The material and spiritual realms coexist in the same space and are made up of similar articles, but their characteristics are perceived by completely different means. The kingdom of heaven, in particular, had to be described by Jesus in parables so that his followers could comprehend what it was actually like. Jesus explained to his disciples that the kingdom of heaven is perceived through the heart and requires faith in order for it to appear real to individuals. Matthew’s gospel tells us:
Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (Matthew 13:10-17)
Jesus described the characteristics of the kingdom of heaven as secrets. The Greek word that Jesus used, musterion (moos-tayˊ-ree-on) refers to “a mystery, i.e. something into which one must be initiated or instructed before it can be known; something of itself not obvious and above human insight” (G3466). Jesus talked about hearing, but never understanding and seeing, but not perceiving. This suggests that spiritual perception is similar to physical perception in that spiritual information comes into us through our senses, but it can be blocked and therefore, does not enter the heart where it must be processed and utilized. Jesus explained how this process works in his parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9) and then told his disciples:
“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:18-23)
Jesus indicated that the key to spiritual perception is understanding. The Greek word that is translated understands in Matthew 13:23, suniemi (soon-eeˊ-ay-mee) means “to put together, i.e. (mentally) to comprehend” (G4920). In order for you to comprehend what is going on in the spiritual realm, you have to be able to put together the pieces of spiritual information that you receive and see them as a complete picture. The believers in the Old Testament didn’t have a complete picture of salvation because Jesus hadn’t yet been born, but many of the things that they experienced were meant to show them and us what salvation looks like from a physical perspective. In contrast, most of the New Testament depicts salvation from a spiritual perspective. The Old and New Testaments of the Bible both depict images of salvation, but they have to be matched up in order for us to see the entire picture in a way that makes sense to us.
The Apostle Paul explained in his letter to the Ephesians that the reason why unbelievers’ spiritual perception is blocked before they are born again is because they are spiritually dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-2), but after they experience regeneration, they can see that there is a better way for them to live and are free to choose the path of life that they want to take. Paul said:
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24)
Paul described the process of sanctification as putting off the old self and putting on the new self in order to be renewed in the spirit of your minds. “The renewal here mentioned is not that of the mind itself in its natural powers of memory, judgment and perception, but ‘the spirit of the mind’; which, under the controlling power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, directs its bent and energies God-ward in the enjoyment of fellowship with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ, and of the fulfillment of the will of God” (G365).
Paul emphasized that in sanctification there must be a putting off of the old self because it belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires (Ephesians 4:22). One of the things that is clear about the Israelites’ 40 years of wandering in the wilderness is that the people of Israel were unable to give up their old ways of thinking and acting completely and struggled to obey God’s commands up until the time they crossed over the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land. Moses’ account of the Israelites journey noted their continuous rebellion and concluded with the statement, “For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the LORD. How much more after my death!” (Deuteronomy 31:27).
Proverbs 19:21 tells us, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” The Hebrew word that is translated stand, quwm (koom) in this instance means to “come about” and is being used to denote “the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (H6965). Sanctification of believers is God’s responsibility and even though we must cooperate in the process, God is able to do whatever he needs to for it to be completed once the process has started. The definiteness and the completeness of the divine act guarantees the end result (G37). The Israelites’ crossing of the Jordan River marked the beginning of their process of sanctification. Joshua 3:9-17 states:
And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.” And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.”
So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.
Joshua indicated that the way the people of Israel would know that God would without fail drive out the inhabitants of the land was that the waters of the Jordan would be cut off from flowing when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the Ark of the Covenant rested in the waters. The Ark of the Covenant signified God’s presence and in particular, God said, “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Exodus 25:22). The Ark of the Covenant usually resided in the tabernacle, behind the veil that hung between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. “Only one man, the high priest, went beyond that curtain, and he was permitted to do so only once a year, on the Day of Atonement. On that occasion, he was to sprinkle on the altar the blood of a bull as an offering for his sins and the sins of the priests, and the blood of the goat as an offering for the sins of the people (Leviticus 16:1-19). The significance was clear: man was separated from God because of sin and could approach him only through the blood that was presented by a priest, who, prior to the sin offerings, had to offer incense that he might find mercy and not die (Leviticus 16:13). When Jesus died on the cross, the curtain hanging in the temple was torn in two (Matthew 27:51), indicating that all believers now had access to God’s presence. Jesus went beyond the veil into the Most Holy Place, the presence of God (Hebrews 9:12, 24), as the ultimate high priest (Hebrews 7:23-28, 9:11), taking his own blood (Hebrews 9:12) and making full atonement for sins (Hebrews 10:10, 12)” (note on Exodus 26:31-45). The fact that the Ark of the Covenant was brought out into the open and everyone could see it when the people passed over the Jordan River (Joshua 3:3) suggests that Christ’s atonement was applied to the Israelites as a result of them crossing over the Jordan River to get to the other side.
The Hebrew word ʿabar (aw-barˊ) appears 23 times in Joshua’s account of the Israelites crossing over the Jordan River. ʿAbar is used widely of any transition and as a verb, occurs only when it refers to sin. “This word communicates the idea of transgression, or crossing over the boundary of right and entering the forbidden land of wrong…ʿAbar often carries the sense of ‘transgressing’ a covenant or commandment—i.e., the offender ‘passes beyond’ the limits set by God’s law and falls into transgression and guilt” (H5674). From this standpoint, the Israelites’ crossing over the Jordan River signified that they were entering a forbidden territory and were at risk of being punished, but the Ark of the Covenant provided the people of Israel with the sense of security that they were doing God’s will and the cutting off the water actually demonstrated that God was facilitating their endeavor. It was clear that God wanted the Israelites to get to the other side. Moses explained the reason why God wanted the Israelites to cross over the Jordan in his final message to them. Moses said:
“Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to heaven, a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’ Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you.
“Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
“Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people. Remember and do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 9:1-7)
Moses emphasized the fact that the Israelites were not going in to possess the land because of their righteousness, but because of the wickedness of the nations that were already there. God intended to use the Israelites to accomplish his will, which was to destroy the nations that hated him (Deuteronomy 7:9-10).
The Jordan River represented the line that separated good and evil from both a physical and spiritual perspective. What took place when the Israelites crossed the Jordan River was significant because it depicted a part of salvation that most people don’t understand. In order to complete the picture, we have to look at what took place in the Jordan River in the New Testament of the Bible. Matthew 3:1-6 tells us:
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. ”For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”
Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
John the Baptist’s message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2) was implied when the Israelites crossed the Jordan River. Joshua 5:1 states, “As soon as all the kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard that the LORD had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the people of Israel until they had crossed over, their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel.” The kings of the Amorites and the kings of the Canaanites understood that the Israelites were preparing the way of the Lord because the Ark of the Covenant that was going before signified his presence and they most likely realized that God’s kingdom was about to be established in place of their own.
John’s ministry also shows us that the Israelites’ crossing of the Jordan River was a type of baptism. Matthew tells us, “Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:6). The people were coming to John from everywhere in droves to be baptized by him. There were likely thousands of people congregating around John so that they could make a profession of faith and be immersed by him in the Jordan River. John’s ministry marked an important transition from the Old Covenant that God established with Abraham which only applied to the Israelites to the New Covenant that applies to everyone. When Jesus arrived on the scene, John exclaimed, “’Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.” I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, the he might be revealed to Israel’” (John 1:29-31). John’s ministry of baptism was intended to identify Israel’s Messiah. Even though John didn’t know who the Messiah was until after Jesus arrived, John was essentially baptizing people in Jesus’ name when he stated, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me” (John 1:30). In the same way, the Ark of the Covenant was symbolic of Israel’s Messiah who was able to save them from the power of sin and death. When the Ark of the Covenant went before the people into the Jordan River, the waters were cut off as a sign of the Israelite’s immortality.
Like the Jordan River, baptism symbolizes an imaginary line that must be crossed over in order for a believer to experience the effects of their sanctification. It has to do with living the resurrected life that Paul talked about in his letter to the Romans as opposed to the natural life that is associated with your physical birth. Paul said:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:1-14)