There is something dark and hidden in the saying of Jesus concerning both Sodom and Tyre and Sidon when he upbraids the cities in which his mightiest works had been performed. The fact is that Jesus says concerning Sodom, that had the works been done in Sodom which were performed in Capernaum it (Sodom) would have still been standing as a city in Jesus’ day. In that case fire would not have come down from heaven as it did in the days of Abraham and Lot to destroy this evil city with its inhabitants. Tyre and Sidon are still standing as evil cities in Jesus’ day, but they have not repented in sack-cloth and ashes. Had these works been, done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in Chorazin and Bethsaida these cities would long ago have repented in sack-cloth and ashes as did the people of Nineveh in the days of Jonah.
How can this be explained?
At first glance one might receive the impression, or draw the conclusion that Jesus insinuates here or teaches by implication that these evil cities; Sodom and Tyre, are less hard in heart by nature than the inhabitants of the Galilean cities; that it is easier to bring these to repentance than it is to bring the people of Capernaum to repentance. Now this is neither taught directly in the text, nor is this the implication. Besides; this would conflict with the plain teaching of Scripture that both Jew and Greek are all under sin. There is no difference. All dead in trespasses and sins.
In order to give an explanation here some have attempted to meet: this difficulty by stating that there were no elect in Sodom (there were not even. ten righteous men) neither were there any elect in Tyre. But had there been ten elect there then God would have shown his mighty works in Sodom, too, as he did in Israel; these ten, this remnant according to election, would have been sufficient reason for God to have spared the city of Sodom. And the same reasoning is then applied to what Jesus says concerning Tyre.
Now there is an element of truth in this reasoning. It is true that God has the gospel preached where the elect saints must be gathered. The Son of God gathers, defends and preserves to himself a church elect unto everlasting life. When Paul is in Corinth and his life is in danger and his physical welfare is assaulted, then the Lord comes to him and says “Fear not, brother Paul, for I have much people in this city.” (Acts 18:10) We know that the elective love of God is such that it is the basis for preaching, gives direction to the place where the preaching must be done, and also is the only assurance of fruit upon the labors. Thus the doctrine of efficacious grace stands. And that element of Scripture teaching is what is good in the interpretation of the former paragraph. For Jesus teaches the word in Samaria where the fields prove to be white by the pure preaching of the word, and without any sign or miracle being performed.
The weakness of this interpretation is that it presupposes that in these cities of Capernaum there were no elect people of God, and that there were none who repented from their sins. In all of these cities there were those who believed, both under the preaching of John and of Jesus, and turned unto the Lord. There was a remnant according to election of grace. Here, too, God has his seven thousand!
We believe that we must arrive at the meaning of this statement from a different viewpoint, to wit, that Sodom would still remain until Jesus’ day, had the mighty works been performed there. We believe that we must take our cue from what Moses writes in Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
Now this latter word is very instructive in this connection of Jesus words concerning Sodom and Tyre.
This is a Scriptural directive here. It is a practical application in Deuteronomy of the spiritual attitude which we should assume toward the words of the covenant. Israel as a congregation is warned to enter into God’s covenant, to believe with the heart and to confess with the mouth. For this commandment is not far from Israel, it is neither hid nor far off. It is the new covenant which God will make in the latter days, when he will write His covenant in our hearts, so that we love God’s law, and no one shall say, Know the Lord. Of this Moses speaks in the plains of Moab just before he dies and before Israel enters into the land of Canaan.
But there is a two-fold Israel. There is the Israel of God and the Israel after the flesh. And in view of this the word must be preached to make a separation between the chaff and the wheat in their very life and manifestation: faith and unbelief. Thus Moses preaches in the plains of Moab concerning faith and unbelief. And keeping the latter in mind as to what would happen when Israel as a nation and theocracy would depart from the Lord, he predicts Israel being carried away from the land of their inheritance to Babylon. Writes he “. . . and the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt and burning, that it is not sown, nor bareth, nor any grass groweth therein, like the overthrow of Sodom, and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboim, which the LORD overthrew in his anger, and in his wrath: even all nations shall say, Wherefore hath the Lord done this unto this land?”
This is the predicted end of Israel as a nation. And that “end” is here arrived when Jesus comes in the fullness of time. It will be the glory of Israel and the light of the nations. John the Baptist came and preached the coming of the kingdom, and the realization of the covenant in the hearts of the Israel of God. But now Moses must be preached here on the doorsteps of the coming kingdom. John speaks of the axe being laid at the root of the tree. That is the end of Israel, also of the Galilee of the nations, the northern tribes. And to “this generation” Jesus now is preaching the word. He now will go through a period of final warning before he departs for Jerusalem to die on the Cross. He begins to upbraid them. And, thus he utters threats, warnings and reproofs to Israel—to bring them to repentance, as did John when he said: bring forth works meet for repentance.
There may then be an element “hidden” from us in this warning. We may not be able to understand it all, and rationalize it. We must not rationalize it away so that the force of the “upbraiding” does not pierce us in our deepest heart and conscience. We must fear and tremble with a godly fear when we hear these words. For they are not written in the Scriptures in vain. We must not spend all our energy trying to penetrate into the deepest secrets of God’s depths, which are a mighty deep, but exclaim, “O, the depths, both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God, how unsearchable are his ways, and his paths past tracing out. Out of him and through him and unto him are all things. To him be glory and power forever.” That is Paul’s conclusion when he reads this so-called “Jewish Question” in Romans 9-11. And that should be ours here. For thus Moses warns us in Deuteronomy 29:29.
But what is “revealed” is important. These things belong to us and to our children forever!
It is that we may do all the works of this law of the new covenant in Christ’s blood.
Christ works in us both to will and to do according to his good-pleasure. And he used this form of teaching and speaks “Woe” to the cities of Israel. In these streets the “new Covenant” is being revealed. It is the power of saving grace. The poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended in such a Christ and covenant.
But many were offended. in Capernaum and in Bethsaida. Fact is, that most of them were, particularly the theocratic establishment. They were offended at the gospel of sovereign grace and power as this was exhibited in the mighty works. These mighty works offended them. These works offended them as they added to and corroborated the Gospel of God’s efficacious promise to write his law in our hearts.
They hated God and they hated his Christ.
They were unbelievers who hated the Gospel.
And they are warned in their deepest conscience what will befall them in the day of judgment. And then their attitude toward both John’s preaching and toward Jesus’ preaching will be brought to clear light. They will then see themselves as Jesus portrays them as the children sitting in the market-places and playing their games. They play funeral and wedding. With Jesus the hearers are like the children that call to their fellows to play funeral. They complain that they have played a doleful, mournful tune, and they have not cooperated in the game by lamenting. And with John they are like those who would play wedding. They pipe and want John to dance. They are very contrary to the preaching role of both John and Jesus.
John is a Nazarite: He came neither eating nor drinking. Him they would have play the role of the Bridegroom, that is of Jesus. Jesus is the Bridegroom. Him they would have play the role of John, the Nazarite. Ever they are an evil generation. And this comes to light under the preaching. Such these were. And over against them there are the violent who cause the kingdom to suffer violence. They would enter the kingdom with holy impatience.
Now the scene changes. We have referred to this in our former article. It is the fulfillment of the wrath of God in destroying Israel. As a nation Israel shall be destroyed as well as the nations of Sodom and Tyre. Only it will be worse for them when the books of the conscience are opened. It will not be well with Sodom which was destroyed with fire and brimstone. Israel, church members which knew the word, and did not heed it will be destroyed with far more severe judgment. Nothing will afford any help. They had Moses and the Prophets!
That must be riveted in our minds and hearts. The revealed things are for us and our children.
And the secret things belong unto the Lord. And wisdom is justified of her effective manifestation in a godly walk!