Finally, what of the gifts as actually received? The gifts as given by Jesus come as a surprise. Matthew records:
Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Matthew 19:28 (ESV)
Peter could have easily envisioned the “new world” as age in which Jesus thrusts out the Romans and rules Israel. But the new world did not come as Peter imagined. Indeed, Jesus first brings the Apostles to be the human instruments for kingdom as seen in the church: this could not have been Peter’s understanding at that time:
7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” 9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:7–16 (ESV)
And, the in the time to come, certainly there will be a peculiar place for the apostles.
Bruce makes an additional interesting observation concerning the gifts we receive in the present age. This point seems at odds with what we experience. The godly are often persecuted. The apostles were constantly injured by the world
1 Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 3 We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7 by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. 2 Corinthians 6:1–10 (ESV)
When considered on its face, the promise of Jesus seems bizarre if not simply untrue.
But consider again the promise of Jesus:
who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions,
Consider that last element: “with persecutions”. What connection does that bear to the whole? Bruce suggests that the loss we suffer for Christ will cause to transform the valuation of what we have:
Still it must be confessed that, taken strictly and literally, the promise of Christ does not hold good in every instance. Multitudes of God’s servants have had what the world would account a miserable lot. Does the promise, then, simply and absolutely fail in their case? No; for, secondly, there are more ways than one in which it can be fulfilled. Blessings, for example, may be multiplied an hundred-fold without their external bulk being altered, simply by the act of renouncing them. Whatever is sacrificed for truth, whatever we are willing to part with for Christ’s sake, becomes from that moment immeasurably increased in value. Fathers and mothers, and all earthly friends, become unspeakably dear to the heart when we have learned to say: “Christ is first, and these must be second.” Isaac was worth an hundred sons to Abraham when he received him back from the dead. Or, to draw an illustration from another quarter, think of John Bunyan in jail brooding over his poor blind daughter, whom he left behind at home. “Poor child, thought I,” thus he describes his feelings in that inimitable book, Groce Abounding, “what sorrow art thou like to have for thy portion in this world! Thou must be beaten, must beg, suffer hunger, cold, nakedness, and a thousand calamities, though I cannot now endure the wind should blow upon thee. But yet, thought I, I must venture you all with God, though it goeth to the quick to leave you. Oh! I saw I was as a man who was pulling down his house upon the heads of his wife and children; yet I thought on those two milch Kline that were to carry the ark of God into another country, and to leave their calves behind them.” If the faculty of enjoyment be, as it is, the measure of real possession, here was a case in Which to forsake wife and child was to multiply them an hundred-fold, and in the multiplied value of the things renounced to find a rich solarium for sacrifice and persecutions. The soliloquy of the Bedford prisoner is the very poetry of natural affection. What pathos is in that allusion to the Mitch Kline! what a depth of tender feeling it reveals! The power to feel so is the reward of self-sacrifice; the power to Jove so is the reward of “hating” our kindred for Christ’s sake. You shall find no such love among those who make natural affection an excuse for moral unfaithfulness, thinking it a sufficient apology for disloyalty to the interests of the divine kingdom to say, “I have a wife and family to care for.”
Without undue spiritualizing, then, we see that a valid meaning can be assigned to the strong expression, “an hundred-fold.” And from the remarks just made, we see further why “persecutions” are thrown into the account, as if they were not drawbacks, but a part of the gain. The truth is, the hundred-fold is realized, not in spite of persecutions, but to a great extent because of them. Persecutions are the salt with which things sacrificed are salted, the condiment which enhances their relish. Or, to put the matter arithmetically, persecutions are the factor by which earthly blessings given up to God are multiplied an hundred-fold, if not in quantity, at least in virtue.
Such are the rewards provided for those who make sacrifices for Christ’s sake. Their sacrifices are but a seed sown in tars, from which they afterwards reap a plentiful harvest in joy. But what now of those who have made no sacrifices, who have received no wounds in battle? If this has proceeded not from lack of will, but from lack of opportunity, they shall get a share of the rewards. David’s law has its place in the divine kingdom: “As his part is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff: they shall part alike.” Only all must see to it that they remain not by the stuff from cowardice, or indolence and self-indulgence. They who act thus, declining to put themselves to any trouble, to run any risk, or even so much us to part with a sinful lust for the kingdom of God, cannot expect to find a place therein at the last.
I do not deny Bruce’s observation. However, I think there is something more in the promise.
1 “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord. 2 “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. 3 For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities. 4 “Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. 5 For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. 6 For the Lord has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. Isaiah 54:1–6 (ESV)
If the exchange were merely temporary goods for more temporary goods, then Jesus sounds like a television huckster promising that “God will give you money if you send me money!” Now, Jesus never denies our needs and indeed teaches us to pray for our needs. But a mere promise of more stuff for giving away stuff would cause us to fall afoul of the mercenary charge we considered earlier. However, if the reward were a gospel-reward, the birth of spiritual children and the increase of the household of God, the reward matches the sacrifice and is a natural consequence of the effort.
Such renunciation finds a hundredfold recompense even νῦν ἐν τῷ καιρῷ τούτῳ. Set in contrast with ἐν τῷ αἰῶνι τῷ ἐρχομένῳ, this can only mean an earthly recompense, but it is open to question what form that recompense is to take. Quite apart from the dubious desirability of a hundred mothers or children, there is little in the story of the early church or in subsequent history to suggest that Mark could have taken this promise literally; disciples and missionaries have not generally been conspicuous for their material gain. We should think of the less tangible rewards of discipleship, and of the extended family of the followers of Jesus (see 3:34–35).32 These far outweigh the security and enjoyment of possessions and family to which the rich man had returned. But there is an addition to the list which draws attention because of its different form (μετὰ διωγμῶν rather than καὶ διωγμούς); this is the sting in the tail. The disciples’ experience νῦν ἐν τῷ καιρῷ τούτῳ is characterised not only by gain but by persecution (a further indication that material prosperity is not the issue here). What they have already witnessed of people’s response to Jesus gives weight to this warning, and they cannot have forgotten his sombre words in 8:34–38. More such warnings will follow (10:39; 13:9–13).
R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2002), 408.