How do we view Jesus’ teachings while He was here on earth? Are they for us today? Certainly we believe that all Scripture is profitable for our study (II Tim. 3:16), but were Jesus’ instructions to His disciples and to the people of His day also intended for believers during this present age of grace?
We must remember the following facts: (1) Jesus lived during the dispensation of law (Gal. 4:4-5), (2) Jesus’ ministry was to the circumcision, or Israel (Rom. 15:8, Matt. 15:24), (3) Jesus’ message was the gospel of the kingdom, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17), and (4) Jesus performed many signs during this time as proofs to Israel (Acts 2:22). We must look at His earthly teachings in this context.
The Sermon on the Mount
Consider Jesus’ so-called “Sermon on the Mount,” which many Christians try to live out today. Notice some of the things Jesus says. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10). Jesus was teaching the people of Israel principles for living in anticipation of the establishment of His earthly kingdom, a kingdom which was promised specifically for that nation (II Sam. 7:12-16, Jer. 30:4-12, Luke 1:32). The hope of an earthly kingdom does not belong to the church, the body of Christ (Col. 1:27). Though we can learn from and even take applications from these passages, they are not directed to us as members of His church today.
The Lord’s Prayer
Another passage of Scripture which many try to incorporate into their lives today is the so-called “Lord’s Prayer.” This is actually not the prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ, but was a pattern for prayer that He taught His disciples. Look carefully at what was included in this prayer and how it relates specifically to Israel and their promised kingdom. “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). This petition will have great meaning to the people of Israel who go through the terrible tribulation period (Matt. 24:15-22) which precedes the establishment of Christ’s kingdom. They will face great famine (Rev. 6:5-6) and be restricted on buying and selling food by the Antichrist (Rev. 13:16-17). Contrast Matt. 6:12-15 with Eph. 4:32. The instructions regarding forgiveness in these two passages are very different. How is it possible to follow both? Finally, praise is offered to the Father for His is “the kingdom and the power and the glory forever” (Matt. 6:13). This prayer was never intended as the pattern for our prayer life during the age of grace.
The Mysteries of the Kingdom
In Matthew 13, Jesus spoke many things to the people in parables. He did so because it was given to the disciples to understand “the mysteries of the kingdom” but it was not given to the multitudes of Israel (Matt. 13:10-17). Because the word “mystery” is used here, many people equate what is said here to the mystery revealed to Paul (Eph. 3:1-9), but these two passages of Scripture deal with two very different truths. The mysteries or secrets Jesus revealed to His disciples through parables had to do with the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 13:11), the earthly hope of Israel, which was made known by the prophets (Matt. 13:17). The mysteries or secrets of the kingdom concerned the fact that this earthly kingdom was to be postponed because the word of the kingdom had been rejected by the majority of the people of Israel (i.e. the parable of the sower). The mystery Paul speaks about was not the subject of prophecy. This mystery was not made known by Jesus, because Paul says it was kept secret until the Lord Jesus revealed it directly to him (Eph. 3:3-5). It was the mystery regarding the church of this age (Eph 3:6).We must be careful not to confuse these two mysteries.
The Olivet Discourse
In Matthew 24, as they sat upon the Mount of Olives, Jesus answered His disciples’ questions concerning the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, the sign of His coming, and the end of the age. Many people look at the signs that Jesus describes in verses 4-14, including wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes, and try to use them today to determine when the end of the world will occur. This discourse does not relate to the current age of grace, which we live in today. It concerns an age in which God is dealing exclusively with His earthly people, Israel. The signs of verses 4-14 are followed by a description of the great tribulation, an event that was prophesied in Daniel 9 and specifically determined upon God’s people, Israel, and their holy city, Jerusalem. The coming the disciples were concerned about was not Jesus’ coming to catch His church up into glory, but His coming to establish His kingdom upon the earth, an event which will follow immediately after the great tribulation (vs. 29-31).