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Many a Christian turn to Matthew 15 as a proof text to show that we can eat anything that we like. But did you know that this Chapter contains a Parable? And may I suggest that it is one of the most misunderstood Parables of Christ?
So let’s look at the context before we look at the Parable.
An argument about eating with unwashed hands / transgressing the traditions of the Elders Mat 15:1,2 Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. At the onset, we must note that the argument between the Pharisees and Yeshua, is about the Traditions of the Elders and not about the Word of God. Actually in the next few verses, we see Christ distinguishing the Commandments of God from the Traditions of the Elders.
Commandments of God vs Traditions of Men Mat 15:3-6 But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. We see that Yeshua takes one instance that the Traditions of the Elders (Oral Law) breaks God’s Commandments, thus showing the inconsistency of the Traditions of Men with the Commands of God.
Isaiah 29:13 and Doctrines of Men Mat 15:7-9 Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. Yeshua quotes Isaiah 29:13 as a proof-text for Traditions which are taught by men being adhered to with the hopes of honouring God, but falling short.
A Misunderstood Parable Mat 15:10-11 And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. All of us have read the above verses and thought “Does that mean, we can eat whatever we like?”. But note what Yeshua told the Multitude… Hear and understand! But what evidence is there to say that the above is a Parable, and what is its meaning, if it is a Parable? The Disciples have questions Mat 15:12-15 Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable. We see that the words of Christ hit a sore spot with the Pharisees, which was communicated to Him by the disciples. Yeshua’s reply to the conflict was quite harsh. But whatever caused the Pharisees to be offended was not understood properly by Peter (and most probably, the other disciples) who asked the meaning of the “Parable”. This proves the point that “It is not what goes into the mouth that makes a person unclean, It is what comes out of the mouth that makes a person unclean” is a Parable. It is not to be understood on face value. It has a deeper meaning which the Pharisees understood while the disciples didn’t.
The Explanation of the Parable Mat 15:16-20 And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man. The Master explains the parable to be comparing the “Command of God” vs the “Traditions of Men”. The Command of God shows us to guard our Heart where all evil thoughts come from (Gen 6:5, 8:21). Sin surely defiles a man, while the traditions of men such as eating with unwashed hands, while having the outward appearance of Holiness does nothing to make a man holy before God, as it is at the end just vain worship commanded by man. Christ speaks nothing about food or the commandments of God about clean/unclean meats given in Leviticus 11, in Matthew chapter 15 or it’s parallel in Mark 7. The Pharisees were offended at this parable as they would have surely understood that Yeshua spoke of them and their hypocrisy.
Conclusion Matthew 15:15 and Mark 7:17 prove that Christ spoke a parable about the Traditions of Men and the Commands of God which most Christians have taken out of context by reading the surface material while missing the explanation which shows we are to obey the Commands of God to keep ourselves from defilement of Sin while rejecting traditions given by blind human guides.
Many Christians use the following verse to say that we have to fit in with whatever culture, practice, society, tradition, etc so that we may win people to Christ. Many believe that Paul acted like a Greek among unbelievers and like a Jew in Jerusalem. But is this what Paul means? Let’s examine this idea.
1Co 9:19-23 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
The Context Paul is speaking of “Food sacrificed unto Idols” in this particular section which started at 1Cor 8:1 and finishes in 1Cor 10:33. In the 9th Chapter he touches on making himself a servant even when he has authority over the congregation. This particular section shows the Corinthians an example from Paul’s life, on how he put others before himself. But who were these others? and how did he put them before himself?
The Groups Checking what the referenced groups in this particular section are, will further help us understand what Paul means.
1Co 9:20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; 1Co 9:21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. 1Co 9:22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
At first glance, there seems to be 4 groups above. But actually Paul speaks of only 2 groups as shown below.
The Jews = them that are under the Law them that are without law = The Weak
The Jews that are spoken of here, are those who are still in the understanding of being saved through the works of the Law. These are those who Paul calls them that are under the Law. If so, who are those who are without Law? They are called Weak, here as well as in 1Cor 8:10. These are people who are weak in the Faith – new converts who are still not grown in their walk. Hence, they do not know God’s Law fully, and are not living yet according to the whole Law.
A Jew unto a Jew and Weak unto the Weak Paul was a Jew (Acts 21:39, Rom 11:1, Phil 3:5) and identified as one. He had no need to become a Jew in the midst of Jews. This is why becoming a Jew is connected to being as “one who is under the Law”. He had been careful to not do anything against even the traditions of the elders (Oral Law) all throughout his life (Acts 25:10, 28:17). Tradition is not an issue even for Messiah, upto the point where traditions start overruling the Word of God, as seen in Matthew 15 & Mark 7.
Being under the Law As Paul understands, we are not “Under the Law”, for whoever is under law is under dominion of Sin(Rom 6:14). Although we are not under the law, does not mean we are free to sin(Rom 6:15). Since the Law defines what Sin is (Rom 3:20, 7:7, 1Jn 3:4), it is then important to understand what being “Under the Law” really means. Being under the Law is trying to be justified by the Law. In other words, having faith in ourselves to be able to receive salvation through adhering to the precepts of the Law. By doing this, we not only discard God’s Salvation & Grace, but because we cannot keep the Law perfectly – we fall into condemnation and stand judged by the Law, and under the Curse written in the Law which comes to all who transgress – Death. (Gal 3:10,11, Rom 7:5). So, to recap, being under the law is how Paul defined the mainline teaching of the Jews (Act 13:39).
Being as one who is under the Law, that I may gain those who are under Law Paul is obviously not saying that he kept the Law for Salvation. But we know that he lived a life adherent to the Torah/Law (Acts 21:24). So he lived according to the Law after being made righteous through faith, among people who believed were saved through the Law. Wherever Paul travelled to, his first stop was the synagogue, so that he may speak to his fellow kinsmen. This is what he means by saying “being as one who is under the law”.
Being without Law A person without Law would not know what sin is (Rom 7:7). If the knowledge of Sin is through the Law (Rom 3:20), then a person who lived without Law, would ultimately live in sin, as he/she does not know what God calls good & bad / holiness & sin. All who were new to the faith would be like this, and would learn about the Law every Sabbath (Act 15:21).
Not without law to God Paul did not live a lawless life as he himself testifies (Acts 24:14, 25:8). James also says all of the rumours about Paul teaching against the Law was false and that he walks according to the law (Acts 21:24). So Paul’s mention of not living “without the law of God” is apt inclusion to make here.
Under the law to Christ Even though he says that he is not under the law, he expands the idea of adherence to the law here, by saying being under the law TO christ. Note that it is not under the law OF Christ, so that we may think this is some other law. As Christ is the End-Goal (Telos) of the Law (Rom 10:4), Paul considers himself coming under the jurisdiction of Christ when he is living according to the Law.
Being as without law that I might gain them that are without law Paul is obviously not saying that he is living a lawless life – which is a life of sin (1Jn 3:4). as seen above, we know that he lived a life adherent to the Torah/Law (Acts 21:24). So just as he lived according to the Law, among people who believed were saved through the Law (the Jews), he also lived according to the law in the midst of people who did not yet know of the Law properly. In light of all of the above, we can conclude that Paul is not saying he lives a hedonistic lifestyle among people who don’t know the Law. He attempts to say that he lives with understanding of all people and their weaknesses, in trying to place himself in their shoes.
I am made all things to all men Paul does not say that he pretends to be all things to all men, or that he acts one way in front of one group and another way in front of another group. If he was pretending or acting, it would make him a double hypocrite, as he rebuked Peter for the exact same thing in Gal 2:11-14. Paul was not trying to please anyone(Gal 1:10) or act in a certain way in cunning (2Cor 4:2). “I am made” simply means I have lowered myself down to each man’s level, so that I may win them over to Christ. If Paul lowered his standards, swayed in certain places or blurred the lines when it was convenient, we would have a hard time believing anything he says.
Conclusion This passage speaks of Jews who were “under the Law” and the Weak (new converts) who were “without the Law” and how Paul would lower himself to understand them from the place they come from. This does not mean that he was a chameleon, changing colours whenever it suited him best. He was not without Law to God, as he himself says, and was in subjection to the Law to Christ. The context of the chapter further proves the point of Paul speaking of lowering one self even when they have power and authority over others, so that they may become strong in their walk with God.
I leave this discussion with an interesting question. If the “weak” are called “those who are without law”, who are the “strong”?
Most of the divisions and denominations in Christianity stem from differences in understanding certain verses in the Bible. Paul’s words are no different. Peter gives his famous warning to his readers about taking Paul out of context, this way:
2Pe 3:15,16 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
It is a fact that many had misunderstood him and his writings, and there were many rumours about his teachings:
Act 21:21-24 And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.
Many question Paul’s writings, asking why he could not make things clearer in a way people would not misunderstand. But it is a fact, that Paul has gone to great lengths to make it clear for someone who could and would take him and his writings out of context. This is what we will focus on today:
God Forbid! Heaven Forbid! May it not be! Such an expression is often used by a person to highlight the importance of something and clearly say that “this should not ever happen”! We see this expression used often in Scripture.
Gen 18:23-25 And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? That be far(Chalilah – חללה) from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? Gen 44:7 And they said unto him, Wherefore saith my lord these words? God forbid(Chalilah – חללה) that thy servants should do according to this thing: Gen 44:17 And he said, God forbid (Chalilah – חללה) that I should do so: but the man in whose hand the cup is found, he shall be my servant; and as for you, get you up in peace unto your father. Jos 22:29God forbid (Chalilah – חללה) that we should rebel against the LORD, and turn this day from following the LORD, to build an altar for burnt offerings, for meat offerings, or for sacrifices, beside the altar of the LORD our God that is before his tabernacle. Job 34:10 Therefore hearken unto me, ye men of understanding: far be it(Chalilah – חללה) from God, that he should do wickedness; and from the Almighty, that he should commit iniquity.
The expression “Chalilah” is used throughout the Bible to show that the statement made with it, should not be, not come to mind, should not happen. It is the strongest negative statement which can be made in Scripture and is often translated as “God Forbid” or “Far be it”. The same statement also appears in the New Testament.
Luk 20:16 He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid.
In the above verse, Christ speaks of a Parable against the Keepers of the Vineyard – the Jewish leadership and authority of the day, and how it would be destroyed… to which the response of the horrified leaders was “God forbid – May it not be!”.
God Forbid! Heaven Forbid! May it not be!in Paul’s writings Paul uses this phrase the most in the New Testament Writings, 10 times in the letter to Romans, twice in the letter to the Galatians and once to the Corinthians. But why does he use this expression so often? 13 times in all? It is to make a point in saying “DO NOT MISUNDERSTAND ME”, “THIS IS NOT WHAT I MEAN!”. Let’s look at all of these instances and what Paul was trying to or rather not trying to say to his readers.
Rom 3:3,4 For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged. The faith of God does not become futile, just because some of His creation had no faith in him.
Rom 3:5,6 But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man) God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world? God is not unrighteous because His own unrighteous creation shows forth His ultimate Righteousness.
Rom 3:31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law. We are made righteous (justified/saved) because of Faith which is “counted as” righteousness, and not by any commands that we keep. But we do not regard the Law as not needed and void for us. We confirm that the Law is required after we are justified, to live a holy life.
Rom 6:1,2 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Because of the greatness of sin, we have seen greater Grace. Just because we have seen greater grace because of sin, does not mean we should continue in sin, and misuse the grace shown towards us.
Rom 6:15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. We cannot go on Sinning (Breaking God’s Law – 1Jn3:4, Rom 7:7) just because we are not under the Law(not made righteous/justified through the Law) but are under Grace(Justified through faith which is counted as righteousness through Grace).
Rom 7:7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. We have been released from sin and the judgement which comes through the Law for the sins we have done. This does not mean that Sin is equated to the Law. There is no way to know what sin is, if we do not know the Law – as it is the knowledge of Sin.
Rom 7:13 Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. Sin which is the breaking of God’s Law brought about judgement and death. This does not mean that the Law is death. Sin brings about death. The Law which is Holy, Just and Good shows what sin is, and how sinful our actions against God are.
Rom 9:14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. Just because God shows mercy to whomever He wishes to show mercy, does not mean that He is unrighteous.
Rom 11:1 I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not abandoned His chosen people that descend from Abraham.
Rom 11:11 I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Israel has stumbled by not receiving the Messiah, but they have not stumbled in a way that they will wholly fall away, but as a means that the Gentiles will also have an opportunity to receive Messiah, and through it the descendants of Abraham may also find Messiah.
1Co 6:15 Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. We cannot even think of engaging in licentious behaviour after we have become part of the body of Christ.
Gal 2:17 But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. We who are justified(declared righteous) through Faith and Grace which we have received because of the payment made by Christ, still sin unintentionally. This does not make Christ and “aider and abettor” of Sin.
Gal 3:21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. God’s Law cannot give us eternal life and make us Righteous(justify) in front of God. But this does not mean that the Law is not against the promises of God.
Study all of the above instances carefully, and you will see the lenghts that Paul went to, to make himself clear even to audiences that knew him. He did not want anyone to misunderstand his letters and think that he was against the Law of God and teaching something against God’s Law/Word. Nonetheless, there were many false rumours of such teachings about Paul (as testified by James in Acts 21) and many misunderstandings about deep things he had written (as testified by Peter in 2Pet3).
I believe it is high-time that we broke away from these misunderstandings and false ideas about Paul’s teachings & turned back to God and His Word which has no contradiction or variance. Shalom!
Many have read the important event recorded in the Book of Acts, where the Elders of Jerusalem met to discuss what prerequisites were needed for the Gentiles to be part of the Congregation. The decision is made by James to ask the Gentiles to observe 4 commands (Acts 15:20) since the Torah (Books of Moses) was read in every city on the Sabbath Day (Acts 15:21). The parties which were present at this meeting (Elders, Apostles, Pharisees who believed in Christ) all agreed upon this judgement without any hesitancy. What was the reason? Where did those 4 commands come from? Did James make them up? The answers can be found in the observation of Luke’s record, which is done with intricate detail and accuracy.
The Decision of James: Act 15:19-21 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.
James did not want to enforce any commands on the Gentiles turning towards God, since obedience should be not out of compulsion but of love and reverence.
Then he listed 4 necessary abstensions, namely: 1. Abstain from pollutions of idols 2. Fornication 3. Things Strangled 4. Blood
This was followed by a stipulation that Moses (The books of Moses / Torah) was read in every city where the gentiles lived, being read in the Synagogue on the Sabbath (Acts 13:15).
So where did these 4 abstentions that are still valid for today, come from? And what do they really mean? A person who is familiar with the Books of Moses, is well aware of these 4 abstentions mentioned in Scripture. Luke’ detailed description gives us a key to figuring it out.
The last line of the short letter sent from the Apostles at Jerusalem to the Congregation at Antioch and later shared with all of the other Congregations around the region says the following: Acts 15:29 That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
The Letter lists down the 4 Abstentions as follows: 1. Abstain from meats offered to idols 2. Blood 3. Things Strangled 4. Fornication
If you just gloss over the chapter, you may not notice it at all, but there is a curious difference in the listing. The numbering seems to be all over the place. Either Luke took no care at these details, or he took all of the care necessary to record it absolutely accurately. I am of the latter view, as it makes perfect sense when you compare it with the Abstentions given by God to Gentiles who become part of the Covenant of Israel.
1. Abstain from pollutions of idols 2. Fornication 3. Things Strangled 4. Blood
1. Abstain from meats offered to idols 2. Blood 3. Things Strangled 4. Fornication
Reviewing Leviticus Chapter 17 and 18 in light of Acts Chapter 15 The book of Leviticus provides most of God’s view of Holiness in the Torah, and chapter 17 & 18 are of special importance as it is focused at both native and alien alike. While I suggest reading both of the chapters completely, we will review only the parts that are of importance for this study below.
1.Abstain from sacrifices offered to Idols Lev 17:7-9 And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, after whom they have gone a whoring. This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations. And thou shalt say unto them, Whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers which sojourn among you, that offereth a burnt offering or sacrifice, And bringeth it not unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, to offer it unto the LORD; even that man shall be cut off from among his people.
2. Abstain from Blood Lev 17:10-12 And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul. Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood.
3. Things Strangled Lev 17:13-14 And whatsoever man there be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, which hunteth and catcheth any beast or fowl that may be eaten; he shall even pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust. For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoevereateth it shall be cut off. (A little more context should be given to this Law, as God is instituting a way of killing animals for the consumption of flesh. He is banning the strangulation of an animal, and allowing only for animals to be slaughtered in a proper way with the blood to be let out properly.)
4. Fornication Lev 18:26-29 Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations*; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you: (For all these abominations* have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;) That the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you. For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations*, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people. (*The Abominations listed in Chapter 18 verse 1 to 25)
Reviewing the 3 passages again, we see the following comparison:
Lev Chap 17 & 18
1. Abstain from pollutions of idols 2. Fornication 3. Things Strangled 4. Blood
1. Abstain from meats offered to idols 2. Blood 3. Things Strangled 4. Fornication
1. Lev 17:7-9 2. Lev 17:10-12 3. Lev 17:13-14 4. Lev 18:26-29
Acts 15:29 which records the official letter sent to the congregations is identical in order to how it is recorded by Moses in Leviticus Chapter 17 & 18. James may have given his judgement and spoken the 4 commands in a way he remembered, but the official letter recorded the proper order, keeping with Scripture. Heads and Elders of the Congregations, who would have been well versed in Scripture/ Torah, would have immediately recognised the reason for these 4 abstention as prerequisites to enter the congregation.
We have all heard the popular Parable of the two Houses, and understand the importance of building ourselves on a firm footing rather than shaky doctrine. But let us revisit this Parable and look at it a little closer to understand another dimension of what Yeshua – Our Messiah really tried to teach us.
Mat 7:24-27 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
Yeshua speaks of two kinds of people in this Parable. Ones who hears Messiah and does what He says and ones who hear Messiah and does not do. So it is easy to think that the second category of people have no action in their lives while the first category act out what they have heard. But the parable is directed at a different sort of person as we see in the context of the parable.
Mat 7:15-23 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
The context is of two sorts of people, one kind has good fruit and the other evil fruit. We must remember that both of them have fruit, but Yeshua tells us to recognise who they are, by their fruit. The ones who have evil fruit have done many wonders in the Name of the Lord – such as prophesying and casting out devils, but they are called workers of “Iniquity” – Anomia in the Greek – which means “Transgression of the Law” as seen in 1John 3:4.
Outward appearances maybe deceiving Getting back to the parable of the Houses, we see that the context is that both appear to have fruit, but one is good and is evil. Both appear to build some structure above the surface, but what is beneath reveals the truth. This is further explained in the version of the same parable recorded by Luke, where he writes about a key factor that makes all the difference.
Luk 6:46-49 And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.
So some could have a shallow understanding even of the parable itself, thinking that one person made the house on earth and another on the rock.
But the more accurate understanding is that both people made the house in the same exact location, but the difference was that one person dug deep till the Rock was found and then started building on it.
Appearances can be truly deceiving. But as Messiah said “you shall know them by their fruit”, and there will come a day when the foundations will be revealed. When that day comes, the houses built on sand/earth will be swept away, while the ones that dug deep and connected to the Rock will stand firm. The Rock is The Father (Deut 32:4,18, 1Sam 2:2, 2Sam 22:32, 2Sam 23:3, Psalm 92:15) and the Foundation that connects to the Rock is Yeshua (Jesus’ true name).
In fact, Apostle Paul speaks of this very event in the Letter to the Corinthians.
1Co 3:9-15 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
Conclusion The Parable of the Builders/Houses look as if the two builders built their houses in 2 different locations – one on sand and one on a rock, but Luke’s Gospel gives us a little more insight into the Parable showing both of them built in the same place, while only one dug deep till the Rock was found, from where the foundation could be laid before the house could be built. The context of the Parable is about appearances; both seem to be built on God, but beneath the surface – only one has a foundation. As Yeshua says both have actions, both have fruit – but one is not connected to the Rock and does not acquire strength from it, and the same is not connected to the “good” tree and does not bring good fruit. We see that the ones that have bad fruit have also done wonders and miracles in the name of the Lord – so “good fruit” may not be gauged by the miraculous nature of actions, rather what the actions are built upon. A person who disregards the Word/Law of God but can even do wondrous actions in His Name, is the one compared to a person who builds on the Sand/Earth. Let us all dig deep and connect to God through the Son in obedience!
In 1 Corinthians Chapter 7, Paul writes to the congregation at Corinth “concerning the things they wrote”(7:1) to him about. The whole chapter tackles various questions regarding marriage, which is paused in the middle by a tangent regarding Circumcision and Servant-hood ; or so it seems.
The chapter is broken down in the following manner: 1. Advice for the Married in the congregation (v3-9) 2. Commandment in case of Divorce in the congregation (v10-11) 3. Advice to individuals who came to the Lord within mixed marriages (v12-16) 4. A Governing Principle (v17-24) 5. Advice for the Unmarried considering distress in Corinth and of the present(v25-38) 6. Advice for widows (v39,40)
This study will focus on the governing principle of verses 17 to 24 which is a Parable used by Paul to explain his stance on everything to do with “marriage”.
1Co 7:17-24 But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches. Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.
So what exactly does Paul mean by the above? Let’s break the Parts of this Parable down. Circumcision was the Mark of the Covenant given to Abraham(Gen 17:11), and is equated to a Marriage Covenant. As such an Uncircumcised person would be a person who is not married. A Servant is a person who is under another, basically unequally yoked – as such this is talking of a Mixed Marriage. Those who are called free, are then partners who have both believed and are free to follow God ; but as servants to Our lord.
So the categories of the parable are;
One who is called being Circumcised = With a Marriage Covenant One who is called being Uncircumcised = Without a Marriage Covenant One who is called being a Servant = With a Marriage to an Unbeliever One who is called being Free = With a Marriage to a Believer
Let us now try to make sense of what Paul is saying by applying the above explanations to his words to the Corinthians :-
1Co 7:17 But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.
Walk in the calling you were called in, whether it be Married, Unmarried, Widowed or in Mixed Marriages – this is my advice to all the congregations.
1Co 7:18 Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised.
Is anyone called when already in a Marriage Covenant? Let them not be Divorced. Is anyone called without a Marriage Covenant? Let them not be married. (Paul explains in v25-38 when he addresses the unmarried that it would be “better” for them not to marry because of the present distress – Remember that in a few short years the whole congregation would be facing Nero and his persecutions)
1Co 7:19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.
Being Married is nothing, and being Unmarried is nothing, but the only important thing is to keep God’s Commands.
1Co 7:20 Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.
If you were called in Marriage or when you were Unmarried, don’t try to change the stance by getting divorced or married.
1Co 7:21 Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.
Were you called being in a Mixed marriage? Even if you could become free, “use” the servant-hood to bring the person you are unequally yoked to (ie.The Master/Spouse), to Salvation. (Paul explains in v 15,16 that if an unbelieving spouse departs[divorces] the believer is not in bondage to be kept in the marriage forever)
1Co 7:22 For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant.
If you were called in a mixed(unequally yoked) marriage, you have been made free from any bondage to be and act free in your Spirit. Likewise, whoever is called in a marriage where both partners accept the Lord is now a Servant to Christ in the Spirit – so that there is equality whether in a mixed marriage or not.
1Co 7:23 Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.
All of us are bought with the Blood of Messiah to be Free and not slaves to this world because of the capacities which we are called in
1Co 7:24 Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.
Brothers and Sisters, let everyone who is called try to stay in the same capacities and not change from married to unmarried or unmarried to married.
Conclusion Paul brings a parable in the middle of giving answers to the Corinthian Congregation regarding Marriage, which at face value seem to be speaking of a different subject altogether but is trying to teach his view on Marriage and a governing principle which can be used for all such questions.
We often hear the phrase “He’s in a better place” at funerals. Many Christians believe that they go to heaven when they die. But what does the Bible teach us about this subject? Do we ascend into heaven when we die to be with God?
In a previous study we discovered the meanings of “The Grave” (Sheol/Hades), Lake of Fire (Gehenna) & Tartaroo (Bottomless Pit). While the Lake of fire is the place of torment and destruction(Rev 20:10), the Grave(She’ol/Hades) merely stands for the abode of the dead. The Abyss(Pit) is different from both other places as the Angels who sinned are the ones held here. Hell as we see depicted in popular media and mainline Christianity merely does not exist, and it is quite beneficial for us to understand that the word “Hell” in our English versions can be quite misleading, as all 3 of these 3 distinct places have been called Hell, even though they are vastly different from each other. Now let’s see what the Bible says about Life after Death.
The Dead are asleep and are unconscious of the world of the Living
Psa 6:5 For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks? Psa 115:17 The dead praise not the LORD, neither any that go down into silence. Isa 38:18,19 For the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day: the father to the children shall make known thy truth. Ecc 9:5,6 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun. Ecc 9:10 Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest. Job 14:10-15 But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up: So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep. O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands. Deu 31:16 And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers; and this people will rise up, and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake me, and break my covenant which I have made with them. Mat 9:24 He said unto them, Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn. Joh 11:11 These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Act 7:60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. 1Th 5:10 Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.
2. The Dead are mentioned of having a physical Resurrection
Psa 17:15 As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness. Psa 49:15 But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah. Job 19:25,26 For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Isa 25:8He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the LORD hath spoken it. Isa 26:19 Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead. Eze 37:12,13 Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, Hos 6:2 After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. Hos 13:14 I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes. Dan 12:2 And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Joh 5:28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. Act 24:15 And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.
3. Resurrection – When and Where? So it is thus clear that the dead are merely sleeping but will arise with new bodies. But do they arise at different times or at once? Do they arise in Heaven or in His Kingdom? The Gospels, Paul’s Writings and the Book of Revelation give us most of the final clues for this question.
Job 19:25,26 For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Dan 7:27 And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him. Jer 23:5 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. Mat 19:28 And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Mat 22:31,32 But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Joh 11:23-26 Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? Heb 11:39,40 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. 1Th 4:14-17 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 1Co 15:51,52 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. Rev 5:10 And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. Rev 20:4,5 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Rev 20:13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
4. No man has entered Heaven It is clear looking at the above that all who are dead and asleep will rise at the coming of Messiah. No one receives the promise of Everlasting Life before anyone else. All who rise will enter His Kingdom. It is abundantly clear that no one has ascended into Heaven other than the one who was raised from the Dead – Our Messiah Yeshua! As Peter proclaims at the Day of Pentecost – Not even David has ascended into Heaven. All who are dead await the Trumpet Sound of His Coming.
Joh 3:13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. Joh 1:18No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. Pro 30:4Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son’s name, if thou canst tell? Act 2:29,34 Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day…. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand,
5. Are The Kingdom of God & The Kingdom of Heaven two Different Kingdoms? The Kingdom of Heaven (Malkuth Shamayim) mentioned exclusively in The Gospel of Matthew is identical to the Kingdom of God mentioned in the other 3 Gospels. A few examples are given below for comparison.
Ex A. Mat 26:29 But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. Ex A. Mar 14:25 Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God. Ex A. Luk 22:16 For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. Ex B. Mat 18:3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Ex B. Mar 10:15 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. Ex B. Luk 18:17 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein. Ex B. Joh 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Ex C. Mat 13:11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. Ex C. Mar 4:11 And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: Ex C. Luk 8:10 And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand. Ex D. Mat 13:31 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Ex D. Mar 4:30 And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it? Ex D. Luk 13:18 Then said he, Unto what is the kingdom of God like? and whereunto shall I resemble it?
This coming Kingdom is said to be established on Earth and not Heaven. The Reason for it to be called “Kingdom of Heaven” is that it is “OF” Heaven, and in its likeness. Daniel speaks of this Kingdom, interpreting the dream of Nebuchadnezzar where the Image made of Kingdoms is broken in pieces by a “Stone” which becomes a Mountain and fills the whole Earth (Dan 2:35).
Dan 2:44 And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. Dan 7:27 And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.
This Kingdom “OF” Heaven is Established “ON” Earth, in the Chosen Place that God placed His Holy Name, which is Jerusalem.
Mic 4:1,2 But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it. And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. Jer 3:17 At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the LORD; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the LORD, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart. Jer 23:5 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. Mat 6:10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Act 1:6,7 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. Act 3:20,21 And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. Rev 5:10 And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. Rev 11:15 And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
Yeshua is said to have resurrected from Jerusalem and to be returning to the same place.
Act 1:9-12 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day’s journey. Zec 14:4-9 And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south. And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal: yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the LORD my God shall come, and all the saints with thee. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear, nor dark: But it shall be one day which shall be known to the LORD, not day, nor night: but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light. And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be. And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one.
6. Objections and Misunderstood verses Comparing the overwhelming evidence throughout the Bible, we can see that the Idea of immediately going to Heaven or Hell at death, comes from a few verses that are misunderstood. These verses are addressed below.
A. 2Co 5:8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. This verse is often quoted to show that death will cause us to be immediately present with God. But as we saw above death is a state of sleep. A person who goes to sleep has no knowledge of time. From the moment one sleeps to the moment he/she wakes up, it can be a few minutes, a few hours or a few thousand years – it will all seem the same. One moment you close your eyes. Next moment you are at Yeshua’s Second Coming and the beginning of His Kingdom. B. 2Co 12:3,4 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Paradise mentioned here and Luke 23:43, as well as Rev 2:7 is the Equivalent of the Garden of Eden mentioned again in Rev 22:2 & 14. This is a Time in the future. So being caught up into paradise is a vision, as Paul himself says it may not be in the body. A similar instance can be seen in Rev 1:10 where John is transported to the Lord’s Day, which is also a time in the future. C. Luk 23:43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. It is important to note that the Original Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament do not contain any punctuation. Please see how the meaning changes of this verse when the punctuation is placed a little differently. “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee today, Shalt thou be with me in paradise.”. And even if Yeshua was saying that the thief would be in paradise “today”, it would not be a contradiction if we take the argument in point A into consideration. D. Joh 14:2,3In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. The word “mansions” used here gives us the idea of different places in Heaven, and Yeshua preparing a separate mansion for us. But the Greek word used here “Monay” is only seen in 1 more place in the whole of the New testament in John 14:23 where it is translated as “abode”. This is Bridal language of having Communion with one’s Bride. Yeshua as the Bridegroom(John 3:29) is going to prepare all of the necessities before He comes to marry the Bride as we see happening in Rev 19:7. Yeshua is speaking of a future time set in God’s Creation, when He speaks of an abode for His Bride. E. Luk 16:23-26 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. “Abraham’s Bosom” is another phrase used for being collected to the fathers. In other words, Lazarus was deemed worthy of being with his forefathers going back to Abraham. The Rich man was deemed unworthy. The story is told to explain a far greater story and is not a literal retelling of true events. F. 1Pe 3:18-20 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. One of the most confusing passages in the New Testament, Peter is saying here that the same Spirit that caused Yeshua to rise from the dead was working in Noah, when he(Noah) preached to those who were disobedient and now lie in “prison” as even though they are dead, they will not arise to life. Peter talks of this again in 2Peter 2:5 G. 1Pe 4:6 For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. This does not mean that Yeshua preached the Gospel to the dead. Peter explains that the Gospel has been preached to those who were living even before Christ. People such as Abraham who are currently asleep also received the Gospel as we see Paul mentioning in Gal 3:8 H. 2Ki 2:11 And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. Elijah being transported to heaven is also frequently used to show that people have ascended to heaven. The issue here is that the word used as Heaven here (Shamayim in Hebrew) is frequently translated “sky” as well. In 2Kings 2:16&17, the sons of the prophets say that the Spirit of God may have transported Elijah to some other place and even go looking for him. It is most probable that Elijah was transported to a different place as Elijah sends a letter to King Jehoram afterwards mentioned in 2Chr 21:12. The same sort of transportation of a person is mentioned in Acts 8:39,40 where Philip was ransported from Jerusalem to Ashdod. I. 1Sa 28:15 And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do. In the last days of Saul, he visits a woman with a “familiar spirit” (Obe in Hebrew) which has the meaning of a whisperer/mutterer/mumbler(Isa 8:19). It is unclear whether Samuel is speaking here or whether it is the woman who is acting as the medium. It is important to note the details of the story. Saul did not see Samuel – The woman explained what he looked like(v14). The prophecy that Saul would die the next day(v19) also does not come to pass, as we see a few days pass between the supposed prophecy (which could have been an instance such as in 1Kin 22:20-22) and his death. It is more likely that Samuel was not brought up from the Grave, but that a lying Spirit spoke through the woman.
7. Conclusion The Bible is clear that the Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven is one, and that it will happen in the future at the Coming of the Messiah. Everyone who dies in this world simply falls asleep to be resurrected to Eternal Life or Destruction in the Lake of fire. All of us sleep at different times, but we will all wake at the same time at the call of the Trumpet, as followers in Messiah’s footsteps. May it be speedily in our days!
What is the unpardonable Sin? Many views and teachings have been proposed to explain what exactly Yeshua (Jesus’ true name) means when He speaks of “Blaspheming the Spirit”. Let’s try to do a quick study on what He would have meant using the Bible as our foundation.
Before we learn about “Blaspheming the Spirit”, it is important for us to understand what “Blasphemy” is.
βλάσφημος – blasphēmos – From a derivative of G984 and G5345; scurrilous, that is, calumnious (against man), or (specifically) impious (against God): – blasphemer (-mous), railing. ( G984 – βλάπτω – blaptō – A primary verb; properly to hinder, that is, (by implication) to injure: – hurt. ) ( G5345 – φήμη – phēmē – From G5346; a saying, that is, rumor (“fame”): – fame. )
Blasphemy could be seen as “Hurting(Blapto) the Fame(Pheme)” of a person, a document such as the Law, a faith or a place such as the Temple, but has been generally associated with God throughout the New Testament. We see some instance of the word below being translated as blasphemy against Moses(God’s Law also called Torah), God, God’s Temple, Heavenly beings, Name of God, His Doctrine, The Word of God, Paul and his teaching. It is also translated as “speaking evil of” as well as “defamed” which maybe the closest translation.
Act 6:11 Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God. Act 6:13 And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law: Rev 13:6 And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. 1Ti 6:1 Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. Tit 2:5 To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Act 13:45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. 1Co 4:13 Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day. Rom 14:16 Let not then your good be evil spoken of: 2Pe 2:2 And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. Tit 3:2 To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men.
In 1Tim6:1 and Tit 2:5 we also see instances above where Paul exhorts people to behave in such a way that God’s name, His Word and His Doctrine not be defamed by their actions. While the Greek word “Blasphemos” is used commonly in the New Testament writings, there is one Hebrew Word in particular that is of interest, which connects both the verses concerned, in the New Testament with the Tanakh – specifically the Torah.
Blaspheming the Spirit Let’s check the instances where Yeshua uses this phrase and compare the words in our Greek Manuscripts with The Hebrew version of Matthew and the Tanak(Old Testament) Scriptures to see whether we can see what Messiah meant.
Mat 12:31,32 Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. Mar 3:28,29 Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation: Luk 12:8-12 Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God: But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven. And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.
I believe we can get a better perspective on what Yeshua is saying here in these Gospel accounts by looking at the text – specifically the word He uses here. The Greek Manuscripts contain “Blasphemos” 3 times in the text at Mat 12:31, 15:19 & 26:65 but the Hebrew version carries “Gadaph” only in relation to “Blaspheming the Spirit” in Mat 12:31.
In the Hebrew Text of Matthew’s Gospel, we see the word “Gadaph” (Highlighted in Yellow in the above image) used in place of the Greek “Blasphemos”.
H1442 – גּדף – gâdaph – A primitive root; to hack (with words), that is, revile: – blaspheme, reproach.
This word appears only once in the Torah(5 books of Moses) and only 7 times collectively in the Tanakh(Old Testament).
Num 15:29-31 Ye shall have one law for him that sinneth through ignorance, both for him that is born among the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them. But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth(Gadaph) the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the LORD, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him.
The other 6 instances are 2Kin 19:6,22, Psa 44:16, Isa_37:6,23, Eze 20:27
Looking at Numbers 15:29-31, we see the only place where Blasphemy/Reproach is mentioned in the Torah/Law/Moses mentions the reason why God is reviled. A person who brazenly disregards God and acts arrogantly in front of Him defames/blasphemes/reproaches God in front of others and is seen as a soul which is cut-off by God Himself. The reasons are his/her actions that despised the Word of YHVH. There is no more sacrifice or redemption for such a person. The Author of Hebrews explain the same fact further.
Heb 6:4-8 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned. Heb 10:26-29 For if we sin wilfullyafter that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
Whoever commits sin is acting against God, as “Sin is Transgressing the Law” as per 1John 3:4. If someone sins willfully, that means he/she is blatantly disregarding and acting against God, reproaching/blaspheming/defaming Him who has provided Salvation to all. Salvation, we see comes through the Spirit of Grace, whom we all partake in, when we received the promise of Eternal Life. The Spirit was sent as the seal and a deposit for what we are to receive in the future.
Eph 1:13,14 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.
As we see above, The Holy Spirit is the “earnest” of our inheritance, until we redeem the purchased possession which is life everlasting. John in his 1st Epistle speaks of the same point and explains a little further on the same sin, as we see below.
1Jn 5:16-18 If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death. We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.
As per John, we know that Sin is transgressing the Law(1Jn 3:4). but then he speaks of 2 varieties of sin. One which leads to death and one which does not. But we also know that all sin leads to death according to Rom 6:16,23 & James 1:15. So what does John mean when he writes about a “sin that is unto death” and a “sin that is not unto death”? First of all, we see that the context is of petitions and intermediatory prayer. John asks the recipients to pray for people who do “sin that is not unto death” so that God will give them Life. And he explains that one should not pray for people who “sin unto death” as surely he means to say that such prayers will not be answered by God. “Sin that is unto death” must be that which Yeshua speaks about in Mat 12:31 and what The Word of God speaks of in Num 15:30. For such sin, there is no forgiveness or sacrifice.
Gathering Sticks on the Sabbath Exactly after the “Unpardonable Sin” is spoken of in the Scriptures in Num 15:29-31, a story is presented to us which is often misunderstood today. The event is juxtaposed with the defamation of God’s name by willful disobedience, obviously for a reason.
Num 15:32-35 And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the LORD said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.
Only God could see into the heart of the person who had worked on the Sabbath, going against the command to rest as God had proclaimed. The “Gathering” could also be translated “foraging” obviously done for the express purpose for working. Moses and Aaron leave the decision upto God, as He is the only one who could try the person’s heart to see whether he had acted deliberately with a “high hand”. The man had “blasphemed the Spirit” of Grace and Promise and could not receive further forgiveness or sacrifice for his life. The event is both a lesson and warning even to all who take hold of God today. As the author of Hebrews explains “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God”.
Conclusion The phrase “Blasphemy against the Spirit” which is called the Unpardonable Sin, is taught to be vastly different in different Sects/Denominations of Christianity. Delving into the Hebrew and Greek texts make it clear that Yeshua the Messiah, is speaking of a particular Sin and a particular portion of the Law of God. Sin done with blatant disregard towards God, while fully knowing His wishes can and will defame Him. Such acts belittle the Salvation He has freely offered, thus working against the Spirit of Promise/Grace. Thus, “Blaspheming the Spirit” is an act that is spiteful and is done with contempt towards God, our Creator & Redeemer.
If you have been taught about the rapture, you are familiar about the idea of Believers being taken away to Heaven (away from the time of Tribulation) while the wicked are left behind to endure through this period. The doctrine of the Rapture which was introduced in the 18th Century AD, and was popularized first by John Nelson Darby in the 1830s, uses the verse in question Mat 24:37-42 also as a proof text. Let’s see whether the doctrine of Rapture is supported by this verse.
Mat 24:37-42 But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.
Mainline Christianity takes the above verse and teaches us that we will be taken away (raptured) while the wicked would be left behind. But look at the verse a little closer and you will see that Christ speaks of the wicked being “taken away” by the flood. If the 2nd coming mirrors Noah’s time, as per Christ – who is taken away, and who is left behind?
In Noah’s time, the flood took away the wicked while Noah and his family settled the earth as the only humans left behind. Yeshua‘s words even say that the flood “took them all away”. Next He explains that one will be taken and the other left Behind. So is it not the wicked that is taken away according to the analogy Messiah makes in this verse? Is it not the righteous that is left behind, contrary to what we have been taught?
Mat 13:24 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
Reading the above parable, gives you more clues for the same reasoning. The tares (wicked) were gathered first by the Angles and burnt (put to death), and only then were the wheat (Righteous) gathered into His Barn (Kingdom). It is abundantly clear when you read a few verses before Mat 24:37-42 that Messiah Yeshua is speaking of a time after the Tribulation, and that He comes after the time of Tribulation to gather His elect.
Mat 24:29-31 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
If the “Rapture” is an event that saves the believers from the period of Tribulation, the verse in question (Mat 24:37-42) does not make any sense, as Yeshua says the events happen after the Tribulation. Not only that, the verse in question that has led to Movies and Books such as “Left Behind”, is taken completely out of context, as the proper interpretation clearly shows the ones who are taken away to be wicked, while the people who are left behind are the righteous who enter His Kingdom on Earth for a Thousand Years.
Mat 18:20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
Quoted by people in congregations around the world this particular verse is taken to mean that God is present in the midst of two or three people who are engaged in Prayer. But the context of the passage provides a different picture. At the onset I wish to say that I do not disagree that God hears the prayer of two or three people gathered in His name. But we would also agree that He also hears us when we are alone. So what then is the meaning of Yeshua‘s words in Matthew 18:20? Let’s look at the context of the passage.
Mat 18:1-4 At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Our journey starts with a question that the Disciples ask. “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”. To which Messiah says that all must convert (Turn Around – Strepho – G4762) meaning repent and turn back to God as humble little children to be called great in the Kingdom of God.
Mat 18:5-7 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!
Now Christ regards a believer who has turned to God as a “little child” and speaks of not “offending” (cause to stumble / lead to sin – Scandalizo – 4624) them, meaning leading them away from God. Yeshua bemoans such people who make others stumble. So far this passage sounds eerily familiar to what He said in Matthew 5:19 “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Here He explained who would be great in the Kingdom of God. In both places warnings are set towards those who lead His Children away from His word.
Mat 18:8-10 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.
Yeshua’s words continue in the same line of thinking. If a hand or foot meaning a fellow believer makes others stumble it is better to cut those limbs off, as otherwise the whole body could be in danger of missing everlasting life. He further explains that even if it is an eye meaning a person in leadership who is causing the body to stumble, it is better for the eye to be removed rather than the whole congregation being led away from His Kingdom. Yeshua expressly speaks to the disciples not to belittle/disesteem the new believers, calling them “little ones” as they are of great worth to God. This is an instruction from Christ to His Disciples to be vigilant of the body, so that no part or individual becomes a threat to the whole; especially those who could stumble easily. He would reconfirm this thought in verses 15-17.
Mat 18:11-14 For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.
Yeshua brings the parable of the Shepherd to show how much He cares for the lone soul. He is still advising the Disciples how much they should care for even the newest of the believers – the “little ones”.
Mat 18:15-17 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
In the same thought as removing the limb or the eye, Messiah explains of how this task should be carried out. First the issue should be brought to light one on one. If the person refuses the counsel, then two or three witnesses should confirm it to the individual. If the person still refuses to change his/her ways, then it is brought forward to the whole congregation/assembly after which the person is cut off from the assembly if corrective measures are not taken. It is important to note that Paul gives the same advice to the Corinthians in two instances (1Cor 5:1-5, 2Cor 2:5-11).
Mat 18:18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Matthew 18:18 speaks of “Binding” and “Loosing” which were the terms used in First Century Judaism for “Prohibiting” and “Permitting”. The power to prohibit and permit was in the hands of the Pharisees in the first century as per the writings of Josephus:
War of the Jews Book I, Chapter 5, Section 2 …and became themselves[the pharisees] the real administrators of the public affairs: they banished and reduced whom they pleased; they bound and loosed at their pleasure….
There is further proof to say that the belief of God agreeing with earthly rulings were also prevalent in First Century Judaism as seen in the Talmud below:
Talmud Makkot 23b …There are three matters that the earthly court implemented and the heavenly court agreed with them, and these are they: Reading the Scroll of Esther on Purim, and greeting another with the name of God, and bringing the first tithe to the Temple treasury in Jerusalem…
In the case of the passage in question, Yeshua is giving this authority to His Disciples over His Congregation. They could prohibit or permit anything in the assembly according to God’s Word and it would be seen as valid before God. The greatest example for this would be Acts 15. The same teaching is seen again in the second epistle of Clement to James where it mentions that Peter had named Clement of Rome (35 – 100AD) as his successor giving him the power of binding and loosing, as seen below.
Clementine Homilies – Introduction – Epistle of Peter to James, Chapter 2 Wherefore I communicate to him the power of binding and loosing, so that with respect to everything which he shall ordain in the earth, it shall be decreed in the heavens. For he shall bind what ought to be bound, and loose what ought to be loosed, as knowing the role of the Church.
Upto this point we have seen the teaching revolving around the congregation, taking care of the new believers and how to manage believers who disrupt the assembly. Yeshua gives the authority of such decisions to the Disciples here, and moves on to say…
Mat 18:18-20 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
As we come to the verse in question, we see that Yeshua gives authority of communal life to His Disciples and says even if two of them agree on earth regarding such issues, the Lord Himself stands amongst their midst. Such requests/decisions will be agreed upon by the Father in Heaven, as they are made from the standpoint of God’s Word. The same idea can be seen again in Jewish sources:
Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 3:2 But two who are sitting together and there are words of Torah [spoken] between them, the Divine Presence rests with them, as it is said (Malachi 3:16): “Then those who feared the Lord spoke one with another, and the Lord hearkened and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before Him, for those who feared the Lord and for those who thought upon His Name.”
Talmud, B’rakhot 6a From where is it derived that three who sit in judgment, the Divine Presence is with them? It is derived from this same verse, as it is stated: “In the midst of the judges He judges,” and the minimum number of judges that comprises a court is three. From where is it derived that two who sit and engage in Torah study, the Divine Presence is with them? As it is stated: “Then they that feared the Lord spoke one with the other, and the Lord listened, and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before Him, for them that fear the Lord, and that think upon His name” (Malachi 3:16). The Divine Presence listens to any two God-fearing individuals who speak with each other.
It is for the “Binding and Loosing” (Prohibiting or Permitting) powers that Yeshua bestowed upon His Disciples that He says He will be in agreement in their presence for such matters whether two or three are gathered. Prayer or other sorts of fellowship is not part of the context of this passage.
So we see that the phrase “For wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” is speaking regarding judgement and making Godly decisions. In this sort of situation, God stands in agreement with the Disciples. The decision taken by James and agreed upon by the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 is a perfect example of this. There is no doubt that God listens to our prayers whether we are alone or with one or more in fellowship. But according to context, the passage in question is not about prayer but judgements made before God.