39 – Hundredfold Growth

Chapter from "Priorities and Dominion" by Gary North.

Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? 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. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first (Matt. 19:27-30).

The theocentric focus of this passage is the name of Jesus: "for my name's sake." For His name's sake, it is worth sacrificing everything we own. By this sacrifice, His followers will gain a huge return.

Status: Thrones of Judgment

Peter's question was in response to Jesus' warning about how few rich men will enter the kingdom of heaven. Peter reminded Him that he and the other disciples had forsaken all, which included their families. They were not rich. Bluntly, he asked: "What's in it for us?" He was looking for assurance of a positive sanction. Christ promised two.

First, they would exercise authority. They would sit at twelve thrones alongside of Christ. They would judge the twelve tribes of Israel (v. 28). In Luke, we are given another account of this same promise. It relates to the meaning of the Lord's Supper. "Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Luke 22:28-30). What did this mean? Why was this related to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper? The link was sanctions. The Lord's Supper is a sacrament of judgment: self-judgment, church judgment, and God's judgment.1

Second, they would gain the kingdom. The Jews would lose it, He told them. "Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Matt. 21:43). Old Covenant Israel was coming to the end of the road. The church was about to inherit the kingdom-related promises of God. One aspect of this kingdom is the rendering of judgment. Jesus had already told them: "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" (Matt. 18:18). The apostles, by bringing the gospel of the kingdom to Israel, were bringing a covenant lawsuit against Israel. Like the prophets before them, they would suffer persecution by the Jews because of this covenant lawsuit. "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you" (Matt. 5:11-12).

These were negative sanctions. This was not what Peter wanted to hear. What about the positive sanctions? Jesus told them that they would be agents of judgment against Israel. They would bring judgment against the Jews who were bringing judgment against them. How would they do this? He did not say. He did not promise them that they would do this in heaven. This may have been His frame of reference, but then they would all have to die before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, when judgment arrived. Jesus may have had in mind their preaching of the kingdom. This would be a means of bringing judgment. What He did say is that they would participate with Him in the rendering of judgment against the twelve tribes. The dozen apostles (minus Judas, plus Matthias) would replace the dozen tribes of Israel.2 They would serve judicially as representative agents of the New Israel of God, the church.3

This was a major blessing. They would become the patriarchs of a new Israel. They would become founders, not in the sense of biology, but rather as forefathers. Their names would extend down through the ages.4 So few people are remembered in history that becoming part of the historical record of a civilization is generally regarded as a great honor. Fame ranks with money and power in the minds of most people: the desire not to be forgotten. Wealth is far easier to achieve than fame.

Inheritance: Multiplication

Exercising authority would be one positive sanction. Second, "every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life." They would receive a hundredfold. This is an image of great wealth.

What had they forfeited? Above all, their families. Also listed is land. This was the context of the promise of a hundredfold increase. This is confusing. If they paid for their time spent with Jesus by losing contact with their families, or possibly losing the trust of their families, how could they be repaid a hundredfold? With money? How much money? How can anyone place a market value on lost family life? In any case, what income? Not monetary income from wandering the roads of Judea.

The context indicates the multiplication of families. The apostles had lost those things closely associated with family life. They would gain access to a new family inheritance. Their efforts in spreading the gospel of the kingdom would lead to a new family: the family of God. A new era of mass adoption by God was at hand. The founders of the church would be welcomed into households everywhere. They would become founders of a new family, a family analogous to the family of Old Covenant Israel.

They would be involved in the burial of the old family of God. Israel's inheritance would come to them as the nearest of kin. "And if his father have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his kinsman that is next to him of his family, and he shall possess it: and it shall be unto the children of Israel a statute of judgment, as the LORD commanded Moses" (Num. 27:11). Old Covenant Israel would die without leaving biological heirs. The covenantal heirs would inherit.

The inheritance of Old Covenant Israel would soon pass to the church. The patriarchs of the church would become heirs of all of Israel's promises. Through them, this inheritance would pass to the adopted children of God. The agents of this adoption were the apostles. They would receive the inheritance of Israel as trustees.

This did not necessarily mean that they would receive the inheritance in history. The language of their judging Israel on thrones of glory pointed to the opposite: their deaths, one by one, prior to the fall of Jerusalem. But inheritance is covenantal. It is inheritance by confession. Their confessional heirs would inherit the promises. In this sense, the apostles would inherit in the name of their heirs. They would inherit definitively in history, though not finally.

The First Shall Be Last

"But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first." This cryptic statement appears repeatedly in Matthew's gospel. It is quoted by Christians far more widely than it is understood. At least two very different interpretations are possible, given the context of this passage. One flows from what Jesus had just said. The other makes sense because of what Jesus would say next.

The immediately preceding context indicates that Jesus was talking about the apostles. The question is: In relation to whom, future converts to the faith or the Jews? Which did Jesus have in mind? I will examine both possibilities.

As in English, "first" and "last" in Greek can refer to either status or sequence. I will examine both possibilities.

1. The Apostles and Future Converts

The context of Jesus' statement reflects both interpretations of "first" and "last": status and inheritance. Jesus had spoken to them of judging on twelve thrones: judicial status. He had also spoken of a hundredfold inheritance. The preceding context — though not the subsequent context — indicates that He was speaking of their personal futures, not the future of Christians in general. But was this the case? It is possible to make a case for such a corporate view.

Consider "first" and "last" in terms of status. "But many that are first [in status] shall be last [in status]; and the last [in status] shall be first [in status]." This makes no sense. The apostles would judge Israel. This meant that they would be first in status. They would occupy twelve thrones "when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory." Taken literally, this means that they would die prior to the fall of Jerusalem. James was executed in A.D. 62.5 We do not know about the others. Tradition says that John survived until the 90's, but this is based on a late dating of the Book of Revelation. This late dating is difficult to defend. The book was probably written in A.D. 64 or 65.6

Consider "first" and "last" in terms of inheritance. "But many that are first [to inherit] shall be last [to inherit]; and the last [to inherit] shall be first [to inherit]." This also makes no sense. Those who died before Jerusalem fell would not see their inheritance in history. Those who came later would receive the visible inheritance, yet they were not the first to inherit. The apostles were first. Jesus said so. This was their reward for following Him. This was His answer to Peter's question.

What about a combination of status and inheritance? "But many that are first [in status] shall be last [to inherit]; and the last [in status] shall be first [to inherit]." The apostles were clearly first in status. This was their reward for being the first to forsake all and follow Jesus. But to exercise this honor as judges on thrones, they would either have to die prior to the fall of Jerusalem — heavenly thrones, which seems likely — or perish in the terrible crisis, or escape it by fleeing the city. The first view is more likely: rendering final judgment against Old Covenant Israel from heaven. They would not be the historical recipients of the final inheritance. Rather, they would administer it from heaven. Conversely, the first to receive Israel's covenantal inheritance — those Christians who survived Jerusalem's Great Tribulation in A.D. 707 — would be last in status. They would become the forgotten generation.

So it was. Nothing written survives of the generation immediately following the fall of Jerusalem: the generation that inherited. The earliest surviving writings of the early church are thought to be from the period of the 90's, over two decades after the fall of Jerusalem. There would be no remembrance for members of the first generation to inherit. All we know is that the church survived the Roman wars in Palestine. Church history records that the Jerusalem church fled to the town of Pella, a gentile city, but this information comes from Eusebius, who wrote in A.D. 325.8 We know almost nothing about the church in the period of the final inheritance.

Inheritance, like sanctification, is definitive, progressive, and final. The apostles received the definitive inheritance. Christ promised it to them. Their work for a generation in bringing the covenant lawsuit against Israel served as the legal basis of the transfer of the inheritance from Israel to the church. This was a progressive inheritance. It involved a war between the false heirs and the true heirs. When the persecutions began, the Jerusalem church fled; only the apostles remained behind to pursue the covenant lawsuit (Acts 8:1). The apostles died before the final transfer was visible. They were first in inheriting but last in receiving. They were like the three patriarchs of Israel and the sons of Jacob: the promise of inheritance in the land had come definitively to Abraham, but none of them lived to see it.

This interpretation places the hundredfold inheritance in the possession of the apostles — an inheritance exercised by faith, not by sight. They became the church's forefathers. This was their reward, along with the reward of sitting on twelve thrones. But if we restrict this promise of hundredfold inheritance to the apostles, this does not answer the question of the inheritance for Christians throughout history. Are we not also participants in the great inheritance? Surely we all "shall inherit everlasting life." Why not also the inheritance? The second interpretation broadens this inheritance.

2. The Apostles and Israel

The second interpretation makes sense in the light of what Jesus said in the next exposition: "So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen" (Matt. 20:16). In the parable of the householder who goes into the public square to hire workers throughout the day, paying them all a penny per day, the contrast is between the group that worked all day and those groups that arrived throughout the day. The earliest workers complained to the employer that he had made the late-comers equal to them, even though the former had worked the whole day. They thought they deserved more, since they had worked longer.9 The context of the parable indicates that the complainers were the Jews. Jesus was prophesying that they would resent the fact that God was about to make an offer to the gentiles: equal access to the New Covenant kingdom and also equal payment at the end of the kingdom in history, i.e., eternal life. The Jews would not be given any special consideration in the kingdom for their years of service. Furthermore, entrance into heaven would not be based on years of service.

If Jesus' statement here of the first-last dichotomy is interpreted in terms of the next parable, then the comparison is not between the apostles and future converts, but between the apostles and members of Old Covenant Israel, whom the apostles would judge in A.D. 70 from thrones in heaven. The "first" in this context is Old Covenant Israel. The "last" is the predominantly gentile church, which was represented judicially by the apostles. The text would therefore read: "But many that are [chronologically] first [Israel] shall be last [to enter the New Covenant kingdom]; and the last [the church] shall be first [to enter the New Covenant kingdom]."

Most Jews, hearing of this, would resent it. Jews had long regarded themselves as first in terms of status because they were chronologically first in terms of God's calling. But what they ignored was their history of rebellion, which would soon culminate in the crucifixion of Christ. Old Covenant Israel would continue to reject the message of the disciples. The nation would suffer the consequences. "And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city" (Matt. 10:14-15). "But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee" (Matt. 11:22-24).

The inheritance here is the inheritance of the kingdom throughout history, not just in the first century. The Jews will remain as would-be heirs. They will inherit their share of the kingdom only by being grafted into the church (Rom. 11), which grants access on the same terms, with the same rewards, to all men. They will enter the kingdom as lawful heirs, but they will enter last. They came into the Old Covenant church first, but this unique honor does not carry into the New Covenant. They would gain access to the kingdom as everyone else does: through the church.

A General Promise

Jesus told them, "every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life." This was not a promise to the apostles only, but to Christians in general. Their multiplication through time will encompass the whole earth. The church's progressive fulfillment of the Great Commission will extend the dominion covenant to the uttermost limits.10

The second interpretation — apostles (first) and Israel (last) — seems more consistent with this interpretation of the promise. The promise is to every generation. He who forsakes all to follow Christ is adopted into a confessional family. He gains his inheritance through his brethren. The division of labor increases as the body of Christ expands (Rom. 12; I Cor. 12). This increase in the division of labor increases every member's productivity and wealth, and also the wealth of those outside the church through common grace.11 Even the covenant-breaking dogs under the table will feast on the abundance of crumbs. This is why Paul could write of the future conversion of the Jews: "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. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?" (Rom. 11:11-12). When the gentile church achieves something worth being jealous of — the widespread extension of God's kingdom in history — the Jews will join.

Conclusion

The promise of multiplication had to do with inheritance. Whatever the apostles had already lost and would continue to lose as disciples of Christ, they would regain a hundredfold through their spiritual heirs. The church down through history constitutes their inheritance. They would have lost their inheritance anyway, had they remained loyal to Old Covenant Israel, whose time had come. The transfer of Israel's inheritance — the kingdom of God — was at hand. The apostles would become the original trustees in the transfer of the inheritance to their covenantal heirs. As forefathers, they would see their heirs and their heirs' wealth multiplied. They would see this in history only by the eyes of faith, just as Abraham had seen his inheritance.12 But the transfer was secure as Abraham's had been. They had Christ's word.

This promise of inheritance extends to every generation. Adoption into the church brings every Christian into covenantal union with others of the same confession. Their inheritance is the whole earth.13 This inheritance is open to everyone who follows Christ. The expansion of this inheritance is achieved through the extension of God's kingdom throughout history: the Great Commission.

This places top priority on the preaching of the gospel. The apostles' task is our task, too: to work for the multiplication of heirs through adoption by God. The task in proclaiming the gospel was two-fold, for the covenant's sanctions are two-fold: blessing and cursing, inheritance and disinheritance. The apostles would gain their inheritance through their covenantal heirs. This would require the disinheritance of Old Covenant Israel, which they would oversee from the twelve thrones.

Footnotes:

1. "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep" (I Cor. 11:28-30).
2. Levi, the priestly tribe, was replaced by the church. The priesthood ceased: no more animal sacrifices.
3. "And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16).
4. "Simon, (whom he also named Peter,) and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called Zelotes, And Judas the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor" (Luke 6:14-16). "And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles" (Acts 1:26).
5. Carsten Peter Thiede and Matthew D'Ancona, Eyewitness to Jesus (New York: Doubleday, 1996), p. 47. They cite Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, XX:197-203.
6. Kenneth L. Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell: The Date of Revelation (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989).
7. David Chilton, The Great Tribulation (Tyler, Texas: Dominion Press, [1987] 1997).
8. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book III, Chap. V.
9. Chapter 40, below.
10. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Greatness of the Great Commission: The Christian Enterprise in a Fallen World (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1990).
11. Gary North, Dominion and Common Grace: The Biblical Basis of Progress (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1987).
12. "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Heb. 11:8-10).
13. Gary North, Inherit the Earth: Biblical Blueprints for Economics (Ft. Worth, Texas: Dominion Press, 1987).

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