The journey

The twelve disciples that Jesus called to be a part of his ministry were summoned with the simple phrase, “Follow me” (John 1:43). The Greek word that is translated follow, akoloutheo (ak-ol-oo-thehˊ-o) is properly translated as “to be in the same way with” (G190). The root word keluthos means a road which is sometimes referred to as a way or you might say a means of traveling. Jesus told his disciples, “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus spoke of himself as the way for us to get to God. The Greek word that is translated way, hodos (hod-osˊ) means “a road; (by implication) a progress (the route, act or distance); (figurative) a mode or means” (G3598). In that sense, Jesus was saying that access to God is made possible through a relationship with him. After Philip asked him to show the disciples his Father, Jesus responded, “Have I been with you so long, and you do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves” (John 14:9-11). The works that Jesus was referring to were the miracles that he had performed during his ministry. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:38-44), the chief priests planned to not only kill Jesus, but “to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus” (John 12:10-11).

The spiritual journey that Jesus invited his followers to be a part of was based on a transformative event that Jesus described as being “born again” (John 3:3). Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:5-8). Jesus used the example of the wind to show that spiritual movement takes place even though it is undetected by our physical perception. The Greek word that is translated enter, eiserchomai (ice-erˊ-khom-ahee) implies motion from a place or person to another and also indicates that a point has been reached (G1525) similar to a planned destination on a trip. Jesus was aware that Nicodemus wanted to be a part of God’s kingdom, but he lacked the spiritual capability to get there. Jesus explained to Nicodemus that in order to get to the kingdom of heaven, he must first experience a spiritual rebirth. “The new birth and regeneration do not represent successive stages in spiritual experience, they refer to the same event but view it in different aspects. The new birth stresses the communication of spiritual life in contrast to antecedent spiritual death; regeneration stresses the inception of a new state of things in contrast with the old” (G3824).

Spiritual life requires certain elements to sustain it in the same way that physical life does. Jesus told his disciples, “If you love me you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17). One of the critical elements of spiritual life is connection with God. Jesus indicated that the Father dwelt in him (John 14:10) and that the Holy Spirit dwells in us (John 14:17) and then, he used the illustration of a vine and branches to show that we all are connected to each other from a functional standpoint.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:1-11)

Jesus made the statement “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5) to make it clear that he is the source of our spiritual strength. The Greek word that is translated can, dunamai (dooˊ-nam-ahee) “means to be able, to have power, whether by virtue of one’s own ability and resources (Romans 15:14); or through a state of mind, or through favorable circumstances (1 Thessalonians 2:6)” (G1410). Jesus went on to say, “if anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6), indicating that separation from him will result in eternal punishment.

Jesus referred to the kind of relationship we are to have with him as abiding. He said, “Abide in me, and I in you” (John 15:4). The Greek word that is translated abide, meno (menˊ-o) means “to stay (in a given place, state, relation or expectancy) and suggests that no spiritual movement is taking place, but in the context of a vine and branches, what it means to abide is that we are going wherever Jesus goes. We do not go anywhere unless Jesus does. The Israelites’ journey to the Promised Land illustrates the concept of abiding in that “the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people” (Exodus 13:21-22). Chapter 33 of the book of Numbers recounts Israel’s journey and begins with the statement, “These are the stages of the people of Israel, when they went out of the land of Egypt by their companies under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage by command of the LORD, and these are their stages according to their starting places” (Numbers 33:1-2). The English Standard Version of the Bible translates the Hebrew word massaʿ (mas-sahˊ) as stages. The New King James Version of the Bible translates the word massaʿ as journeys. In it Numbers 33:1-2 states:

These are the journeys of the children of Israel, who went out of the land of Egypt by their armies under the hand of Moses and Aaron. Now Moses wrote down the starting points of their journeys at the command of the Lord. And these are their journeys according to their starting points.

The variations between these two versions of the Bible show us that journeys are made up of various stages that are associated with starting points. The Hebrew word mowtsaʾ (mo-tsawˊ) means “a going forth…an exit” and is associated with the rising of the sun (H4161). The Hebrew word chanah (khaw-nawˊ) means “to decline (of the slanting rays of the evening)” (H2583). Therefore the starts and stops of the Israelites’ journey were comparable to the continuous cycle of the earth spinning on its axis. Numbers 33:5-8 states:

So the people of Israel set out from Rameses and camped at Succoth. And they set out from Succoth and camped at Etham, which is on the edge of the wilderness. And they set out from Etham and turned back to Pi-hahiroth, which is east of Baal-zephon, and they camped before Migdol. And they set out from before Hahirothand passed through the midst of the sea into the wilderness, and they went a three days’ journey in the wilderness of Etham and camped at Marah.

The repetitive nature of the Israelites’ journey is evident in the record of their first few starts and stops. One of the things to note about their trip to Pi-hahiroth is that is says the Israelites turned back to Pi-hahiroth. The Hebrew word that is translated turned back, shuwb (shoob) means “to retreat (not necessarily with the idea of return to the starting point)” (H7725). Pi-hahiroth was the location where the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. It says “they set out from before Hahiroth and passed through the midst of the sea” (Numbers 33:8). The Hebrew word that is translated passed, ʿabar (aw-barˊ) “refers primarily to spatial movement, to ‘moving over, through, or away from.’ This basic meaning can be used of ‘going over or through’ a particular location to get to the other side” (H5674). Each of the specific aspects of the Israelites’ journey, their starting points, retreat to Pi-hahiroth, and their crossing over of the Red Sea illustrates the complex nature of journeys. It’s not simply a matter of getting from Point A to Point B.

A comparison of the Israelites’ physical journey through the wilderness to the spiritual journey that Jesus called his disciples to reveals an important aspect of spiritual life. It involves acts of obedience that are intended to draw us closer to God. The difference between the Israelites’ journey and the journey of those who follow Christ is that a physical journey involves going out, a departure from places that we need to leave behind, whereas a spiritual journey involves going into the human heart and dwelling with the Holy Spirit on a continual basis. Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as another Helper that will be with us forever (John 14:16). The Greek word that is translated Helper, parakletos (par-akˊ-lay-tos) “is the one summoned, called to one’s side, especially called to one’s aid” and refers to both Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was “destined to take the place of Christ with the apostles (after Christ’s ascension to the Father), to lead them to a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth, and give them divine strength needed to enable them to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the divine kingdom (John 14:16; 14:26; 15:26; 16:7)” (G3875). Jesus said the Holy Spirit would be with his disciples forever. The Greek words that Jesus used that are translated forever, eis (ice) which means “to or into (indicating the point reached or entered), of place, time” (G1519) and aion (ahee-ohnˊ). “The primary stress of this word is time in its unbroken duration” (G165). From this vantage point, the Holy Spirit is a type of spiritual guide that enables us to experience eternal life as a result of being born again.

Jesus indicated that spiritual activity will produce fruit. He said, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit” (John 15:5). The Greek word that is translated bears, enegko (en-engˊ-ko) signifies being impelled by the Holy Spirit’s power, not acting according to our own wills, or simply expressing our own thoughts, but expressing the mind of God in words provided by Him (G5342). The Greek word karpos (kar-posˊ), which is translated fruit, is used metaphorically “of works or deeds, ‘fruit’ being the visible expression of power working inwardly and invisibly, the character of the ‘fruit’ being evidence of the power producing it…As the visible expressions of hidden lusts are the works of the flesh, so the invisible power of the Holy Spirit in those who are brought into living union with Christ (John 15:2-8, 16) produces ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:22 the singular form suggesting unity of the character of the Lord as reproduced in them, namely, ‘love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance,’ all in contrast with the confused and often mutually antagonistic ‘works of the flesh’)” (G2590). The Apostle Paul talked about the fruit of the Spirit in the context of intrapersonal conflict. Paul wrote, “But I say, walk in the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law…If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16-25). Paul’s reference to keeping in step with the Spirit had to do with submission of the heart to the Holy Spirit. Paul was encouraging the Galatians to let the Holy Spirit override their own inclinations and to do what didn’t come naturally to them.

Jesus told his disciples:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:9-13)

Jesus’ command went beyond human capability. He didn’t tell his disciples to just love one another, but to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). And then, in case there was any uncertainty as to what he meant, Jesus added, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Jesus realized that the intrapersonal conflict that each of his disciples was going to experience would not only lead them to abandon their commitment to him, but also to each other. Therefore, Jesus reminded his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another” (John 15:16-17). The key to Jesus’ disciples being able to love one another was their mutual dependency upon him to complete their spiritual journey. Each of Jesus’ disciples was chosen and appointed to go and bear fruit. Their common mission was a tie that bound them together as a unit and it forced them to depend on and support each other after Jesus had departed. As a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ disciples were able to reproduce the quality of love that they received from him, agapao (ag-ap-ahˊ-o), a type of love that expresses itself in faithful service (G25).

One of the similarities between the Israelites’ physical journey through the wilderness and the believer’s spiritual journey through life is that both were intended to bear witness to the ministry of Jesus Christ. When two spies were sent into Jericho to prepare for Israel’s first battle in the Promised Land, they met a prostitute whose name was Rahab and were given the following report:

“I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:9-11)

Likewise, Jesus said his disciples would bear witness of him after they had received the Holy Spirit. He told them:

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:26-27)

Jesus said that the reason why his disciples would be able to bear witness about him was because they had been with him from the beginning. Essentially, what Jesus meant by that was that his disciples had been traveling with him since he had chosen them “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). In other words, there was never a time when Jesus and his disciples weren’t traveling together and the same is true for us. Our journey doesn’t begin when we choose to follow Christ, but at the point when Jesus predestined us for adoption into the family of God (Ephesians 1:5).

The finish line

Paul’s second letter to Timothy is believed to be the last message he wrote before he was beheaded by the Roman Emperor Nero. His instructions to Timothy reflected the importance of having a successful transition after Paul was removed from his leadership role. Paul encouraged Timothy to not be ashamed of the work he had been called to do and told him to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1). Paul also focused on the process of sanctification which he probably thought Timothy was going through in order to prepare him for the increased responsibility he would have after Paul was gone. Paul told Timothy regarding confessing his sins, “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21).

Paul used his own life as an example for Timothy to follow in his pursuit of evangelism and told Timothy that he should expect his ministry to be challenged by unbelievers. Paul said, “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:10-12, ESV). One of things that Paul was clear about was that suffering and doing God’s work would always go hand in hand. There was no way to escape the persecution that resulted from preaching the gospel.

Paul told Timothy, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Greek words Paul used that are translated perfect and thoroughly furnished had to do with the process of sanctification being completed in the life of a believer. Paul linked scripture to this process and indicated that God’s word is sufficient to complete that process. There is no other requirement to reach spiritual maturity than to understand or fully comprehend all of God’s word.

Paul concluded his final message with these words, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Paul had likely already been condemned to death when he wrote this message to Timothy. Paul was careful to note that he didn’t expect to be used any further in his ministry of preaching the gospel. It was Paul’s imminent death that prompted him to urge Timothy to keep his ministry going. Paul’s mention of a crown of righteousness was probably meant to encourage Timothy to work as hard as he had to spread the gospel around the world because he would be rewarded in heaven.

Paul’s comparison of the completion of ministry to a good fight and a finished course was his way of communicating the importance of endurance in serving God. Roman boxing was popular in the time period in which Paul lived. “Some boxers were known for their skill; others were known for simply being able to take punishment…Romans used gloves with pieces of metal placed around the knuckles (caestus) to inflict the most damage possible. Moreover, there was no time limit or weight classification. Proclaiming a winner resulted from either a knockout or the conceding of defeat by one of the boxers” (factsanddetails.com, Ancient Roman Sport). Paul’s declaration that he had fought a good fight implied that he had knocked out his opponent or at the very least gotten him to concede defeat.

Paul talked about his conflict with Satan in his second letter to the Corinthians. He stated, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure” (2 Corinthians 12:7). The Greek word translated buffet, kolaphizo (kol-af-id’-zo) means “to rap with the fist” (G2852). Paul indicated the source of his afflictions were the revelations he received which were a progressive, private unveiling of the otherwise unknown and unknowable facts about God (G602). Paul’s numerous epistles are a testimony to the surpassing knowledge he had of Jesus and his future kingdom on Earth.

Paul likened his career in ministry to a race that was completed. Interestingly, Paul didn’t say he had won the race, but had merely finished the course. Paul’s humility in judging his importance in spreading the gospel around the Roman Empire showed that he genuinely viewed himself as an instrument in God’s hand. Paul didn’t take credit for any of his accomplishments. Most of what Paul talked about had to do with the suffering he endured while serving in the ministry of Jesus Christ. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul boasted of his sufferings and mentioned in detail the various trials he had experienced (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). The only evidence that Paul was content with what he had done at the end of his life was his statement, “I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). The Greek word translated kept, tereo (tay-reh’-o) means to fulfill a command (G5083). In other words, Paul felt he had done everything God had told him to.

Unshakable faith

Paul’s appeal for endurance in his letter to the Hebrews pointed to the ultimate goal of God’s plan of salvation, that believers inherit the kingdom of heaven. Comparing the Israelite’s interaction with God on Mount Sinai with the believer’s entrance into heaven, Paul stated:

But instead, you have come to the mountain of Jerusalem. It is the city of the living God. It is the Jerusalem of heaven with its thousands of angels. You have gathered there with God’s children who were born long ago. They are citizens of heaven. God is there. He will judge all men. The spirits of all those right with God are there. They have been made perfect. Jesus is there. He has made a way for man to go to God. He gave His blood that men might worship God the New Way. The blood of Jesus tells of better things than that which Abel used…On Mount Sinai, God’s voice shook the earth. But now He has promised, saying, “Once more I will shake the earth and the heavens.” (Hebrews 12:22-24, 26 NLV)

The Greek word translated shake in Hebrews 12:26, seio (si’-o) means to rock or vibrate sideways moving to and fro like an earthquake. Seio is used figuratively “to throw into a tremor (of fear or concern)” (G4579). Paul’s mention of God’s promise to shake the earth and the heavens probably had to do with the universal battle that will take place at the end of the great tribulation that results in Satan being cast into the bottomless pit and shut up for a thousand years (Revelation 20:1-3).

Paul went on to say that God’s promise to shake the earth and the heavens signified the establishment of his kingdom on earth. He explained, “When God says, ‘Once more,’ He means He will take away everything of this world that can be shaken so the things that cannot be shaken will be left” (Hebrews 12:27, NLV). The Greek word translated shaken, saleuo (sal-yoo’-o) means to waver or to be insecure about what we believe in (G4531). Paul’s reference to things that cannot be shaken related back to the acts of faith that he mentioned in Hebrews chapter eleven. What Paul was getting at had to do with his definition of faith. Paul said, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Hebrews 11:1-3).

Paul’s understanding of faith was that it causes God’s kingdom to be made visible on earth. Jesus eluded to this in his parable of the sower. In his explanation of the parable, Jesus told his disciples:

And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience. (Luke 8:10-15, NKJV)

Jesus indicated that God’s word becomes fruitful in our lives when we keep it or translate it into action (G2722). In other words, we have to do what God’s word tells us to in order to reap the benefits of it.

Paul described the results of Abraham’s faith in terms of dwelling in the Promised Land. He said, “By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:9-10, NKJV). In Hebrews 13:14, Paul linked all believers to Abraham’s inheritance by stating, “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.”

The city Paul was referring to was depicted by the Apostle John in the book of Revelation. John stated, “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God'” (Revelation 21:1-3, NKJV).

The interesting thing about John’s description of the New Jerusalem was that he likened it to a bride adorned for her husband and John said, “the tabernacle of God is with men” (Revelation 21:3). Revelation 19 portrays the union of believers with Jesus as a marriage ceremony and it states specifically in Revelation 19:7-8 that, “‘ the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.’ And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (NKJV), the phrase “the righteous acts of the saints” means an equitable deed or a demonstration of faith (G1345). According to John, the visible manifestation of God’s kingdom on earth will involve the body (bride i.e. church) of Christ being transformed into a unified physical structure that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:27), coming down from heaven and becoming the eternal dwelling place of God (Revelation 21:3).

A new mind

It could be said that the human mind is a culmination of all the experiences we have had in our lives. The Greek word phroneo (fron-eh’-o) means “to be minded in a certain way” (G 5426). Phroneo implies “moral interest or reflection, not mere unreasoning opinion.” Paul used the word phroneo when he said, “Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits” (Romans 12:16). Paul’s instruction to be of the same mind one toward another could only be accomplished through the transformation of one’s thinking processes. Paul was essentially saying that believers should try and understand the world from other people’s perspective. We need to walk in each others shoes so to speak.

In order to accomplish the task of thinking like others, Paul admonished believers to renew their minds, similar to the way you would renovate an old home. He stated, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2, NKJV). The word Paul used that is translated mind in Romans 12:2 is nous (nooce). Nous refers to the intellect and denotes, “speaking generally, the seat of reflective consciousness, comprising the faculties of perception and understanding, and those of feeling, judging and determining” (G3563).

The Greek word translated renewing in Romans 12:2, anakainosis (an-ak-ah’-ee-no-sis means “the adjustment of the moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God, which is designed to have a transforming effect upon the life; and stresses the willing response on the part of the believer” (G342). God initiates the process of transformation in our lives by prompting us to think differently. We can cooperate with the Holy Spirit and yield ourselves to his work in our hearts or resist change and live our lives as we always have. Paul said that we should not be conformed to this world. What he meant by that was not acting like everyone else. The Greek word suschematizo (soos-khay-mat-id’-zo) “stresses outward conformity and means to shape one thing like another and describes what is transitory, changeable, and unstable” (G4964). In other words, following the latest fad.

Paul indicated that God gives each of us a measure of faith which we as believers are expected to use to develop our spiritual gifts. Paul said the gifts we receive differ according to the grace that is given to us (Romans 12:6), “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members of another” (Romans 12:4-5). The Greek word translated office, praxis means practice and by extension a function (G4234). God’s kingdom is operating in the world today in a somewhat invisible fashion. Even though we don’t see everything that is going on, there is constant activity that believers are expected to participate in. It is through the renewing of our minds that we begin to detect these activities and are able to contribute to the establishment of God’s kingdom on Earth.

Be prepared

Jesus talked frequently about the kingdom of heaven and used parables to teach his followers about the principles of the spiritual realm in which God exists. After he instructed his disciples to watch for his return (Matthew 24:42) and warned them about the punishment of unfaithful servants (Matthew 24:51), Jesus used the parable of the ten virgins to emphasize the importance of being prepared for his imminent return. He said, “Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps” (Matthew 25:1-4). The picture Jesus painted to illustrate his return was a wedding ceremony in which the bridesmaids were looking for the bridegroom’s signal to start the processional. The lamps Jesus referred to were torches that consisted of a long pole with oil-drenched rags at the top. The lamps were trimmed by cutting off the charred ends of the rags and adding oil. “Torches required large amounts of oil in order to keep burning, and the oil had to be replenished about every 15 minutes” (notes on Matthew 25:1, 7, 9).

The initial point Jesus made in his parable of the ten virgins was the need to be prepared ahead of time for a lengthy wait. Jesus stated previously, “But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up” (Matthew 24:43). It can easily be assumed from these two examples that Jesus’ return will be an unexpected event. It is possible that no one will be looking for Jesus to return when he finally does come back to Earth. He stated in his parable, “While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept” (Matthew 25:5). The Greek word translated tarried, chronizo means “to take time, i.e. linger” (G5549). Chronizo as a verb, means literally “to while away time.” This seems to suggest that time is being wasted, but Jesus made it clear that he would return at a set or proper time (Luke 19:44). It could be that Jesus’ delay is due to his preoccupation with activities in heaven. Jesus told his disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1-3).

A correlation between Jesus preparing a place for us in heaven and his return to Earth may be found in his example of the wise virgins that were ready when the bridegroom arrived. Jesus said, “And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut” (Matthew 25:6-10). The separation of the wise virgins from the foolish ones indicated some people that appear to be Christians might be attempting to enter the kingdom of heaven under false pretenses. Jesus’ preparation of a place in heaven for believers might be his way of determining who belongs in his kingdom and who does not based on something like a reservation system that indicates a particular room or space has been set aside for a specific individual.

Chosen

Jesus used the parable of a marriage dinner to illustrate the process God is using to populate his kingdom. Jesus began by stating, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come” (Matthew 22:2-3). Initially, the family of Abraham, which later became the nation of Israel, was chosen by God to be his heir and was given the land “from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates” (Genesis 15:18). After 400 years of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites entered the Promised Land and occupied it continuously (except for the 70 years they were in captivity in Babylon) until Jesus, their Messiah was born. Jesus’ arrival on Earth was similar to a wedding because it signified the joining together or physical union of God and his chosen people.

Jesus indicated in his parable that when it was time for the wedding, those who had been invited wouldn’t come (Matthew 22:3). The word Jesus used that is translated bidden in Matthew 22:3, kaleo suggested the wedding invitation came in the form of a public announcement. Jesus may have been referring to his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. When he rode into town on the back of a donkey, Jesus was not only making an intentional effort to fulfill an Old Testament prophecy about Israel’s Messiah (Zechariah 9:9), but he was also acting out a tradition that he knew would be recognized by everyone that was of Jewish descent (1 Kings 1:33). The important thing to note about Jesus’ parable was that the intended guests made a conscious decision to not attend the wedding. He said, “But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: and the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them” (Matthew 22:5-6).

Jesus explained in his parable of the marriage dinner that God planned to use an alternate method to populate his kingdom. He said:

But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burnt up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. (Matthew 22:7-9).

Jesus depicted the spreading of the gospel as a type of roundup in which everyone that was available was invited to come to his wedding. In ancient times, highways represented a “a course of conduct” or “way of thinking” (G3598). In Jesus’ parable, the servants may have been sent to the highways in order to find people that were seeking a godly way of life or perhaps to look for individuals that were on a quest to find the meaning of life. The travelers on the highway were shown to be in active pursuit of something when they were contacted and invited to the wedding.

After stating that a man was cast into outer darkness because he wasn’t wearing the designated wedding garment, Jesus concluded his parable by making the point that certain types of individuals would be removed God’s kingdom. He said, “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). The primary difference between the Greek words translated called, kletos (klay-tos´) and chosen, eklektos (ek-lek-tos´) appears to be the conscious choice of selecting a favorite. What I believe Jesus meant by this was that the free gift of salvation entitles an individual to entrance into heaven, but it doesn’t exempt that person from meeting God’s standards or the expectation of appropriate conduct in heaven. When a person is born again, he must exhibit genuine repentance and want to be changed in his character. The evidence that I have not only been invited into the kingdom of heaven, but have also been chosen by God to be there is that I will behave like the Bible says a Christian should.

Ambition

James and John were one of two sets of brothers that were included in Jesus’ twelve member exclusive team of evangelists. Jesus told these men, “in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). James and John were often singled out and given special privileges such as witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration (Matthew 17:1) and the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37). In his list of the twelve apostles, Mark said of these two men, “And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; (and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder:). The name Boanerges could also be translated sons of commotion (G993), but in its original form, the word Jesus used stood for violent anger or rage (H7266). It is likely that James and John had a reputation for losing their tempers and may have been raised in a home where violence was used to discipline them.

One of the few incidents of conflict among Jesus’ twelve apostles is recorded in Mark 9:33-34 where it says, “And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.” James and John took this conflict one step farther when they approached Jesus and asked him to give them the seats next to his in his throne room (Mark 10:37). James and John’s ambition appeared to be driven by a desire to be equal with Jesus (Mark 10:38-39). Jesus told them, “Ye shall drink indeed of my cup. and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, in not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared by my Father” (Matthew 20:23). The Greek word translated prepared, hetoimazo (het-oy-mad´-zo) means to prepare or make ready (G2090). Hetoimazo refers to those things which are ordained by God, such as future positions of authority.

Jesus told his disciples, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). The word Jesus used that is translated prepare in this verse is also hetoimazo. The Greek word translated place, topos suggests that Jesus is building his kingdom based on our prayers or requests for occupancy in a particular spot that might be available (G5117). In this sense, you could say that Jesus is currently taking reservations and assigning spots to believers inside his Father’s house. James and John’s request may not have been all that unreasonable, but it was determined that their ambition to be seated next to Jesus was not at his discretion. Jesus revealed that the top spots in his kingdom were reserved for God’s elect and said, “whosoever will be great among you let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28).

The Greek word translated minister in the phrase “let him be your minister” (Matthew 20:26) is diakonos (dee-ak´-on-os). Diakonos refers to “an attendant that is (generally) a waiter (at a table or in other menial duties)” (G1249). This term is used specifically in reference to a Christian teacher or pastor who is technically supposed to be a deacon or deaconess. Jesus identified himself as a minister and stated the purpose of his service was to “give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). In other words, the job Jesus was assigned by his Father was to die for the sins of the world. This was the position God prepared for him and the reason Jesus would be located at the head of the table or in the top spot in God’s eternal kingdom. When Jesus asked James and John, “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” (Matthew 20:22), he may have been asking them if they were willing to make the same kind of sacrifice that he was expected to. When they responded, “We are able” (Matthew 20:22) James and John were basically volunteering to become martyrs.

On the inside

Jesus distinguished the kingdom of God as something that could not be discovered through observation. He said, “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). If you think of a kingdom as a realm of control or something that is able to be governed, then you could say the kingdom of God operates on the inside of a person by way of the believer’s heart making conscious decisions to obey God’s commandments. The things that I do for God may not be evident to the people around me, but they are visible to everyone in the spiritual realm. To a certain extent, the kingdom of God is hidden right now; it is intentionally being kept out of view.

Jesus told his disciples, “The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it” (Luke 17:22). By this, I believe Jesus meant that the physical  manifestation of his work, the miracles and other supernatural activities he performed while he was on Earth would no longer be evident, meaning they would not be clearly seen or understood. The primary way we know that Jesus is alive today is by the conviction we feel in our hearts that he is speaking to us. After Jesus’ resurrection, he talked to two men who were traveling to a village called Emmaus. At first they didn’t recognize Jesus, but while they were eating a meal with him, it says in Luke 24:31 their eyes were opened and they knew him. After he vanished out of their sight, “they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures” (Luke 24:32).

Jesus told his disciples there would come a day when he would be revealed to the world (Luke 17:30). The way he described it, Jesus’ unveiling would result in a sudden shift in the physical and spiritual realms that would bring about a separation of the kingdom of God from the kingdom of Satan. He said, “I tell you in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women will be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left” (Luke 17:34-36). Apparently, what will happen is everyone who does not belong in God’s kingdom will be removed from the earth in judgment as in the flood of Noah’s day (Luke 17:26-27) (G3880).

First priority

Jesus taught that God’s kingdom must be given first priority. In his parable of the great supper, Jesus described the result of putting a lower priority on spiritual activities. The men that were originally invited to a great supper or banquet excused themselves from attending because they had other things to do. As a result, the host had his servant bring in others who were willing to accept his invitation (Luke 14:21). At the conclusion of his parable, Jesus stated, “For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper” (Luke 14:24). In other words, the men that were originally invited, but didn’t come, wouldn’t be invited back to the man’s (Jesus’) house.

Jesus went on to explain that there was a cost to discipleship. He told the large crowd listening to him, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. Jesus wasn’t talking about the free gift of salvation that God offers to the world. His invitation to “come to me” had to do with his work of transforming the Earth. Jesus said, “And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). Before Jesus’ death, the cross was not associated with sacrifice. It was an emblem of severe punishment for crimes that were committed against the Roman government. What Jesus likely meant by “bear his cross,” was a willingness to go against the dictated behavior of human authorities. Today we might think of this as doing what is politically correct or following the prescribed rules of our culture.

Jesus used two examples to drive home the point that God would finish the work he started because he had already set aside the spiritual resources he needed to complete it. Just as the host of the banquet was able to fill his dining hall with alternate guests (Luke 14:22-23), God’s kingdom is open to anyone that is willing to serve him. Jesus concluded his lesson with an admonition to his listeners to keep a continual focus on being useful to God. He said, “Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned?” (Luke 14:34).

The Greek word translated savour, moraino (mo-rah´-ee-no) was being used figuratively by Jesus to describe someone that is stupid or foolish (3471/3474). Moraino is related to the word musterion (moos-tay´-ree-on) which stands for a secret or mystery “(through the idea of silence imposed by initiation into religious rites)” (3466). Musterion is a unique word in the New Testament. “It denotes, not the mysterious (as with the Eng. word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illumined by His Spirit.” Jesus probably used the word moraino in connection with salt losing its flavor so that we would understand that our usefulness to him has to do with our supernatural understanding of God’s kingdom.

The narrow gate

Jesus’ analogy of the kingdom of God being like a grain of mustard seed made it seem as if there would be only a small number people that would make it into heaven (Luke 13:19). Therefore, someone asked him, “Lord, are there few that be saved?” (Luke 13:23). Jesus’ response made it clear that the limitation to getting into heaven was not because of the size of God’s kingdom, but the method by which people would have to enter into it. He said, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24). Jesus previously referred to the strait gate in his Sermon on the Mount in which he said:

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth to life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)

The Greek word translated narrow, thlibo (thlee-bo) has to do with a path of life that is filled with trouble and suffering (2346). What Jesus was saying was that most people wouldn’t chose the strait or narrow gate because it runs counter to our natural instincts. Jesus further illustrated this point when he said, “And behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last” (Luke 13:30). The Greek terms Jesus used for first and last suggest he was describing a processional or steady stream of people going through the gates of heaven. In this processional those who started out at the end of the line might get in first due to their effort to enter the gate as quickly as possible. Others who were at the head of the line, but hesitated to go through the gate (i.e. experience suffering in their lives), might not make it in because the doors would eventually be shut (Luke 13:25).

Jesus’ instruction to “strive to enter in at the strait gate” (Luke 13:24) may have been a reference to spiritual warfare. The Greek word translated strive, agonizomai (ag-o-nid´-zom-ahee) means to struggle and is literally translated “to compete for a prize” (75). Figuratively, agonizomai means to contend with an adversary. Satan is sometimes referred to as our adversary (1 Peter 5:8) and the Apostle Paul talked about spiritual warfare in the context of wrestling “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). Something that Jesus seemed to want his listeners to understand was that the strait gate couldn’t be entered into without expending some effort. In the illustration he used of the master of the house rising up and shutting the door unexpectedly, Jesus said of those that didn’t make it in, “Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence you are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity” (Luke 13:26-27).