Leaving all to Follow Jesus

Mark provides a series of parables in chronological order matched to the overall story of the Bible. This one is about the Assyrian deportation.

The Story

28Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!"

29"I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields -- and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last first." Mark 10:28-31 NIV

28Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee. 29And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, 30But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. 31But many that are first shall be last; and the last first. Mark 10:28-31 KJV

Background

At the end of Solomon’s reign the kingdom of David began a long, slow political decline. The first event was a three year civil war which ended with two thrones and two kingdoms. The northern kingdom, Israel, separate from Judah.

This was the start of the division symbolically foretold by the parting of the Red Sea at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. Breaking covenant means the offender will be split into two pieces. In the case of ancient Israel, civil war brought on that separation.

The covenant contained another clause: loss of control of Abraham’s promised land. This was accomplished 200(??) years after the civil war when the Assyrian army invaded the lands and hauled away the people. The people were now cast into the peoples of the world, symbolically the parted Red Sea.

When Peter exclaims to Jesus that they have left all to follow Jesus, Peter was prophetically referencing the Assyrian invasion. Ancient Israel left all so the conceit of being a covenant people in a covenant land would be lost. All that would be left would be a relation with the Savior, a relation with God.

This is what the disciples had, and this is what the ancient Israelites would gain while away from the covenant lands.

(Those in the land who knew the savior knew this departure was from God. They left in order to follow God.)

Jesus responds to Peter’s remark by explaining that those who leave will not fail to receive 100 fold increase in the things they left behind, but that they would also receive persecution. This reference ties directly back to the time of Moses. At the Exodus, Moses pronounced a blessing over those leaving Egypt. Moses said simply, "May you increase 1000 fold."

A good estimate of the number of people who left Egypt is roughly 2,000,000. The census counts taken at the time counted the male heads of households able to serve in the army. The count itself was in order to determine the size of the army. Those counts were slightly over 600,000 men. For each of these men there was likely a wife, doubling the number. There was also children, more than doubling the number again. So, for as a rough estimate there were likely roughly 2,000,000 people.

When Moses pronounces the blessing, an increase of 1000 fold, Moses is saying that this community will eventually grow to a number of people roughly 1000 times larger. Since this is a promise that applies before the end of the age, this number likely applies now - across the modern descendants of the ancient tribes of Israel.

No one knows with any certainty what the population of ancient Israel was at the time of the Assyrian invasion. The capital of Samaria was lost in this invasion to the Assyrians. It was the head of the "Ten," the northern kingdom of ancient Israel. Likely this factor of 10 is what Jesus is using to reduce the amount of growth yet to come when he pronounces the blessings of a 100 fold increase. Jesus is taking Moses’ 1000 fold increase and factoring in the 10 fold growth that has already happened.

Curiously, a geographic view of this promise expands the lands of ancient Israel from the land between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates River by 100 times. Ancient Israel only controlled about 1 percent of the lands God had in store for these people. No wonder they would expand to cover essentially the entire world.

Jesus makes the point that with this expansion would come persecution - Persecution for the cause of following Jesus. Throughout much of history, especially history within the Christianized parts of the world, wars have been fought on religious grounds.

This happened in Europe as Christians were first persecuted and killed by emperors like Nero. Later the christian community took over the leadership of the Roman empire. Repeatedly across European history wars were fought along religious lines. By the time of Luther wars broke out in Europe along religious lines, with reformers taking up swords against the establishment.

Today the battle lines are drawn along similar lines. The western world, still nominally Christian, is at war with Islam. In many parts of the Islamic world Christian communities face daily persecution. Rarely a week goes by without some report of Christian communities being pillaged or burned or massacred because of the cause of Christ. But, throughout all the troubles, those who follow Jesus continue to advance into new places around the globe. This advance was promised to the father of all who follow God. Abraham was told that all nations would be his. All nations will eventually acknowledge Jesus as God.