Repentance – Part 8 by Ron Shea
So we will not make this post terribly long, we will finish up all the incidents of repentance in the book of Matthew in Part 8, Part 9 will start with Mark. Please see Part 7 if you have not read, or go back to Part 1 and start from there if you have not been following along.
VERSE: Matthew 12:41
41 The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.
Subject Repenting, not repenting, etc.: The men of Nineveh
Object of that repentance: None stated by Matthew
Consequence: None stated by Matthew. The passage, however, is presumptively soteriological.
The Object and Consequence of the Ninevites repentance in Matthew: Although both the object of the Ninevites’ repentance, and the consequence of their repentance, are both discussed in the Book of Jonah, neither the object of the Ninevites’ repentance, nor the consequence of their repentance, are recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. The reason for Matthew’s silence (and Jesus apparent silence) on these facts is simple: they were not relevant to the point Jesus was making.
The essential feature of Jesus’ comparison of his generation to Nineveh was that, upon hearing a prophet of God, the men of Nineveh repented and believed the message of God’s messenger. In Jonah 3:5 we read: “So the people of Nineveh believed God.” Jesus is not focusing on the object of the Ninevites’ repentance, but on the fact that they repented at the preaching of a simple prophet. Yet when God himself came down to earth in the flesh, and did far greater works than Jonah, His own generation rejected him. Jesus is making an argumentum a fortiori (if the lesser is true, how much more is the greater true). Many regard the Ninevites as wicked, but they responded to the preaching of a simple prophet. Yet when Emmanuel, God in the flesh came to proclaim the good news, His own generation rejected Him, and rejected His message.
Within the Book of Jonah, we learn that the men of Nineveh were called to repent of their evil and violence. (Jonah, 3:9-10; 4:3, 8-10). They were known to skin their enemies alive in battle. As noted, the concept of “repenting of one’s sins” is not unbiblical. It is simply never stated as a requirement for receiving eternal life. The consequence of their repentance was that Nineveh was spared God’s temporal judgment on their city when they received the message of the prophet, Jonah, and did as he instructed. Sin is often the grounds for temporal judgment, both on nations (such as Nineveh, Sodom, Gomorah, etc.) and on people (e.g. Ananias and Saphira, Acts. _____) However, the fact that the men of Nineveh were called to repent of their wickedness by Jonah does not that mean that Jesus is calling for men to repent of their sins as a condition for salvation.
NOTE: For those who are determined to interpret Jonah’s call for Nineveh to repent from their “wickedness” and “violence” as a requirement that Christians are to “repent of their sins to be saved,” in spite of the absence of any such words in Matthew 12:41, the reader should note Matthew 12:43-45 immediately following the discussion of Nineveh’s repentance! They speak of the utter pointlessness of “turning from one’s sins.”
43 When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.
44 Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished.
45 Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.
This context hardly suggests that turning from sin is the means to eternal redemption.
VERSE: Matthew 21:29
28 But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard.
29 He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.
30 And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not.
31 Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.
32 For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.
Subject Repenting, not repenting, etc.: In the parable, the hypothetical son repents (changes his mind) and decides to work in the vineyard. The counterpoint of the parable is the publicans (tax collectors) and harlots believed on Jesus, but the chief priests and elders (verse 23) repented not afterward (verse 32).
Object of that repentance: The word “repent” is presented in apposition to “believe.” That is, they have identical meanings in this context. The object of repentance is Jesus Christ. John the Baptist taught the way of righteousness, and that way is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. (John 1:29). The publicans and harlotsbelieved John, verse 32. The term “belief” is equivalent to repentance in verse 32. They heard John testify of Christ, and believed him. The Son who professed obedience, but would not honor the will of his father is like the chief priests and elders (verse 23.) They professed religion and devotion to the Jewish Scriptures, but when Messiah, about whom all the Scriptures testified, they “repented not afterward, that [they] might believe.”
In the above passage, repentance of the son (vs. 29) is presented in apposition to the publicans and harlots believing John’s testimony of Jesus Christ. And the chief priests and elders lack of repentance is equivalent to their refusal to believe John’s testimony of Jesus Christ.
Consequence of lack of repentance: The publicans and the harlots will go into the kingdom of God before you. Repentance here is transparently related to eternal salvation. In the Greek text, the concept of “inheriting” the kingdom (“kleronomeo”) is related to the privilege of ruling and reigning with Christ, and is a reward for holy living and faithfulness to Christ. However, entrance into the kingdom of God is not a reward for righteous living. It is a gift to the guilty who believe on Jesus Christ for their salvation. There is, perhaps, no passage of Scripture that more plainly states that saving repentance is simply to believe on Jesus Christ.
VERSE: Matthew 27:3
3 Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,
4 Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that.
5 And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.
Subject Repenting: Judas
Object of that repentance: The condemnation of Jesus. Judas had apparently turned Jesus over to the Roman officials in hopes of making some money, but did not expect that they would kill Jesus. When he saw how far out of control the situation had gotten, he regretted what he had done. “When he [Judas] saw that He [Jesus] was condemned, repented himself.”
Consequence of lack of repentance: He threw the thirty pieces of silver on the floor of the temple, and went out and hanged himself.
Note: The word used for repent, herein, is “metamelomai,” which means, “to regret” or “to care afterward.” Judas was deeply grieved over his sin! “I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent blood.” And he had killed a friend. He grief was so profound that he went out and killed himself.” But believing that Jesus is a good man, and an innocent man, is not saving faith. And this repentance did not save Judas. It was not because the result of his betrayal was the crucifixion of Jesus. He clearly never intended or expected that his actions would be to send Jesus to the cross. He was condemned because his act of betrayal showed that he never believed in Jesus. Jesus was a good man to Judas. But He was not the Son of God to Judas. His refusal to believe was particularly dastardly because, as one of the twelve, he had been with Jesus for the three years that Jesus had showed Himself by many mighty works to be the Son of God. Jesus taught that those cities which witnessed his mighty works and refused to believe were subject to the greater condemnation. In view of this, Judas, who lived with Jesus for three years, but still would not believe, has secured for him a terrible condemnation.
This passage in Matthew should highlight the absurdity of teaching that remorse or otherwise “repenting of one’s sins” is somehow connected to eternal salvation. It clearly did nothing for the salvation of Judas. Jesus said, ” The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born.” Matthew 26:24. One need not be a Ph.D. in Greek to realize that, whatever that means, it isn’t good.
Part 9 to come.
About The Author
Ron Shea attended Villanova University on a four year scholarship from the United States Navy. After earning a Bachelor of Electrical engineering, he served four years as a naval officer. He then attended Dallas Theological Seminary where he majored in New Testament Literature and Exegesis, translating the entire New Testament from the original Greek language. He graduated with honors from the four-year Master of Theology program. He went on to earn a Doctor of Jurisprudence from the University of California, Hastings College of Law, where he earned awards in Admiralty, Jurisprudence, and Oral Argument. He has pastored churches in New Orleans and San Francisco, and is the founder and president of Clear Gospel Crusade.
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