Spiritual blindness

Jesus’ miracle of healing a man that was born blind (John 9:1-7) portrayed in practical terms the spiritual condition of the Jews that Jesus was ministering to. “The Jews took pride in their ancestry as God’s chosen people and totally disregarded their own spiritual need” (note on John 9:39). Their spiritual blindness caused the Jews to cling to the false hope of their Mosaic legal system (John 9:28-29) and reject Christ’s message of salvation by grace. Paul wrote about the Jews spiritual dilemma in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul said:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

Paul talked about the world not being able to know God through wisdom, but only through the foolishness of preaching. God saves those who believe in Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:21). The Greek word that is translated wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, sophia (sof-eeˊ-ah) means “skill in the affairs of life, practical wisdom, wise management as shown in forming the best plans and selecting the best means, including the idea of sound judgment and good sense” and speaks “specifically of the learning and philosophy current among the Greeks and Romans in the apostolic age intended to draw away the minds of men from divine truth, and which stood in contrast to the simplicity of the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:17, 19-22; 2:1, 4-6, 13; 3:19; 2 Corinthians 1:12)” (G4678). Paul’s quotation of Isaiah 29:14 set the context of his statement as dealing with an intentional effort on God’s part to keep certain spiritual truths hidden from the unsaved. The broader context of spiritual blindness can be seen in Israel’s rejection of their Messiah and God’s judgment of his chosen people. Isaiah 29:9-16 states:

Astonish yourselves and be astonished;
    blind yourselves and be blind!
Be drunk, but not with wine;
    stagger, but not with strong drink!
For the Lord has poured out upon you
    a spirit of deep sleep,
and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
    and covered your heads (the seers).

And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”

And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,

therefore, behold, I will again
    do wonderful things with this people,
    with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
    and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel,
    whose deeds are in the dark,
    and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”?

Isaiah’s declaration, “the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden” focuses on the lack of spiritual perception that was evident among the Jews during Christ’s ministry on earth. Isaiah may have been using the phrases wisdom of the wise and discernment of the discerning to signify a lack of spiritual or divine gifts among the Jews. The Greek words sophia and sunesis cover a broad range of mental capabilities that have to do with comprehension. A derivative of sunesis is the Greek word sunetos (soon-etˊ-os) which means to reason out and hence to be intelligent (G4908). In a bad sense, sunetos means conceited (G5429) and therefore, suggests that intelligence or perhaps even an understanding of God’s word without the faith that is required to interpret it correctly may be the root cause of spiritual blindness. Jesus told the man that was born blind, “For judgement I came into the world, that those who do not see may see and those who see may become blind” (John 9:39). The Greek word that is translated blind, tuphlos (toof-losˊ) means “opaque (as if smoky)” (G5185) and is derived from the word tuphoo (toof-oˊ) which means “to envelop with smoke, i.e. (figurative) to inflate with self-conceit” (G5187).

A conversation between the Pharisees and the man who was born blind after Jesus healed him exposed the Jewish religious leaders’ conceit. The man who had been blind told the Pharisees:

One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. (John 9:25-34)

The point that the man who was born blind was trying to make was that his eyes were opened as a result of Jesus’ divine intervention and yet the Pharisees didn’t accept what happened as a miracle. The man who was born blind stated, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (John 9:33). The phrase “he could do nothing” consists of four Greek words that convey the absence of power, but also suggests that Jesus’ ability to do miracles did not come from within himself, but from his spiritual connection to God the Father. The man’s statement, “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him” (John 9:31) implied that the power Jesus displayed in opening the blind man’s eyes was a direct result of him doing God’s will. On the contrary, the Pharisees looked at the situation from a legalistic perspective and determined, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath” (John 9:16).

The Pharisees argument, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from” (John 9:29) was unfounded because on more than one occasion God declared Jesus to be his Son. Matthew’s gospel states, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16-17). Mark’s gospel contains a similar account of Jesus’ baptism and also states about his transfiguration, “A cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to him.’” (Mark 9:7). Rather than arguing with the Pharisees about his deity, Jesus approached the man who was born blind after he was excommunicated and asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man” (John 9:35). The man responded, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him” (John 9:36). Jesus told the man who was born blind, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you” (John 9:37). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated seen, horasis (horˊ-as-is) has to do with both physical and mental perception and refers specifically to “an inspired appearance” (G3706). With regards to seeing God, horasis means “to know Him, be acquainted with Him, know his character” (G3708). Moses’ role in delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt was particularly important because he was God’s designated representative, but Moses was human and therefore, couldn’t replicate God’s divine character. At the end of his life, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. When you have seen it you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes’ (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin)” (Numbers 27:12-14). Moses’ disobedience at the waters of Meribah is recorded in Numbers 20:2-13 where it states:

Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him. Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.

Paul explained the significance of Moses and Aaron’s mistake in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:1-5). Paul indicated that the Rock that Moses struck was Christ, the source of the Israelites’ salvation, and that the waters at Meribah were meant to quench the Israelites’ spiritual thirst. Jesus eluded to this in a conversation he had with a woman of Samaria whom he met at a well. Jesus told her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Jesus went on to say, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). Jesus referred to the spiritual drink that he wanted to give the woman at the well as living water (John 4:10) and indicated that quenching “one’s spiritual thirst was synonymous with eternal life (v. 14)” (note on John 4:10-14).

The Israelites associated eternal life with living in the Promised Land because God promised to give Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan as an eternal possession (Genesis 13:15). The problem with the Israelites’ expectation was that they didn’t realize they needed faith in order to enter the land. God told Moses and Aaron that they couldn’t bring the Israelites into the Promised Land because they didn’t believe in Him (Numbers 20:12). The Hebrew word that is translated believe, ʾaman (aw-manˊ) “signifies the element of being ‘firm’ or ‘trustworthy’…Considering something to be trustworthy is an act of full trusting or believing. This is the emphasis in the first biblical occurrence of aman: ‘And [Abram] believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). The meaning here is that Abram was full of trust and confidence in God, and that he did not fear Him (v. 1). It was not primarily God’s words that he believed, but in God Himself. Nor does the text tell us that Abram believed God so as to accept what He said as ‘true’ and ‘trustworthy’ (cf. Genesis 45:26), but simply that he believed in God. In other words, Abram came to experience a personal relationship to God rather than an impersonal relationship with his promises” (H539).

The Pharisees that criticized Jesus for opening the eyes of the man who was born blind on the Sabbath (John 9:16) claimed to be disciples of Moses. They said about Jesus, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from” (John 9:29). Their refusal to accept Jesus as the Israelites’ Messiah stemmed from a belief that the Jews were God’s ‘spiritual’ children because they were Abraham’s physical children” (note on John 8:41). Jesus rebuked their unbelief by stating:

“If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:39-47)

The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated believe, pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) means “to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing)” (G4100). Pisteuo is derived from the primary verb peitho (piˊ-tho) which means “to convince (by argument, true or false)” (G3982). Jesus told some of the Pharisees, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (John 9:41). In other words, the Pharisees’ spiritual blindness made them think they were members of God’s kingdom, but in actuality, they were going to spend eternity in “the lake of fire” because their sins had not been forgiven (Revelation 20:15).

Set free

Jesus illustrated the effects of spiritual bondage when he healed numerous people by forgiving their sins. Matthew’s gospel records one such account this way:

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Matthew 9:1-8)

The authority that was referred to in Matthew 9:8 was the authority to release the paralytic from his spiritual bondage. The Greek word that is translated forgiven in Matthew 9:2, aphiemi (af-eeˊ-ay-mee) means “to let go from one’s power, possession, to let go free” (G863). A concept that is rooted in forgiveness is pardon; that of setting a prisoner free who has been condemned to death.

Jesus took his illustration one step further when the Jewish scribes and Pharisees asked him to interpret the Mosaic Law regarding adultery. John tells us:

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:2-11)

The condemnation that Jesus wanted to focus everyone’s attention on was to condemn someone “by contrast, i.e. to show by one’s good conduct that others are guilty of misconduct and deserve condemnation” (G2632). By contrast, Jesus was the only one present that was qualified to condemn the woman caught in adultery, and yet, he said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11), indicating that the woman had been set free from the effects of her spiritual bondage and was expected to live differently from that point forward.

The key to the woman’s release was her recognition of who Jesus was and what had just happened to her. Jesus asked, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” and the woman responded, “No one, Lord” (John 8:10, 11). The Greek word that is translated Lord, kurios (kooˊ-ree-os) means “supreme in authority” (G2962). The woman realized that her life was in Jesus’ hands and she respected his ability to condemn her. It is likely that in that moment, the woman put her trust in Jesus as the God of the Universe and was willing to accept whatever outcome he determined for her, life or death because of her sin. Even though it was unspoken, Jesus forgave the woman’s sin and set her free from the penalty that she deserved.

Jesus went on to tell the Pharisees, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). The phrase walk in darkness means “to continue in sin” (note on 1 John 1:5-7). It can be assumed from this statement that the power that is necessary for us to stop sinning is derived from having a relationship with Jesus Christ. John went into more detail about the difference between walking in the light and walking in darkness in his first epistle. John said:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as his is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7).

“To ‘walk in light’ (v. 7, cf. John 8:12) is to live in obedience to and have continuous fellowship with God” (note on 1 John 1:5-7). John said that when we walk in the light, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. The effect of Jesus’ death on the cross counteracts the effect of sin in our lives. When John said that Jesus’ blood cleanses us from sin, he meant that the sacrifice of Jesus’ life atoned for our sins completely. It erases our sins from the record book of our lives, it is as if our sins have never been committed.

John said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). “To ‘confess’ (homologeo [3670]) means to agree with God that sin has been committed. Even though Christ’s death satisfied God’s wrath toward the believer’s sin (1 John 2:1, 2), the inclination to sin still remains within man (vv.8, 10). Therefore he must realize the need to continue in a right relationship with God by confession of sin. God grants forgiveness in accordance with his ‘faithful and just’ nature” (note on 1 John 1:9). In other words, if we confess our sins, God’s forgiveness is guaranteed. We don’t have to be afraid that God will punish us when we admit to him that we’ve done something wrong. John went on to say:

No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:6-10)

“John is not teaching the possibility of sinless perfection; he is merely indicating that the person who has experienced regeneration will demonstrate righteousness in daily living. Only the one who ‘practices righteousness’ (v. 7, ho poion [4160], a participial phrase meaning ‘the one habitually doing’) is to be considered righteous. Believers are to make the righteousness and holy life of Christ the object of their trust but also the pattern of their lives. The expression ‘he cannot keep on sinning’ (v. 9) means the true believer cannot sin habitually, deliberately, easily, or maliciously (e.g., Cain sinned out of hatred of goodness, 1 John 1:12). The truth of the believer’s sonship (John 1:12; Romans 8:16) and eternal security (John 10:28; Romans 8:38, 39) should never cause him to think that he can live in deliberate, continual sin. Those who do not ‘practice righteousness’ give evidence that they do not belong to God (1 John 3:10)” (note on 1 John 3:6-10).

Jesus talked about dying in your sin and said to the Pharisees, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ So the Jews said, ‘Will he kill himself, since he says, “Where I am going, you cannot come”?’ He said to them, ‘You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins’” (John 8:21-24). Dying in your sins basically means that your sins haven’t been forgiven when you enter into eternity, but the Greek word that Jesus used for die, apothnesko (ap-oth-naceˊ-ko) actually has to do with being spiritually dead even though you are still physically alive (G599). The message that Jesus was most likely trying to convey to the Jews was that their time was running out. Jesus was about to be crucified and his mission to save the world would be completed. Jesus was warning the Jews that if they continued to reject their Messiah, the Jewish people would have no other means to obtain eternal life and would die without gaining access to the kingdom of God.

The example of the Israelites dying in the wilderness further illustrates the point of how it’s possible to be chosen by God, but die in your sin. After 40 years of wandering in the desert, a census was taken “of all the congregation of the people of Israel, from twenty years old and upward” (Numbers 26:2) and “The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Among these the land shall be divided for inheritance according to the number of names” (Numbers 26:52-53). The inheritance spoken of here was the land that had been promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The only ones that actually received the inheritance among those that were delivered from slavery in Egypt were those that were still alive when the Israelites took possession of the land of Canaan. Numbers 26:63-65 states, “These were those listed by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who listed the people of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. But among these there was not one of those listed by Moses and Aaron the priest, who had listed the people of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. For the Lord had said of them, ‘They shall die in the wilderness.’ Not one of them was left, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.” The Hebrew word that is translated die in Numbers 26:65, muwth (mooth) is “a verb meaning to die, to kill, to put to death, to execute…Dying, however was not intended to be a natural aspect of being human. It came about through unbelief and rebellion against God (Genesis 3:4) so that Adam and Eve died. The word describes dying because of failure to pursue a moral life (Proverbs 5:23; 10:21)” (H4191).

The Apostle Paul’s testimony of his conversion included a message that he received from the Lord on the road to Damascus. Paul told King Agrippa:

“In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” (Acts 26:12-18)

The Lord’s message indicated that in addition to forgiveness of sins believers receive an inheritance that is described as “a place among those who are sanctified” Acts 26:18). John noted this fact in his gospel account where he recorded the following words of the Lord, Jesus Christ:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:1-7)

Jesus indicated that he was going to prepare a place for his disciples (John 14:2) and then went on to say, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus told his disciples that he was going to take them to a place in the future and it may have seemed to them that he was a type road that would lead them to that destination (G3598). In that sense, the other words that Jesus used to describe himself, the truth and the life might have been thought of as types of signposts that would direct his disciples as they traveled on their designated route.

Jesus told the Jews, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). In this instance, the Greek word that is translated know is ginosko (ghin-oceˊ-ko). “In the New Testament ginosko frequently indicates a relation between the person ‘knowing’ and the object known; in this respect, what is ‘known’ is of value or importance to the one who knows, and hence the establishment of the relationship…The same idea of appreciation as well as ‘knowledge’ underlies several statements concerning the ‘knowledge’ of God and His truth on the part of believers, such ‘knowledge’ is obtained, not by mere intellectual activity, but by operation of the Holy Spirit consequent upon acceptance of Christ” (G1097). From that standpoint, Jesus’ statement “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32) could be interpreted “you shall know me and I will set you free.”

Jesus argued that the reason the Jews didn’t accept what he was saying was because the Jews didn’t have a relationship with God. John 8:42-47 states:

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

Jesus identified the devil as a liar and indicated that the Jewish religious leaders were his children because they were acting like him. When he asked the question, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46), Jesus was likely mocking the men that tried to test him by condemning the woman that was caught in adultery (John 8:4-5). Jesus’ question, “If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?” (John 8:46) pointed out that the Jews couldn’t find any fault in what Jesus was saying and yet, they still didn’t want people to accept him as their Savior and be set free from the power and punishment of sin (G1659).

Jesus told the Jews, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36). The Greek word that is translated indeed, ontos (onˊ-toce) has to do with having certainty about what is real. Its root word on (oan) is a present participle of the word eimi (i-meeˊ) which means “I exist” (G1510). When we are set free, we become like Jesus in that our existence is no longer threatened by death. We have the assurance that we will never be condemned for our sins. Paul explained this in his letter to the Romans where he stated. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2). According to Paul, the law of the Spirit of life supersedes the law of sin and death and therefore, Christ is able to pronounce us innocent of any and all charges that the devil tries to bring against us (Revelation 12:10).

Deception

After the Israelites defeated the king of Sihon and Og the king of Bashan, Balak the king of Moab devised a plot to keep the Israelites from entering his territory. Balak offered Balaam, a well-known false prophet, fees to pronounce a curse on the Israelites so that they would be powerless to overtake him (Numbers 22:6-7). Balak’s plan backfired and instead of cursing the people of Israel, Balaam blessed the Israelites four times (Numbers 23-24), but that was not the end of the story. Numbers 25:1-3 tells us, “While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.” The Hebrew word that is translated whore, zanah (zaw-nawˊ) means “to commit adultery,” but in this instance it is being used figuratively to refer to “the Jewish people being regarded as the spouse of Jehovah” (H2181). Deuteronomy explains from God’s perspective what was going on when Balak tried to curse the Israelites. Numbers 23:3-6 states:

“No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever, because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. But the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam; instead the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loved you. You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever.” (Deuteronomy 23:3-6)

It says in Deuteronomy 23:5 that the LORD God was in love with the people of Israel in the same way that a man and a woman have a strong emotional attachment to each other (H157). The LORD protected the Israelites from Balaam because of his deep affection for them. When the Israelites participated in the sacrifices to the Moabite gods and bowed down to worship them, they were in essence disassociating themselves from the God that had delivered them from slavery in Egypt and who had provided for all their needs throughout their 40 years of wandering in the desert.

It says in Numbers 25:3, “So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor.” The Hebrew word that is translated yoked, tsamad (tsaw-madˊ) has to do with being like-minded, two or more people thinking the same way about things. The Moabites likely had a mental framework that excluded God’s existence, but it wasn’t obvious to the Israelites. In the book of Revelation, John was instructed to write letters to the seven churches that pointed out the things that each of them was doing right and the things that they were doing wrong. In his letter to the church in Pergamum, the Lord told John to write, “But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality” (Revelation 2:14). The Greek word that is translated stumbling block, maʿaqash (mah-ak-awshˊ) means “a crook (in a road). Maʿaqash is derived from the word ʿaqash (aw-kashˊ) which means “to knot or distort; figuratively to pervert” (H6140). One way of looking at what was going on between the Israelites and the Moabites was that their practices of making sacrifices seemed to be so similar that the Israelites might have thought it didn’t matter if they did it one way or the other. The problem was that the Moabites were sacrificing to a different god. The Moabites were pledging their allegiance to Baal of Peor and the Israelites by participating in their sacrifices were doing the same (Numbers 25:5).

Numbers 25:18 indicates that the Israelites had been harassed by the Moabites with their wiles and that they had been beguiled by them in the matter of Baal of Peor. Wiles are methods of deceit that are intended to defraud someone (H5231/5230). The Apostle Paul talks about the wiles of the devil in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul told the Ephesians to “put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11, NKJV). The Greek word that is translated stand, histemi (hisˊtay-mee) means to stand fast against an enemy, but it is also used metaphorically “to impute, e.g., sin unto someone’ (G2476). In Acts 7:30 the dying martyr Stephen used the word histemi when he said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” In that sense, standing against the wiles of the devil might mean that we don’t let the devil’s false accusations stop us from doing God’s will. Jesus was constantly bombarded with false accusations by the Jewish leaders who wanted to put a stop to his ministry. On one occasion, after Jesus healed a man that had been an invalid for 38 years, “the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.’ But he answered them, ‘The man who healed me, that man said to me, “Take up your bed and walk”’…And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath” (John 5:10-11, 16).

The Jews tried to discredit Jesus by shifting the focus of peoples’ attention from the fact that Jesus was doing miracles to the fact that he was doing them on the Sabbath. Jesus countered the Jews argument against him with this statement:

“I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:21-24)

On the surface of things it seemed as if the Jews were in the right and Jesus was in the wrong, but Jesus pointed out that appearances can be deceiving. The Greek word that is translated right in John 7:24, dikaios (dikˊ-ah-yos) has to do with being impartial. Dikaios is used “especially of those whose hearts are right with God” and of things being just as they should be (G1342).

It is clear that the Jews weren’t able to discriminate between good and evil because they didn’t even realize that Jesus was their Messiah. It says in John 7:5, “For not even his brothers believed in him. John tells us, “There was much complaining among the people concerning Him. Some said, “He is good”; others said, “No, on the contrary, He deceives the people.” However, no one spoke openly of Him for fear of the Jews” (John 7:12-13, NKJV). Some of the Jews thought that Jesus was deceiving the people, but the opposite was actually true. The Greek word planao (plan-ahˊ-o) is used with the definite article in Revelation 12:9 as a title of the Devil, “the Deceiver” (G4105). Planao appears throughout the New Testament in connection with the devils activities. Jesus warned his disciples, “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many” (Matthew 24:4-5, NKJV). Jesus went on to say about the end times, “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:11-14, NKJV) and later, “false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24, NKJV). The Apostle Paul told Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and imposters will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:12-13).

John’s first epistle states about Christ, “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning” (1 John 3:7-8). Jesus’ question to the Jews pointed out the obvious discrepancy between their behavior and their espoused beliefs. He asked them, “Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” (John 7:19). The Jews intended to murder Jesus and yet they proclaimed, “You have a demon!” (John 7:20). The Jewish authorities’ hypocrisy was evident to everyone and yet the people justified their doubts about Jesus’ deity based on facts about his human birth. They posed the question, “Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ?” and then, answered themselves, “But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.” (John 7:20-21). The people were confused because they weren’t looking at things from a spiritual perspective.

Paul explained the lost state of the unsaved in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the bodyand the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.(Ephesians 2:1-3)

Paul described unbelievers as being dead in trespasses and sins, “following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1-2). The picture Paul presented was one of involuntary cooperation. Unsaved people are dead spiritually and yet they are subject to Satan’s influence. Satan’s ultimate goal is to use deception to keep people under his control until it’s too late for them escape eternal punishment. Paul told believers:

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. (Ephesians 4:17-19)

The Greek word that is translated darkened in Ephesians 4:18, skotizo (skot-idˊ-zo) means “to obscure” (G4654) and is derived from the word skotos (skotˊ-os) which is “spoken figuratively of moral darkness, the absence of spiritual light and truth, including the idea of sinfulness and consequent calamity” (G4655).

Jesus battled against the deceptive forces at work in the Jews minds by teaching them the spiritual truths that govern the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount began with the key principles of spiritual life, what we know today as the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12). Jesus also compared the ways of the world with the ways of his kingdom in order to show the stark contrast between saved and unsaved individuals. Jesus stated:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers,what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

Jesus’ declaration that we must be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect was meant to point out that the standard for Christian living is not obedience to the Ten Commandments, but complete surrender to God’s will through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus illustrated this point when he said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:38).

Jesus’ reference to the Holy Spirit caused a division among the people. John 7:40-47 states:

When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived?

The lines that were being drawn between the Jewish religious leaders and followers of Christ made it difficult for anyone associated with the Pharisees to make a profession of faith. Nicodemus, who came to Jesus at night to find out how he could be born again (John 3:1-21), was unwilling to openly declare his faith (John 7:50-52). “When Nicodemus urged the other Pharisees to consider Christ’s words before determining whether he spoke the truth, they sought to discredit him” (note on John 7:52).

Paul talked about the deceitfulness of sin being the root cause of the Jews unbelief. Paul said:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:12-19)

In a very simplistic sense, unbelief is merely a rejection of the truth, but what is really at work in the hearts of unbelievers is an unconscious choice to believe Satan’s lies. Satan’s deception cannot prevent a person from becoming a believer, but it does provide him with an alternate choice. The Holy Spirit’s instruction, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Hebrews 3:15) implies that unbelief is a decision to not listen to the voice of God.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul expressed his concern about them getting caught up in the deceptive practices of religion. Paul wrote:

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. (Galatians 4:8-11)

Paul went on to remind the Galatians that the central and perhaps only principle they really needed to focus on in order to live a godly life was God’s law of reciprocity. Paul said:

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:6-10)

Paul admonished the Galatians to not be deceived, suggesting that what he was about to say to them would be disputed by the three satanic forces that work against our belief in Christ: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Jesus indicated that we must give the Holy Spirit free reign in our hearts and lives so that we are not taken in by Satan’s deception,  (John 7:38-39).

Israel’s Messiah

God’s promise to give Abraham and his descendants all the land of Canaan forever (Genesis 13:14-15) was the first indicator that a resurrection would take place sometime in the future. We know that Abraham believed in life after death because Hebrews 11:17-19 tells us, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense” (NKJV). God reiterated his unconditional divine promise to Jacob who told his son Joseph shortly before his death, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession’” (Genesis 48:3-4, NKJV). When Jacob called his sons together to give them his final blessing, he spoke of a time period that he referred to as “the last days” (Genesis 49:1) and he told his son Judah:

“Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise;
Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
Your father’s children shall bow down before you.
Judah is a lion’s whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He bows down, he lies down as a lion;
And as a lion, who shall rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor a lawgiver from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes;
And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.” (Genesis 49:8-10, NKJV)

The Hebrew word that is translated Shiloh in Genesis 49:10, shiyloh (shee-loˊ) is an epithet of Israel’s Messiah (H7886). The scepter that Jacob mentioned is a symbol of authority in the hands of a ruler (H7626) and in connection with the last days was likely meant as a reference to Christ’s second coming when he will reign on earth for a thousand years. Revelation 20:4-6 states regarding this time period:

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

The scepter of Israel’s Messiah is also mentioned in Balaam’s final oracle. After the Israelites defeated the king of Sihon and Og the king of Bashan (Numbers 21:21-35), Balak the king of Moab wanted to stop the Israelites from taking over his territory. Balak hired Balaam, who was a false prophet, to curse the Israelites so that he could drive them from the land (Numbers 22:6). When Balak promised to give Balaam a position of honor in his kingdom in exchange for his cooperation, Balaam responded, “Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak” (Numbers 22:38) and before he pronounced his final oracle, Balaam referred to the time period known as “the latter days” (Numbers 24:14). Balaam said:

I see him, but not now;
    I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
    and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead of Moab
    and break down all the sons of Sheth.
Edom shall be dispossessed;
    Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed.
    Israel is doing valiantly.
And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion
    and destroy the survivors of cities!” (Numbers 24:17-19)

Matthew’s gospel contains a record of the visit of wise men who came to King Herod at the time of Jesus’ birth asking the question, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2). Herod immediately went to work to kill Jesus (Matthew 2:16) and his family likely remained in hiding until Jesus’ public ministry was launched (Matthew 2:19-23). Jesus’ role of Savior of the world was not talked about openly, but those who came to know him were aware of the fact that he was Israel’s Messiah (John 4:42).

One of the key factors of Jesus’ revelation of his kingdom was that everyone would be resurrected, not just the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus said in his Olivet Discourse:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

Jesus identified two possible outcomes of being resurrected, eternal punishment or eternal life. The Greek word that is translated punishment, kolasis (kolˊ-as-is) means “penal infliction” and is “spoken of the temporary torment produced by fear in the soul of one conscious of sin before the love of God brings peace at salvation (1 John 4:18)” (G2851). Therefore, it might be said that eternal punishment is the never ending torment that results from an awareness of one’s unforgiven sins. On the other hand, eternal life is characterized by the uninterrupted peace that comes from a knowledge of God’s forgiveness and the removal of all guilt.

The Greek word that is translated life in Matthew 25:46, zoe (dzo-ayˊ) speaks “of life or existence after rising from the dead” and “in the sense of existence, life, in an absolute sense and without end” (G2222). Zoe means “life as God has it, which the Father has in Himself, and which he gave to the Incarnate Son to have in Himself (John 5:26), and which the Son manifested in the world (1 John 1:2). From this life man has become alienated in consequence of the Fall, and of this life men become partakers through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:15), who becomes its Author to all such as trust in Him (Acts 3:15), and who is therefore said to be ‘the life’ of the believer (Colossians 3:4), because the life that He gives He maintains (John 6:35, 63). Eternal life is the present actual possession of the believer because of his relationship with Christ (John 5:24; 1 John 3:14), and that it will one day extend its domain to the sphere of the body is assured by the resurrection of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:4; 2 Timothy 1:10).” Zoe is derived from the Greek word zao (dzahˊ-o) which simply means “to live” and refers to “the recovery of physical life from the power of death” (G2198).

Jesus used the miracle of feeding more than five thousand people with a five loaves of bread and two fish (John 6:5-13) to demonstrate the principles of eternal life. An important thing to note about this miracle is that Jesus started with food that already existed. Later on, when Jesus referred to himself as “the bread of life” (John 6:35) and compared what he had to offer people to the manna that Moses gave the Israelites (John 6:32-33), the focus of Jesus’ attention was zoe, life in the absolute sense. John recorded the event this way:

Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6:4-14)

John’s account of Jesus’ feeding the five thousand focused in on Philip’s conclusion that the disciples didn’t have the material resources that they needed to feed the people. Even though they started with just five loaves of bread and the 5000 men ate as much as they wanted, afterward Jesus instructed the disciples to “gather up the leftover fragments” (John 6:12). The twelve baskets full of broken pieces that were gathered indicated that there were actually more material resources than were necessary to meet the people’s physical needs. The abundance of resources resulted in Jesus being recognized as Israel’s Messiah (John 6:14).

Jesus told his disciples, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). In this statement, the Greek word zoe, which is translated life, associates the kind of life that we receive when we are born again with abundance. The Greek word perissos (per-is-sosˊ) denotes “what is superior and advantageous” (G4053). Jesus was therefore implying that eternal life is better in both quantity and quality than the temporal, physical existence that ends when we die. Jesus explained:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:47-51)

Jesus referred to himself as “the living bread” (John 6:51). By that, Jesus meant that the manifestation of divine power was already at work in his physical body and it could not be destroyed by death as evidenced by his resurrection three days after he was crucified. Jesus said, “If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:51). The process of chewing and digesting food in order to sustain our physical lives is something that everyone does without giving much if any thought to what is happening. In order to gain any nourishment from our food, there has to first of all be substances that can be absorbed into the body and then chemicals in our bodies that can break the food down and convert it into energy. The substances that we are able to absorb that come from Jesus are his words and what is necessary for them to be converted into spiritual energy is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus went on to say:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-58)

Jesus used the terms flesh and blood to represent the basic elements of physical life. These elements were associated with the sacrifices that were required for the atonement of sins (Exodus 30:10). Jesus incorporated these elements into his institution of the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-29) and made it clear that the purpose of this practice was to identify oneself with his death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Therefore, it can be assumed that the Eucharist was intended to be a means of activating and sustaining zoe, eternal life.

Jesus told his disciples, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe” (John 6:63-64) indicating that faith is necessary for our spiritual existence. John recorded, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:68-69). The Greek word that is translated Holy One, christos (khris-tosˊ) means “anointed, i.e. the Messiah, an epithet of Jesus” (G5547). Peter indicated that Jesus’ twelve disciples had believed and also come to know that he was Israel’s Messiah. The Greek word ginosko (ghin-oceˊ-ko) is simply translated sure in the King James Version of the Bible. Peter seemed to be saying that it wasn’t just faith that led Jesus’ twelve disciples to the conclusion that he was their Messiah, but that they were sure of it because of a complete and absolute understanding of his teaching.

The Greek word ginosko “is also used to convey the thought of connection or union, as between a man and woman” and as a verb, ginosko means “to know by observation and experience” (G1097). Part of the reason why Jesus became known as Israel’s Messiah was because he acted like the person he claimed to be, God’s only begotten Son. Peter told Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Another way of saying this might be, “You sound like you know what eternal life is all about.” Jesus knew what eternal life was all about, even before he died on the cross, because according to John’s gospel, Jesus existed before the creation of the world and “without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1-3). In the note on John 1:1-17, it says, “John’s gospel is the only one that begins with a discussion of the eternal existence of Jesus Christ rather than the time he appeared on earth. He is called the logos (G3056), ‘word,’ the term used by the Greeks in reference to the governing power behind all things. The Jews used the term to refer to God. Jesus created everything that is (v. 3) and later came to dwell among his creation (v. 14). There are two main verbs that contrast what Jesus had always been and what he became at his incarnation. There is ēn, the imperfect of eimi (G1510), ‘to be,’ which could be translated as ‘had been.’ This verb is found in every instance in this passage where Jesus is referred to in his eternal state of being (vv. 1, 2, 4, 9, 10, 15). The divine nature of Christ is clearly seen in the statement theos (G2316, ‘God’) ēn ho logos, literally, ‘the Word was God’ (v. 1). The second verb is egeneto (the aorist form of ginomai [G1096], ‘to become’). It refers to becoming something that one was not before. The Lord Jesus became that which he was not before, a physical being (v. 14).”

The resurrection of the dead signifies an important transition in the activities that take place on earth. After the great white throne judgment, John tells us in the book of Revelation:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

The former things that John was referring to were most likely the government systems that preceded the Messiah’s reign. After the devil and his followers are thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10, 15), God’s eternal kingdom will be established.

God’s representative

The Old Testament prophets were considered to be inspired spokesmen for God. “Moses was the greatest prophet of the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 34:10) and the example for all later prophets. He displayed every aspect of a true prophet, both in his call, his work, his faithfulness, and, at times, his doubts. Only Abraham is called a prophet before Moses (Genesis 20:7)” (H5030). A prophet was someone “who was raised up by God and, as such, could only proclaim that which the Lord gave him to say. A prophet could not contradict the Law of the Lord or speak from his own mind or heart.” When Balak the king of Moab sent for Balaam and asked him to curse the people of Israel, Balaam refused to do it (Numbers 22:14). “Balaam lived a long distance away from Moab, yet he must have been quite famous for Balak to have known of him and have sent for him. Archeological evidence from Deir Alla indicates that Balaam was highly regarded by pagans five hundred years after his death. His activity is described as divination and sorcery (Numbers 22:7, cf. Numbers 23:23; 24:1)” (note on Numbers 22:5). The fact that Balaam was known as a false prophet, a sorcerer if you will, didn’t stop him from being under God’s authority and control. After Balaam refused to go with the elders of Moab, Numbers 22:15-21 states:

Once again Balak sent princes, more in number and more honorable than these. And they came to Balaam and said to him, “Thus says Balak the son of Zippor: ‘Let nothing hinder you from coming to me, for I will surely do you great honor, and whatever you say to me I will do. Come, curse this people for me.’” But Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the Lord my God to do less or more. So you, too, please stay here tonight, that I may know what more the Lord will say to me.” And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.” So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab.

God allowed Balaam to go with the princes of Moab, but he also made it clear that Balaam had to obey his instructions. Balaam referred to the LORD as “my God” (Numbers 22:18) even though he was not an Israelite and had not been called to be a prophet. Balaam told Balak the king of Moab, “Behold, I have come to you! Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak” (Numbers 22:38).

Balak’s attempt to get Balaam to curse the people of Israel was driven by fear (Numbers 22:3) and the hope that he could stop God’s chosen people from overtaking the land of Moab (Numbers 22:6). After Balaam delivered his first discourse, Balak realized his plan wasn’t working. “And Balak said to Balaam, ‘What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have done nothing but bless them.’ And he answered and said, ‘Must I not take care to speak what the LORD puts in my mouth’” (Numbers 23:11-12). Balaam’s second discourse made it even clearer that Balak’s attempts to curse the Israelites were futile. Balaam stated:

Rise, Balak, and hear;
    give ear to me, O son of Zippor:
God is not man, that he should lie,
    or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
    Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
Behold, I received a command to bless:
    he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.
He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob,
    nor has he seen trouble in Israel.
The Lord their God is with them,
    and the shout of a king is among them.
God brings them out of Egypt
    and is for them like the horns of the wild ox.
For there is no enchantment against Jacob,
    no divination against Israel;
now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel,
    ‘What has God wrought!’
Behold, a people! As a lioness it rises up
    and as a lion it lifts itself;
it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey
    and drunk the blood of the slain.” (Numbers 23:18-24)

Balaam indicated that there was no enchantment or magic spell that would work against the descendants of Jacob and Balak’s attempts to use divination against them were useless (Numbers 23:23). The reason Balaam gave for Israel’s special treatment was that “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind” (Numbers 23:19). Balaam also specified that God’s word was linked to his covenant with Jacob and he could not revoke it (Numbers 23:20).

The Hebrew word qesem (kehˊ-sem), which is translated divination in Numbers 23:23 describes the cultic practice of foreign nations that was prohibited in Israel (Deuteronomy 18:10) and was considered a great sin. “False prophets used divination to prophecy in God’s name, but God identified them as false (Jeremiah 14:14; Ezekiel 13:6); and pledged to remove such practices from Israel (Ezekiel 13:23)” (H7081). One of the last mentions of divination in the Old Testament appears in Zechariah 10 which deals with the restoration of Judah and Israel and makes mention of God’s concern for his people. Zechariah 10:2-5 states:

For the household gods utter nonsense,
    and the diviners see lies;
they tell false dreams
    and give empty consolation.
Therefore the people wander like sheep;
    they are afflicted for lack of a shepherd.

“My anger is hot against the shepherds,
    and I will punish the leaders;
for the Lord of hosts cares for his flock, the house of Judah,
    and will make them like his majestic steed in battle.
From him shall come the cornerstone,
    from him the tent peg,
from him the battle bow,
    from him every ruler—all of them together.
They shall be like mighty men in battle,
    trampling the foe in the mud of the streets;
they shall fight because the Lord is with them,
    and they shall put to shame the riders on horses.

In this passage, Jesus is referred to as the cornerstone. After he told the parable of the tenants (Matthew 21:33-40), in which the chief priests and the Pharisees perceived that Jesus was talking about them (Matthew 21:45), Jesus asked the Jews in the temple that had gathered to listen to him:

“Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Matthew 21:42-44).

John’s gospel opens with a description of Jesus as “the Word” (John 1:1). John said, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). John went on to say, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:10-11). John connected the Word of God to God’s creative acts and said, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18). The Greek word that is translated known, exogeomai (ex-ayg-ehˊ-om-ahee) means “to consider out (aloud)” and also “to bring out or lead out, to take the lead, be the leader” (G1834). One of the primary reasons Jesus came into the world was to make God known and he did it in a way that had never been done before. Hebrews 1:1-4 states:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

The phrase “exact imprint” (Hebrews 1:3) refers to the representation of God’s nature being stamped on Jesus as if it was being permanently engraved on a stone. With respect to the Ten Commandments which were written on stone tablets with the finger of God (Exodus 31:18), you might say that Jesus was the embodiment of the Ten Commandments in that through Jesus, the words that God wrote were being brought to life, enacted by way of Jesus’ sinless human nature.

Jesus’ encounter with an invalid man at the pool of Bethesda illustrates the effect that God’s word has on sinners. Jesus began by posing the question, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6). The King James Version of the Bible translates Jesus’ question “Wilt thou be made whole?” This suggests that one of the effects of sin is that it makes us to feel like there is something missing in our lives. Jesus wanted to know if the man had a desire for his life to get better. That might seem like a stupid question except that the man’s response showed that he didn’t believe it was possible for him to do what was necessary for his healing to take place (John 5:7). Jesus then commanded the man, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk” (John 5:8). The Greek words that are translated get up, egeiro (eg-iˊ-ro); take up, airo (ahˊ-ee-ro); and walk, peripateo (per-ee-pat-ehˊ-o) all have a spiritual connotation that indicate Jesus was expecting the man to acknowledge his divine authority. John 5:9 states, “And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.” Later, when Jesus encountered the man a second time, he told him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you” (John 5:14). Jesus’ statement made it clear that doing what God tells us to can restore us to health, but we must change our behavior if we want to avoid getting into trouble in the first place.

When the Jews criticized Jesus for healing the invalid man on the Sabbath, Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working. This is why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:17-18). Jesus’ equality with God was evident in both his actions and the things that he said. In the Old Testament, when a prophet spoke on behalf of God, he would typically preface his statement with “thus says the Lord” (Isaiah 7:7), but Jesus didn’t do that. Jesus talked as if he was God, as when he commanded the man he healed, “Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you” (John 5:14). Jesus’ comment about the ongoing work of God (John 5:17) had to do with God’s plan of salvation, which had yet to be completed. Jesus indicated that his ministry was a part of God’s plan of salvation and that the things he was doing, like healing the invalid man, were connected to what God wanted to accomplish. Jesus went on to say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19). Even though Jesus was equal with God, he said that he couldn’t do anything of his own accord, meaning that he could not act independently and decide on his own what he should do in any given situation. In that sense, Jesus was merely God’s representative on earth. The Greek word poieo (poy-ehˊ-o) is used four times in John 5:19 to emphasize the importance of action in the spiritual realm. Poieo is “spoken of any external act as manifested in the production of something tangible, corporeal, obvious to the senses, i.e. completed action” (G4160). Jesus said, “The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing” (John 5:19). The word sees in this verse refers to spiritual perception and suggests that Jesus had to rely on spiritual discernment in order to carry out his assignment of dying for the sins of the world. The phrase can do nothing means that Jesus in an absolute sense had no power of his own to rely on. Jesus could only do that which he was able to discern through spiritual perception was the will of his Father. Jesus spoke of himself as being sent by his Father (John 5:23). The Greek word that is translated sent, pempo (pemˊ-po) means to dispatch “especially on a temporary errand” (G3992) and does not necessarily denote any official capacity or authoritative sending. Jesus came into the world as a servant (Matthew 20:28) and as a human was limited in his ability to do things, just as we are.

Jesus told the Jews:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. (John 5:25-27)

Jesus indicated that he had been given authority to execute judgment. An example of Jesus exercising this authority is given in Matthew 9:1-8 where it states:

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

Jesus used the authority that he had been given to execute judgment to forgive the sins of people that were suffering from various illnesses and physical defects. Also, Jesus gave his disciples the ability to do the same. Matthew 10:1 states, “And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.”

Jesus explained to the Jews that he was been given the power to release people from the penalty of their sins because he wasn’t doing it for his own benefit. Jesus said, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear I judge, and my judgment is just because I seek not my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30). And then, Jesus went on to say, “For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me” (John 5:36). Jesus wanted to make sure that the Jews understood that it wasn’t because he was a nice guy that he was going around forgiving peoples’ sins. God wanted his people to be healthy and happy. The Apostle Peter wrote in his second epistle, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The problem that the Jews had with God’s plan of salvation was not that his grace was sufficient to remove their sins, but that God’s grace was capable of getting rid of the sins of everyone. Peter said that God is not willing that any should perish and that all would repent of their sins. Jesus made God’s will perfectly clear to the Jews during his ministry by associating with the outcasts of society and by becoming the friend of tax collectors and sinners.

Spiritual perception

Jesus’ spiritual perception made it possible for him to see things that other people were unaware of. Sometimes this capability came through in subtle, somewhat ambiguous ways such as when Jesus told a parable about the tenants of a vineyard that killed their master’s son in order to steal his inheritance. Afterward, Mark tells us the chief priests and the scribes and the elders knew that Jesus’ parable was about them. Mark said, “And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away” (Mark 12:12). At other times, Jesus’ spiritual perception was revealed in an open and direct way so that there wouldn’t be any confusion about what he meant. On one occasion, Peter began to rebuke Jesus after he told his disciples he was going to be killed by the Jewish religious leaders and Matthew recorded their conversation. Matthew said, “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man’” (Matthew 16:22-23).

Jesus’ awareness that Satan was speaking through Peter wouldn’t have been possible if Jesus hadn’t kept his attention focused on the spiritual realm. Typically, our primary objective is to look at things from a factual, objective basis, but from a reality standpoint; what is apparent on the surface of things, the physical manifestation of our circumstances, is only a small part of what is actually going on in our world. Jesus indicated that some things are intentionally hidden from our physical perception so that only those who have faith in God will be able to discern them. Jesus explained it to his disciples this way:

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 spoke in parables to explain spiritual truths, but those who had already rejected Jesus did not have divinely enlightened minds with which to perceive these truths, and no amount of explanation would make them understand (1 Corinthians 2:14). They could watch and hear Jesus with their physical eyes and ears, but they were not capable of understanding the truth in their hearts because they had rejected him (2 Corinthians 4:3, 4). Those who accept the true light they have been given will receive even more light, while those who turn away from the light will continue to be increasingly shrouded in darkness (Matthew 13:12). The word ‘for’ at the beginning of Matthew 13:15 should be understood as having the same meaning as ‘because.’ People do not hear and see because their hearts are full of wickedness; consequently, they fail to understand the truth that has been given them. They are so opposed to God’s message that they harden themselves against it, lest they should understand it and ask forgiveness of God. Once they reject Jesus, they also reject the possibility of understanding the parables that Jesus told (Isaiah 55:6-8)” (note on Matthew 13:10-17).

Jesus used the phrase “see but never perceive” (Matthew 13:14) to show that physical and spiritual perception are independent of each other and also indicated that spiritual perception is connected with the heart (Matthew 13:15). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated perceive, eido (i´-do) implies “not the mere act of seeing, but the actual perception of some object” (G1492). Metaphorically, eido is “spoken of the mind: to perceive by the senses, to be aware of.” Therefore, it can be assumed that spiritual perception is a type of heart knowledge that is associated with being born again (Ezekiel 36:26-27). The Apostle Paul talked about spiritual perception in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). “The ‘natural spirit’ is a translation of the Greek psychikos (5591), referring to the man who is governed by his fallen nature (Romans 5:12). This man is unable to fully understand and apply spiritual truths because he does not possess the indwelling Spirit of God” (note on 1 Corinthians 2:14).

Before Jesus came to the earth and it was possible for a person to be born again, spiritual perception was limited to a select number of individuals that were anointed or temporarily gifted with the power of the Holy Spirit. An example of temporary spiritual perception being granted to an individual in the Old Testament appears in Numbers 22:31 where it says that “the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam.” Balaam was a prophet that had been hired by Balak the king of Moab to curse the Israelites (Numbers 22:7-21). While he was on his way to meet with Balak, Balaam was confronted by the angel of the LORD who “took his stand in the way as his adversary” (Numbers 22:22). Then, it says in Numbers 22:23-27:

And the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. And the donkey turned aside out of the road and went into the field. And Balaam struck the donkey, to turn her into the road. Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. And when the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she pushed against the wall and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So he struck her again. Then the angel of the Lord went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff.

The donkey that Balaam was riding on was able to see the angel of the LORD standing in the road, but Balaam was not able to because he didn’t have any spiritual perception of what was going on right in front of him. Rather than immediately giving Balaam the ability to see what he was missing, the LORD allowed his donkey to communicate with him. Numbers 22:28-30 states:

Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.”

At the point that Balaam began to realize that something was going on that he wasn’t aware of, the LORD gave him spiritual perception. Numbers 22:31-35 states:

Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.” Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.” And the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only the word that I tell you.” So Balaam went on with the princes of Balak.

The reason why Balaam bowed down and fell on his face when he saw the angel of the LORD was because he knew he was standing in the presence God in the form of the preincarnate Lord, Jesus Christ. Once his spiritual perception was turned on, Balaam was able to spiritually discern the purpose behind Balak’s desire for him to curse the people of Israel and realized that he needed to stop what he was doing.

Jesus used his spiritual perception to stay one step ahead of the Jewish religious leaders that wanted to kill him. After they perceived that Jesus had told the parable of the wicked tenants against them, the religious leaders tried to get Jesus to say something that would justify him being arrested. Luke 20:19-26 states:

The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.

The scribes and the chief priests had spiritual perception, but they were using it for their own benefit instead of its intended purpose which was to minister to God’s people. Jesus was able to turn the tables on these hypocrites because his awareness of what they were doing went beyond their human comprehension into the spiritual realm where Satan operates.

In addition to being aware of what was going on around him that was a threat to his ministry, Jesus’ spiritual perception made it possible for him to see what was going on in the hearts of the people he came in contact with. John’s record of Jesus’ encounter with the woman of Samaria focused in on the way Jesus was able to get people to see the sin that was at work in their lives. John said:

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” (John 4:7-18)

Jesus’ conversation with the woman of Samaria began with a physical need that she could relate to. In the same way that we all have physical hunger and thirst, we also have spiritual hunger and thirst and Jesus wanted the Samaritan woman to become aware of her need for spiritual nourishment. As their conversation continued, Jesus pinpointed a specific spiritual need that the Samaritan woman had: unconditional love. The Samaritan woman wasn’t open to accepting Jesus’ gift of salvation right away, so he went on to explain to her how a relationship with God works. Jesus said:

You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:22-26)

Even though the Samaritan woman didn’t receive salvation herself, she told others about her encounter with Jesus (John 4:29) and John said, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39). Eventually, many more people believed and there was a spiritual awakening in Samaria. John 4:42 states:

They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

The Greek word that is translated know in John 4:42 is eido (i´-do); the same word that is translated perceive in Matthew 13:14, indicating that the Samaritans had spiritual perception of Jesus’ true identity. The important thing to note about the Samaritans’ experience is that the only people who believed in Jesus were the ones that had a spiritual awareness that he was who he claimed to be.

Jesus pinpointed the problem in his own disciples of why their spiritual perception wasn’t working properly. They were discussing among themselves the fact that they had no bread. “And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened?’” (Mark 8:16-17). A hardened heart is a spiritual condition that makes it impossible for spiritual truth to get past the exterior surface a person’s being. Jesus illustrated this point in his parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-8) when he said, “Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root they withered away” (Matthew 13:5-6). In his explanation of this parable, Jesus went on to say, “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” (Matthew 13:20-21). According to Jesus, a person that has a hard heart is someone that has believed the gospel at some point and perhaps has even made a commitment to follow the Lord, but his or her faith didn’t develop properly and it wasn’t able to be sustained over time.

The Apostle Paul dealt with the issue of spiritual complacency in his second letter to Timothy. Paul encouraged Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God which is in you” (2 Timothy 1:6) and then, instructed Timothy to “follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 13-14). Paul indicated that it’s the believer’s responsibility to keep his or her spiritual perception in working order. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our hearts, but we must guard our hearts against the evil influences of the world and the devil so that our faith can be developed and mature over time. Paul warned Timothy that times would be difficult in the last days and that some people would have the appearance of godliness, but would deny its power (2 Timothy 3:5), “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). The Greek word that is translated knowledge, epignosis (ip-ig´-no-sis) means “recognition, i.e. (by implication) full discernment” (G1922). The reason why we need our spiritual perception to be working properly is so that we can recognize the truth when we see it.

You must be born again

Jesus’ conversation with a ruler of the Jews named Nicodemus revealed important information about how to get to heaven. Nicodemus approached Jesus with the intent of discovering the secret to his success. John’s gospel tells us, “This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’” (John 3:2). Nicodemus knew there was a spiritual component to Jesus’ ministry that couldn’t be overlooked, but he didn’t realize that Jesus was more than just a teacher and that he had the ability to do things that were beyond the scope of normal human comprehension. Nicodemus’ recognition that Jesus had come from God was a step in the right direction, but Nicodemus missed the mark when he admitted “No one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). God was not with Jesus, Jesus was God in human flesh. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated see, eido (iˊ-do) has to do with experience and suggests that Jesus wanted Nicodemus to connect the kingdom of God with something beyond the perception of his physical senses. The phrase that Jesus used, born again isn’t related to a person’s physical birth, but has the connotation of spiritual regeneration.

You might say that Jesus’ comment about being born again went right over Nicodemus’ head because he responded, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4). Jesus likely used the term born, or gennaō (ghen-nahˊ-o) in the Greek, because birth signified a definite event that occurred at a specific point in time. We all know that being born is something that is necessary for us to be alive and can relate to birth as a significant event in everyone’s life. If you have been born, you are clearly aware of it. The part that was probably confusing to Nicodemus was the part about being born again. The Greek word that is translated again in John 3:3, anothen (anˊ-o then) means “from above” (G509). Anothen is derived from the word ano (anˊ-o) which means “upward or on the top” (G507). In Acts 2:9 ano is used to signify being “in a higher place” and also refers to heavenly things in the sense that they are above or more important than other things. Nicodemus may have misunderstood Jesus’ use of the term anothen in the phrase born again because he knew that all life originates with God, but Jesus wasn’t talking about a second physical birth. Jesus was talking about an actual event, a second birth that superseded the first one because it was of a spiritual rather than a physical nature.

John said about Jesus, “He who comes from above is above all” (John 3:31). In this statement, John used the same Greek word anothen, which is translated again in John 3:3, to convey Jesus’ superiority over everything else. When we are born again, our spiritual life begins to take precedence over our physical life and we are able to live on a higher plane, the spiritual plane which is associated with heaven. Matthew referred to the kingdom of heaven on numerous occasions and his gospel contains many parables that Jesus used to describe what this realm is like. After telling his followers the parable of the sower, Jesus’ disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” (Matthew 13:10). Jesus 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” (Matthew 13:11-13).

Jesus connected being able to understand what he was saying to being born again and said that you cannot see or hear things associated with heaven unless you have access to that realm. 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 equated being born again with entering the kingdom of God. The Greek word that is translated enter, eiserchomai (ice-erˊ-khom-ahee) is derived from the words eis (ice) which signifies the primary idea of motion into any place or thing (G1519) and erchomai (erˊ-khom-ahee) which represents movement in a particular direction (G2064). Essentially, what Jesus was saying was that there was a passage way that one had to travel through in order to reach the kingdom of God. Somewhat like the birth canal that must be passed through when a child is born, there is a particular way for a person to get into the kingdom of heaven and Jesus equated that with being “born of water and of the Spirit” (John 3:5).

Jesus noted the Holy Spirit’s prominent role in the process of spiritual birth when he said that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). It seems that Jesus’ indication that both water and the Spirit were involved in spiritual birth means that both are required for it to happen. In the same way that it takes both an egg and a sperm to make a child, the Holy Spirit and water or perhaps water baptism make it possible for spiritual regeneration to take place. It could be that Jesus’ comment about entering the kingdom of God was not about spiritual birth, but about spiritual life. As we all know, conception takes place inside the mother’s womb, but the child’s birth doesn’t happen until later. Birth makes is possible for a new stage of the child’s development to begin. It’s possible that being born again happens in two stages. First the conception, when the Holy Spirit comes in and regenerates a person and then, the birth, when a person is baptized and makes a public profession of faith.

Jesus associated the human spirit with the wind and said, “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 3:8). A unique characteristic of the wind that differentiates it from other natural forces is that you can’t see it, but you know that it’s present because of its effect on the things that it comes in contact with. The Greek word pneuma (pnyooˊ-mah) is translated as both wind and Spirit in John 3:8. Pneuma is “the vital spirit of life, the principle of life residing in man. The breath breathed by God into man and again returning to God, the spiritual entity in man (Matthew 27:50; Luke 8:55; 23:46; John 19:30; Acts 7:59; 1 Corinthians 15:45; Revelation 13:15)” (G4151). Pneuma is derived from the word pneo (pnehˊ-o) which means “to breathe hard, i.e. breeze” (G4154). This might make it seem as if the spiritual aspect of man is uncontrollable, but it could be that God causes us to be born again so that like the wind he can get us moving and so that his power will have a channel to flow through.

Psalm 135 focuses on the greatness of God and his ability to accomplish things. Psalm 135:5-7 states:

For I know that the Lord is great,
    and that our Lord is above all gods.
Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,
    in heaven and on earth,
    in the seas and all deeps.
He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth,
    who makes lightnings for the rain
    and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.

The Hebrew word that is translated wind in Psalm 135:7, rûwach (rooˊ-akh) is similar to the Greek word pneuma. Ruwach also describes the breath of a human being or the natural wind that blows. “The human spirit is sometimes depicted as the seat of emotion, the mind, and the will. The human spirit and the Spirit of God are closely linked with moral character and moral attributes” (H7307) It says in Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26 that God will give his His people a new spirit so they will follow His decrees and laws.

Psalm 135:7 emphasizes God’s control of the natural forces. The psalmist said that God “makes the clouds rise…makes lightnings for the rain…and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.” It could be that when we are born again, we become more like that natural forces that are under God’s control. Jesus eluded to this in his final words to Peter who had previously denied his relationship with Jesus three times (John 18:17, 25-27). Jesus told Peter, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18).

Following Jesus comment that “the wind blows where it wishes…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 3:8), Nicodemus openly acknowledged his lack of spiritual perception by asking, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9). Rather than explaining things to Nicodemus, Jesus took the conversation in whole new direction. He stated:

Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but youdo not receive our testimony.If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:11-15)

Jesus referred to an experience that the Israelites had while they were wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. The incident is recorded in Numbers 21:6-9. It states:

Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronzeserpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

Moses’ account of what happened included three important steps that the Israelites had to take in order to avoid death after being bitten by the fiery serpents. The first step they took was to admit that they had sinned (Numbers 21:7). The Hebrew word that is translated sinned, chata (khaw-tawˊ) is a verb meaning to miss the mark…It indicates failure to do what is expected; the one who fails to find God in this life destroys himself (Proverbs 8:36)” (H2398). Second, the Israelites asked Moses to intercede with God on their behalf (Numbers 21:7). It says in Numbers 21:7, “So Moses prayed for the people.” The last thing that the Israelites had to do was to look at the bronze serpent (Numbers 21:9). The Israelites didn’t just glance at the bronze serpent and live, they had to consider its ability to save them and make a conscious decision to rely on it as a cure for their sin.

Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). Jesus emphasized the requirement of belief in order to have eternal life. Believing in something or someone means that you have faith in him with the idea of hope and certain expectation (G4100). One of the keys to having faith is trust. When you believe in someone, you trust that he will do what he says he’s going to, that he won’t disappoint you. The Greek word that is translated believes in John 3:15, pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) is derived from the word pistis (pisˊ-tis). Pistis is “a technical term indicative of the means of appropriating what God in Christ has for man, resulting in the transformation of man’s character and way of life. Such can be termed gospel faith or Christian faith (Romans 3:22ff.)” (G4102). Pistis means “persuasion, i.e. credence; moral conviction (of religious truth, or the truthfulness of God or a religious teacher), especially reliance upon Christ for salvation.” The Greek word pistis comes from the word peitho (piˊ-tho) which means “to convince…meaning to let oneself be persuaded…to assent to, obey, follow” (G3982).

The argument that Jesus presented to Nicodemus was that God loved the world and wanted to save it. Jesus said:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:16-18)

Jesus’ explanation of why God sent him into the world to save it made it clear that condemnation was the thing that needed to be avoided. Condemnation is the result of sin and will be the outcome of everyone’s lives that does not put their trust in Jesus Christ.

Jesus went on to say, “And this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:19-21). Jesus used the contrast of light and darkness to show Nicodemus that the Pharisees criticism of his ministry was motivated by guilt. Jesus said, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:20). Jesus was likely prompting Nicodemus to search his own soul and see if there was anything that needed to be forgiven. It seems that Nicodemus left without making a decision one way or the other to follow Christ because their conversation ended abruptly after Jesus’ comment about those who do wicked things hating the light.

John the Baptist echoed Jesus’ sentiment when he said, “He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all…Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:31-36). The Greek word that John used that is translated does not obey is apeitheo (ap-i-thehˊ-o) which means “to disbelieve (willfully and perversely)” (G544). Apeitheo speaks of a conscious decision being made to not believe what one knows to be true. It’s not clear in John 3 if Nicodemus accepted or rejected Jesus’ message the night that he spoke to him or went away and gave it some more thought before making his final decision. John recorded in his gospel that Nicodemus later defended Jesus when the Pharisees spoke against his ministry (John 7:49-52) and was present when Joseph of Arimathea prepared Jesus’ body for burial (John 19:38-40).

Impossibility

The Apostle John stated near the end of his book the purpose of his gospel. John said, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). John connected certain signs that Jesus did in the presence of his disciples with their belief that he was the Christ, the Son of God. The Greek word that is translated signs in John 20:30, semeion (say-miˊ-on) means “a token of proof. A sign by which the divine power in majesty is made known, a supernatural event or act, a token, wonder, or miracle by which the power and presence of God is manifested, either directly or through the agency of those whom He sends (Sept.: Exodus 4:8, 17, 28, 30)” (G4592). “Each of the incidents recorded in the gospel of John is specifically included to prove that Jesus is indeed the Son of God” (Introduction to the Gospel According to John). John started with the most obvious and perhaps what he considered to be the most import incident that Jesus was involved in, God’s creation of the universe. John said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3). John referred to Jesus as the Word, indicating that his existence was not limited to the physical expression of God’s character. The Greek word that John used, logos (logˊ-os) goes beyond something said to include also “reasoning (the mental faculty or motive; by extension a computation; specifically (with the article in John) the Divine Expression (i.e. Christ)” (G3056). When logos is used to represent the “Word of God” it means “His omnipotent voice, decree.”

John said, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). When John said that he and others had seen Jesus’ glory, he was most likely referring to the signs that were proof of his deity. Isaiah’s vision of the Lord’s glory indicated that it is linked with his inauguration as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:11-16). Isaiah stated:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:1-3)

The words of Isaiah’s commission (Isaiah 6:9-10) were used by Jesus to explain why he taught in parables (note on Isaiah 6:1-13). Jesus said:

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.’” (Matthew 13:13-15)

“Jesus spoke in parables to explain spiritual truths, but those who had already rejected Jesus did not have divinely enlightened minds with which to perceive these truths, and no amount of explanation would make them understand (1 Corinthians 2:14). They could watch and hear Jesus with their physical eyes and ears, but they were not capable of understanding the truth in their hearts because they had rejected him (2 Corinthians 4:3, 4)…People do not hear and see because their hearts are full of wickedness; consequently, they fail to understand the truth that has been given them. They are so opposed to God’s message that they harden themselves against it, lest they should understand it and ask forgiveness of God. Once they reject Jesus, they also reject the possibility of understanding the parables that Jesus told (Isaiah 55:6-8)” (note on Matthew 13:10-17).

Isaiah’s description of the compassion of the Lord revealed that we often misunderstand God’s Word because we don’t understand the way He works. Isaiah encourages us to:

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
     call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
     and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
     and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
     neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
     so are my ways higher than your ways
     and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:6-9)

The difference between God’s ways and our ways has to do with our human limitations. God said that His ways are higher than our ways. What he meant by higher was that He and humans operate on different levels of existence. God operates on the spiritual plane and we operate on the physical plane, which skews our perception toward tangible evidence of the things that we believe in. When we seek to have a relationship with God, we have to do it on a level that is beyond our physical comprehension.

The intersection of the spiritual and physical planes is where contamination of holy things and purification of unholy or unclean things takes place. When something on the physical plane is consecrated to God, it is transferred to a higher level of existence. Likewise, when something or someone such as Jesus Christ, who is a spiritual being, is born into the physical plane, he has been brought into a lower level of existence. That’s what John was talking about when he said, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The Greek word that is translated became, ginomai (ghinˊ-om-ahee) means “to come into existence” (G1096). Ginomai is used of miracles and the like and implies that there is a tangible result of some sort. The main point that John wanted to make in the first chapter of his gospel message was that Jesus became something that he had not previously been when he became a human being, but on the spiritual plane, his physical birth was not the beginning of Jesus’ existence.

Purification is a method whereby physical things and people can be made holy and interact with God on the spiritual plane. The impossibility of transferring something or someone to a higher plane was demonstrated through the purification rites. The LORD instructed Moses and Aaron to, “tell the people of Israel to bring you a red heifer without defect, in which there is no blemish, and on which a yoke has never come” (Numbers 19:2). The red heifer was symbolic of the sacrifice of Christ and was rare because of its special color and because it had to be uniform in color, no spots or defects of any kind in its coat. The complicated process of sacrificing the red heifer added to the perplexity of its cleansing power. After the red heifer was cremated, its ashes were gathered and then, combined with water to create a solution referred to as “the water for impurity” (Numbers 19:9). Numbers 19:16-21 states:

Whoever in the open field touches someone who was killed with a sword or who died naturally, or touches a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean seven days. For the unclean they shall take some ashes of the burnt sin offering, and freshwater shall be added in a vessel. Then a clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water and sprinkle it on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there and on whoever touched the bone, or the slain or the dead or the grave. And the clean person shall sprinkle it on the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day. Thus on the seventh day he shall cleanse him, and he shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water, and at evening he shall be clean. “If the man who is unclean does not cleanse himself, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, since he has defiled the sanctuary of the Lord. Because the water for impurity has not been thrown on him, he is unclean. And it shall be a statute forever for them.

According to the Messianic Prophecy Bible Project, such a perfect creature as the red heifer that is described in Numbers 19 “is so elusive that its ceremonial burning has seldom happened in all of Jewish history. Mishnah, which is an authoritative, written embodiment of Jewish oral tradition, teaches that only nine red heifers were sacrificed from the time of the Tabernacle worship until the second temple was destroyed in 70 AD. The rabbis consider the red heifer one of the greatest mysteries of the Torah. Even they wonder how it’s possible that the ashes of the sacrificial animal can purify from sin and defilement. Furthermore, in an apparent paradox, these same ashes that purified also made anyone involved in the red heifer preparations – from the person who gathered the ashes to the person who sprinkled the water – unclean until evening” (Numbers 19:10). The commandment regarding the red heifer is considered to be such a mystery that the rabbis place it in the category of chukkim “divine decrees that cannot be understood by our limited human understanding” (free.messianicbible.com, The Red Heifer and the Third Temple in End-Time Prophecy).

Along with God’s specification of the water for impurity that was to be used to cleanse everyone that came in contact with a dead body (Numbers 19:20) was an incident in which Moses was commanded to bring water from a rock. The connection between these two events was God’s expectation that his instructions would be carried out exactly as he had stated them. Numbers 20:7-8 states:

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before your eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them to drink to the congregation and their cattle.”

We know that God was expecting Moses to operate on the spiritual plane because his instruction to tell the rock to yield its water (Numbers 20:7) made no sense on the physical plane. In his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul explained that God was referring to a spiritual Rock and indicated that “the Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4).

Rather than telling the rock to yield its water, it says in Numbers 20:11 that “Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice.” The Hebrew word that is translated struck, nakah (naw-kawˊ) is usually associated with God’s discipline or a military defeat (H5221). Nakah is translated smitten in Isaiah 53:4 where it says of Jesus, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” Moses’ actions are described as disobedience (Numbers 27:14) and a failure to honor the Lord as holy (Numbers 20:12; Deuteronomy 32:51). As a result, Moses was prohibited from entering Canaan (note on Numbers 20:9-12) because, as the LORD pointed out, the root cause of Moses’ disobedience was unbelief (Numbers 20:12).

Jesus made a distinction between operating on the physical plane and operating on the spiritual plane when he told his disciples, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). The Greek word that is translated possible, dunatos (doo-nat-osˊ) signifies “powerful” (G1415), so another way of looking at God’s ability to do things would be to equate it with his power. God is able to do everything that his power enables him to. The Greek word that is translated impossible, adunatos (ad-oo-nat-os) is a combination of the words dunatos and a (alˊ-fah) as a negative participle, which signifies that something is not possible. Another way of saying Matthew 19:26 might be, with man there is no power, but with God there is unlimited power so he can do everything that he wants to. When Jesus’ disciples asked him why they weren’t able to cast a demon out of a little boy (Matthew 17:19), he answered them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there, and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20-21). According to Jesus, faith enables us to operate on the spiritual plane where impossibility doesn’t exist.

John’s attempt to record the specific signs that would convince people that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31) began with what John described as “the first of his signs” (John 2:11) or you might say, the foremost sign, meaning that this particular sign began to make it obvious that Jesus wasn’t an ordinary human being. John’s account is of a wedding at Cana in Galilee where Jesus turned water into wine. John said:

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-11)

John said that Jesus “manifested his glory” (John 2:11) when he made the water into wine. At Cana both God’s grace and God’s power were manifested, and these constituted Jesus’ “glory” (G1391). John indicated that Jesus was full of grace and truth (John 1:14) and said, “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16-17).

Grace and truth are key components of faith. Paul told the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing. It is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Grace in a spiritual sense refers especially to “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life” (G5485). The Greek word charis (kharˊ-ece) is derived from the word chairo (khahˊee-ro) which means “to be ‘cheerful, i.e. calmly happy or well-off” (G5463). Based on this definition, when John said that Jesus was full of grace (John 1:14), it can be assumed that he meant Jesus was always happy or well-off, even when he was dying on the cross. That is one of the things that made Jesus stand out and be recognized as the Son of God.

After Jesus drove out those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting in the temple (John 2:14-15), “the Jews said to him, ‘What sign do you show us for doing these things?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’” (John 18-19). The phrase destroy this temple had significance on both the physical and spiritual plane. The Jews that Jesus was talking to were focused on the physical aspect of his declaration and determined that it was impossible for him to do what he had stated. They responded to him, “It has taken forty six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” (John 2:20). A clue that Jesus wasn’t talking about the physical structure that they were looking at can be found in the Greek word he used that is translated raise. Egeiro (eg-iˊ-ro) means to waken and “is frequently used both in the transitive sense of ‘raising up’ and the intransitive of ‘rising’” (G1453). Egeiro is used in Matthew 27:52 in reference to the resurrection of believers and also in Matthew 27:62-66 in reference to Jesus rising from the dead, but even his disciples were confused when Jesus used the word egeiro in connection with the temple being destroyed and raised up again. It wasn’t until after he was resurrected that they understood what Jesus was talking about (John 2:21-22).

The sign of Jesus’ body being resurrected was likely an intentional effort on God’s part to bridge the gap between the impossibility of life after death on the physical plane and the possibility of a dead person standing up on his feet again as if he has just been woken up from sleep on the spiritual plane. Using the illustration of the temple being destroyed and rebuilt in three days (John 2:19), Jesus was able to remove the barriers of his disciples’ physical mindset. It says in John 2:22, “When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”

Responsibility for the sins of others

After Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, spiritual death occurred immediately and their need for salvation became evident. Genesis 3:22 states, “Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.” Adam and Eve’s disobedience resulted in guilt because they were conscious of their wrongdoing. The Hebrew word ʾasham (aw-shamˊ) means “to be guilty; by implication to be punished or perish. This word is most often used to describe the product of sin – that is guilt before God” (H816). The Hebrew word ʾashem (aw-shameˊ) describes one who is in a guilty state (H818) and ʾasham (aw-shawmˊ) “the offering which is presented to the Lord in order to absolve the person guilty of an offence against God or man” (H817). One of the four main words indicating sin in the Old Testament is avown (aw-voneˊ) which means “perversity.” This noun carries along with it the idea of guilt from conscious wrongdoing and the punishment that goes with this deliberate act as a consequence (H5771). When Cain killed his brother Abel, God told him, “’And now you are cursed from the ground which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood and from your hand. When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.’ Cain said to the LORD, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear’” (Genesis 3:11-13).

The Hebrew word that is translated bear in Genesis 3:13, naçah (naw-sawˊ) means “to lift” (H5375) and suggests that there is a weight associated with the guilt of sin. “Nacah is used of the undertaking of the responsibilities for sins of others by substitution or representation (Exodus 28:12; Leviticus 16:22; Isaiah 53:12; cf. 1 Peter 2:24).” Bearing the responsibilities for the sins of others was portrayed on the Day of Atonement through the release of a scapegoat into the wilderness. Leviticus 16:20-22 states:

“And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.”

Isaiah 53:4-12 depicts Jesus’ suffering on the cross as he accomplished the task of dying for the sin of the world. It states:

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall seeand be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors.

The Hebrew word naçah appears at the beginning and end of this passage of scripture in the phrases “he has borne our griefs” (Isaiah 53:4) and “he bore the sin of many” (Isaiah 53:12), suggesting that the burden of sin has something to do with the anxiety that we feel because of the punishment that we expect to receive from God. One of the ways that we know our sins have been forgiven is that the anxiousness that we once felt about them is gone.

The Israelites’ rebellion against God in the wilderness resulted in a plague that could have wiped out the entire population. The LORD told Moses, “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment” (Numbers 16:45). Moses and Aaron interceded for the people and stopped the plague (Numbers 16:48) and order was restored to their camp (Numbers 17:10-11), but a lingering feeling of guilt kept the people from being able to live peacefully with God in their midst. Numbers 17:12 states:

And the people of Israel said to Moses, “Behold, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone. Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the LORD, shall die. Are we all to perish?”

The Hebrew word that is translated undone in Numbers 17:12, ʾabad (aw-badˊ) means “to wander away, i.e. lose oneself” or “to be lost” (H6). The Israelites’ spiritual condition had deteriorated to the point that they realized there was no hope for them to recover. There was no way for them to regain God’s favor.

When Jesus sent his disciples out to minister to the people, he instructed them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6). Jesus referred to the Jews as lost sheep in order to illustrate their hopeless situation and indicated that his primary objective was to tell them that the kingdom of heaven was being made available to them (Matthew 10:7). Jesus later emphasized that he had come specifically “to save that which was lost” (Matthew 18:11, KJV). The Greek word sozo (sodeˊ-zo) is used “specifically of salvation from eternal death, sin, and the punishment and misery consequent to sin” (G4982). When Jesus said that he had come to save that which was lost, he was saying that he could reverse the effects of sin in a person’s life. The Greek word apollumi (ap-olˊ-loo-mee), which is translated lost in Matthew 18:11, means “to perish. The idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being” (G622).

It says in Isaiah 53:6 that “all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – everyone – to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Paul’s letter to the Ephesians explained that God set a plan of redemption in motion before the foundation of the world in order to counteract the effects of sin in the human race. Paul said:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

God’s plan of redemption started with the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Afterward, the Mosaic Law was enacted and a system of sacrifice was put in place. Aaron and his sons were consecrated to serve as priests and made atonement for the people once a year (Leviticus 16). The LORD told Aaron, “You and your sons and your father’s house with you shall bear iniquity connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear iniquity connected with your priesthood” (Numbers 18:1). The Hebrew word that is translated bear in this verse is naçah (naw-sawˊ) indicating that the priesthood was designated for the undertaking of the responsibilities for sins of others (H5375) and that Aaron and his sons were representatives of Christ, the one who would in the fullness of time complete the process of atonement through his death on the cross.

The Hebrew word that is translated priesthood in Numbers 18:1, kᵉhunnah (keh-hoon-nawˊ) is derived from the word kahan (haw-hanˊ) which means “to mediate in religious services” (H3547). In order to perform the duties of their office, priests had to keep themselves from becoming unclean. The LORD said, “They shall not profane the holy things of the people of Israel, which they contribute to the LORD, and so cause them to bear iniquity and guilt, by eating their holy things: for I am the LORD who sanctifies them” (Leviticus 22:15-16). This almost impossible task might be what was considered to be the burden of bearing the responsibilities for the sins of others. Paul wrote in his first letter to Timothy, “For there is one God and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:5-6). Paul’s statement that there is “one mediator between God and man” made it clear that Aaron and his sons weren’t qualified to act as mediators between God and man because they were by nature sinners like everyone else. The Greek word that is translated mediator in 1 Timothy 2:5, mesites (mes-eeˊ-tace) means a go-between. “The salvation of men necessitated that the Mediator should Himself possess the nature and attributes of Him towards whom He acts, and should likewise participate in the nature of those for whom He acts (sin apart); only by being possessed both of deity and humanity could He comprehend the claims of the one and the needs of the other; further, the claims and the needs could be met only by One who, Himself being proved sinless, would offer Himself an expiatory sacrifice on behalf of men; ‘one who acts as a guarantee’ so as to secure something which otherwise would not be obtained” (G3316).

John’s gospel was written with the specific intent of proving that Jesus is the Son of God (Introduction to the gospel according to John) and began with the establishment of Jesus’ existence before the world was created (John 1:1-3). John said:

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:9-13)

John pointed out that Jesus’ own people, the Jews did not receive him. What John meant by that was that the Jews collectively, as a nation did not receive the free gift of salvation that was offered to them through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. John indicated that on an individual basis, all who did receive Jesus, “who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1:12).

Jesus described the process of salvation in a conversation he had with a man named Nicodemas. Jesus said, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3) and went on to say, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17). Jesus explained to Nicodemus that being born again involved a spiritual birth that was “not of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13), through his Holy Spirit (John 3:6) and that “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated lifted up, hupsoo (hoop-soˊ-o) is a derivative of the word huper (hoop-erˊ) “meaning for, in behalf of, for the sake of, in the sense of protection, care, favor, benefit” (G5228). Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross was a sacrificial act that was motivated by God’s love for the world (John 3:16).

When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him for the first time, he declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). John identified Jesus as the “Lamb of God” because it was determined before the start of his ministry that Jesus would be delivered over to death as a sacrifice (G286). The point that may have startled everyone was that Jesus was going to take away the sin of the world. In other words, Jesus’ sacrificial death applied to everyone, not just the Jews. John indicated that Jesus would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The Greek word hamartia (ham-ar-teeˊ-ah) is “from the Hebrew, the imputation or consequences of sin, the guilt and punishment of sin as in the phrase ‘to take away [or bear] sin,’ i.e. the imputation of it” (G266). In that sense, Jesus bore the responsibility for the sins of all others when he died on the cross.

Paul explained in his letter to the Colossians that Jesus’ death cancelled the record of our moral debt that stood against us with its legal demands. Paul told the Colossians:

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Paul indicated that Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross is applied to our spiritual account when we identify ourselves with his death and resurrection through baptism.

The visual image that Paul created of God nailing the record of our debt to Jesus’ cross was meant to emphasize the fact that his ability to pardon our sin was dependent on a sacrifice being made and the sole responsibility for that sacrifice belonged to Jesus. Paul said of Jesus, “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). The Greek word that is translated fullness, pleroma (playˊ-ro-mah) speaks generally “of grace and God’s provision (John 1:16; Romans 11:12; 15:29; Ephesians 3:19); of divine perfections (Colossians 2:9). It was Jesus’ divine perfection that enabled him to do what no one else could, to take upon himself the guilt associated with the sin of the world. John’s record of Jesus’ crucifixion included his final words, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The it that Jesus was referring to was the debt of sin and his declaration that it was finished meant that the debt against every sinner was discharged at that moment because Jesus paid the penalty of sin in full. If you think of grace as a currency with a value attached to it, then God’s grace is sufficient to cover the entire human races’ debt of sin. John said of Christ, “For from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16-17).

Spiritual conflict

When the people of Israel left Egypt, Exodus 12:37-38 tells us that there were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children and “a mixed multitude also went up with them.” The mixed multitude consisted of people from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds” (H6154), most likely descendants of Jacob that were part Egyptian and part Israelite. After the Israelites started their journey from the Sinai Desert to the wilderness of Paran, the people began to complain (Numbers 11:1) and it says in Numbers 11:4, “Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: “Who will give us meat to eat?” (NKJV). The mixed multitude’s influence over the people of Israel led to an extreme dissatisfaction that ultimately caused the entire congregation to reject God. Numbers 14:1-4 states:

Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

The people’s conclusion that it would be better for them to go back to Egypt was based on “that which is appealing and pleasant to the senses” (H2896). The people of Israel thought that it would be easier for them to go back to being slaves in Egypt than to conquer the people living in Canaan.

God pardoned the people for their rebellion against him, but also made it clear that none of the men who had seen his glory and the signs that he did in Egypt and had not obeyed his voice would see the land that he swore to give them (Numbers 14:23). And yet, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land you are to inhabit, which I am giving you, and you offer to the Lord from the herd or from the flock a food offering or a burnt offering or a sacrifice, to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering or at your appointed feasts, to make a pleasing aroma to the Lord, then he who brings his offering shall offer to the Lord a grain offering of a tenth of an ephah of fine flour, mixed with a quarter of a hinof oil; and you shall offer with the burnt offering, or for the sacrifice, a quarter of a hin of wine for the drink offering for each lamb’” (Numbers 15:1-5). The reason why the LORD communicated his expectation at that particular point in time that the people were going to occupy the land of Canaan and would offer sacrifices to him was most likely to reinforce the fact that the final outcome of the Israelites’ situation was not dependent on their faithfulness to him, but God’s faithfulness to keep his promises.

One of the things that God clarified for the people before they moved on was the difference between an unintentional sin or mistake and willful rebellion against him. Numbers 15:22-27 states:

“But if you sin unintentionally, and do not observe all these commandments that the Lord has spoken to Moses, all that the Lord has commanded you by Moses, from the day that the Lord gave commandment, and onward throughout your generations, then if it was done unintentionally without the knowledge of the congregation, all the congregation shall offer one bull from the herd for a burnt offering, a pleasing aroma to the Lord, with its grain offering and its drink offering, according to the rule, and one male goat for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for all the congregation of the people of Israel, and they shall be forgiven, because it was a mistake, and they have brought their offering, a food offering to the Lord, and their sin offering before the Lord for their mistake.

The LORD said that an unintentional sin would be forgiven because it was a mistake (Numbers 15:25). On the contrary, intentional sins would not to be forgiven. The LORD told Moses:

“But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is a native or a sojourner, reviles the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he despised the word of the LORD and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him.” (Numbers 15:30-31).

God indicated that the person that despised his word and broke his commandment would be utterly cut off. Basically, that meant that the person would be excluded from God’s covenant and his promises with regard to that specific person would become null and void. God demonstrated the principle of intentional sin when “a man gathered sticks on the Sabbath day” (Numbers 15:32). The LORD told Moses, “The man shall be put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp” (Numbers 15:35).

The people of Israel’s tendency to rebel against God was dealt with in a very severe manner, but the LORD wanted the people to understand that they couldn’t trust their own instincts. God instructed the people to put tassels on their garments to remind them of the LORD’s commandments and told them “not to follow after your own heart” (Numbers 15:39). Following after our own heart means that we explore our thoughts, feelings, and desires to discover what we would like to do or what we might happen next in a particular situation. While the heart “is the source of all action and the center of all thought and feeling the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself” (H3824). The problem with following after our own heart is that the influences from the outer word and the influences from God Himself do not usually align with each other, and as a result, there will be spiritual conflict.

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians included instructions about how to resist the influences of the outer world. Paul said:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:10-13)

Paul’s reference to putting on spiritual armor was meant to convey the importance of protecting ourselves from the schemes of the devil. The Greek word that is translated schemes, methodeia (meth-od-iˊ-ah) means “to work by method. To trace out with method and skill, to treat methodically; to use art, to deal artfully; hence method, in the sense of art, wile (Ephesians 4:14; 6:11)” (G3180). The devil considers it his craft to entice believers to do things that are contrary to God’s will. The devil often works through people that we admire in order to get us to do things that we know are wrong.

Korah’s rebellion against Moses and Aaron’s authority was intended to undermine their ability to influence the people of Israel to do what God wanted them to. Numbers 16:1-3 states:

Now Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men. And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men. They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?”

Korah argued against Moses and Aaron’s authority by stating that everyone in the congregation was holy. Although it was true that all of the Israelites had been consecrated to the LORD, they were not all free from sin. Moses responded to Korah’s accusation by pointing out that he and his followers were rebelling against God (Numbers 16:11) and said, “In the morning the LORD will show who is his, and who is holy, and will bring him near to him. The one whom he chooses he will bring near to him” (Numbers 16:5). Moses indicated that there was only one person who was holy in the congregation and that person had been chosen by God to lead the people.

It might seem as though Moses was referring to himself when he said that the LORD would show who was his and would bring him near to him (Numbers 16:5), but Moses was likely referring to the angel of the LORD who was sent to guard the people on their way to land of Canaan (Exodus 23:20). “There is a distinct possibility that various Old Testament references to the ‘angel of the LORD’ involved preincarnate appearances of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Things are said of the angel of the LORD that seem to go beyond the category of angels and are applicable to Christ…The designation ‘angel of the LORD’ is used interchangeably with ‘the LORD’ and ‘God’ in the account of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-6). Exodus 23:21 states that the angel of the LORD has the power to forgive sins, a characteristic belonging to God alone (cf. Mark 2:7; Luke 7:49) and that he has the name of God in him. No man can see the full glory of God and live (Exodus 33:20), but Jesus Christ, in whom all the fullness of deity was manifested in bodily form, has made God the Father known (John 1:18; Colossians 2:9)” (note on Exodus 23:20-23).

Moses and Aaron interceded for the people of Israel (Numbers 16:22) and told them to “Depart, please, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be swept away with all their sins” (Numbers 16:26). The Israelites were told that they needed to stop associating with Korah or his influence would lead to their destruction. Afterward, Moses said of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram:

“Hereby you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord.” And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. (Numbers 16:28-33)

The Hebrew word that is translated perished in Numbers 16:33, ʾabad (aw-bad) means “to wander away, i.e. lose oneself” or “to be lost” (H6). Korah and all the people who belonged to him were lost in the sense of being unsaved. Their souls were not redeemed and therefore, they were condemned to eternal punishment.

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul talked about Christ’s judgment of the living and the dead. Paul said to Timothy, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:1-4). The dead that Paul was talking about in this passage were the spiritually dead (G3498). Paul indicated that Christ would judge the living and the dead. The Greek word that is translated judge, krino (kreeˊ-no) has to do with pronouncing an opinion concerning right and wrong, in a forensic sense (G2919). The difference between a living person and a dead person in a forensic sense is quite clear therefore, you should be able to distinguish very easily what a person’s spiritual state is. The problem is that the devil is very clever in the way that he disguises himself and is able to deceive an unsuspecting or naïve believer (Matthew 24:25) and so, Paul admonished Timothy to “always be sober-minded” (2 Timothy 4:5).

The Greek word Paul used that is translated sober-minded in 2 Timothy 4:5, nepho (nayˊ-fo) signifies “to be free from the influence of intoxicants” (G3525). This seems to suggest that demonic influence can be similar to getting drunk. One way of describing this kind of effect might be the mob mentality which can easily overtake people in emotionally charged situations. In contentious sporting events, people seem to lose their minds and can get out of control very quickly. The point that Paul was trying to make was that Timothy needed to make an intentional effort to not let himself come under the influence of someone or something that would compromise his ability to serve God. Paul told Timothy that he had “fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on the Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). In this passage, Paul referred to the Lord as the righteous judge. What Paul was likely getting at was that Jesus is able to judge us as one who is an expert in human behavior because he lived a human life and can discern between human and divine characteristics. Jesus doesn’t judge people from a superior perspective, but as one who can relate to all that we have to deal with regarding the overwhelming negative influences in our lives.

Paul concluded his second letter to Timothy with some examples of the spiritual conflict that he had to deal with during the final years of his ministry. Paul said:

Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me…Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! (2 Timothy 4:9-11, 14-16)

Paul indicated that he had been deserted by all of his ministry companions and that the only one that was with him at the time when he was writing his letter to Timothy was Luke. Paul’s statement, “May it not be charged against them!” (2 Timothy 4:16) may have been related to his earlier comment about the crown of righteousness that Christ would award “to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). Paul didn’t want his companions to be judged too harshly because they had helped him a great deal in the early years of his ministry. The Greek word that is translated charged in 2 Timothy 4:16, logizomai (log-idˊ-zom-ahee) means “to take an inventory” and primarily signifies “’to reckon,’ whether by calculation or imputation…Imputation has three steps: the collecting of all charges and remissions; the totaling of these debits and credits; the placing of the balance or credit on one’s account” (G3049). The remission of sins is what makes the imputation of Christ’s righteousness balance out our account and makes it possible for us to be free from our moral debt to God. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness,” so it is one’s belief in God that causes Christ’s righteousness to be imputed to his account.

Paul’s concern for his companions’ spiritual well being was similar to Moses and Aaron’s reaction to the rebellion that undermined their ability to lead the people of Israel. After everyone grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the LORD” (Numbers 16:41), the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment” (Numbers 16:45), but instead, Moses and Aaron “fell on their faces. And Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath had gone out from the LORD; the plague has begun.’ So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. And behold, the plague had already begun among the people. And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped” (Numbers 16:45-48). When Aaron stood between the dead and the living, he was acting as a spiritual guard, similar to what Paul said Timothy should do when he instructed him to be “sober-minded” (2 Timothy 4:5). In the midst of spiritual conflict, Aaron was able to intervene and restored order to the congregation. As a result, the plague was stopped and the Israelites continued their journey to the Promised Land.