God is love

The LORD’s relationship with the children of Israel is made clear in the book of Deuteronomy where the terms of the covenant that God made with his chosen people is spelled out in great detail. Deuteronomy 7:6-8 states:

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

One of the key characteristics of the LORD’s relationship with the Israelites was that God chose them and considered them to be his treasured possession. The Hebrew word bachar (baw-kharˊ) is “a verb whose meaning is to take a keen look at, to prove, to choose. It denotes a choice, which is based on a thorough examination of the situation and not an arbitrary whim” (H977).

The Hebrew word that is translated treasured possession in Deuteronomy 7:6, sᵉgullah (seg-ool-lawˊ) is “a feminine noun meaning a personal possession, a special possession, property. This noun is used only six times, but it gives one of the most memorable depictions of the Lord’s relationship to His people and the place established for them. The primary meaning of the word theologically is its designation ‘unique possession.’ God has made Israel His own unique possession (Exodus 19:5). Israel holds a special position among the nations of the world, although all nations belong to the Lord. Israel’s position, function, character, responsibility, and calling create its uniqueness (Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; Psalm 135:4)” (H5459).

Deuteronomy 7:8 indicates that it is because the LORD loves his chosen people that he brought them out of Egypt and redeemed them from the house of slavery. God’s love caused him to do something for the Israelites that he hadn’t done before, redeem people from the consequences of their sins. The concept of redemption is centered on the payment of a debt. Leviticus 25:47-55 explains the concept of redemption in the context of a poor man that sells himself into slavery. It states:

“If a stranger or sojourner with you becomes rich, and your brother beside him becomes poor and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner with you or to a member of the stranger’s clan, then after he is sold he may be redeemed. One of his brothers may redeem him, or his uncle or his cousin may redeem him, or a close relative from his clan may redeem him. Or if he grows rich he may redeem himself. He shall calculate with his buyer from the year when he sold himself to him until the year of jubilee, and the price of his sale shall vary with the number of years. The time he was with his owner shall be rated as the time of a hired worker. If there are still many years left, he shall pay proportionately for his redemption some of his sale price. If there remain but a few years until the year of jubilee, he shall calculate and pay for his redemption in proportion to his years of service. He shall treat him as a worker hired year by year. He shall not rule ruthlessly over him in your sight. And if he is not redeemed by these means, then he and his children with him shall be released in the year of jubilee. For it is to me that the people of Israel are servants. They are my servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

The Year of Jubilee occurred once every fifty years and began on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 25:8-9). Leviticus 25:9-10 states, “On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.”

A key prophecy of the prophet Isaiah had to do with the Year of Jubilee. Isaiah 61:1-2 states, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the LROD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” Jesus paraphrased this passage of scripture when he spoke in the synagogue at Nazareth where he grew up. Afterward, Luke’s gospels states, “And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:20-21). Jesus connected the proclamation of the Year of Jubilee with the preaching of the gospel in order to show that the liberty that was intended for God’s chosen people was the freedom from spiritual death. Jesus told a man named Nicodemus:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

The kind of love that motivated God to give his only Son as a sacrifice for the sins of the world is known as agapao (ag-ap-ahˊ-o). This word is broader in its meaning than phileo (fil-ehˊ-o), the kind of love that is expressed through sentiment or feeling (G5368). Agapao embraces “the judgment and the deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety.” Phileo implies an instinctive, affectionate attachment; but agapao of a sentiment based on judgment and adulation, which selects its object for a reason (G26).

The Apostle John used the word agapao in his statement, “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7). John indicated that love is a part of God’s essential nature and therefore, it should be present in all those who have been born into his spiritual family. The Greek word that John used in his declaration, “God is love,” is agape (ag-ahˊ-pay). Agape is sometimes referred to as Christian love. “Christian love, whether exercised toward the brethren, or toward men generally, is not an impulse from the feelings, it does not always run with the natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some affinity is discovered…it expresses the deep and constant love and interest of a perfect Being towards entirely unworthy objects, producing and fostering a reverential love in them towards the Giver, a practical love towards those who are partakers of the same, and a desire to help others to seek the Giver” (G26).

John expounded on Jesus’ statement that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16) by explaining the reason for God’s sacrifice. John said, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). The Greek word that is translated propitiation, hilasmos (hil-as-mosˊ) means “atonement” and signifies “an expiation, a means whereby sin is covered and remitted…Provision is made for the whole world, so that no one is, by divine predetermination, excluded from the scope of God’s mercy; the efficacy of the ‘propitiation,’ however is made actual for those who believe” (G2434). The Day of Atonement, which is described in detail in Leviticus chapter 16, was an annual event that involved the sacrifice of animals and sprinkling of blood on the mercy seat above the ark of the testimony in order to expiate the sins of the Israelites. On this day, the priest confessed all the sins of the people and put them on the head of a goat that was sent away into the wilderness (Leviticus 16:21-22), depicting the process whereby a Savior would one day take away the guilt and punishment of all sin completely by bearing it upon himself.

John concluded, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:11-12). The Greek word that John used that is translated perfected, teleioo (tel-i-oˊ-o) means “to complete, make perfect by reaching the intended goal” (G5048). John made it clear that God’s sacrifice of his only Son was intended to produce a chain reaction that would result in love being expressed around the world. When Jesus instructed his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), he was essentially telling them that they needed to replicate the process of propitiation everywhere so that God’s love could reach all the people it was intended for. 

God promised the Israelites that he would reward them for their obedience. God told them, “I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect” (Leviticus 26:11-13). God indicated that he had broken the bars of the Israelites’ yoke and made them walk erect. This seems to be a reference to God changing their destiny. The Hebrew word that is translated erect, qowmᵉmiyuwth (ko-mem-ee-yoothˊ) is derived from the word quwm (koom). “Sometimes quwm is used in an intensive mood to signify empowering or strengthening…It is also used to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (H6965). An example of this is found in Genesis 28:11 where it says that Jacob “came to a certain place.”  After Jacob placed his head on a stone and fell asleep, it says in Genesis 28:12-13:

And he dreamed and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and your offspring.”

Jacob’s encounter with God was a part of his plan to fulfill his promise to Abraham. Jacob was unaware of God’s presence in the land of Canaan until he came to a certain place. The place where Jacob spent the night was not only a geographic location, but a spiritual condition that made him open to God’s intervention in his life. Even though Jacob wanted God to take care of him, he was reluctant to make a commitment to the LORD at that point in time (Genesis 28:20-22).

During his ministry on earth, most of the people that Jesus encountered were unaware that he was God’s only son that had come to save the world, but the numerous miracles that he performed eventually made it clear to everyone that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah. In spite of this, Jesus was crucified and was even abandoned by his own disciples. John explained that Jesus’ ministry was being opposed by Satan’s demonic forces. John said:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:1-4)

John used the term antichrist to describe the spiritual opponent that was trying to keep people from being saved. The Greek word antichristos (an-teeˊ-khris-tos) refers to “an imposter for the Messiah. Antichristos can mean either ‘against Christ’ or ‘instead of Christ,’ or perhaps, combining the two, ‘one who assuming the guise of Christ, opposes Christ and takes His place” (G500). John encouraged believers by stating, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

John addressed the issue of having assurance of salvation when he made it clear that anyone that has confessed Jesus as his or her Savior has been saved. John said, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:13-16). The Greek word that John used that is translated confesses, homologeo (hom-ol-og-ehˊ-o) was also used in 1 John 1:9 where it says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (emphasis mine). The base word of homologeo, homou (hom-ooˊ) means “at the same place or time” (G3674). In one sense, when we confess our sins, you might say that we are having a personal encounter with God. It is as if we are talking to Him directly and God acknowledges our communication by regenerating us from within.

John’s repetition of the statement, “God is love” (1 John 4:16) was probably meant to emphasize the fact that knowing God is all about being loved by him. John said, “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:17-18). John described God’s love as perfect love. What that means is that God’s love is able to do exactly what it is intended to. God’s love is able to save us from our sins and to keep us from being condemned on the day when Jesus judges everyone based on his book of life (Revelation 20:12). The result of God’s love is that fear is cast out or you might say ejected from our bodies like an unwelcome guest. We have nothing to worry about because Jesus has once and for all reconciled us to God for all of eternity (Revelation 5:9-10).

Love

John’s first epistle focused on the characteristics of God that are expected to be seen in his children. John started out by saying that God is light and in him there is no darkness (1 John 1:5) and then stated, “If we say we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth” (John 1:6). John was pointing out that there should be similarities between Jesus’ behavior and our own. The way that we become like Jesus is by following his instructions and confessing our sins to God. John said, “If we live in the light as He is in the light, we share what we have in God with each other. And the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, makes our lives clean from all sin.” (1 John 1:7, NLV).

John’s understanding of the transformation that occurs through spiritual rebirth was limited, but he saw Jesus as the pattern that all born-again believers were to follow. John acknowledged his limited understanding when he said, “Dear friends, we are God’s children now. But it has not yet been shown to us what we are going to be. We know that when He comes again, we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2, NLV). John seemed to be saying that our eternal existence begins the moment we accept Jesus as our savior, but our likeness or similarity to Jesus is limited by our current physical form. John talked about seeing Jesus as if it was a requirement for the full manifestation of our eternal character to become operational.

John mentioned the quality of love numerous times in his first epistle. The Greek words agapao (ag-ap-ah’-o) and agape (ag-ah’-pay) appear more than 20 times in the second and third chapters of 1 John alone. John said, “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). John went on to say that our love for other believers should be demonstrated in tangible ways that can be measured (1 John 3:18) and then, he said about God, “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (1 John 3:22).

John implied there was a connection between obedience to God’s commandments and getting answers to our prayers. John clarified what he meant by keeping God’s commandments when he stated, “And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment” (1 John 3:23). Basically, what John was saying was that all God requires us to do in order to be blessed by him is to be born again and to love each other, but according to John, our ability to love others isn’t even dependent on us; it’s dependent on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1 John 3:24).

Jesus connected being born again with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and made it seem as if these two aspects of spiritual life were essentially one and the same. Jesus told Nicodemus:

Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh. Whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. “Do not be surprised that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wants to and you hear its sound. You do not know where it comes from or where it goes. It is the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit of God.” (John 3:6-8, NLV)

Jesus indicated that the only requirement for being born again was to believe in him. He said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

John identified God as the source of agape or unselfish love and went so far as to say that apart from God it is impossible for us to love each other the way God loves us. He stated, “Dear friends, let us love each other, because love comes from God. Those who love are God’s children and they know God. Those who do not love do not know God because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8, NLV). John indicated that God demonstrated his unselfish love toward us by sending his son Jesus into the world to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:9-10) and then he stated, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (1 John 4:11).

Real faith

At the same time Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians, he wrote a personal note to a man named Philemon whose slave he had converted to Christianity. Paul wrote to Philemon asking him to forgive his slave Onesimus for stealing from him and running away because he was now his brother in Christ. Paul’s personal appeal to Philemon was based on the same principle he had been talking about in his letter to the Colossians. Paul said, “I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus” (Philemon 5-6, NKJV).

Paul’s statement, “that the sharing of your faith may become effective” (Philemon 6, NKJV) meant that he wanted Philemon’s faith to be real, he wanted him to act like the Christian he claimed to be. Philemon was well known for his hospitality to believers (Philemon 7), but the fact that he owned slaves may have made some people wonder whether or not he had actually been born again. Paul encouraged Philemon to exhibit behavior that was consistent with being a follower of Christ, doing something that Jesus would have done.

Paul’s appeal to Philemon to act like a Christian and forgive his brother in Christ was counter to the culture of that day. Slaves were expected to be treated differently than others and were severely punished for any wrong doing. Under Roman law, Onesimus’ crime was punishable by death (Introduction to The Epistle of Paul to Philemon, p. 1754). Paul explained to Philemon that there may have been a greater purpose in what happened to him. He said, “For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (Philemon 15-16, NKJV).

Paul concluded his appeal to Philemon by stating, “If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me” (Philemon 17, NKJV). The Greek word Paul used that is translated partner, koinonos means a sharer that is associate (G2839). What Paul was saying was that he and Philemon were equals in the eyes of Christ and Onesimus was also. Paul pointed out in his letter to the Colossians that there was no distinction between believers. He said, “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

Changing clothes

Paul likened the process of spiritual rebirth to changing our clothes. He said, “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Colossians 3:8-10, NKJV). The Greek word translated put off, apotithemi (ap-ot-eeth’-ay-mee) refers to casting off something such as a garment that is no longer useful or appropriate (G659). Another way of looking at putting off the old man might be to reverse our behavior. Instead of doing what comes naturally to us, we are supposed to do the opposite or what is unnatural for us to do when we become Christians.

Paul said that we are to “put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him” (Colossians 3:10). The Greek word translated put on is enduo. “This word means literally to sink into (clothing), put on, clothe one’s self” (G1746). An illustration of how to put on the new man is Superman, who changed his behavior after he put on his suit with a giant S on its chest. When we reveal our Christian identity to the world, we are putting on the new man and associating ourselves Christ. The Greek word translated renewed in Colossians 3:10, anakainoo (an-ak-ahee-no’-o) is derived from the words ana (G303) and kainos (G2537). Kainos (kahee-nos’) “denotes ‘new,’ of that which is unaccustomed or unused, not ‘new’ in time, recent, but ‘new’ as to form or quality, of different nature from what is contrasted as old” (G2537).

Paul highlighted the importance of acts of love when he said, “But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:14, NKJV). The Greek word Paul used that is translated love, agape (ag-ah’-pay) had its perfect expression among men in the Lord Jesus Christ. “Christian love, whether exercised toward the brethren, or toward men generally, is not an impulse from the feelings, it does not always run with the natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some affinity is discovered” (G26). Paul identified Christian love as the bond of perfection. The word that he used that is translated bond, sundesmos (soon’-des-mos) refers back to his comment in Colossians 2:2 about being knit together in love. Sundesmos means “a joint tie, i.e. ligament” and is being used figuratively by Paul to indicate a uniting principle of the Christian faith. Love is the characteristic of a Christian that we exhibit that makes us look like Christ.

Love

Paul concluded his discussion of spiritual gifts with this statement, “But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.” (1 Corinthians 12:31, NKJV). Paul’s reference to a more excellent way was meant to describe the ultimate attainment for a believer who wants to become like Christ. You could say that Paul was unlocking the secret to a successful Christian life. He said:

I may be able to speak the languages of men and even of angels, but if I do not have love, it will sound like noisy brass. If I have the gift of speaking God’s Word and if I understand all secrets, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I know all things and if I have the gift of faith so I can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give everything I have to feed poor people and if I give my body to be burned, but do not have love, it will not help me. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NLV)

Paul was talking about a way of life the ran counter to the mainstream culture of his day. Paul’s ministry took place when the Roman Empire was at the height of its success. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written around 55 B.C., when Nero had just become the emperor of Rome. Nero was one of the most violent leaders of the Roman Empire who killed his own mother and made public his hatred of Christians by burning them alive.

Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 emphasized the importance of putting others above ourselves. His statement “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7, ESV) suggested that Paul expected believers to strive toward perfection in their pursuit of loving others. In fact, Paul likened Christian love to the completeness or perfect maturity that a believer is able to achieve in his or her life. Paul stated, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away” (1 Corinthians 13:9-10).

The Greek word translated perfect in 1 Corinthians 13:10 is teleios. “Teleios means brought to its end, finished” (G5046). When Jesus was dying on the cross, he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The word he used, teleo and teleios are derived from the same Greek word telos, which means “to set out for a definite point or goal” and by implication, “the conclusion of an act or state” (G5056). Paul made it clear that the goal every Christian should be to love his neighbor as himself (Matthew 22:39), but he also understood that perfection was not something that could be attained in this life. Paul concluded his discussion with a statement about life after death. He said, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face;: now I now in part; but then shall I know even as I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). What Paul was saying was that everything we know about each other right now is like a snapshot that can only capture a brief moment in time. When we get to heaven, we will see the whole story and be able to recognize the truth about who we really are. We will have a type of full perception that enables us to be perfectly united with everyone we love (G1921).

Abiding in Christ

Jesus used the analogy of a vine and branches to describe his relationship with his followers. The main point Jesus was trying to communicate was the importance of sticking together. Jesus used the words abide and remain to convey his message, as well as the term husbandman to describe God’s role in the process. In the second and third verses of John 15, Jesus said, “I am the true vine and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away, and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.”

The word translated purgeth in John 15:2 is representative of the pruning process, but it actually means to cleanse and metaphorically, Jesus spoke of purging his worshippers of guilt (G2508). To be clean means that we are free from guilt. Jesus said in John 15:3, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” In other words, reading our Bibles and hearing its content preached to us takes away our guilt. We grow closer to Jesus and show visible signs of spiritual health when we spend time studying the Bible.

Jesus linked our ability to abide in him with love and obeying his commandments. He said in John 15:10, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” The word translated love in this verse is agape (ag-ah´-pay), which is sometimes referred to as Christian love. “Christian love has God for its primary object, and expresses itself first of all in implicit obedience to His commandments. Self-will, that is, self-pleasing, is the negation of love to God” (G26).

If you think of agape love as doing what God wants us to do rather than what we ourselves want to do, then abiding in Jesus’ love means that we are always doing the will of God. Jesus said, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13). Jesus did God’s will by dying on the cross for us, so we should show our love for others by doing God’s will for them. This could be as simple as praying for a friend that is sick or giving away our time by serving in a church ministry.

One of the keys to abiding in Christ and bearing fruit is the realization that we have been chosen by God and appointed to serve him (John 15:16). We are knit together by close spiritual bonds that form us into the family of God and separate us from the world (John 15:19). The separation we experience is actually evidence that we belong to God. The farther we get from the world, the adornment and decoration of temporal possessions, the closer we get to Jesus and the will of God.

Lazarus

Lazarus was the only man outside of Jesus’ intimate circle of disciples that was referred to as his friend. Because of their personal relationship, it says in John 11:3, “Therefore his sisters sent unto him saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.” The Greek word translated lovest, phileo (fil-eh´-o) means to “have affection for (denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling)” (G5368). Jesus’ attachment to Lazarus may have been a result of them spending a lot of time together, but it could also be that Jesus’ feelings stemmed from his compassion toward this man’s unfortunate circumstances. Lazarus lived in the town of Bethany, a short distance from Jerusalem where the cost of living was likely very high. There is no indication that Lazarus was married or had any other family members besides his two sisters Martha and Mary, who also appeared to be unmarried. It is possible Lazarus was about the same age as Jesus and had never been married because he was too poor to support a family.

When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he told his disciples, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (John 11:4). The Greek terms translated glory and glorified have to do with the reputation Jesus gained through his self-manifestation (G1391/1392). In other words, how people interpreted his actions. It says in John 11:5-6, “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.” Jesus’ reaction to the situation showed that he was in complete control of his behavior in spite of his feelings about what was going on. Jesus knew Lazarus was already dead (John 11:14), therefore, he refrained from going to Jerusalem because it wasn’t necessary for him to be there right away. The problem was that Jesus’ presence in the city would have ignited the wrath of the Jews that had already tried to stone him (John 10:31). He may have avoided this by waiting to go to Bethany until after Lazarus’ burial.

The key to understanding Jesus’ decision to go to Bethany in spite of the danger that awaited him was his determination to do the will of his Father. We know it was God’s will for Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead because he stated “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God” (John 11:4), but in order for him to do God’s will, Jesus had to put his own life at risk. Jesus’ motivation for doing what was expected of him was likely the love he felt for not only Lazarus, but also for his sisters Martha and Mary. When John stated that Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus (John 11:5), he wasn’t talking about the same kind of love that Martha and Mary identified when they asked Jesus to come to Bethany (John 11:2). John used the Greek word agapao (ag-ap-ah´-o)which is an expression of God’s love. “In respect of agapao as used of God, it expresses the deep and constant love and interest of a perfect Being towards entirely unworthy objects, producing and fostering a reverential love in them towards the Giver, a practical love towards those who are partakers of the same, and a desire to help others seek the Giver” (G25).

Jesus’ disciples expected him to be killed when he returned to the area in and around Jerusalem (John 11:16). Their trip toward Jerusalem had already been filled with numerous warnings of Jesus’ imminent death (Matthew 20:18, Mark 10:33). When Jesus told his disciples that Lazarus was dead, he added, “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him” (John 11:15). Jesus’ miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead was likely meant to be a preview of his own resurrection in order to demonstrate his power over the grave. Jesus wanted his disciples and everyone else to know that he had the ability to bring someone back to life that had been dead for several days.

How much?

Jesus paid tribute to John the Baptist and said of him, “Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:28). Jesus’ acknowledgment of John was meant to be understood in the context of all the Israelites that lived under the Old Covenant, or more specifically, the promises God made that were fulfilled prior to his birth. Jesus’ association of John with those that are “born of women” suggested that he was comparing John with unbelievers. Jesus followed up his comment about John with this statement, “but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28). Perhaps, the best way to interpret Jesus’ commendation of John the Baptist would be to see it as a way of explaining John’s doubts about who Jesus was. It says in Luke 7:19, “And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?” John didn’t know for certain that Jesus was the Messiah because he wasn’t born again.

Jesus went on to explain that forgiveness was a byproduct of faith, not the other way around. He used an example of forgiveness to explain that faith was the determining factor of genuine belief and that love for Jesus was the measure of how much someone had been forgiven. The only way that someone could know for certain that Jesus was who he said he was; Israel’s Messiah, the Son of God, was to demonstrate faith. Speaking to a Pharisee named Simon that had invited him to have dinner at his house, Jesus said:

There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one ought five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. Mine head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. (Luke 7:41-47)

According to Jesus’ story of the creditor with two debtors, both the Pharisee and the woman’s sins were forgiven. The difference between these two sinners was that the Pharisee only had his sins forgiven, whereas the woman was justified in the eyes of God. Jesus’ statement to the woman, “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace” (Luke 7:50) indicated that she had obtained much more than just the forgiveness of her sins. The Greek word Jesus used that is translated peace, eirene (i-ray´-nay) indicated she had a harmonized relationship with God. In other words, she was fully restored to prosperity and was a blessed child of God.

The law of love

Jesus’ teaching provided a sharp contrast to the laws of Moses which were intended to keep the Jews from defiling themselves and preventing them from entering the temple in order to worship God. Perhaps the most controversial statement Jesus made was directed at the multitude of followers that flocked to him for healing of their diseases. He told these believers, “But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you” (Luke 6:27). This clear direction was probably intended to thin the crowd and impressed upon the people that sought fellowship with Jesus that his way of living was not about an easy way of life, but actually involved the hardest choice that anyone would ever have to make. Jesus didn’t say, forgive your enemies, or forget about the wrongs that they have committed against you, but he commanded his followers to love their enemies in the same way that God loved them.

The Greek word Jesus used that is translated love is agapao. The Greek word agape, which describes the attitude of God toward his Son (26), is derived from the word agapao. Agapao expresses love in a social or moral sense and is sometimes translated as “beloved” in reference to believers (25). Within Jesus’ explanation of this agapao type of love is what is sometimes referred to as the golden rule, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Luke 6:31). Afterward, Jesus stated, “For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them” (Luke 6:32). Jesus was telling his disciples that they had to live a completely different way if they wanted to be members of God’s kingdom. The first criteria for gaining access to God’s kingdom was a genuine love for all of mankind.

Digging deeper into his law of love, it could be seen that a principle of sowing and reaping or reciprocity was the basis of Jesus’ new way of life. Jesus told his disciples, “Be ye merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom, For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:36-38). Comparing his followers to the religious hypocrites that had condemned him for breaking the sabbath, Jesus’ warned his disciples against judging others (Luke 6:42) and told them, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh” (Luke 6:45).

After defining his remarkable law of love, Jesus encouraged his disciples with an example of what they could expect if they chose to follow his difficult teaching. He said:

Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: he is like a man which built a house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon the rock. But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built a house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great. (Luke 6:47-49)

Rejection

God demonstrated his love for his chosen people by selecting them to receive his mercy and forgiveness even though they didn’t deserve it. God’s explanation for doing this can be found in Malachi 1:2-3, where it says, “I have loved you, saith the LORD, Yet you say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.” The Hebrew word translated hated, sane´ (saw – nay´) “represents an emotion ranging from intense hatred to the much weaker set against” (8130). Regardless of the intensity of his negative emotions, what the LORD was making clear was that he had made an intentional effort to destroy Esau’s inheritance, while preserving that of his beloved people, the descendants of Jacob.

If there was any doubt about where God’s wrath was directed, the Jews were assured that it was not directed at them. Even though he had sent his people into captivity to punish their unfaithfulness, God did not abandon them or allow his people to be destroyed by their enemies. In fact, after they had been given permission to return to the Promised Land (Ezra 1:3), many of the Jews decided to stay in Babylon and were almost exterminated there (Esther 3:13). Even then, God delivered the Jews from their enemies and eventually commissioned Nehemiah to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem for their protection. Comparing the Jews to the Edomites, God said, “Whereas Edom saith, “We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever” (Malachi 1:4).

God’s disappointment with his people was primarily directed at their political and religious leaders. In particular, the priests had failed to teach his people how to live according to his laws. God warned the priesthood, stating, If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the LORD of hosts, I will even send a curse on you, and will curse your blessings: yea, I have cursed them already because ye do not lay it to heart” (Malachi 2:2). Another way of interpreting the phrase lay it to heart would be for God to say, You need to take me seriously or, You need to do what I tell you to. The thing the Jews seemed to always keep forgetting was their obligation to do God’s will. The priesthood was set aside for a particular purpose, to give God glory through their worship and their sacrifices in his temple. In his final reprimand of the priests, the LORD stated, “For the priests lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 2:8-9).