Matthew 19:28, "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."
This morning, sometimes verses in Holy Writ are ignored based on the "perceived sense" of the passage or verse(s). For example, whenever I engage in discussion with friends and acquaintances of other orders, they many times ignore plain Scriptures that fly contrary to their beliefs. This turning away from the verse stems from sensing that the verse condemns them or their beliefs. Likewise, whenever I read things in Scripture that condemn my lifestyle, sometimes I - regrettably so - ignore and avoid the lesson as I can be too comfortable in my way of existence to seek to change it. Further still, sometimes we might avoid looking at a verse to find out what it means, because our "perceived sense" of it seems contrary to our beliefs. How many would run from John 3:16 due to the "perceived sense" of it teaching what other groups teach about works salvation? Whenever we find verses that seem at odds with our beliefs, we need to scratch, search, and diligently beseech God to show us the heart and intent of the verse, and if need be, modify what we believe if truly in error about it.
From time to time, I get asked questions about what the verse above means. One of the reasons that I get asked about it is that normally a cursory glance (i.e. perceived sense) of it seems to teach something contrary to what we believe the Bible to declare about grace and salvation. Most see the verse from a cursory sense to say, "If you follow me, you will see regeneration, glory, and sit as kings for following me." However, the cursory perception of this verse (and sometimes the publicly taught message) do not stack up with the language, structure, or context of the lesson. Therefore, let us peel back the context, investigate the language, and observe the arrangement of the structure to identify the intent of our Lord when speaking these words.
The context of this lesson is the rich, young ruler (as he is oftentimes called) comes to Christ with a question. In this account, he asks what he must do to "have eternal life." In Mark 10, he asks what he must do to "inherit eternal life." Christ's interactions with this man are often misunderstood. Christ answers him in such a way that some might think that Christ was giving the "recipe" for how to get saved. Rather, Christ is taking this young man's logic to its logical conclusion. If you believe that you must do something, where does that lead you? The end result is that something always stands in the way; the flesh always fails. The heart of Christ's answer is, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." If you believe that something must be done to effect eternal life by members of Adam's race, the end result will always be impossibility due to our weakness of the flesh.
Understanding what Christ was driving at with this young man, let us now look at the context as He interacts with the disciples. In the verse prior to ours, Peter - on behalf of the twelve - declares their faithfulness to follow Christ. Therefore, if they succeeded where this young man did not, what is their reward? As is so often the case, Christ's answer does not exactly match what the audience was looking for. For example, when Nicodemus comes to Christ in John 3, he gives Christ a grand introduction in John 3:2 that would swell the head of most any preacher on earth. Rather than address Nicodemus' salutation, Christ chooses rather to say that one must be born again to see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3) This is quite a change from the nature of the conversation that Nicodemus probably thought they were going to have. Rather than get to the bottom of the man that he came to see, this man steers the conversation to topics that Nicodemus expressly declared his own ignorance about.
So, to answer Peter's statement and question, Christ gives them both an answer and something that they did not specifically ask for. Having laid out the context, let us now look at the structure of this verse. The structure of this verse includes what is known as a "comma inserted phrase." There is a phrase within the verse, set by commas, that is added information or detail that is not the "meat" of the sentence. Other Biblical examples of this are found in verses such as Romans 1:15 and Hebrews 2:9. So, removing the comma inserted phrase for just a moment, the meat of the sentence is, "Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel."
The point of the comma inserted phrase (the part of the verse that often throws the reader for a loop) is to amplify or show added detail to the action or the speaker. Sometimes the phrase gives added detail to the subject (such as Hebrews 2:9 does with the subject - Christ), and sometimes it gives added detail to the action (such as our verse with the action - followed me). What Christ does by giving this added detail is showing them that what they perceive in themselves to be doing - following Christ - would have been utterly impossible without God first working in their heart. What is interesting about this is that Christ ties a word - regeneration - into a thought of the resurrection: Christ coming to sit in glory.
The logical point to make between Christ's connection is that the following in both instances is the same. The people respond immediately to the voice of Christ and follow Him in that regard. (John 5:25, 28-29) Therefore, whether people desire to discuss the following of regeneration or resurrection, many points are the same. Whereas regeneration affects the soul and spirit of man while the resurrection affects the body, the power, source, effect, and certainty of these two events is the same. Christ will do and affect just as He intends to do in all points to the very last detail in both of these works.
What Peter and the other apostles perceived to be "following Christ," He shows that to be but an effect of the greater work of Christ drawing us to Himself and us following Him by that effectual power. (John 6:44) However, Christ does not leave them without answer to the other aspect of their query. Notice that Peter references them "forsaking all" and "following him." Christ further instructs them about the initial nature of their following Him through His power and work, but His language shows the answer to the point about "forsaking all." Let us look at the language of the verse to determine the other aspect of Christ's point.
First of all, what Christ says in verse 28 applies to the apostles themselves as referenced by His early usage of the word "ye." He was explicitly specific that what He said applied to them and not the others (them) that followed Him from time to time. So, while other children of God have followed Him in regeneration, what he says to these "ye" is due to their obedience in "forsaking all." Christ says that on top of being regenerated and eventually glorified in the resurrection they "also" shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. This word "also" means "in addition to." Not only were they His by divine power in the effectual call, they additionally have the blessing of sitting and judging in His kingdom in the matters that He instructed them to.
These men - while not living upon the earth today - still judge us in the sense that we look at the words left on record by them to judge us in our conduct. These words are left by the inspiration and providential preservation of God for our guide and standard in this old world. The Lord blessed these men to have this great benefit in addition to just being His elect children. Their obedience to the Lamb of God received an extra blessing from God to smile upon their labours in His kingdom. These are the blessings and labours that the other young man - while one of God's elect that followed Him in regeneration - would not receive "in addition to" the other for going away sorrowful. He refused to forsake all, and thereby did not get the added benefit of God's smiles upon Him in this old world.
Now one might say, "If those blessings of judging the twelve tribes were for those apostles only, what do we receive in addition to our new birth for forsaking all?" Read the next verse. Verse 28 applied to the "ye" of those apostles, but verse 29 applies to the individual "every one." If any one of us forsakes all to follow Christ (puts Him above everything else in our life), we will receive persecutions, tribulations, distresses, etc. However, we will receive an hundredfold more now in this life family, lands, and possessions than we would have if we were unfaithful to the cause as the rich, young ruler was. My life has known and currently knows a great host of family by spiritual ties in the kingdom. I have numerous fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers, sisters, brothers, and many places that I can call my land and home that I would have never known had I not chosen to take up my cross and follow the Lamb of God. Yet, even with our obedience, it must all be predicated upon something else: the work of God. What we receive in eternal life is plainly spoken by Christ as our inheritance that is justly ours by family relation. That family relation comes from His drawing pull upon us, but after that work (us following Him), may we follow Him actively and obediently by forsaking this world's goods and looking unto our Saviour. Truly, the right is justly His that we do so, but so many "alsos" come from His bountiful hand that there is not enough room to contain it. (Malachi 3:10)