Us and them

The Apostle John’s first epistle began with a declaration that made it clear that God had become a part of the physical realm in which we live. John referred to Jesus as “the word of life” (1 John 1:1) and said, “The life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us” (1 John 1:2). John stated that the life was made manifest to us. John used a plural form of the Greek word ego (eg-o’) to refer to the people that the life was made manifest to. From a psychoanalysis point of view, the ego is “the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity” (Oxford Languages). It seems likely that the “us” that John was referring to in 1 John 1:2 were all of the people that believed in Jesus Christ, but he may have been thinking about everyone that Jesus interacted with during his ministry on earth. The Greek word that is translated manifest, phaneroo (fan-er-o’-o) means to “show oneself openly, to appear” (G5319). John said, “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us” (1 John 1:3). John’s first epistle was written to a group of people that were all considered to be believers. The fellowship that John wanted these people to have wasn’t just the fellowship of salvation, but a fellowship that had to do with Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (1 John 1:2).

One of the key aspects of God’s promise to Abraham was that his descendants would possess the land that he was giving them forever. Genesis 13:14-15 states:

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 forever in this passage is owlam (o-lawm’), which is properly translated as “concealed, i.e. the vanishing point; (generally) time out of mind (past or future), i.e. (practical) eternity” (H5769). Before Jacob died, he told his son Joseph about the encounter he had with God Almighty. Genesis 48:3-4 states:

And Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’”

Jacob believed that he would live in the Promised Land after he was resurrected from the dead. He commanded his sons to take his body back to the land of Canaan and told them, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite…which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place” (Genesis 49:29-30).

After they were taken into exile in Babylon, the prophet Ezekiel was given a vision of the Israelite’s resurrection from the dead. Ezekiel had his vision in a place that was called the Valley of Dry Bones. Ezekiel 37:11-14 states:

Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”

The resurrection from the dead was originally thought to be something that only the descendants of Abraham would participate in. Jesus clarified this misconception in his teaching about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 25:31-34).

Jesus’ described the people that were gathered before the Son of Man as “all the nations” (Matthew 25:32) and made it clear that all people, not just the Israelites, would be involved in what the book of Revelation refers to as the Great White Throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15) that takes place after Satan’s defeat. Jesus’ distinction between the sheep and the goats indicated that there would be a separation of people into two groups during the final judgment based on their actions toward him and his followers. John emphasized this distinction in his gospel message. John said:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)

John indicated that we can either walk in darkness or walk in the light and if we walk in the light, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. Walking in darkness is “spoken figuratively of persons in a state of moral darkness, wicked men under the influence of Satan” (G4655). The Greek word that is translated light in 1 John 1:7, phos (foce) is used figuratively of “moral and spiritual light and knowledge which enlightens the mind, soul or conscience; including the idea of moral goodness, purity and holiness, and of consequent reward and happiness” (G5457). John said, “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7, emphasis mine).

In his first epistle, John went on to say, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the world” (1 John 2:1-2). Even though he distinguished between people that were walking in the light and walking in darkness, John didn’t look at the propitiation of sins from an us and them perspective. John said that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, “and not ours only but also for the sins of the world” (1 John 2:2). Propitiation is “that which appeases anger and brings reconciliation with someone who has reason to be angry with one” (G2434). Jesus reconciled everyone to God when he died on the cross for the sins of the world, but it has no effect on me personally unless I accept Jesus Christ’s death as payment for my sins and I believe that I have been reconciled to God because my sins have been forgiven by him.

John identified the key to having a relationship with God. He said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). “To ‘confess’ (homologeo [3670]) means to agree with God that sin has been committed. Even though Christ’s death satisfied God’s wrath toward the believer’s sin (1 John 2:1, 2), the inclination to sin still remains within man (vv. 8, 10). Therefore he must realize the need to continue in a right relationship with God by confession of sin. God grants forgiveness in accordance with his ‘faithful and just’ nature” (note on John 1:9). Like Jesus, John distinguished between believers and unbelievers by the evidence of their actions. John said:

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:3-6)

John said that we ought to walk in the same way that Jesus walked. The Greek word that is translated ought, opheilo (of-i’-lo) is derived from the word ophelos (of’-el-os) which means “to heap up, i.e. accumulate or benefit” (G3786). The idea behind these words is that we have become indebted to Christ because of what he did for us on the cross and therefore, we are obligated to do what he tells us to. Jesus told his disciples, “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” (John 13:34-35). Jesus provided further clarification about our relationship to him in his illustration of the vine and the branches (John 15:1-11), and went on to say:

“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. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 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 15:12-17)

John elaborated on Jesus’ commandment to love one another by including a reference to the true light. John said:

Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:7-11, emphasis mine)

John’s distinction between walking in the light and walking in darkness was made even more clear-cut when he said “the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8). What John meant by that was that Jesus’ commandment to love one another had already been put into effect and had become the deciding factor of whether or not a spiritual birth had actually taken place. John said, “Whoever loves his brother abides in the light…but whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness” (1 John 2:10-11). John also pointed out that someone that is in the darkness doesn’t know where he is going, “because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:11). In other words, the unbeliever doesn’t know that he’s not saved. It’s only after we accept Jesus as our Savior that we become aware of the fact that we have been living in sin.

The Levitical Law described being in the darkness as being unclean. The Hebrew word tame (taw-may’) means to be foul, especially in a ceremonial sense. “The main idea of the action was that of contaminating or corrupting, especially in the sight of God. The Levitical Law often spoke in terms of sexual, religious, or ceremonial uncleanness. Any object or individual who was not clean could not be acceptable to the Holy God of Israel” (H2930). The things that caused a person to become unclean were described as depravity, perversion, and abominable customs that were practiced by the people that were living in the land of Canaan before the Israelites took possession of it. Leviticus 18:1-5 states:

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.

God clarified his expectations of the Israelites by stating, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2) and then, he summarized his commandments with two statements that were linked to Jesus’ new commandment. God said:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD…You shall treat the stranger who sojourns among you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:18, 34).

The Hebrew word that was used to describe the way the Israelites were expected to love their neighbors was the same word that God used when he commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Genesis 22:2 states, “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 shall tell you’” (emphasis mine). This seems to suggest that God wanted the Israelites to love their neighbors with the kind of deep abiding affection that would motivate them to do whatever God asked of them so that their neighbors could be blessed by God.

God indicated that he had separated the Israelites from the rest of the nations because he wanted to have a relationship with them (Leviticus 20:26). The significant distinction God made between the people of Israel and the peoples and nations around them was a reflection of the creation story in which God produced a separation between light and darkness (Genesis 1:4, [H914]). This may have been why John chose the analogy of walking in the light and walking in darkness as a mark of distinction between followers of Christ and followers of Satan. John cautioned believers to “not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15) and said, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:16-17). Then, John warned his readers concerning the antichrists that would try to deceive them about Jesus’ teaching. John said:

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:18-23)

John made it clear that the deciding factor between us (followers of Christ) and them (followers of Satan) is a belief that Jesus is the Christ. John indicated that we know the truth because of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. John said, “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true” (1 John 2:27). In other words, the communication and reception of the Holy Spirit is a permanent source of consecration for the believer. The Holy Spirit makes us aware of everything we need to know about God and is a reliable source of information because God specifically sent Him to us to remind us of Jesus’ teaching (John 14:26).

Our weaknesses

Jesus’ ministry on earth involved a lot of miracles that were intended to persuade the children of Israel that their Messiah had finally arrived. Matthew’s gospel linked one incident in particular to a prophecy that verified this aspect of Jesus’ ministry. Matthew stated:

And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother laid, and sick of a fever. And he touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them. When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses. (Matthew 8:14-17, KJV)

The Greek word that is translated infirmities, astheneia (as-then’-i-ah) is typically used in reference to different types of physical ailments, but the primary implication of this word is moral frailty or weakness (G769). A word that is related to astheneia is asthenema (as-then’-ay-mah). “This word is found in the plural in Romans 15:1, ‘infirmities,’ i.e., those scruples which arise through weakness of faith. The strong must support the infirmities of the weak (adunatos) by submitting to self-restraint” (G771). From this standpoint, Jesus taking our infirmities upon himself means that his moral strength makes it possible for us to live godly lives. Paul talked about this in his final warnings to the Corinthians. Paul said:

I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them—since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. (2 Corinthians 13:2-4)

Paul contrasted Christ’s human weakness with the power of God in order to point out that we have the same weaknesses that he did as well as the same power of God when we accept Jesus as our Savior. The word that Paul used in 2 Corinthians 13:4 that is translated weakness is astheneia. Jesus experienced moral frailty because he lived as a human being and had a sin nature. In other words, just like us, Jesus had a natural tendency toward rebellion against God, and yet, Jesus lived a perfect life and therefore, overcame this weakness completely. Hebrews 4:14-16 talks about the example that Jesus set by living his life according to God’s commandments. It states:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

In order to draw near to the throne of grace, we have to understand Jesus’ role as our great high priest. It is explained to us in Hebrews 5:7-10 where it states, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” This verse indicates that Jesus was being made perfect. The Greek word teleioo (tel-i-o’-o) means to complete in the sense of being mature (G5048). In 1 Corinthians 13:10, teleios is used to refer to “the complete revelation of God’s will and ways, whether in the completed Scripture or in the hereafter…One who is teleios has attained the moral end for which he was intended, namely to be a man in Christ” (G5046).

Paul concluded his discussion of his sufferings as an apostle with the statement, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Corinthians 11:30). Paul understood that suffering was a part of the process of reaching spiritual maturity. The way that Paul seemed to view his weaknesses was that they were opportunities for him to grow in his faith. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul explained that our weaknesses are transformed into supernatural power when we are resurrected from the dead. Paul stated:

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

According to Paul, the weaknesses of our earthly bodies will result in miraculous power that will benefit us throughout eternity.

One of the things that Paul made clear in his second letter to the Corinthians was that his weaknesses had kept him from thinking too much of his personal accomplishments or becoming conceited about his special position as an apostle of Christ. Paul shared his experience of being caught up to the third heaven in such a way that it couldn’t be misconstrued as a claim that he had somehow already been resurrected from the dead. Paul said, “I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses—though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me” (2 Corinthians 12:1-6). Paul went on to say that because of this experience, he was given a physical affliction that plagued him the rest of his life. Paul said:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul’s personal message from the Lord, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9) was most likely intended to encourage him in his spiritual growth. Paul may have been thinking about giving up on his goal of reaching the farthest regions of Asia because of the pain that his thorn in the flesh was causing him, but the Lord told Paul that his grace was sufficient to get him through. The Greek word that is translated sufficient, arkeo (ar-keh-o) is related to the word airo (ah’-ee-ro) which has to do with the expiation of sin with regard to the effect of atonement on the believer’s life (G142) which is moral purification (G2512) or in Old Testament terms, becoming clean (H2891) and therefore, consecrated to God.

The distinction between clean and unclean things made it difficult for the Israelites to remain in fellowship with God. Something as natural as her menstruation cycle could keep a woman from being able to come into the presence of God (Leviticus 12:4). The most extreme case was the disease of leprosy which could cause a person to be permanently separated from loved ones and quarantined for weeks at a time (Leviticus 13:4-5). Leviticus 13:45-46 describes what happened when the priest determined that a person had leprosy. “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.” Jesus demonstrated that he had the power to make a leper clean. In fact, one of the first miracles Jesus performed was the cleansing of a leper. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” (Matthew 8:1-4)

Jesus later explained to his disciples that a person becomes defiled or you might say spiritually weak by the things that come from inside the person’s heart. Mark’s gospel states:

And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:14-23)

Paul made it clear in his letter to the Corinthians that he wasn’t ashamed of the thorn in the flesh that was given to him as a result of the surpassing greatness of his revelations. Paul said, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul looked at his weaknesses as an advantage in getting God’s attention. The Greek word that is translated rest, episkenoo (ep-ee-skay-no’-o) means “to spread a tabernacle over” (G1981). Paul may have been thinking of the way that God dwelt among the Israelites when they were in the Sinai Desert before they entered the Promised Land. Exodus 14:19-20 describes the protection that God’s presence provided the Israelites when they were fleeing from Pharaoh’s army. It states:

Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was a cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.

Moses indicated that the pillar of cloud moved from the front of the Israelite camp and to a position behind it in order to create a barrier between them and the Egyptian army. Psalm 51, which was written by King David after his sin of adultery was exposed, talks about the presence of God being associated with a clean heart and a right spirit. David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:10-12). The Hebrew word that David used that is translated clean in Psalm 51:10, tahowr (haw-hore’) is used six times in Leviticus 13 in reference to a leper being pronounced clean. Tahowr means “pure (in a physical, chemical, ceremonial or moral sense)” (H2889). According to the Mosaic Law, “Clean things were considered normal; unclean things were considered polluted, but they could be restored to their state of purity (Leviticus 11-15)…God expected his people to be morally pure and to imitate Him (Habakkuk 1:13). This word served to express this state. Clean hands merited God’s favour (Job 17:9), and pure words were pleasing to the Lord. God judged a sacrifice’s value by the quality of the offerer’s heart (Psalm 51:10[12]); thus, David prayed for a pure heart.”

Paul told the Corinthians, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Paul’s statement, “when I am weak, then I am strong” may have been designed to make his listeners aware of the fact that God’s power is available to us on an as needed basis. If we think we are powerful enough to do something ourselves, we are not going to rely on God’s ability to intervene on our behalf. Paul said that he was content with his weaknesses, meaning that he accepted them and had no problem admitting that they were affecting his ability to do the work that God had assigned to him. Paul’s attitude made it possible for God to do extraordinary things through him and resulted in his ministry becoming a focal point of the book of Acts. Paul’s defense of his ministry included an explanation of how he was able to accomplish so much when his bodily presence was considered to be weak and his speech of no account (2 Corinthians 10:10). Paul said:

I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!—I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:1-5)

Paul’s reference to using divine power to destroy strongholds and destroying arguments by taking every thought captive was linked to spiritual warfare. Paul indicated in his letter to the Ephesians that the key to defeating our adversary the devil is to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10).

So much better

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life after death

Paul’s summary of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 concluded with an identification of the ultimate reason for believing in Christ. He stated, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14, ESV). Paul went on to say, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). Life after death was a key issue in Paul’s gospel message. His primary concern was a misconception that death marked the end of physical life. The Greek word translated resurrection, anastasis means literally “to cause to stand up on one’s feet again” (G386). Paul made it clear that physical death was a temporary state of human existence that would eventually be eliminated. He said about Jesus’ triumph over death, “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:25-26, ESV).

Paul used the analogy of a seed to explain the difference between our natural and spiritual bodies and stated, “Someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised? What kind of bodies will they have?’ What a foolish question! When you plant a seed, it must die before it starts new life. When you put it in the earth, you are not planting the body which it will become. You put in only a seed. It is God Who gives it a body just as He wants it to have. Each kind of seed becomes a different kind of body.” (1 Corinthians 15:35-38, NLV). Paul likened the transformation that occurs when a seed is changed into a plant to what happens when our natural bodies are resurrected. Paul pointed out that our resurrected bodies will have an unending existence (1 Corinthians 15:42). and then he stated, “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50, ESV)

Paul’s description of the resurrection of the dead was framed in the context of a mystery or a divine revelation that can only be understood with the help of the Holy Spirit (G3466). He said, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). The Greek term Paul used that is translated sleep, koimao (koy-mah’-o) means “to put to sleep” and refers to the phase of sleep when you are still fully conscious (G2837). Koimao is used figuratively to represent the death of Christians because there is no loss of consciousness when our spirits are temporarily separated from our human bodies. Paul concluded his discussion of life after death by connecting the resurrection of the dead with Isaiah’s prophecy about God’s completed work of salvation (Isaiah 25:8). He stated, “‘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 15:54-57 ESV).

Good news!

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians included many topics that are relevant to Christians today. In 1 Corinthians, Paul outlined the basics of what every believer needs to know in order to be successful at following Christ. One of the important things Paul talked about was the content of the gospel message that he had been preaching throughout Asia. Paul started with the statement, “I declare unto you the gospel” (1 Corinthians 15:1). What this meant was that Paul was certifying the content of his gospel. In other words, Paul was saying his gospel message was the real deal, it was guaranteed to produce results in converting people to Christ. The Greek word translated gospel, euaggelizo (yoo-ang-ghel-id’-zo) means “to announce good news” or evangelize (G2097).

Paul believed the gospel of Jesus Christ was not only good news, it was the best news anyone could receive: “You are saved from the punishment of sin” (1 Corinthians 15:2, NLV). Paul conveyed his gospel message in four relatively short sentences. He stated:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, ESV)

The three central points of Paul’s gospel message were that Jesus died, he was buried, and he was raised on the third day. Jesus’ appearance to numerous witnesses was a means of not only verifying, but also validating his resurrection. One of Jesus’ skeptical disciples said, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Thomas had either seen or heard about the wounds Jesus received during his crucifixion and was convinced that Jesus had actually died on the cross. Thomas’ request for validation of Jesus’ resurrection seems reasonable under the circumstances. After Thomas request was met, Jesus told him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

Paul understood that the only way a person could be saved was by the grace of God. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul stated, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8, NKJV). Paul told the Corinthians that he had been saved by God specifically for the purpose of preaching the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:10), and then he added, “It makes no difference how you heard the Good News. It could have been through the other missionaries or through me. The important thing is this: We preached the Good News to you and you believed it” (1 Corinthians 15:11, NLV).

Lazarus

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

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

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

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

Alive again

Jesus’ ability to raise someone from the dead was demonstrated three different times during his ministry. The first occasion is recorded in Luke 7:11-17. This miracle was performed by Jesus in the presence of many witnesses. Luke tells us, “And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people. Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her” (Luke 7:11-12). The circumstances of the situation were such that Jesus decided to act without any request or intervention from anyone that was involved. Jesus saw the dead man being carried out of the city and discerned within himself that his help was needed. Luke said, “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not” (Luke 7:13).

The focus of Jesus’ attention was the mother of the dead man, who also happened to be a widow. Because her only son was dead, and she no longer had a husband to take care of her, the woman would have quickly become destitute after her son’s death, and likely would have herself died within a short period of time. Jesus’ command to the woman, “weep not” indicated that the woman was deeply distressed. The Greek word translated weep, klaio (klah´-yo) means to sob that is wail aloud (2799). It is evident from Luke’s account that the dead man himself had nothing to do with Jesus’ decision to raise him from the dead. In fact, it can be assumed from his command, that Jesus was invoking his will upon the dead man. Luke states, “And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise” (Luke 7:14).

The Greek word Jesus used egeiro (eg -i´-ro), which is translated “arise” (Luke 7:14), is the same word he used in John 5:21 where it says, “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.” It is possible that Jesus intended his action of bringing the dead man back to life to be an object lesson for his disciples of what he meant by rising from the dead or being alive again after death. Even though this was the first time Jesus had performed this type of miracle, it was not the first time such a thing had ever happened. In the Old Testament, prophets had the ability to raise people from the dead (2 Kings 4:34). What Jesus was demonstrating was his authority to raise from the dead anyone he chose to. It is likely that the woman’s dead son was not a believer. After Jesus spoke the command, “Arise” (Luke 7:14), Luke tells us, “And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother” (Luke 7:15).

Life after death

Jesus’ special relationship with God infuriated the Jews because they didn’t understand how he could be equal with God when he was a human like them. Jesus referred to God as his Father (John 5:17). The idea that God could have conceived a child seemed ludicrous to the Jews who thought that God’s primary purpose was to regulate the behavior of men, not become one of them in order to deliver them from sin and death.

Jesus said, “My father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17). At the time when Jesus lived, fathers and sons usually had the same occupation. While they were living at home, young men learned their father’s trade and were expected to contribute to the family’s income. Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph was a carpenter (Matthew 13:55) and it is assumed that Jesus worked in that trade until he began his ministry at about the age of 30.

Rather than associating himself with his carpentry job, Jesus focused everyone’s attention on the joint spiritual activity that was going on between him and his heavenly Father. Jesus said, “For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and will shew him greater works than these that ye may marvel” (John 5:20). The greater works Jesus was referring to was resurrecting the dead.

In order to set the stage for an unprecedented revelation about his establishment of God’s kingdom on earth, Jesus talked about eternal life in the context of faith in God. He said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). Jesus wanted everyone to know that eternal life was a gift that could only be obtained through belief.

Following this statement, Jesus declared that the resurrection of the dead would take place at his command (John 5:25). It was only because he had been given authority to execute judgment on behalf of his father that Jesus could command the dead to come back to life. The shocking news was that everyone would be brought back to life, even those that didn’t believe in Jesus. He told the Jews:

Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and those that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. (John 5:28-29)

Trouble

Daniel’s prophecy of end times (Daniel 11) was described to him as a time of trouble. The angel Gabriel told him, “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book” (Daniel 12:1). Some have interpreted the time of trouble to be the time when the first century church was persecuted by the Romans. The Hebrew term translated trouble, tsarah (tsaw – raw´) is also translated as tribulation. In Judges 10, the people of Israel cried to the LORD for deliverance from their enemies. His answer to them was that in spite of the many times he had delivered them in the past, “Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation” (Judges 10:13-14).

It appears that the time of trouble Gabriel was referring to was associated with the resurrection of the dead that is mentioned in Revelation 20:12. Daniel was told, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever” (Daniel 12:2-3). The term “great tribulation” is used in Revelation 7:14 where John, one of the apostles of Jesus said concerning the saints he saw wearing white robes, “And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” The great tribulation is thought to be “the period of final hostility prior to Christ’s return. Some hold that the beginning of this hostility was already being experienced by the church in John’s day” (note on Revelation 7:14).

Daniel’s final encounter with heavenly beings took place on the bank of a river where Daniel posed the question, how long will it be until this is all over? (Daniel 12:5-6). Jesus’ response to Daniel’s question is recorded in Daniel 12:7. It says, “And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever that it shall be for a time, times, and a half; and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished.” The period of “a time, times, and a half” are also used in Daniel 7:25 to refer to the time when the antichrist, or a world power sharing in the characteristics of the antichrist, will rule over the earth. This time of trouble or great tribulation is believed to be coming sometime in the near future. The only clue we have as to when exactly it will take place is given in Daniel 12:11, where it says, “And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand and two hundred and ninety days.”

The new temple (part 10)

The new temple described by Ezekiel in chapters 40-48 of his book was clearly meant to be established on earth, but there were some aspects of the temple that appeared to be linked to eternal life. For instance, the prince who was identified as a leader of the congregation was recognized as the LORD’s servant, David and Ezekiel said, “And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children’s children for ever: and my servant David shall be their prince for ever (Ezekiel 37:25).

It has been suggested that the reference to “my servant David” (Ezekiel 34:23 and note) was not an indication that king David himself would be the prince, but that it would be a ruler like David, probably someone from his line of descendants. It seems unlikely that after the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ there would be a reinstatement of David’s birth line. It can only be assumed that the prince Ezekiel was referring to would actually be the resurrected king David or merely a human form of Jesus. What is certain about the prince is that he will have “sons” (Ezekiel 46:16) that receive an inheritance from him.

John’s gospel opens with a detailed description of how Jesus, the son of God, became human. John said, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). John also prescribed a method whereby all humans could become sons of God. He said of Jesus, “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:10-13).

The process the apostle John referred to in John 1:13 was later referred to by Jesus as being born again (John 3:7). Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). It seems reasonable to assume that the prince associated with the new temple will be a human form of Jesus because after all, Jesus was a man that walked on the earth and his flesh was not destroyed when he was crucified. There is no other explanation in the Bible as to what happened to the human part of Jesus or why he became a man in the first place, other than, so that he could reign as a man over the kingdom of God on earth during the millennium.