The surpassing righteousness of love

The truly righteous actions can’t be legislated.

Matthew 5:20 – “For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.”

Many of the scribes and the Pharisees were famous for abiding by the letter of the law in scrutinizing detail, yet they were guilty of disobeying the spirit of it.

Matthew 23:23 – “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, and yet you have neglected the more important matters of the law ​– ​justice, mercy, and faithfulness. These things should have been done without neglecting the others.”

They had become examples of legalistic rule-following; outwardly appearing to obey the law when in their hearts they were just as wicked as the vilest law-breakers whom they would condemn. Yeshua continually called them out for their hypocrisy, and this is what enraged them against him.

For Yeshua, outward actions should stem from the sincerity of the heart; it is not possible to make the heart right just by conducting some outward ritual. This is why it is impossible to legislate morality; it must be something that springs from a place of inward purity, not just outward conformity.

Not every Pharisee or scribe was wicked, and many ultimately came to faith in Messiah among the early believers, albeit struggling to understand how the law would apply to believers in Messiah, as is demonstrated in Acts 15. However, for Yeshua, of primary concern was regenerative work of God’s Spirit on the heart.

John 3:6-8 – “Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. “Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again. “The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

When the heart is right, the actions will be right. The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees can only be surpassed when the actions that conform to the Word of God are sincere with no agenda or motivation for self-aggrandizement.

1 John 3:14, 16 – We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers and sisters. The one who does not love remains in death. … This is how we have come to know love: He laid down his life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

If our true motivation is love for others, not just rule following to make ourselves look good, then we can be confident that we are doing the right thing for the right reasons. When the Spirit of God is present in our lives, we can’t help but do things that benefit others, because God is love. And only when we act in truly loving ways towards others is when our righteousness surpasses that of the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. We can then see the kingdom, and others can see the kingdom in us. It is then that the kingdom of God is manifest in our lives.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Faithful love for those who need it most

Putting aside our self-righteousness to share the good news of the kingdom.

Matthew 9:10-13 – While he was reclining at the table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came to eat with Yeshua and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners? ” Now when he heard this, he said, “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Clearly, Yeshua had a different view of those who were in need of hearing the good news of the kingdom, and who were also willing to listen. In his response, Yeshua tells the Pharisees to “go and learn what this means.” The “this” he speaks of here is a quote from Hosea 6.

Hosea 6:6 – For I desire faithful love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

In this passage of Hosea, God is expressing his frustration with all of the tribes, and how their passion for him was only as a “morning mist” or “a dew that vanishes.” Their constant rebellion was only ritual-deep; whenever they transgressed, they assumed all they would have to do was to present the appropriate offering to get back into God’s good graces. Yet God says that what he truly desires is mercy (faithful love) and the knowledge of God over any sacrifices and offerings.

Yeshua tells the Pharisees to “go and learn what this means.” They were just as guilty of the shallow, ritual-deep commitment to Yahweh, when he really desired them to share their knowledge of God and faithful love and mercy with those who were in need of it most.

True compassion or mercy is in sharing with those who have nothing for themselves, whether worldly goods or spiritual sophistication. The message of the kingdom of God is not for an elite population only but for all people everywhere. True compassion and mercy is in providing the thirsty the water they are looking for, the food they are hungry for, and the peace that they so desperately long for.

I believe the example of Yeshua cautions us from focusing so strongly on our personal righteousness before God that we exclude the very individuals he is wanting us to reach for him.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube! Just getting started, but new videos will be added regularly on many different topics, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

An invisible, present kingdom and a future certainty

The good news of the kingdom is that it will reach its fulfillment when every heart is in alignment with the principles of the God of the universe.

Core of the Bible podcast #44 – An invisible, present kingdom and a future certainty

Today we will be exploring the topic of the Kingdom of God, and how it was established in the days of Yeshua, is present today, and how it will come to certain fulfillment over all the earth at some point in the future.

To understand this further, we can begin by looking at how Yeshua taught about the kingdom.

Luke 17:20-21 – When asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Yeshua replied, “The kingdom of God will not come with observable signs. Nor will people say, ‘Look, here it is,’ or ‘There it is.’ For you see, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

All throughout his ministry, Yeshua spoke of the nearness of the kingdom. This nearness was to be demonstrated through healings and as a witness against those who would not believe.

Luke 10:9 – “Heal the sick who are there, and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near you.’

Luke 10:11 – “‘We are wiping off even the dust of your town that clings to our feet as a witness against you. Know this for certain: The kingdom of God has come near.’

The nearness of the kingdom was also to be the motivation for repentance for his immediate audience.

Matthew 4:17 – From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Therefore, in Yeshua’s teaching, the advent of the kingdom was to be evidenced through miraculous events that would be a witness to those seeing them, and a prompting of repentance for those who wished to be included within it.

In Luke 17, Yeshua is asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom would be established, and Yeshua has to doctrinally reset their expectations. He mentions it would not be something dramatic with an observable political program and a specific location, but was a present reality already changing hearts, minds, and bodies.

This mention of the nearness of the kingdom presents similar challenges even today. Most believers in our day have the same expectation as the Pharisees: that the Messiah of God will come to rule and reign over a physical kingdom, and all nations will be a witness to the power and majesty of God.

However, to hold this view misses the essence of what Yeshua was teaching: the kingdom is not the coming visible manifestation of a political entity, but is an invisible, living community made up of those with changed hearts of obedience toward God.

Commentators have split over the interpretation of the words expressing that the kingdom of God is “in your midst,” or “within/inside you” in verse 21. Even in English, we can sense the similarity of these meanings, and both present different shades of the reality of the kingdom as Yeshua describes it.

Some commentators have chosen to interpret the meaning as “within you,” pointing to the internal nature of being born from above, and how God desired to rule their hearts.

For example, Charles Ellicott had the following opinion:

“The marginal reading, “among you.” has been adopted, somewhat hastily, by most commentators. So taken. the words emphatically assert the actual presence of the Kingdom. It was already in the midst of them at the very time when they were asking when it would appear. The use of the Greek preposition is, however, all but decisive against this interpretation. It is employed for that which is “within,” as contrasted with that which is “without,” as in Matthew 23:26, and in the LXX. version for the “inward parts,” or spiritual nature of man, as contrasted with the outward, as in Psalm 103:1; Psalm 109:22; Isaiah 16:11.

Psalm 103:1 – My soul, bless the LORD, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

Psalm 109:22 – For I am suffering and needy; my heart is wounded within me.

Isaiah 16:11 – Therefore I moan like the sound of a lyre for Moab, as does my innermost being for Kir-heres.

It was in that [inner] region, in the life which must be born again (John 3:3), that men were to look for the kingdom; and there, whether they accepted it or rejected it, they would find sufficient tokens of its power.”

Other modern commentators have sided with the “in your midst” interpretation citing the fact that the kingdom was already being manifested in that day as Yeshua ministered to the people of Israel.

Here is an example from the Pulpit Commentary:

“That kingdom will be marked out on no map, for, lo, it is even now in your midst. It may be asked – How “in your midst”? Scarcely not as Godet and Olshausen, following Chrysostom, think, “in your hearts.” The kingdom of God could not be said to be in the hearts of those Pharisees to whom the Master was especially directing his words of reply here. It should be rather understood “in the midst of your ranks;” so Meyer and Farrar and others interpret it, Luke 17:21″

With these differing opinions, Albert Barnes states what I believe is a reasonable balance between both positions.

“When an earthly prince visits different parts of his territories, he does it with pomp. His movements attract observation, and become the common topic of conversation. The inquiry is, Where is he? which way will he go? and it is a matter of important “news” to be able to say where he is. Jesus says that the Messiah would not come in that manner. It would not be with such pomp and public attention. It would be silent, obscure, and attracting comparatively little notice. Or the passage may have reference to the custom of the “pretended” Messiahs, who appeared in this manner. They said that in this place or in that, in this mountain or that desert, they would show signs that would convince the people that they were the Messiah. Compare the notes at Acts 5:36-37.

Acts 5:36-37 – “Some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, and all his followers were dispersed and came to nothing. “After this man, Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and attracted a following. He also perished, and all his followers were scattered.

“Is within you – This is capable of two interpretations.

1. The reign of God is “in the heart.” It does not come with pomp and splendor, like the reign of temporal kings, merely to control the external “actions” and strike the senses of people with awe, but it reigns in the heart by the law of God; it sets up its dominion over the passions, and brings every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

2. It may mean the new dispensation is “even now among you.” The Messiah has come. John has ushered in the kingdom of God, and you are not to expect the appearance of the Messiah with great pomp and splendor, for he is now among you. Most critics at present incline to this latter interpretation. The ancient versions chiefly follow the former.”

To my way of thinking, there exists a difference of meaning because both interpretations have merit. Both present the obvious truth that Yeshua was making with the Pharisees: whether internal to each individual or already present in their midst, either way, the coming of the kingdom has nothing to do with the setting up of a visible organization or entity ruling over the entire earth, and this is what they were hoping for a messiah to come and do.

—-

How like the Pharisaical expectation is the modern expectation of a returning Messiah to defeat all of the enemies of God and to physically rule and reign from a physical throne in the physical city of Jerusalem. To hold to this view is to disregard passages speaking of the spiritual nature of the New Jerusalem to to which we are called, not the physical location.

For example, after recounting the dramatic appearance of the revelation of God at Mt. Sinai, the writer to the Hebrews says this:

Hebrews 12:22-24 – Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God (the heavenly Jerusalem), to myriads of angels, a festive gathering, to the assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven, to a Judge, who is God of all, to the spirits of righteous people made perfect, and to Yeshua, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which says better things than the blood of Abel.

This is the “city” that we have been called to!

The apostle Paul, contrasting fleshly Israel with God’s true spiritual people, writes:

Galatians 4:26 – But the Jerusalem above [that is, the heavenly or spiritual Jerusalem] is free, and she is our mother.

Unfortunately, it appears that Christians today have fallen into the same false hope of the religious elite of Yeshua’s day, and misunderstand his purpose and goal for God’s people. The kingdom of God was established by Yeshua and continues to grow to this day.

That the kingdom of God has already been established during the lifetime of Yeshua and the disciples is a fact that is borne out by several historical factors that are brought out within the Word of God.

One of the most foundational aspects is the fulfilled prophecy of Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.

In Daniel 2, the king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had a dream that he did not understand, in which he saw an image made of various metals: gold, silver, bronze, and iron mixed with clay. Daniel interprets each of those metals to be representative of various empires that would be established from his days forward into their future.

Almost all commentators agree the final kingdom of iron mixed with clay was the Roman empire. Daniel predicts that the kingdom of God, an eternal kingdom, would be set up or established “in the days of those kings.”

Daniel 2:44 – “In the days of those kings, the God of the heavens will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, and this kingdom will not be left to another people. It will crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, but will itself endure forever.

Whatever eternal kingdom God was establishing would therefore have to be established prior to the demise of the final earthly empire of the vision: the Roman empire.

If Yeshua was successful in establishing the kingdom of God “in the days” of the Roman empire, then this prophetic vision has been fulfilled, at least to its establishment in time. The fullness of its fulfilment, the crushing and ending of all other kingdoms, is still in process.

Other indications that the kingdom was established in that first century timeframe was that Yeshua provides some timing markers within various teachings.

For example,

Matthew 11:12 – “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been suffering violence, and the violent have been seizing it by force.

Yeshua is here indicating that the kingdom of God had been in the process of being established since the preaching of John the baptizer which preceded even his own ministry.

In another place, Yeshua says to his detractors:

Matthew 12:28 – “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Essentially, Yeshua is saying that if miraculous healings are taking place by God’s Spirit working through me, these things are outward evidence that the kingdom of God is being established.

Matthew 16:28 – “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Most clearly, Yeshua made reference to the fact that the kingdom would be firmly established within the physical lifetime of some of his disciples.

Based on these various indicators, I believe that the kingdom was being established internally within the hearts of God’s people during the life and ministry of John the baptizer and Yeshua. This invisible kingdom of God ruling hearts was being evidenced by the outward workings of extraordinary miracles of conversions and healings.

After the death and resurrection of Yeshua, the disciples carried the gospel message of this kingdom to the scattered tribes of Israel among the nations. The culmination of the establishment of the eternal kingdom was finalized at the destruction of Jerusalem, when the old system of Judaic sacrifice, symbolized by the temple, was destroyed and eradicated forever, never to be rebuilt.

Because the eternal kingdom was to be established “in the days of those kings,” there would be no end to it. It would continue to grow until it filled the earth.

This is where I believe we are now in the biblical timeline of events. God’s kingdom has been firmly established two millennia ago, and has been growing and spreading, ebbing and flowing like a rising tide throughout the world during each successive generation.

Yeshua told a parable of the kingdom expressing how the kingdom would grow over time, not be established in an instant.

Matthew 13:31-32 – “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. “It’s the smallest of all the seeds, but when grown, it’s taller than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the sky come and nest in its branches.”

This parable is a metaphor for how the kingdom would grow over time, like any other living thing God has created. But even as it grows, the kingdom is being manifested every day in the lives of believers through their changed hearts, minds, and bodies. As we learn and place God’s commands within our hearts by faith, we then begin to express outward actions in accordance with his will by that same faith. Those outward actions then influence the individuals around us as an outward demonstration of the inward reality of the invisible kingdom, and the outward reality of the kingdom adds another branch, another area for animals to metaphorically enjoy its shade and perch within its protective covering.

The good news of the kingdom is that it will reach its fulfillment when every heart is in alignment with the principles of the God of the universe. The prophetic certainty is that it will take place, we just don’t know when. Since it has already been going on for over two thousand years, we need to understand the full growth and maturity of the tree in Yeshua’s parable may still not happen for hundreds or possibly even thousands of years. This may sound foreign to modern evangelical ears, but this is the pattern and projection of God’s Word and sure prophecy regarding his kingdom on this earth. Two thousand years in light of an eternal kingdom is only the beginning.

This should not be a cause for dismay, but one of energizing hope for the future of all people, and for our participation in being co-laborers with God in bringing this to pass! Our role is to faithfully pass that baton to each successive generation, and it will all be fulfilled in God’s perfect timing and within his purpose. Each heart won with the gospel or good news of the eternal, invisible kingdom is another place where God’s kingdom is established. It is promised to continue to grow until God is “all in all,” (1 Cor. 15:28). In that day, there will be no need for a physical representative kingdom, because God will be ruling every heart as he intended from the beginning, and all the world will culminate in manifesting his glory and majesty.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube! Just getting started, but new videos will be added regularly on many different topics, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

God evaluates the heart, but our deeds broadcast what’s in there

The deeds reveal what is truly in the heart.

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but Yahweh weighs the hearts.

Proverbs 21:2

Most people in our Western culture who have any ideas about God will typically have the understanding that God knows everything about everybody, including internal thoughts. According to popular perception, the God of the Bible is all about judgment and motives.

This kind of understanding in Western culture is driven by the way God is depicted in the Bible, and Proverbs 21:2 is one of those that highlights that characteristic of God. A parallel passage in the Proverbs is consistent with this as well.

All a man’s ways are pure in his own eyes, but his motives are weighed out by the LORD.

Proverbs 16:2

But what is less recognized by the general population is the connection between the heart and actions. While most people are of the opinion that God is some sort of cosmic Santa Claus, just knowing good people from bad people, he really doesn’t have to go that far into an individual’s psyche to know what they think, because their actions bear out what’s in their heart.

For example, when Yeshua was confronting the Pharisees regarding their love of money and earthly wealth, he let them know how God’s perspective varied greatly from their own.

So He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is prized among men is detestable before God.

Luke 16:15

God (or anyone, for that matter) can know what’s in someone’s heart because of what they value. What the Pharisees prized (wealth) was detestable to God, especially in light of the fact that they were supposed to be the shepherds of his people. It’s not that God hates money, it’s just that he has revealed that when money is valued above one’s dedication to God, it has become an idol, and he detests idolatry in any form.

But the key takeaway was that their hearts were revealed by their actions.

If you say, “Behold, we did not know about this,” does not He who weighs hearts consider it? Does not the One who guards your life know? Will He not repay a man according to his deeds?

Proverbs 24:12

Even back here in Proverbs, we can see how the weighing of hearts is connected to an evaluation of someone’s deeds. The deeds reveal what is truly in the heart. This is also evident in the prophecies of Jeremiah.

I, Yahweh, search minds and test hearts. I will reward each person for what he has done. I will reward him for the results of his actions.

Jeremiah 17:10

While God can certainly know what’s in our hearts, he typically does not need to look much further than our actions to know what resides there. Unless what we believe lines up with what he teaches us through his Word, our lives will likely bear out the errors of our own thinking, what we think is “right in our own eyes.” Integrity is ensuring that our hearts and our actions are working together to fulfill the righteous purposes and will of God.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

To be vigilant against deception one must know both the Bible and the teacher

There are two parts to vigilance in our understanding of the faith: thoroughly knowing the torah or instruction of God and knowing from whom the Word is being taught.

…evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.

2 Timothy 3:13-14

Paul is emphatic with his protoge Timothy, and is cautioning him in being fully aware of the deceivers who were infiltrating the ranks of the fledgling Messianic Kingdom movement. Paul emphasizes that the deceivers would make themselves known not just by their teaching, but by their lifestyles and their actions.

For [these] men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people.

2 Timothy 3:2-5

These were the corrupt Jews who were coming against the teachings of the Messiah and the apostolic communities that were growing amidst the synagogues of the first century. One has only to read the denunciations or “woes” of Yeshua against these individuals to know who they were.

Matthew 23:15, 23, 27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. …
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. …
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.
Luke 11:42-43, 46, 52 “But woe to you Pharisees! for you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! for you love the best seat in the synagogues and salutations in the market places. …
And he said, “Woe to you scribes also! for you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. …
Woe to you scribes! for you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”

They were hypocrites; they had “the form of religion but were denying its power” as Paul writes. As a contrast to this corruption, Paul instructs Timothy to look at the example of his own life and conduct.

Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions, my sufferings, what befell me at Antioch, at Ico’nium, and at Lystra, what persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. … But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:10-11, 14-15

There are two parts to vigilance in our understanding of the faith: thoroughly knowing the torah or instruction of God and knowing from whom the Word is being taught. If you are not aware of the actual lifestyles and practices of your teachers, you must exercise caution in what they are promoting. However, the complement to that is, if you are thoroughly familiar with the Scriptures (and I mean the Scriptures, not just what a certain denomination teaches about the Scriptures), then you will have balance in being able to accurately evaluate anyone’s representation of the Word of God.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.