Faithful or Saltless?

Faithful disciples will receive great rewards, but those who harm their weaker brethren risk condemnation to Gehenna. John complained because someone who was not from among their inner circle was casting out demons in Christ’s name. However, if this outsider was doing so, then it was God who was acting through him. John’s complaint was rich in irony since just a few verses earlier the disciples found themselves unable to exorcise demons because of their unbelief.

Anyone who performs miraculous deeds in his name cannot easily revile it. Moreover, conduct that conforms to the life and teachings of Jesus results in great rewards, including everlasting life.

Salt - Photo by Timo Volz on Unsplash
[Salt - Photo by Timo Volz on Unsplash]

In contrast, the man who fails to emulate him by serving others and the Kingdom of God will result in horrific punishment, a reality Jesus illustrated with the image of 
Gehenna – (Mark 9:41-50).

Jesus warned his disciples about this grim fate in Gehenna awaiting unfaithful disciples, NOT for unbelievers or those who rejected him outright. It is the disciple who causes others to “stumble” that is at risk of experiencing the “fires of Gehenna.” Better for that one to have a “millstone about his neck and be cast into the sea!

The image of being cast into the sea would have struck a fearful chord. Jews of the period feared the sea and viewed drowning as an especially horrific death. Dead bodies sank to the bottom of the sea and could not be easily recovered for proper burial, something of prime importance in Second Temple Judaism.

The name ‘Gehenna’ is derived from the name of the Valley of Hinnom. Effectively, it was a garbage dump located to the south of Jerusalem’s walls, the place where refuse was burned outside the city walls, including the dead bodies of criminals.

According to tradition, its fires burned continuously. Jesus uses it to portray the horrific end awaiting anyone who does not deal with his sins, especially sinful acts committed against the weak and the powerless.

SACRIFICIAL SALT


Where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched.” This echoes a passage in the Book of Isaiah - “Then they shall go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against me. For their WORM SHALL NOT DIE AND THEIR FIRE SHALL NOT BE QUENCHED” - (Isaiah 66:24).

In the passage, Jesus says nothing about “eternal” punishment. In the image, it is the annihilating fire that is “unquenchable,” not the punishment inflicted on the offender. The emphasis is on the result of the process – the utter destruction of the offender.

Fire and salt refine and prove things. Being “salted with fire” also symbolizes PURIFICATION. If that is the intended meaning, then the process occurs in the life of the disciple as he is purged of sin through trials and suffering.

However, the words of Jesus allude to the sacrificial system described in Leviticus. All animal sacrifices were “salted,” and burnt offerings were consumed completely by fire, and so they became a “pleasing odor” to Yahweh. Furthermore, “salt” was a sign of the covenant between Yahweh and Israel - (Leviticus 2:13, Numbers 18:19).

The disciple must live his life as a WHOLE AND LIVING SACRIFICE TO GOD, and to become such, he must live in conscious self-sacrificial service to others.

To cause a weaker brother to stumble is the exact opposite of what it means to be his faithful disciple. By abusing others, he becomes “SALT-LESS.” In contrast, denying his own desires to serve others the FAITHFUL may lose his life for the sake of the Kingdom, but ironically, he will save it in the end.


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