotted to the present world is now very short indeed. Detachment from all that belongs to this world is therefore essential.” (Schweitzer, p. 96) If the natural world will end tomorrow, one cares little about making improvements in that world.

That is a reason why Jesus valued children. These “young children of the final human generation are destined to enter the Kingdom as they are. They pass their existence in this world in innocence and freedom from anxiety, and will never know any other way of living here because the Kingdom will have come before they are grown up. They possess a unique privilege.” (Schweitzer, p. 96) The natural attitude of children is also the attitude needed to enter the Kingdom of God. “I tell you,” said Jesus, “whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” (Mark 10: 15)

One prepares for the approaching Kingdom of God by avoiding worldly attachments. One such attachment is a desire for rank and position. Jesus addresses this issue by proposing an ethic which reverses the positions of the great and small, powerful and the weak. “Let a man humble himself till he is like this child, and he will be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven,” Jesus says. (Matthew 18: 4) Again, he remarks: “The greatest among you must be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled; and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23: 12)

Another attachment is to wealth. One is reminded of Jesus’ conversation with the young rich man who was asked to give up all his wealth. He could not do it even to gain entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven, so strong was his attachment to wealth. Jesus urges an attitude toward earthly possessions verging on the carefree: “I bid you put away anxious thoughts about food and drink to keep you alive, and clothes to cover your body ... Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow and reap and store in barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” (Matthew 6: 25-26) “Do not store up for yourself treasure on earth, where it grows rusty and moth-eaten, and thieves break in to steal it. Store up treasure in heaven, where there is no moth and no rust to spoil it ... For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6: 19-20)

“The ethics of Jesus are concerned only with the attainment of inner perfection. They renounce moral works. They have nothing to do with the achievement of anything in the world. His expectation of the supernatural Kingdom of God which is coming in the very near future puts Jesus in a position to disregard everything that ethics can achieve in this world. Their sole function is to make individual men face the need to reflect on the nature of the true good. His ethics can set up the highest, most unlimited demands.” (Schweitzer, p. 96) The lynch-pin of this ethics is the idea that the Kingdom of God will come soon. It is not worth concerning oneself with things that are important in the interim period since that situation will soon be gone. Jesus does not urge moral improvement or betterment of society; there simply isn’t time for that.

Even so, Jesus does not advise total renunciation of the world as ascetic philosophers have done. Such renunciation precludes an ethical system. He who does not act at all is not concerned with the morality of action. It is hard to find a place in this scheme for love. Unlike Buddha, Jesus accepts the need to live in this world before the Kingdom of God comes. To a certain extent, he inherits the ethical view of earlier prophets who believed that the Kingdom might come in the distant future. To believe that the Kingdom will come soon creates a certain attitude of detachment from the world but it does not cause one to neglect present needs.

There is another reason why Jesus rejects asceticism. There is no time for the personal cultivation that it requires. Only the approaching Kingdom matters. This is a time for rejoicing, not self-mortification, because the Kingdom is near. Those persons who belong to the present generation enjoy a great privilege. They should be happy about living at this time. Their daily lives should be filled with joy. Jesus often expresses joy. For instance, after preaching the parable of the sower, he says to the disciples: “Happy are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear! Many prophets and saints, I tell you, desired to see what you now see, yet never saw it; to hear what you hear, yet never heard it.” (Matthew 13: 16-17) When John’s disciples come to Jesus asking why he did not make his own disciples fast, Jesus replies: “Can you expect the bridegroom’s friends to go mourning while the bridegroom is with them?” (Matthew 9: 15) The time for fasting will come when the bridegroom is taken away.

So Jesus is relatively relaxed about moral discipline. He lets his disciples eat and drink freely. He associates with sinners. His critics say of him: “Look at him! a glutton and a drinker, a friends of tax-gatherers and sinners!” (Matthew 11:19) Jesus points out that the same types of critics accused John and his disciples of being “possessed” because they embraced an austere mode of living. He dismisses such criticism, saying “God’s wisdom is proved right by its results.” (Matthew 11: 19)

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