Confidence

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians didn’t follow his typical pattern, but was filled with a significant amount of information about his call into the ministry and what he felt was his responsibility as a servant of Christ. Paul specifically mentioned his ministry of reconciliation and said, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:16-19). At the heart of Paul’s message of reconciliation was the idea that it is possible for us to be restored to divine favor. The Greek word katallage (kat-al-lag-ay’) “denotes an adjustment of a difference, reconciliation, restoration to favor, especially the restoration of the favour of God to sinners that repent and put their trust in the expiatory/propitiatory death of Christ. Man changes and is reconciled. God does not change. It is translated atonement in Romans 5:11, signifying that sinners are made ‘at one’ with God” (G2643).

Paul indicated that he no longer regarded anyone according to the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16). What Paul meant by that was that his opinion of people wasn’t based on their outward appearance (G1492). The flesh is often thought of as the physical part of man, but the Greek term sarx (sarx) deals with human nature and is thought of as “the weaker element in human nature…the unregenerate state of men” (G4561). In his defense of his ministry, Paul stated, “I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh For the weapons of are warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:2-4). The accusation that Paul and his companions were walking in the flesh was based on their change of plans to come to Corinth after visiting Macedonia (2 Corinthians 1:15-18). The Corinthians thought that Paul was vacillating because he was still angry at them and hadn’t forgiven the sinner that was in their midst (2 Corinthians 2:1-11). Paul explained to them that he was being led to go to Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:12-13) and his confidence came from his reliance upon Christ. Paul stated:

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6)

The Greek word that is translated confidence, pepoithesis (pep-oy’-thay-sis) is derived from the word pascho (pas’-kho) which means to suffer and signifies the sufferings of Christ. In certain tenses, pascho means “to experience a sensation or impression (usually painful)” (G3958). Paul’s reference to God making them sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant that was “not of the letter, but of the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:6) was most likely meant to point out that Paul and his companions were being directed by the Holy Spirit to go to certain locations at certain times so that their gospel message could be distributed in an efficient manner. As much as Paul would have liked to go to Corinth as he had planned, he knew that his ministry was dependent on God’s leading for its success (2 Corinthians 4:1-6).

When he arrived in Corinth, Paul said that he did not want to “show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 10:2). Paul may have thought it would be necessary for him to show the Corinthians his credentials so to speak. Paul tried to convince the Philippians that it was useless for him to boast of his accomplishments in the flesh. Paul told them:

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:2-8)

Paul said that he counted as loss everything that he had done in his flesh because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ as his Savior (Philippians 3:7-8, emphasis mine). The value Paul placed on his salvation was related to the cost that was associated with Jesus’ sacrifice of his life. Paul described it as the surpassing worth or in the Greek huperecho (hoop-er-ekh’-o) which literally means to over achieve (G2192/G5228). Paul’s claim that he was blameless under the law (Philippians 3:6) meant that he had followed the Mosaic Law perfectly. And yet, Paul said about Christ, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11).

Paul indicated that he was not walking according to the flesh, but was walking in the flesh (2 Corinthians 10:2-3, emphasis mine) and said, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). The warfare that Paul was referring to in this passage was his “apostolic career (as one of hardship and danger)” (G4752). It seems likely that the divine power that Paul was talking about had to do with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but in order for him to destroy strongholds, Paul had to engage his audiences in what we might think of today as difficult conversations. The Greek word that is translated strongholds, ochuroma (okh-oo’-ra-mah) is used metaphorically in this verse to refer to “those things in which mere human confidence is imposed” (G3794). That could be anything from a savings account to perfect attendance at church. Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that their mindsets were skewed in their favor and could not be relied upon for spiritual security. Paul said, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:5-6). The Greek word that is translated arguments, logismos (log-is-mos’) “suggests the contemplation of actions as a result of the verdict of the conscience” (G3053). Logismos is derived from the word logizomai (log-id’-zom-ahee) which has to do with the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner’s account. “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).

Abraham was the first person to have Christ’s righteousness imputed to him. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Paul’s defense of his ministry was built on this principle and Paul emphasized that he had to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Paul was most likely concerned about the contradiction and/or dilution of spiritual truth. God’s word is often contrary to the things that we hear from our government officials and the media. The implication of taking our thoughts captive is that we are able to control the mindsets that govern our behavior and can reject the negative thought patterns that keep us from doing God’s will. Obedience to Christ involves a submission to God’s will by allowing our lives to be under his control (G5218). The Greek word that is translated disobedience in 2 Corinthians 10:6, parakoe (par-ak-o-ay’) has to do with “the mind and will both wavering” (G3876). “Primarily, parakoe, means ‘hearing amiss’ (para, ‘aside,’ akouo, ‘to hear’), hence signifies ‘a refusal to hear.'” Paul’s comment, “when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:6) was most likely meant as a figurative reference to the the process of sanctification. The Greek word pleroo (play-ro’-o) means “to fill one’s heart, to take possession of it” (G4137).

The priests in the Old Testament were consecrated to God so that they could do the work that was assigned to them without any wavering. During the ordination of Aaron and his sons, a ram was killed “and Moses took some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. Then he presented Aaron’s sons, and Moses put some of the blood on the lobes of their right ears and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the big toes of their right feet” (Leviticus 8:23-24). The blood symbolized consecration and by placing it on the ears of Aaron and his sons Moses was designating that the priests were consecrated in order to “hearken to the word and commandments of God” (Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament). Leviticus 10:1-2 shows us that consecration didn’t guarantee obedience to God. It states:

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came down from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.

The unauthorized fire that Nadab and Abihu offered was something that was outside the law of God (H2114). Therefore, it was something that was done according to their flesh, meaning that they weren’t listening or paying attention to what God told them to do. Moses explained to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ And Aaron held his peace” (Leviticus 10:3). Being near to God involves entrance into his presence as well as being actively and personally involved with him (H7126). In order to be sanctified, God has to be separated from anyone or anything that is not dedicated to him. Nadab and Abihu’s disobedience demonstrated their lack spiritual discernment and made it clear that they had not submitted themselves to God’s will as a result of being ordinated into the priesthood.

Jesus made the same comment several times in order to emphasize the importance of listening to what he had to say. After he told the parable of the sower, Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9). Jesus probably wasn’t talking about having physical ears because that would have meant he was directing his comment to pretty much everyone in the crowd. It seems likely that there was a spiritual component to Jesus’ instruction. The prophet Isaiah’s commission from the Lord included some distinction about the spiritual aspect of hearing God’s voice. He said:

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull,
    and their ears heavy,
    and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
    and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
    and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:8-10)

Isaiah’s message pointed out that hearing is connected to understanding and seeing is connected to perception in the spiritual realm. The Lord suggested that making the people’s ears heavy would prevent them from being able to hear him. The Hebrew word that is translated heavy, kabed (kaw-bade’) is related to being weighed down by something and seems to be associated with the burden of sin (H5313). Another form of the word kabed “bears the connotation of heaviness as an enduring, ever-present quality, a lasting thing. Used in a negative but extended sense, the word depicts sin as a yoke ever pressing down upon one” (H3515).

Paul instructed the Corinthians to, “Look at what is before your eyes. If anyone is confident that he is Christ’s, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ’s so also are we. For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed” (2 Corinthians 10:7-8). Paul acknowledged the fact that the Corinthians had a right to be confident as a result of their relationship to Christ, but he also cautioned them to not go too far with it because of the authority that had been given him to oversee their church. The Greek word that is translated authority, exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) comes from the meaning of “‘leave or permission,’ or liberty of doing as one pleases…the right to exercise power” (G1849). Paul indicated that his authority was given to him so that he could build up the church (2 Corinthians 10:8) and that his area of influence entitled him to certain privileges because God had assigned it to him (2 Corinthians 10:13). What Paul seemed to be getting at was that his confidence was not a threat to the Corinthians because he was being directed by God to help them grow in their faith. The important thing that Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand was that a person’s subjective mental estimate or opinion about something may be right or wrong since it always involves the possibility of error, but God is not subject to error. Therefore, Paul concluded, “it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom God commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18).

The grace of God

The grace of God is an overarching theme of the Bible and a central element in God’s plan of salvation. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians stated plainly that God’s grace is what makes it possible for us to be saved. Paul said, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 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 2:4-9). The Greek word that is translated grace in Ephesians 2:8, charis (khar’-ece) refers to the unmerited favor that God shows us in saving us from sin, “the grace exhibited in the pardon of sins and admission to the divine kingdom…especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude” (G5485). Charis is derived from the word chairo (khah’ee-ro) which means “to be ‘cheer’ful, i.e. calmly happy or well-off…Particularly, to rejoice, be glad” (G5463). Paul talked about how the grace of God had caused the churches of Macedonia to give beyond their means. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul said:

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)

Paul contrasted the Macedonians abundance of joy with their extreme poverty in order to make it clear that the Macedonians’ generosity wasn’t a result of their circumstances. It was actually in spite of their circumstances that the Macedonians had chosen to participate in the relief of the saints. Paul referred to the Macedonians “wealth of generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:2), their sincere desire to give to others according to God’s riches rather than their own. Paul used the phrase “the favor of taking part” (2 Corinthians 8:4) to emphasize the spiritual aspect of the Macedonians giving. The two Greek words that are translated the favor of taking part, charis koinonia literally mean the gift of fellowship or you might say that the Macedonians’ were actively responding to the saints’ common financial need.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to follow the Macedonians example by participating in the act of grace that was being presented to them by Paul’s companion Titus. Paul said, “Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also” (2 Corinthians 8:6-7). Paul might have viewed the collection of money for the relief of the saints as an act of grace because he knew that the Corinthians would not be inclined of their own free will to give as generously as the Macedonians had. His plea for them to excel in this act of grace as they had in all the other areas of their relationship with Christ may have been Paul’s way of stirring up the Corinthians’ collective conscience and was perhaps intended to make the Corinthians feel uneasy about the fact that they weren’t doing their part. Paul understood that the grace of God was not something that could be initiated from a material perspective. God’s grace originates in the mind of Christ and is transmitted to believers through the Holy Spirit. Paul explained in his letter to the Ephesians that believers are the object of God’s effort to bless mankind. Paul said, “For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). The idea that we are God’s workmanship, a product that is made by him (G4161) is based on Paul’s comprehension of how transformation occurs in the heart of a believer. Paul understood that it is impossible for us to make ourselves good and therefore, good works are the result of God’s grace, his divine influence upon the heart (G5485).

Paul talked to the Ephesians about the new life that is possible when we yield ourselves to God’s divine influence. Paul told them:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24)

Holiness was the primary objective of the legal system that Moses established after the Israelites were delivered from bondage in Egypt. Ongoing sacrifices had to be made in order to cleanse the people from their sin. Even if someone sinned unintentionally, atonement had to be made for the sin so that the guilt of the offense would not be held against the person or the congregation of Israel as a whole (Leviticus 4).

The key to the Israelites’ release from guilt when they committed a sin against God was the grace of God which was demonstrated through his act of forgiveness. The Greek word that is translated forgiving and forgiven in Ephesians 4:32, charizomai (khar-id’-zom-ahee) means “to bestow a favor unconditionally” (G5483). Charizomai is derived from the word charis (khar’-ece) which means graciousness. “Grace indicates favor on the part of the giver, thanks on the part of the receiver. Although charis is related to sins and is the attribute of God that they evoke, God’s eleos (1656), the free gift for the forgiveness of sins, is related to the misery that sin brings. God’s tender sense of our misery displays itself in his efforts to lessen and entirely remove it — efforts that are hindered and defeated only by man’s continued perverseness. Grace removes guilt; mercy removes misery” (G5485). The Old Testament concept of forgiveness is similar in that it depended on God’s grace, but atonement had to be made in order for forgiveness to be effective before Christ died on the cross. The Hebrew word calach (saw-lakh’), which means to forgive, is reserved especially to mark the pardon extended to the sinner by God. It is never used to denote that inferior kind and measure of forgiveness that is exercised by one man toward another. It is the Divine restoration of an offender into favor, whether through his own repentance or the intercession of another. Though not identical with atonement, the two are closely related. In fact, the covering of the sin and the forgiveness of the sinner can only be understood as two aspects of one truth; for both found their fulness in God’s provision of mercy through Christ (cf. Hebrews 9:22)” (H5545).

Forgiveness is mentioned most often in chapters four and five of the book of Leviticus, where it states that the priest must make atonement for a sin, and then it shall be forgiven him or them (Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35, 5:10, 13, 16, 18). Jesus made a point of letting people know that he was able to forgive sins. On one occasion, Jesus was accused of blasphemy because he told a paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven. Matthew’s gospel records the incident 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)

Jesus associated his forgiveness of the paralytic man’s sins with the faith he saw in the people that brought the man to him to be healed. Matthew 9:2 states, “And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.‘” The connection between faith and forgiveness seems to be our reliance upon God to save us from our sinful behavior. The Greek word that is translated faith in Matthew 9:2, pistis (pis’-tis) 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).

The important thing to note about the way faith and forgiveness work together to save us from our sins is that action is required on both parts. God’s act of grace toward us would have no effect if it weren’t for our act of faith in receiving his gift of salvation. Jesus commanded the paralytic man to “take heart” (Matthew 9:2). Essentially, what Jesus wanted was for the man to activate his faith. The King James Version of the Bible uses the phrase “be of good cheer” instead of take heart to express what Jesus expected from the paralytic man. Another way of stating it would be “to have courage” (G2293). The reason why the paralytic man needed to have courage was because his guilt was getting in the way of him being able to recover from his disease. What was likely going on was that the paralytic man knew he deserved to be punished for the sins he had committed and may have associated his disability with something specific that he had done wrong in the past. It appears that the man was correct because Jesus told him his sins were forgiven (Matthew 9:2) before he commanded the paralytic man to “Rise, pick up your bed and go home” (Matthew 9:6).

Leviticus 4:27-31 points out that it is possible for us to sin unintentionally and therefore, a penalty can be incurred without us knowing about it. This passage states:

“If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any one of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt, or the sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without blemish, for his sin which he has committed. And he shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and kill the sin offering in the place of burnt offering. And the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out all the rest of its blood at the base of the altar. And all its fat he shall remove, as the fat is removed from the peace offerings, and the priest shall burn it on the altar for a pleasing aroma to the Lord. And the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven.”

John the Baptist’s introduction of Jesus made it clear that his sacrificial death on the cross was intended to pay the penalty for every sin that ever had or would be committed. John said of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The Greek word that is translated takes away, airo (ah’-ee-ro) means “to take away what is attached to anything, to remove” and speaks of the effects of Jesus’ Atonement in the believer’s life (G142). John’s declaration of Jesus taking away the sin of the world was connected with the original punishment for sin that was enacted in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Paul indicated in his letter to the Romans that Jesus brought justification and the free gift of righteousness to all when he died for the sins of the world. Paul explained:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Paul went on to talk about the gifts of grace and pointed out that God’s grace should result in generous giving. Paul said:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

The principle behind generosity is that there should be unity in the body of Christ. We should think of the needs of others as we do our own needs and give as we would want others to give to us if we were the ones in need of assistance. Paul told the Corinthians, “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:8-9).

Paul told the Corinthians that he expected them to finish what they had started. Apparently, the Corinthians had pledged to give a certain amount toward the relief of the saints, but hadn’t followed through on it. Paul said, “And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness” (2 Corinthians 8:10-14). The fairness that Paul was talking about had to do with equality in their conditions rather than their status as citizens or positions in society. Paul stated plainly that he didn’t want to make things easier for the Christians in Jerusalem at the expense of believers in Corinth. Paul indicated that the Corinthians gift would be considered acceptable if is what according to what they had, not according to what they didn’t have.

One of the final requests that Jesus made of his Father when he was dying on the cross was that God would forgive the sin that was being committed against his only Son. Jesus petitioned, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). The conclusion that Jesus’ crucifixion was an unintentional sin may seem a little far fetched, but our Lord understood that the collective heart of mankind was hardened by centuries of rebellion against God and the people’s lack of faith was due in part to the misrepresentation of God’s character by the Jewish priests. The Greek word that is translated know, eido (i’-do) refers to perfect knowledge (G1492) or you might say knowing someone completely. Jesus’ conclusion that the people didn’t know what they were doing was based in part on the fact that the Holy Spirit had not yet come into the world and made Jesus’ work on the cross evident to everyone. From that standpoint, Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross was still somewhat of a mystery. It wasn’t until the people had the influence of the Holy Spirit that they were able to see things clearly, repent of their sins, and seek God’s forgiveness (Acts 2:32-41).

An earnest desire

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians was meant to restore the fellowship that he had with them when he first established their church. The dishonorable behavior of some of the church’s members had caused Paul to pay them an unpleasant visit and resulted in harsh treatment of the offender. Paul urged the Corinthian believers to forgive the sinner (2 Corinthians 2:7) so that he wouldn’t be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Paul said, “So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan: for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:8-11). Paul went on to explain that his ministry of reconciliation was intended to restore fellowship between God and mankind and that we are all new creatures in Christ. Paul stated:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:16-19)

The Greek word that is translated reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5:18, katallage (kat-al-lay-ay’) means exchange “i.e. restoration to (the divine) favor” (G2643). Reconciliation has to do with God’s ability to give us credit for Christ’s righteousness even though we haven’t done anything to earn or deserve it. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul talked about putting off the old self and putting on the new self in order to be renewed in the spirit of our minds (Ephesians 4:22-23). Paul said that the new self is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).

Paul addressed the Corinthian sinner’s transgression by admonishing him to cleanse himself from the moral pollution that had affected not only his body, but also his spirit. Paul said, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). Paul’s use of the term beloved indicated that he was speaking to someone that was a follower of Christ. The Greek term that is translated beloved, agapetos (ag-ap-ay-tos’) is “spoken of Christians as united with God or with each other in the bonds of holy love…meaning conjoined in the bonds of faith and love” (G27). Bringing holiness to completion was probably Paul’s way of referring to the process of sanctification which unites believers with Christ and each other. Paul implied in his letter to the Ephesians that it is possible for us to achieve spiritual success. He said that we are to “be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1). Paul’s reference to a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God was connected to the peace offering that was a part of the moral and ethical instruction of God’s chosen people (Leviticus, Introduction, p. 113). Leviticus 1:3-9 states:

“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. And Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.”

The offering of a male without blemish signified the perfection, as well as the completion of the sacrifice that was being made. The Hebrew word that is translated blemish, tamiym (taw-meem’) “means complete, in the sense of the entire or whole thing” (H8549). Tamiym is translated blameless in Genesis 17:1-2 where it says, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.'” Christ’s atoning sacrifice fulfilled the requirement of perfection that God demanded from Abraham and all those who would seek entrance into his kingdom. Jesus told his followers, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) and he later instructed a rich young man, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21).

The blood of the sacrificed animal was symbolically thrown against the sides of the altar in order to depict the violence involved in the act of atonement. Leviticus 17:11 states, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make an atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” The Hebrew word that is translated “to make atonement for” in Leviticus 1:4 is kaphar (kaw-far’). “On its most basic level of meaning, kaphar denotes a material transaction of ‘ransom’…The righteous God is neither implacable nor capricious, but provides Himself the ‘ransom’ or substitute sacrifice that would satisfy Him. The priest at the altar represents God Himself, bringing the requisite offering before God; sacrifice is not essentially man’s action, but God’s own act of pardoning mercy. Kaphar is first found in Genesis 6:14, where it is used in its primary sense of ‘to cover over.’ Here God gives Noah instructions concerning the ark, including, ‘Pitch it within and without with pitch.’ Most of the uses of the word, however, involve the theological meaning of ‘covering over,’ often with the blood of sacrifice, in order to atone for some sin. This means that the ‘covering over’ hides the sin from God’s sight until the death of Christ takes away the sin of the world (cf. John 1:29, Hebrews 10:4)” (H3722).

When he instituted the Lord’s Supper, a celebration of his sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus told his disciples, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:15-16). The Greek words that Jesus used that are translated earnestly desired, epithumia (ep-ee-thoo-mee’-ah) epithumeo (ep-ee-thoo-meh’-o) were meant to emphasize the passion that Jesus had to complete his mission of saving the world. Epithumeo means “to fix the desire upon” and stresses the inward impulse to do something regardless of the outcome (G1937). Epithumia suggests that it was an irrational longing that drove Jesus to give up his life for his friends (G1939). During the Lord’s Supper, Jesus revealed that he would be betrayed by one of the twelve apostles that he had personally chosen to serve with him. Luke’s account of the incident states it this way:

And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this. (Luke 22:17-23)

Jesus’ earnest desire to institute the Lord’s Supper may have been centered around the fact that it would be the remembrance of him that would keep his ministry active in the hearts of believers. Jesus pointed out that even Peter, who was the most vocal in his allegiance to Christ, would be subject to Satan’s devices. Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me” (Luke 22:31-34).

Paul’s compassion for the sinner in Corinth that had disrupted his ministry was most likely a result of his understanding of the schemes of the devil. Paul talked extensively about spiritual warfare in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul encouraged believers to be joined together with the Lord in order to defeat Satan. Paul told them, “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 mentioned his own struggle against spiritual forces in connection with the incident in Corinth which had disrupted his ministry. Paul said, “For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more” (2 Corinthians 7:5-7). Paul was encouraged by the fact that the Corinthians had repented and were also seeking a restoration of their fellowship with him. The Greek word that Paul used that is translated longing in 2 Corinthians 7:7 is translated earnestly desire in the King James Version of the Bible. In the same way that Jesus earnestly desired to eat the Lord’s Supper with his disciples, the Corinthians wanted to restore fellowship, or you might say, have communion with Paul.

Paul explained to the Corinthians that the grief he had caused them had served a purpose in that it worked to bring them back together and strengthened their relationship with each other and the Lord. Paul said, “For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us” (2 Corinthians 7:8-9). Paul referred to a godly grief that brought the Corinthians to a place of repentance. Repentance has to do with thinking differently about our behavior. The Greek word metanoia (met-an’-oy-ah) in a religious sense implies “pious sorrow for unbelief and sin and a turning from them unto God and the gospel of Christ” (G3341). The reason why Paul associated repentance with godly sorrow may have been because it is the conviction of the Holy Spirit that produces repentance in the believer’s heart. Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Comforter and said, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 15:26). Paul talked about God as the one who comforts the downcast (2 Corinthians 7:6). In this instance, comfort has to do with coming along side and encouraging someone that is in need of help (G3870).

Paul talked in his letter to the Ephesians about Christians being fellow citizens and “members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord (Ephesians 2:19-21). The metaphor Paul used of a holy temple in the Lord was meant to connect the sacrificial system of the Mosaic Law with the process of sanctification which unites believers in and to Christ. Paul identified the Holy Spirit as the source, or you might say, the power that drives sanctification when he said, “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). The Greek word that is translated are being built together, sunoikodomeo (soon-oy-kod-om-eh’-o) is derived from the words sun (soon) which signifies union (G4862) and oikodomeo (oy-kod-om-eh’-o) which means “to be a house-builder” (G3618). Oikodomeo “is used metaphorically, in the sense of ‘edifying,’ promoting the spiritual growth and development of character of believers, by teaching or by example, suggesting such spiritual progress as the result of patient labor.” Paul wanted both the Ephesians and Corinthians to understand that what he was doing may have been painful for them, but was necessary for their spiritual growth. Paul told the Corinthians, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter” (2 Corinthians 7:10-11).

Paul contrasted godly grief with worldly grief in order to point out that grief in and of itself was not the objective of his message. Paul wanted the Corinthians to see that the work of the Holy Spirit was essential for his preaching and teaching to be effective. Paul said that worldly grief produces death (2 Corinthians 7:10). What he likely meant by that was that the sorrow we feel when we do something wrong can sometimes be overwhelming, Excessive grief can lead to things like suicide and depression. One of the ways that we know that the Holy Spirit is working in our hearts is that we experience the comfort of God as we admit our mistakes and take responsibility for our wrong actions. Paul said “godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10). In other words, godly grief draws us closer to God, not away from him. Paul said that godly grief also produces earnestness. The Greek word spoude (spoo-day’), which means “speed,” is translated many different ways, e.g. diligence, haste, earnest care, and forwardness (G4710). One of the ways to think of earnestness is a person in motion, someone that is always making forward progress. This is an important aspect of the Christian life because believers will inevitably experience setbacks and must be able to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start over again whenever they are overtaken by sin or become the target of Satan’s devices. An example of this was Peter’s restoration to the ministry after he had denied Jesus three times. Jesus asked Peter, “‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep’…And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me'” (John 21:17-19).

Paul told the Corinthians that they had proved themselves innocent by their indignation, longing, and vindication by God (2 Corinthians 7:11). The Greek word that is translated proved, sunistemi (soon-is’-tay-mee) means “to set together” (G4921). What Paul may have meant by proved themselves innocent was that the Corinthians he was talking to had remained members of the body of Christ. They had not left the church because of the trouble they had gotten into, but had stuck it out and worked through their conflict with Paul. Paul was commending them for it and said, “So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. Therefore we are comforted. And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all” (2 Corinthians 7:12-13). Paul’s experience with the Corinthians was considered to be a success because it led to the church being built up and the faith of the believers that were there being strengthened to the point that they became an encouragement to others that were struggling. Paul said that Titus’ spirit had been refreshed by the Corinthians. In other words, Titus, a fellow minister and friend of Paul’s, was able to take a spiritual vacation because of the remarkable turnaround at the Corinthian church.

Reconciliation

The thing that separates the human race from all other creatures on the earth is that it was created for the specific purpose of having fellowship with God. Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created man in his own image, “in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” The fall of mankind resulted in the separation of God and man (Genesis 3:8) and made it necessary for something to be done to restore the fellowship that was once existed (Genesis 3:15). One of the first steps in God’s plan of salvation was the establishment of a covenant with Abraham that made it possible for them to have a relationship based on equality. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham believed the LORD, “and he counted it to him as righteousness.” The Hebrew word that is translated counted, chashab (khaw-shab’) means that God ‘reckoned’ Abraham’s faith as righteousness (H2803). Reckon is an accounting term that has to do with settling accounts, to make a calculation. Generally, the word chashab “signifies a mental process whereby some course is planned or conceived.” Therefore, when God counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness, he was applying the credit that was established when Jesus died on the cross in advance in order to make it possible for Abraham to be free from his moral debt. The biblical term for this is act is atonement. The theological meaning is that of “‘covering over,’ often with the blood of a sacrifice, in order to atone for some sin. This means that the ‘covering over’ hides the sin from God until the death of Christ takes away the sin of the world (cf. John 1:29; Hebrews 10:4)” (H3722).

The beginning of the restoration of fellowship between God and mankind was the construction of a tabernacle which was also referred to as the tent of meeting, a place where God could reside among the Israelites (Exodus 25:8). God told Moses, “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Exodus 25:22). The materials that were needed for constructing the tabernacle were taken from the Israelites’ personal possessions through freewill offerings that had to eventually be stopped because the people brought much more than was needed for doing the work that the LORD had commanded them to (Exodus Exodus 36:5). Exodus 38:24-25 states that “all the gold that was used for the work, in all the construction of the sanctuary, the gold from the offering was twenty-nine talents and 730 shekels, by the shekel of the sanctuary. The silver from those of the congregation who were recorded was a hundred talents and 1,775 shekels by the shekel of the sanctuary.” Using today’s prices, the silver and gold that was used for constructing the tabernacle would have been worth about $70 million dollars. The interesting thing about the huge amount of gold and silver that was collected was that it came from millions of pieces of jewelry and other such trinkets that weren’t worth very much on an individual basis (Exodus 35:22). It was only because everyone did their small part that the massive fortune that it took to build the temple was able to be accumulated.

In spite of their extreme value, the articles that were inside the tabernacle were not kept under lock and key. The tabernacle or tent of meeting as it was also known was literally a tent that was made up of ten curtains that were clasped together so that they appeared to be a single structure (Exodus 26:6). The simple arrangement of the articles inside the tabernacle suggest that it was meant to be for the most part an open space where God’s glory could rest (Exodus 40:34-35). Exodus 40:2-8 describes the tabernacle’s layout. It states:

“On the first day of the first month you shall erect the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. And you shall put in it the ark of the testimony, and you shall screen the ark with the veil. And you shall bring in the table and arrange it, and you shall bring in the lampstand and set up its lamps. And you shall put the golden altar for incense before the ark of the testimony, and set up the screen for the door of the tabernacle. You shall set the altar of burnt offering before the door of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, and place the basin between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it. And you shall set up the court all around, and hang up the screen for the gate of the court.”

The most important item in the tabernacle was the ark of the testimony which was separated from everything else by a linen veil (Exodus 40:3). The Hebrew word that is translated veil in Exodus 40:3, paroketh (paw-roh’-keth) is derived from the word perek (peh’-rek) which means “to break apart; fracture, i.e. severity” (H6331). It could be that the veil was somewhat like a do not enter sign that served as a warning to any curious observers that might have been thinking about checking out its contents. The ark of the testimony is described in Exodus 25:10-16 which states:

“They shall make an ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and you shall make on it a molding of gold around it. You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark by them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.”

A cubit was roughly 18 inches, so the dimensions of the ark would have been about 45 inches long by 27 inches wide and 27 inches high. The fact that the ark was overlaid with pure gold inside and out meant that it was not only expensive to produce, but also very heavy. The poles that were used to carry the ark were very dense and therefore, resistant to decay, but they also added additional weight that made transporting the ark an arduous task. The stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments were kept inside the ark and were identified as “God’s testimony (Exodus 25:16; 31:18; 32:15).” Because the Ten Commandments represent the covenant that God made with Israel, they are also called the “‘tables of the covenant’ (see Deuteronomy 9:9; 11:15);” and they were preeminent in the tabernacle. As a result, the tabernacle is sometimes called the tabernacle of the testimony; and the ark is sometimes called the ark of the testimony (H5715).

The Apostle Paul talked about God’s word in the context of something that is being veiled from unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Paul may have associated his gospel with the ark of the testimony because he received it from God through direct revelation (Ephesians 3:5). Paul said, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us: (2 Corinthians 4:7). Paul referred to his physical body as a jar of clay in order to emphasize the point that God was using him as a vessel for carrying his word to the Gentiles, but being made out of clay meant that Paul wasn’t necessarily a good vessel or one that was enhancing the contents of his message in any way. Paul indicated that the surpassing power of the gospel, which was its ability to draw men to God, belonged to God and not to those who were preaching it (2 Corinthians 4:7). The Greek word that is translated surpassing, huperbole (hoop-er-bol-ay’) comes from the word huperballo (hoop-er-bal’-lo) which means “to throw beyond the usual mark” or surpass in the sense of going above and beyond the call of duty (G5235). The Greek word dunamis (doo’-nam-is) which refers specifically to miraculous power (G1411) makes it seem as if surpassing power would have been unnecessary, but I think that Paul wanted people to understand that God’s word has no limits. It can achieve anything that God wants it to. Paul said:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:13-16)

The reconciliation that Paul was talking about had to do with bringing together the Jews and the Gentiles under one covenant that would make it possible for them to share in the riches of God’s grace. Paul explained to the Ephesians that Jesus achieved a level of excellence that would result in God’s commandments being fulfilled. Paul said:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)

The body building itself up in love (Ephesians 4:16) was one of the main lessons of Paul’s gospel and a central theme of Jesus’ teaching during his ministry on earth. When he was asked to give a brief summary of the Mosaic Law, Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Paul used the comparison of a tent and a building to drive home the point that our physical bodies, though similar to our spiritual bodies, do not have the same capacity to make us feel at home in God’s presence. Paul said:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 5:1-5)

Paul’s reference to being found naked was related to the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden. It says in Genesis 3:7-11, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?'” Adam and Eve hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God because they knew they had disobeyed his commandment and became aware of the fact that they were naked through their sin. “Nakedness (the uncovered sex organs) is symbolic of shame” (H6172). Paul used nakedness as an analogy when he compared mortality with eternal life. He explained, “not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:4), meaning that God’s gift of eternal life takes away the shame that sin makes us feel.

Jesus was able reconcile God and mankind because his death on the cross paid the penalty for every sin that ever had and would be in the future committed against God (Hebrews 9:26). Paul said that “he who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 5:5). The guarantee that Paul was talking about was “part of the purchase money or property given in advance as security for the rest” (G728). In this instance, that means that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a partial reality of what it will be like when believers are resurrected and have the full benefit of eternal life. Paul concluded, “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:6). Walking by faith is evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts and minds. In order to walk by faith, we have to depend on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us in the way that God wants us to live our lives. Paul said, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he had done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:9-10). Paul’s use of the word soma (so’-mah), which is translated body in this verse, was not meant to draw attention to the physical activities of our day to day life, but to emphasize the current reality of living on earth. Paul said that each of us will receive what we are due for what we have done during the time in which we were limited by physical existence (Matthew 25:14-46).

Paul summarized his message about Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation this way:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:16-21)

The essential point that Paul wanted to make was that the way God was able to reconcile the world to himself was by not counting their trespasses against them (2 Corinthians 5:19). Paul described a process that he later referred to as regeneration in which believers become a new creation. He said, “the old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul talked about regeneration in his letter to Titus where he stated, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7). Regeneration “is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light; it is the act by which God brings him from death to life” (G3824). Paul also mentioned the renewal of the Holy Spirit: “The gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive, but is a fellow worker with God.” Paul indicated that the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit work together to bring believers into a state of oneness with God and others. In his high priestly prayer, Jesus asked that his followers might “become perfectly one” (John 17:23). In other words, Jesus’ request was that we would be completely reconciled to God and others, meaning that there would be equality between us and Jesus in God’s accounting system.

Consecration

The Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians was a personal note that was intended to set the record straight about his authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ. It’s not surprising that Paul faced conflict about this issue because Jesus himself was questioned about where his authority came from. Matthew’s gospel tells us, “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29). In other words, Jesus wasn’t just quoting verses from the Old Testament. Jesus understood the word of God and was able to interpret its meaning accurately and effectively so that everyone who listened to him believed what he was saying. Jesus never answered the chief priests and elders’ question about where his authority came from. Instead, he made them realize that they were in no position to challenge his authority. Matthew states:

And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

One of the reasons the chief priests and elders didn’t respect Jesus’ authority was because they thought of themselves as appointed by God to be the interpreters of the Mosaic Law and were representatives of God to the Jewish people. Shortly after the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt and given the Ten Commandments, Aaron and his sons were consecrated as priests (Exodus 29:1). The process of consecration involved several steps that were meant to ordain individuals into the priesthood.

Moses indicated that the priesthood belonged to Aaron and his descendants forever (Exodus 29:9), but Jesus was inducted into the priesthood under a different order. Paul explained:

So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him,

“You are my Son,
    today I have begotten you”;

as he says also in another place,

“You are a priest forever,
    after the order of Melchizedek.”

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:5-10)

Paul went to great lengths to explain that Jesus outranked the chief priests and was able to present a sacrifice that would guarantee salvation. Paul said:

For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.

And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him:

“The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind,
‘You are a priest forever.’”

This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.

The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:18-25)

Paul emphasized that the Mosaic Law was not intended to make you perfect, but to make it possible for us to draw near to God. The process of consecration made those who went through it holy or you might say acceptable to God. God told Moses, “You shall take the other ram, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the ram, and you shall kill the ram and take part of its blood and put it on the tip of the right ear of Aaron and on the tips of the right ears of his sons, and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the great toes of their right feet, and throw the rest of the blood against the sides of the altar. Then you shall take part of the blood that is on the altar, and of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it on Aaron and his garments, and on his sons and his sons’ garments with him. He and his garments shall be holy, and his sons and his sons’ garments with him” (Exodus 29:19-21).

The Hebrew word that is translated holy in Exodus 29:21, qadash (kaw-dash’) is the same word that is translated consecrate in Exodus 29:1, so consecration and holiness are essentially the same things. Qadash means to be clean as well as to be set apart (H6942). One of the ways of thinking of consecration is that it differentiates between what can and cannot be used by or for God. In his letter to the Esphesians, Paul talked about being set apart to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul said:

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles — assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:1-10)

Paul indicated that he had been made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to him by the working of God’s power (Ephesians 3:7). The Greek word that is translated minister, diakonos (dee-ak’-on-os) refers to someone that waits at a table and is primarily associated with “the servants or attendants of a king (Matthew 22:13; Romans 13:4)” (G1249). Jesus has a dual role in God’s kingdom and serves as both high priest and king over all the earth. His mention of both God’s grace and God’s power in connection with his calling suggests that Paul saw himself in a dual role as well. Paul often referred to Christians as saints (Ephesians 1:1, 2 Corinthians 1:1). In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul addressed the Christians he was writing to this way:

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:2-3)

Paul said that we are “called to be saints” (1 Corinthians 1:2). The Greek word that is translated saints, hagos (hag’-ee-os) refers to something that is sacred or ceremonially consecrated. It is “spoken of those who are purified and sanctified by the influences of the Spirit, a saint” (G40). Part of the consecration process that Aaron and his sons went through was the anointing of body parts that were supposed to be dedicated to God. Oil, which represented the Holy Spirit, was typically used to anoint things dedicated to God (Exodus 29:7), but the priests’ right ear, right thumb, and right big toe were anointed with blood. Exodus 29:20 states, “And you shall kill the ram and take part of its blood and put it on the tip of the right ear of Aaron and on the tips of the right ear of his sons, and on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the great toes of their right feet, and throw the rest of the blood against the sides of the altar.” The anointing of the right ear symbolized sensitivity to God and His word and the anointing of the right hand and right foot symbolized a life of service to others on God’s behalf (note on Exodus 29:20, KJSB). The fact that these body parts were anointed with blood seems to suggest that Christ’s death on the cross is what makes it possible for these body parts to be consecrated to God and it seems likely that every Christian is consecrated in the same way when they accept Jesus as their Savior.

The altar of incense was located in front of the veil that was above the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat where the LORD met with the high priest (Exodus 30:6). By design, the altar was intended to be used for animal sacrifices, but instead it was used to burn fragrant incense. Exodus 30:7-10 states:

“And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it. Every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, and when Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight, he shall burn it, a regular incense offering before the Lord throughout your generations. You shall not offer unauthorized incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering, and you shall not pour a drink offering on it. Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once a year. With the blood of the sin offering of atonement he shall make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the Lord.”

The word atonement “is of supreme theological importance in the Old Testament as it is central to an Old Testament understanding of the remission of sin. At its most basic level, the word conveys the notion of covering but not in the sense of merely concealing. Rather, it suggests the imposing of something to change its appearance or nature. It is therefore employed to signify the cancellation or ‘writing over’ of a contract (Isaiah 28:18); the appeasing of anger (Genesis 32:20[21]); Proverbs 16:14); and the overlaying of wood with pitch so as to make it waterproof (Genesis 6:14). The word also communicates God’s covering of sin. Persons made reconciliation with God for their sins by imposing something that would appease the offended party (in this case the Lord) and cover the sinners with righteousness (Exodus 32:30; Ezekiel 45:17; cf. Daniel 9:24). In the Old Testament, the blood of sacrifices was most notably imposed (Exodus 30:10. By this imposition, sin was purged (Psalm 79:9; Isaiah 6:7) and forgiven (Psalm 78:38). The offences were removed, leaving the sinners clothed in righteousness (cf. Zechariah 3:3, 4). Of course the imposition of the blood of bulls and of goats could never fully cover our sin (see Hebrews 10:4), but with the coming of Christ and the imposition of his shed blood, a perfect atonement was made (Romans 5:9-11)” (H3722).

Linked to the atonement for sin was the paying of a ransom for each person that was dedicated to God. Exodus 30:11-16 states: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for his life to the Lord when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them. Each one who is numbered in the census shall give this: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as an offering to the Lord. Everyone who is numbered in the census, from twenty years old and upward, shall give the Lord’s offering. The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when you give the Lord’s offering to make atonement for your lives. You shall take the atonement money from the people of Israel and shall give it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may bring the people of Israel to remembrance before the Lord, so as to make atonement for your lives.'” The basic meaning of remembrance is that it “indicates a process of mentioning or recalling either silently, verbally, or by means of a memorial sign or symbol. The verb often means to mention, to think about” (H2142). The Hebrew word that is translated remembrance in Exodus 20:16, zikkarown (zik-ka-rone’) means a memento and “conveys the essential quality of remembering something in the past that has a particular significance…a sacrifice calling for explicit retrospection” (H2146).

When Jesus was in the upper room celebrating Passover with his disciples, he instituted what is commonly referred to as the Lords’ supper, a commemoration of his sacrificial death on the cross. It says in Luke 22:14-20:

And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

In very simple terms, Jesus was telling his disciples to never forget that he had paid the ransom for their lives through his death on the cross so that they could be consecrated to God. Matthew’s gospel placed Christ’s ransom of our souls in the context of having authority over others. Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).

Paul sometimes referred to himself as the servant of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1) and told the Corinthians that the purpose of suffering was so that we can be comforted by God. He said, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10). Paul went on to say, “For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience that we have behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you” (2 Corinthians 1:12). Paul used the phrase “testimony of our conscience” to describe the effects of consecration. Another way of stating what Paul meant might be, I have a clear conscience about my actions toward you. We know that we are consecrated to God if we have a guilty conscience when we violate his laws.

Paul talked about the Holy Spirit being a guarantee of our future bliss in Christ’s kingdom. He said, “And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). The Greek word that is translated anointed, chrio (khree’-o) means “to consecrate to an office or religious service” and “had the significance of dedication to God” (G5548). The Greek word arrhabon (ar-hrab-ohn’), which is translated guarantee means “a pledge, i.e. part of the purchase money or property given in advance as security for the rest” (G728). When Paul said that God’s Spirit in our hearts is a guarantee, he meant that we don’t get the full benefit of our salvation on earth. It isn’t until we are resurrected that we will experience the full effect of consecration. In the same way that the tabernacle of God was made according to a heavenly pattern (Exodus 25:40), so also, our physical bodies are like our spiritual bodies, but the spiritual ones will have much more capability after they are resurrected as evidenced by Jesus’ ability to go up into heaven. It seems that the greatest difference consecration makes is that it removes physical limitations and makes if possible for us to coexist in the physical and spiritual realms (Exodus 19:14-19; Luke 24:50-51).

Unchangeable

An important characteristic of God when it comes to salvation is what is referred to as his immutability. It says in Hebrews 6:17-18, “Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.” The Greek word translated immutability, amethatetos (am-et-ath’-et-os) means unchangeable (G276). Amethatetos has to do with decision making and at a deeper level deals with loyalty to a particular person or viewpoint. The immutability of God’s counsel refers specifically to his will, the things that he intends to accomplish and uses his power to control.

The Old Covenant which dealt with Abraham’s descendants being brought into an eternal relationship with God was the primary reason Jesus came to Earth and died for the sins of the world, but even before Jesus was born, God said that he was going to establish a New Covenant that would finish the work of salvation that began with Abraham (Jeremiah 31:33). Whereas the Old Covenant was a conditional covenant, meaning there were conditions that had to be met in order for it to be fulfilled, the New Covenant was enacted by God as “an unconditional divine promise to unfaithful Israel to forgive her sins and establish His relationship with her on a new basis by writing His law ‘in their hearts’ — a covenant of pure grace” (Major Covenants in the Old Testament, p. 16).

The writer of the book of Hebrews explained God’s New Covenant in the context of the Mosaic Law. The Jews had been living according to God’s commandments for hundreds of years, but were told, “If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change of the law also” (Hebrews 7:11-12). God’s standard of perfection was never meant to be attained by humans. The Mosaic law had to do with physical requirements that could extend one’s physical life; keeping the commandments was not expected to result in eternal life (Hebrews 7:16).

The writer of Hebrews determined that the Mosaic Law merely paved the way for something better that would accomplish what God originally intended, the restoration of his relationship with mankind (Hebrews 7:18-19). He said, “by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant. Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood” (Hebrews 7:22-24, NKJV). Basically, what this means is that Jesus has made it possible for the God’s work of salvation to continue uninterrupted. It is an eternal ministry that will never come to an end. The reason this is important is because sin can only be eliminated if it is permanently deleted from God’s record. The temporary covering that was originally accomplished through the sacrifice of animals was replaced with a perpetual, unchangeable atonement by the blood of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 7:27).

Final words

The four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; each capture unique pieces of the final words Jesus spoke while he was dying on the cross, except for Matthew and Mark who both recorded the same question, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34, ESV). The Greek word translated forsaken, egkataleipo suggested God deserted Jesus while he was hanging on the cross (G1459). The separation that occurred was likely the result of a curse that prevented God from looking at anyone that was crucified. Under the miscellaneous laws recorded in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 it states, “And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.”

Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross meant that even though he had not committed any crime himself, God treated him as if he was guilty of every sin that had ever or still will be committed by the human race. The Apostle Paul explained this transaction in Galatians 3:6-14 where he stated:

Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

While Jesus was hanging on the cross, dying for the sins of the world, a man that was hanging next to him realized the significance of what he was doing. Luke’s gospel captures the irony of the moment in a conversation between the two men that were hanging beside Jesus. Luke stated:

And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:39-43)

Jesus knew that his condemnation by God was only temporary. His act of obedience would ultimately put an end to the curse of sin that separated him from his Father. In his last statement from the cross, Jesus declared his belief that he would shortly be reunited with God in Heaven. He succinctly stated, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” then Luke reported, “and having said thus, he gave up the ghost” (Luke 23:46) revealing his expectation to be by God’s side momentarily.

The new temple (part 9)

The sacrificial system established for the new temple described by Ezekiel in chapters 40-48 of his book had many variations from the ones that were established in the Mosaic Law (note on Ezekiel 45:18-46:24). A key difference in the systems was the role of the prince in providing the offerings that were to be sacrificed to God. It says in Ezekiel 45:17, “And it shall be the prince’s part to give burnt offerings, and meat offerings, and drink offerings, in the feasts, and in the new moons, and in the Sabbaths in all solemnities of the house of Israel: he shall prepare the sin offering, and the peace offerings, to make reconciliation for the house of Israel.” The Hebrew word translated prepare, kuwn (koon) can also be translated as provide (3559). The idea being that the prince was expected to take from his own resources whatever was necessary for the sacrifices to be made.

Reconciliation for the house of Israel was also known as atonement. The day of atonement was associated with the priest’s entrance into the holy place in the temple where the ark of the covenant was kept. In the ceremony, It says in Leviticus 16:7-10, two goats were to be presented before the LORD “and Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD’s lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.” In this scenario, atonement was made through the release of the scapegoat. In other words, the live goat was ransomed or pardoned from death.

The suggestion in Ezekiel 45:17 that the prince’s offerings would make reconciliation for the house of Israel implies that atonement for sin was not accomplished through the death of Jesus on the cross. What may be true about reconciliation is that a person cannot be redeemed by the death of Jesus Christ after the period of God’s grace comes to a conclusion. Once the reign of Christ begins, and the law is reinstated, it appears that atonement will have to be accomplished through the sacrifices of the prince. Perhaps the best way to look at the new sacrificial system is as one in which the sacrifice for sin is meant to encourage a person to change his behavior. The effects of shame and humiliation could be the real reason why God instituted a sacrificial system of punishment, rather than capital punishment, in the first place.

Spiritual reform

Hezekiah’s intentional effort to revive his nation’s worship system began immediately after he became king of Judah. It says in 2 Chronicles 29:3, “He in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of the LORD, and repaired them.” During his father Ahaz’s reign, idolatry had replaced worship of the LORD and the temple of God had been desecrated by foreigners (2 Kings 16:17-18). Hezekiah took responsibility for his nation’s spiritual reform and acted quickly to make things right again.

Hezekiah saw the connection between Judah’s trouble and the neglect of God’s temple. Hezekiah’s personal commitment to the LORD resulted n a national revival at a time when there was little to no interest in God’s blessing (2 Chronicles 30:10). Much of what Hezekiah did could be attributed to supernatural circumstances or divine intervention. After the temple was restored to daily activity, it was noted that it happened suddenly, as if in the blink of an eye (2 Chronicles 29:36).

The primary focus of Hezekiah’s spiritual reform was restoration of the Passover celebration. The Passover was key to the Israelites relationship with God because it not only represented their deliverance from Egyptian slavery, but also signified their forgiveness of sin. The Day of Atonement was a national celebration in which the priest made reconciliation in order to atone for the sins of all Israel (2 Chronicles 29:34). The sacrifice literally wiped the slate clean for the entire nation in a single moment.

The positive effect of having their sins forgiven resulted in the people of Judah giving generously to support the priest and Levites who served in the temple. It says in 2 Chronicles 31:5, “as soon as the commandment came abroad, the children of Israel brought in abundance the firstfruits of corn, wine, and oil, and honey, and of the increase of the field; and the tithe of all things brought they in abundantly.” The people brought so much stuff to the temple that it took four months to process and store their offerings (2 Chronicles 31:7).

Hezekiah’s spiritual reform shows that the kings influence had a significant impact on the people. His actions were described as “that which was good and right and truth before the LORD his God” (2 Chronicles 31:20). But, perhaps the best testimony to Hezekiah’s positive spiritual example was the condition of his heart. It says in 2 Chronicles 31:21, “in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart.”

Special status

God’s plan for the nation of Israel was unique in that he guaranteed salvation for his people based on a special status they held. Because he had chosen the Israelites, the LORD was committed to them and went to great lengths to secure their position in his kingdom. God described his care for his people as that of a man tending his vineyard. The objective was to bring forth good fruit. Isaiah stated, “He shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root: Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit” (Isaiah 27:6).

It may have seemed as if God was too harsh with the Israelites when he sent them into captivity, but the process of salvation was different for them than everyone else. Originally, there was a need for atonement, a transaction in which the sins of the people were covered through a substitutionary sacrifice. Isaiah explained, “By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit to take away his sin” (Isaiah 27:9).

As the Israelites were scattered like seed out into the world, their relationship with God became more evident to the people around them. It was obvious they were not like everyone else. God’s work continued in and through them in spite of their dispersion. In some ways, it could be said, that the disintegration of the nation of Israel was a sign to the rest of the world that God required payment for sin. If he did not let his own children get away with their rebellion, how much more would he punish those who denied his existence.

One of the characteristics of the last days, or end of time, is that there will be a harvest. During that time, God will call his people back home. Isaiah said, “And it shall come to pass in that day that the LORD shall beat off from the channel of the river unto the stream of Egypt, and ye shall be gathered one by one, o ye children of Israel” (Isaiah 27:12). The gathering of God’s people was compared to the threshing of wheat in order to emphasize a separation from the rest of the world. The reference to one by one indicated that God would track the whereabouts of Jacob’s descendants and supernaturally return them to the Promised Land.

Although there was an initial fulfillment of this prophecy when a remnant of the nation of Israel returned from Assyrian and Babylonian exile, Isaiah 11:11 indicated there would be a second effort to recover the remnant of God’s people. It is likely the final return will be a complete recovery sometime in the future. Isaiah stated, “And it shall come to pass in that day that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the LORD in the holy mount at Jerusalem” (Isaiah 27:13).