God’s Family

“The apostle Peter was the most prominent disciple during the ministry of Jesus and had a tremendous impact on the early church” (Introduction to the First Letter of Peter). Peter’s first letter, which was written around 60 A.D., was meant to be an encouragement to the Jewish believers who were enduring intense persecution and to prepare all of his readers “for the difficult times ahead of them.” Peter began his letter with an important point about the purpose of salvation. Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5). Peter said that God causes us to be born again. Peter’s used the term “born again” as a way of describing what happens when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. Jesus said that we must be born again in order to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3) and told a man named Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:5-8).

Jesus explained that being born of the Spirit was an invisible process that resulted in membership in God’s kingdom. It is like our physical birth from the standpoint of coming into existence, but takes place in a much more mysterious, unexplainable way. Essentially, what happens when we are born again is that we become God’s children, we become members of his household and receive an inheritance that is equivalent to Jesus’. The Apostle Paul described this same process as adoption and said that in love God “predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:4-5). The difference between Peter’s description of salvation as being born again and Paul’s viewpoint of the spiritual transaction that takes place when believers enter God’s family most likely had to do with the audience that each of these men was writing to. Paul addressed his letter to the Ephesians “to the saints who are in Ephesus” (Ephesians 1:1). Saints was a general term that applied to all believers and usually referred to the collective body of Christ (G40). Peter’s letter was addressed to a subset of that group which he referred to as “those who are the elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1). Elect exiles were the remnant of Jews that were scattered around the world after Jesus died on the cross. It makes sense that Peter would write to this particular group of people because he was directly responsible for continuing Jesus’ ministry after his death and resurrection. Jesus specifically stated that he was “sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:25) and his last instruction to Peter was “feed my sheep” (John 21:17).

Even though Paul never used the term born again, it can be assumed that all believers become members of God’s family through a spiritual birth when they accept Jesus as their Savior. Paul stated in his letter to the Ephesians:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. (Ephesians 2:11-19)

The Greek word that is translated household in Ephesians 2:19, oikeios (oy-ki’-os) means a relative (G3609) and it can be assumed that if we are told to address God as our Father (Matthew 6:9), that we are his children.

The reason why the children of Israel and subsequently the remnant that became known as the Jews (Nehemiah 1:2) were considered to be God’s family was because Jesus’ physical birth was associated with the descendants of Abraham (Matthew 1:1), but God didn’t refer to the children of Israel as his children, he referred to them as his people. When he appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush, the LORD told him, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7-8). The Hebrew word that is translated people, ‘am (am) means “a people (as a congregated unit)” and is used figuratively to refer to “a flock” (H5971). Jesus often referred to the Jews as the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:25) so that they would realize that God was still dealing with them as the descendants of Abraham which God promised to give the land “from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates” (Genesis 15:18) as an eternal possession. God indicated that a sign he would fulfill this promise was that he would deliver the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. He told Abraham, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions” (Genesis 15:13-14).

Exodus 12:40-41 notes that “the time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.” After everyone crossed over the Red Sea, Exodus 14:30-31 states, “Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.” The Israelites’ salvation from the hand of the Egyptians and belief in the LORD were considered to be indicators of them having a relationship with God, but even though they had a relationship with God, they didn’t think of themselves as being God’s children. That’s why when Jesus referred to himself as the Son of God, the Jews picked up stones to stone him (John 10:31-38). Jesus explained that one of the signs of his relationship to God was his miraculous ability. He said, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10:37-38).

A miracle that Jesus performed while he was on earth was feeding multitudes of people with small amounts of food (Matthew 14:16-21). Jesus’ supernatural provision of food was meant to bolster his disciples faith and to teach them a lesson about the way that God takes care of his family (Matthew 16:8-12). When the Israelites complained to Moses about their lack of food after they entered the desert, “the LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day” (Exodus 16:4). The Israelites named the bread from heaven manna. “It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:31). Jesus told the Jews, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:32-33, 41). Jesus went on to say, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 48-51).

Jesus’ distinction between the bread from heaven that the Israelites ate in the wilderness and the living bread that gives eternal life was most likely meant to emphasize that receiving spiritual nourishment was not the same as being born again. God provided for the physical needs of his chosen people because their relationship to him was a material one. Peter’s letter to the elect exiles of the Dispersion pointed out that the Jews obtained their imperishable inheritance through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and that it was being kept for them in heaven ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5). Peter said, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:10-12). In other words, the Old Testament prophets understood that there was a spiritual aspect to salvation that hadn’t yet been made available to God’s chosen people and even the angels were forbidden to talk about it until after Jesus was born.

The salvation that Jesus died to give us changed the way humans relate to God because the birth that takes place when we are born again has to do with our spirits being regenerated or made alive. Peter indicated that the outcome of our faith is the salvation of our souls (1 Pater 1:9). The Greek word that is translated souls, psuche (psoo-khay’) refers to that vital force which animates the body and shows itself in breathing (Acts 20:10). “One’s understanding of this word’s relationship to related terms is contingent upon his position regarding biblical anthropology. Dichotomists view man as consisting of two parts (or substances), material and immaterial, with spirit and soul denoting the immaterial and bearing only a functional and not a metaphysical difference. Trichotomists also view man as consisting of two parts (or substances), but with the spirit and soul representing in some contexts a real subdivision of the immaterial. This latter view is here adopted” (G5590). It is the spirit that enables man to communicate with God. Jesus used the word psuche to not only refer to natural life, “but also to life as continued beyond the grave.” It is only in the Christian sense that a soul can be saved. The soul is delivered “from sin and its spiritual consequences and admission to eternal life with blessedness in the kingdom of Christ” (G4991).

Peter emphasized the need for believers to act like children of God if they call him their Father. He said:

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:13-19)

Peter’s mention of being ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers (1 Peter 1:18) was most likely intended to bring to mind the Passover celebration that the Jews celebrated on an annual basis. The Greek words that are translated futile ways, mataios (mat’-ah-yos) anastrophe (an-as-trof-ay’) suggest that Peter was focusing on the meaningless rituals that the Jews had not only bought into, but also their expectation that God would save the Jews simply because they were descendants of Abraham (Matthew 3:9).

Peter talked about the living and abiding word of God being the imperishable seed that causes us to be born again. He said, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for

“All flesh is like grass
    and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
    and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:22-25).

The apostles Peter and Paul seemed to agree that obedience was the earmark of a true child of God. Obedience to the truth means that we don’t just take in God’s word, but let it affect the immaterial parts of our being. Peter said that our souls are purified by our obedience to the truth (1 Peter 1:22). Purification had to do with the ceremonial cleansing that took place in God’s temple, but Peter was probably thinking of it as a ritual that involved the taking in of God’s word on a regular basis. Paul talked about this in the context of a process called sanctification in which the believer’s mind is renewed. Paul said that unbelievers are “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them” (Ephesians 4:18) and went on to say, “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 4:20-24).

Paul indicated that the way believers become like God is by renewal “in the spirit of your minds” (Ephesians 4:24). “The renewal here mentioned is not that of the mind itself in its natural powers of memory, judgment and perception, but ‘the spirit of the mind’; which, under the controlling power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, directs its bent and energies God-ward in the enjoyment of fellowship with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ, and the fulfillment of the will of God” (G3650). Peter took this one step further by stating, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:22-23). Peter indicated that our aim shouldn’t be to just change our minds about God, but to demonstrate the same kind of love that Jesus expressed while he was living on earth. Brotherly love is characterized by kindness and is associated with being friendly or what you might think of as being a good neighbor. The Greek word philos (fee’-los) is properly translated as dear and is supposed to express fondness in the context of a family relationship (G80/G5384). Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

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.

Spiritual relationships

Everyone is born into a family. Although their structures can vary greatly, families usually consist of a father and mother, and at least one child. Jesus made his disciples aware of the fact that those who had been born again also had a spiritual family. There may not be much difference between our physical and spiritual family, except that membership is optional, or chosen, in God’s family. While Jesus was teaching a crowd of people, his relatives came and wanted to speak with him. It says in Matthew 12:47-48, “Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who are my mother? and who are my brethren?” It appeared that Jesus’ mother, along with his brothers and sisters, came to listen to him preach and wanted to gain access to the place where he was teaching, but there wasn’t room for them inside. The Greek term that is translated “stand without,” histemi (his’-tay-mee) means “to make to stand” and “to appoint” (2476). Another way of looking at the situation would be to say that Jesus’ mother and siblings had to stand outside because they weren’t important enough to gain access to the building.

Jesus’ reaction to the situation might have looked as if he was indifferent to his family’s request to speak with him, but I believe the point he was trying to make was that his biological family members were no more important to him than those in his spiritual family. It says in Matthew 12:49-50, “And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren. For whoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” Jesus was conveying to them that his disciples were of equal importance to him as his own family members, meaning that they were as close to him as anyone could get. This was an important distinction because in the Jewish religion, family relationships were the basis of all spiritual activities. Anyone that was not a member of Abraham’s family was excluded from God’s blessing. The key to understanding Jesus’ distinction between his biological family members and the members of his spiritual family was the statement, “Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:50). What Jesus was saying was that doing God’s will was the deciding factor of who gained access to him.

The family of God

Jesus was rarely alone during the three years he was involved in his ministry on earth. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus called certain men to join him in his work. Some of his encounters with these men are recorded (John 1:35-51) and some are not. Jesus acumulated a total of twelve disciples or apostles, as they were later known. Mark 3:13-19 contains a complete list of their names. It says:

And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came to him. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils: and Simon he surnamed Peter; and James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; (and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder:) and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alpheus, and Thaddeus, and Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed him.

From this passage of scripture, we know three things about the men Jesus chose as his Apostles. First, they were all called. The Greek word translated called, proskaleomai means to summon or invite (4341). Each of the twelve men that served with Jesus during his ministry on earth came to be with him of their own volition. It was a voluntary choice they made to give up thier former ways of life and to devote themselves to doing God’s will. Second, the twelve men Jesus chose were ordained. Today, we might think of someone that is ordained as someone in the ministry. That is not at all what the Greek word that is translated ordained meant in Jesus’ time. Poieo (poy – eh’ – o) means to make or do “and is used of the bringing forth of fruit” (4160). What was happening when Jesus ordained the twelve “that they should be with him” (Mark 3:14) was forming of an organization. Jesus chose these particular twelve men in order to optimize the harvesting of souls that would take place as a result of their election. The special privilege each of these men received as a result of their membership in Jesus’ organization was the “power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils” (Mark 3:15).

Jesus identified his spiritual organization with a family by likening his followers to family members and started distancing himself from those that were opposed to God’s kingdom because of the negative impact they were having on his work. Jesus’ relatives thought he must be insane and the scribes suggested he was possessed by the prince of devils, Beelzebub (Mark 3:21-22). In order to make it clear that his allegiance belonged to God’s family, rather than his own, Jesus denied his own mother access to his camp. It says in Mark 3:31-35:

There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.

True identity

Although Jesus was born with the divine authority of God, he did not as a child have all of the capabilities he needed to minister to God’s people. As a human, Jesus had to mature spiritually and gain experience in life. It says in Luke 2:40 that his parents did everything required of them according to the law of the Lord and then, “the child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.” In other words, Jesus was raised like any other Jewish child. He did not immediately have an understanding of how the world worked, nor did he glow, or have a halo above his head as some people may imagine him. Jesus looked and acted like a normal child. Apparently though, Jesus did have supernatural intelligence. His IQ was probably the highest of any person that has ever lived. When Jesus was twelve years old, his parents found him in the temple of God, “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46).

Today, we might refer to Jesus as a child prodigy, a genius of the most extreme sort. It says in Luke 2:47, “And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.” The Greek word translated understanding, sunesis (soon´ – es – is) refers to “a mental putting together, i.e. intelligence or (concretely) the intellect” (4907). Sunesis is derived from a primary preposition denoting union; with or together, in the sense of an association gained through the process of learning (4862). Even his own parents, couldn’t fully comprehend the things that Jesus said. In a moment of frustration, when she found Jesus arguing with the priests in the temple, Mary said to her son, “Son why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing” (Luke 2:48). What Mary was implying was that she and Joseph didn’t have the same kind of supernatural intelligence that Jesus had. They had been looking all over for him and had no idea that he had stayed behind in Jerusalem after they had left the city to return home to Nazareth (Luke 2:43).

Jesus’ response to his mother’s frustrated comment was meant to distinguish not only his true identity, but also his primary responsibility as child of God. He said, “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). This brief statement revealed that at the age of twelve, Jesus no longer associated himself with his earthly parents. Jesus understood that God was his actual father, in every sense of the word. The Greek word translated “Father’s business” is pater. This word is usually used to designate the nearest ancestor or male relative in a family, but metaphorically it can refer to “the originator of a family or company of persons animated by the same spirit as himself.” Pater is also used “of God in relation to those who have been born anew” (3962). Although Jesus did not become a believer, he may have reached a point at the age of twelve where he completely transferred his trust or loyalty from Joseph to his Father in heaven. From that point forward, everything Jesus did was due to his obedience to God.

The new temple (part 8)

Within his description of the new temple, Ezekiel envisioned a new acquisition and redistribution of land to the Israelites (Ezekiel 45:1). The entire block of land was to be a perfect square, approximately 50 miles long and 50 miles wide. A square area in the center of the land was to be set aside for the Lord and owned by no tribe (Note on Ezekiel 45:1).  The Lord’s portion included about 500 square miles of land, which is equivalent to the size of the city of Los Angeles. According to the National Geographic magazine, the current world’s population (7 billion) could fit into 500 square miles of land standing shoulder to shoulder.

There is no indication as to why the Lord’s portion was the particular size it was or why the size was so large. In the first distribution of land, there was no portion given to the Lord. It can be assumed that the Lord was given a portion of land in the second distribution because he would be dwelling among his people and that the temple was the house in which he would live, but the excessive amount of land suggests there might be more people than just the Lord living there. For instance, the 144,000 of all the tribes of the children of Israel that survive the tribulation (Revelation 7:3-4) or perhaps all the believers that are killed during the tribulation (Revelation 20:4).

 

 

The kinsman redeemer

The Israelite community was designed in such a way that families would remain in tact for centuries and ultimately for eternity. When they entered the Promised Land, each of the twelve tribes of Israel was designated a territory that they were to occupy. Every family was to have its own piece of property that would be passed on from generation to generation through an inheritance given to the oldest son. In the event, the family got into debt and had to sell its land, the property could later be redeemed by a close relative referred to as the kinsman redeemer.

It was the responsibility of the kinsman redeemer to preserve “the integrity, life, property, and family name of his close relative or for executing justice upon his murderer” (1350). In the role of executor of justice, the kinsman redeemer was referred to as the avenger or revenger of blood. Isaiah portrayed the arrival of the avenger on the scene as someone waging war on Israel’s enemies. He said, “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? This that is glorious in his apparel, traveling in the greatness of his strength? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save. Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat? I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me; for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment” (Isaiah 63:1-3).

Isaiah described the day of the Lord as one in which there would be much blood shed. Revelation 19:13 indicates that that day will come at the end of the great tribulation when God’s wrath is poured out on mankind. John the apostle declared, “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipt in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean” (Revelation 19:11-14).

The Messiah’s role as the kinsman redeemer was unique to the Israelites because the kinsman redeemer had to be a blood relative. Although Jesus died for the sins of the world, he only came to redeem the children of Israel. Isaiah declared of Israel’s Messiah, “For he said, Surely they are my people, children that will not lie; so he was their Savior. In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old” (Isaiah 63:8-9). Israel’s rejection of its Messiah caused the door to be opened to the Gentiles who received their inheritance as adopted children of Christ. Eventually, the family of God will be integrated and all who are true believers will share equally in Christ’s inheritance (Isaiah 63:17).