Jesus Saw the Downfall of Apostate Religion :: By Dr. Donald Whitchard

Matthew 22:34-46, Mark 12:28-44, Luke 10:25-28, Luke 20:41-47, Luke 21:1-4, Matthew 23:1-7

Summary: Jesus finished His final day of public ministry. He taught the crowds in the Temple, confronted difficult questions, and then left for good. The Temple and its religious system were corrupt, useless, and irredeemable and would be judged by God.

Mark 12:28-44 gives us details about the final day of Jesus’ public ministry and His departure from the Temple. He will go to the Mount of Olives and present to His astonished disciples the reality of what is to come in the future. It does not involve a new Israel free from Rome, nor the re-establishment of the Davidic throne, nor a life of ease for any who follow Him from now on. Jesus has borne the sorrow of rejection, misunderstanding, slander, and rank hatred from the very people He wanted to take under His care, as any loving parent would want to do for their children.

The religious leaders hated Him with demonic rage and contempt and would have had Him killed earlier except that only Rome could put anyone to death, and it had to be based on a trial with specific and proven charges. Jesus only had a handful of true followers by this time, and one of them would commit the crime of all history by betraying Him into the hand of His enemies for a reward amounting to a financial pittance. In this closure of public ministry, Jesus will encounter specific situations that confirm the deadness of Israel’s faith and the fulfillment of prophetic judgment.

First, Jesus encountered a Scribe whose questions and comments were the last gasp of righteous standards in an apostate system (12:28-34). The Scribe asked Jesus which of the commandments were most important? The Law of Moses included the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-22) and the Torah, the first five books of Moses that were the foundation of Jewish life and worship of God. There were 613 separate laws dealing with issues on cleanliness, health, hygiene, procedures for sacrifices, laws against deviant behaviors and idolatry, and the structure of the family. Which one was of the utmost importance?

I do not see this question as a way of cornering the Lord but one of clarification so as to honor Him. Jesus answered by quoting the Shema, commanding the Israelites to love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-5), and to also love your neighbor as you would yourself (Leviticus 19:18), telling the Scribe that the entirety of the Law was founded on these two commandments (Matthew 22:40). The Scribe agrees with Jesus’ answer and is told by the LORD that he was not far from the Kingdom of God. He was close to the gates of heaven, but aside from this, we do not read any further of what the Scribe did concerning his state before God in terms of repentance and seeking salvation.

Second, Jesus dealt with one final question over the issue of the Messiah (12:35-37; Psalm 110:1). Is He David’s Son or David’s LORD? Jesus goes to the Scriptures and asks how the LORD of David can be merely a physical son and heir.

David knew that he was to be the king whose bloodline would bring about the Promised Redeemer, but it went further than that for him. David knew that his descendant could not be a mere flawed person but had to originate from the hand of Almighty God, free from the limits of humanity and sin. David knew that his “son” was to be the eternal King of Kings and Sovereign LORD of All who would conquer the world and its evils and usher in righteousness forever. No mortal monarch could ever do that, even if he emulated the behavior of godliness and righteousness.

This mortal king would still be a sinner in need of a Redeemer, and that was the role which the prophet Isaiah saw when he wrote of the “Suffering Servant” and His mission (Isaiah 53:1-12). It would not be until the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2) that many Jews would have their spiritual eyes opened to see that Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of the Messianic Psalms (Psalm 2:110) and prophecy itself.

Third, Jesus gave His final rebuke to the Pharisees (12:38-40), who were devoted to ritual and religion but not to God in their lives, worship, and deeds. They were exposed by Jesus for their hypocrisy, petty grievances, attention to trivial matters, and undisguised resentment of Him for going against their traditions and procedures they saw as a devotion to God and His laws. None of them, save for Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, accepted Jesus as an equal and as the fulfillment of Scripture during His lifetime.

Many Pharisees did repent and believed on Him after the resurrection, but caused concerns over obedience to the laws of Moses along with faith in Christ. This led to the Jerusalem Council, where decisions were made that freed both Jewish believers and Gentiles from further restraints (Acts 15:1-29). Paul’s letter to the Galatians dealt with this issue as well. We are free from the bondage of the Law and traditions. We do not have to obey dietary laws, rituals, perform sacrifices, or undergo circumcision to be a child of God in Christ. It is faith in Christ alone that grants us grace, salvation, mercy, and forgiveness (Ephesians 2:8-9). People still don’t understand that today.

The final observation Jesus made (12:41-44) was to watch a poor widow give her last coins to the upkeep of the Temple, then go home and probably die of starvation, neglect, or other tragic situation, all for the sake of religious fear that God would not honor her or allow her entry into the kingdom if she neglected to pay the Temple tax or do some other work. This story is often used as an illustration of giving and personal sacrifice for the work of God, but nothing could be further from the truth. This poor widow, and others who scrape by in this world, are prime targets for unscrupulous hustlers who use God as a way of lining their own pockets by feeding off the fears and desperation of people who want to get a better chance at life and prosperity.

There have been priests, popes, and preachers in name only who have used tactics and gimmicks over the centuries to dupe gullible souls into giving to “ministries” that promise untold blessings, personal wealth, health, and happiness in the name of Jesus. It has been used to do everything from rebuild Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome all the way to the use of “seed-faith gifts” to a notable personality on TV or in a “megachurch” (or what some folks refer to as “Six Flags over Jesus”). We see the work of these “anointed” skunks in suits and the bitter aftermath of shattered faith and the skepticism that has washed over not just our country but the world in these last days.

We are to give cheerfully and out of love for God, not out of fear of religious tyranny (2 Corinthians 9:7).

Jesus saw what had become of authentic faith and trust in the LORD by Judea. It had died a lonely, harsh death years before as the nation wrapped itself up in its own viewpoint of who the Messiah was and what He would do for the people in delivering them from the hands of Rome. Faith and belief had become empty, mindless rituals and repetitious motions that showed no devotion to God nor the need for personal repentance and forgiveness.

The Pharisees and Sadducees had made the worship of God into a horrid time of fear and trepidation for failure to observe traditions and self-imposed interpretations of rabbis who valued their own opinions over the standard of the Word of God. Judaism had turned into an apostate religion no better than the paganism of Rome and its forbearers such as Greece, Persia, and Babylon. The beauty of the Temple and its courtyards were empty and hollow representations of a faith that had died long ago yet had not been buried. It was still exposed, rotten, and putrid. The Lord then did a terrifying thing. He walked out of the apostate Temple for good, giving it over for judgment and destruction, not to be rebuilt to this day.

Jesus walks out of churches and gatherings today where He is not welcome, worshipped, or honored, leaving them to die and wither, useless and fit only for the fire or dung heap. Even after two thousand years, the world and those who call themselves believers and followers of Jesus still don’t get it. There is a day coming when He will say, “ENOUGH” to this world system, its evil and its games. Do not let Him say that to you on the Day of Judgment. Give your life to Him today and embrace Him as Lord and Savior. You have no guarantee of tomorrow (2 Corinthians 6:2).

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