Spiritual freedom

The Apostle Paul’s letter to a believer named Philemon contains important information about Paul’s attitude regarding spiritual freedom. Paul began his letter with the salutation, “Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philemon 1:1-3). Paul wrote to Philemon while he was imprisoned in Rome, so his identification of himself as a prisoner was applicable to his circumstances, but Paul reversed the situation when he added the phrase for Jesus Christ. Even though Paul was imprisoned against his will, Paul believed that God was using his situation to further the gospel. Paul discussed this point extensively in his letter to the Philippians. Paul said:

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. Only let your manner of life be worthyof the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:12-30)

Paul said that he expected his imprisonment to turn out for his deliverance (Philippians 1:19). Paul was not only talking about being released from prison, but was also talking about his “deliverance from sin and its spiritual consequences and admission to eternal life with blessedness in the kingdom of Christ” (G4991). Paul went on to say that it was his eager expectation and hope that he would “not be at all ashamed” but that Christ would be honored in his body “whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21). What Paul likely meant by to die is gain was that the believers’ victory over sin and death is not fully realized until we are all in heaven. Revelation 12:10-11 states, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”

Paul was convinced that he would be released from prison and said, “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again” (Philippians 1:25-26). Paul echoed his confidence of being released in his letter to Philemon. Paul said, “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you” (Philemon 1:21-22). The Greek word that is translated graciously given, charizomai (khar-idˊ-zom-ahee) is spoken “of persons, to deliver up or over in answer to demands (Acts 3:14; 25:11, 16) or in answer to prayer (Acts 27:24; Philemon 1:22). Charizomai is translated granted in Acts 27:24 in reference to the lives of those who were sailing with Paul to Rome being saved from death in a storm at sea. Paul encouraged his shipmates and told them, “For this very night there stood before me an angel of God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told” (Acts 27:23-25).

Paul’s faith in God made it possible for him to experience spiritual freedom even though he was imprisoned in Rome. Paul talked about the effectiveness of sharing your faith in his letter to Philemon. Paul said:

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. (Philemon 1:4-7)

The Greek word that is translated effective in Philemon 1:6, energace (en-er-gaceˊ) has to do with the internal work of the Holy Spirit. In reference to sharing your faith, energace means that your faith is “active, operative” (G1756). Energace is translated active in Hebrews 4:12. It states, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Paul’s letter was intended to activate Philemon’s faith in that Paul used his own situation of imprisonment in Rome to trigger a particular response from his fellow worker. The Greek word that is translated prisoner, desmios (desˊ-mee-os) means “a captive (as bound)” (G1198) and is derived from the word desmos (des-mosˊ), which is translated imprisonment in Philemon 1:10 and 1:12. Desmos refers to “a band i.e. ligament (of the body) or shackle (of a prisoner). Paul used the Greek word desmos in his second letter to Timothy. Paul said, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound in chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” (2 Timothy 2:8-9). When Paul said the word of God is not bound, he used the word deo (dehˊ-o), which appears in Matthew 16:19 where Jesus told his disciples, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Being loosed on earth speaks of persons bound in sin and wickedness, who are loosed through the preaching of the gospel and a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. This is what had happened to Philemon’s slave Onesimus. Paul wrote, “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (Philemon 1:15-16).

“Paul acted in strict accordance with the requirements of the law in dealing with Onesimus, a slave who had run away from Philemon. First, Paul gave him shelter in his own hired house. He did not betray him as a fugitive nor did he send word to Philemon to come to Rome and take Onesimus back. Furthermore, Paul instructed Onesimus in the gospel, eventually leading him to salvation in Christ (Philemon 1:10). He then sent Onesimus back to Philemon as a trusted messenger and brother in Christ, bearing a request for Philemon to grant Onesimus freedom (Philemon 1:12). Paul did not accuse Onesimus of wrongdoing by running away from Philemon. Instead Paul stated that it was by the merciful providence of God that he had departed from Philemon. Paul desired for Philemon to receive Onesimus back no longer as a servant, but as a beloved brother and partner in Christ (Philemon 1:15-17)” (Introduction to the Letter of Paul to Philemon). Paul’s strict accordance to the Hebrew fugitive law (Deuteronomy 23:15-16), gave him the assurance that he was doing God’s will when he took Onesimus in and sheltered him until he had received salvation. Paul’s plea for Onesimus was based on his obedience to God’s word. Paul wrote to Philemon, “Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus—I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment” (Philemon 1:8-10).

Paul’s appeal to Philemon was likely prompted by the Holy Spirit. The Greek word that is translated appeal in Philemon 1:9, parakaleo (par-ak-al-ehˊ-o) is derived from the words para (par-ahˊ) and kaleo (kal-ehˊ-o) which “is used particularly of the divine call to partake of the blessings of redemption” (G2564). Paul wanted Philemon to voluntarily grant Onesimus his freedom (Philemon 1:18). The Hebrew fugitive law stated, “You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him” (Deuteronomy 23:15-16). Paul was not required to send Onesimus back to Philemon, but he likely did it so that Onesimus’ testimony could benefit the spread of the gospel (Philemon 1:11). Paul told Philemon, “I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord” (Philemon 1:12-14).

The Hebrew fugitive law indicated that a slave who had escaped from his master was essentially a free person; he could not be imprisoned or returned to his master (Deuteronomy 23:15). This law illustrated the principle of being delivered from spiritual bondage and fits in with Jesus’ teaching about binding and loosing things on earth and in heaven (Matthew 16:19). Jesus told the Jews who believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31-36). The Greek word that is translated free, eleuthero (el-yoo-ther-oˊ-o) means “to make free, liberate from the power and punishment of sin, the result of redemption (John 8:32, 36; Romans 6:18, 22). Jesus indicated that “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated slave, doulos (dooˊ-los) is the same word that Paul used in his letter to Philemon when he referred to Onesimus as a bondservant and said that he was sending him back to Philemon “no longer as a bondservant, but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother” (Philemon 1:16). Paul indicated that Onesimus’ spiritual status had changed because of his faith in Christ.

Paul explained in his letter to the Romans that spiritual freedom means that we are no longer slaves to sin, but have become slaves of righteousness. Paul said:

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:15-23)

According to Paul, even though believers are free in regard to righteousness, our spiritual freedom is constantly being attack. Paul said, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). Wickedness embodies that character which is opposite the character of God and may be thought of as an opposing force to righteousness (H7562). Proverbs 10:2 tells us that “treasures gained by wickedness do not profit but righteousness delivers from death.” The Hebrew word that is translated delivers, nâtsal naw-tsalˊ) is translated escaped in the Hebrew fugitive law (Deuteronomy 23:15) and also appears in Exodus 3:7-8 where the LORD speaking to Moses out of the midst of a burning bush said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver (nâtsal) them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of the land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (emphasis mine).

God’s ability to deliver believers from wickedness is based on the authority that Christ has in the spiritual realm. Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians:

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:15-21)

Paul said that the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward us is “according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:19-20). The Greek words that are translated working and worked are both derived from the Greek word energes, the Greek word that Paul used in his letter to Philemon when he talked about the sharing of Philemon’s faith becoming effective (Philemon 1:6).

Paul indicated in his letter to the Colossians that the powerful working of God is connected with the believer’s baptism, when he identifies himself with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Paul said:

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:11-15)

According to Paul, believers have spiritual freedom because the record of their moral debt to God has been cancelled. When Jesus died on the cross, he disarmed the rulers and authorities that wage spiritual warfare against believers and through death destroyed the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:14-15).

A state of bliss

It’s easy to overlook the fact that after God created the heavens and the earth, “The earth was without form and void” (Genesis 1:2). The Hebrew word that is translated without form, tohuw (toˊ-hoo) means “to lie waste; a desolation (of surface), i.e. desert; figuratively a worthless thing” (H8414). The phrase without form and void appears in Jeremiah 4:19-31 which describes Judah’s desolation after being overtaken by the Babylonian army. Jeremiah 4:23-26 states:

I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void;
    and to the heavens, and they had no light.
I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking,
    and all the hills moved to and fro.
I looked, and behold, there was no man,
    and all the birds of the air had fled.
I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a desert,
    and all its cities were laid in ruins
    before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

Genesis 1:2 goes on to say that “darkness was over the face of the deep” before God intervened in the situation. Darkness is used figuratively throughout the Bible to represent death, misery, and destruction. It’s hard to imagine that the earth came into existence in such a terrible state, but what is clear from the creation account in Genesis 1-2 is that God had to do something in order to change the state of the earth from one of destruction and waste to one of extreme pleasure.

Genesis 1:31 states, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” God was able to make everything good by speaking into existence things that had a positive impact on the world. It says in Genesis 1:3, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Proverbs 8:22-31 indicates that God created a state of bliss on earth using wisdom. Wisdom tells us:

“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work,
    the first of his acts of old.
Ages ago I was set up,
    at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
    when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
    before the hills, I was brought forth,
before he had made the earth with its fields,
    or the first of the dust of the world.
When he established the heavens, I was there;
    when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
    when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
    so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
    then I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight,
    rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
    and delighting in the children of man.”

Wisdom refers to himself as a master workman that assisted God in developing the specifications for the sky, the sea, and the foundations of the earth (Proverbs 8:28-29). Instead of master workman, the King James Version of the Bible translates the Hebrew word ʾamown (aw-moneˊ) “as one brought up with him” (Proverbs 8:30). With regard to training and skill, you might say that God and Wisdom had the same experience. ʾAmown is similar to the Hebrew word ʾaman (aw-mawnˊ) which is derived from the word ʾaman (aw-manˊ). ˊAman has to do with faith and is translated believed in Genesis 15:6 where it says that Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”

The Hebrew word chokmah (khok-mawˊ), which is translated wisdom in Proverbs 8:1, 11 and 12, ‘is the knowledge and ability to make right choices at the opportune time. The consistency of making the right choice is an indication of maturity and development…The prerequisite is a desire to follow and imitate God as He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, without self-reliance and especially not a spirit of pride…The fruits of chokmah are many, and the Book of Proverbs describes the characters of chakam and chokmah. In the New Testament terms the fruits of ‘wisdom’ are the same as the fruits of the Holy Spirit; cf. ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law’ (Galatians 5:22-23); ‘But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.’ (James 3:17-18)” (H2451).

Luke’s gospel tells us that Jesus was filled with wisdom. Luke 2:40 states, “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” The Greek word sophia (sof-eeˊ-ah) refers to both human and divine wisdom. “Sophia denotes a mental excellence of the highest sense, to details with wisdom as exhibited in action, and adding the power of reasoning about wisdom’s details by tracing their relationships.” (G4678). The Greek word sophia appears in Romans 11:33-36 where Paul talks about the mystery of Israel’s salvation. Paul exclaimed:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
    or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given a gift to him
    that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

Paul described God’s judgments as being unsearchable and his ways as inscrutable or not able to be tracked out (G421). It’s sometimes difficult for us to do what God wants us to because it doesn’t make sense to us. We want to know the logic behind God’s actions.

An example of God’s ways being inscrutable was his command that Abraham sacrifice his son Isaac. Genesis 22:1-2 tells us, “After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.’” When it says that God tested Abraham, it means that God told Abraham to do something that required faith (H5254). The only way that Abraham could do what God wanted was to act by faith; Abraham had to believe that even though it didn’t make sense to him, sacrificing his son Isaac was the right thing for him to do. Hebrews 11:17-19 tells us that, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac…of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”

The Israelites’ obedience to God’s commandments required faith in that God’s rules and regulations were based on things in the spiritual realm rather than things in the physical realm (Hebrews 9:23). Moses told the Israelites that their faith might be tested in the same way that Abraham’s was. Moses said, “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God…So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). Moses’ instruction to purge the evil from their midst had to do with the interference of evil with the Israelites’ faith or you might say the fruit of their wisdom.

Wisdom tells us in Proverbs 8:12-19:

“I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,
    and I find knowledge and discretion.
The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
    and perverted speech I hate….
Riches and honor are with me,
    enduring wealth and righteousness.
My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold,
    and my yield than choice silver.

Wisdom identified four things that were set against him; pride, arrogance, the way of evil, and perverted speech (Proverbs 8:13) and said, “My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver” (Proverbs 8:19).

Proverbs 2:6-7 indicates that the LORD gives us wisdom and that “he stores up sound wisdom for the upright.” Proverbs 2:10-12 goes on to say that wisdom comes into our heart and as a result we have knowledge and understanding that delivers us from the way of evil. In addition to receiving personal wisdom from the Lord, Proverbs 8:1-11 tells us that wisdom is constantly trying to get our attention. It states:

Does not wisdom call?
    Does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights beside the way,
    at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town,
    at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud:
“To you, O men, I call,
    and my cry is to the children of man…
Take my instruction instead of silver,
    and knowledge rather than choice gold,
for wisdom is better than jewels,
    and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.

The Hebrew word that is translated instruction in Proverbs 8:10, muwçar (moo-sawrˊ) is properly translated as “chastisement” (H4148). Muwçar is translated discipline in Deuteronomy 11:1-7 where the Israelites were instructed to love and serve the LORD. It states:

“You shall therefore love the LORD your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always. And consider today (since I am not speaking to your children who have not known or seen it), consider the discipline of the LORD your God, his greatness, his mighty hand and his outstretched arm, his signs and his deeds that he did in Egypt to Pharaoh the king of Egypt and to all his land, and what he did to the army of Egypt, to their horses and to their chariots, how he made the water of the Red Sea flow over them as the pursued after you, and how the LORD has destroyed them to this day, and what he did to you in the wilderness, until you came to this place, and what he did to Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, so of Reuben, how the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households, their tents, and every living thing that followed them, in the midst of all Israel. For your eyes have seen all the great work of the LORD that he did” (emphasis mine)

Moses’ reminder of the LORD’s harsh punishment of Pharaoh, as well as, Dathan and Abiram was meant to warn the people that God’s discipline was not something that they wanted to experience. With regard to false witnesses, Moses told the Israelites, “The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never commit any such evil among you. Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deuteronomy 19:18-21).

Job, who suffered numerous tragedies as a result of being targeted by Satan, was rebuked by his friends because they thought he was being disciplined by God. Eliphaz the Temanite told Job, “Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal” (Job 5:17-18). Eliphaz’s comment may have sounded good and might even have encouraged Job if he had actually been suffering because of a sin that he committed, but according to Wisdom, the ones who are blessed are those who keep my ways. Wisdom tells us:

“And now, O sons, listen to me:
    blessed are those who keep my ways.
Hear instruction and be wise,
    and do not neglect it.
Blessed is the one who listens to me,
    watching daily at my gates,
    waiting beside my doors.
For whoever finds me finds life
    and obtains favor from the Lord,
but he who fails to find me injures himself;
    all who hate me love death.” (Proverbs 8:32-36)

The Hebrew word that is translated blessed in Job 5:17 and Proverbs 8:32 and 34 is ʾesher (ehˊ-sher). ʾEsher “is a masculine noun meaning a person’s state of bliss. This Hebrew word is always used to refer to people and is never used of God. It is almost exclusively poetic and usually exclamatory, ‘O the bliss of…’ In Proverbs, this blissfulness is frequently connected with wisdom (Proverbs 3:13; 8:32, 34). This term is also used to describe a person or nation who enjoys a relationship with God (Deuteronomy 33:29; Job 5:17)” (H835). At the end of the book of Job, we find out that Job was right and his friends were wrong about the circumstances of his suffering. The LORD rebuked Job’s friends and restored his fortunes. Job 42:7-8 states:

After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

Job’s experience brought him to the conclusion that he didn’t really understand how things worked in the spiritual realm (Job 42:2-4). Job concluded his conversation with the LORD by stating, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6).

The LORD’s command to destroy all the people that were living in the land of Canaan may have been perceived to be too harsh or too difficult for the Israelites to carry out, but none the less, they needed to obey the LORD. Moses reiterated this command near the end of his enumeration of the law in the Book of Deuteronomy. Moses said:

“But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 20:16-18)

“This is the final statement of God’s judgment on the six peoples listed in this passage…Archeological evidence reveals how incredibly depraved these tribes were. They practiced human sacrifice and every sort of sexual perversion. It is said that the land ‘vomited out its inhabitants’ (Leviticus 18:21-25) because of the grievous nature of their sins. The sinfulness of these pagans would present a strong temptation to the Israelites; therefore these tribes were to be destroyed. As the incident with the Moabites revealed (Numbers 25:1-3), the Israelites were all too prone to adopt the idolatrous and inhuman practices of her neighbors. Those forms of Canaanite worship that the Israelites did not destroy according to God’s command are described as being a ‘snare’ to them (Exodus 23:33; 34:12; Deuteronomy 7:16; 12:30)” (note on Deuteronomy 20:16-18).

Psalm 128 makes it clear that the personal state of bliss associated with wisdom is connected to the worship of God. It states:

Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
    who walks in his ways!
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
    you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
    within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
    around your table.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
    who fears the Lord.

The Lord bless you from Zion!
    May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
    all the days of your life!
May you see your children’s children!
    Peace be upon Israel!

Even though Psalm 128 is directed toward the people of Israel, it indicates in verse one of this psalm that everyone who fears the LORD and walks in his ways will be blessed, or more specifically, will experience a state of bliss (H835).

Jesus eluded to believers experiencing a state of bliss in his Sermon on the Mount. He said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12). The Greek word that is translated rejoice, chairo (khahʾ-ee-ro) means “to be ‘cheer’ful, i.e. calmly happy or well-off” (G5463). Two Greek words that are derived from chairo, chara (khar-ahˊ) and charis (kharˊ-ece) link together God’s grace and the state of bliss that Jesus associated with Christian persecution. The epistle of James takes it one step further by connecting bliss with the testing of our faith. James said, “Count it all joy (bliss) my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). James concluded his discussion of suffering by stating, “We think of those who stayed true to Him as happy even though they suffered. You have heard how long Job waited. You have seen what the Lord did for him in the end. The Lord is full of loving-kindness and pity” (James 5:11, NLV).

The way of life

Jesus concluded his Sermon on the Mount with a statement that has come to be known as the golden rule. He said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). What Jesus meant by this is the Law and the Prophets was that the golden rule summed up everything that was written in the Old Testament of the Bible. It was the bottom line so to speak of what you need to know in order to live the kind of life that God wants you to. Jesus went on to say, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14). The words destruction and life have to do with what happens to us after we die. Jesus indicated that there are two ways that we can enter into eternity, the narrow gate which leads to life or what we think of as eternal life, life in the absolute sense (G2222); and the wide gate which leads to destruction or what we think of as hell, a place where we suffer the eternal consequences of our sin (G684). Jesus said, “The way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matthew 7:13). The Greek word that is translated easy, euruchoros (yoo-rooˊ-kho-ros) means “spacious” (G2149). One of the reasons why it is easy for a person to go to hell is because there are no boundaries or you might say limitations to keep you out (G5561). Jesus contrasted the way to destruction with the way of life by stating, “The way is hard that leads to life” (Matthew 7:14). The Greek word that is translated hard, thlibo (thleeˊ-bo) means “to crowd” and “has reference to sufferings due to the pressure of circumstances, or the antagonism of persons” (G2346).

Jesus indicated that there are few who “find” the way of life (Matthew 7:14). This suggests that many people are looking for the way that leads to life, but not all of them are finding it. Jesus told his followers:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)

In order to find the way that leads to life, you have to first be seeking it. Seeking God begins with an awareness or an acknowledgment that you don’t know what to do. As a result of that awareness, you either seek a relationship with God if you don’t already know him or if you do have a relationship with Christ; you seek to know God’s will for your particular situation, the goal being to ascertain the meaning of your circumstances and to see things from God’s perspective.

Jesus later explained to his disciples that an exchange needed to occur in order for them to experience life in the absolute sense. Jesus said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). In this instance the life that Jesus was referring to was not life in the absolute sense, eternal life; but the soul, “the inner self” or “’what one is to oneself’ as opposed to ‘what one appears to be to one’s observers’” (H5315). It says in Genesis 2:7 that God formed Adam out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and he “became a living soul” (KJV). The soul and the spirit of man are sometimes confused with each other. The soul is associated with breath, “the breath of life, that vital force which animates the body and shows itself in breathing” (G5590). The soul can be thought of “as an essence which differs from the body and is not dissolved by death.” In that sense, when Jesus said, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39), he wasn’t talking about death, Jesus was talking about our inner self being changed so that it conforms to God’s way of doing things.

The Israelites that were delivered from slavery in Egypt had the benefit of God telling them directly what he wanted them to do or not do in order to live their lives the way he wanted them to. The Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:7-21) were a comprehensive list of the essential behaviors that God was looking for, but Moses broke the entire law down even further into a single commandment that contained the key to Israelites’ spiritual success. Moses said, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Loving God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our might has to do with focusing our attention on what is going on in the spiritual realm instead of the physical realm. The rituals that the Israelites went through on a regular basis were intended to continuously remind them of God’s presence and his involvement in their lives. In particular, the seven annual feasts that the Israelites were expected to observe shaped their culture and provided a framework for the people of Israel to worship God. These celebrations became a way of life for the Israelites, but not necessarily for the reasons that God intended them.

The sabbatical year, which occurred at the end of every seven years, was designated as a year of release. Moses said, “And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor. He shall not exact it of his neighbor; his brother, because the LORD’s release has been proclaimed” (Deuteronomy 15:2). The cancellation of debt was intended to eliminate poverty, but from a spiritual perspective the observance of the sabbatical year was meant to remind the Israelites of the moral debt that God had forgiven for them. The Hebrew word that is translated release, shᵉmittah (shem-it-tawˊ) means “remission” (H8059). During the Last Supper, Matthew’s gospel tells us that Jesus took a cup and when he had given thanks, he gave it to his disciples and said, drink of it all of you, ”For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28 KJV). The Greek word aphesis (afˊ-es-is) “denotes a release from bondage, imprisonment, liberation from captivity and remission of debt…It also means forgiveness or pardon, of sins (letting them go as if they had never been committed), remission of the penalty” (G859). The Mosaic Law was intended to represent the ideal state of mankind’s union with God, but many of its required rituals were misunderstood. The book of Hebrews explains how the process of redemption works and makes it clear that Christ’s sacrifice releases us from the consequences of our sins once and for all. It states:

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come,then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctifyfor the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify ourconscience from dead works to serve the living God…And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christhad offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 9:11-10:14)

The writer of Hebrews used the phrase “purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14) to describe the result of having our sins forgiven. The Greek word that is translated conscience, suneidesis (soon-iˊ-day-sis) means “co-perception, i.e. moral consciousness…that faculty of the soul which distinguishes between right and wrong and prompts one to choose the formal and avoid the latter” (G4893). When we have a clear conscience, we are able to enter into the presence of God and worship him. Therefore, the purification of our conscience, or rather the remission of sin, is one of the things that helps us to find the way of life that Jesus talked about in his Sermon on the Mount.

The annual observance of the Passover feast was intended to remind the Israelites of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt (Deuteronomy 16:3), but it also had a spiritual significance as well in that it represented Christ’s death on the cross. Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples coincided with a celebration of the Passover feast. Matthew 26:17-19 states, “Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?’ He said, ‘Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, “The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples”’ And the disciples did as Jesus directed them, and they prepared the Passover.” It was not accidental that Jesus’ death was associated with Passover. The spiritual meaning of what Jesus was doing was beyond the human comprehension of his disciples, but the Apostle Paul later explained that the Lord’s Supper was intended to provide a means of confessing our sins on a regular basis so that our consciences would remain clear after the initial experience of being born again. Paul said, “Anyone who eats the bread or drinks from the cup, if his spirit is not right with the Lord, will be guilty of sinning against the body and the blood of the Lord. This is why a man should look into his own heart and life before eating the bread and drinking from the cup. Anyone who eats the bread and drinks from the cup, if his spirit is not right with the Lord, will be guilty as he eats and drinks. He does not understand the meaning of the Lord’s body” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29, NLV).

Jesus revealed the meaning of his body to his disciples shortly before his death. Jesus told them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). The Greek word that is translated bears, phero (ferˊ-o) signifies being impelled by the Holy Spirit’s power, not acting according to their own wills, or simply expressing their own thoughts, but expressing the mind of God in words provided and ministered by Him” (G5342). There was a great deal of emphasis in the Apostle Paul’s ministry on bearing fruit. Paul used the word fruit in almost all of his letters in reference to the results of preaching the gospel. The feast of weeks (Deuteronomy 16:9-12) was originally called The Feast of Harvest (Exodus 23:16) and in the New Testament times became known as Pentecost (note on Exodus 23:14-17). The connection between The Feast of Harvest and the day of Pentecost, which is recorded in Acts 2:1-4, seems to be the filling that took place as a result of each of these two events. Acts 2:1-4 states:

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.

The Greek word that is translated arrived, sumpleroo (soom-play-roˊ-o) denotes a complete filling that results from a union of individual parts (G4845). It says in Acts 2:1 that “they were all together in one place.” The “they” that is referred to here is all believers. “The Holy Spirit filled every believer on the day of Pentecost, not just a select few” (note on Acts 2:1-4). From a spiritual perspective, the Feast of Harvest resembled the day of Pentecost because it focused on the firstfruits of people’s labor (Exodus 23:16). It’s important that we realize there is expected to be a tangible result when we walk with the Lord. Jesus told his followers, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). The Greek word perissos (per-is-sosˊ) refers to abundance in terms of both quantity and quality (G4053). You might think of life being abundant from a quantity perspective when it consists of many years, but perissos has to do with excess or going beyond what is needed. From that standpoint, it seems likely that Jesus’ intention behind giving us an abundant life was so that we could have more than enough time to experience all that life has to offer us within the boundaries of living a godly life.

King Solomon, who is thought to be not only the wisest man to ever live, but also the richest, wrote about his experience of pursuing everything that life had to offer him from a secular perspective. Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 states:

I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man. So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

Solomon’s declaration that all was vanity and a striving after the wind after he had indulged himself in every kind of pleasure that was imaginable demonstrated that the way of life and the way of destruction are not necessarily mutually exclusive when it comes to our daily activities. The difference between these two ways if life seems to be dependent on the motive behind your actions.

Solomon stated in Proverbs 6:20-23, “My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you. For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life.” Solomon associated the way of life with the reproofs of discipline and indicated that the commandment and the teaching of scripture would illuminate a believer’s pathway forward. According to Solomon, spiritual life involves discipline (Proverbs 6:23). The Hebrew word that is translated discipline, muwçar (moo-sawrˊ) means “chastisement” as well as “restraint.” Muwçar is usually connected with God’s discipline of his chosen people, but it seems to be applicable to everyone in Job 5:17 where it says, “Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty”

Jesus told his disciples, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Jesus described himself as the light of the world or you might say the illuminator of everything we experience in life and said that those who follow him will have the light of life. In other words, when you follow Jesus you will have the ability to see what life is really all about, you will understand life from a spiritual perspective. The reason why that is important is because your soul was designed for eternal life. It is not dissolved when you die like your body is (G5590). Paul talked about the perishable body putting on the imperishable and the believer’s final victory over death in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the moral puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:50-57).

The tablets of your heart

The way that we think of our hearts as an organ that pumps blood throughout our bodies is correct from a materialistic perspective, but the Bible has a different view of the heart’s primary function. The Hebrew word leb (labe) indicates that “the heart includes not only the motives, feelings, affections, and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man. In fact, it embraces the whole inner man, the head never being regarded as the seat of intelligence. While it is the source of all action and the center of all thought and feeling the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself.” In some instances, “Leb is used of the man himself, or his personality (Genesis 17:17)” and from a spiritual perspective, “the heart could be regarded as the seat of knowledge and wisdom and as a synonym of ‘mind’ when ‘heart’ appears with the verb ‘to know.’” The heart encompasses some of the activities that we typically associate with the brain. “Memory is the activity of the heart (Job 22:22),” but it goes beyond that and may even be “the seat of conscience and moral character.” The Bible tells us that “God controls the heart” and he is able to give us “a new one (Ezekiel 36:26).” The heart can also be thought of as a source of expression, it “stands for the inner being of man, the man himself, and is the fountain of all he does (Proverbs 4:4). All his thoughts, desires, words, and actions flow from deep within him. Yet a man cannot understand his own heart (Jeremiah 17:9)” (H3820).

The first appearance of the word leb in the Bible is in Genesis 6:5-6 where it says, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” In these verses we are told that God also has a heart and that it is the source or you might say the motivation for his spiritual activity. The Hebrew word that is translated intention in Genesis 6:5, yetser (yayˊ-tser) has to do with creation and is figuratively thought of as conception. Yetser is derived from the word yatsar (yaw-tsarˊ) which means “to mould into a form; especially as a potter; (figurative) to determine (i.e. form a resolution)” (H3335). A word that appears to be identical with yatsar means “to press (intransitive), i.e. be narrow; (figurative) be in distress” (H3334). The fact that the intention of the thoughts of men’s hearts was only evil continually after sin entered into the world indicates that the situation was hopeless. God wanted to give up on his creation (Genesis 6:6), but instead he started working out a way for people to be saved from the wickedness that is inherent in our fallen human nature.

The book of Job shows us that spiritual conflict is the result of Satan’s intervention in the lives of godly people. Although Job was described as “a blameless and upright man” (Job 1:8), God allowed Satan to afflict Job in order to prove that his devotion was sincere. During the process, Job’s friends tried to convince him that his wickedness was great and that he deserved to be punished (Job 22:1-11). Eliphaz the Temanite suggested to Job, “Agree with God, and be at peace; thereby good will come to you. Receive instruction from his mouth, and lay up his words in your heart” (Job 22:21-22). In his defense, Job stated:

“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there,
    and backward, but I do not perceive him;
on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him;
    he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.
But he knows the way that I take;
    when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
My foot has held fast to his steps;
    I have kept his way and have not turned aside.
I have not departed from the commandment of his lips;
    I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.
But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back?
    What he desires, that he does.
For he will complete what he appoints for me,
    and many such things are in his mind.
Therefore I am terrified at his presence;
    when I consider, I am in dread of him.
God has made my heart faint;
    the Almighty has terrified me;
yet I am not silenced because of the darkness,
    nor because thick darkness covers my face.” (Job 23:8-17)

Job thought that God had made his heart faint and that the Almighty had terrified him (Job 23:16), but in actuality, it was Satan that was responsible for the tragedies that Job experienced (Job 1:13-19, 2:7). Job knew that he needed to keep God’s commandments and also said that he had stored up God’s word as if it was necessary for his continued existence (Job 23:12), but the result Job got from his effort was not what he expected (Job 24:22-25).

Psalm 37 offers advice to those of us that feel God has abandoned or rejected us even though we have been doing the right things. It states:

Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
    be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
    and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:1-4)

Putting our trust in the Lord is a part of the process that we go through to be saved. The Greek word peitho (piˊ-tho) “in the active voice, signifies ‘to apply persuasion, to prevail upon or win over; to persuade,’ bringing about a change of mind by the influence of reason or moral considerations” (G3982). The Greek word pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) means “not just to believe, but also to be persuaded of; and hence, to place confidence in, to trust, and signifies, in this sense of the word, reliance upon, not mere credence, hence it is translated ‘commit unto’, ‘commit to one’s trust’, ‘be committed unto’” (G4100). “Peitho and pisteuo, ‘to trust,’ are closely related etymologically; the difference in meaning is that the former implies the obedience that is produced by the latter, cf. Hebrews 3:18-19, where the disobedience of the Israelites is said to be the evidence of their unbelief. Faith is of the heart, invisible to men; obedience is of the conduct and may be observed. When a man obeys God he gives the only possible evidence that in his heart he believes God” (G3982).

Proverbs 3:5-6 indicates that trust is an activity of the heart. Solomon instructed us to, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” The Hebrew word that is translated acknowledge, yada (yaw-dahˊ) has to do with knowing someone both relationally and experientially. One of the most important uses of the word yada is “depicting God’s knowledge of people: The Lord knows their hearts entirely (Exodus 33:12; 2 Samuel 7:20; Psalm 139:4; Jeremiah 17:9; Hosea 5:3)” (H3045). Jesus’ knowledge of the Pharisees hearts caused him to rebuke them on numerous occasions. In one instance, Jesus indicated that they had committed an unpardonable sin, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:32). Jesus asserted that the words we speak are an indicator of the condition of our hearts and said of the Pharisees, “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matthew 12:34-35).

The book of Hebrews reveals that the Israelites never entered into the kind of relationship that God wanted to have with them because their hearts were hardened (Hebrews 3:8-9). The term that was used to describe the condition of the Israelites’ hearts was an “unbelieving” heart (Hebrews 3:12). The Greek word that is translated harden in Hebrews 3:8 is skleruno (sklay-rooˊ-no). “This word stresses that the nape of the neck stiffens and thus renders the head in an unbending position” (G4645). This condition of the heart is illustrated in the Old Testament by Pharaoh who persistently refused to obey the LORD’s command to let his people go. It says in Exodus 7:13 that Pharaoh’s “heart was hardened.” “In reference to Pharaoh, it means to brace up and strengthen and points to the hardihood with which he set himself to act in defiance against God and closed all avenues to his heart to those signs and wonders which Moses wrought” (H2388).

Moses’ summarization of the Israelites’ forty year journey included some sharp rebukes because of their unbelief. Moses said:

“At Taberah also, and at Massah and at Kibroth-hattaavah you provoked the Lord to wrath. And when the Lord sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying, ‘Go up and take possession of the land that I have given you,’ then you rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God and did not believe him or obey his voice. You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you.” (Deuteronomy 9:22-24)

Moses said that the Israelites did not believe or obey the voice of God indicating that there was not only a lack of faith on their part, but also a lack of reverence toward God and yet, Moses interceded on their behalf and asked the LORD to give them a second chance. Moses prayed, “Do not regard the stubbornness of this people, or their wickedness or their sin, lest the land from which you brought us say, ‘Because the LORD was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness’” (Deuteronomy 9:27-28).

The prophet Ezekiel’s message from the LORD indicated that the only way the problem of the Israelites’ hardened hearts could be fixed was to give them a new heart. The LORD told Ezekiel:

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.(Ezekiel 36:22-27)

The LORD said that the Israelites’ heart of stone would be replaced with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). The Hebrew word that is translated stone in this verse is the same word that is used in Deuteronomy 10:1 in reference to the tablets of stone that God wrote the Ten Commandments on.

Moses’ account of the Israelites’ journey shifted dramatically from a materialistic perspective to a spiritual perspective when he started talking about the second writing of the Ten Commandments. Moses stated, “At that time the Lord said to me, ‘Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to me on the mountain and make an ark of wood. And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets that you broke, and you shall put them in the ark.’ So I made an ark of acacia wood, and cut two tablets of stone like the first, and went up the mountain with the two tablets in my hand. And he wrote on the tablets, in the same writing as before, the Ten Commandmentsthat the Lord had spoken to you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. And the Lord gave them to me. Then I turned and came down from the mountain and put the tablets in the ark that I had made. And there they are, as the Lord commanded me” (Deuteronomy 10:1-5). Moses emphasized the fact that everything had been done just as it had been before and that God himself wrote on the tablets, “in the same writing” (Deuteronomy 10:4), meaning that it was God’s handwriting, signifying the legality of the documents. Moses went on to specify the terms of the contract that had just been ratified. Moses said:

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)

Moses specified five things that the LORD required. First, the people were expected to fear or reverence the LORD, “whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect” (H3372). Second, the people of Israel were expected to walk in all the ways of God, meaning that they were to exhibit a godly lifestyle, their behavior was supposed to be consistent with the God they served. Third, the Israelites were required to love God; they were expected to have a strong emotional attachment to him and have a desire to be in his presence. Fourth, the Israelites were required to serve the LORD with all their hearts and with all their souls. This meant that the people’s attention was to always be on the LORD and that he would be their number one priority in their daily lives. The final requirement that the people of Israel keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD was a matter of the greatest commandment (Deuteronomy 6:1-9) being evidenced in their lives. Everything that the Lord required of Israel really boiled down to whether or not the people would actually put their trust in God and believe that he was going to do what he promised to.

The stone tablets that the Ten Commandments were written on were likely meant to be representative of the Israelites’ hardened hearts. The Hebrew word that is translated tablets in Deuteronomy 10:1, luach (looˊ-akh) is used in Jeremiah 17:1 where it says, “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of a diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart.” The concept of the heart being a tablet that can be engraved upon also appears in the New Testament in the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3). Paul compared the Ten Commandments to a letter from Christ that was written with the Spirit of the living God, suggesting that it was possible to engrave the word of God on the human heart in the same way that God wrote the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets. The key to this process being successful might be what Moses described as the circumcision of the heart.

After Moses talked about the requirements of God’s relationship with the Israelites (Deuteronomy 10:12-13), he said, “Behold to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (Deuteronomy 10:14-16). When Moses commanded the Israelites to circumcise their heart, he meant that they were to “remove the hardness and to love God” (H4135). This willful act was necessary to change the condition of the people’s hearts. Paul talked about the new life that believers are expected to live in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul instructed the Ephesians to “put off the old self” and to “put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:22-23). The Greek word that is translated put off, apotithemi (ap-ot-eethˊ-ay-mee) is derived from the word apo (apoˊ) which means “off” (G575) and tithemi (tithˊ-ay-mee) which means “to put” (G5087). Tithemi is associated with appointment to any form of service. “Christ used it of His followers.” From that standpoint circumcision of the heart or putting off the old self could mean that believers are expected to cut off any activity or relationship that interferes with their worship and/or service of God.

According to Paul, in addition to putting off the old self, it is necessary for believers to put on the new self in order for them to be able to trust in the LORD with all their hearts (Proverbs 3:5). It could be that Proverbs 3:3 is a prescription for doing just that. It states, “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.” Steadfast love and faithfulness are two of the primary characteristics of God that are evident in his work of salvation. The Hebrew word that is translated steadfast love, cheçed (khehˊ-sed) “is one of the most important in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics…Checed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law…The Bible prominently uses the term chesed to summarize and characterize a life of sanctification within” (H2617). The Hebrew word ʾemeth (ehˊ-meth), which is translated faithfulness, means “stability” (H571) and is derived from the word ʾaman (aw-manˊ) which means to “believe.” (H539). Writing steadfast love and faithfulness on the tablet of our heart might mean that we commit to memory specific verses of the Bible that are relevant to these characteristics of God. At the end of his ministry, Jesus told his disciples:

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:23-26)

The Holy Spirit’s job is to help us understand God’s word and to remind us of the things that we’ve learned about Jesus, but he can only do that if we are committing scriptures to memory, i.e. writing them on the tablets of our heart.

A spiritual perspective

The Bible identifies two distinct perspectives that typically contradict each other with regards to interpretation of the events and circumstances of our lives. A materialistic perspective is concerned with the physical processes that produce things that we can see and touch; whereas, a spiritual perspective is concerned with invisible processes that produce things that cannot be seen or touched. One of the ways that the Bible distinguishes these two perspectives is by what they focus our attention on. A materialistic perspective focuses our attention on the world around us, the things that we come in contact with on a daily basis. Therefore, a materialistic perspective might also be thought of as a worldly perspective. A spiritual perspective focuses our attention on God and therefore, can be thought of as a godly perspective. Jesus told a Samaritan woman that he met at Jacob’s well, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). The Greek word that is translated spirit, pheuma (pnyooˊ-mah) means “a current of air, i.e. breath (blast) or a breeze, by analogy or figuratively a spirit, i.e. (human) the rational soul, (by implication) vital principle, mental disposition, etc.” (G4151). The analogy of a spirit being similar to a current of air has to do with the characteristics that we associate with the wind. Its strength, vigor, and force are evident even though the wind is invisible to us. Jesus told a man named Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

Jesus implied that being born again or born of the Spirit would result in a person being influenced by spiritual things (John 3:8). Even though we are not always aware of it, God is actively involved in every person’s life that has committed themselves to Christ. Jesus talked about this in his parable of the seed growing. He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:26-29). Jesus also used the analogy of seed in his parable of the sower and illustrated the effect that God’s word has on the human heart. Jesus said:

“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:3-9)

Jesus explained to his disciples privately that the seed represented the word of God and he used the four scenarios in his parable to show them that the outcome was dependent on the condition of the human heart. Jesus said:

“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:18-23)

The unseen activity of the human heart is an example of how a spiritual versus a materialistic perspective can alter the effect of God’s word and can change the outcome of our relationship with the Lord. Jesus pointed out that when we hear the word and do not understand it, the evil one is able to snatch away what has been sown in our hearts (Matthew 13:19). It is only when we understand what we are hearing that spiritual fruit can be produced (Matthew 13:23).

The Greek word that is translated understands in Matthew 13:23, suniemi (soon-eeˊ-ay-mee) means “(to send); to put together, i.e. (mentally) to comprehend” (G4920). Suniemi is derived from the word sun (soon) which denotes “union” (G4862) and has to do with fellowship with God and other believers. When Jesus told his disciples the night before his crucifixion that they would all fall away, Peter replied, “’Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even if I must die with (G4862) you, I will not deny you!’ And all the disciples said the same” (Matthew 26:33-35). Peter’s emphatic declaration that he would not deny Jesus, even if he had to die with him, was an indication that he was looking at things from a spiritual perspective, but Peter’s actions proved otherwise. Proverbs 2:2 suggests that understanding requires an intentional effort on our part to see things from a godly perspective. Proverbs 2:1-5 states:

My son, if you receive my words
    and treasure up my commandments with you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
    and inclining your heart to understanding;
yes, if you call out for insight
    and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
    and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
    and find the knowledge of God.

According to King Solomon, the author of this proverb, the process of obtaining understanding involves more than just an intentional effort on our part. Solomon identified a series of steps and used the conditional language of if/then to indicate that obtaining a spiritual perspective is dependent upon us having a relationship with God. Solomon went on to say, “For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints” (Proverbs 2:6-8).

The Hebrew word that is translated saints in Proverbs 2:8, chasiyd (khaw-seedˊ) denotes “those who share a personal relationship with the Lord” and signifies “the state of one who fully trusts in God” (H2623). Solomon said that God watches over “the way of his saints” (Provervs 2:8). By that, Solomon meant that God charts the course of believers’ lives and makes it possible for them to be spiritually successful.

The Israelites’ journey from Egypt to the land of Canaan is an example of God’s direct intervention in the lives of believers. Although the Israelites were resistant to following God’s commandments and rebelled against him on numerous occasions, they eventually ended up where God had planned in advance for them to fulfill their destiny. Numbers 33 recounts the Israelites’ journey from a spiritual perspective. Even though it took them 40 years to accomplish what could have taken place in short eleven-day span of time, the Israelites were successful in achieving God’s ultimate goal, their occupation of the Promised Land. Moses explained to the people of Israel that their success was not a result of their own efforts, but a matter of being chosen by God. Moses said, “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6). The Hebrew word that Moses used that is translated chosen, bachar (baw-kharˊ) “denotes a choice which is based on a thorough examination of the situation and not an arbitrary whim…Being ‘chosen’ by God brings people into an intimate relationship with Him” (H977).

Moses went on to say that from a materialistic perspective, God’s choice of the Israelites didn’t make any sense. It was only because God was keeping the oath that he swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that the Israelites received his blessing (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). Moses indicated that God’s motivation for choosing the Israelites and keeping the oath that he swore to their fathers was love. Moses said:

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today. (Deuteronomy 7:9-11)

The contrast between those who love God and those who hate him makes it seem as if our perspective is shaped by our emotions, but the Hebrew word that is translated hate, sane (saw-nayˊ) makes it clear that it is a matter of our will or more specifically, our preference to not be associated with God. “In a weaker sense, saneʾ can signify being set against something” and it is sometimes translated as enemies, enemy or foe (H8130).

Moses’ final discourses were intended to focus the Israelites’ attention on the way they were expected to live their lives after they entered the Promised Land. Within that context was Moses’ consolidation of the Ten Commandments into a single great commandment (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) that would help them to keep a spiritual perspective of things at all times. Moses added to this commandment a guiding principle that made it crystal clear to the people of Israel that a materialistic perspective could not sustain their physical existence beyond this present world. Moses said:

“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:1-3)

Moses admonished the people to remember the whole way that the LORD had led them and said that man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God. The idea that Moses was trying to convey was that of completeness, the primary characteristic of a healthy spiritual life.

Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The Greek word that is translated perfect, teleios (telˊ-i-os) means complete or “brought to its end, finished; wanting nothing necessary to completeness” (G5046). The Apostle Paul talked about this in his letter to the Romans. Paul said, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2). The phrase that Paul used conformed to this world, has to do with the effect that living in this world has on people in general. Paul said that rather than being conformed to the world, we need to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. The contrast between the verbs conformed and transformed is particularly evident in their opposing emphasis on the external (conformed) and internal (transformed) influences on our minds. The present continuous tenses of both verbs indicate a process (G3339). This suggests that a spiritual perspective is gained over time as God’s word continually becomes more and more the focus our attention and the primary source of our knowledge.

John’s gospel contains a lot of information about Jesus’ mission to save the world. John said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17). In this instance, the world stands for the human race, mankind (G2889). In a collective sense, everyone and everything in the world needs to be redeemed from the curse of sin. Quoting Psalm 14, Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). In his high priestly prayer, shortly before he was crucified (John 17:1-26), the primary focus of Jesus’ attention was his mission to save the world. In this prayer, Jesus asked his Father to keep the ones that had been entrusted to his care. Jesus prayed, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). Jesus didn’t seem to be concerned about the world’s influence on his followers, but instead, he identified the problem as the evil one. The Greek word that Jesus used, poneros (pon-ay-rosˊ) “is connected with ponos (G4192) and means labor and expresses especially the active form of evil” (G4190). Proverbs 2 indicates that understanding is a byproduct of wisdom, which is given to us from God (Proverbs 2:6), and will guard us from the way of evil. Solomon wrote:

For wisdom will come into your heart,
    and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
discretion will watch over you,
    understanding will guard you,
delivering you from the way of evil,
    from men of perverted speech,
who forsake the paths of uprightness
    to walk in the ways of darkness. (Proverbs 2:10-13)

Walking in the ways of darkness would mean that you are practicing evil and it has become a way of life for you. Solomon used the word darkness in a figurative sense to represent misery, destruction, death and may have even meant it to express ignorance of God’s word.

Moses’ assertion that “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3) was based on his personal experience of leading the Israelites through the desert for forty years. One of the ways that we know Moses had developed a keen spiritual perspective by the end of his life was his understanding of the preincarnate presence of Christ in the midst of the Israelites’ camp. Moses said:

“Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to heaven, a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’ Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you. (Deuteronomy 9:1-3)

Moses’ communicated his awareness of God’s presence by stating that he would go over before the Israelites and said that he would destroy the cities. Moses continued to emphasize his spiritual perspective of things when he said:

“Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.” (Deuteronomy 9:4-6)

Moses repeated three times that it was not because of the Israelites righteousness that they were going to possess the land, but because of the wickedness of the nations that the people were being driven out and then Moses stated emphatically, “for you are a stubborn people” (Deuteronomy 9:6). The people of Israel had turned aside quickly out of the way that God had commanded them (Deuteronomy 9:12) and therefore, did not deserve his blessing; but from a spiritual perspective, they were God’s chosen people and he would not abandon them. Proverbs 2:21-22 states:

For the upright will inhabit the land,
    and those with integrity will remain in it,
but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
    and the treacherous will be rooted out of it.

The Hebrew word that is translated upright, yashar (yaw-shawrˊ) means “straight” (H3477) and is derived from the word yashar (yaw-sharˊ) which “can be used to refer to a path” and with regard to straightness “the commands of God” (H3474). “The Old Testament often talks of two paths in life and warns people to stay on the straight path and not to stray onto the crooked path (Proverbs 2:13)” (H3476). From that standpoint, staying on the straight path would mean that we look at things from a spiritual perspective and make an intentional effort to understand God’s word.

Believing

Jesus told his disciples on several different occasions that he would be killed and three days later rise again (Matthew 16:21; 17:23; 20:19), and yet, after he was crucified, it appears that no one expected to ever see Jesus again. John’s gospel tells us, “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:1-2). We aren’t told who the “they” was that Mary thought had taken the Lord’s body away, but it’s possible that she thought Jesus’ declaration that “they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day” (Matthew 17:23, emphasis mine) meant that whoever killed Jesus would also after three days take his body away. Mary’s mental perception of the situation made her believe something that was incorrect, that someone had moved Jesus’ body. John went on to say:

So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. (John 20:3-9)

John tells us that he saw and believed. The Greek word that is translated saw in John 20:8 is different from the word that is translated saw in John 20:1 and also John 20:6. Mary perceived that the stone had been taken away from the tomb, but she didn’t know how it had happened. When he “saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself” (John 20:6-7), Peter made a careful observation of the details and considered all the facts before coming to a conclusion. John, on the other hand, saw that Jesus’ body was no longer bound by the linen cloths and that the cloth that had been coving his face had been placed in a different location and even though he didn’t understand the Scripture; John believed that Jesus had risen from the dead (John 20:9).

The Greek word that is translated believed in John 20:8. pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) means “to have faith” (G4100). Hebrews 11:1 states, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” John’s assessment of the situation when he entered the empty tomb wasn’t necessarily based on what he saw, but what he didn’t see. Jesus’ body was definitely gone. Whereas, Mary concluded that because his body was gone, someone must have taken Jesus away, John believed that Jesus was alive again. “Pisteuo means not just to believe, but also to be persuaded of; and hence, to place confidence in, to trust, and signifies, in this sense of the word, reliance upon, not mere credence, hence it is translated ‘commit unto’, ‘commit to one’s trust’, ‘be committed unto’, etc” (G4100). Pisteuo is derived from the word pistis (pisˊ-tis) which means “persuasion, i.e. credence; moral conviction (of religious truth, or the truthfulness of God or a religious teacher), especially reliance upon Christ for salvation…Pistis is conviction of the truth of anything, belief; of a conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervor born of faith and joined in it. It is related to God with the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ; to Christ with a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God” (G4102). Thus, it could be said that John not only saw and believed (John 20:8), but John saw and was saved.

The difference between what happened to the others and what happened to John when he entered the tomb and saw that Jesus’ body was gone had to do with the way each person perceived the situation. John’s knowledge of what happened was affected by his close relationship with Jesus. John referred to himself as, “the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved” (John 20:2), indicating that there was affection and a personal attachment between Jesus and John. Peter’s denial of Jesus may have caused him to be detached or skeptical that Jesus still loved him. It’s possible that John wanted to see Jesus again, so much that he was willing to accept even the slightest evidence that he had indeed risen from the dead. What seemed to be obvious to John that was not to Mary or Peter was that the linen cloths had been left behind. If someone had moved Jesus’ body, it wouldn’t make sense for whoever did it to unwrap the dead body before taking it away. Likewise, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, “The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with the linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth” (John 11:44). The fact that the linen cloths that had encased Jesus’ body were lying inside the tomb and the body wasn’t there made it seem as if Jesus’ body had disappeared into thin air.

Unbelievable things can and do happen. Whether you think of it as a miracle or just something that has never happened before, the fact that something appears to be impossible doesn’t mean that it couldn’t happen. In a similar sense, something that has actually happened may not be believed because it seems impossible. The many miracles that Jesus performed were intended to build his disciples confidence in his ability to do things that had either never happened before or were considered to be impossible from a human standpoint. When God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, he did it through many signs and wonders (Exodus 7:3). Moses’ first encounter with God involved a great sight, a bush that was burning, but was not consumed (Exodus 3:2). When the LORD saw that Moses turned aside to see, “God called to him out of the bush” (Exodus 3:4). During the conversation that followed, God told Moses that he was going to give him powerful signs so that the people would believe that he had appeared to him. Exodus 4:1-9 states:

Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. But the Lord said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand— “that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” Again, the Lord said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.”

In spite of the many signs and wonders that God did, the Israelites didn’t believe that they could overcome the people that were dwelling in the land that God had promised to give them. The whole congregation grumbled against Moses and asked, “Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” (Numbers 14:3). After wandering in the wilderness for forty years, Moses encouraged the Israelites to believe they were finally ready to conquer the inhabitants of the land. Moses used the defeat of King Og as an example of their assured victory. Moses said:

“Then we turned and went up the way to Bashan. And Og the king of Bashan came out against us, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei. But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not fear him, for I have given him and all his people and his land into your hand. And you shall do to him as you did to Sihon the king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.’So the Lord our God gave into our hand Og also, the king of Bashan, and all his people, and we struck him down until he had no survivor left. And we took all his cities at that time—there was not a city that we did not take from them—sixty cities, the whole region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan. All these were cities fortified with high walls, gates, and bars, besides very many unwalled villages. And we devoted them to destruction, as we did to Sihon the king of Heshbon, devoting to destruction every city, men, women, and children. But all the livestock and the spoil of the cities we took as our plunder. So we took the land at that time out of the hand of the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, from the Valley of the Arnon to Mount Hermon (the Sidonians call Hermon Sirion, while the Amorites call it Senir), all the cities of the tableland and all Gilead and all Bashan, as far as Salecah and Edrei, cities of the kingdom of Og in Bashan. (For only Og the king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. Behold, his bed was a bed of iron. Is it not in Rabbah of the Ammonites? Nine cubits was its length, and four cubits its breadth, according to the common cubit) (Deuteronomy 3:1-11)

Moses’ comment about all the cities that were destroyed being fortified with high walls, gates, and bars and the huge size of Og the king of Bashan was directly related to the report that was given when the land was spied out 40 years earlier (Numbers 13:26-33). Moses concluded his account with a reminder that he was being punished for the Israelites unbelief. Moses had pleaded with the LORD, saying, “Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon” (Deuteronomy 3:25)  But, Moses said, the LORD was angry with him because of the people’s lack of faith and would not listen to him (Deuteronomy 3:26).

The Hebrew word that is translated angry in Deuteronomy 3:26, ʿabar (aw-barˊ) means “to cross over” and is used very widely of any transition. The word ʿabar also “communicates the idea of transgression, or crossing over the boundary of right and entering the forbidden land of the wrong” (H5674). One way of looking at the LORD’s anger was that it was an indicator that Moses had gone too far. Moses was no longer capable of completing his assignment of leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land. Rather than blaming his failure on the Israelites, it might be fair to say that Moses himself lacked faith when it came time for him to put his trust in Christ. The incident that caused Moses to be excluded from the Promised Land involved the glory of the LORD appearing to Moses and Aaron (Numbers 20:6) and an instruction from the LORD to “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water” (Numbers 20:8). According to 1 Corinthians 10:4, the Rock was Christ. The verse states regarding the Israelites, “All drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” After the incident, the LORD told Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12).

The connection between crossing over and believing in the Lord may be a matter of transitioning from the physical to the spiritual realm. Mary, who saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb (John 20:1) and came to the conclusion that “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:2) later came to the realization that the man she thought was the gardener was actually Jesus (John 20:16). The shift in Mary’s perception seemed to take place as a result of her hearing the Lord speak her name. John 20:11-18 states:

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

Mary saw Jesus standing before her, but she didn’t know that it was him at first. The Greek word that is translated saw in John 20:14 is the same word that John used to describe Peter’s investigation of the empty tomb (John 20:6-7). When Mary said, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18), a different word was used. The Greek word horao (hor-ahˊ-o) does not emphasize the mere act of seeing, but the actual perception of some object…Particularly, to see God, meaning to know Him, be acquainted with Him, know His character…In a wider sense: to see God, i.e. to be admitted to his presence, to enjoy his fellowship and special favor” (G3708). Jesus emphasized in his conversation with the woman of Samaria that “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Mary’s declaration, “I have seen the Lord (John 20:18) was an act of worship and evidence that she had transitioned from relying on her physical perception to the use of spiritual discernment.

The Apostle Thomas’ refusal to believe unless he saw the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands and placed his hand into his side (John 20:25) makes it clear to us that we can choose to believe or not believe if we want to. Jesus came to Thomas and said, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27). The Greek word that is translated disbelieve, apistos (apˊis-tos) is spoken of things “incredible, unbelievable” and is also spoken of persons who withhold belief or are “incredulous, distrustful” (G571). In Thomas’ case it meant that he had not yet been saved. Thomas’ response indicates that he did put his trust in the Lord (John 20:28). Jesus asked Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen (horao) me?” (John 20:29). I think what Jesus meant by that question was that faith is not a result of physical evidence and so Thomas didn’t need to put his finger in Jesus’ hands or place his hand into the hole in Jesus’ side in order to put his trust in him. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

John stated that the purpose of his gospel was “so that you may believe” (John 20:31). John said, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). John identified the essential truth that you need to believe in order to receive salvation, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The reason why John zeroed in on this one critical point was because if you don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God, nothing else matters. The Apostle Paul explains this further in Romans chapter eight where he says that salvation is dependent upon us being a member of God’s family and receiving our inheritance through Christ. Paul said, “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit…The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs—of God and fellow heirs with Christ…And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:3-29).

Missing the mark

The Israelites journey from Egypt to the Promised Land was not a long one from a geographical standpoint. Deuteronomy 1:2 tells us, “It is eleven days journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea.” And yet, the Israelites didn’t reach their destination until forty years later (Deuteronomy 1:3). Moses’ review of the Israelites’ journey made it clear that it was God’s will for the people to take possession of the land immediately. Moses said:

“The Lord our God said to us in Horeb, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, in the hill country and in the lowland and in the Negeb and by the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. See, I have set the land before you. Go in and take possession of the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their offspring after them.’” (Deuteronomy 1:6-8)

The statement, I have set the land before you meant that God had already transferred ownership of the land to the Israelites; but the catch, so to speak, was that in order to live in the land, the people of Israel had to drive out the previous tenants and possess it in their place (H3423). Moses’ account of Israel’s refusal to enter the land is recorded in Deuteronomy 1:19-33. It states:

“Then we set out from Horeb and went through all that great and terrifying wilderness that you saw, on the way to the hill country of the Amorites, as the Lord our God commanded us. And we came to Kadesh-barnea. And I said to you, ‘You have come to the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. See, the Lord your God has set the land before you. Go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has told you. Do not fear or be dismayed.’ Then all of you came near me and said, ‘Let us send men before us, that they may explore the land for us and bring us word again of the way by which we must go up and the cities into which we shall come.’ The thing seemed good to me, and I took twelve men from you, one man from each tribe. And they turned and went up into the hill country, and came to the Valley of Eshcol and spied it out. And they took in their hands some of the fruit of the land and brought it down to us, and brought us word again and said, ‘It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.’ Yet you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. And you murmured in your tents and said, ‘Because the Lord hated us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. Where are we going up? Our brothers have made our hearts melt, saying, “The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified up to heaven. And besides, we have seen the sons of the Anakim there.”’ Then I said to you, ‘Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the Lord your God, who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go.”

Moses encouraged the Israelites to not be afraid and to trust that God would fight for them, but ultimately he concluded that the people of Israel didn’t believe what God had told them (Deuteronomy 1:32). Moses used the Hebrew word derek (deh’-rek) three times to emphasize the fact that God was directing the Israelites’ course (Deuteronomy 1:31, 33) and was setting them up for success, not failure, but the people were determined to go back to their former lives of slavery in Egypt (Numbers 14:3-4).

Moses told the people, “And the LORD heard your words and was angered, and he swore, ‘Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give your fathers…And as for your little ones, who you said would become prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it. But as for you, turn, and journey into the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea.’ Then you answered me, ‘we have sinned against the LORD'” (Deuteronomy 1:34-41). The Hebrew word that is translated sinned is chata’ (khaw-taw’). Four main Hebrew words express the idea of sin in the Hebrew Bible, with this word used most often. Its central meaning is to miss the mark or fail. It is used in a nonmoral or nonreligious sense to indicate the simple idea of missing or failing in any task or endeavor. In Judges 20:16, it indicated the idea of a slinger missing the target…The word is used the most to describe human failure and sin. It indicates failure to do what is expected” (H2398).

John the Baptist introduced Jesus to the world with the statement, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The Greek word that John used that is translated sin, hamartia (ham-ar-tee’-ah) is derived from the word hamartano (ham-ar-tan’-o) which means “to miss the mark, swerve from the way.” Metaphorically, hamartano means “to err, swerve from the truth, go wrong; speaking of errors of doctrine or faith” (G264). Jesus described himself as “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). In a metaphorical sense, what Jesus meant by this statement was that following him would result in spiritual success, hitting the mark so to speak. The Greek word that is translated way, hodos (hod-os’) means “a road; (by implication) a progress (the route)” and in John 14:6 hodos is “spoken by metonymy of Jesus as the way, i.e. the author and medium of access to God and eternal life” (G3598).

Jesus’ true identity was a questioned throughout his ministry. At one point, there was a division among the people because no one was willing to openly declare their allegiance to him. John 7:40-52 states:

When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”

The Pharisees question, “Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him?” implied that none of the religious leaders were followers of Christ, and yet, Nicodemus “was one of them” (John 7:48, 50). “When Nicodemus urged the other Pharisees to consider Christ’s words before determining whether he spoke the truth, they sought to discredit him” (note on John 7:52). The Greek word that is translated believed, pisteuo (pist-yoo’-o) means “to have faith” (G4100). When pisteuo is used of God, it means “to believe in God, to trust in Him as able and willing to help and answer prayer.”

The fact that none of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in Jesus, or at least were unwilling to admit it, indicates that for the most part the Jews no longer had a relationship with God. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the Jews wanted to get rid of Jesus (John 12:9-11), but there were some who believed, and Jesus told them, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). To be set free means that you are liberated or exempt from punishment. The specific kind of freedom that Jesus was talking about was freedom from “the power and punishment of sin, the result of redemption (John 8:32, 36; Romans 6:18, 22)” (G1659). The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “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” (Romans 3:23-25).

Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve apostles that Jesus chose to be a part of his ministry, was excused from the upper room shortly after Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. John tells us:

After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. (John 13:21-30)

We aren’t told why Judas decided to betray Jesus. The only thing we know for sure is that Satan entered Judas before he left the upper room. The reason why Satan was able to possess Judas was because according to Jesus, he wasn’t clean (John 13:10-11). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated clean, katharos (kath-ar-os’) is associated with spiritual rebirth (G3824) and suggests that Judas wasn’t born again. Jesus told his Father, “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me, I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12).

Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit played a role in the judgment of sin. Jesus said, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:7-11). Jesus referred to Satan as the ruler of this world, but also noted that his judgment had already taken place. Jesus went on to say, “I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus was able to declare his victory over the world even before he died on the cross because he lived a sinless life. Isaiah 53:4-12 indicates that Jesus’ death was intended to pay the penalty for our sins, not his own. It states:

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors.

“The words ‘transgression’ (vv. 5, 8), ‘iniquity’ (vv. 6,11), ‘offering’ (v. 10), and ‘sin’ (v.12) clearly indicate that Christ died for the disease of man’s soul, not the disease of his body. Jesus’ death on the cross delivers man from sin. Deliverance from sickness is yet to come (Revelation 21:6)” (note on Isaiah 53:4-12). According to Isaiah 53:12, Jesus bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. The Hebrew word that is translated intercession, paga’ (paw-gah’) suggests that Jesus is still in the process of aggressively pursuing people that have missed the mark (H6293).

Peter’s denial of Christ is an example of how far we sometimes go to distance ourselves from the God that died in order to save us (John 18:15-18, 25-27). When Pilate asked Jesus what he had done to make the Jews want to kill him, Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36). Jesus wanted Pilate to be aware that another realm existed besides the physical realm. The Greek word that is translated world, kosmos (kos’-mos) means “orderly arrangement, i.e. decoration.” When Jesus said, My kingdom is not of this world, he wasn’t talking about our planet. He was talking about “the present order of things, as opposed to the kingdom of Christ…Specifically: the wealth and enjoyments of this world, this life’s goods” (G2889). Jesus also said, My kingdom is not from this world. The Greek word that is translated from, enteuthen (ent-yoo’-then) means “on both sides” (G1782). In other words, Jesus’ dominion is not limited to a single realm (G932).

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul talked about success in the Christian life in the context of winning a prize. Paul said, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). The Greek word Paul used that is translated mark, skeptomai is where the word skeptic comes from. It means, “to look about” (G4649). I believe the point that Paul was trying to make was that we need to be clear about the mark in order to not miss it. We can’t just wander aimlessly through life and expect to achieve God’s purpose for it. Paul said that we must present ourselves to God “as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:13-14). Paul indicated that sin has no dominion over believers, but like the Israelites who had to drive out the previous tenants of the Promised Land and possess it in their place, we have to present ourselves to God or rather, yield ourselves to God in order for him to be able to use us to accomplish his will.

Spiritual unity

Jesus spent the last night of his life celebrating Passover with the twelve apostles that had been a part of his three year ministry on earth and who were expected to carry on his ministry after his death. During what is now referred to as the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus focused his apostles’ attention on the essential elements of spiritual life. Jesus began with a reminder that his followers would spend eternity with him in a place that he was going to prepare for them (John 14:1-3) and then, went on to say that a Helper would come and remain with them forever (John 14:16). Jesus said of the Helper, “You know him for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). Jesus’ statement that the Holy Spirit would dwell with his apostles and be in them was an indicator that they were going to be united with God in a way that was not possible before. Speaking of the day when his disciples would receive the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20). The Greek word that is translated in, en (en) denotes a fixed position. “Christ is in the believer and vice versa, in consequence of faith in Him (John 6:56; 14:20; 15:4, 5; 17:23, 26; Romans 8:9; Galatians 2:20).” En also refers to “the believer’s union with God (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 John 2:24; 3:6, 24; 4:13, 15, 16)” and “of the mutual union of God and Christ (John 10:38; 14:10, 11, 20),” as well as, “of the Holy Spirit in Christians (John 14:17; Romans 8:9, 11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19)” (G1722).

Jesus’ explanation of how spiritual unity works included the example of a vine and branches. Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). The phrase “bears much fruit” refers to the visible expression of power working inwardly and invisibly (G2590) that causes believers to act not according to their own wills, “but expressing the mind of God in words provided and ministered by Him” (G5342). Jesus used the term fruit in numerous illustrations of both good and bad types of spiritual activity. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated, “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20).

The Apostle Paul talked about the fruit of the Spirit in the context of walking and keeping in step with the Spirit and contrasted it with the works of the flesh. Paul stated:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16-26)

The Greek word Paul used that is translated keep in step, stoicheo (stoy-khehˊ-o) means “to march, in (military) rank” and is used “in an exhortation to keep step with one another in submission of heart to the Holy Spirit, and therefore of keeping step with Christ, the great means of unity and harmony in the church” (G4748).

Jesus expressed his concern that his apostles would abandon him and become disconnected from each another. After he told them that he was leaving the world and going to his Father, the apostles claimed to be solid in their faith, but Jesus warned them, “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:32-33). The Greek word that is translated tribulation, thlipsis (thlipˊ-sis) means “pressure…anything which burdens the spirit” (G2347). Jesus indicated that the pressure of their circumstances would cause the apostles to be scattered, to leave him alone (John 16:32). Therefore, Jesus prayed that God would keep them and that they would be one, even as Jesus and his Father are one (John 17:11).

Jesus’ high priestly prayer began with an acknowledgement that it was time for him to complete his mission. Jesus prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:1-3). Knowing God is an essential part of being united with Him. Jesus equated knowing God with eternal life. The Greek word that is translated know, ginosko (ghin-oce’-ko) in a beginning sense means to come to know, to gain or receive a knowledge of someone. In a completed sense, ginosko means to know and approve or love, to care for someone (G1097). The reason why Jesus equated eternal life with knowing God may have been because God is the source of eternal life and therefore having a connection with him is critical for life to be perpetuated. In the Greek language, life eternal “is equivalent to entrance into the kingdom of God” (G166).

In his prayer to his Father, Jesus openly declared:

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me that they may be one, even as we are one. (John 17:9-11)

Jesus’ request that his Father keep the disciples had to do with him keeping an eye on them. Because he was leaving the world and would no longer be physically present with them, Jesus wanted his disciples to be protected from the negative influence that the world had on their relationship with him and the evil forces that would try to distance them from each other. Jesus asked that “they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11). The one that Jesus was speaking of was an emphatic one, meaning “one and the same” (G1520). The Apostle Paul talked about the oneness of believers in Christ in the context of being a body with many members. Paul said:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:1-5)

The Greek word that Paul used that is translated body in Romans 12:4-5 is soma (so’-mah) which refers to the body “as a sound whole” as well as “an organized whole made up of parts and members” (G4983). Paul indicated that each member had a function or “practice” (G4234) in the sense of something that is performed “repeatedly or habitually” (G4238). Paul said, “So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5). The idea that Paul was trying to convey was that believers should not think of themselves as being independent of each other, but as a single entity that is dependent upon each and every part that functions within it.

Jesus’ request that his followers would be one (John 17:11) was not about them being brought together, but the need for God to keep them from breaking apart. The same problem existed when the children of Israel took possession of the Promised Land. The Israelites inherited the land by lot according to their clans (Numbers 33:54) and were expected to occupy the same land continuously throughout their generations. Special provisions were made for the Levites who were not given any land of their own to possess (Numbers 35:2-3) and for men that didn’t have any sons to pass their inheritance to (Numbers 36:2), but ultimately, the families had to stay intact in order for them to remain in the place that they had been assigned to live. Numbers 36:6-9 states:

This is what the Lord commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad: ‘Let them marry whom they think best, only they shall marry within the clan of the tribe of their father. The inheritance of the people of Israel shall not be transferred from one tribe to another, for every one of the people of Israel shall hold on to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. And every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the people of Israel shall be wife to one of the clan of the tribe of her father, so that every one of the people of Israel may possess the inheritance of his fathers. So no inheritance shall be transferred from one tribe to another, for each of the tribes of the people of Israel shall hold on to its own inheritance.’” (Numbers 36:6-9)

The Israelites’ inheritance locked them into a particular geographic location within the nation’s boundaries. As long as the family members followed the rules of marriage and didn’t transfer possession of their land to an outsider, the Israelite community remained intact, but over the years, ownership changed (1 Kings 21:3-16) and possession of the land was eventually lost all together (2 Kings 25:1-12). When the exiles returned to the land after being held captive in Babylon for 70 years, only a remnant of the tribes of Israel came back and they occupied a very small portion of the land that was originally given to the Israelites (Ezra 2, Nehemiah 3).

Jesus told his Father that he had kept all of them that had been given to him while he was in the world and said, “I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12). Jesus’ reference to none of his disciples being lost except the son of destruction was related to his message about the vine and branches. Jesus said, “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6). The critical point that Jesus was focusing his apostles’ attention on was the state of abiding or not abiding in him. Abiding in Christ means that we are remaining in a particular state or condition. The state that believers must maintain is holiness. Jesus talked about this in a conversation with Peter when he was washing his disciples feet. John 13:6-11 states:

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

“Jesus did not say, ‘you have no share in me’ (en [1722] emoi), which would indicate Peter lacked salvation, but ‘you have no share with me‘ (met’ [3326] emou), meaning Peter would have no communion and fellowship with him. Christians need constant cleansing and renewal if they are to remain in fellowship with God” (note on John 13:8). Regeneration has two distinct parts; paliggenesia (pal-ing-ghen-es-eeˊ-ah) “(spiritual) rebirth” and anakainosis (an-ak-ahˊ-ee-no-sis) “renovation.” “Anakainosis (G342) is the result of paliggenesia. The paliggenesia 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 that act by which God brings him from death to life. In the act itself (rather than the preparations for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth. Anakainosis, by contrast, is 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” (G3824).

Jesus used the Greek word katharos (kath’-ar-os), which is translated clean, to signify that someone has been saved. The Apostle Paul identified the ongoing process that Christian’s go through of being cleansed from their sins as sanctification. The Greek word hagiasmos (hag-ee-as-mos’), which is properly translated as purification “refers not only to the activity of the Holy Spirit in setting man apart unto salvation and transferring him into the ranks of the redeemed, but also to enabling him to be holy even as God is holy (2 Thessalonians 2:13)” (G38). Jesus prayed to his Father, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:15-19). Jesus asked that God would sanctify his followers in the truth. What Jesus meant by truth was the divine truth, “what is true in itself, purity from all error or falsehood…In the New Testament especially, divine truth or the faith and practice of the true religion is called ‘truth’ either as being true in itself and derived from the true God, or as declaring the existence and will of the one true God, in opposition to the worship of false idols” (G225). Thus, when we read and study the Bible, the process of sanctification is taking place.

Jesus extended the scope of his prayer to include all the people that would eventually come to believe in him as a result of his gospel message being spread throughout the world. Jesus prayed:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20-23)

Jesus asked that “they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us” and “that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:21, 23). Jesus associated becoming perfectly one with being loved by God the Father. The Greek words that are translated become perfectly one have to do with the end result or final outcome of sanctification. What the process of sanctification is actually doing is making all believers into one person, what Paul referred to as the body of Christ (Romans 12:5) of which Jesus is the head (Colossians 1:18).

The King James Version of the Bible translates the phrase become perfectly one as “may be made perfect in one” (John 17:23). The Greek word that is translated made perfect, teleioo (tel-i-o’-o) which means “To complete, make perfect by reaching the intended goal…particularly with the meaning to bring to a full end, completion” was used by Jesus in John 17:4 where he said “I have finished the work” and by Paul in his letter to the Philippians to convey the result of completing his ministry. Paul said, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14). The goal that I believe Paul was referring to in this verse was spiritual unity, the body of Christ becoming perfectly one as a result of everyone being saved and sanctified according to God’s predetermined plan (Ephesians 1:4-5).

The journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus told his disciples:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our spiritual destination

The unbelief of the people caused Jesus to be deeply distressed the night before he was crucified. As he prepared his disciples and himself for his crucifixion, Jesus openly declared his mission to save the world. John 12:44-50 states:

Jesus shouted to the crowds, “If you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me. For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me. I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken. I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it. And I know his commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say.” (John 12:44-50, NLT)

In the upper room, after he had washed his disciples’ feet, Jesus talked about the transition that was going to take place and how he would be denied by Peter. Jesus said:

“Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” (John 13:33-38)

Jesus’ twelve disciples had been in constant contact with him since they had been called to follow him, so the news that they were going to be physically separated from him was probably shocking to them. Peter in particular was struggling to comprehend why Jesus would distance himself from the men he had spent so much time with. Jesus made it clear that he was going to a place that his disciples did not have access to, but they would be able to join him again at some point in the future. Jesus told Peter, “You will follow afterward” (John 13:36).

The Greek phrase, “you cannot come” (John 13:33) has to do with ability and suggests that Jesus was talking about physical capability rather than spiritual capability when he told Peter, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now” (John 13:36). The Greek words dunamai (dooˊ-nam-ahee) ouch (ookh), which are translated cannot, could also be translated as impossible in the sense of physical limitations preventing something from happening. “Dunamai means to be able, to have power, whether by virtue of one’s own ability and resources (Romans 15:14); or through a state of mind, or through favorable circumstances” (G1410) and ouch is “the absolute negative” (G3756) Jesus used the words dunamai ouch when he told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Jesus went on to explain why his disciples could not follow him at the present time. He said:

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.” “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” (John 14:1-7, NLT).

Jesus said that he was going to prepare a place for his disciples. The Greek word that is translated place, topos (topˊ-os) “is used of a specific ‘region’ or ‘locality’…Topos is a place, indefinite; a portion of space viewed in reference to its occupancy, or as appropriated to itself” (G5117). Jesus indicated that the place he was going to needed to be prepared for his disciples, suggesting that heaven is currently a work in progress and that Jesus will not return to Earth until it is completed. It seems likely that Jesus’ preparation of heaven is linked to the continuation of his ministry here on earth. Luke’s account of Jesus’ ascension, which appears in both the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, includes a reference in the latter version to the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. Luke wrote, “So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ 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. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:6-11). Jesus told his disciples that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. The Greek word that is translated power, dunamis (dooˊ-nam-is) is derived from the word dunamai and refers specifically to “miraculous power (usually by implication a miracle itself)” (G1411). Jesus’ sudden departure immediately after he told his disciples about the power of the Holy Spirit seems to suggest that our spiritual destination is being prepared for us based on our participation in the work of the Holy Spirit.

Prior to Jesus’ ministry, no one expected to go to heaven when they died. The people of Israel thought that after the resurrection, they would spend eternity on Earth (John 11:24). God had said that he would give Abraham and his descendants the land of Canaan as an eternal possession. It says in Genesis 13:14-15, “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.’” The Hebrew word that is translated place, mᵉqomah (mek-o-mahˊ) is similar to the Greek word that Jesus used when he talked about going to prepare a place for his disciples. Mᵉqomah is derived from the word quwm (koom). “Sometimes quwm is used in an intensive mood to signify empowering or strengthening…It is also used to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (G6965). When the Israelites reached the border of the Promised Land, after wandering in the desert for 40 years, they were instructed to divide up the land and to distribute it by lot (Numbers 33:54). The Hebrew word goral (go-ralˊ) “means ‘lot.’ Goral represents the ‘lot’ which was cast to discover the will of God in a given situation…In an extended use the word goral represents the idea ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’…Since God is viewed as controlling all things absolutely, the result of the casting of the ‘lot’ is divinely controlled…Thus, providence (divine control of history) is frequently figured as one’s ‘lot’” (H1486).

Rather than waiting until they crossed the Jordan River to receive their inheritance, the people of Reuben and Gad asked Moses to give them the land that had already been conquered on the east side of the river (Numbers 32:1-5). Moses’ response to their request is recorded in Numbers 32:6-15. It states:

But Moses said to the people of Gad and to the people of Reuben, “Shall your brothers go to the war while you sit here? Why will you discourage the heart of the people of Israel from going over into the land that the Lord has given them? Your fathers did this, when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land. For when they went up to the Valley of Eshcol and saw the land, they discouraged the heart of the people of Israel from going into the land that the Lord had given them. And the Lord’s anger was kindled on that day, and he swore, saying, ‘Surely none of the men who came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, because they have not wholly followed me, none except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have wholly followed the Lord.’ And the Lord’s anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the Lord was gone. And behold, you have risen in your fathers’ place, a brood of sinful men, to increase still more the fierce anger of the Lord against Israel! For if you turn away from following him, he will again abandon them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all this people.”

The people of Reuben and Gad assured Moses that they intended to do their part to establish the nation of Israel. They said, “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place. And our little ones shall live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance” (Numbers 32:16-18).

The thing that is clear from the situation with the people of Reuben and Gad was that all of the children of Israel were required to cross the Jordan River and to participate in the conquest of the land of Canaan. Everyone had to be brought to their place before the assignment of taking possession of the land was considered to be complete. In a similar way, Christians are expected to participate in spiritual activities during their lives on earth. Paul wrote to the Ephesians about the ongoing spiritual conflict that is happening both in heaven and on earth. Paul encouraged them to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12). Paul indicated that spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places are fighting against believers in order to stop them from reaching their spiritual destination. The only way we can defeat the devil is by relying on the power of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14).

When Jesus told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them, Thomas argued that they didn’t know where he was going, so how could they get there? Jesus told him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:5-6) and then, Jesus went on to tell Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:9-10). The Greek word that is translated dwells, meno (menˊ-o) speaks “of place, i.e. of a person dwelling or lodging in a place, with the meaning of staying in one place” and “of relation in which one person or thing stands with another, chiefly in John’s writings; thus to remain in or with someone, i.e. to be and remain united with him, one with him in heart, mind, and will (John 6:56; 14:10; 15:4-7; 1 John 2:6; 3:24; 4:15, 16)” (G3306). Jesus’ reference to his Father dwelling in him was meant to convey a spiritual union that takes precedence over physical limitations.

Jesus continued his explanation of how we will reach our spiritual destination by talking about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

Jesus said that the Helper would dwell with us forever and would be in us in the same way that his Father was in him. The Greek word parakletos (par-akˊ-lay-tos) means “a comforter, bestowing spiritual aid and consolation, spoken of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7)” (G3875).

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a critical element of spiritual life and growth, but as the Helper, He also plays an important role in what is thought of as the journey that all Christians must make to reach the place that Jesus is preparing for them in heaven. The fact that the Holy Spirit dwells with us and is in us indicates that the traveling we must do is of an internal rather than an external nature. Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). The Greek word that is translated home in this verse is the same word that is translated rooms in John 14:2 where it says “in my Father’s house are many rooms.” It could be that the preparation Jesus was talking about when he said, “I go to prepare a place for you” is not going on in heaven, but is going on inside us while we are living on earth. It is our physical separation from Christ that causes us to listen to the Holy Spirit’s voice inside us. If Jesus was physically with us, we would have no need to develop that skill. Jesus said that he and his Father would come to us and make their home with us (John 14:23), suggesting that the place Jesus is preparing for us is also of an internal rather than an external nature. Luke 17:20-21 states, “Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ”See here!” or “See there!” For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you’” (NKJV).

Jesus told his disciples, “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:25-27, NKJV). The Greek word that is translated present in John 14:25 is the same word that is translated dwells in John 14:10 and 14:17. Jesus likened the spiritual union he had with his Father and the spiritual union we have with the Holy Spirit to him being physically present with his disciples. In that sense, we’re never separated from Jesus because when we are born again, the Holy Spirit makes our hearts his permanent home (John 3:5-6; 14:16). John clarified in his first epistle that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is not only the same as Jesus being physically being present with the believer, but also the same as us being with God in Heaven. John said, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:13-16).