(This post is part of a series of short studies in Mark's Gospel)
Mark 10: 28 Peter began to say to him, "Look, we have left everything and followed you." 29 Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."
What did Jesus mean when he promised that his followers would “receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life?” Why is it that some Christians today who have “left everything” to “follow Christ” are not receiving “a hundredfold?”
As a point of historical context, it is first important to note the distinction of “this age,” and “the age to come” to which Jesus refers. “This age” is the age in which he and his disciples were still living—the Old Covenant Age, which had not yet come to an end as the [first, and physical] temple was still standing (cf. Hebrews 9:8-10). And the “age to come” refers to the New Covenant Age, which was still future, and in the process of becoming, to the apostles writing in the first century, but is now a present reality for us, who have received the “eternal life” of which Jesus speaks in this passage. So the primary application of “receiving a hundred fold in this age” is not for us, but rather for those who were in the process of entering the kingdom “through much tribulation” and persecution (cf. Acts 14:22). But as they were enduring this process, their “houses” and “family” and “fields” were indeed increasing—through the building of the church.
But as we are part of the same church, built upon the same “foundation of the apostles and prophets” (cf. Ephesians 2:20), our “houses” and “family” and “fields” are theirs, as theirs are ours, by inheritance of the “riches of Christ” (cf. Ephesians 2:7; Philippians 4:19; Colossians 1:27; 2:2). These are the “riches” of which the Bible speaks.
Jesus’ association of “receiving a hundredfold” with a familial inheritance (“brothers and sisters, mothers and children”) is elucidated by his earlier redefinition of his “family” (cf. 3:32-35) as those who do the will of God. And those who do the will of God are those who believe the Gospel, and thereby become the true children of Abraham, to whom all the promises of God belong (cf. John 6:29; Galatians 3:26-29; 2 Corinthians 1:20).
Unlike the televangelists or ”prosperity gospel” preachers in our day, the Bible does not equate any aspect of the “riches of Christ” or the promises of God of “health” and “wealth” to his children with material goods or physical comfort. As Paul wrote in Romans, “the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (cf. Romans 14:17).
(This post is part of a series of short studies in Mark's Gospel)
What is Mark’s “good news” or Gospel?
With his introduction, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1), Mark is ascribing divine authority to his gospel: this is not merely the evangelist’s story about Jesus; this is Jesus’ own word; it is his good news to his people. Mark then defines what the "good news" is by quoting the prophets Malachi and Isaiah. By identifying the fore-running "messenger" of Malachi 3:1, and the “crying voice” of Isaiah 40:3 as John the Baptist (cf. 1:1-4), Mark is boldly proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah promised to Israel, which she knew according to her prophets would be God. Also from the context of Isaiah 40 it is further understood that Mark is announcing, "the glory (i.e., the salvation, cf. Isaiah 52:10; Luke 3:6) of God is about to be revealed" (cf. Isaiah 40:5).
So what is this good news? What is this promised salvation? At the conclusion of Mark's prologue, he defines the "good news" as follows: 1) the time is fulfilled, and 2) the kingdom of God has come near (1:14,15). We need look no further then to again, Isaiah 40, to see this promise about to be fulfilled by Jesus Christ defined as the comfort of God’s people, through the forgiveness of their sins: "Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins" (Isaiah 40:1-2). At the conclusion of the gospel, included in the “shorter ending” following 16:8, the good news is equated with the proclamation of “eternal salvation,” and this is indeed theologically consistent with Mark’s opening quotation from Isaiah.
 Malachi 3:1 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts."
 Isaiah 40:3 A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
 The earliest manuscripts do not contain Mark 16:9-20. The scholarship community is divided over whether this “longer ending” was part of Mark’s original gospel. Some manuscripts contain a “shorter ending” following verse 8, which reads: “And all that had been commanded they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.” For more on the various perspectives on the ending of Mark, please see: Maurice Robinson et al., Perspectives On the Ending of Mark: Four Views, ed. David Alan Black (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Academic, 2008).
I was recently asked this question. I hope some of you may be encouraged by the response below.
In Revelation, John writes about the "works you did at first" to the Ephesians, and to those in Sardis he writes, "I know your works;...you are dead." What kind of works could John be referring to?
Regarding the admonition to the church at Ephesus to "do the works you did at first," there is a parallel structure that is significant:
"You have abandoned the love you had first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first."
"The love you had" and "the works you did" are clearly paralleled, and cannot be separated.
In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he praised them for their faith and "love for all the saints" (Ephesians 1). They had obeyed the gospel by believing, and the resulting fruit of that belief was love for God and His people. Many of the believers in all of these churches were Jews. In order to believe the gospel they had to repent of their former "dead works" (ie, self-righteousness under the law, cf. Hebrews 6:1). When some law-abiding Jews asked Jesus, "what must we do, to be doing the works of God?" He answered, "this is the work of God, that you believe on Him who He has sent" (John 6:28,29). A common theme throughout the New Testament is the temptation that Jewish believers, who were being persecuted by the self-proclaimed "Jews" who were of the "synagogue of Satan," had to return to the law after believing the gospel of grace. When John writes here, "repent from where you have fallen," we might consider the connection to Paul's statement to the Galatians that if they returned to self-righteousness and trusting in the "flesh" (ie, their own efforts to keep the law) after having begun by the "spirit," they had "fallen from grace" (Galatians 5).
Regarding the "soiled garments" of those in Sardis (Revelation 3:1f), I believe this also is a reference to self-righteous works. Isaiah says, "all our righteousness are as filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6). It is only in Christ that we are clothed with "robes of righteousness," and the beautiful "garments of salvation" (Isaiah 61:10).
Notice that the church at Sardis also is admonished to return to what they had "received and heard." Of course what they had received and heard was the same gospel that the Ephesians had received and heard, which had resulted in "the love they had at first." Again, the dichotomy between self-righteousness and faith in the righteousness of Christ by the gospel is emphasized.
This same contrast is evident in the message to the Laodiceans (Revelation 3:14f), who believed themselves to be "rich" but were in reality "poor, blind and naked." And what was the solution for their nakedness? In this clear allusion to the garden scene, the only remedy for the shame of nakedness is the righteousness of Christ. In the garden Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves with garments of their own making, but their shame remained. For as Isaiah says, "their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works" (Isaiah 59:6). Shame is always the result of our attempts to "buy" (work for) our own righteousness. But to the church at Laodicea, and to us today, Jesus says, "buy of me ("without money and without price"—Isaiah 55) gold tried in the fire, so you will be rich, and white raiment ("garments of salvation"—Isaiah 61) so you will be clothed, and so that the shame of your nakedness does not appear."
Again, "This is the work of God (i.e., the works you did at first): that you believe on Him Whom He has sent" (John 6:28,29).
I received this question from a friend in my small group the other day:
I am struggling with Romans 2: 1-16. It seems to go a bit against what I have more recently been understanding about God's Grace and Mercy and that works alone will not save us. That I understand, but what about 2:6-8?
Romans 2:6 "God will give to each person according to what he has done. 7 To those by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.
I understand that if we are truly following God, then there shouldn't be a disparity in our lives between what we say and believe and what we do. I understand that we are not saved by works, but the integrity of our faith can be revealed through works? Help me put the wrath and judgment piece together with Grace and Mercy.
This is an important discussion, thanks for bringing it forward. I’d like to offer a few thoughts regarding the passage you have quoted—first considering the specific statement you are asking about in verses 6f regarding wrath and judgment and secondly considering the larger context of Romans.
Notice there are two groups of people being contrasted:
1. Those “who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality”
2. Those “who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness”
Those who do “good” and seek “glory, honor, and immortality” are those who are not destined for judgment and wrath. Therefore we know these to be believers. The “good” that we “do” which results in glory and immortality is to believe the gospel. In fact, Scripture is clear that belief in the gospel is the only way to glory and immortality. Consider the following:
John 6:28,29 Then they said to Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent."
2 Timothy 1:9,10 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,
So we know that those who are “doing good” in Romans 2 are believers in Christ. And no believer in Christ will ever, EVER experience judgment or wrath from God. To suggest otherwise really amounts to despising the work of Christ on the cross. There are many things we could talk about regarding what these believers were experiencing in the first century which required the “patience” of which Paul speaks. They were enduring intense persecution from not only the Romans, but also from the self-righteous Pharisees and Jews who were enemies of the gospel, and who were about to have God’s wrath poured out on them--which brings us to the identity of the second group: those “who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness.” Again, what is the “truth?” The truth is the gospel. To obey the truth is to believe the gospel. To disobey the truth is to reject the gospel. And it’s helpful to back up a couple of verses for the clearest confirmation of who these “disobedient” ones are:
Romans 2:5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,
Now back up even farther to chapter 1, which sets the context for this whole discussion. The wrath of God (the same wrath which is the subject of your question in chapter 2) was being or about to be revealed at the time of this writing against those “suppressed the truth.” Again, the truth is the gospel. And yes, we can prove this:
Rom 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
Rom 1:17 For in it [the gospel of Christ] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH."
Now watch this:
Rom 1:18 For the wrath of God is [present tense--it was happening or about to happen then] revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth [the truth is a synonym in this very context for the gospel in verse 16] in unrighteousness.
So, to sum up the difference between these two groups Paul is contrasting: those who “do good” believe the gospel, and those who are “self-seeking” (ie, they instead trust in themselves, or in their own righteousness) do not believe the gospel.
And some additional thoughts, considering again the larger context. If we keep reading in chapter 2 we will find continued confirmation that it is the self-righteous, unrepentant, Christ-rejecting Jews who were about to receive God’s judgment and wrath. Watch this:
Rom 2:17 Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law [ie, you trust in self-righteousness], and make your boast in God [you claim to be serving God],
Rom 2:18 and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law,
Rom 2:19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness,
Rom 2:20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law.
Rom 2:21 You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal?
Rom 2:22 You who say, "Do not commit adultery," do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?
Rom 2:23 You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? [he is exposing their hypocrisy]
Rom 2:24 For "THE NAME OF GOD IS BLASPHEMED AMONG THE GENTILES BECAUSE OF YOU," as it is written. [quoting Isaiah 52, ie, God’s name is being blasphemed because of your self-righteousness]
Rom 2:25 For circumcision [the “Jewishness” and legalism you are trusting in] is indeed profitable if you keep the law [but NO ONE CAN]; but if you are a breaker of the law [which all of you are], your circumcision has become uncircumcision [ie, your law-keeping is worthless, and gets you nothing].
Now this is the clincher, right here:
Rom 2:26 Therefore, if an uncircumcised man [a Gentile, one you despise as unclean and a law-breaker] keeps the righteous requirements of the law [WHAT?!], will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision?
Wait a minute. As we studied in Galatians, no one is justified by keeping the law, because no one CAN keep the law. As we read in James, to break one tiny part of it is to break the whole thing. So how can an “uncircumcised man” (a Gentile, and the fact that he is uncircumcised means he’s already broken the law, since the law requires circumcision! This is some riddle!) keep the “righteous requirements of the law” so that it turns him into a Jew? (That is essentially what is meant by “his uncircumcision will be counted as circumcision.") Paul explains it later in Romans (we HAVE to read Romans as a whole, because of course that is the way it was delivered). Remember the phrase from 2:26 above, “the righteous requirements of the law…” and watch this (remember, it is part of the same discussion by Paul):
Rom 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh [ie, do not seek justification in the law], but according to the Spirit.
Rom 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.
Rom 8:3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh,
Rom 8:4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh [seeking justification/righteousness by keeping the law] but according to the Spirit [trusting in and receiving Christ’s righteousness].
Remember that Paul says in chapter 2 that anyone who keeps “the righteous requirements of the law” is counted as a Jew. In contrast to the ones who prided themselves in being Jews (keepers of the law, righteous in their own eyes, and superior in their own eyes because of their national/racial "Jewish" heritage). And here Paul continues by saying that those “righteous requirements of the law” ARE FULFILLED by Christ, IN us.
Finally, look at the last verses of chapter 2, which again clarify the contrast Paul was making at the beginning of the chapter:
Rom 2:28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly [ie, you self-righteous ones who think you are better than others because you are “Jews” are not “Jews” in any way that matters to God] or is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh;
Rom 2:29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. [ie, true “Jews,” true keepers of God’s law, are believers in Jesus Christ, who have been forgiven and cleansed by the cross, and who are now perfectly righteous in the sight of God.]
So to bring this full circle back to your question, how do we reconcile the statement in Romans 2 that God gives to each person “according to what he has done,” with His mercy and grace to believers? His mercy and grace is indeed lavished upon ANYONE who does “good”—or “the work of God,” which is to BELIEVE in Jesus. And when we abandon self-effort/self-righteousness, and trust in Christ’s righteousness, “the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in us. Christ fulfilled it, because we could not. And for us who have believed, for you and me, ”it has been fulfilled. Once and for all. “Therefore there is no condemnation.”
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, SO THAT we would be made the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
“The Lord has brought forth our righteousness, come let us declare in Zion (Zion = the church, the assembly or congregation of believers) the work of our God.” (Jeremiah 51:10)
For further study, we also discuss this section of Romans 2 in this podcast, if you are interested in spanning out even farther to include a larger Scriptural context for Paul's comments.
This series of four sermons is without a doubt the clearest and most beautiful presentation of the gospel and grace of God that I have heard in my life:
Total Depravity and the Gift of Faith
And I grew up in church. And heard "the gospel" preached practically from infancy. Or I should say, that I heard many adulterated versions of it. The thing about the truth of God, is that it pierces my heart to its core. And the way that I have learned to recognize the truth of God, is that it alone tells me the truth about myself. It tells me who I really am. Which is really not who I most often think I am, or who others tell me I am. One might suppose it would be hard to sort through all of this other, to find the truth. But it's not hard to find, because it's in the Bible. Every other version of "truth," even within the context of "Christianity" and "church," and in the context of "Scripture" selectively presented, stops short of piercing through our hearts to show us who we really are. And it seems that is not by accident. There is purposeful attention given, great care taken, to change the truth of God into a lie. The lie tells us we are something more than we are (apart from Him), and that He is something less than He is. And the result is that there are relatively few in "Christianity" who know and understand to worship Him both for who He is and for what He has done. And by extension, there are so few who know how to treat others in Him, according to the new creation that they are, and the very righteousness of God which they have become.
Having said that, there really is such a thing as false humility. It's the flip-side of the pride coin for a Christian. Because while it's true that we must be confronted with who we are in God's eyes, by dropping every other comparison to see ourselves naked before Him, in order to recieve His mercy; having received it, we are now righteous--holy, unblameable, unreprovable--in His sight. The only view that matters. But as soon as we start comparing ourselves outwardly to others, we tend toward one of two extremes--"better than" or "worse than" --but both are equally prideful because they both effectually diminish the glory, and despise the victory, of the cross.
Well the messages may offend. I am actually hard pressed to name anyone in my own Christian community, with whom I regularly fellowship, who would not find them offensive to some degree. The truth does offend. It offends our very nature apart from Christ. But the amazing thing about that is that this same truth is the only place we can find rest. Real rest for our souls, every day. In His "mercies new every morning."
"Oh, Lord in the morning, will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up"..."You are my glory, and the lifter of my head."
The thing about all of those other versions of the gospel? There is no rest in any of them. That is why I love the real one so much.
I hope some of you will check out that series, and may it be a blessing.
I have been married to my loving husband Keith for 26 years. We have three beautiful and brilliant children, ages 24, 22 and 20. Nothing cheers my heart more than having them all at home, yet nothing is more satisfying to my mind than watching them grow from afar. My personal passion is theology: the knowledge and experience of the Truth and Mercy found only in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and displayed in the lives and communion of His people. My husband and I love to travel, and because our children are often out and about in the world, we get lots of opportunities to see it! And we also love to fill our home with friends who love us, and love our wine collection.