Spiritual blindness

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

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

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Set free

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s representative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Have you never read in the Scriptures:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus told the Jews:

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

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

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

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

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

The remission of sins

An important requirement of the LORD’s relationship with the people of Israel was that they had to be consecrated or to be made holy in order to have contact with him. The consecration of the priests involved the sacrifice of specific animals, putting on holy garments, being anointed with special oil and with the blood of the ram of ordination on the tip of the right ear, the thumb of the right hand, and the big toe of the right foot. At the conclusion of this process, Exodus 29:31 states, “You shall take the ram of the ordination and boil its flesh in a holy place. And Aaron and his sons shall eat the flesh of the ram and the bread that is in the basket in the entrance of the tent of meeting. They shall eat those things with which atonement was made at their ordination and consecration, but an outsider shall not eat of them, because they are holy.” The atonement that was made was of supreme theological importance in the Old Testament as it was central to an Old Testament understanding of the remission of sin. At its most basic level, the word kaphar (kaw-far’) “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…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…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)” (H3722). Once a year, the process of consecration had to be repeated so that all of the Israelites’ accumulated sins could be atoned for. The Day of Atonement occurred on a specific date and became an axis on which the entire Mosaic Law seemed to revolve. Leviticus 16 describes the events that took place on the Day of Atonement. A critical element of the process was the scapegoat being sent away into the wilderness bearing the sins of the people.

“Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel…And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.” (Leviticus 16:6-10, 20-22)

The confession of sins that took place when Aaron placed both of his hands on the head of the live goat was meant to transfer the guilt from the sinners to live animal so that it could be removed from their consciousness. Leviticus 16:29-30 states, “And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins.” Afflicting yourself means that you do a type of soul searching that forces you to see yourself as you really are, a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness.

John the Baptist’s ministry bridged the gap between the Mosaic Law and the gospel of Jesus Christ by linking together the concepts of atonement and regeneration through his messages about the remission of sins. Mark 1:4 states, “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (KJV). The Greek word that is translated baptism, baptisma (bap’-tis-mah) means something immersed, but metaphorically it can mean “baptism into calamity, i.e. afflictions with which one is oppressed or overwhelmed” (G908). This word may have been used by John to bring to mind thoughts of being drowned by the weight of sin or consumed by the waters of guilt. Mark went on to say, “And all the country of Judea and Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:5). People were openly identifying themselves as sinners when they went to John to be baptized, but the key to the remission of their sins was repentance. The Greek word that is translated repentance, metanoia (met-an’-oy-ah) means “a change of mind…implying pious sorrow for unbelief and sin and a turning from them unto God and the gospel of Christ” (G3341).

Luke’s gospel contains a prophecy from John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah that clarifies John’s role and the purpose of remission of sins. It states:

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest;
For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
To give knowledge of salvation to His people
By the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79, NKJV)

According to Zechariah’s prophecy, remission of sins was intended to give God’s people knowledge of salvation. In other words, salvation was experienced through the remission of sins. It made salvation real to them so that they could understand how it worked in a more practical way. Zechariah’s prophecy depicted Jesus’ ministry as a source of spiritual light. The term Dayspring which is used in reference to Jesus Christ is derived from the Greek words ana (an-ah’) denoting upward movement (G303) and telos (tel’-os) “a noun meaning an end, a term, a termination, completion. Particularly only in respect to time” (G5056). One way of interpreting Dayspring could be the last sunrise and it seems likely that this term was associated with the prophetic time period known as the last days in which Christ is expected to reign on Earth. Zechariah said that the Dayspring would “give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79). The Greek word epiphaino (ep-ee-fah’-ee-no) which is translated give light, when it is used metaphorically means “to be conscious, to be known and manifest” (G2014). The Greek word that is translated darkness, skotos (skot’-os) is spoken of “a dark place where darkness reigns” and is spoken figuratively “of moral darkness, the absence of spiritual light and truth, including the idea of sinfulness and consequent calamity” (G4655). From that standpoint, the darkness could represent the human heart and the light that shines upon it the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The first epistle of John begins with his personal testimony about the eternal life that was made real to him through Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. John said:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)

The Greek word that John used that is translated touched, has to do with verification by physical contact (G5584). John wanted his readers to understand that he had experienced physical contact with God through Jesus’ human body. John referred to Jesus as the word of life in order to convey a tangible aspect of eternal life which was Jesus’ ability to walk around on earth and to have conversations with human beings after he was resurrected.

John conveyed an important point about the remission of sins by utilizing the metaphor of light and darkness that was introduced through Zechariah’s prophecy. John said:

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

John associated the remission of sins with walking in the light. It seems likely that John was referring to the regular confession of sin when he talked about walking in the light as God is in the light, but it’s possible that he was referring to the repeated practice of memorizing scripture. John contrasted walking in the light with walking in darkness. The Greek word that is translated darkness in John 1:6, skotos (skot’-os) is used figuratively to refer to “persons in a state of moral darkness, wicked men under the influence of Satan” (G4655). From that standpoint, walking in the light could mean being under the influence of the Holy Spirt. In whatever way you look at it, John was making it clear that the blood of Jesus does not cleanse us from sin unless we do something to initiate the process.

John indicated that practicing the truth was necessary for fellowship with God. The Greek word poieo (poy-eh’-o) is used figuratively “of a state or condition, or of things intangible and incorporeal, and generally of such things as are produced by an inward act of the mind or will” (G4160). Therefore, practicing the truth has to do with a conscious decision that we make to do what Jesus commanded us to. When he instituted the New Covenant, Jesus gave his disciples specific instructions about how they were to deal with sin from that point forward. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:26-29, NKJV)

Jesus indicated that his blood was being shed for the remission of sins and Paul pointed out in his first letter to the Corinthians that it is the remembrance of Jesus’ sacrificial act that we are to practice on a regular basis (1 Corinthians 11:25). Paul added, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). One of the meanings of the Greek word kataggello (kat-ang-gel’-lo), which is translated proclaim in 1 Corinthians 11:26, is “to implant in the mind by repetition” (G2603).

The point of Jesus’ blood being shed for the remission of sins was that it contained the essence of his divine nature in a form that was connected to the animating force of human life. Leviticus 17:10-11 explains the function of blood in the atonement for sins. It states:

“If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.”

The King James Version of the Bible translates the Hebrew word nephesh (neh’-fesh) as both life and soul, whereas the English Standard Version uses the words person, life, and souls interchangeably. Nephesh is properly translated as “a breathing creature, i.e. animal or (abstract) vitality…When this word is applied to a person, it doesn’t refer to a specific part of a human being. The scriptures view a person as a composite whole, fully relating to God and not divided in any way (Deuteronomy 6:5; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:23)” (H5315).

John concluded his discussion about walking in the light with an admonition to confess our sins so that the cleansing or atoning power of Jesus’ blood can be applied to them. John said:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

Jesus’ ability to cleanse us from all unrighteousness is based on his blood being sufficient to propitiate or reconcile us to God completely because it satisfies God’s requirements for atonement perfectly. Paul explained Jesus’ once and for all transaction of redemption in his letter to the Romans. Paul said:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)

God’s divine forbearance is witnessed to by the Holy Spirit because of his ability to convict us of our sins (Hebrews 10:15-18). Remission of our sins results in us having a clear conscience.

John noted that there was a condition to the remission of our sins. John said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, emphasis mine). To confess our sins means that our lives “say the same things” that Jesus did. In essence, you could say that remission of sins is an indicator of a life that has been aligned with God’s word. God is able cleanse us from all unrighteousness because Jesus took our guilt upon himself when he died on the cross. In a similar way to the goat that was sent away in the wilderness on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:21-22), our sins are removed from our consciousness as if they had never been committed and we are able to start fresh in our walk with the Lord.

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.

An impossible situation

Genesis 37:3-4 states that Jacob “loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.” Joseph’s brothers conspired against him to kill him and when he came looking for them in Dothan, they stripped him of his robe, and threw him into a pit (Genesis 37:18-24). “Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh…And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt” (Genesis 37:26-28). Joseph’s brothers took his “robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, ‘This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.’ And he identified it and said, ‘It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without a doubt torn to pieces'” (Genesis 37:31-33).

Joseph’s brothers seemed to have committed the perfect crime until a famine spread over all the land and they were forced to go to Egypt to get food so that their families wouldn’t starve to death. “Now Joseph was governor over the land. He was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he treated them like strangers” (Genesis 42:6-7). The Hebrew word that is translated strangers, nakar (naw-kar’) means to scrutinize with suspicion as if disowning (H5234). Joseph was pretending as if he had no connection with his brothers (H5234) and seemed to be intent on punishing his brothers for the harm they had done to him (Genesis 42:15-17), but the problem was that he felt compassion for his brothers and when they admitted their guilt, Joseph “turned away from them and wept” (Genesis 42:24).

Jesus used the example of divorce to address the hard heartedness of his people. It was common in the first century to “divorce for reasons other than unfaithfulness, such as incompatibility or unhappiness. The person who was put away was innocent but often acquired the false stigma of being guilty of moral misconduct” (note on Matthew 19:3-9). When he was asked if it was lawful to divorce one’s wife for any reason, Jesus said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-5). The Greek word that is translated joined together, suzeugnumi (sood-zyoog’-noo-mee) is derived from the Greek words sun (soon) and zeugos (dzyoo’-gos) which means “a couple, i.e. a team (of oxen yoked together)” (G2201). Zeugos can refer to a pair of anything and suggests that Jesus was talking about a man and woman being joined together in the context of spiritual unity.

The Apostle Paul identified spiritual unity as a key aspect of the body of Christ and said we are all to “come into the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13, KJV). The phrase “unity of the faith” refers to the fact that there is only one way for a person to be saved, by believing in Jesus Christ. Paul went on to say, “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 4:15-16). Paul indicated that the body of Christ builds itself up or strengthens itself through love. The Greek word that is translated builds itself up, oikodome (oy-kod-om-ay’) is derived from the words oikos (oy’-kos) which means a family (G3624) and doma (do’-mah) which denotes a housetop or the roof of a building. One way of thinking of oikodome is a group of people that are related to each other who are all living under the same roof.

The Greek word sun (soon) describes a central characteristic of the kingdom of heaven. Sun denotes union “by association, companionship, process, resemblance, possession, instrumentality, addition, etc.” (G4862). Sun is most often translated as “with” indicating that joining together is primarily about spending time with someone. Judah’s argument for not killing Joseph was “he is our brother, our own flesh” (Genesis 37:27). What he likely meant by that was that Joseph had grown up in the same household with them and was a member of their family. Judah probably thought that should entitle Joseph to special consideration. And yet, when his ten brothers arrived in Egypt hoping to obtain some food to sustain their families, Joseph treated them like they were strangers (Genesis 42:7).

Joseph’s primary objective in treating his brothers roughly seemed to be to get them to bring their youngest brother Benjamin to Egypt, but his father Jacob refused to be separated from his beloved son. Genesis 43:1-9 states:

Now the famine was severe in the land. And when they had eaten the grain that they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go again, buy us a little food.” But Judah said to him, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ If you will send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. But if you will not send him, we will not go down, for the man said to us, ‘You shall not see my face, unless your brother is with you.’” Israel said, “Why did you treat me so badly as to tell the man that you had another brother?” They replied, “The man questioned us carefully about ourselves and our kindred, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ What we told him was in answer to these questions. Could we in any way know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?” And Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever.

Judah’s pledge to keep Benjamin safe placed him in an impossible situation because Joseph was determined to not only be reunited with his younger brother, but to keep Benjamin in Egypt so that they would no longer have to be separated from each other (Genesis 44:2-5).

Jesus warned the Jewish leaders, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6) and told them, “Because of the hardness of your heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matthew 19:8-9). The phrase hardness of heart refers to a condition of being destitute or lacking spiritual perception (G4641). When Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, they didn’t fully comprehend the ramifications of their action and couldn’t see how it was going to affect everyone in Jacob’s family throughout the course of their lives. The only thing they were probably thinking about when the sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites was getting rid of the person that was stealing their father’s affection from them.

Jesus made it clear that divorce doesn’t break the spiritual connection between a husband and wife. He said, “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9). The point that Jesus was making was that adultery didn’t have anything to do with being legally married to someone, but about two people that were joined together by association, process or resemblance being separated from each other. Jesus explained that divorce for any reason other than sexual immorality caused the divorced person to be deprived of his spiritual integrity. Jesus likened it to being castrated and said, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it” (Matthew 19:11-12).

Jesus’ teaching about divorce showed that the spouse that had not been unfaithful, but was divorced because of incompatibility or unhappiness was being forced to abstain from sexual activity for the rest of his or her life. The reason why Jesus said, “Let the one who is able to receive this receive it” (Matthew 19:12) was because the idea of being celibate for the rest of one’s life was unthinkable; it was thought to be an impossible task. Jesus’ disciples responded, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (Matthew 19:10). In other words, they would rather never get married than have to give up sex in order to remain faithful to one wife. Jesus confronted his disciples resistance to adapting to God’s standards by demonstrating to them that childlike faith was all that was necessary for entrance into God’s kingdom. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). The Greek word that is translated belongs, esti (es-tee’) implies that the benefits of heaven can be obtained while we are living on earth.

Paul indicated that hard heartedness was a hindrance to unity and said that we must not act like unbelievers who “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” (Ephesians 4:17-18). Joseph’s stalemate with his brothers centered around the fact that no one was willing, or perhaps able to admit that Joseph had not been torn to pieces by a wild animal like his father Jacob imagined, but had actually been sold into slavery and taken to Egypt. Joseph himself played along with his brothers’ charade by pretending to not know them and by keeping his feelings hidden from them.

Joseph may have hoped that his brothers would eventually catch on and figure out that he was the governor of Egypt, but there was no indication that anyone even had a clue when he seated his eleven brothers at his banquet table according to their birth order “and the men looked at one another in amazement” (Genesis 43:33). The final showdown came when Joseph planted his silver cup in his brother Benjamin’s sack and then, sent his steward to recover it (Genesis 44:4-5). When his brothers realized they were going to have to return home without Benjamin, “then they tore their clothes, and every man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city” (Genesis 44:13). The interesting thing about Joseph’s final confrontation with his brothers was that they all became committed to sticking together. Speaking for the group, Judah said, “God has found out the guilt of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found” (Genesis 44:16).

Joseph didn’t want all of his brothers stay with him in Egypt. He told Judah, “Only the man in whose hand the cup was found shall be my servant. But as for you, go up in peace to your father” (Genesis 44:17). Judah’s dilemma was that he couldn’t go home without Benjamin. He had told his father Jacob, “I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever” (Genesis 43:9). Essentially, what Judah did was to exchange his life for his brother’s and to a certain extent you might say that Judah became his brother’s savior. When he said, “let me bear the blame forever,” Judah was talking about a moral failure toward both God and man that would result in his eternal punishment in hell.

Jesus used the example of a rich young man that was unwilling to part with his possessions to illustrate his point that a person is incapable of saving himself, much less another person. The man asked Jesus, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life” (Matthew 19:16). When Jesus said, “keep the commandments,” the young man responded, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” (Matthew 19:17, 20). Jesus told the 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). Afterward, Jesus told his disciples, “‘Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?'” (Matthew 19:23-25).

Jesus’ disciples made the mistake of thinking salvation was a human rather than a divine act. Jesus told them, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). The Greek word that is translated possible, dunatos (doo-nat-os’) refers to being powerful in the sense having the ability and resources to do something (G1415). Paul described salvation as a gift from God and said, “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 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).

Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep illustrated God’s determination to save people that have been overtaken by sin. He said, “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of that one that went astray?” (Matthew 18:12). Rather than physically tracking down sinners, God’s method of recovering his lost sheep is to bring them to a place of repentance. That seemed to be the case with Joseph’s brothers when Judah said, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants” (Genesis 44:16). The Hebrew word Judah used that is translated guilt, ‘avown (aw-vone’) portrays sin as “a perversion of life (a twisting out of the right way), a perversion of truth (a twisting into error), or a perversion of intent (a bending of rectitude into willful disobedience)” (H5771).

Judah clearly understood that selling his brother Joseph into slavery was a sin and he deserved to be punished (Genesis 42:21), but instead of accepting the situation as impossible, Judah attempted to change the governor’s mind about making Benjamin his servant. Judah thought his plea for mercy was being made to a stranger, but because Joseph was the governor of Egypt, Judah’s future was dependent on his brother’s compassion. Paul instructed members of the body of Christ to, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32). Therefore, it was left up to Joseph to forgive his brothers and to let his inward affection for them make it possible for Jacob’s twelve sons to be reunited as a family.

Forgiveness

Jesus warned his disciples of a future day of judgment and said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37). The Greek word that is translated give account, logos (log’-os) refers to something said including the thought, “also reasoning (the mental faculty) or motive; by extension a computation” (G3056). What this seems to suggest is that everything we say is somehow being recorded and when we stand before God to be judged he will use our own statements to determine our innocence or guilt in the things we have done during our lifetimes.

Jesus indicated that people who are bound in sin are loosed by the preaching of the gospel (Matthew 16:16-19) and said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:24-27). The Greek word that is translated save, sozo (sode’-zo) speaks “specifically of salvation from eternal death, sin, and the punishment and misery consequent to sin” (G4982). The point Jesus was making was that it is impossible for someone to save himself. Our sins must be forgiven or we will be separated from God for eternity.

Jesus taught his followers to ask God for forgiveness (Matthew 6:12) and promised them, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Peter asked Jesus, “how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22). Jesus’ response was meant to indicate that there is no limit to the amount of forgiveness that we can give or receive because God’s grace is sufficient to cover all sins. Jesus used the parable of the unforgiving servant to illustrate his point. He said:

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Jesus explained that forgiveness was not based on the amount of debt one owed, but the creditor’s willingness to show compassion to another human being. Jesus said that we must forgive our brother from the heart. In other words, we need to be a compassionate person in order to express compassion to others.

Joseph’s encounter with his brothers when they came to Egypt to buy food during the famine showed that he was initially hard hearted toward them and treated them cruelly (Genesis 42:7-17), but his attitude changed when he saw their remorse. Genesis 21-22 states:

Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has some upon us.” And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.”

Reuben and the others realized they were guilty of a sin against their brother and they believed God was holding them accountable for it, but they didn’t know that Joseph was the Egyptian governor they were talking to and that he understood everything they were saying because he was using an interpreter to speak to them (Genesis 42:23). After hearing their confession of guilt, it says in Genesis 42:24 that Joseph “turned away from them and wept.”

Joseph’s lamentation for his brothers demonstrated that he felt compassion for them. Instead of making them all stay in prison until their brother Benjamin was brought to Egypt, Joseph only took one of the brothers. “And Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, and to replace every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey” (Genesis 42:25). Joseph’s change of heart was a result of him seeing and hearing the misery of his brothers’ guilt. In his parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus said, “out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt” (Matthew 18:27). The Greek word that is translated pity, splagchnizomai (splangkh-nid’-zom-ahee) means to feel sympathy (G4697). “Splagchnon are the bowels which were regarded by the Hebrews as the seat of tender affections” (G4698).

The Greek word that is translated mercy in Matthew 18:33, eleeo (el-eh-eh’-o) “means to feel sympathy with the misery of another, especially such sympathy as manifests itself in act (G1653). Eleeo is derived from the word eleos (el’-eh-os). “Eleos is the free gift for the forgiveness of sins and 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…It is used of men; for since God is merciful to them, He would have them show mercy to one another” (G1656). After the servant who owed ten thousand talents refused to forgive his fellow servant, Jesus said, “Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailors, until he should pay all his debt” (Matthew 18:32-34).

Jesus talked about forgiveness in the context of salvation. The Greek word eleos “is used of God, who is rich in mercy, Ephesians 2:4, and who has provided salvation for all men” (G1656). The act of salvation is sometimes described as being converted. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). The Greek word that is translated turn, strepho (stref’-o) means to turn quite around or reverse (G4762) and is similar to the Hebrew word shuwb (shoob). The basic meaning of the verb shuwb is movement back to the point of departure. “The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or a turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption” (H7725).

The Hebrew word shuwb is used in Genesis 42:24 where it says of Joseph, “Then he turned away from them and wept. And he returned to them and spoke to them.” It seems likely that when Joseph turned away from his brothers and wept he was converted; his heart was changed and he was able to forgive his brothers. After that, Joseph showed his brothers mercy by letting them go back home, returning the money they paid for their grain, and giving them provisions for their journey (Genesis 42:25-26). Joseph’s merciful actions prompted his brothers to fear that God’s involvement in their situation would lead to their undoing. When one of the brothers saw that his money was in the mouth of his sack, “He said to his brothers, ‘My money has been put back; here it is in the mouth of my sack!’ At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, ‘What is this that God has done to us?'”

Joseph’s brothers were fearful because they knew they were not being treated the way they should have been. The unusual circumstances of their attempt to buy food in Egypt caused these men’s hearts to fail them. In other words, Joseph’s brothers were caught off guard or you might say tripped up by what was happening to them. Joseph’s course treatment and then his reversal by sending them back home with their money hidden in their bags was not only confusing, but also detrimental to his brothers’ spiritual well-being because they were unaware of what was going on and didn’t know why the Egyptian governor (Joseph) was treating them the way he did.

Jesus warned his disciples about causing others to sin. He said, “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). One of the definitions of the Greek word that is translated sin in this verse is “to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey” (G4624). Joseph’s brothers and their families were suffering because of the famine in the land of Canaan and needed food to sustain their lives. Joseph’s harsh treatment of his brothers and his demand that they bring their brother Benjamin to Egypt to prove they weren’t lying to him made it more difficult for them to return to Egypt when their food ran out a second time (Genesis 42:38).

Jesus’ reference to little ones who believe in him in Matthew 18:6 was meant to point out that any person who has faith in God is considered to be just as important and valuable to God as Jesus is. Even though Jesus used the example of a child when he talked about little ones who believe in him (Matthew 18:2, 5), it’s possible he was talking about new or immature believers. He said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10-11) and then he went on to say:

What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. (Matthew 18_12-14)

Jesus instructed his disciples to not go among the Gentiles, “but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6) and told the Canaanite woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). Therefore, it seems likely that the little ones Jesus was talking about when he warned his disciples not to cause them to sin were the Jews that were supposed to inherit God’s kingdom.

In his parable of the lost sheep, Jesus asked, “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them had gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?” (Matthew 18:12). The Greek word that is translated gone astray, planao (plan-ah’-o) has to do with deception and is used in Revelation 12:9 with a definite article “as a title of the Devil” (G4105). One of the reasons believers go astray is because the devil deceives them and makes them believe a lie (Ephesians 4:14). Paul instructed the Ephesians, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil…Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:25-32).

Joseph’s harsh treatment of his brothers may have been warranted, but it wasn’t helpful and caused a situation that was already difficult to become even worse. Joseph could have revealed his identity to his brothers when he first saw them and let them know that he was put in his position to take care of their physical needs, but instead Joseph took advantage of his brother’s guilty consciences and tortured them into thinking they were unworthy of God’s mercy. Jesus told his disciples, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15). Gaining your brother meant that you had won him to Christ or that he had been saved (G2770). Jesus went on to say, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).

Spiritual bondage seems to be associated with a lack of forgiveness, except that the person that suffers is not the one who has committed the sin, but the one who was sinned against. Like the unforgiving servant in Jesus’ parable, Joseph was unwilling to forgive his brothers after God delivered him from prison and placed him a powerful position in Egypt. Instead of forgiving them, Joseph used the position God gave him to torment his brothers and to capitalize on their guilty consciences. Even though he didn’t change his behavior immediately, Joseph did begin to show signs of tenderheartedness when he “turned away from them and wept” (Genesis 42:24) after he overheard his brothers admitting, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother” (Genesis 42:21).

The wicked

Jacob’s departure from his father Isaac’s home was prompted by a threat to his life. Jacob’s mother Rebekah took the initiative to send Jacob away after he deceived Isaac into blessing him instead of his twin brother Esau (Genesis 27:19). Genesis 27:41-45 states, “Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.’ But the words of Esau her older son were told to Rebekah. So she sent and called Jacob her younger son and said to him. ‘Behold your brother Esau comforts himself about you by planning to kill you. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice. Arise, flee to Laban my brother in Haran and stay with him a while until your brother’s fury turns away — until your brother’s anger turns away from you, and he forgets what you have done to him.'”

It appears that 20 years later, Esau was still carrying a grudge against Jacob. After he had fled from his uncle Laban’s home, Jacob sent messengers to Esau to let him know he was on his way home. “And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.’ Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed” (Genesis 32:6-7). Jacob’s conclusion that Esau intended to harm him was a reasonable one considering that Esau had no reason to bring such a large number of men with him unless he intended to fight or defend himself against his brother. As a result of his distressful situation, Jacob repented of his sin and asked God to show him mercy. Jacob openly admitted, “I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant” (Genesis 32:10).

King David prayed a similar prayer when he was betrayed by one of his counselors. David said, “Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy. Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the throng of evildoers, who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows, shooting from ambush at the blameless, shooting at him suddenly and without fear” (Psalm 64:1-4). The Hebrew word that is translated wicked, ra’a’ is properly translated as “to spoil (literally, by breaking to pieces)” (H7489). Figuratively, ra’a’ can mean “to make (or be) good for nothing.” David referred to his enemies as evildoers, people that make an effort to practice wickedness on a regular basis and think it is their job to make others suffer (H6466/H205). David said the evildoers whet their tongues like swords and aimed bitter words like arrows (Psalm 64:3), indicating the primary weapons of evildoers are rumors and lies.

David described the ammunition that was used against him as “bitter words” (Psalm 64:3). The Hebrew word that David used, marah (maw-raw’) likened bitterness to a trickle or the slow drop by drop collection of liquid in the distillation process (H4843/H4752) which often takes long periods of time to accumulate fluid. The Hebrew term dabar (daw-baw’) means a word and by implication “a matter (as spoken of)” (H1697), suggesting that the bitter words that were being shot at David had to to with something that had happened in the past that had never been forgotten or forgiven. Likewise, in the situation with Jacob and Esau, many years had passed since Jacob had stolen his brother’s birthright and yet, there was no lessening of Esau’s anger, only what seemed to be a determined effort on his part to settle the score by annihilating his brother’s family. As Esau approached, Jacob quickly divided up his family and prepared himself for the worst (Genesis 33:2-3).

One of the reasons David thought he was justified in asking for God’s help was that his enemy was “shooting from ambush at the blameless” (Psalm 64:4). The Hebrew word that is translated blameless, tam (tawm) means complete (H8535). Tam is derived from the word tamam (taw-mam’). “The basic meaning of this word is that of being complete or finished, with nothing else expected or intended” (H8552). David may have been thinking of himself as having completed the assignment that God had given him as the king of Israel which was to conquer the foreign nations that occupied the Promised Land (2 Samuel 8:14). David credited God with delivering him from all his enemies (2 Samuel 22:1) and said, “For I have kept the ways of the LORD and have not wickedly departed from my God. For all his rules were before me, and from his statutes I did not turn aside. I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from guilt” (2 Samuel 22:22-24).

David’s claim of being blameless wasn’t based on him never having broken any of God’s rules because we know that David committed adultery and murder (2 Samuel 12:9). Jesus explained that David was innocent because of God’s mercy, his free gift for the forgiveness of sins. When the Pharisees accused his disciples of breaking the law because they plucked heads of grain to eat on the Sabbath, Jesus told them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?” (Matthew 12:3-5). The Greek word that is translated profane, bebelos (beb’-ay-los) means to cross a threshold and by implication according to Jewish notions to be heathenish or wicked (G952).

David said that he had not wickedly departed from his God (2 Samuel 22:22). David compared himself with the wicked in order to point out that his relationship with the LORD was what had kept him from becoming a bad person, someone that was hostile toward God and deserved to be punished (H7561). In his psalm, David said of the wicked, “They hold fast to their evil purpose; they talk of laying snares secretly, thinking, ‘Who can see them?’ They search out injustice, saying, ‘We have accomplished a diligent search.’ For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep” (Psalm 64:5-6). To hold fast to something in the sense that David was talking about meant that the person was bracing up or strengthening himself in order to act in defiance against God (H2388). The person’s heart was hardened to the point that he would not let go of his evil purpose or “the wicked deed and its consequences” (H7451). “While the prominent characteristic of the godly is lovingkindness (H2617), one of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury both to himself and to everyone around him.”

David’s comment that “the inward mind and heart of a man are deep” (Psalm 64:6) was meant to draw attention to the fact that it’s very difficult for a person’s behavior to be changed once he has made up his mind to do something. The immaterial inner self is where conscious decisions are made and the heart is often guided by long patterns of thoughts and emotions that eventually come to fruition, rather than being influenced by single events. Jesus said, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matthew 12:34-35). The Greek word that is translated treasure, thesauros (thay-sow-ros’) means a deposit and suggests Jesus was saying that the only words that come out of our mouths are those that have been stored up in our hearts for some length of time. Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).

A careless word is one that proves to be useless in the sense of accomplishing a task or you might say settling a matter (G692/G4487). When God created the world, “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). If God had said, “Let there be light” and he was not able to create light, then his command would have been a useless one. Jesus wanted his disciples to understand that their words had power, just like God’s and were intended to be used in a productive way. David said of the wicked, “They hold fast to their evil purpose; they talk of laying snares secretly, thinking, ‘Who can see them?’ They search out injustice, saying, ‘We have accomplished a diligent search'” (Psalm 64:5-6). The Hebrew terms that are translated diligent search have to do with concealing one’s identity in order to trick someone (H2664/H2665). You might say a diligent search is a covert operation, the objective being in David’s case to damage his reputation.

When Jacob saw his brother Esau approaching him in the distance, he divided up his wives and children, “And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he come near to his brother” (Genesis 33:2-3). Jacob’s action of bowing demonstrated his submission to Esau’s authority. Jacob was sending Esau a definite message that he no longer wanted to supplant him as the eldest of Isaac’s twin sons. Genesis 33:4 states, “But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” Jacob realized that his brother no longer intended to kill him and said, “For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me” (Genesis 33:10). The Hebrew word that is translated accepted, ratsah (raw-tsaw’) means specifically to satisfy a debt and indicates that Jacob felt he and his brother were friends again (H7521).

In spite of their renewed affection, when Esau offered to travel with Jacob and have his men protect his family, Jacob declined Esau’s offer (Genesis 33:15). “So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house and made booths for his livestock” (Genesis 33:16-17). Jacob was being disobedient when he decided to settle down in Succoth because God had instructed him to “return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred” (Genesis 31:3). It was also contrary to what Jacob had told Esau he intended to do, which was to travel at a slower pace and eventually meet him in Seir (Genesis 33:14). It is likely that Jacob lived in Succoth for at least 5 years and perhaps as many as ten years until his daughter Dinah reached the age of maturity. Genesis 34:1-2 tells us that she “went out to see the women of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her.”

The Hebrew word that is translated humiliated in Genesis 34:2, ‘anah (aw-naw’) indicates that Shechem raped Dinah (H6031), but it says in Genesis 34:3 that Shechem’s soul was drawn to Dinah, that he loved her and spoke tenderly to her. Frequently the verb ‘anah “expresses the idea that God sends affliction for disciplinary purposes.” The situation was a very difficult one because Shechem had clearly done something wicked and yet, Shechem’s motive was honorable. Shechem’s father came to speak to Jacob (Genesis 34:6) and indicated that Shechem wanted to marry Dinah (Genesis 34:8), but Jacob’s sons wanted revenge. “The sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it, and the men were indignant and very angry, because he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing must not be done” (Genesis 34:7).

The way that Jacob and his sons handled the situation showed that they were more interested in settling the score with Shechem than they were finding a solution to their problem. When Jacob found out what happened to Dinah, Genesis 34:5 says that he held his peace until his sons came in from the field. The Hebrew word that is translated held his peace, charash (khaw-rash’) means to scratch and by implication to engrave or fabricate something. In a bad sense, charash is used figuratively with regard to secretly devising a plan (H2790). It could be that during the time while Jacob was waiting for his sons to return from the field, the event was being replayed and engraved in Jacob’s mind and the horror of what took place caused him to become numb with shock. The figurative use of charash implies the mistreatment of others and is used to express the plotting of evil against a friend. Perhaps, Jacob was overcome with rage and could think of nothing else, but to kill the man that had raped his daughter.

Shechem came to Jacob and his sons and offered to make things right. He suggested that the two families could live peaceably with each other. “Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, ‘Let me find favor in your eyes, and whatever you say to me I will give. Ask me for as great a bride price and gift as you will, and I will give whatever you say to me. Only give me the young woman to be my wife” (Genesis 34:11-12). Shechem’s plea for reconciliation fell on deaf ears. Genesis 34:13 states, “The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah.” Dinah’s brothers led Shechem to believe that he could marry Dinah if every male in his city was circumcised. “On the third day, when they were sore, two sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away” (Genesis 34:26).

Simeon and Levi’s murder of every male in the city of Shechem was compounded by the fact that the sons of Jacob plundered the city and “they took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All the wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered” (Genesis 34:27-29). Jacob’s expression of displeasure afterward didn’t carry much weight since he had essentially endorsed his son’s behavior by standing by and allowing them to ransack a city that was in the process of dedicating themselves to God (Genesis 17:10-13). Ultimately, the impression that Jacob’s sons gave was that they would destroy anyone that dared to cross them.

Jesus said that his disciples should “either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). On the surface, this seems to suggest that Jesus wanted his disciples to label people according to their actions, but the Greek word Jesus used that is translated known, ginosko (ghin-oce’-ko) means “to understand completely” (G1097). “In the New Testament ginosko frequently indicates a relation between the person ‘knowing’ and the object known; in this respect, what is ‘known’ is of value or importance to the one who knows, and hence the establishment of the relationship.” Jesus made it clear that the overall behavior of a person needed to be considered, not just a single action or an isolated event. From that standpoint, the fruit of a tree is an ongoing testament to its inner workings and a person’s actions the evidence that he has been converted or born again.

Jesus admonished the scribes and Pharisees that wanted him to perform a miracle in order to prove he was Israel’s Messiah. He told them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Johan, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:39-41). The point that Jesus wanted to make was that it didn’t take a miracle to know that he had come into the world to help people, not hurt them. The reason why the scribes and Pharisees didn’t want anything to do with Jesus was because he kept exposing their hypocrisy. In order to emphasize the wicked state of the Jewish nation, Jesus said, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation” (Matthew 12:43-45).

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment and write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

No darkness

John used a clear and simple illustration, light and darkness, to differentiate between believers and unbelievers. Like some Christians today, the early believers wanted to know how they could tell if someone was saved. In order to set the stage, John began his first epistle talking about Jesus as a manifestation of something that had already existed before his birth (1 John 1:2). The Greek word translated manifested, phaneroo (fan-er-o’-o) means to appear, but in a deeper sense “to be manifested is to be revealed in one’s true character” (G5319).

John declared, “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). John’s statement that there is no darkness at all in God implies that he is the opposite of darkness or the negation of darkness. What I believe John was getting at was the idea that there can be an absence of evil or sin in a person. Jesus was sinless, but if you looked deeper, you would see that he never had an evil thought, there wasn’t even a tendency to think wrong thoughts in his true character.

John wanted believers to understand that Jesus’ perfection could be transferred to them. He explained, “But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his son, cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). In essence, John was saying that darkness could be removed and replaced with light. John identified the process whereby the removal takes place. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

After establishing that God is light and believers are to be like him, John said, “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3). The Greek word translated keep, tereo (tay-reh’-o) refers to a watch or someone that stands guard (G5083). John was not saying that believers were expected to be sinless. What he meant was that a believer should be aware of his sin and confessing it to God so that he could be forgiven.

Some of the first century believers thought that God’s commandments were no longer relevant to them. They thought forgiveness meant they were free to do as they pleased. John made it clear that the commandments were still in affect (1 John 2:7). As a way of letting the believers know that not only were God’s commandments still in affect, but they were going to be held to a higher standard, John stated, “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now” (1 John 2:9).

John’s stern warning may have shocked some of the early Christians who thought refraining from murder was a difficult challenge. The point John was trying to make was that even the smallest offense needed to be confessed. John explained, “I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake” (1 John 2:12). The only way a believer becomes free from sin is by confessing everything.