Reconciliation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consecration

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

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

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

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

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

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

as he says also in another place,

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

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

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

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

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

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

This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heavenly things

The Bible introduces us to the concept of heaven, but there isn’t much information or details about what it’s like or what we will be doing when we get there. The purpose of the sanctuary that the Israelites constructed in the Sinai desert was to give them a physical representation of heaven, something that would help them to connect with God in a more personal and intimate way. The Bible tells us that the immaterial part of heaven which is invisible to the naked eye is where God lives, but we are told in Luke’s gospel that when Jesus departed from his disciples, he was carried up into heaven (Luke 24:51). At that point, Jesus was in a material body and could be seen with human eyes. The book of Acts, which was also written by Luke, a medical doctor with a scientific view of the world, gives further detail about what happened when Jesus ascended from the earth. Luke said, “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). Jesus didn’t just disappear or keep going up into the sky until he couldn’t be seen anymore. The disciples view of him was blocked by a cloud. After that no one ever saw him again. Some of the meanings of the Greek word that is translated lifted up suggest that Jesus was taken to heaven in a vessel of some sort (G142) which was also visible to his disciples. A similar scene is recorded in the book of 2 Kings depicting the prophet Elijah’s departure from earth. 2 Kings 2:9-12 states:

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” And he said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.” And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more.

Elijah’s statement makes it clear that his departure from the earth might or might not be visible to his companion Elisha. There appears to be some overlap between the physical and spiritual realms. What we can see with our physical eyesight may not necessarily be all there is to the material world. Jesus told his disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3). The words that Jesus used that are translated “rooms” and “a place” seem to refer to physical structures, and yet, the Greek word meno (men’-o) which means “to stay” signifying a permanent dwelling place or home can also refer to a state or condition (G3306).

One of the things that we know for sure about the tabernacle that the Israelites constructed in the Sinai Desert was that it corresponded to something that exists in the spiritual realm. God told Moses, “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture so you shall make it” (Exodus 25:8-9). The Hebrew word that is translated pattern, tabniyth (tab-neeth’) means “structure (by implication) a model, resemblance” (H8403). It says in Exodus 26:30 that God told Moses, “Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to the plan for it that you were shown on the mountain.” The fact that Moses was shown the plan for the tabernacle while he was on top of Mount Sinai seems to suggest that he saw it with his eyes and that it was therefore a physical structure in heaven. Moses was on the mountain 40 days and 40 nights (Exodus 24:18) without any food or water. The Israelites assumed that Moses was dead when he didn’t come back down from the mountain within a reasonable period of time (Exodus 32:1). All of the circumstances surrounding the revealing of the pattern to Moses seem to point to a supernatural experience in which Moses may have been given the ability to see eternal and/or future events that were occurring in heaven and to record them in such a way that the building Moses viewed could be replicated on earth.

Psalm 96 depicts a future worship scene that will take place when Christ begins his reign on earth. The psalm opens with a call to worship the Lord because his work of salvation had been accomplished. It states:

Oh sing to the Lord a new song;

    sing to the Lord, all the earth!

Sing to the Lord, bless his name;

    tell of his salvation from day to day.

Declare his glory among the nations,

    his marvelous works among all the peoples!

For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;

    he is to be feared above all gods.

For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,

    but the Lord made the heavens.

Splendor and majesty are before him;

    strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

The English words splendor and majesty are usually reserved for royalty or some kind of auspicious occasion that is associated with extravagant cost. We don’t think of these words as describing common experiences and might have a hard time imagining what these kinds of things might look like. The biblical view of splendor is connected with strength and power (H1936). Majesty has to do with the impressive character of God (H1926) and how he will be treated with respect when he returns to the world to rule and reign over it (H1921). Psalm 96 eludes to the fact that the tabernacle of God will be present during the millennial reign of Christ. People will be expected to bring offerings to Jesus (Psalm 96:8) and worship him by falling prostrate to the ground (Psalm 96:9). There is no tabernacle of the Lord on the earth right now, but it can be assumed that the kinds of worship services that are depicted in Psalm 96 are currently going on because Jesus’ kingdom is eternal and the spirits of Christians are already with him in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8).

An important role that was identified with Jesus was the High Priest. The Apostle Paul stated in his letter to the Hebrews, “Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4;14-16). Paul’s exhortation to draw near to the throne of grace implies that believers currently have access to God’s throne room in heaven. Paul explained in his first letter to Timothy that Jesus acts as a mediator between God and man. He said, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:5-6). The roles of high priest and mediator were necessary for mankind to be reconnected to God because of our collective sin against him. Paul taught that sin separates us from God and because we need a way to make things right with him, Jesus, the Son of God, had to die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins in order to reconcile us to God the Father. Paul said:

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

One of the ways that we know God hears our prayers is that he answers them. If it were not for Jesus’ death on the cross, our prayers would be falling on deaf ears. The Israelites were able to communicate with God because of their special relationship with him. The key to that relationship was the Day of Atonement, the day once a year when the High Priest went into the Holy Place inside the veil of the tabernacle and approached the mercy seat of God (Leviticus 16) which was symbolic of entering God’s throne room. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews indicated that Jesus entered into God’s throne room in heaven once and for all to make atonement for sin. He said:

Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:23-28).

Exodus chapter twenty eight describes in detail the garments that the High Priest was expected to wear when he entered into God’s presence. It can only be assumed that Jesus was wearing similar garments when he entered into God’s presence. God told Moses, “Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. You shall speak to all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him for my priesthood. These are the garments that they shall make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a coat of checker work, a turban, and a sash. They shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons to serve me as priests. They shall receive gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen” (Exodus 28:1-5).

God indicated that the garments worn by the High Priest were to be “for glory and for beauty” (Exodus 28:2). The Hebrew word that is translated glory, kabowd (kaw-bode’) means “weight; but only figurative in a good sense, splendor or copiousness” (H3519). One of the ways to understand what is meant by the word kabowd or glory is to think of it as a measurement of wealth. There used to be a saying, he is worth his weight in gold. From that standpoint weight is a measurement of how much value someone brings to an organization. Jesus’ glory is immeasurable, but the idea was that the garments that the priest wore would reflect the high value of the sacrificial system that was put in place to make atonement for the sins of mankind. The Hebrew word that is translated beauty, tiph’arah (tif-aw-raw’) means ornament (H8597). It is derived from the word pa’ar (paw-ar’) which means “to gleam, (causitive) embellish; (figurative) to boast; also to explain (i.e. make clear) oneself” (H6286). Isaiah’s prophecy about Jesus first coming to the earth stated, “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form of majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). It is therefore likely that the High Priest’s garments reflect the glory and beauty of Jesus’ second coming. Psalm 96 concludes with these words:

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness. (Psalm 96:11-13)

Psalm 96 associates Jesus’ glory and beauty with his judgment of the earth. All the heavens and the earth will rejoice when Jesus returns because he will finally put an end to sin in the world.

The six garments that made up the High Priest’s royal apparel: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a coat of checker work, a turban, and a sash (Exodus 28:4) likely all had a special significance with regard to Jesus’ sacrificial work on the cross, but the ones that were very clearly associated with his atonement for sin were the breastpiece and the ephod. The ephod was described first, probably indicating that it was the most important item in the High Priest’s garments. Exodus 28:6-14 provide the details of the ephod’s construction:

“And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and of fine twined linen, skillfully worked. It shall have two shoulder pieces attached to its two edges, so that it may be joined together. And the skillfully woven band on it shall be made like it and be of one piece with it, of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen. You shall take two onyx stones, and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel, six of their names on the one stone, and the names of the remaining six on the other stone, in the order of their birth. As a jeweler engraves signets, so shall you engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel. You shall enclose them in settings of gold filigree. And you shall set the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel. And Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for remembrance. You shall make settings of gold filigree, and two chains of pure gold, twisted like cords; and you shall attach the corded chains to the settings.”

The stones of remembrance were reminders of the process God used to build Jacob’s family. The fact that the names of the sons of Israel were engraved on the stones in birth order suggests that the stones of remembrance were intended to serve as a reminder of the designated order or ranking of their importance in the physical realm. We know their rank was altered in the spiritual realm because Reuben’s position as Jacob’s first born son was usurped by Joseph, the first born son of Jacob’s second wife Rachel. Judah, who was the fourth son of Leah, Jacob’s first wife, inherited God’s eternal kingdom by becoming the father of Israel’s Messiah.

The correlation between the ephod and the breastpiece seems to be centered around the completeness that was established by Israel having twelve tribes. Somewhat like the twelve birth stones we use today to signify which month a person is born in, there were twelve stones inlaid in the breastpiece, one for each of the twelve sons of Jacob. Exodus 28:15-21 contains the details of their placement:

“You shall make a breastpiece of judgment, in skilled work. In the style of the ephod you shall make it—of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen shall you make it. It shall be square and doubled, a span its length and a span its breadth. You shall set in it four rows of stones. A row of sardius, topaz, and carbuncle shall be the first row; and the second row an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond; and the third row a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and the fourth row a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They shall be set in gold filigree. There shall be twelve stones with their names according to the names of the sons of Israel. They shall be like signets, each engraved with its name, for the twelve tribes.”

In this particular passage, the breastpiece is referred to as the “breastpiece of judgment” (Exodus 28:15). The Hebrew word that is translated judgement, mishpat (mish-pawt’) is properly translated as “a verdict” (H4941) implying that the crime and the penalty have already been established. This most likely has to do with the Ten Commandments which had already been communicated by God directly to the Israelites (Exodus 20:1-17). Jesus told his disciples in his Sermon on the Mount that he would fulfill the requirements of the Ten Commandments. He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).

Living in the spirit

The Bible identifies three distinct parts of human beings that make it possible for us to be alive: the body, the soul, and the spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23). What we think of as our bodies, the physical part of our being, the Bible describes as the flesh, the material nature as distinguished from that which is spiritual and intangible. The Greek word sarx (sarx) is specifically used in reference to the mortal body in distinction from a future and spiritual existence. Sarx implies weakness, frailty, imperfection, both physical and moral and by implication represents human nature. Sarx is “used specifically of the incarnation of Christ, His incarnate human nature” (G4651). The Apostle Peter talked about Jesus suffering for righteousness sake and said, “For Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). The soul (psuche, psoo-khay’) is that immaterial part of man that is held in common with animals. It is the vital principle, the animating element in men and animals and is “the seat of the senses, desires, affections, appetites, passions, the lower aspect of one’s nature” (G5590). Jesus spoke of the soul as the driving force in our lives and even equated it with life itself (Matthew 6:25). He said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). Pneuma (pnyoo’-mah) is unique to man and is “the breath breathed by God into man and again returning to God, the spiritual entity in man (Matthew 27:50).” When the Bible talks about spirit, in general, it is referring to “a simple, incorporeal, immaterial being (thought of as possessing higher capabilities than man does in his present state)” (G4151).

Jesus said, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). The Holy Spirit, who is often associated with the spiritual nature of God (Ephesians 6:17), is a distinct person that is “spoken of in connection with God the Father, as having intimate union or oneness with him” (G4151). The Holy Spirit is described “as coming to and acting upon Christians, illuminating and empowering them, and remaining with them, imparting to them spiritual knowledge, aid, consolation, sanctification, and making intercession with and for them (Ephesians 3:16; 6:18)…The technical expression ‘to be baptized in [or with] the Holy Spirit’ refers to the spiritual baptism into the body of Christ for all those who were truly saved (Matthew 3:11).” Jesus described the Holy Spirit as “another Helper” that would be with us forever (John 14:16). The Holy Spirit’s first appearance on earth is recorded in Acts 2:1-4 where it says, “When the day of Pentecost arrived they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

Moses’ initial encounter with God may have involved all three persons of the trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Exodus 3:1-6 states:

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

When Moses turned aside to see why the bush was not burned, he was in essence entering into the spiritual realm, or you might say turning on his spiritual senses, which then made it possible for God to communicate with him. Jesus often used the phrase, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15) to get people’s spiritual attention and said, “this is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:13). Jesus used the Greek word suniemi (soon-ee’-ay-mee), which is translated understand, figuratively to mean bringing together something in the mind, “to grasp concepts and see the proper relation between them. Hence, to comprehend, understand, perceive” (G4920). Jesus linked understanding with the heart to conversion to Christ and said, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). In other words, the human spirit is predisposed toward communion with God, but our flesh lacks spiritual acuity.

The Apostle Paul explained in his letter to the Romans that there is an internal conflict going on in believers between our spirit and our flesh. Paul stated:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:14-25)

Paul described the law as being spiritual and said that he delighted in the law of God in his inner being. What Paul most likely meant by his inner being was the new nature that Jesus Christ gives to believers (G444). God promised the Israelites he would give them “a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezekiel 36:26) and foretold of a covenant that he would establish with “the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:31-33).

The centerpiece of the first covenant that was established with the people of Israel was the Ten Commandments which God spoke to them directly from the top of Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:1-17). Afterward, God said, “You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven” (Exodus 20:22). It seemed to be important that the Israelites hear the basic terms of their covenant with God directly from him. When it came time for them to confirm the covenant, “All the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do. And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD” (Exodus 24:3-4). Somewhat like how the Holy Spirit remains with Christians and illuminates and empowers them, God traveled with the Israelites through the desert in the form of an angel. Exodus 23:20-21 states:

“Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him.”

“There is the distinct possibility that various Old Testament references to the ‘angel of the LORD’ involved preincarnate appearances of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Things are said of the the angel of the LORD that seem to go beyond the category of angels and are applicable to Christ. The designation ‘angel of the LORD’ is used interchangeably with ‘the LORD’ and ‘God’ in the account of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-6). Exodus 23:21 states that the angel of the Lord has the power to forgive sins, a characteristic belonging to God alone (cf. Mark 2:7; Luke 7:49) and that he has the name of God in him. No man can see the full glory of God and live (Exodus 33:20), but Jesus Christ, in whom all the fullness of deity was manifested in bodily form, has made God the Father known (John 1:18; Colossians 2:9)” (note on Exodus 23:20-23).

An interesting thing to note about the preincarnate existence of Jesus is that God told the Israelites “he will not pardon your transgressions” (Exodus 23:21, emphasis added). The Hebrew word that is translated pardon, nacah (naw-saw’) “is used of the undertaking of the responsibilities for sins of others by substitution or representation” (H5375). In his preincarnate state, Jesus’ role seems to be comparable to what it will be like when he returns to the earth and judges all of mankind. Jesus said of this final judgment, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world'” (Matthew 25:31-34). Jesus’ depiction of those who are blessed by his Father as sheep might be connected with the role he played in the Israelites journey through the wilderness. God said that he would send his angel before the people to guard them on the way (Exodus 23:20). The Hebrew word that is translated guard, shamar (shaw-mar) means to watch carefully over, to care for and “also indicates caring for sheep (1 Samuel 17:20)” (H8104). The Hebrew word derek (deh’-rek), which is translated way, “is most often used metaphorically to refer to the pathway of one’s life” (H1870). It’s likely that guarding the people on the way meant that Jesus would keep the children of Israel in the will of God by making sure that they reached the land that God promised to give them.

Moses and seventy of the elders of Israel were given the opportunity to see Jesus in his glorified state after the people of Israel confirmed their covenant with the LORD. Exodus 24:9-11 states, “Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel went up and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.” One of the meanings of the word chazah (khaw-zaw’), which is translated beheld, is “‘to see’ in a prophetic vision” (H2372). The prophet Ezekiel saw a similar scene in heaven and recorded his prophetic vision this way:

And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. (Ezekiel 1:26-28)

Moses and the elders’ experience was not described as a vision and it’s possible that they were somehow transported through time when they “went up and saw the God of Israel” (Exodus 24:9). The Hebrew word chazah means “to gaze at; (mentally) to perceive” (H2372). Evidently, these men were able to spiritually perceive what was going on in heaven and shared a meal with Jesus (Exodus 24:11) just as his twelve disciples did when they confirmed the New Covenant with him during their last supper together (Matthew 26:26-29).

Peter indicated that suffering was associated with living in the spirit and said, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions, but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2). Peter’s recommendation of filling our minds with the kinds of thoughts that Jesus did in order to combat our spiritual enemy, the devil was similar to Paul’s prescription for spiritual success. Paul stated:

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

Putting off your old self and being renewed in the spirit of your minds has to do with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word that is translated renewed, ananeoo (an-an-neh-o’-o) means to renovate or reform. “The renewal here mentioned is not that of the mind itself in its natural powers of memory, judgment and perception, but ‘the spirit of the mind’; which, under the controlling power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, directs its bent and energies God-ward in the enjoyment of fellowship with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ, and of the fulfillment of the will of God” (G365).

Peter contrasted people who are living in the spirit with those who are spiritually dead and said that the gospel was preached to the dead so that they might “live in the spirit the way God does” (1 Peter 4:6), indicating that the key to living in the spirit is a relationship with Jesus Christ. When we are living in the spirit, we are shifting the focus of our attention away from the material needs of our bodies onto the immaterial world around us. Heaven is sometimes thought of as a distant place that we go to when we die, but John the Baptist declared during his ministry that the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matthew 3:2). The phrase is at hand can be understood to mean near in the sense of being close to you (G1448). A person can come near to God by embracing the Gospel (G1451). Paul told the Ephesians, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). Peter encouraged believers to “above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8) and went on to say, “Beloved, do not be surprised by the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13). Peter didn’t hide the fact that living in the spirit might lead to persecution and suffering from a human standpoint, but he also made it clear that we will rejoice and be glad that we have been good stewards of God’s grace when Christ returns to judge the world (1 Peter 4:3-11).

Spiritual treasure

God’s promise to make Abraham into a great nation meant that his household would grow to such a significant size that it would be recognized as a distinct “group of individuals who are considered as a unit with respect to origin, language, land, jurisprudence, and government” (H1471). Abraham believed God would bless him, but didn’t understand how he could become a great nation if he didn’t have any children to inherit his possessions. He asked, “‘O Lord, GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘Behold you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.’ And behold the word of the LORD came to him: ‘This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:2-6).

The phrase “he counted it to him” (Genesis 15:6) “signifies a mental process whereby some course is planned or conceived. It means ‘to think, account, reckon, devise, plan” (H2803). The plan of salvation that God devised for Abraham and his descendants had to do with a spiritual accounting system that made it possible for someone else’s righteousness to be substituted for theirs. We know today the Savior God provided is Jesus, but Abraham wasn’t given the details of how his offspring was going to save the world. All Abraham knew was that he was going to have a son who would inherit everything he possessed, including the blessing that would ensure Christ’s birth.

Psalm 127:1 states, “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” In this instance, building a house refers to a household, the members of one’s family. The Psalmist went on to say, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward, like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth” (Psalm 127:3-4). The Hebrew word that is translated heritage, nachalah (nakh-al-aw’) is properly translated as “something inherited” (H5159) and reward or sakar (saw-kawr’) in Hebrew means payment or more concretely salary (H7939). Therefore it might be said that children have a value associated with them and could be viewed as compensation for serving God.

In addition to Ishmael, who was born to him by means of intercourse with his wife’s servant Hagar, Abraham had six sons besides Isaac (Genesis 25:2). And yet, it says in Genesis 25:5, “Abraham gave all he had to Isaac.” This implies that Isaac inherited all his father’s earthly possessions when Abraham died, but what is not stated is that Isaac also inherited Abraham’s blessing from the LORD. It says in Genesis 25:11, “After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son.” The reason why he was treated as Abraham’s only son was because Isaac was the only son God had promised to give Abraham. Isaac was the result of the LORD building Abraham’s house and was a reward for his belief in God.

Jesus talked about spiritual rewards in his Sermon on the Mount. He said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). Jesus made it clear that believers will be rewarded in heaven and warned his followers not to pretend to be saved in order to get some benefit from God while they were still living. Practicing righteousness can be as simple as making a donation to a needy cause, which is a great thing to do, but Jesus said that won’t get you into heaven or make any difference in your spiritual bank account.

The primary issue Jesus had with people practicing their righteousness before other people in order to receive a reward from God was that they didn’t understand God’s method of giving. Jesus said, “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be done in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:2-4). The Greek word that is translated secret, kruptos (kroop-tos’) means concealed (G2927) and suggests that Jesus was referring to an eternal or spiritual reward.

God told Abraham that he would give his offspring a physical inheritance, but said the land would be possessed by them eternally. He said to him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever” (Genesis 13:14-15). The Hebrew word translated forever, olam (o-lawm’) is properly translated as “concealed, i.e. the vanishing point” (H5769). Olam is derived from the word alam (aw-lam’) which means “to veil from sight” (H5956). It could be that God was telling Abraham his descendants would possess the land he was looking at in some sort of future spiritual state, perhaps in heaven, but more than likely, what God meant by possessing the land forever was that in eternity the physical and spiritual worlds will be reversed. In other words, what we can see now, the physical world we live in, will eventually disappear and be replaced by a spiritual version that looks the same, but will last forever.

Jesus pointed out that the rewards we receive now are not duplicated in heaven. Jesus said when we are praised by others for doing good deeds, that’s the only reward we will get (Matthew 6:2). Jesus also made a distinction between rewards that can be seen and what is concealed or done in secret. He said, “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6).

The Greek word that is translated hypocrites, hupokrites (hoop-ok-ree-tace’) means “an actor under an assumed character (stage player)” (G5273). Essentially, what Jesus was saying was that you shouldn’t pretend to be a Christian if you’re not, but underlying his instruction to pray to God in secret was the idea that God doesn’t reward or answer meaningless prayers. If you want to get something from God, you have to ask him for it specifically and be clear about what you want him to do. Jesus gave this example of a satisfactory prayer:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:9-13)

Jesus indicated that this simple prayer was sufficient because “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). In other words, the purpose of prayer is not to get our physical needs met, but to receive spiritual benefits from God.

The three things Jesus identified in his template for prayer were: daily bread, forgiveness of debts, and deliverance from evil. Each of these things can be viewed from both a physical and spiritual standpoint. Daily bread is obviously connected with food, but it can also refer to God’s word which is considered to be the believer’s spiritual nourishment (Matthew 4:4). Debts have a physical significance in that they are usually linked to property, but Jesus was most likely referring to debts as sins because he went on to say, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15). Jesus’ final point about deliverance from evil probably had to do with sexual sins like adultery and fornication which involve the body, but can also do damage to one’s spiritual health.

Isaac and Rebekah demonstrated appropriate prayer when they sought God’s help to become pregnant. It says in Genesis 25:21, “And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived.” Similar to Abraham and Sarah’s situation, Rebekah was sterile and was not physically capable of conceiving a child (H6135). This might seem unusual since Rebekah was appointed by God to be Isaac’s wife (Genesis 24:14). Even though Isaac was blessed by God (Genesis 25:11), God didn’t make it possible for Isaac to have children by natural means. The fact that God granted Isaac’s prayer and Rebekah conceived suggests that they were being rewarded by God for their faith in the same way that Abraham and Sarah were.

Jesus instructed his disciples, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). Jesus’ statement implies that there is such a thing as spiritual treasure, but he didn’t give us any details about what it looks like or what it consists of. The Greek word translated treasure, thesauros (thay-sow-ros’) means “a deposit, i.e. wealth” (G2344). Thesauros is derived from the word tithemi (tith-ay-mee) which means to place or to put and “is used of ‘appointment’ to any form of service” (G5087). It could be that there is a connection between the type of service we are involved in during our lives on Earth and the reward or treasure that we will receive when we get to heaven.

One of the things that seems to be evident from Jesus’ instruction to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven is that we can accumulate spiritual wealth in the same way that we can accumulate material wealth. From that standpoint, land, houses, furniture, and clothing might all be a part of our future spiritual life. On the other hand, Jesus warned his disciples that, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Jesus went on to say, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25).

Jesus’ proclamation that life is more than food, and the body more than clothing (Matthew 6:25) was probably intended to point out that we need to prioritize how we spend our time while we are living on Earth. He went on to say, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘what shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33). The Greek word translated seek first, proton (pro’-ton) is derived from the word protos (pro’tos) which means “foremost (in time, place, order or importance)” (G4413). Jesus seemed to be saying that the only thing believers need to be concerned with is their relationship with Christ. If so, then salvation is only the first step in a believer’s lifelong quest to know God more intimately.

After Rebekah became pregnant, it says in Genesis 25:22, “The children struggled together within her, and she said, ‘If it is thus, why is this happening to me?’ So she went to inquire of the LORD.” Rebekah didn’t understand what was going on, but since God had made her pregnant, she believed that he knew what was happening inside her, so she asked him to explain the situation. The Hebrew word that is translated inquire, darash (daw-rash’) is properly translated as “to tread or frequent; usually to follow (for pursuit or search)” (H1875). Darash “indicates a private seeking of God in prayer for direction.” Rebekah was doing what Jesus instructed his disciples to, “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6).

And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall sever the younger.” (Genesis 25:23)

Rebekah didn’t know that she was having twins and that they would play a role in the establishment of contradictory cultures within Abraham’s household. Another way of explaining what was going to happen was that Rebekah’s twin sons would develop two different lifestyles that would result in a split or dividing up of the family’s spiritual and material wealth. The oldest, Esau pursued physical wealth, but his brother Jacob pursued spiritual treasure.

The New Life Version of Psalm 127:2 states, “You rise up early, and go to bed late, and work hard for your food, all for nothing. For the Lord gives to His loved ones even while they sleep.” The picture the Psalmist was portraying was that of a godless person’s useless effort to get rich. The phrase, “You rise up early” has to do with one’s effort to gain wealth apart from or in opposition to God’s sovereign will. The idea that the Lord gives to His loved ones even while they sleep suggests that there is no physical effort expended by them. All believers have to do is go about their normal daily activities and God will take care of their needs on a continual basis.

One part of the spiritual inheritance that was transferred from Abraham to Isaac was a birthright that entitled his first male child to a double portion of his estate. Since Esau and Jacob were male twins, they were both technically Isaac’s first born son, but because Esau came out of the womb first, he was given that privilege. Jacob wasn’t satisfied with that arrangement, so he used extortion to obtain the birthright for himself. Genesis 25:29-34 indicates that Isaac despised his birthright and sold it to his brother for a bowl of stew. It states:

Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

It might seem that Esau had little regard for material possessions given that he was willing to give up his birthright to Jacob so easily, but what was behind Esau’s action was his belief that he didn’t need God’s help to become wealthy. Esau was a skilled hunter who was quite capable of providing for himself. Esau’s statement, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” (Genesis 25:32) suggests that his appetites ruled his behavior and he was unwilling to wait even a short while to fulfill his need for food when he was hungry.

The sinful way that Jacob went about obtaining his brother’s birthright showed that it was very important to him. Jacob may have felt that he deserved to inherit more of his father’s possessions than his brother did, but what may have been his real motivation was Jacob’s desire to be his father’s favorite son. It says in Genesis 25:28, “Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.” Isaac had a strong emotional attachment to Esau (H157), which means he probably ignored Jacob completely or gave him very little attention compared to his brother. Isaac was used to having all of his father Abraham’s love and adoration and may have replicated that kind relationship with his son Esau. As a result, Jacob was left to his own devices and was willing to take advantage of Esau’s situation in order to gain his father’s love.

Jacob might not have known that he had already been chosen by the LORD to be Isaac’s heir and it was God’s will for him to eventually triumph over his brother Esau. The prophecy that Rebekah received about her two sons indicated that Esau would serve Jacob (Genesis 25:23). The Hebrew word that is translated serve, `abad (aw-bad’) refers to work, but its underlying meaning has to do with having a relationship with God (H5647). What God might have meant when he said “the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23) was that Esau and his descendants would be dependent on Jacob’s family for their salvation because Jesus, their Messiah would be born through him.

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

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

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

God bless you!

The right place

There was a time in our planet’s history when everyone spoke the same language. It says in Genesis 11:1, “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.” One way of looking at language and words is to see them as a type of world view or culture. In a sense, language is what connects people to each other. It makes it possible for them to share their experiences and ideas with each other. A common language helps us to draw the same conclusions as other people and to see things from a similar perspective.

The Hebrew word translated words in Genesis 11:1, dabar (daw-baw’) refers to a matter (H1697) and could be thought of as a topic of discussion. A specialized occurrence of dabar is in reference ”to records of the ‘events of a period.” Dabar can also be used as a more general term in the sense of “something.” In this way, it is an indefinite generalized concept rather than a reference to everything in particular. In connection with prophecy, when the phrase “the word of the Lord” is used, it is meant to focus our attention on the content or meaning of what is being said instead of the actual words themselves.

As a result of everyone speaking the same language, people were able to accomplish amazing things and became less reliant on God for their natural resources. It says in Genesis 11:4:

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

The place that was built became known as Babel. “Babel was a deliberate rejection of God’s instruction to ‘fill the earth’ (Genesis 9:1), a flagrant example of the corporate pride of man (Genesis 11:4). “The expression ‘a tower with its top in the heavens’ may refer to their desire to ascend to heaven or may denote a tower with an idolatrous ‘temple of heaven’ at its top” (note on Genesis 11:1-9).

One of the things that is clear from God’s reaction to the tower of Babel was that he didn’t intend for mankind to function without him. It says in Genesis 11:5-6, “And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.'” God acknowledged the power and potential of a unified people that all spoke the same language. Because of this, he intervened and caused the people’s language to be confused so that they could not “understand one another’s speech” (Genesis 11:7).

God’s strategy to keep mankind from becoming independent of him was to keep people from understanding what was meant when they said something to each other. For example, if I were to say, I don’t want to talk to you anymore; it could mean that I’m busy and I need to end our conversation or it could mean that I’m angry and I’m never going to speak to you again. These kinds of nuances to language make communication very difficult. When we misunderstand something that is said to us, it usually affects our relationship with that person and tends to over time break relationships apart.

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians included some guidelines for keeping relationships intact. He said, “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’ Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1-4). Paul’s instructions indicated that God wants us to have good relationships and that he blesses our efforts toward that end. In particular, we know that family relationships are important to God because he promises to bless us when we honor or pay attention to what our parents instruct us to do.

After God confused the language of men and dispersed them over the face of the earth (Genesis 11:7-8), God began to focus his attention on one family, in fact, a single person that he intended to bless and make into a great nation. Genesis 12:1-2 states, “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” The phrase “the land that I will show you” consists of two Hebrew words that convey the message of an unknown place, somewhere that Abram hadn’t been to before. God was definitely referring to the material world that Abram lived in, but he also implied that the location Abram was going to had a special spiritual significance.

God’s promise to Abram (Genesis 12:1-3) “is one of the most significant passages in the entire Bible. It points ultimately to the redemption of the whole world. Abraham’s family became a divinely appointed channel through which blessing would come to all men” (note on Genesis 12:1-3). Abram’s obedience to the words God spoke to him started the first spiritual awakening in the world. It also initiated a spiritual journey that took Abram about 40 years to complete. Afterward, the process continued with Abram’s descendants for hundreds of years until finally a temple for God to dwell in was built in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8).

It says in Genesis 12:4, “So Abram went, as the LORD had told him to, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed Haran.” The Hebrew word translated went, yalak (yaw-lak’) literally means to walk (H3212) and it seems likely that Abram traveled by foot when he left Haran. The Hebrew word translated departed, yatsa (haw-tsaw’) has to do with movement away from some point, but there could be more to what was happening than just Abram leaving one city and going to another. Abram was likely disassociating himself from one way of life and embracing another. It says in Genesis 12:6, “When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh.” The Hebrew word translated passed, `abar (aw-bar’) is used very widely of any transition. “This word communicates the idea of crossing over the boundary of right and entering the forbidden land of wrong” (H5674).

Abram’s arrival in Canaan may not have been so much about getting him to the right place for God to bless him as it was about getting Abram to the right place for him to be a blessing to others. The LORD took Abram to the place where his distant cousin Nimrod’s sinful kingdom was located (Genesis 10:10, 11:1-9). When he arrived in Shechem, “the LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘to your offspring I will give this land'” (Genesis 12:7). Abram’s reaction to this news seemed to be twofold. First, Abram was thankful and demonstrated his appreciation by building an altar to the LORD (Genesis 12:7), but Abram may also have been terrified because he immediately moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east” (Genesis 12:8).

Abram’s positioning of himself between the cities of Bethel and Ai likely had something to do with their future spiritual significance. Bethel was the place where Abram’s grandson Jacob discovered the house of God (Genesis 28:17) and Ai was the location where the Israelites experienced their first military defeat after entering the Promised Land (Joshua 7:5). Abram may have been wondering how he was going to maintain his relationship with the LORD and not get killed in the process. Abram probably realized he couldn’t handle his precarious situation without God’s help and may have thought in the meantime he just needed to stay out of harms way.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians pointed out that spiritual warfare is a real battle that every believer is expected to engage in. Paul began his explanation of how spiritual warfare works by stating that the Lord is the source of our spiritual strength. He said:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Paul’s description of our spiritual enemy, the devil, included the organization structure he uses to overtake us. Paul said that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

A spiritual ruler is someone that is first in rank or power (G757), similar to the president or CEO of a company. Authorities are persons that have the ability to direct the actions of others. You might say that spiritual authorities are beings that are able to make things happen in the spiritual realm (G1537). Cosmic powers over this present darkness are associated with Satan as a world-ruler that is opposed to God’s kingdom. The Greek word kosmokrator (kos-mok-rat’-ore) does not refer to earthly potentates, “but spiritual powers, who, under the permissive will of God, and in consequence to human sin, exercise satanic and therefore antagonistic authority over the world in its present condition of spiritual darkness and alienation from God” (G2888). The spiritual forces of evil that Paul referred to were most likely the invisible powers that believers must contend with on a daily basis (G4152). Perhaps, the best way to describe these evil forces would be to say that they are demons that cohabitate with Christians who are addicted to sin.

What may or may not be true based on Paul’s description of the spiritual landscape is that Satan’s forces are concentrated in areas where there is little resistance to their presence. One can only assume that believers are more secure when they are surrounded by other believers. When God instructed Abram to leave his homeland and go to Canaan, he was essentially asking him to go to a place that was similar to the pit of hell. Abram’s willingness to accept this assignment showed that he believed God was more powerful than Satan’s evil forces.

One the remarkable aspects of God’s promise to Abram was that he said he would give the land of Canaan to Abram’s offspring (Genesis 12:7). At that time, Abram didn’t have any offspring. His only living relative besides his wife was the son of his deceased brother. It says in Genesis 11:30 that “Sarai was barren; she had no child.” The Hebrew word translated barren, `aqar (aw-kawr’) means sterile in the same sense as someone that has had a hysterectomy (H6135). It was physically impossible for Sarai to conceive a child. What this meant was that Abram’s faith was placed in God with no misunderstanding that it was going to take a miracle for the words that God spoke to him to actually happen.

Paul instructed believers to “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). The Greek word translated schemes, methodeia (meth-od-i’-ah) means traveling over (G3180). Methodeia’s two root words, meta (met-ah’) and hudeuo (hod-yoo’-o) denote accompaniment on a journey (G3326/G3593). What this seems to suggest is that when Abram left his hometown and headed for Canaan, Satan went with him. This might be true in a sense because Abram took his nephew Lot with him when he left Ur of the Chaldeans even though God told him to leave his country and his kindred behind (Genesis 12:1). Abram’s obedience to God included a measure of disobedience and that’s how Satan was able to work his way into Abram’s situation.

A detour that Abram took after entering the land of Canaan was a trip to Egypt. It says in Genesis 12:10, “Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.” Abram’s reaction to the famine was to find a way out by taking advantage of alternate resources. Abram’s actions showed that he wasn’t depending on the LORD for protection, but rather his own ingenuity. It says in Genesis 12:11-13, “When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.”

Initially, Abram’s actions seemed to pay off. He “went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb” (Genesis 13:1), but there were likely some long term spiritual consequences from Abram’s decision to deceive Pharaoh and use his resources to prosper himself. Genesis 13:5-7 states, “And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock.” Abram’s solution to the problem was to separate himself from his nephew and to give Lot the opportunity to make a go of it on his own in the land of Canaan (Genesis 13:8-9).

The Apostle Paul’s description of spiritual warfare suggests that it’s an ongoing battle that takes place in the spiritual realm. Paul talked about resisting the devil and indicated that spiritual attacks had to be faced head on. Paul’s message to the Ephesians stated, “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:10-16).

The Greek word translated withstand in Ephesians 6:13, anthistemi (anth-is’-tay-mee) is derived from the words anti (an-tee’) and histemi (his’-tay-mee). The word anti means opposite. “This preposition is first of equivalence and then of exchange, stressing being in the place where another should be; total replacement” (G473). The Greek word histemi means to appoint or to be singled out, in order that it might be made known that one has been chosen by God (G2476). When Abram gave Lot the opportunity to choose the place he wanted to settle down, Lot chose Sodom. Genesis 13:12-13 states, “Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.”

Sodom was definitely the wrong place for Lot to settle if he wanted to live a godly life. Abram’s willingness to let Lot go there indicated that he was not being a good spiritual leader or withstanding the devil at that point in his life. In spite of this, the LORD confirmed that Abram was right where he wanted him. “The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length, and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you'” (Genesis 13:14-17).

The Hebrew word translated place in Genesis 13:14 is maqowm (maw-kome’) which is properly translated as “a standing” (H4725). Maqowm refers to the place where something stands. With regard to spiritual warfare, you might say that the LORD was intentionally placing Abram in a location where he would have to continually take a stand for his faith and as a result develop that capability on a daily basis. Maqowm is derived from the word quwm which means to rise and can refer to the origin of something (H6965). The LORD told Abram to “arise, walk through the length and breadth of the land” (Genesis 13:17). In this instance, quwm is translated arise and may have indicated empowering or strengthening. Quwm “is also used to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged.” In that way, you could say that God’s promise to Abram depended not only on him going to the right place, but also staying there in spite having to engage in spiritual warfare on a continual basis.

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

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

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

God bless you!

The body

One of the most fascinating aspects of the human body is that it has both physical and spiritual characteristics. It says in Genesis 1:26 that God created man in his image, after his own likeness. What that meant was that humans resembled God in form and shape, as well as, in the sense of his essential nature (H6754). Because of that, God said he would require a reckoning for the life of man, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed” (Genesis 9:5-6). The Hebrew word translated require, darash (daw-rash’) “is often used to describe the ‘seeking of’ the Lord in the sense of entering into covenantal relationship with Him” (H1875).

God established a covenant with Noah and his sons that applied not only to them, but to every living creature that came out of the ark after the flood. God told Noah, “I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Genesis 9:11). The Hebrew word translated cut off, karath (kaw-rath’) “can be used of spiritual and social extermination. A person ‘cut off’ in this manner is not necessarily killed but may be driven out of the family and removed from the blessings of the covenant” (H3772). The cutting off God referred to in his covenant may have had more to do with the severance of a relationship with him and others than it did the extermination of life.

When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, their relationship with God and each other was altered. One of the ways this change was manifested was Adam and Eve becoming aware of their nakedness. It says in Genesis 3:9-11, “But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?'”

Essentially, what happened to Adam and Eve when they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a spiritual covering was removed and they became ashamed of their nakedness which made them feel worthless in God’s eyes (H954). When God made his covenant with Noah, it was somewhat like putting a spiritual cloke on him in that it protected him and his family from the punishment associated with sin. One of the catches to this arrangement was that it didn’t apply to the physical realm. In other words, God no longer saw Noah and his family as being naked, but they still appeared that way to each other.

After the flood, it says in Genesis 9:20-23, “Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside.” What exactly was going on in Noah’s tent isn’t completely clear from the text, but it seems likely that it didn’t have anything to do with Noah being nude in the privacy of his own home. The Hebrew word translated nakedness, ervah (er-vaw’) represents the male sex organ and implies shameful exposure (H6172). To be uncovered meant that Noah was probably engaged in some type of sexual activity (H1540), perhaps being sexually abused by his grandson Canaan, when Noah’s son Ham walked in on him. Noah cursed Canaan after he realized what had happened to him (Genesis 9:24-25).

It’s important to note that God didn’t punish Noah or Canaan for what happened between them. God’s covenant with his family made it possible for Noah to be avenged of the crime committed against him. When Noah cursed Canaan, he was pronouncing judgment on him because of what he had done. Psalm 8:2 says of the LORD, our Lord, “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.” Basically, what the psalmist was saying was that even babies can claim God’s vengeance. The Hebrew word translated avenger, naqam (naw-kam’) means “to grudge, i.e. avenge or punish…The Lord reserves vengeance as the sphere of his own action” (H5358).

The Apostle Paul identified sexual immorality as a serious spiritual crime because it contradicts our likeness to God. He said, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints” (Ephesians 5:1-3). According to Paul, Noah’s son Ham was in the wrong because he told his two brothers what he saw (Genesis 9:22). The Hebrew word translated told in Genesis 9:22, nagad (naw-gad’) has to do with bringing something to someone’s attention in order to expose the person that is being reported on. In other words, Ham wanted to discredit or shame Noah by reporting what he saw to his brothers rather than keeping the matter to himself.

Paul went on to explain that certain behavior is indicative of being in a lost or unbelieving spiritual state. He said, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:4-5). The Greek word Paul used that is translated sexually immoral, pornos (por’-nos) means to sell and refers to a male prostitute as well as sex trafficking (G4205). Words that are related to pornos, porne (por’-nay) and porneia (por-ni’-ah) have to do with female prostitution, incest, and adultery. The English word pornography was originally thought of as writing about prostitutes.

Paul indicated that sexual immorality was the reason God’s wrath would be poured out on unbelievers or what Paul referred to as the “sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 5:6). The Greek word apeitheia (ap-i’-thi-ah) describes disbelief as being obstinate and rebellious. “This word literally means ‘the condition of being unpersuadable’ and denotes ‘obstinacy, obstinate rejection of the will of God” (G543). Paul told the Ephesians, “Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:7-10).

Paul’s contrast of darkness with light was meant to show that believers and unbelievers are the exact opposites of each other. There is nothing similar about them from a spiritual standpoint. One way of understanding their differences is to think of someone that is in a state of darkness as being blind compared to someone with sight. Trying to explain what an eagle flying overhead, a mountain in the distance, or a sunset looks like to a blind person is impossible because he has no awareness of these things. Paul instructed the Ephesians to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead to expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light” (Ephesians 5:11-14).

Paul’s instruction to expose works of darkness meant that he wanted believers to witness or share God’s word with unbelievers so that they could be convicted of their sin by the Holy Spirit (G1651). For sin to become visible, it has to be linked with the conscience mind and understood as a condition that is contrary to the nature of God. Paul associated spiritual rebirth with being resurrected from the dead and used a hymn to illustrate his point. He said:

“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14)

Paul’s analogy of waking up had to do with a change in position. Going from a horizontal to a vertical position spiritually meant that one was able to engage in a conversation with God. Paul’s statement “Christ will shine on you” indicated that spiritual comprehension was a result of being born again.

The genealogies of Noah’s three sons; Shem, Ham, and Japheth showed that particular pathways or the courses of their lives were determined by the incident that occurred in Noah’s tent. The descendants of Ham whose son Canaan was cursed by Noah (Genesis 9:25) became mighty men (Genesis 10:8-9) or valiant warriors, the opposite of what you might expect from being rejected by God. One of the definitions of the Hebrew word gibbor (ghib-bore’) which means powerful is tyrant (H1368). Noah’s great grandson Nimrod established a kingdom that eventually developed into the Assyrian Empire and included such cities as Nineveh, as well as Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 10:10-19), two cities that were destroyed by God because of their gross immorality (Genesis 18:20).

Psalm 8 suggests that God’s involvement in the world is focused on the building up of families and in particular the physical connection between family members. Verses 3-4 state:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

The Hebrew phrase “set in place” indicates permanence and seems to suggest that God’s ongoing involvement in the affairs of men has to do with our physical location in relation to others. God placed the moon and the stars in specific locations in space so that they could be used for “signs” and to determine the “seasons and for days and years” (Genesis 1:14). The Hebrew word translated signs, owth (oth) means a signal. “This word represents something by which a person or group is characteristically marked” (H226). Owth also means “‘sign’ as a reminder of one’s duty” and can attest to the validity of a prophetic message.

The psalmist described God as being mindful of man (Psalm 8:4). To be mindful of something means that you are actively engaged in a thought process that will result in some sort of action related to it. The most frequent translation of the Hebrew word zakar (zaw-kar’) is remember and is usually associated with God’s remembrance of his covenants. When God established his covenant with Noah, he said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring the clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh” (Genesis 9:12-15).

Flesh or basar (baw-sawr’) in Hebrew refers to the meaty part plus the skin of the human body. “This word may represent a part of the body” or “the ‘physical aspect’ of man or animals contrasted with the spirit, soul, or heart (the non-physical aspect)” (H1320). Paul likened the relationship between a husband and wife to the relationship between Christ and his church. Paul said, “Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior” (Ephesians 5:23). Paul wanted believers to understand that there is a physical connection between Jesus and his followers even though he currently resides in heaven. It could be that spiritual bonds are just like physical ones except that they are invisible.

Paul encouraged husbands to love their wives in order to sanctify them as Christ does the church and said, “He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church because we are members of his body” (Ephesians 5:28-30). The Greek word Paul used that is translated body, soma (so’-mah) refers to the body as a sound whole. Therefore, it can be assumed Paul was referring to the physical connection between a husband and wife, but “the body is not the man, for he himself can exist apart from his ‘body'” (G4983). Therefore, even though Paul was referring to Christ’s body as a material structure made up of numerous pieces that could be united into a functioning whole, it must be assumed that some aspects of Christ’s body are spiritual rather than physical because believers are dispersed around the world, and yet they are still a unified whole that is attached to Christ.

Paul indicated that every believer is a member or distinct body part that is essential to harmonized operation. “The unity of the body is not due to external organization but to common and vital union in Christ (G3196). Paul illustrated this point using the example of marriage. He said, “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32). Paul’s reference to becoming one flesh probably didn’t have anything to do with sexual intercourse. Paul was likely thinking of an external connection that had to do with the complete person or you might say the whole of a person’s activities e.g. the husband and wife’s daily involvement with each other or just being a part of each other’s physical space.

One of the things that is unique about Jesus, who is God, but also a man, is that while he was living on Earth, he was only able to be in one physical location at a time. Because his body, the church is described by Paul as being made up of many members, you could say that Jesus’ body now spans the entire world. Jesus is present everywhere a believer is. What makes this possible is Christ’s union with his body which Paul described as being like a husband and wife that are joined together in holy matrimony (Ephesians 5:31). The Greek word proskollao (pros-kol-lay’o) indicates there are two aspects of the joining together that occurs in marriage. First, there is a clean break or cutting off of a relationship that already exists with one’s parents. Then, a gluing together that produces a strengthened kind of relationship between the couple. The word kollao (kol-lah’-o) refers to cement, indicating that a permanent bond is formed that cannot be reversed.

The bond between Christ and the members of his church results in a superior physical form of the human body. Paul said that Christ loved the church so that he could sanctify it, “so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27). One of the benefits of having a relationship with Christ is that our physical body is regenerated and made to appear as if it has not been affected by sin. Paul’s used the words spot and wrinkle to illustrate the effects of sin as being like clothes that get messed up during use. Being born again is somewhat like getting a spiritual makeover in that it makes us more attractive both on the inside and out.

Paul’s conclusion that the bond between Christ and his church was a profound mystery (Ephesians 5:32) indicated that there were probably some aspects to this special kind of relationship that Paul didn’t completely understand. The Greek word translated mystery, musterion (moos-tay’-ree-on) “in the New Testament denotes, not the mysterious (as with the English 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 illuminated by His Spirit” (G3466).

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

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

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

God bless you!

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).

So much better

The writer of the book of Hebrews began his discourse with a comparison of Jesus to the angels in Heaven. He said:

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. (Hebrews 1:1-4, NKJV)

Although Jesus existed before he was born on Earth, it says in Hebrews 1:5 that he was begotten or conceived by God through physical means. The writer of Hebrews distinguished Jesus from angels by stating “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’?” (Hebrews 1:5, ESV). Jesus’ unique nature as both God and man set him apart from any other created being.

Another distinction the writer of Hebrews made between Jesus and the angels was his position of authority at God’s right hand. In Hebrews 1:13 he asked the question, “And to which of the angels has he ever said, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’?” (Hebrews 1:13, ESV) and then responded, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14). It is evident from these statements that one of the things that made Jesus so much better than the angels was his physical state. God had to take on the form of his human creatures in order to save them from the destruction that was associated with sin.

God’s plan of salvation included the necessity for a savior to die for the sins of the world. God couldn’t have fulfilled this requirement through the death of anyone other than a human being. It was Jesus’ dual nature as both God and man that uniquely qualified him to be the sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). It says in Hebrews 2:9, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Jesus’ experience with death consisted primarily of the separation of his physical body from his spirit which lasted only three days until he was physically resurrected.

Some people believe that humans become angels when they die. This belief might be founded on the erroneous idea that humans cannot exist without bodies. Revelation 6:9-10 makes it clear that our souls consist of matter that can be seen in the spiritual realm. It says, “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” Perhaps the single most important reason Jesus’ death and resurrection made him so much better than the angels was that it made it possible for the physical and spiritual realms to be united. Even though it might seem nice to become an angel when we die, wouldn’t it be so much better to have a body like Jesus’ that can exist in both the physical and spiritual realms?

Suffering

The Apostle Peter’s first letter to Jewish believers contained much of the same information that Paul preached to people that were not connected to Judaism. Peter’s mini-version of the gospel focused on just a few of the essential points of Christian living and answered some very difficult questions like, why do Christians suffer? Peter said, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21, ESV). According to Peter, suffering is a part of the process that causes us to become like Jesus. The Greek word translated example, hupogrammos means “an underwriting that is copy for imitation” (G5261). It is as if Peter was saying that we should be a carbon copy of Christ’s suffering. This proved to be true in Peter’s case because he was crucified like Jesus was except that he was crucified upside down (Nero Wikipedia).

Peter’s letter was most likely written to address the persecution that was going on in the latter half of the first century. He stated, “And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. ‘And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled'” (1 Peter 3:13-14, NKJV). Jesus addressed this kind of suffering in his sermon on the mount. He stated:

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)

Jesus pointed out that persecution is a by product of citizenship in heaven. Earlier in his letter, Peter referred to believers as strangers, indicating that citizenship in heaven causes one to be viewed as an outsider in the material world. Jesus made it clear that Christians who are persecuted on Earth would be rewarded in heaven and even went so far as to say, “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:12). The Greek word translated exceedingly glad, agalliao (ag-al-lee-ah’-o) means to jump for joy (G21). It’s hard to imagine having that kind of attitude toward suffering, but Jesus was obviously expressing a spiritual truth that does not make sense to us from a physical perspective.

The resurrection of Jesus is an indicator of the type of reward that awaits Christians in heaven. Peter said that Jesus in on the right hand of God and angels, authorities, and powers have been made subject to him (1 Peter 3:22). Jesus’ ultimate position of power is a direct result of his triumph over sin. Jesus now has the ability to direct the affairs of men with complete authority over all created beings in the universe. Peter said, “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2, NKJV). The phrase “arm yourselves with the same mind” is a reference to spiritual warfare.

To arm yourself means that you are equipped with weapons. Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds (1 Corinthians 10:4). One of the ways that we can fight against the devil is to pray and ask God for help. Peter indicated that we need to trust God and believe that his Holy Spirit will help us in our time of need. He stated, “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now ‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?’ Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:17-19, NKJV).