The good shepherd

The transition of leadership from Moses to Joshua took place shortly before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River and entered the land of Canaan. At the end of Moses’ life, Numbers 27:12-17 tells us:

The Lord said to Moses, “Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. When you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes.” (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.) Moses spoke to the Lord, saying, “Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.”

Moses’ association of the people of Israel with sheep was due at least in part to the substitutionary process of atonement that had become a part of the Israelites’ daily lives. When a burnt offering was made, it says in Leviticus 1:3-4 that the person making the offering was to “bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.” The people of Israel understood that the burnt offering was being sacrificed in their place and that the sacrifice was meant to pay the penalty for the person’s sin so that the person’s sin could be cancelled or forgiven by God (H7521/H3722). The daily burnt offering consisted of “two male lambs a year old without blemish, day by day, as a regular offering” (Numbers 28:3). Therefore, large flocks of sheep were necessary to sustain the Israelites’ daily sacrifices.

Moses’ depiction of the Israelites as “sheep that have no shepherd” (Numbers 27:17) established the importance of the role of a shepherd in the spiritual lives of God’s people. The Hebrew word that is translated shepherd, raʿah (raw-awˊ) appears in Jacob’s blessing of his son Joseph as a reference to Jesus. It says in Genesis 49:23-24, “The archers bitterly attacked him, shot at him, and harassed him severely, yet his bow remained unmoved; his arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel).” King David also referred to God as his shepherd. Psalm 23 illustrates how God’s spiritual leadership works in the lives of believers. It states:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever. (Psalm 23:1-6)

The Hebrew word raʿah also appears in the book of Jeremiah in connection with faithless Israel being called to repentance. Jeremiah 3:12-15 states:

“‘Return, faithless Israel,
declares the Lord.
I will not look on you in anger,
    for I am merciful,
declares the Lord;
I will not be angry forever.

Only acknowledge your guilt,
    that you rebelled against the Lord your God
and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree,
    and that you have not obeyed my voice,
declares the Lord.
Return, O faithless children,
declares the Lord;
    for I am your master;
I will take you, one from a city and two from a family,
    and I will bring you to Zion.

And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.’”

The Apostle Paul identified the shepherd as one of the essential roles in the body of Christ in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). The King James Version of the Bible states Ephesians 4:12 this way, “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Paul identified edification as a key feature of spiritual growth and said, “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the whole body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

Jesus told his disciples, “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) and then, he added:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:1-5)

Jesus used the illustration of entering and exiting the sheepfold to depict the process of salvation that God used to make him the Savior of the World and said, “he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1). Jesus’ death on the cross was a critical component in God’s plan of salvation because the penalty for everyone’s sins had to be paid in order for his sacrifice to be sufficient to save us. Jesus said that anyone who “climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber” because some of the Jews’ religious leaders were teaching them that they could be saved by keeping the Mosaic Law and were in essence stealing souls from God’s kingdom.

Jesus told the Jews:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:7-15)

Jesus indicated that the shepherd is the owner of the sheep (John 10:12) and said, “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (John 10:14-15). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated know, ginosko (ghin-oceˊ-ko) means to know in an absolute sense through the perception of the mind and has to do with “what one is or professes to be…with the idea of volition or goodwill: to know and approve or love, to care for” (G1097).

Jesus talked about being the door of the sheep and said, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:7, 9). Jesus discussed entrance into the kingdom of heaven at length with a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3) and went on to say, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). The Greek word that is translated lifted up, hupsoo (hoop-soˊ-o) speaks literally “of the ‘lifting’ up of Christ in His crucifixion” (G5312). The belief that gains us entrance into the kingdom of heaven is that Christ died for our sins, not that he is just “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), but that Christ died for me personally and is the atoning sacrifice for my sin, one that satisfies the debt I owe to God completely (Leviticus 1:4; Hebrews 10:1-18).

Jesus said that all who came before him were thieves and robbers (John 10:8). This seems to suggest that all of the Old Testament and even the New Testament priests were intentionally leading the people of Israel astray. Israel’s first High Priest, Moses’ brother Aaron, was responsible for the people of Israel worshipping a golden calf (Exodus 32:2-6) and Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu were killed for offering unauthorized fire before the Lord (Leviticus 10:1-2). The connection between Israel’s priests and Satan’s attempt to thwart God’s plan of salvation is particularly evident in Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. Luke’s gospel tells us, “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people. Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd” (Luke 22:1-6).

Jesus said that, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). Jesus’ reference to the thief in this instance might be construed to mean Satan or the devil who are considered to be the enemies of our souls (1 Peter 5:8). In his explanation of the parable of the sower, Jesus indicated that Satan is able to stop people from being saved by preventing the gospel from taking root in their hearts. Jesus told his disciples, “The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them” (Mark 4:14-15). The Greek words that are translated steal, kill, and destroy in John 10:10 have to do with the eternal state of a person’s soul. The Greek word that is translated destroy, apollumi (ap-olˊ-loo-mee) means “to destroy fully” and is “spoken of eternal death, i.e. future punishment, exclusion from the Messiah’s kingdom…This eternal death is called the second death (Revelation 20:14).” With respect to sheep, apollumi means “to be lost to the owner (Luke 21:18; John 6:12)” and is “spoken of those who wander away and are lost, e.g. the prodigal son (Luke 15:24); sheep straying in the desert (Luke 15:4, 6)” (G622).

In his first letter, Peter talked about straying sheep returning to the Shepherd. Peter said of Jesus, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24-25). When Jesus sent out his twelve apostles to preach the gospel, he instructed them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6), but later Jesus relented when a Canaanite woman asked him to heal her daughter. Matthew 15:24-28 states:

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep further illustrated the great lengths to which God was willing to go in order to save a lost soul. Luke’s account of this parable states:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:1-7)

Jesus portrayed the shepherd as rejoicing because he had found his lost sheep, but clarified what had actually happened when he said that there was joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. One of the ways we know we are saved is that we experience God’s presence through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. When we repent of our sins, we make it possible for our fellowship with God to be restored. The Apostle Paul explained the reconciliation that takes place when we are saved in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:11-16)

After he told the Jews that “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). The Greek word that is translated abundantly, perissos (per-is-sosˊ) is derived from the word peiro in the sense of going beyond the boundaries of ordinary existence. Peiro “means ‘on the other side, across,’ is used with the definite article, signifying the regions ‘beyond,’ the opposite shore” (G4008). From that standpoint, the abundant life that Jesus was talking about may have been a type of heaven on earth, an ability to experience eternal life in the here and now.

Jesus told the Jews, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:10-11), and then, went on to say, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17-18). Jesus indicated that he was laying down his life for the sheep of his own accord. In other words, Jesus wasn’t being forced to sacrifice himself for the sins of the world. Jesus had the same free will that we do and was given the ability to decide for himself whether or not he would go through with the crucifixion. The reason why Jesus did it was because he knew he would be resurrected three days later. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:21-23)

Jesus rebuked Peter because he was looking at things from a human perspective. The only way we can really comprehend and truly appreciate Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is by looking at things from an eternal perspective.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:24-28)

Endurance

Jesus Christ’s return will coincide with Satan’s final attempt to ruin God’s plan of salvation. At that time, the Nation of Israel will become the focus of a man known as the Antichrist. What this man will try to do is to trick people into believing that he is the Savior of the World. The key to his plot is a treaty that will ensure the safety of God’s people for a specific period of time that is referred to by Bible scholars as the Great Tribulation. Antichrist’s vow to take care of the Israelites will result in a betrayal that involves the desecration of God’s temple (Matthew 24:15). When that occurs, Jesus warned his followers to run for their lives because they would face opposition to their faith that was beyond most people’s capability to endure (Matthew 24:16-22).

Jesus described the break up of God’s kingdom in the context of a home that was being broken into by a thief and suggested that some people would be taken captive by Satan because they were unaware that Antichrist was deceiving them (Matthew 24:24). Jesus said, “Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (Matthew 24:40-42). The Greek word translated taken, paralambano means to receive near that is associate with oneself (in any familiar or intimate act or relation)” (3880). This word suggests that being taken involves an acceptance of someone as a friend or companion, perhaps as an alternate to someone else. Jesus was probably referring to the acceptance of Antichrist as a personal savior or collectively as Israel’s Messiah. The apparent fifty-fifty division of the population could mean that half of the people will not be taken in by the Antichrist’s trickery because they have been chosen by God to withstand Satan’s attempt to overturn his plan of salvation (Revelation 7:3).

The point Jesus made in his lesson of the faithful and unfaithful servants was that endurance was necessary to withstand the evil influence of Antichrist (Matthew 24:48-50). Jesus indicated that the greatest fear of the Jew should be to be identified as a hypocrite and cast into hell with Satan and the rest of his cohorts (Matthew 24:51). The Apostle Paul outlined a method for resisting the devil and warned Christians about the evil spiritual forces that are presently attacking believers in Christ. He said, “Finally, my brethren,  be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:10-13).

Trickery

The Jewish religious leaders that were intent on having Jesus put to death tried to trick him into saying something that they could use against him in a court of law. Matthew described this situation by saying the Pharisees “took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk” (Matthew 22:15). The Greek word translated entangle, pagideauo (pag-id-yoo´-o) means to ensnare (G3802). Pagideauo is derived from the word pagis which means “a trap (as fastened by a noose or notch); figuratively a trick or stratagem (temptation)” (G3803). It seems likely that what was going on during the last few days of Jesus life was an intense spiritual battle that may have involved numerous agents of Satan. The Apostle Paul’s description of spiritual warfare indicated there are many levels and sources of spiritual attack (Ephesians 6:12). He instructed believers to “put on the whole armour of God, that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).

The Greek word translated wiles in Ephesians 6:11, methodeia is a compound of two words that means “traveling over that is travesty (trickery)” (G3180). The root words refer to travel (G3593) and accompaniment (G3326), suggesting that Satan is aware of the course of our lives and plans his attacks so that we won’t make any spiritual progress. Jesus’ determination to die on the cross was both helped and hindered by Satan. The most critical aspect of what was going on at the time of Jesus’ death was the requirement for him to have lived a sinless life in order to be qualified as the savior of the world. If Satan could somehow cause Jesus to sin before he was crucified, then Jesus would have died for his own sin, not the substitutionary death of everyone else. The Pharisees strategy when they approached Jesus with the question “Is it lawful to give tribute unto Cesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17), was to make him an enemy of the state. If Jesus said it was unlawful for Caesar to collect taxes from the Jews, then Jesus could have been arrested and put to death for rebellion against Rome.

Jesus was aware of what the Pharisees were trying to do (Matthew 22:18) and overcame their trickery with his brilliant response to their question about paying taxes. He said, “Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Cesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Cesar the things which are Cesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:19-21). Jesus diffused the situation by identifying the origin of the coins that were being used for commerce in Jerusalem. Although its laws and culture had been imposed on the Jews, many people were getting rich as a result of Roman occupation and it’s likely that the Jews’ overall quality of life had been greatly improved. Therefore, it made sense for the Jews to pay their share of taxes. Matthew indicated that the Pharisees were impressed with Jesus’ response. He said of their reaction “When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left him, and went their way” (Matthew 22:22).

The good shepherd

Jesus often used parables and analogies to describe the kingdom of heaven to those that wanted to know about the spiritual life that awaited them after their physical death. One of the ways Jesus portrayed himself in the believer’s journey to heaven was a shepherd caring for his flock of sheep. Perhaps, the most famous psalm written by King David was Psalm 23 which stated, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want, he maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters” (Psalm 23:1-2). The role of the shepherd was to protect and guide his sheep along a pathway that was usually predetermined in order to keep them safe and well fed. When Jesus referred to himself as the “good shepherd” (John 10:11), he meant that he was perfectly suited for or well adapted to the circumstances of a shepherd (2570). The reason why that was true was because Jesus made it as easy as he possibly could for believers to go to heaven by making it a free gift that one could obtain simply by believing that he was who he said he was, the Savior of the World. Essentially, you could say that Jesus paved our way to heaven through his death on the cross.

Jesus’ statement, “I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7), was a reference to the gate that had to be passed through in order for a sheep to enter the sheepfold, a place for him to rest at night. Jesus went on to say, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (John 10:9). The connection between entering the sheepfold and being saved was evident in the purpose of the sheepfold, to keep the sheep from the death they would certainly face if they were to be left out in the open, unattended overnight. Jesus depicted Satan as a thief that wanted to steal, kill, and destroy his flock of sheep (John 10:10). In order to drive home the point that Satan would stop at nothing to damage God’s kingdom, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Jesus also stated that his death was a voluntary act that he was predestined for. He said, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:17-18).

An aspect of Jesus’ analogy that may have been difficult for his listeners to grasp was the reference he made to his sheep hearing and knowing him by his voice (John 10:3-4). In the same way that someone today might be labeled crazy if he said he had heard God speak to him, the people that lived in Jesus’ time didn’t expect God to speak to them directly. Up to that point, God had always spoken to his people through prophets who were considered to be his spokespersons or quite literally his mouthpieces (5030). Something that Jesus made clear was that his voice was a unique identifier that made it possible for his followers to distinguish him from strangers (John 10:5), and more specifically, to prevent believers from being influenced by satanic forces that might try to lead them astray (John 10:8). Jesus’ primary goal as the good shepherd was to protect his sheep from anything that might harm them. One thing that made Jesus more than just a good shepherd was his ability to fulfill every spiritual need of those that chose to follow him. Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). The Greek word translated abundantly, perissos can mean to go beyond or exceed (4053). In other words, the life Jesus gives us exceeds our expectations.

Guilty conscience

While Jesus was teaching in God’s temple, the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman to him that they said, “was taken in adultery, in the very act” (John 8:4). The religious leaders hoped to trap Jesus in a situation where he would say or do something that contradicted his own teaching and make himself out to be a hypocrite like they were. The men that brought the adulteress to Jesus suggested that she should be stoned according to the Mosaic Law, but Jesus’ compassion for the woman caused him to say to them, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7). The phrase “without sin” means without any sin. In other words, Jesus was making sinlessness a requirement for executing judgment against the woman that had committed adultery. It says in John 8:9, “And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.”

Jesus used the example of these men’s guilty consciences to teach the Pharisees a lesson about his divine purpose as the savior of the world. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). The Pharisees were used to condemning others for their sins against God, but Jesus wanted them to know that it wasn’t necessary for them to judge lawbreakers. God was able to bring conviction of sin, or give someone a guilty conscience, through the love and compassion of his son Jesus Christ. The two Greek terms Jesus used, phos (light) and scotia (darkness) were meant to show the contradiction between love and hate in our actions toward others. Scotia (skot-ee’-ah) is used of secrecy and describes a condition of moral or spiritual depravity. The men that condemned the adulteress might have been guilty of adultery themselves or some other crime that could be punished by death. It may have been their own guilty consciences that caused them to lash out at this woman and expose her to public humiliation.

Jesus’ statement, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12) was a declaration of his ability to expose the inner thoughts and feelings of people trapped in a lifestyle of sin. It says in John 8:9 that the men that wanted to stone the adulteress were convicted by their own consciences when they heard Jesus say, “He that is without sin among you.” The human conscience is a mechanism by which God is able to reveal his will to us (4893). The Greek word suneidesis (soon-i’-day-sis) means “co-perception.” Another way of saying it would be to see both sides of the story. We are usually aware of our own thoughts and feelings, but not those of others, and in particular, the thoughts and feelings of God are typically hidden from us or outside of our awareness, but our conscience enables us to see what God thinks about our behavior. After the men that were convicted by their own consciences left the scene, Jesus asked the adulteress, “Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?” (John 8:10). The woman’s response acknowledged her submission to Jesus’ authority. She said, “No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:11).

 

Controversy

Toward the end of Jesus’ ministry, there was a lot of public debate about his true identity. Part of the problem was that Jesus intentionally tried to keep his identity a secret. Many times after he performed a miracle, he would tell the recipient not to tell anyone what had happened to him. Even when Jesus took three of his disciples to the top of a mountain and showed them his glorified state, he instructed them saying, “Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead” (Matthew 17:9). It says in John 7:1, “After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him.” The controversy about Jesus stemmed from the fact that many people knew him as the son of Mary and Joseph, a carpenter who had lived an ordinary life until the start of his ministry around the age of 30. When it was time for Jesus to begin his work of salvation, he tried to win the common people over without impressing them with his holy grandeur. Often times, Jesus had to sneak away to remote locations just to get a break from the masses of people that sought his help. During a popular religious festival, that would be attended by the majority of the Jewish population, Jesus was encouraged to “go into Judea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, shew thyself to the world” (John 7:3-4).

The crux of the argument being presented to Jesus was that his intention of being the savior of the world meant that he had to be known by everyone. Therefore, it was necessary for him to go where masses of people could witness his miracles. Jesus knew that the risk of being killed was too great for him to expose himself to anymore public appearances. After Jesus’ brethren were gone, it says in John 7:10, “then went he also up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.” Jesus’ intention to keep himself hidden from the religious leaders was nearly an impossible feat. When it was discovered that Jesus was somewhere in the vicinity, “Then the Jews sought him at the feast, and said Where is he? And there was much murmuring among the people concerning him: for some said, He is a good man: others said, Nay; but he deceiveth the people” (John 7:11-12). When the Pharisees heard the murmuring about Jesus, they sent officers to arrest him, but Jesus told them, “Yet a little while am I with you, and then I go unto him that sent me. Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me and where I am, thither ye cannot come” (John 7:33-34).

Jesus’ reference to his ascension to heaven was probably meant to startle the officers that came to arrest him so that they would realize he wasn’t an ordinary man that they could just take into custody. When the officers were asked to explain why they hadn’t arrested Jesus they told the Pharisees and chief priests, “Never man spake like this man” (John 7:46). In other words, they recognized the supernatural power of Jesus’ words and were unwilling to try and take him by force. Like the prophet Elijah, Jesus could have brought fire down from heaven and consumed these men if he chose to (1 Kings 1:10). At the heart of the discussion about Jesus true identity was the question about whether or not the Pharisees intended to allow the Jews’ Messiah to accomplish his mission on earth. At that time, it was becoming clear to the religious leaders that Jesus had already won over the majority of people and proven himself to be who he claimed to be, “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Among the Pharisees that were debating what to do about Jesus, was Nicodemus (John 7:50), the Pharisee that had come to Jesus by night and admitted, “no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him” (John 3:2). Even though Jesus had given him an in depth explanation about how he could be saved (John 3:3-21), Nicodemus didn’t appear to have been converted, because rather than sharing what had happened with the other Pharisees, Nicodemus suggested a trial should be conducted in order to settle the controversy about Jesus’ identity once and for all (John 7:51).

 

The keys to the kingdom

In an effort to dispel rumors about his identity, Jesus had a conversation with his disciples that made it clear he had come from heaven to earth for a specific purpose, to die for the sins of the world. Jesus began the conversation by asking his disciples, “Whom say the people that I am?” (Luke 9:18) and then asked, “But whom say ye that I am?” (Luke 9:20). The apostle Peter’s response is documented three different ways in the three gospels that have a record of this incident. I think Matthew, who was present at the time, captured it best when he said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mark 16:16). What Peter was saying was that Jesus was the Messiah, the savior God had promised to send to his people. Matthew went on to say, “And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).

Luke explained that the reason Jesus’ true identity was being kept a secret was because, “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day” (Luke 9:22). In other words, it was dangerous for Jesus’ identity to be revealed because the religious leaders wanted to kill him in order to stop him from completing his mission of saving the world. After Peter made his confession of faith, Jesus told him, “And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mark 16:18-19).

Keys are only mentioned twice in the Bible, in the conversation Jesus had with his disciples about his identity and in Revelation 1:18 where Jesus said, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and death.” The keys to the kingdom of heaven and the keys to hell were both given to Jesus, the Messiah, who was also know as the anointed one, God’s designated representative. It was in his role as Messiah that Jesus obtained access to heaven for all mankind. When Jesus told Peter that he would give him the keys of the kingdom of heaven, he was essentially saying that Peter, and anyone else that confessed that he was the Messiah, would be able to have direct access to God for all eternity. Jesus’ reference to things being bound and loosed on earth and in heaven had to do with sin and its power to separate us from God.

So that his disciples would understand that access to God was not something to be taken lightly, Jesus said:

If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26)

The phrase Jesus used “take up his cross daily” meant to undergo suffering, trial, punishment, to expose oneself to reproach and death. In other words, to allow oneself to be treated in the same way that Jesus was. Matthew’s version of Jesus’ admonition included an incentive. He stated, “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels: and then he shall reward every man according to his works” (Matthew 16:27). The Greek word that is translated works, praxis means practice and by extension a function (4234). Another way of referring to works could be an assignment or regular duty. I think what Jesus was implying was that the more we exercise our faith on earth, the more we will see the results of it in heaven.

 

Transition

John the Baptist played an important role in the transition that took place during Jesus’ three-year ministry on earth. John marked the end of the old economy in which sacrifices for sins had to be made on an ongoing basis. John’s statement, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) indicated that Jesus would radically change the way God’s people worshipped him. At the end of his life, after he had been imprisoned for his message of repentance, John began to have doubts and became deeply discouraged. Because of his confusion about the situation, John sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” (Matthew11:3). Jesus told John’s disciples to remind him of all the things that were happening. He said, “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matthew 11:5).

Jesus’ controversial message brought fear and doubt to many people because they didn’t understand God’s plan of salvation. The transition from works of righteousness through sacrifice to God’s free gift of redemption was a hard one, mostly because it meant that anyone could enter into God’s kingdom, if he was willing to admit he was a sinner and couldn’t save himself. The hyper-critical Pharisees in particular, thought they were keeping the law and were perfect in God’s sight. Jesus exposed these men’s judgmental attitudes and cautioned his followers. Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount, “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). The problem was that no one believed it was possible to be more righteous than a Pharisee. The Greek words Jesus used for exceed, perisseuo (per-is-syoo´-o) pleion (pli´-own) mean to superabound, to be greater than or in excess of what is required (4052/4119).

During the transition from the Old Covenant, the Mosaic Law, to the New Covenant, salvation by grace, Jesus emphasized the importance of the Jews attitude toward what they thought was sinful behavior. He stated, “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children” (Matthew 11:18-19). The point Jesus was trying to make was that the people were not content with their new situation. They wanted everything to be as they liked, comfortable and easy to handle. In essence, they thought Jesus and John the Baptist were too radical. The Jews were looking for a nice, middle of the road viewpoint to follow. The statement, “But wisdom is justified of her children” (Matthew 11:19) was meant as a criticism of the Jews lack of awareness of the extreme sacrifice Jesus was making by taking upon himself the responsibility for saving the world.