Why does Jesus say so many hard things?

I was asked by the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity (LICC) to write a short series of five reflections on the ‘Hard sayings of Jesus’ for their weekly email Word for the Week which is sent out on Monday mornings. It has proved to be an interesting experience which I am still reflecting on.

When planning for this, I asked on Facebook what people thought were some of the hard sayings of Jesus. I was rather overwhelmed by the avalanche of responses; it appears that we have no hesitation in thinking of and listing all the difficult things Jesus taught! That is striking, given that I don’t think this is a very prominent theme in most of our churches (‘Come to Jesus and be baffled!’).

From the various suggestions that people offered, it seemed to me that the hard sayings of Jesus fall into four or perhaps five groups. The first are hard to understand because we are at a distance from the world in which Jesus was living and teaching, and sometimes the history of interpretation leads us astray as well. The second, smaller, group consists of sayings of Jesus that are, in themselves, genuinely obscure. There are also sayings which trigger things from our context, which makes it hard for us to actually attend to what Jesus is saying and why—we have to fight through a good deal of emotional and cultural noise to get to it. Then come the sayings that are relatively easy to understand, but they are awkward and unexpected, and we just wish Jesus hadn’t said them. Lastly are the things which are easy to understand, but just very difficult to live out.

In noting this, I am conscious that some of the issues here belong firmly in our world, in the world of us as interpreters at a considerable cultural, linguistic and chronological distance from the teaching of Jesus as we have it in the gospels. But there are important issues which originate in the record of what Jesus said, and this presents us with the uncomfortable truth that Jesus was not always an easy person to be around. This has a whole range of implications.

It challenges us to rethink our understanding of the incarnation, the theological understanding of God becoming human in the person of Jesus. Especially at Christmas time (as I write it is only 15 weeks till Christmas!), the incarnation is often trumpeted as signalling that Jesus is ‘just like us’, sharing for a time our joys and woes, our experiences, even our finitude. But this is surely only part of the meaning of the incarnation—not least because this is now commonly extended to suggested that Jesus was like us in being ignorant, rude and prejudiced. The incarnation is not about Jesus being a human, but about the divine taking human form—in other words, that which is not like us has become like us. Unless we recognised that Jesus is different and strange as well as being familiar, I think we might have missed the point.

The presence of hard sayings of Jesus within the gospels also tells us something about the gospel writers. It appears that they were quite aware that some of Jesus’ sayings were difficult, challenging, awkward, and even obscure or embarrassing—yet they faithfully recorded them anyway. Despite their, at times, different theological agendas, reflected in the different emphases in each of the four gospels, these agendas appear to centre on and do not eliminate a central core of testimony of the things that Jesus actually said and did.

And this appears to have shaped the way that the early Jesus followers shared their testimony of what God had done in Jesus and what their hearers needed to do in response. There is no doubt that this new religious movement appealed to many people and offered answers to questions they were asking—and yet the early kerygma or message was much more shaped by the sometimes difficult and awkward teaching of Jesus than it was shaped by ‘meeting people’s needs’.

I wonder what this means for some of the ways we share faith, individually and in our church communities? I am always struck by the recruitment advertisements for the armed forces, which make it all look tough and unpleasant—because you can be a better person than you are today if you undertake these trials and this tough training. The early proclamation appears to have had something in common with these.

And that also raises the challenge of how we engage with and teach from this aspect of Jesus’ teaching—which is, of course, an argument for teaching systematically through the gospels, perhaps even from the lectionary! I have found it deeply enriching to have been writing on the lectionary readings for the last year-and-a-half—though also frustrating where the lectionary atomised, dissects and omits important passages. And the difficulties in Jesus’ teaching is also an argument for using a more word-for-word, rather than dynamic equivalence or paraphrase version of the Bible. These latter two have to make more interpretive decisions, and so can unwittingly resolve the paradoxes and challenges in the text, as my example from Eugene Peterson below illustrates.

But I might have missed something, and I would love to hear in the comments your reflections on why there are so many hard sayings of Jesus in the gospels, and what that means for us as his followers. Here are the reflections on the different sayings that I wrote for LICC.

Hard saying no. 1: This generation will not pass away until all these things have happened (Matthew 24:29–31, 34)

I recently asked a group of friends ‘Which do you think are the hardest sayings of Jesus?’ I was expecting one or two thoughtful suggestions – but what followed was a long list, with some animated discussion, of all the difficult things Jesus said. That in itself is something worth pondering; whilst both the teachings of Jesus – and the whole of the Bible – include many things that are easy to understand, which warm our hearts and lift our souls, alongside these are many other things that are very challenging!

But some of Jesus’ sayings are hard to understand simply because we are at a distance from the world in which Jesus was living and teaching, and sometimes the history of interpretation leads us astray as well.

In the middle of his ‘end times’ teaching in Matthew 24–25, Jesus makes this claim:

‘Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened’ (Matthew 24:34).

This isn’t just a difficult saying; C.S. Lewis called it ‘the most embarrassing verse in the Bible’. It completely undermines the use made – every day during the pandemic it seems! – by ‘end times prophets’ telling us we are ‘in the last days’. And it has led generations of scholars over the last 200 years to believe that Jesus was a deluded apocalyptic prophet whose predictions failed to come true, so that he died a failure.

But we usually fail to notice what Jesus is actually speaking of here. The ‘tribulation’ he refers to in Matthew 24:9, 21 and 29 happened with the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in AD 70. The ‘powers of heaven’ that are shaken (verse 29) refers to the radical shift brought about by the exile of the Jewish people and the preaching of the gospel (Peter says exactly the same about Pentecost in Acts 2:20). And ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ indicates Jesus coming to the throne of God from the earth, not the other way around, as we can see from its source in Daniel 7:13. This section is all about Jesus’ exaltation and the gospel being preached – not Jesus’ return!

And this gives us great comfort. First, we realise that whatever ‘tribulations’ we are facing, we are not the first and we are not alone. Christians before us have faced all this, and often much worse. But, secondly, whatever else is happening, Jesus is on the throne with God. He is the rightful king we can trust with our lives, and one day he will return and all will come under his just and holy reign.

Hard saying no. 2: Where There is a Body, There the Vultures Will Gather (Luke 17:30–37)

If some of Jesus’ sayings are hard to understand because of our distance from them, in other cases it’s because they seem to be genuinely obscure.

In this instance, Jesus is talking about the end of this age, when he returns and will be revealed to all as the rightful king. He has just drawn a parallel with the days of Noah and of Lot, when people were taken away in judgement, and says the division will be the same when he returns. (Incidentally, this means that those who are ‘taken’ are the ones who suffer judgement, not the saved – so, contrary to much popular teaching, we should all want to be left behind!)

The disciples’ question doesn’t appear to make much sense, given what Jesus has said, and Jesus’ obscure reply makes even less.

Is the ‘body’ someone who is still living, like Jesus on the cross, as the word used in Luke suggests? Or is it a ‘carcass’, as in Matthew 24:28? Are the birds vultures or eagles, as the Greek word can refer to both? If vultures, does this mean something like a crowd gathering around a schoolyard fight? As Eugene Peterson paraphrases it:

Whenever you see crowds gathering, think of carrion vultures circling, moving in, hovering over a rotting carcass. You can be quite sure that it’s not the living Son of Man pulling in those crowds.

Or are the birds eagles, representing the followers of Jesus gathering around his crucified and risen body, and finding salvation? Or perhaps the eagles are the standards of the Roman army gathered around the corpse of Jerusalem? New Testament scholar R.T. France decides that ‘the saying remains an enigma’ with good reason!

But that in itself offers an important learning point. It’s clear from the gospels that both the disciples and the crowds often find Jesus puzzling, but this is to be expected: he is our Master, not someone to be mastered.

We will not understand everything about Jesus this side of eternity. The apostle Paul only knew ‘in part’ and looked forward to the day when he would ‘know fully’, even as he is ‘fully known’ (1 Corinthians 13:12). And this calls for patience. The gospel writers themselves held on to the teaching of Jesus, and passed it on to others, even when they found it puzzling. We need to follow their example.

Hard saying no. 3: It is not Right to Give the Children’s Bread to Dogs (Matt 15:21–28)

Jesus was a racist, nationalist bigot. A woman comes to him in need, and he refuses to help because he thinks his race is superior to hers. He adds insult to injury by calling her a ‘dog’, a serious slur in his day. If he was trying to test her, he is doing so at the moment of her greatest need – how cruel and callous can you get? In the end, he has to learn from her that there is a better way. If even Jesus was a racist, then you can see how deep-seated this problem is.

At least that is the way that some people read this passage!

Some of Jesus’ sayings are difficult because we are so removed from their context; some are difficult because they are genuinely obscure. But others become difficult if we are so absorbed with our own issues and agendas that, when something in what Jesus says seems difficult and triggers a reaction, we too quickly leap to a conclusion that tramples all over what Jesus really means.

Although his first response, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel’, seems harsh, it is consistent with the rest of Matthew’s very Jewish gospel. But this could hardly be Jesus’ last word; this encounter matches closely the story of the centurion’s servant, during which Jesus talks of a multi-ethnic and multiracial kingdom comprised of those ‘from the east and the west’ (Matthew 8:11). We have already met foreigners in Jesus’ genealogy, Magi from the east at his birth, and people from this very region being healed in Matthew 4:24. Perhaps Jesus has forgotten to read the earlier chapters of this gospel – or perhaps his critics have!

In contrast to his disciples, Jesus engages in dialogue with this woman. He treats her as a worthy debating partner, just as God did with Abraham in Genesis 18. When he challenges her, she responds, and he loves her response. He grants her request, commends her ‘great faith’ (a contrast to the ‘little faith’ of the disciples) and thus allows Matthew to make her, a foreign woman, the hero of the story.

If there is prejudice here, then it’s in the kind of biased reading I opened with. Rather than imposing our own agenda, will we allow Jesus, through these difficult sayings, to provoke us to think more, trust more, and become people of ‘great faith’?

Hard saying no. 4: They be thrown into outer darkness, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth… (Matthew 8:5–13)

Yesterday my laptop got a bit uppity. The battery was running down, so I needed to move it and plug it into a source of power. ‘Leave me alone!’ it cried out. ‘I’m doing fine as I am!’ ‘But’, I tried to explain, ‘I need to plug you in. If I don’t, then you will die.’ ‘That’s rather exclusive of you! Why can’t you accept me as I am? I am very happy thank you! And there are many ways for laptops to work – you should broaden your outlook!’ Not long afterwards, the screen went blank.

Some of Jesus’ sayings are hard for us because we are at distance from them, or we have our own agendas, or because they are genuinely obscure. But others are difficult because we just wish Jesus hadn’t said them. They are hard truths, and life would be a lot easier if we could avoid them. Jesus’ sayings about judgement, expressed most sharply in the language about ‘outer darkness’ and ‘wailing and gnashing of teeth’, fall into this category.

‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’, is not the Jesus of the gospels; he talks more about judgement than anyone in the Bible. When he asks the disciples who people say that he is, they reply ‘Some say…Jeremiah…’ (Matthew 16:14) probably because Jeremiah speaks most about judgment in the OT, and Jesus often echoes his words. The Jesus of the gospels cannot simplistically be contrasted with the ‘nasty, judging’ God of the Old Testament because there is so much continuity. And the basic reason is that salvation and judgement are two sides of the same coin.

If not knowing Jesus doesn’t ultimately matter, then knowing him doesn’t ultimately matter either. But if Jesus really does offer the wonderful gift of life that only he can provide, then turning it down is going to have serious consequences. If we refuse the one true source of light, then we will sit in darkness. Life is not something we own, but a gift we receive, so if we refuse to drink from the river of the water of life (Revelation 22:17), then we will die.

Those who love us most are the ones who are willing to speak to us the hard truths we need to hear. When the right moment presents itself, we also might need to speak hard truths to those we love – but in the meantime we rejoice in the free gift of life and share it with others when we can.

Hard saying no. 5: Be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5.38–48)

Every now and then, in the middle of some relaxing TV programme, I am interrupted by a grunting young man, covered in mud and getting shouted at, in what is clearly a pretty unpleasant ordeal. And the idea is that I might want to endure the same thing. It doesn’t make much sense, but since the Army must have paid an advertising agency lots of money to make this short film, I presume it works.

The last kind of ‘hard saying’ of Jesus is probably the most common type in the New Testament: easy to understand, but well-nigh impossible to live out.

There are various theories about Jesus’ impossible ethics. Perhaps he’s showing us how difficult it really is to live a holy life, and thus make us more aware of our sin. Yet whilst Jesus calls for repentance elsewhere, he doesn’t here.

Or perhaps he’s urging us to just try harder, or rely more on the Holy Spirit – and yet neither of these ideas are hinted at in these verses. This looks like very much like practical teaching for Jesus’ disciples.

There is no doubting how demanding these standards are. ‘An eye for an eye’ originally aimed to limit vengeance by keeping it in proportion – yet Jesus says we are not to seek retribution of any kind from those who wrong us. The person forcing you to go a mile is a soldier of the occupying force, who has brought violence and oppression to your land – yet Jesus would have us offer them a helping hand. Jesus asks us to bless others without distinction, just as God makes the sun shine on all, even those who have done us harm.

But I wonder what would happen if Jesus offered us a compromise – an attainable standard of life – and we all pretended that that was enough? The Army recruitment advert carries a message: you know you are not living life to the full, and if you accept our rigorous demands, you might become better than you ever thought possible. Jesus appears to say the same.

Cardinal Newman once said: ‘To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.’ In his impossible invitation, Jesus says to us: you can change and live a better life each day. And one day, by his grace, all those changes will complete their work.

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34 thoughts on “Why does Jesus say so many hard things?”

  1. Just a general query- does the contemporary list that you’ve gleened from friends, Facebook, of diffult sayings, differ much from those in FF Bruce’s book, The Hard Sayings of Jesus?
    If so, it may reveal the change in contemporary Christianity and what weighs most heavily on minds.

  2. Very good!

    See, although I’m not a dispensationalist, I do think the “one taken, one left” thing is the way round that dispensationalists often take it to be, in other words that those “taken” are the righteous and those “left” are the wicked. The parables which Jesus tells bear this out.

    Noah and the flood: Noah and his family are taken into the ark, the rest are left behind to endure the flood (Luke 17:26-27, Matthew 24:38-39).
    Lot and the city of Sodom: Lot and his family is taken out of the city and the wicked are left behind to be destroyed (Luke 17:28-29, 32)

    The idea that “taken” refers to the flood of judgement taking the wicked away doesn’t really work because a flood of judgement is indiscriminate – it destroys everyone. So in my view, those “taken” must be those taken into protection from the judgement-event, like Noah and his household into the ark, like Lot and his family out of the city.

    And similarly, we know that when Jesus is revealed, we will be gathered to him in the sky, to escort him down to earth. This is represented in the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), who were to wait patiently to go out and meet the bridegroom upon his arrival in order to escort him into the wedding chamber, where they were. Note that the five unfaithful virgins were left outside and the door was shut! They were “left” outside and the five faithful ones were “taken” inside.

    Given all of this, I suspect the carcass/birds language is a way of referring to the righteous being gathered to Christ upon his return. The gruesome imagery is intended to reassure the disciples; if vultures/eagles know how to find their prey, they too will know where Christ is and be drawn to him when he appears. It’s in keeping with similar gruesome imagery that Jesus uses elsewhere (John 6:52-56).

    • The idea that “taken” refers to the flood of judgement taking the wicked away doesn’t really work because a flood of judgement is indiscriminate – it destroys everyone. So in my view, those “taken” must be those taken into protection from the judgement-event, like Noah and his household into the ark, like Lot and his family out of the city.

      Really? In English I think it’s perfectly idiomatic to say that someone killed by a natural disaster was ‘taken’. ‘He’s alone now, his whole family were taken by the bushfire’ is a perfectly natural English sentence.

      Note that the five unfaithful virgins were left outside and the door was shut! They were “left” outside and the five faithful ones were “taken” inside.

      That, on the other hand, is a bit of an unnatural stretch. They were let inside: ‘taken’ would imply that they didn’t go inside under their own steam, which of course they did.

      And then there’s Liam Neeson.

      But really I don’t think that it’s that important which way around they are: what’s important is that the two groups are separated, and permanently so.

    • Hi Chris

      The only problem with your observation is that that is not how the text of Matt 24.36ff actually flows.

      You have: ‘Noah and the flood: Noah and his family are taken into the ark, the rest are left behind to endure the flood’ using the language of ‘taken’ referring to those who are say. But Jesus says ‘[the wicked] knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away.’

      The righteous are not ‘taken’ anywhere; they are ‘kept’.

  3. “Why does Jesus say so many hard things?”

    The reason for some of the hard things is that he is terrible in his honesty. Let us pray that the Church will start to be equally terrible in her honesty

    Phil Almond

  4. Can we start with the easiest first and work down the list.
    I’ll start with the easiest…
    I go to prepare a place for you. ..if it were not so I would have told you.

      • Doh! my favorite verse too 🙂 What therefore does it mean?
        BTW. It has taken me a while but at last I get what you mean about ‘coming’ to the Father.

        • Oh good!

          I previously wrote:

          The language of Jesus ‘going’, ‘coming back’ and ‘preparing a room’ has commonly been read as referring to eschatological or post-mortem reality. When we die, there will be a place prepared for us to go to in God’s presence—and this is the most common interpretation for most ordinary readers. But there are a number of reasons why that cannot be the case.

          First, Jesus is speaking to the disciples in the first instance, and only to us in derivation from that. The language of ‘going’ is a common metaphor for death; Jesus is saying that he will return to the disciples after having died, which we now must take as a reference to his returning to them after the resurrection.

          Secondly, Jesus is going to ‘prepare a place’ for them, and there are ‘many rooms in my Father’s house’ (not ‘much room’ is in the TNIV). The word for ‘room’ is mone and it is a comparatively rare word in Greek, occurring only in John 14.2 and 23. It has the meaning of ‘lodging place’ and is the root behind our word ‘monastery’. Fr that reason, some have suggested that it points to an interim ‘resting place’ with God after death but prior to the final resurrection of the dead.

          But note: in John 14.23 it is not the disciples who find their mone in the Father, but the Father and Son who make their mone in the believer! Jesus has previously referred to ‘my Father’s house’ as the Temple in John 2.16—but he immediately goes on to redefine the temple as his own body. And although mone is a rare term, it is cognate with the verb meno, meaning to lodge, stay or abide—and it has huge significance in this gospel as it characteristic moves from having a literal sense to a metaphorical and theological sense. The first disciples ask Jesus ‘Where are you staying?’ apparently being curious only about Jesus home (John 1.38). But by the time we reach chapter 15, Jesus is exhorting the disciples to ‘Stay, abide, remain in me, and I in you’ (John 15.4), using the same verb.

          If we are to abide (meno) in him, and he in us, then the only way to make sense of our lodging place (mone) in him and his lodging place (mone) in us is to understand this in the same way with reference to the same thing. As Stibbe comments:

          The realized eschatology in the rest of John 14 suggests that this house is not so much an eternal home in heaven as a post-resurrection, empirical reality for true disciples… To these true ones [the obedient disciples], Jesus promises both a home and a father. No wonder Jesus declares, ‘I will not leave you as orphans’ (John 14.28) (p 160).


          • Superb, thank you, Ian.
            The first time I heard something along those lines, but not so clearly explained , nor with so much enhancing detail was from a New Frontiers pastor, whose MA from Durham was on the Gospel of John.
            Deep joy.

          • Im not convinced (Im sure you just fell off your seat, not).

            At the start of Chapter 13, John summarises what is going to happen – Jesus is soon to leave this world and go to the Father. It seems to me that is a short description of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God the Father. It is in that context of John’s understanding that he records Jesus’ words to his disciples.

            In this context, I therefore think Jesus ‘is’ referring to the disciples’ ultimate place in heaven, God’s dwelling place, with Jesus (‘Father, who art in heaven…). Whilst in different senses God lives both in heaven and in Jesus’ followers, I think the ‘place’ Jesus is alluding to is the former rather than the latter.

            He says they cannot now follow him, presumably referring to his specific suffering and death and glorification because of his unique person, but later they will follow him. That makes sense – all or most of those disciples would have suffered and been killed because of their faith, but Jesus is assuring them that he will only temporarily leave them – he will return and take them to the place where he is – at his Father’s side. The language of ‘I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am’ doesnt really make sense if Jesus is simply coming to make a ‘home’ in the disciples – he isnt taking them anywhere, he is coming to them and staying!

            So I think going away to make a place for them in his Father’s home is referring to where he was going, to heaven to be with his Father again.


          • But all through John’s gospel, the ‘home’ for the disciples where they will ‘abide’ is not some distant, future or remote place, but in him.

  5. Ian, your understanding that all of Matthew 24 incl Jesus ‘coming on the clouds’ refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 just doesn’t make sense. That cannot refer to his ‘day’.


    • Well, it is a good job that I do not claim that then.

      Jesus ‘coming on the clouds’ refers to his ascension, since the phrase comes from Dan 7.13 and that it what the Daniel text describes—a ‘coming’ to the throne of God.

      If my reading is wrong, how do you explain ‘This generation will not pass away…’? ‘Generation’ refers to those living at the time; it cannot be understood in any other way.

      • Sorry I meant to say you seem to believe all of Matthew 24, and the corresponding passages in Mark and Luke, was completed by Ad 70. Or is that a misunderstanding?

        As for ‘generation’ the fact that other commentators have suggested a number of ways to understand it means it can be understood in other ways.

        I do think much of the passage does refer to the decades leading up to the destruction of the temple, possibly up to v 26. But after that Im not convinced. I would tend to agree that the references to ‘all the peoples of the earth’ etc more likely refers to the Jews but I see no evidence that even if it is limited to them that they as a people ‘saw the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory’. They didnt. Why would they, they rejected him as their Messiah? They certainly didnt ‘mourn’ him either. Jesus emphasized his ‘coming’ would be very, very obvious – just as you see lightning light up the whole sky, not just a small part of it, ie everyone sees it. But Im pretty sure that obvious event, at least obvious to the Jews as a people, has not happened. Even if we understand the ‘sign of the Son of Man’ as some reality in the heavenly realms rather than an obvious visible sign (but thats up for debate) the rest of the passage doesnt make sense. The reference to the coming of the Son of Man is repeated at v 37, 39, 42, 44 and in the parable at v 50. Whilst there may be a break between v35 and 36 depending on how you translate it, to me the natural reading is that there is no such break, particularly as the emphasis of the coming of the Son of Man is repeated as above, linking back to the previous verses.

        The question is, what would Jesus’ disciples have understood him to be talking about. I would suggest it is his coming in judgment, unmistakable either to all the Jews (because they finally realise Jesus is their Messiah) or to the whole world. But neither of those have happened.


        • ‘you seem to believe all of Matthew 24’ I don’t say that anywhere. Have you read the more detailed post on ‘The meaning of Matthew 24’? Chapter divisions are 13th century additions by Stephen Langton, so they might or might not mean anything.

          It is up to Matt 24.35 that Jesus is talking about proximate events. There is a clear change in focus in Matt 24.36 ‘But about *that* day or hour…’

          I agree that the language of ‘lightning in the sky’ is a reference to the Parousia, as Jesus clearly says in Matt 24.27…and he makes it clear that that is now what is going in immediately, which is why his disciples should ignore people who claim that this is the Parousia.

          I don’t think it is possible to make sense of the chapter by referring to the language of ‘coming’ in English translations, since they use the same term for two completely different expressions in Greek, which is unfortunate.

  6. “‘Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.”
    ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭24:30‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬
    Hello Ian, as I understand it, what you’re saying about this passage is that it’s looking at the ascension of Jesus in Acts 1 from heaven’s side, ie Jesus is approaching those who can see him from there. If that’s the case (and please correct me if I’ve misunderstood), how would “all the peoples of the earth” be aware of it, and why would they (at this time) mourn?

    • Hi Andy, three or four things to note.

      First, this language is actually a quotation from Zech 12.10, where it is pretty clear that it is the tribes of Israel (‘those who had pierced him’) are in view. Second, the Greek term here is φυλαὶ meaning ‘tribes’ and not ethoi meaning peoples. (The terms are brought together in Rev 5.9 and elsewhere). Third, the Greek term ge, like the Hebrew eretz, can mean either land (ie territory) or earth, but the use of ‘tribes’ and the citation being from Zech 12.10 make it clear—I don’t think ‘peoples of earth’ is a justifiable translation, and in fact it has been determined by the translators having already decided, against the text, that this refers to the parousia—even though that term occurs nowhere in these verses.

      I think I’d also add that I am not ‘looking from heaven’s perspective’ in interpreting ‘coming’ as coming to the throne. The Greek verb erchomai can mean and be translated as either ‘coming’ or ‘going’, and in fact we use it in this sense colloquially in English. ‘When you come to the traffic lights, turn left’. We are not imagining we are standing at the traffic lights seeing our friend’s car approaching; it just means ‘as you reach…’

      Why do they mourn? Either because they bitterly regret their action and resent the work of God, or because they repent and come to faith. We see just these people ‘cut to the heart’ at Peter’s speech at Pentecost, thus fulfilling this verse.

      If you still don’t agree with this reading, then you are left with the obstinate problem of ‘this generation will not die until…’

  7. “Geoff
    August 24, 2020 at 8:59 am
    Just a general query- does the contemporary list that you’ve gleened from friends, Facebook, of difficult sayings, differ much from those in FF Bruce’s book, The Hard Sayings of Jesus?
    If so, it may reveal the change in contemporary Christianity and what weighs most heavily on minds.”


    “Hard saying no. 4: They be thrown into outer darkness, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth… (Matthew 8:5–13)”

    Surely, surely, this saying and others like it are infinitely more weighty than all the others mentioned in this thread.

    Somewhere Warfield has an observation along these lines: if we are not certain whether there is a fire we don’t want to shout Fire! Fire! In case we start a panic. But if we are certain that the building is ablaze and the occupants are in mortal danger we have no such inhibitions.

    “If not knowing Jesus doesn’t ultimately matter, then knowing him doesn’t ultimately matter either.”


    If those whose names are not written in the book of life are finally annihilated than not knowing Jesus DOESN’T ultimately matter.

    Phil Almond

    • “If those whose names are not written in the book of life are finally annihilated then not knowing Jesus DOESN’T ultimately matter.”
      I agree with you. Jesus saves– therefore we have something to be saved from and therefore something to shout about.
      I wonder if the verse in Revelation about the wicked wishing to find death but it eluding them is the same thing as an eternity without God, without death; death having been abolished.

      • No. It clearly refers to the still living not the dead who have been judged. There is also no indication in the text that the wailing and gnashing of teeth lasts forever. They have been excluded from the presence of God hence the reaction to their now known fate – destruction.

        • Peter

          Do you regularly proclaim, alongside the wonderful invitations and promises, the terrible warnings in the language that the Bible (and the Book of Common Prayer – the Commination) uses: ‘dreadful judgment’, ‘cast into the fire’, ‘fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’, ‘fire and brimstone’, ‘burn the chaff with unquenchable fire’, ‘wrath of God in the day of vengeance’, ‘they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me’, ‘Go ye cursed, into the everlasting fire…’, ‘utter darkness where is weeping and gnashing of teeth’.

          That leaves it to the conscience of the hearers and the prayed for conviction of the Holy Spirit– without adding your interpretation ruling out eternal retribution?

          Phil Almond

    • Thanks Phil,
      I have FF Bruce’s book stored in the back room, but it’s not easy to get to.

      Maybe there are icicles of indifference that present as hearts of love in a word without warning. Love warns and prevents, provides refuge, dwelling in a place of incomparable eternal safety. God saves us from God, as put by John Piper. And I’d add saves us for God

  8. If that comment is addressed to me, where have I said or implied that, Peter?
    There is a lengthy chapter on death, fear of death, lack of fear and present day attitudes and philosophies to death in Keller’s book, Making Sense of God.
    Death can be seen as a good thing and part of a cycle of ecology?

    Human pride and fear of none existence, may play a part with some.
    But for people who don’t want God, who expect their bodies to push up daisies, for who there always remains some “fear worse than death” whatever that may be, it would be of little or no consequence to be shut out of the presence of God and may be a relief and release.
    But we’ve been here before, with this topic haven’t we?

    • “I don’t understand how you view death as not mattering.”

      – Geoff, if this is what you are referring to, then no I twas directed at Phil not you. I too find it hard to follow some of these discussions, who is saying what to whom!

      But as to your (misdirected) comment to me, Im not sure people who are excluded from God’s presence will feel a sense of relief because they will no doubt realise, for the first time in their life, what they have just lost – eternal life with all the implications of that, but instead suffer judgement and destruction out of existence. If anything there will likely be a sense of severe loss, hence the weeping, and anger at God and themselves at their impending doom, hence the gnashing of teeth. I think that is awful in itself.

      In many ways I wish I could accept universalism but I cant as I dont accept that is what Scripture teaches (yes there are 1 or 2 verses that may imply that if taken alone, but in general you shouldnt take any verses alone if you want to understand). But I am 95% sure that Scripture does not teach everlasting conscious suffering for the ‘unsaved’ but rather judgement and ultimately final destruction of the individual. There will be, I think, a period of conscious suffering following the judgement as Ive said above, but that period is limited and ends in final death.


  9. John 8: 43-44
    …You belong to your father the devil…
    Is this a hard saying of Jesus? It is not tame nor friendly, not comforting.

    • It’s the exact opposite of tame, friendly or comforting. It is a word of pure condemnation. I cant really think of something worse to say to another.


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