The twelve disciples that Jesus called to be a part of his ministry were summoned with the simple phrase, “Follow me” (John 1:43). The Greek word that is translated follow, akoloutheo (ak-ol-oo-thehˊ-o) is properly translated as “to be in the same way with” (G190). The root word keluthos means a road which is sometimes referred to as a way or you might say a means of traveling. Jesus told his disciples, “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus spoke of himself as the way for us to get to God. The Greek word that is translated way, hodos (hod-osˊ) means “a road; (by implication) a progress (the route, act or distance); (figurative) a mode or means” (G3598). In that sense, Jesus was saying that access to God is made possible through a relationship with him. After Philip asked him to show the disciples his Father, Jesus responded, “Have I been with you so long, and you do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves” (John 14:9-11). The works that Jesus was referring to were the miracles that he had performed during his ministry. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:38-44), the chief priests planned to not only kill Jesus, but “to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus” (John 12:10-11).
The spiritual journey that Jesus invited his followers to be a part of was based on a transformative event that Jesus described as being “born again” (John 3:3). Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:5-8). Jesus used the example of the wind to show that spiritual movement takes place even though it is undetected by our physical perception. The Greek word that is translated enter, eiserchomai (ice-erˊ-khom-ahee) implies motion from a place or person to another and also indicates that a point has been reached (G1525) similar to a planned destination on a trip. Jesus was aware that Nicodemus wanted to be a part of God’s kingdom, but he lacked the spiritual capability to get there. Jesus explained to Nicodemus that in order to get to the kingdom of heaven, he must first experience a spiritual rebirth. “The new birth and regeneration do not represent successive stages in spiritual experience, they refer to the same event but view it in different aspects. The new birth stresses the communication of spiritual life in contrast to antecedent spiritual death; regeneration stresses the inception of a new state of things in contrast with the old” (G3824).
Spiritual life requires certain elements to sustain it in the same way that physical life does. Jesus told his disciples, “If you love me you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17). One of the critical elements of spiritual life is connection with God. Jesus indicated that the Father dwelt in him (John 14:10) and that the Holy Spirit dwells in us (John 14:17) and then, he used the illustration of a vine and branches to show that we all are connected to each other from a functional standpoint.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:1-11)
Jesus made the statement “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5) to make it clear that he is the source of our spiritual strength. The Greek word that is translated can, dunamai (dooˊ-nam-ahee) “means to be able, to have power, whether by virtue of one’s own ability and resources (Romans 15:14); or through a state of mind, or through favorable circumstances (1 Thessalonians 2:6)” (G1410). Jesus went on to say, “if anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6), indicating that separation from him will result in eternal punishment.
Jesus referred to the kind of relationship we are to have with him as abiding. He said, “Abide in me, and I in you” (John 15:4). The Greek word that is translated abide, meno (menˊ-o) means “to stay (in a given place, state, relation or expectancy) and suggests that no spiritual movement is taking place, but in the context of a vine and branches, what it means to abide is that we are going wherever Jesus goes. We do not go anywhere unless Jesus does. The Israelites’ journey to the Promised Land illustrates the concept of abiding in that “the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people” (Exodus 13:21-22). Chapter 33 of the book of Numbers recounts Israel’s journey and begins with the statement, “These are the stages of the people of Israel, when they went out of the land of Egypt by their companies under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage by command of the LORD, and these are their stages according to their starting places” (Numbers 33:1-2). The English Standard Version of the Bible translates the Hebrew word massaʿ (mas-sahˊ) as stages. The New King James Version of the Bible translates the word massaʿ as journeys. In it Numbers 33:1-2 states:
These are the journeys of the children of Israel, who went out of the land of Egypt by their armies under the hand of Moses and Aaron. Now Moses wrote down the starting points of their journeys at the command of the Lord. And these are their journeys according to their starting points.
The variations between these two versions of the Bible show us that journeys are made up of various stages that are associated with starting points. The Hebrew word mowtsaʾ (mo-tsawˊ) means “a going forth…an exit” and is associated with the rising of the sun (H4161). The Hebrew word chanah (khaw-nawˊ) means “to decline (of the slanting rays of the evening)” (H2583). Therefore the starts and stops of the Israelites’ journey were comparable to the continuous cycle of the earth spinning on its axis. Numbers 33:5-8 states:
So the people of Israel set out from Rameses and camped at Succoth. And they set out from Succoth and camped at Etham, which is on the edge of the wilderness. And they set out from Etham and turned back to Pi-hahiroth, which is east of Baal-zephon, and they camped before Migdol. And they set out from before Hahirothand passed through the midst of the sea into the wilderness, and they went a three days’ journey in the wilderness of Etham and camped at Marah.
The repetitive nature of the Israelites’ journey is evident in the record of their first few starts and stops. One of the things to note about their trip to Pi-hahiroth is that is says the Israelites turned back to Pi-hahiroth. The Hebrew word that is translated turned back, shuwb (shoob) means “to retreat (not necessarily with the idea of return to the starting point)” (H7725). Pi-hahiroth was the location where the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. It says “they set out from before Hahiroth and passed through the midst of the sea” (Numbers 33:8). The Hebrew word that is translated passed, ʿabar (aw-barˊ) “refers primarily to spatial movement, to ‘moving over, through, or away from.’ This basic meaning can be used of ‘going over or through’ a particular location to get to the other side” (H5674). Each of the specific aspects of the Israelites’ journey, their starting points, retreat to Pi-hahiroth, and their crossing over of the Red Sea illustrates the complex nature of journeys. It’s not simply a matter of getting from Point A to Point B.
A comparison of the Israelites’ physical journey through the wilderness to the spiritual journey that Jesus called his disciples to reveals an important aspect of spiritual life. It involves acts of obedience that are intended to draw us closer to God. The difference between the Israelites’ journey and the journey of those who follow Christ is that a physical journey involves going out, a departure from places that we need to leave behind, whereas a spiritual journey involves going into the human heart and dwelling with the Holy Spirit on a continual basis. Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as another Helper that will be with us forever (John 14:16). The Greek word that is translated Helper, parakletos (par-akˊ-lay-tos) “is the one summoned, called to one’s side, especially called to one’s aid” and refers to both Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was “destined to take the place of Christ with the apostles (after Christ’s ascension to the Father), to lead them to a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth, and give them divine strength needed to enable them to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the divine kingdom (John 14:16; 14:26; 15:26; 16:7)” (G3875). Jesus said the Holy Spirit would be with his disciples forever. The Greek words that Jesus used that are translated forever, eis (ice) which means “to or into (indicating the point reached or entered), of place, time” (G1519) and aion (ahee-ohnˊ). “The primary stress of this word is time in its unbroken duration” (G165). From this vantage point, the Holy Spirit is a type of spiritual guide that enables us to experience eternal life as a result of being born again.
Jesus indicated that spiritual activity will produce fruit. He said, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit” (John 15:5). The Greek word that is translated bears, enegko (en-engˊ-ko) signifies being impelled by the Holy Spirit’s power, not acting according to our own wills, or simply expressing our own thoughts, but expressing the mind of God in words provided by Him (G5342). The Greek word karpos (kar-posˊ), which is translated fruit, is used metaphorically “of works or deeds, ‘fruit’ being the visible expression of power working inwardly and invisibly, the character of the ‘fruit’ being evidence of the power producing it…As the visible expressions of hidden lusts are the works of the flesh, so the invisible power of the Holy Spirit in those who are brought into living union with Christ (John 15:2-8, 16) produces ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:22 the singular form suggesting unity of the character of the Lord as reproduced in them, namely, ‘love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance,’ all in contrast with the confused and often mutually antagonistic ‘works of the flesh’)” (G2590). The Apostle Paul talked about the fruit of the Spirit in the context of intrapersonal conflict. Paul wrote, “But I say, walk in the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law…If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16-25). Paul’s reference to keeping in step with the Spirit had to do with submission of the heart to the Holy Spirit. Paul was encouraging the Galatians to let the Holy Spirit override their own inclinations and to do what didn’t come naturally to them.
Jesus told his disciples:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:9-13)
Jesus’ command went beyond human capability. He didn’t tell his disciples to just love one another, but to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). And then, in case there was any uncertainty as to what he meant, Jesus added, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Jesus realized that the intrapersonal conflict that each of his disciples was going to experience would not only lead them to abandon their commitment to him, but also to each other. Therefore, Jesus reminded his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another” (John 15:16-17). The key to Jesus’ disciples being able to love one another was their mutual dependency upon him to complete their spiritual journey. Each of Jesus’ disciples was chosen and appointed to go and bear fruit. Their common mission was a tie that bound them together as a unit and it forced them to depend on and support each other after Jesus had departed. As a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ disciples were able to reproduce the quality of love that they received from him, agapao (ag-ap-ahˊ-o), a type of love that expresses itself in faithful service (G25).
One of the similarities between the Israelites’ physical journey through the wilderness and the believer’s spiritual journey through life is that both were intended to bear witness to the ministry of Jesus Christ. When two spies were sent into Jericho to prepare for Israel’s first battle in the Promised Land, they met a prostitute whose name was Rahab and were given the following report:
“I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:9-11)
Likewise, Jesus said his disciples would bear witness of him after they had received the Holy Spirit. He told them:
“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:26-27)
Jesus said that the reason why his disciples would be able to bear witness about him was because they had been with him from the beginning. Essentially, what Jesus meant by that was that his disciples had been traveling with him since he had chosen them “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). In other words, there was never a time when Jesus and his disciples weren’t traveling together and the same is true for us. Our journey doesn’t begin when we choose to follow Christ, but at the point when Jesus predestined us for adoption into the family of God (Ephesians 1:5).