A Life that Lasts: Stewarding the Kingdom Now (Part 2)

Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” (Matthew 11:20-24)

In my first post about this passage, I mentioned that it was common practice for the Old Testament prophets to compare apostate Israel with Sodom and threaten them with a similar judgment.

In this passage, and in others, Jesus seems to speak of a future judgment but also evoke a past one — the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah was famous, after all.

But there’s an interesting twist to that judgment that we easily miss, and I want to look at it here.

Sodom and Gomorrah were known for their violence, sexual sin, oppression of the innocent, and pride. They were judged sharply and suddenly, with fire from heaven — that part, everybody notices.

But there was an element to their judgment that stood out to ancient minds: it lasted forever. To a biblical mind, the real horror of the judgment was not the fiery brimstone but the total loss of both presence and legacy in the world.

Sodom and Gomorrah were consigned to everlasting irrelevance.

Consigned to Obscurity

If you think about it, this is the opposite of eternal life, which Jesus promises us as the gift of God.

Therefore, as I live,” declares the Lord of hosts,
the God of Israel,
“Moab shall become like Sodom,
and the Ammonites like Gomorrah,
a land possessed by nettles and salt pits,
and a waste forever. (Zephaniah 2:9, ESV)

Or look at Isaiah 13:19-22 (ESV):

And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms,
the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans,
will be like Sodom and Gomorrah
when God overthrew them.
It will never be inhabited
or lived in for all generations;
no Arab will pitch his tent there;
no shepherds will make their flocks lie down there.
But wild animals will lie down there,
and their houses will be full of howling creatures;
there ostriches will dwell,
and there wild goats will dance.
Hyenas will cry in its towers,
and jackals in the pleasant palaces;
its time is close at hand
and its days will not be prolonged.

Tyre and Sidon, the other historic cities Jesus mentions in this passage, were very different from Sodom and Gomorrah. They were chief cities of the Phoenicians, a seafaring mercantile civilization on the coast of Lebanon. Their sins were those of pride, trusting in wealth, and slave-trading. Historically, they were also a stumbling block to Israel, promoting Baal-worship especially during the time of Jezebel (who was a Sidonian).

The judgment of Tyre and Sidon was not supernatural in the way of Sodom and Gomorrah. It came about through the natural rise and fall of empires: they were defeated by Babylon during a time of conquest. But the end result was the same — obscurity and irrelevance:

“They will take your wealth as spoil and plunder your merchandise. They will also demolish your walls and tear down your beautiful homes. Then they will throw your stones, timber, and soil into the water. I will put an end to the noise of your songs, and the sound of your lyres will no longer be heard. I will turn you into a bare rock, and you will be a place to spread nets. You will never be rebuilt, for I, Yahweh, have spoken.” This is the declaration of the Lord God …

For this is what the Lord God says: “When I make you a ruined city like other deserted cities, when I raise up the deep against you so that the mighty waters cover you, then I will bring you down to be with those who descend to the Pit, to the people of antiquity. I will make you dwell in the underworld like the ancient ruins, with those who descend to the Pit, so that you will no longer be inhabited or display your splendor in the land of the living. I will make you an object of horror, and you will no longer exist. You will be sought but will never be found again.” This is the declaration of the Lord God. (Ezekiel 26:12-14, 19-21)

Let’s not miss this: If we want to live relevant, purposeful lives; if we want history to judge our existence as meaningful; if we want to do something eternal — we must not overlook the time of our visitation.

Stewarding the Seeds

Lest we are tempted to think we don’t have the same opportunity to respond to God that Jesus’s contemporaries had, because we aren’t seeing him do miracles, preach to crowds, feed five thousand, etc. — I would challenge you with the principle of stewardship.

Lean into what you do have, and respond to whatever God gives you.

Remember, we don’t have the fullness of the kingdom with us yet. But we do have it in seed form. So the question for us is — Are we stewarding the seeds?

We have the Holy Scriptures, the Holy Spirit, and the holy saints* (our believing brothers and sisters in Christ). Are we responding to them? Are we leaning into them? Or are we paying more attention to “children in the marketplace”?

Are we so obsessed with the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah all around us that we’re not looking at the kingdom of God? Are we listening so stridently to commentators and worries and movie stars that we’re not making time to read the Bible and ask the Holy Spirit questions?

Are we so concerned with our career paths or even our ministry goals that we fail to ask God what he wants from us?

Are we so caught up in the opinions and affections of the people around us that we never thank God for his love for us, or take the time just to dwell on it?

Are we so confused by trying to discern “the will of God for our lives” that we fail to take seriously the clear directives of the New Testament — to live a life of love, purity, hospitality, prayer, worship, gratitude, and diligent work?

You know your distractions. You also know your seeds. I’ll leave it to you to do your own application.

I have plenty to do myself.

The kingdom has come, beloved. Let’s live like it’s true.


*Yes, I know “holy saints” is incredibly redundant. I saw an alliteration and I took it.

This is Part 199 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


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