God’s Heart Revealed in Matthew 25

In Matthew 25:31-45, Jesus gives a parable of the final judgment. In broad strokes:

  • God = “the King” who judges the nations
  • the righteous = “sheep” who inherit eternal life
  • the unrighteous = “goats” who inherit eternal punishment
    • the eternal punishment is depicted as “eternal fire” (v. 41)

On all counts, it is a very sobering parable.

But I’d like us to consider what we can learn of God by contrasting what is said to each group of people:


Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

Matt. 25:34, ESV


Then he [the King] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Matt. 25:41, ESV

Note especially the bold sections:

  1. The sheep are told to come (presumably into God’s presence). The goats are told to depart “from me,” assuming that, in some sense, they are being removed from God’s presence.
  2. The blessing comes from “my Father”. But the cursing is not said to come from “my Father.” It just says, “you cursed.” In other words, it is apparent that God is the blesser, but He is not as eager to be the curser.
  3. The sheep inherit eternal life. This is something that is their due by the fact that they are children of God. But the goats are not told that eternal fire is their inheritance. In fact…
  4. The kingdom of God was “prepared for you [the sheep]” while hell was “prepared for the devil and his angels.” It was not God’s intent and hope that people would dwell there.

All of these purposeful contrasts show that God is much more eager to bless and bring people into His presence than to curse and condemn people to hell. This doesn’t mean that He doesn’t curse (see Deut. 28) or is not the judge who sentences people to hell (see Matt. 10:28). He must do that as a righteous judge. However, these contrasts show that it is not his heart or intent to do these things. He longs for all to be in His presence.

He’s like a judge who must sentence his son to extreme penalty for a heinous crime. If he’s a good judge, he will follow through with this sentence, but with much anguish and tears in his eyes.

Compliments to Dr. Peter Williams for pointing these contrasts out to me.

For more on this parable, see Matthew 25: The Sheep & Goats (Apr. 29, 2019).


The Lord of Song

Exodus 15:2 tells us that God is:

  • “my strength”
  • “my salvation”
  • “my song”

Just as He provides strength and salvation, He also provides songs.

As such, songs are used in the Bible for:

  • praise and thanksgiving (Exod. 15; Psalm 100; 1 Cor. 14:15-16)
  • defeating our enemy (2 Chron. 20:21ff; Psalm 149 cf. Eph. 6:12)
  • promoting spiritual gifts (2 Kings 3:15; 1 Chron. 25:1; 1 Cor. 14:15-16)
  • teaching each other (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) – the church has historically used songs and poetry to help people learn the Scripture
  • encouraging prayer (1 Cor. 14:15-16; Rev. 5:8-9)
  • rejoicing (James 5:13)
  • expressing romance and intimacy (Song of Songs 1:1ff – especially consider our romance and intimacy with Christ the King)
  • expressing great sadness and mourning (Psalm 88; Matt. 11:17)
  • what God does over us (Zeph. 3:17)
  • the multiple purposes the Psalms serve (which are a collection of songs)

Have you known the Lord as your strength? Your salvation? How about as your song?


Placing Luke 9:51-18:14 Within John 7:10-12:19

Luke 9:51-18:17 and John 7:10-12:19 crisscross in their general timing. It is impossible to be certain the exact order of each event, but here are some principles and examples by which we can give plausible guesses of the timing.


Luke 9:51-18:14 shows a series of events largely unique to Luke.  At the beginning, Jesus, “set His face to go to Jerusalem,” (where He would depart from this world, see Luke 9:51; 24:51). Throughout the section, Jesus is similarly seen journeying toward Jerusalem a final time (9:53; 13:22, 33; 17:11).


  1. The geography does not show a linear progression from Galilee to Jerusalem. Luke 10:38-42 (cf. John 11:18) is near Jerusalem. While Luke 13:33 is 3 days away from Jerusalem, and Luke 17:11 is back in Galilee.
  2. The timing does not show a linear progression.  For instance, some of the episodes in this section parallel stories recorded earlier in Matthew and/or Mark (e.g. see Luke 11 discussed in this harmony). 

Thus, it seems a general trajectory (in thought and action) takes Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem in Luke 9:51-18:14, though each individual event is not necessarily successive along this path. This is not unlike the way the gospels were constructed in general, where sometimes stories are thematically selected, but there is still a general chronological sequencing (see When Did Jesus Resurrect Jairus’s Daughter, for instance). 

From this, we can establish two principles for ordering the Luke 9:51-18:14 events:

  1. Look for indicators within each story to see if it should chronologically be placed outside of Luke’s ordering.
  2. Assume each story follows a general time/geography sequence, unless indicators show otherwise.


Unlike Luke 9:51-18:17, John 7:10-12:19 follows a very tight sequence (chronologically and geographically):

  1. Fall: Jesus travels from Galilee to Judea (John 7:1-10).
    1. He went to the Feast of Tabernacles, in the Fall (7:1-3; cf. Lev. 23:34)
    2. The trip was private (7:10)
    3. There was little time for excursions (cf. 7:8-9)
  2. Fall: Jesus remains in Jerusalem (John 7:11-8:59).
    1. He remained all 7 days of the feast (Jn. 7:37-39; Lev. 23:34)
    2. He continues teaching during (or shortly after) the feast (John 8:1[1]-59)
  3. Winter: Jesus is in/near Jerusalem (John 9:1-10:39).
    1. He heals a blind man (9:1-39)
      1. Siloam (9:7) was connected to Jerusalem (cf. Lk 13:4)
    2. He teaches the Pharisees (9:40-10:21)
      1. The subject of Jesus as “shepherd” seems to connect to Ezekiel 34’s messianic prophecy of a Shepherd to come.
        1. The shepherd theme and passage were part of regular synagogue readings around the Feast of Dedication (cf. Brown 1966, 29:389).
        2. This teaching continues into the Feast of Dedication (10:22, 26-27).
    3. He teaches in the temple during the Feast of Dedication (10:22-30)
      1. “And it was winter,” (10:22)
    4. He escapes the Jews stoning Him (10:31-39)
  4. Winter: Jesus goes, “beyond the Jordan” (John 10:40)
    1. Most likely this was Batanaea[2], near Galilee (10:40)       
  5. Winter-Spring: Jesus ministers in Batanaea (John 10:41-11:6)
    1. Many believed Him there (10:41-42)
    2. Mary and Martha’s messengers inform Jesus that their brother, Lazarus, was ill (11:1-6)
  6. Spring: Jesus travels to Bethany (John 11:7-18)
    1. The trip from Batanaea to Bethany took 3-4 days[3] (11:6, 17)
    2. “Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away,” (11:18)
  7. Spring: Jesus resurrects Lazarus in Bethany (John 11:19-44)
  8. Spring: Jesus hides in Ephraim (John 11:45-57)
    1. Jewish leaders decide to kill Jesus (11:45-53)
      1. This was shortly after Lazarus resurrected (11:45-46)
    1. Jesus relocates to Ephraim (11:54)
      1. This was shortly before Passover (11:55-57)
  9. Spring: Jesus anointed at Bethany, shortly before Passover (John 12:1-11)
  10. Spring: Jesus’ Triumphal Jerusalem Entry (John 12:12-19)
    1. This point onwards is paralleled in the other gospels
      1. Within 1 week Jesus will die in Jerusalem

Considering this outline of John 7:10-12:19, one more principle emerges in our ordering of Luke 9:51-18:17 and John 7:10-12:19:

  1. John 7:10-12:19 sets a fixed chronological ordering of events from Jesus leaving Galilee (John 7:10) to His death at Passover (beginning John 12:12). Thus, John 7:10-12:19 should be used as a framework wherein Luke 9:51-18:17 events can attach to (unless they clearly belong before or after the John 7:10-12:19 narrative)[4].   

Luke & John Harmonized

After examining Luke 9:51-18:17 and John 7:10-12:19, we have established the following 3 principles for placing their events:

  1. Look for indicators within each Lucan story to see if it should chronologically be placed outside of Luke’s ordering.
  2. Assume each Lucan story is placed in chronological order unless indicators show otherwise.
  3. Recognize John’s ordering as chronologically fixed, and thus use John’s ordering to place Luke’s events.


To see how to apply this, we will examine the first event in Luke’s narrative (9:51-56: “Samaritans Reject Jesus”) using these 3 principles.

Principle 1: Look for indicators within each Lucan story to see if it should be placed outside of Luke’s ordering.

There are no timing or geography indicators suggesting Luke 9:51-56 should fall outside of Luke’s placement of the story, so we can proceed to principle 2.

Principle 2: Assume each Lucan story is placed in chronological order unless indicators show otherwise.

We can assume Luke 9:51-56 happened after Luke 9:49-50, since Luke records it next.  Further, Luke uses language suggesting this story falls in time sequence with his broader narrative: “It came to pass… the time had come…as they went…and they went to another village,” (Luke 9:51-56).

Principle 3: Recognize John’s ordering as chronologically fixed, and thus use John’s ordering to place Luke’s events.

Because Luke 9:51-56 takes place while Jesus was journeying from Galilee toward Jerusalem via Samaria (cf. vv. 51-52), its geography can only match 2 or 3 places within John’s narrative:

  1. #1 – Fall: Jesus travels from Galilee to Judea (John 7:1-10).
  2. Between #2 – Fall: Jesus remains in Jerusalem (John 7:11-8:59) and #3 – Winter: Jesus is in/near Jerusalem (John 9:1-10:39).
  3. Between #8 – Spring: Jesus hides in Ephraim (John 11:45-57) and #9 – Spring: Jesus anointed at Bethany, shortly before Passover (John 12:1-11).

Luke 10 begins by saying, “After these things…” (10:1), and then tells the account of Jesus commissioning the 70. Thus, Luke 9:51-56 happened before the commissioning of the 70.

Luke 10’s Commissioning of the 70 disciples is a fairly public display of power and authority, thus, it seems unlikely that it would have happened in or near Jerusalem, due to Jesus’ tenuous relationship with the Jewish community in Jerusalem (cf. John 7:1, 10; etc.).  Further, it envisions a geographic movement that spans at least 35 different areas (cf. Luke 10:1), which, again, seems in discord to the more private and localized Jerusalem ministry recorded of Jesus in the gospels (at least, this is certainly true of His Jerusalem ministry from John 7:1 until the crucifixion).  Finally, Luke 10:1-24 focuses on town names surrounding Galilee (10:13-15, cf. Mt. 11:20-24), far from Jerusalem.  Such things indicate that the commissioning of the 70 happened outside of Jerusalem over a sizable time frame.

Thus, on this basis, Luke 10:1-24 could fit:

  • Sandwiched between #2 – Fall: Jesus remains in Jerusalem (John 7:11-8:59) and #3 – Winter: Jesus is in/near Jerusalem (John 9:1-10:39). 
  • #5 – Winter-Spring: Jesus ministers in Batanaea (John 10:41-11:6)

Following the commissioning of the 70, we see the story of Jesus visiting Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42).  Since there are no indicators that this event happened outside of the sequence of Luke’s placement, we assume it happened after the commissioning of the 70 (principles 1 and 2).  And John 11 tells us that Martha and Mary’s house was outside of Batanaea (in Bethany, near Jerusalem – cf. 11:18) and that Jesus already had a relationship with Martha and Mary by the time He was in Batanaea (see Jn. 11:3).  Thus, the episode of Luke 10:38-42 consequently belongs before #5 – Winter-Spring: Jesus ministers in Batanaea (John 10:41-11:6), as does the story of Jesus commissioning the 70.

This leaves sometime between #2 – Fall: Jesus remains in Jerusalem (John 7:11-8:59) and #3 – Winter: Jesus is in/near Jerusalem (John 9:1-10:39) as the best option for the commissioning of the 70.  If the Samaritans’ rejection of Jesus (Lk. 9:51-56) also happened at the same general time (between #2 and #3 stories in John’s narrative), it would mean that the following things must have taken place in the nearly 2 months between #2 – Fall: Jesus remains in Jerusalem (John 7:11-8:59) and #3 – Winter: Jesus is in/near Jerusalem (John 9:1-10:39):

  1. Jesus travels back to the Galilean region (presumably He would have spent a decent amount of time there after making such a journey)
  2. Jesus leaves Galilee and travels to Samaria, where He is rejected by them (Lk. 9:51-56)
  3. Afterward, Jesus draws together a group of 70, instructs them, sends them out to 30+ cities, waits for them to return, continues teaching them, then goes Himself to all of the cities for follow-up ministry (cf. Luke 10:1)
  4. Jesus also visits Mary and Martha (perhaps during the follow-up ministry) – see Luke 10:38-42.

The time required for all of these events seems difficult to imagine in a 2-month span[5].  Thus, that leaves #1 – Fall: Jesus travels from Galilee to Judea (John 7:1-10) as the most viable timing of Luke 9:51-56. 

Further, the story of Luke 9:51-56 uses terminology and concepts parallel to the #1 – Fall: Jesus travels from Galilee to Judea (John 7:1-10) period, more than the period between events #2 and #3 of John’s narrative.  For instance, both mention that Jesus’ “time” had come to travel to Jerusalem (Lk. 9:51; Jn. 7:8, 10), and both have this as the last explicit mention of Jesus journeying from Galilee to Jerusalem in their respective gospels.

Thus, following the principles outlined above, we can fairly confidently place Luke 9:51-56 within the same general time as #1 – Fall: Jesus travels from Galilee to Judea (John 7:1-10).


The same principles and similar reasoning are used to place each Luke 9:51-18:14 event within John 7:10-12:19 throughout our gospel harmony (which will be published soon, Lord willing).

[1] Some question whether John 7:53-8:11 was part of John’s original gospel (cf. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, 1986; Carson, The Gospel of John, 1991). If it was original to John, then John 8:12-59 takes place the morning after the feast ends (cf. 8:2).  If it was not, then John 8:12-59 either happens on the last day of the feast (cf. 7:39 and 8:12) or shortly following the meeting of the Jewish authorities (7:45-52; cf. 7:52 and 8:12), which took place in the wake of Jesus’ ministry during the Feast of Tabernacles (7:45-52). Thus, both scenarios are consistent with this outline.

[2] See Riesner, “Bethany Beyond the Jordan…” from Tyndale Bulletin (1987).

[3] A more detailed argument for Jesus’ journey being 3-4 days is found in Riesner (1987).

[4] This principle assumes that John 7:10 and Luke 9:51 refer to the same time.  Such an assumption seems safe because: (A) Luke 9:51 uses language indicative of this being his final departure  – “the time had come for Him to be received up…He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem,” and (B) Matthew and Mark, speaking of the same general time, mention Jesus needing to leave Galilee (Matt. 19:1; Mk. 10:1).  This does not mean that Jesus would never again visit Galilee (cf. Jn. 21:1), for both Luke and John leave that possibility open in their sequence of events. It only means, instead, that He would not minister there in a permanent or long-term sense (as He previously had done).

[5] The time between the Feast of Tabernacles and the Feast of Dedication is roughly 2 months.

Henry Martyn’s Suggestions for Muslim Ministry

Taken from Don McCurry’s, Tales That Teach (2009) ~

Calcutta is where the first Protestant missionary to Muslims began his work. His name was Henry Martyn. He worked there only seven years, from 1806 to 1812…

By 1810, Martyn had worked out a strategy that is the best I know…Here are his suggestions:

1. Always be a warm, supportive friend to your Muslim neighbor.

2. Appreciate the best in the culture and religion of your Muslim friend.

3. Change the atmosphere from hostility to receptivity by doing some kind of good deed or service for the community. Martyn used medicine.

4. Learn to share your own testimony. People can argue theology, but there is no argument against your personal testimony.

5. Steer your conversation in such a way that it is always Christ-centered.

6. At the appropriate time, lead your friend into a study of Scripture.

7. Trust the Holy Spirit to help you in the communication process, working in both of you, the communicator and the one listening.

pp. 229-230

And to this I’d add:

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving…pray…that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ…that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Colossians 4:2-6

How Best to Learn the Bible


Any attempt to study Scripture that does not depend on and seek help from God/the Holy Spirit is doomed to fail. The very Bible we are studying says as much in Jer 17:5-9; Matt. 11:25-30; 1 Cor. 2:6-13; and elsewhere.

This is more a posture of humility and dependence we need to take throughout this study than it is a specific action to implement.

Why Should You Read the Bible?

To best have a true and living knowledge of God’s word (the Bible) I recommend people first seriously consider why they want to better know the Bible.

There are many reasons to know Scripture (some good, some not) but how you answer the “why” will determine your relative success in actually knowing the Bible more than anything else, in my opinion

Reasons like, “I should read the Bible,” “God wants me to read the Bible,” etc. may be true, but likely won’t get you very far if that’s your only motivation.

I think this is because these reasons alone reveal a superficial estimation of the worthiness of Scripture itself. We must go deeper and ask, “Why should you read the Bible?” “Why does God want you to?” Having a firm grasp on this, in my experience, is critical to your success in probing deeper into God’s word.

So here are the reasons at the top of my list that leave me hungering for more and more of God’s word:

  1. The Bible = God’s Word (2 Tim. 3:16; John 10:35) – as such it is the only thing you could read that is absolutely trustworthy in everything it says; it’s the only thing that dependably reveals who God is, how to please Him, etc. Jesus appeals to it as His absolute authority (and you can’t get higher endorsement than that – see Matt. 4:4-11).
  2. The Bible reveals everything we need to know about life and godliness (2 Tim. 3:17; 2 Pet. 1:3-4) – in this sense, it is all sufficient as a means of revelation. It reveals everything we need to know to have a successful life and pursuit of God. This means that if the Bible doesn’t speak on an issue, it is not ultimately important. We have 1 book to tell us what is true and important about God. Don’t look to people for this information – they’ll always disappoint and may lead you eternally on the wrong path.
  3. The Bible is understandable to anyone willing to follow God (Psalm 19:7; 25:8-9; 119:130) – it is the great equalizer; you don’t need a degree to read and understand it, you don’t need X amount of classes; you simply need a willing heart and the Holy Spirit (more on that later).
  4. The Bible is the ultimate judge (John 12:47-50; Rev. 19:15) – as a mentor of mine put it, when you are face-to-face with God on the day of judgment, you won’t be there with your parents and pastors and friends while God asks you, “what did your parents, pastors, and friends say?” No, you will be judged by God alone, who seeks what you did with His words alone. There is no other book you’ll be judged by. God has given us the answer key for our final exam!
  5. The Bible is essential for spiritual life at every stage of development (Isaiah 55:3; John 6:63) – it is related to “pure spiritual milk” (1 Pet. 2:2), “bread” (Matt. 4:4), and “solid food,” (Heb. 5:14). Imagine, for a moment, the only source of sustenance you consume is drinking milk for 20 min. a week. This is all you have every week. Would you live? Maybe for a little while. At best it would be a sickly and poor life you’d have. At worst you’d be dead. Now consider that this is the normal “spiritual” diet of many. They hear a pastor give pre-digested spiritual food (which is what milk is) for 20 min. (or so) on a Sunday morning. And we wonder why the church is so weak and emaciated! God forgive us!
  6. “Let God be true and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4; 1 Pet. 1:23) – in other words, even if every human in the entirety of the world said X is true, if God says X is not true, then X is most certainly not true! Consider that for a moment. Think of all the lies you are believing right now that came from so many different sources. You don’t even know the half of what are lies versus truth because you don’t know the Scripture. You have lived so much of your vapor of a life building up lies and passing on lies, all because you failed to study God’s word, which is “the truth” (John 17:17).
  7. The Bible defeats Satan (Matt. 4:4-11; Eph. 6:17) – Jesus conquers Satan by repeatedly saying, “it is written” (Matt. 4:4-11) and appealing to Scripture. Even when Satan tries to pervert Scripture and use it in a twisted way against Jesus, He still goes back to God’s word as the ultimate weapon. In contrast, Eve was made to doubt God’s word, “Did God really say…?” (Gen. 3:4) and answered with her experience and reasoning, instead of appealing to God’s word. She lost that battle, Adam and her fell, and we still are reeling from that defeat. Don’t lose on this front. Don’t try to beat Satan by your sense of reasoning, experience, etc. – you’ll always lose. Instead, know God’s word and receive it as truth and Satan will not be able to conquer you.
  8. The Bible is more trustworthy than experience, signs, wonders, our logic, etc. (Matt. 4:4-11; Deut. 13:1-5) – we all experience many things, and that is a powerful influence. But your experiences (or more accurately your interpretation of your experiences) can ultimately fail you. Even miracles or your reasoning abilities can lead you astray if you do not know Scripture. You need a source of truth more dependable than you and your experience or abilities. Enter the Bible.
  9. The Bible is the best interpreter of the Bible (Matt. 4:6-7) – it may seem strange to say the Bible interprets the Bible, but think of it like a legal document (though much more exciting!). One section helps define the terms of another section, and only by carefully reading the whole document could you understand the intention of the author. In the same way, God carefully laid out the words of Scripture so that we are not left in the dark on anything important to Him. But it does take some digging and comparing Scripture with Scripture, and reading in context, to accurately understand Scripture. Thus, when we hear contradictory views from Scripture this should cause us to look MORE into the Bible (as Jesus demonstrated with Satan in Matt. 4:6-7) and not throw our hands up and say it is hopeless to understand.

More reasons could be given. In fact, the Bible has a lot to say about itself. But I’ll leave you to find some more of those reasons as you go.

How Can You Best Learn God’s Word?

After the why of knowing God’s word is more or less settled, let’s consider various ways to go about learning God’s word for yourself (note that I’m not sure what will work best for you, so stick with what is helpful and freely throw away what is not):

  • pray to understand Scripture – we need God’s help, through the Holy Spirit for everything, including understanding Scripture
  • read and listen to Scripture – I like Rev. 1:3 which talks about “the one who reads” (singular) and “those” who hear (plural). In other words, there seemed to be an expectation that 1 person would read to a group of people who listen. Much of the church has been illiterate and thus depended on listening to God’s word. Thus, whether you prefer reading, listening, or both, do whatever you need to do to just learn what the Bible actually says. A lot won’t make sense at first, but just keep on listening and repeat. It will start making sense the more you are immersed in it (a favorite audio of mine is Max McLean’s reading found through biblegateway.com).
    • I recommend the ESV translation as a very accurate translation, but also like to consult the NIV and other translations to consider Scripture from different angles.
  • consult commentaries, books, Bible teachers, pastors, etc. – especially when we begin our spiritual walk, we are more dependent on others (the way a baby is dependent on the mother’s milk before he can eat whole meals for himself). In such a way, God has given us teachers to help us better understand His word. The good teachers are the ones that let the Bible do most of the talking and produce in you a desire to go to Scripture more directly. Use them as they are helpful along these lines, but disregard the ones who make you dependent on them over Scripture.
    • Some of these people in my life have been: John Piper, Wayne Grudem, Josh McDowell, Watchman Nee, Derek Prince, D.A. Carson, Peter Williams, and Philip Mauro.
    • A website that I’ve found very helpful is studylight.org (see my recommended commentaries)
    • I also sometimes consult “The Message” and “New Living Translation” Bibles. They are not good translations on their own, but can be good helps to interpret Scripture
    • other tools for deeper research include stepbible.org and biblegateway (for word, topic studies)
  • try to paraphrase what you read – I aim to rewrite a paragraph, chapter, or book of the Bible in 1 sentence
    • and/or you can try to illustrate what you read – I remember illustrating every chapter of Isaiah years ago as I read, and I still can remember the imagery and lessons
  • try to chart what the “main river” is in the text versus the side “rivulets” – this will help you keep “the main thing the main thing” in the text
  • obey whatever you see/hear – whenever you are hearing/reading Scripture, be prepared to completely alter the things you do, what you think, etc. based on what you discover. The Bible is supposed to change you. If you don’t read it that way, stop reading it altogether. You are wasting your time. But, as you obey it, you are better able to remember and understand what you read (James 1:23-24).
  • share/teach what you see/hear – teaching others is the best way to master subjects. Ezra 7:10; Matt. 28:18; 2 Tim. 2:2 all show the practice and God-given expectation that we will share what we learn with others. If you horde it for yourselves it grows maggoty and you lose it (Ex. 16:20). When you share with others, you retain it and become hungry to learn more, lest you lead others astray! (James 3:1). If you don’t have a captive audience to share with, ask the Lord for this and He will provide what is best for your situation.
    • for further learning, I recommend creating outlines for the people you teach
  • meditate on Scripture (Josh. 1:8) – I find it helpful to read a verse of Scripture (or a sentence or paragraph) and keep repeating this over and over in my mind as I consider what God is revealing. I’ll do this until my thoughts drift to something else, then I’ll read another passage and repeat.
  • handwrite Scripture (Deut. 17:18-20) – it was prophesied that when Israel had kings the king should write by hand the entirety of the Scripture that existed at that time. Part of this was the process by which the king would “learn to revere” God and “follow carefully all the words of this law,” and “not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites,” along with other benefits. When you slow down to handwrite Scripture you are forced to focus on each word. You’ll soon realize why the “scribes” in Jesus’ day were considered authorities on the Bible – they knew it (or should have known it) well from handwriting it over and over!
  • memorize Scripture – personally, this has not been a great aid to me. It’s probably because I did this for the wrong reasons before I was a Christian, but while I attended a church. That said, I’ve heard and seen this take great effect in other brothers and sisters and so would encourage you to try it as well as another possible tool to aid with knowing Scripture.

How Many Times Was Jesus Anointed?

Each gospel contains a single account of Jesus being anointed, but they do not all seem to refer to the same incident.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of each episode:

Matthew 26:6-13 Mark 14:3-9 Luke 7:36-50 John 12:1-8
In Bethany, around the Crucifixion…In Bethany, around the Crucifixion…[location appears to be around Galilee, in the middle of Jesus’ ministry]In Bethany, around the Crucifixion…
Inside the house of Simon the leperInside the house of Simon the leperJesus accepted a Pharisee’s dinner invitation (named Simon). Martha served; Lazarus and others sat at table with Jesus
A woman came with alabaster flask of oilA woman came with alabaster flask of oilA sinful woman brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil. Mary had fragrant oil
She anointed His head   She anointed His head   She washed Jesus’ feet with tears and her hair. She kissed His feet and anointed them with fragrant oil.Mary anointed his feet with oil and wiped with her hair.
Disciples thought she was wastefulDisciples thought she was wasteful The Pharisee thought, “A prophet should know she’s a sinner”Judas Iscariot thought she was wasteful
Jesus defends the woman – “Help the poor later.  She prepared me for burial.  The gospel will recall this story.”Jesus defends the woman – “Help the poor later.  She prepared me for burial.  The gospel will recall this story.”Jesus teaches Simon in a parable: “Those forgiven much will love much.”   Jesus pronounces the woman forgiven and saved. Jesus defends the woman – “Help the poor later. She prepared me for burial.”

In light of this, we propose that there are 2 separate anointings recorded in the gospels:

  1. The anointing of Luke 7 – in the middle of Jesus’ ministry
  2. The anointing of Matthew 26, Mark 14, and John 12 – immediately before Jesus’ death and resurrection

We say this because:

  1. The time and location are clearly different.  Matthew, Mark, and John all tell us that this happened near Jerusalem within a week of Jesus’ final Passover (Mt. 26:2; Mk. 14:1; Jn. 12:1).  But Luke says it happened before He did various activities that took place in the middle of His ministry, while He was at Galilee (nearly 60 miles away from Jerusalem, see Lk. 8:1ff).
  2. The woman in Luke’s story is a known “sinner” of that time (7:37), but the woman in the other accounts is “Mary” (Jn. 12:3) of Bethany (Jn. 11:1).  This Mary was known and admired for her devotion to Jesus (Lk. 10:42; Jn. 11:5, as well as Mt. 26:13, Mk 14:9)—even by Luke who calls the woman of his story a “sinner”—and no hint of sinful living is mentioned concerning her.    
  3. The main themes of each story are very different.  In Luke’s story, the theme concerns a notorious sinner who loves Jesus much for offering her forgiveness, while others think she is too unrighteous for such an expression of gratitude.  Whereas in Matthew, Mark, and John’s account, the focus is on a woman who sacrificed much to anoint Jesus, while others thought it was wasteful of her.
  4. The wording in Matthew, Mark, and John is virtually identical throughout the episode.  Luke, however, retains none of the same phraseology and words (which is very uncharacteristic of him, and all the more if it concerns such a popular story as this clearly was[1]).

The main objections against our view, and in favor of all 4 gospels recording the same anointing are:

  1. There are many striking similarities between Luke’s account and the others’ accounts.  They all record that:
    • It was at Simon’s house
    • A woman came with fragrant oil to anoint Jesus
    • Others present protested the woman’s act
    • Jesus defended and honored the woman against the protest
  2. All the writers are silent about the existence of more than one anointing, which seems unlikely if two anointings occurred and were important enough to be retold.

Answering Objection 1

The similarities posed in objection 1 are not that significant or uncommon. Consider:

  • There are 8 different men named Simon in the New Testament alone (even 2 among the 12 chosen apostles).  Further, it has recently been shown that “Simon” was the most popular name in that place and time based on the data available to us (cf. Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, 2017). Thus, there should be little surprise that Jesus went to 2 different houses belonging to a Simon. And, even further, it could be that Matthew and Mark were differentiating their Simon from the Simon in Luke’s story, by calling him “Simon the leper” (e.g. Matt. 26:6), as opposed to “one of the Pharisees” (Luke 7:36). In either case, it would be very unusual to describe the same Simon as “the leper” in one setting and “the Pharisee” in the other if they were recalling the same event and person, adding further credence that these are two separate scenarios.
  • Anointing with oil was fairly common in Jesus’ day, especially upon, “guests of notable social status,” (Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 2009, 618; see also Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50 1996, 1:702)[2]. As such, it is hardly surprising that multiple devotees of Jesus who found hope and liberation in Him would want to honor Him in this way. For two different women to do this (and plausibly others) during His ministry would be expected.
  • Throughout His ministry, Jesus repeatedly advocates for the marginalized and sinful in the face of opposition and their mistreatment, even from his own disciples (e.g. Mark 3:1-6; Luke 18:15-17, 35-43; John 7:53-8:11; 9:1-7). In light of this, two separate episodes of Jesus exonerating a woman rebuffed by others, sadly, was fairly typical.

Thus, in summary, a common practice (anointing your guest) at 2 different houses where the owner had the same popular name (i.e. Simon), that elicited a common response (i.e. Jesus vindicating a mocked woman), should not excite us too much or force anyone to assume there was only 1 anointing.

Answering Objection 2

The second objection (i.e. that writers aware of multiple, similar anointings should mention the other anointing) presupposes a few things. Namely, that:

  1. the anointing experience itself was unusual (to the point that it deserved mention if it happened twice over Jesus’ ministry),
  2. the gospel writers knew that such an event was unusual,
  3. the gospel writers knew this event happened twice during Jesus’ ministry, and
  4. the gospel writers would have articulated their knowledge that 2 similar, unusual events took place during Jesus’ ministry.

Presupposition #1 is addressed under “Answering Objection 1” (above), where we find that the event was not as unusual as some might think[3].

Next, even if the event was unusual, would the gospel writers know it was unusual (see presupposition #2)?  No doubt, they were used to seeing unusual things in the days of Jesus and the early church.  So much so, in fact, that Luke had to indicate when, “extraordinary miracles,” were taking place (Acts 19:11), presumably in contrast to the “everyday” miracles they were used to witnessing at this time.  And not only was Jesus’ life a constant supernatural display, but He also broke so many social norms, and—whether directly or indirectly—encouraged others to break social norms as well.  Thus, it would be hasty for us to make a judgment on what the gospel writers would or would not consider to be, “unusual,” during Jesus’ ministry.

Further, though the disciples were clearly present during Jesus’ anointing in Bethany, we do not know if they were present in the Luke 7 anointing.  If they were absent at that time, and in the midst of so much activity, it is difficult to know whether (or how) they would have become familiar with the Luke 7 anointing (see presupposition #3).  Of course, others were familiar enough with the story to pass it on to Luke who recorded it in his gospel, but Luke seems to have interviewed many witnesses in compiling his account, and thus could have been privy to information unknown to the other gospel writers[4].

Finally, and most importantly, even if the gospel writers (A) knew about these events, and (B) believed them to be unusual, it would be quite arrogant for readers thousands of years later—in a different place and culture—to presume that this means the writers should therefore include both stories in their gospels.  The purposes of their gospels were not to give an encyclopedia of data about Jesus’ ministry, or make everything systematic and clear. Along these lines, the accomplished author and literary critic, C.S. Lewis, points out that literary critics of his time and place routinely miss the motives and purposes behind his own literature. Thus, Lewis argues, how much more should we be skeptical of modern claims to know the gospel authors’ intents when they are removed by thousands of years and different cultures (as cited by McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict: Evidence I & II Fully Updated in One Volume To Answer The Questions Challenging Christians in the 21st Century, 1999, chap. 31).

With all of these considerations in mind, the best explanation of the data still seems to be that 2 notable anointings occurred in Jesus’ ministry[5], Luke recording the first, and Matthew, Mark, and John recording the second.

[1] We know this because: (1) it is recorded by Matthew, Mark, and John, while such commonality rarely exists, and (2) Jesus says this story should be retold “wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world,” (Matt. 26:13; Mark 14:9).

[2] See Psalm 23:5; 141:5; Amos 6:6; Matt. 6:17; Luke 7:46; 10:34.

[3] Further, as with much of Jesus’ ministry (and the entire Bible), the events themselves only carry as much significance as the theological implications and explanations behind the events.  For instance, a man dying on the cross was a very common experience in the Roman world, and yet the Bible devotes much time and attention to Jesus’ death on a cross. This is because the significance is in the meaning of the event, and not merely that it was a spectacular event on its own.  Thus, it is very possible that Jesus’ contemporaries knew of many times He was anointed by others, whereas these two recorded anointings carried theological significance and import that other anointings did not.

[4] This, of course, does not explain why Luke would not have known or recorded the other anointing if he knew about a lesser-known anointing.

[5] Though some have argued for 3 anointings, we have not addressed that hypothesis here because it seems highly improbable in light of the many similarities seen in Matthew, Mark, and John’s accounts (see above).

In What Order Did Jesus Tell His Parables (in Matt. 13; Mark 4; Luke 8)?

Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8, all agree that Jesus started his series of parables with, “The Parable of the Sower,” (Mt. 13:1-23 = Mk 4:1-20 = Lk. 8:4-15).  After that, however, it is unclear when He told the other parables (see the chart below).

Matthew 13 Parables Mark 4 Parables Luke 8 Parables
1. Sower
2. Wheat and Tares
3. Mustard Seed
4. Hidden Leaven
5. Treasure in a Field
6. Pearl of Great Price
7. Dragnet
1. Sower
2. Lamp Hidden
3. Measure Used
4. Man Sleeps
5. Mustard Seed
1. Sower
2. Lamp Hidden
3. Measure Used

Though it would be wrong to insist on the precise ordering of these parables where no clear indicators exist, there are some pieces of evidence that do suggest certain orderings of parables over others.  Here are a few of those clues:

  1. As shown above, “The Sower,” is the first parable recorded by all 3 writers. Thus, we can begin our ordering with:
Order Parable
1 “The Sower”
  1. After Matthew records his 4th parable (“Hidden Leaven”), he writes, “All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them,” (v. 34).  Mark likewise records a virtually identical statement after describing all of his parables (see 4:33-34).  These words seem to give a conclusion to the parables recorded before that point.  In fact, after Matthew makes this statement (13:34), he shows Jesus interpreting some of these parables, which clearly shows they were taught before this point (Matt. 13:36-43). All of this indicates that Jesus told Matthew’s 2nd-4th and Mark’s 2nd-5th parables before telling Matthew’s 5th-7th parables.  Thus, our updated ordering is:
1“The Sower”
2-7“Wheat and Tares,” “Mustard Seed,” “Hidden Leaven,” “Lamp Hidden,” “Measure Used,” or “Man Sleeps”
8-10“Treasure in a Field,” “Pearl of Great Price,” or “Dragnet”
  1. The Greek words “tote” (then) and “palin” (again) may suggest chronological sequencing[1].  The only place these words are used within these parables are between Matthew’s 4th and 5th parables (palin and tote), 5th and 6th parables (palin), and 6th and 7th parables (palin).  This could indicate that Matthew’s 4th parable (“Hidden Leaven”) marks the end of one sequence of parables (as indicated above), and that Matthew’s 5th-7th parables were recorded in exact chronological sequence following his 4th parable. Though these Greek words alone do not prove they were told in that order, this is also how Matthew placed them, and thus we have no reason to think they are arranged out of sequence. Thus, we update the probable sequence to:
1 “The Sower”
2-7 “Wheat and Tares,” “Mustard Seed,” “Hidden Leaven,” “Lamp Hidden,” “Measure Used,” or “Man Sleeps”
8 “Treasure in a Field”
9 “Pearl of Great Price”
10 “Dragnet”
  1. Matthew and Mark both record the same parable (“Mustard Seed”), and there are interesting similarities between the parable preceding the “Mustard Seed” in both gospels (see chart):
Matthew’s Parables Mark’s Parables Similarities:
“Wheat/Tares” “Man Sleeps” Starts with man sowing seed
Next, man/people sleep
Harvest marks the conclusion
“Mustard Seed” “Mustard Seed” (same parable)

Though this does not mean that Matthew’s 2nd parable (“Wheat and Tares”) is the same as Mark’s 4th parable (“Man Sleeps”), it does show a similarity that may suggest we group those two parables together, before the “Mustard Seed.” 

Further, since Mark records other parables as happening before “Man Sleeps” (in the precise order Luke recorded those same parables), it is reasonable (though not conclusive) to believe they happened in the sequence Mark/Luke describe, with Matthew’s, “Wheat/Tares,” parable happening around the time of Mark’s, “Man Sleeps.”

And finally, as Matthew records the “Hidden Leaven” as happening after the “Mustard Seed” parable, it is also reasonable to assume those are in the chronological ordering he listed. This leaves us with an updated order of:

Order Parable
1 “The Sower”
2 “Lamp Hidden”
3 “Measure Used”
4-5 “Wheat and Tares,” or “Man Sleeps”
6 “Mustard Seed”
7 “Hidden Leaven”
8 “Treasure in a Field”
9 “Pearl of Great Price”
10 “Dragnet”

In summary, using the various clues we have, we can construct a tentative sequence for the parables, with one unknown remaining: Did Matthew’s, “Wheat/Tares,” parable come before or after Mark’s, “Man Sleeps”? 

And since we have no clues that say one way or another, we are content to arbitrarily put Matthew’s “Wheat/Tares” before “Man Sleeps” (to follow the arbitrary ordering method used throughout this harmony that puts Matthew before Mark before Luke before John). 

And thus, we order the parables as:

Order Parable
1 “The Sower”
2 “Lamp Hidden”
3 “Measure Used”
4 “Wheat and Tares”
5 “Man Sleeps”
6 “Mustard Seed”
7 “Hidden Leaven”
8 “Treasure in a Field”
9 “Pearl of Great Price”
10 “Dragnet”

[1] See Reconciling Matthew’s and Luke’s Temptations of Jesus in the Wilderness.