Spiritual contamination

The Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians was primary focused on defending his position as a minister of the gospel. There was a faction in the congregation at Corinth who denied that Paul was truly an apostle of Jesus (Introduction to the second epistle of Paul to the Corinthians). Paul asked the Corinthians, “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:1-3). Paul argued that the proof of his apostleship was the result of his ministry. Paul had established the church in Corinth during his first stay there and was responsible for its early growth. Paul was offended that the Corinthians had doubted his apostleship and stated, “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown and yet well known; as dying, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:8-10).

Paul went on to explain that the Corinthians minds had been contaminated by their interaction with unbelievers. Paul cautioned the Corinthians against forming relationships that compromised their faith. Paul said:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
    then I will welcome you,
and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)

Paul used the term unequally yoked to describe relationships between believers and unbelievers. This might have been Paul’s way of saying that the Corinthians were getting involved in illegal activities, but more than likely the point Paul was trying to make was that there would be diminished productivity if believers worked with unbelievers. The term unequally yoked means that two different kinds of animals are being forced to work together to pull a load (G2086). The stronger animal is hindered by the weaker animal and the difference in strength creates friction between them.

Paul used several words in his argument against being unequally yoked that were connected with the early church’s growth and development. Paul asked the Corinthians, “what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16). The words partnership, fellowship, accord, portion, and agreement all imply that a spiritual union of some type has taken place. A key word that was used by the first Christians to describe their association with each other was koinonia (koy-nohn-ee’-ah). The Greek word koinonia means “partnership, i.e. (literal) participation, or (social) intercourse” (G2842). Koinonia is derived from the word koinos which means common. Koinos was used figuratively by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians in reference to “those who eat meats offered to idols, partakers or companions either with God or with demons (1 Corinthians 10:18, 20)” (G2844). This relates back to the practices of the Israelites who were commanded to separate themselves from the people and things around them that would cause them to be unclean or spiritually contaminated.

Leviticus 11:1-3 states, “And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth. Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat.'” The LORD went on to say that certain animals were from a ceremonial or moral sense considered to be contaminated and would defile a person if they were eaten (Leviticus 11:24). The key point in the concept of becoming defiled was physical contact. Leviticus 11:26 states, “Every animal that parts the hoof but is not cloven-footed or does not chew the cud is unclean to you. Everyone who touches them shall be unclean.” This was illustrated in the book of Genesis when Jacob’s daughter Dinah was raped by Shechem. It says in Genesis 34:2, “And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her” (KJV). God’s justification for keeping the Israelites uncontaminated was they were expected to be holy because he was holy. He said:

“Every swarming thing that swarms on the ground is detestable; it shall not be eaten. Whatever goes on its belly, and whatever goes on all fours, or whatever has many feet, any swarming thing that swarms on the ground, you shall not eat, for they are detestable. You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, and you shall not defile yourselves with them, and become unclean through them. For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:41-45)

The Hebrew word that is translated holy in Leviticus 11:44, qadowsh (kaw-doshe’) is “an adjective meaning sacred, holy. It is used to denote someone or something that is inherently sacred or has been designated as sacred by divine rite or cultic ceremony. It designates that which is the opposite of common or profane. It could be said that qadowsh is a positive term regarding the character of its referent, where common is a neutral term and profane a very negative term. This word is often used to refer to God as being inherently holy, sacred, and set apart (Psalm 22:3[4]; Isaiah 6:3; 57:15); and as being free from the attributes of fallen humanity (Hosea 11:9). As such, God instructed that humanity should be holy because He is holy (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2)” (H6918).

Paul’s message to the Corinthians focused on the separation that was necessary for God’s people to achieve holiness. Quoting Isaiah 52:11, Paul stated, “Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:17-18). The Greek word Paul used that is translated be separate has to do with physically separating yourself from someone (G873), but it could be that Paul was trying to convey the idea of being stand-offish or you might say emotionally distant in that you no longer consider yourself to be in a close relationship with that person. Paul told the Corinthians, “Since we have these promises, beloved. let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). Defilement refers to pollution in a moral sense (G3436). In order to cleanse ourselves from moral pollution, we need salvation. We need the blood of Jesus to cleanse us from all sin (1 John 1:7). It says in the book of Hebrews, “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:13-14).

Paul’s concern for the Corinthians’ moral purity was based on his conclusion that they were being taught incorrect doctrine. Paul told the Corinthians, “I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:1-3). Paul’s emphasis of the importance of our thought processes in keeping us devoted to Christ made it clear that spiritual warfare was a key factor in believers becoming spiritually contaminated. Paul indicated that our thoughts can lead us astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. The Greek word that is translated thoughts, noema (no’-ay-mah) means “a perception” (G3540). Paul used the word noema five times in his second letter to the Corinthians. The first time Paul mentioned noema was in 2 Corinthians 2:11 when he was talking about being outwitted by Satan and the need to forgive the sinner. Paul said, “I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan: for we are not ignorant of his designs” (emphasis mine). Satan’s designs could be mental tricks that he uses to get us to perceive things incorrectly so that God’s word doesn’t seem practical or necessary in our lives. Paul said that the minds of unbelievers are being blinded (2 Corinthians 3:14) by the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4) and that we need to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, emphasis mine).

The Greek word that Paul used in 2 Corinthians 11:3 that is translated led astray, phtheiro (fthi’-ro) is translated corrupted in the King James Version of the Bible. Phtheiro has to do with the ruin that comes as a result of negative moral influences and generally means “to bring to a worse state.” It can also mean “to corrupt, with the meaning of to subvert or corrupt opinions” (H5351). With regard to corrupt opinions, Paul said, “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough” (2 Corinthians 11:4). What Paul meant by you put up with it was that the Corinthians were giving him the impression that they were fine with the false doctrines that had been infiltrating their church. Paul wanted the Corinthians to realize that they were to a certain extent being raped by these false teachers because their devotion to Christ was being questioned by other churches such as the Macedonians (2 Corinthians 8:24) and Paul himself was at risk of being humiliated by their behavior (2 Corinthians 9:4).

Paul understood that the real source of the Corinthians spiritual contamination was demonic forces and it was likely that they did not have the spiritual strength to defend themselves. Paul tried to expose the enemy’s activities in a way that would make the Corinthians more aware of the devil’s tactics. Paul said, “And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:12-15). The Greek word that is translated disguising, metaschematizo (met-askh-ay-mat-id’-zo) means “to transform, change the outward form or appearance of something” (G3345). Paul used the word metaschematizo in his letter to the Philippians in connection with believers spiritual transformation after death. Paul said, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:17-21, emphasis mine).

Satan’s ability to disguise or transform himself into an angel of light is the primary reason why it is so difficult for believers to recognize and to separate themselves from his activities. Paul contrasted his experiences as an apostle with those of the Corinthians in order to point out that our perception of what life is supposed to be like as a Christian is often skewed in the wrong direction. Paul declared:

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

Paul elaborated on his list of personal afflictions in his second letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying” (2 Corinthians 11:25-31).

Paul’s experience of being associated with Christ’s gospel is consistent with many of the Old Testament prophets that were faithful to God’s word. One of the difficulties that Christians face in their attempt to avoid spiritual contamination is that they will likely be mocked and mistreated by the people that are closest to them. Before David became king of Israel, he was hunted and nearly killed by King Saul on multiple occasions. His hopeless situation brought David to the brink of despair. When he ended up in the hands of a pagan king that had no regard for him or the God that he served (1 Samuel 21:10-13), David wrote Psalm 56, his personal testimony about God’s love and faithfulness to those who serve him. David prayed, “Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me; my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (Psalm 56:1-4). King Saul’s hostility toward David was evidence of the spiritual conflict that was going on behind the scenes. David was able to transcend his circumstances and seemed to realize that his physical separation from Saul made it possible for him to be closer to God. David wrote:

You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?
Then my enemies will turn back
    in the day when I call.
    This I know, that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise,
    in the Lord, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can man do to me?

I must perform my vows to you, O God;
    I will render thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
    yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God
    in the light of life. (Psalm 56:8-13)

David’s recognition that he must perform his vows to the LORD was a direct result of the spiritual union he had with his Savior. David knew that he didn’t have a chance of surviving when the Philistines seized him in Gath (1 Samuel 21:11). Therefore, he needed the LORD’s protection and had to make sure that his heart was right before God. The Hebrew word that is translated vows, neder (neh’-der) means “a promise (to God)” (H5088). David’s spiritual devotion may have been called into question when he fled Jerusalem and sought refuge in the land of Gath, but David made it clear that he hadn’t compromised his relationship with the LORD. David remained loyal to God’s calling and “departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam” (1 Samuel 22:1) in order to keep himself from being spiritually contaminated by living with the Philistines.

Heaven on earth

Exodus 24:9-10 tells us that “Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel went up and they saw the God of Israel.” The place that these men went up to isn’t identified, but it can be assumed that they went up to Heaven because the Bible identifies Heaven as the place where God lives. Moses said, “There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness” (Exodus 24:10). In other words, the Lord was standing on something that appeared to be a solid surface, but its transparency made it seem as if he was suspended in mid-air. The Hebrew word shamayim (shaw-mah’-yim), which is translated heaven, describes everything God made besides the earth…The heavens that humans observe with their senses are indicated by this word…The invisible heavens are the abode of God…He dwells in heaven (1 Kings 8:30, 32); yet He is not contained in even the heaven of heavens, the most exclusive part of the heavens (1 Kings 8:27)” (H8064). Luke indicated that after Jesus commissioned his disciples to take his gospel to the whole world (Matthew 28:16-20), “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51).

After the Israelites confirmed their covenant with him, God instructed Moses, “And let them make for me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture so you shall make it” (Exodus 25:8-9). A sanctuary is a physical place of worship (H4720). In that sense, the sanctuary that Moses was expected to make was supposed to be a place where the people could enter into God’s presence and commune with him. This was a distinct privilege that only the Israelites among all the peoples of the world were given because of their relationship and covenant with God. Jesus told his followers, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). The word that Jesus used that is translated midst, mesos (mes’-os) means in the middle (G3319). This is very similar to what was depicted by the sanctuary that traveled with the Israelites wherever they went. Moses was told to construct the sanctuary according to a pattern that was shown to him while he was on top of Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights (Exodus 24:18). “The Lord commanded Moses to build a sanctuary in which he would dwell among his people. It was to be a tabernacle or movable tent that would be suitable for the Israelites’ nomadic lifestyle. The Levites would have responsibility for it (Numbers 18:1-7). Its general designation was ‘the house of the LORD’ (Exodus 34:26), but it was also known as ‘the tabernacle of the testimony’ (Exodus 38:21) because it served as a depository for the tables of the law or testimony. Another designation was the ‘Tent of Meeting’ because the Lord met his people there and the sanctuary was filled with his glory and presence (Exodus 40:34-38). From this tent, God would lead the Israelites on their journey” (Note on Exodus 25:8, 9).

The most prominent feature of the tabernacle was an area identified as the Most Holy Place where the ark that contained the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments engraved on them was kept (Exodus 26:34). The ark was a wooden box that was overlaid with pure gold inside and outside. The ark was approximately 45 inches in length, 27 inches wide, and 27 inches high (Exodus 25:10) and was covered with a solid gold lid that had two cherubim on top of it, one on each end facing toward each other, that were also made of gold (Exodus 25:18-20). The estimated cost of the ark in todays dollars is $28 million and it may have weighed as much as 1300 lbs. It was carried using two poles that were also overlaid with gold and were placed in 4 gold rings, one at each corner of the ark. The gold lid for the ark with the two cherubim on it was called a mercy seat. The LORD told Moses:

Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel. (Exodus 25:19-22)

The mercy seat was symbolic of the covering over of sins that was made possible by the shedding of blood through sacrifice (H3727). The term propitiation was used by both Paul and John to describe what happened when Jesus died on the cross (Romans 3:25, 1 John 2:2). John said, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). It seems likely that the exorbitant cost of making the ark and its mercy seat were meant to represent the priceless cost of our salvation. Paul said that the person that is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him (1 Corinthians 6:17). “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

The image that is created by the cherubim that were on top of the mercy seat was one of intimacy as well as spiritual union. The cherubim were “of one piece” (Exodus 25:19), meaning they were connected to each other and their faces were “one to another” (Exodus 25:20). The Hebrew word that is translated faces, paniym (paw-neem’) is sometimes translated as countenance and refers to the look on one’s face (H6440). Paniym is derived from the word panah (paw-naw’) which means to turn. “Used of intellectual and spiritual turning, this verb signifies attaching oneself to something” and in an even stronger sense “represents dependence on someone” (H6437). It was from between the two cherubim that God spoke to the Israelites. God told Moses, “I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Exodus 25:22). In other words, God intended to give Moses step by step directions, somewhat like how a GPS system guides us to our desired destination. For this reason, there needed to ongoing communication between God and Moses and a continual awareness of the Israelites’ location.

One of the ways that the phrase “in the midst” (Exodus 25:8) can be translated is “at the heart” (H8432) which suggests the possibility that the tabernacle or perhaps the ark of the testimony was symbolic of the human heart. It seems that the primary purpose of the tabernacle was a depository for the tablets on which God wrote the Ten Commandments (Exodus 25:15). The prophet Jeremiah was given a message about the New Covenant that God intended to establish with his chosen people after they returned from exile. He stated:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

The Hebrew word leb (labe) which means heart, can be used figuratively to represent the centre of anything. “However, it usually refers to some aspect of the immaterial inner self or being since the heart is considered to be the seat of one’s inner nature as well as one of its components” (H3820). God’s ability to write his law on people’s hearts has to do with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In a similar way that the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34), the Holy Spirit fills believers and makes it possible for them to preach the gospel (Acts 4:31).

Jesus used parables to describe the kingdom of heaven in a way that would only be clear to those who are filled with the Holy Spirit. He compared the kingdom of heaven to a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field (Matthew 13:31-33), a treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13:44), and “a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46). The common theme in each of these illustrations is the invisible or you might say immaterial nature of the kingdom of heaven. The point that Jesus was trying to make was that the kingdom of heaven can be discovered and has great value to those who possess it. The link between the Ten Commandments and the kingdom of heaven could be their ability to transform the human heart. One way of looking at the kingdom of heaven might be that it is a state of being that one enters into when the word of God is operative in his or her heart. Heaven is therefore not just a place that we go to when we die, but a state that we can live in that is eternal and connected to God.

Peter, who was recognized as “the predominant disciple during the ministry of Jesus and had a tremendous impact on the early church” (Introduction to the first letter of Peter) understood that heaven on earth was not an idyllic state, but one that ran counter to the culture and mindsets of the Roman Empire and therefore, often resulted in suffering and sometimes persecution. Peter encouraged his followers to share in Christ’s sufferings so that they might be glad when his glory was revealed and said, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, your are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:13-14). Peter asked the question, “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1 Peter 4:18) and then stated, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19). Peter asserted that it is sometimes God’s will for his children to suffer because that is the example that Jesus gave us. Sharing in Christ’s sufferings means that we enter into a partnership with our Lord and Savior that is based on equal responsibility, goals, and rewards. After he denied three times that he even knew Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75), Jesus asked Peter if he loved him and then gave him this instruction:

“Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:17-19)

Peter said that we should clothe ourselves with humility toward one another and indicated that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). The Greek word that is translated humble, tapeinos (tap-i-nos’) means depressed and is used figuratively to signify being “humiliated (in circumstances or disposition)” (G5011). God’s grace is the divine influence upon the heart that enables us to act the way Jesus did when we are faced with difficult circumstances (G5485). Peter said that God gives us grace when we intentionally humble ourselves and admit that we can’t handle things on our own. He said, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Jesus indicated that people’s hearts can grow dull and be unreceptive to God’s word (Matthew 13:15). In his explanation of the Parable of the Sower, Jesus stated, “When anyone hears the word of of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart” (Matthew 13:19). The evil one, who is known as Satan or the devil (G4190), is described by Peter as our adversary. Peter said that we should “be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The image of a roaring lion that is seeking someone to devour makes it seem as if the devil feeds on believers, but it could be that Satan’s appetite for evil is quenched through our sins against God. Peter was well aware of the tactics Satan uses to deter believer’s from sharing their faith. Peter’s denial of the Lord involved an innocent question that sparked his fear and made him unwilling to risk the slightest implication that he was associated with Jesus. Matthew’s gospel states, “Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, ‘You also were with Jesus the Galilean.’ But he denied it before them all, saying, ‘I do not know what you mean.'” (Matthew 26:69-70).

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians indicated that the physical and spiritual realms are intertwined and that believers are involved in spiritual battles on an ongoing basis whether or not we are aware of it. Paul said that believers should “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12). The idea that we can have hand to hand combat with spiritual forces in the heavenly places makes it seem as if believers are caught in the middle of the two realms that continually compete for their attention. Paul said that we must stand against the schemes of the devil if we want to enjoy the spiritual blessings that God has given us. Even though we have received salvation, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are safe from the adversary that wants to make our lives a living hell. Peter said that you must resist the devil, “firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:9-11).

God’s power

The LORD’s deliverance of the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt involved a unique display of what God described as “signs and wonders” (Exodus 7:3). He told Moses, “Then, I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment” (Exodus 7:4). “God’s ‘hand’ is another term for God’s ‘power'” (H3027). The signs and wonders that Moses performed in Egypt were meant to be evidence that God was directly involved in what was happening and that his power was superior to all others. The Hebrew word that is translated wonders, mopheth (mo-faith’) “signifies a divine act or a special display of divine power” (H4139). The first occurrence of mopheth in the Bible is in Exodus 4:21 where it says that the LORD transferred his power to Moses, making it possible for him to do miracles without any divine assistance.

The first two miracles that Moses performed were duplicated by Pharaoh’s magicians, but when “Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast…The magicians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, but they could not…Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God'” (Exodus 8:17-19). The expression “the finger of God” was most likely meant to convey God’s handwriting or a signature that confirmed God’s identity. The magicians were letting Pharaoh know that Moses and Aaron were authentic representatives of a divine being with supernatural power. Exodus 8:19 states, “But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.” Pharaoh’s disregard of Moses’ miracle was based on the condition of his heart. The Hebrew word chazaq (khaw-zak’) means to be strong. “In reference to Pharaoh, it means to brace up and strengthen and points too the hardihood with which he set himself to act in defiance against God and closed all the avenues to his heart to those signs and wonders which Moses wrought” (H2388).

Psalm 67 links God’s saving power with his grace and indicates that God’s method of saving people was designed to make him known around the world. The psalmist states, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations” (Psalm 67:1-2). The Hebrew word that is translated way in Psalm 67:2, derek (deh’-rek) means a road and is used figuratively of “a course of life or mode of action” (H1870). Jesus’ life was not filled with a random set of events, but a fixed course that he was expected to follow that would end with his crucifixion. Several times, Jesus warned his disciples of what was ahead. Matthew’s gospel states, “When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, ‘You know that after two days the Passover is coming and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.’ Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him” (Matthew 26:1-4).

On several different occasions, Jesus was asked to perform miracles as an indication of his divine authority and power. Matthew recorded one such incident this way:

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. (Matthew 12:38-42)

Jesus was eluding to his death and resurrection when he said the Son of Man would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. On another occasion he likened his body to the temple of God and said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). Jesus indicated that he would raise himself from the dead and likely specified when his resurrection would occur as additional validation that he was able to control the circumstances that were involved in his death. The chief priests and the Pharisees seemed to think they could prevent Jesus from exiting his tomb by sealing it and placing a guard there. Matthew tells us:

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. (Matthew 27:62-66)

The purpose of sealing Jesus’ tomb and setting a guard outside was supposedly to make sure that no one could get in or out, but really the only thing that it guaranteed was that it would be impossible for someone to enter the tomb without the guards knowing about it. According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus exited his tomb while the sealed stone was still intact. Matthew said:

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” (Matthew 28:1-7)

The fact that no one was present when Jesus was resurrected suggests that he didn’t want there to be any confusion about the source of his miraculous reanimation. Whether it was God the Father or God the Son or a combined effort between the three persons of the trinity that caused Jesus to come back to life, the thing that is clear about Jesus’ resurrection is that there was no human involvement and the miracle itself was performed behind closed doors so to speak, somewhat like God’s creation of the universe which was witnessed only by angels (Psalm 148:1-2).

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians indicates that God’s plan of salvation began before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) and resulted in Christ being seated at God’s right hand after he was raised from the dead (Ephesians 1:20). Paul indicated that believers benefit from the working of God’s power that was exercised when Christ was raised from the dead. Paul prayed that the Ephesians would know what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe (Ephesians 1:19) as a result of Christ being seated at the right hand of God “in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” (Ephesians 1:21). Paul went on to say, “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23). Paul’s reference to the immeasurable greatness of Christ’s power and the fact that he is far above all rule and authority and power and dominion was intended to make it clear that there is no longer any competition between Christ and Satan. Jesus’ victory over death put an end to Satan’s attempt to overtake God’s kingdom.

The goal of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection was to bring unity to mankind and to reconcile everyone to God. Speaking directly to the Ephesians and indirectly to all non-Jewish people on earth, Paul stated:

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. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 4:17-19)

Paul described non-Jewish people as those who have no hope and are without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12). The Greek word that is translated without God, atheos (ath’-eh-os) means atheist, an individual that is void of any true recognition of God and is therefore excluded from communion with God (G112). Paul further clarified this by stating, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (Ephesians 4:17-19).

Jesus commissioned his disciples to go into the world and preach the gospel so that everyone would know the truth about God and would have an opportunity to accept Christ as their Savior. He told them:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Jesus said that he had been given “all authority” (Matthew 28:18). The Greek word exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) has to do with privileges that one has obtained through delegation of power. “From the meaning of ‘leave or permission,’ or liberty of doing as one pleases, it passed to that of ‘the ability or strength with which one is endued,’ then to that of the ‘power of authority,’ the right to exercise power, e.g. Matthew 9:6;21:23; 2 Corinthians 10:8; or ‘the power of rule or government,’ the power of one whose will and commands must be obeyed by others, e.g. Matthew 28:18; John 17:2; Jude 25; Revelation 12:10; 17:13; more specifically of apostolic ‘authority,’ 2 Corinthians 10:8; 13:10” (G1849).

Paul described Satan as the prince of the power of the air and indicated that everyone that is not committed to Christ is under his influence. Paul told the Ephesians, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3). The Greek word pneuma (pnyoo’-mah), which means a current of air and is translated spirit in Ephesians 2:2, is rarely used of wind, but when so used it is known for its strength, vigor, and force” (G4151). Paul used the word pneuma figuratively to represent the spirit that is at work in the sons of disobedience because Satan’s demonic forces have the ability to affect the inner workings of people’s minds and can cause us to act in ways that we might not want to due to our sinful human nature.

Paul learned through experience that spiritual warfare was a part of doing God’s will. Paul encouraged the Ephesians to “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13). Paul’s instruction to take up the whole armor of God implies that it is up to us to protect ourselves from Satan’s spiritual onslaught, but it could be that Paul was talking about something that is available to us and yet, deemed to be unnecessary. Paul may have been referring to the power that is at believers’ disposal, but rarely accessed because of our tendency to try and do things in our own strength rather than in God’s power. Paul said, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12).

In the same way that Christ was raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God in the heavenly places far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, we can stand against the schemes of the devil by exercising God’s power. Paul said that we are to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10). The Greek word endunamoo (en-doo-nam-o’-o) which is translated strong means to empower (G1743). Dunamoo is derived from the word dunamis (doo’-nam’is) which refers specifically to miraculous power. “Dunamis almost always points to new and higher forces that have entered and are working in this lower world of ours” (G1411). The Greek word translated strength, kratos (krat’-os) generally refers to might or power and is spoken of God with regards to his ruling control and dominion (G2904). The Greek word that is translated might, ischus (is-khoos’) refers to forcefulness of both body and mind (G2479) and is used to describe Christ’s potency and preeminence in Ephesians 1:19 where Paul talked about the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward us who believe “according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.”

Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” was followed by this assuring statement, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus’ reference to being “with” his disciples might seem like he was assuring them of his constant presence because the Greek word meta (met-ah’) denotes accompaniment, but meta is “often used in composition, in substantially the same relations of participation or proximity, and transfer or sequence” (G3326). It could be that what Jesus meant by being “with” his disciples was that it would seem like he was still doing all the things that he had been when he was living on earth. The same power that Jesus used to perform miracles, including being raised from the dead, would be at work in and through his disciples. God’s power was transferred to Jesus’ disciples so that they could carry on with his ministry. Paul eluded to this when he said that God put all things under Christ’s feet “and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23).

The Greek word that is translated fullness in Ephesians 1:23, pleroma (play’-ro-mah) refers to God, in the completeness of His Being and “the church as the complement of Christ, Ephesians 1:23” (G4138). The Greek word pleroo (play-ro’-o) which is translated fills means “to make replete, i.e. (literally) to cram (a net), level up (a hollow), or (figuratively) to furnish (or imbue, diffuse, influence), satisfy, execute (an office), finish ( a period or task)” (G4137). Paul said that the fullness of Christ fills all in all (Ephesians 1:23) with regards to the church acting as his body to carry out his will on earth. From that standpoint, all of the power that was available to Christ while he was living on earth is available to Christians that are making disciples of all nations and teaching them to observe all that Christ commanded us. The way that we access God’s power is to “take up the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:13). In other words, we have to rely on Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross and believe that it applies to us.

Spiritual Bondage

The death of Jacob and then his son Joseph ended an era of spiritual prosperity in the lives of God’s chosen people. Even though Joseph and his brothers were reunited, there seemed to be an element of distrust among them that lingered for the rest of their lives. It says in Genesis 50:15, “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.'” Joseph was disappointed that his brothers didn’t understand God’s will and reminded them, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear, I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:20-21).

“When the Hyksos invaded Egypt and gained political power, the descendants of Jacob were forced into slavery (Exodus 1:8, 10)” (Introduction to Exodus, p. 64). It says in Exodus 1:8-12:

Now there arose a king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raames. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad.

The Egyptian taskmasters were rulers that had the authority to punish the people of Israel if they didn’t do what was expected of them. The taskmasters afflicted the Israelites “with heavy burdens” (Genesis 1:11). The Hebrew word that is translated afflict, ‘anah (aw-naw’) “often expresses harsh and painful treatment” (H6031). The purpose of their affliction was to morally degrade the Israelites, to make them think less of themselves and to bring them into submission to Pharaoh.

It says in Exodus 1:11 that the Israelites were afflicted “with heavy burdens.” That meant that the people were suffering physically, but there was likely a spiritual aspect to their burdens as well. Jesus told his followers to “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give your rest” (Matthew 11:28). The Greek term that is translated heavy laden, phortizo (for-tid’-zo) means “to load up (properly as a vessel or animal), i.e. (figuratively) to overburden with ceremony (or spiritual anxiety)” (G5412). Jesus went on to say, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). Jesus indicated that the type of burden people needed to be relieved from was their personal development. The idea that we need rest for our souls comes from our human tendency to relentlessly pursue happiness. Jesus said we should learn from him. In other words, we should follow his example of how to serve God appropriately.

Jesus didn’t sidestep the issue of spiritual bondage. He told his followers they needed to take his yoke upon them (Matthew 11:29). A yoke signifies servitude and is used metaphorically “of submission to authority” (G2218). The point Jesus was making was that we get to choose who our spiritual master will be, God or Satan, but we must and will serve one or the other of them. Spiritual servitude, or if you will spiritual bondage, is not optional. Jesus’ instruction to “learn from me” meant that we can find relief from our spiritual work through an understanding and application of Jesus’ teaching. The Greek word manthano (man-than’-o) is not simply doctrine of Christ, but Christ himself, a process of not merely getting to know the person but of so applying the knowledge as to walk differently from unbelievers (G3129). Jesus said his yoke was easy, meaning that it was a natural fit and was useful for everyday life (G5543). Jesus’ reference to his burden being light was most likely related to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word phero (fer’-o) which means to ‘bear’ or carry “is rendered ‘being moved’ in 2 Peter 1:21, signifying that they were ‘borne along,’ or impelled by the Holy Spirit’s power, not acting according to their own wills, or simply expressing their own thoughts, but expressing the mind of God in words provided and ministered by Him” (G5342).

The Apostle Paul indicated that there is an ongoing battle between God’s people and Satan’s army because our loyalty to God often wavers. Paul said we are to be “strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12). Paul’s description of spiritual warfare as wrestling was meant to point out that personal interaction with Satan’s demonic forces is inevitable and probably happens more often than we realize. The Greek word that is translated wrestle, pale (pal’-ay) means to sway or vibrate (G3823). The Greek word palin (pal’-in), from which the word paliggenesia (pal-ing-ghen-es-ee’-ah) is derived, means anew or again and refers to the repetition of ideas or events (G3825). Paliggenesia means rebirth and refers to the regeneration of believers, “that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light” (G3824).

Paul indicated that Satan’s organization consists of various invisible agents that he identified as rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces of evil. Spiritual rulers are first in political rank or power (G757) and may have a direct correspondence to rulers in the physical realm in that spiritual rulers are assigned on a one to one basis to interact with political leaders that control the world’s power. Spiritual authorities are free agents that probably act as disrupters of peace. The Greek word exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) signifies “the right to exercise power” and indicates Satan’s spiritual authorities can do as they please (G1949). Cosmic powers or kosmokrator (kos-mok-rat’-ore) in the Greek means “a world-ruler, an epithet of Satan.” Ephesians 6:12 “shows that not earthly potentates are indicated, but spirit powers, who under the permissive will of God, and in consequence of human sin, exercise satanic and therefore antagonistic authority over the world in its present condition of spiritual darkness and alienation from God” (G2888).

It seems likely that the Egyptian king that set taskmasters over the people of Israel to afflict them (Exodus 1:11) was under the influence of a cosmic power and/or spiritual ruler. The taskmasters themselves played a part in making the Israelites lives miserable because “they ruthlessly made them work as slaves” (Exodus 1:14), but not everyone in Egypt was being controlled by Satan. Exodus 1:15-17 states, “Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, ‘When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.’ But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.” The midwives were rewarded by God (Exodus 1:20) because their disobedience made it possible for Moses to be born.

Paul’s final category of Satan’s invisible agents, the spiritual forces of evil, are likely demons that inhabit human bodies. The Greek word that is translated spiritual, pneumatikos (pnyoo-mat-ik-os’) refers to men in Christ who walk so as to please God and the blessings that accrue to the regenerate men. In fact, “all that is produced and maintained among men by the operations of the Spirit of God is ‘spiritual'” (G4152). Therefore, the spiritual forces of evil could be counterparts to spirit-filled believers. They operate in the same way, but instead of producing the effects of spiritual regeneration, spiritual forces of evil produce spiritual degradation, a moral decline in the behavior of an individual, for example a serial rapist who becomes more and more violent or twisted over time in his acts of sexual abuse.

Jesus warned the crowds and his disciples about the religious leaders that were leading them astray. He said, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on peoples’ shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:2-4). The language Jesus used of tying up heavy burdens and laying them on peoples shoulders suggests physical labor, but he was clearly talking about the religious practices the were being imposed on the Jews. The Greek word that is translated tie up, desmeuo (des-myoo’-o) means “to be a binder (captor), i.e. to enchain ( a prisoner)” (G1195) and carries the connotation of someone being held hostage or an oppressive situation. Exodus 1:12 indicates that the Israelites were being oppressed by their taskmasters, “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad.”

God’s blessing was on the Israelites while they endured slavery in Egypt and Jesus associated humility with spiritual success. Jesus told his disciples, “The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12). The difference between affliction which produces spiritual growth and spiritual bondage which enslaves the believer to demonic forces may be the willingness on the part of those who are dealing with it to rely on God for help. Paul instructed believers to “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day” (Ephesians 6:13). The Greek word that is translated take up, analambano (an-al-am-ban’-o) means to receive or to get hold of something that is being offered to you (G353/2983). Jesus used the Greek word lambano when he said, “everyone who asks receives” (Matthew 7:8), the implication being that it’s not a matter of God’s willingness to give us what we need, but our unwillingness to ask him for it.

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians revealed that the power to fight against the schemes of the devil comes from Christ. Paul referred to the riches of Christ’s glorious inheritance and the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward us who believe that was at work when Jesus was raised from the dead and said that God “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:18-21). Paul emphasized that Jesus is not just above other spiritual rulers and authorities, but far above all rule and authority, suggesting that Christ’s power is of a better quality and that it is superior to any other type. The Greek word that is translated power in Ephesians 1:21, dunamis (doo’-nam-is) refers to miraculous power (G1411) and dominion, kuriotes (koo-ree-ot’-ace) denotes lordship or someone that is supreme in authority and is associated with Jesus’ deity (G2963/2962).

Jesus pronounced eight woes on the scribes and Pharisees that were interfering with his ministry and began with a scathing rebuke of their hypocrisy. He stated, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in” (Matthew 23:14). What Jesus meant by shutting the kingdom of heaven in people’s face was that God’s compassion wasn’t being received because people were under the impression that you had to work your way into heaven. Jesus reiterated that the religious leaders were mistaken about the way to get to heaven by stating, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:16). In this instance, Jesus used the Greek word huios (hwee-os’) to refer to a child. “Primarily this word stresses the quality and essence of one so resembling another that distinctions between the two are indiscernible” (G5207).

Jesus’ identification of the scribes and Pharisees as children of hell suggests that they were so much under the control and influence of demonic forces that it was impossible to tell the difference between them and the demons that he often cast out of people. The Greek word that is translated hypocrites in Matthew 23:14 and 16, hupokrites (hoop-ok-ree-tace’) means “an actor under an assumed character (stage player)” (G5273). Jesus knew that the scribes and Pharisees were only pretending to be concerned about keeping God’s commandments and were intentionally breaking the laws they expected others to keep. Jesus told them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28). Jesus concluded by stating, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:33).

Jesus broadened his condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees to include the entire city of Jerusalem. He lamented, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 24:37). Jesus’ statement shows that in general, the population of Jerusalem had turned away from God and were unwilling to repent. The Greek words thelo (thel’-o) and ouch (ookh) which are translated not willing stress the finality of a decision in conjunction with the nature of the person that is deciding (G2309/G3756). Another way of expressing what Jesus meant by not willing might be “it wasn’t what you wanted to happen” or “you didn’t like that outcome.” Something that became clear about the Israelites’ bondage in Egypt over time was that they were content with things the way they were. One way of looking at it might be to say that they didn’t want to give up the security of their steady jobs.

Jesus expressed to the people he was talking to at the temple in Jerusalem that it was his desire to gather them “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Matthew 23:37). Jesus’ comparison of himself to a hen was likely meant to convey the tender heartedness with which God was inclined to deal with his chosen people. Jesus invited all who were tired of trying to work their way into heaven to come to him because he was “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:28-29). The Greek word that is translated gentle is praios (prah’-os). “Gentleness or meekness is the opposite of self-assertiveness and self-interest. It stems from trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation. The gentle person is not occupied with self at all. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, not of the human will” (G4235). Jesus demonstrated his trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation by willingly going to the cross to die for the sins of the world. He also told his disciples that, “If any man 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 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” (Matthew 16:24-25, 27).

The right place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you!

Deceivers

John’s brief message to the elect lady and her children focused on one central point, deceivers that were disrupting the spread of the gospel. John said, “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist” (2 John 1:7). The Greek word translated deceiver, planos (plan’-os) means an imposter (G4108). The Apostle Paul addressed the deception that was taking place near the end of his life in his first letter to Timothy. Paul said, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (1 Timothy 4:1). Paul’s mention of seducing spirits and doctrines of devils indicated that he was addressing the spiritual warfare that typically accompanied his preaching of the gospel. John’s statement, “This is a deceiver and an antichrist” also indicated that he associated deception with Satan’s spiritual war against God.

The Greek word John used that is translated antichrist, antichristos (an-tee-khris-tos) refers to an opponent of the Messiah (G500). John indicated that antichrists or imposters that claimed to be Israel’s Messiah were present in the world during his lifetime. These deceivers were apparently supported by demonic powers that were used to make people think God was at work in these fake ministries. The terms Paul used “seducing spirits” and “doctrines of devils” (1 Timothy 4:1) were specifically meant to point out that there was more than just human effort behind these kinds of attacks. The Greek word translated devils, daimonion (dahee-mon’-ee-on) refers to a demonic being (G1140). Throughout his ministry, Jesus cast out demons from human bodies. Mark’s gospel states about Jesus’ ministry, “Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him” (Mark 1:34, NKJV).

John’s primary concern about the deceivers that were making their way into the first century churches was that Christians were being taken in by their lies. John stated plainly that the doctrine of Christ was the only gospel message that should be preached (2 John 1:9). He said, “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 John 1:10-11). “The instruction does not prohibit greeting or even inviting a person into one’s home for conversation. John was warning against providing food and shelter, since this would be an investment in the ‘evil deeds’ of false teachers and would give public approval” (note on 2 John 1:10). The one thing that seems clear from John’s warning about deceivers was that they were hard to spot and even though their doctrines were false, they were convincing people that they could go to heaven some other way than believing in Jesus Christ.

Humility

Peter’s first epistle contains a wealth of information about the reality of believers living in a fallen world. He stated, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” (1 Peter 4:12-13, NKJV). The Greek word translated fiery trial, purosis (poo’-ro-sis) is derived from the word puroo (pur-ro’-o) which means “to be ignited, glow” (G4448). Peter was most likely referring to the process used to purify metal. Gold is refined by melting it in a fire and removing the impurities. Another aspect of adversity that Peter may have wanted to bring out was the testimonies of faith that resulted from Christian persecution. Many first century believers were forced to take a public stand about their belief in Jesus because of their refusal to conform to the culture of the Roman Empire and as a result, the gospel became very effective in converting people to Christ during the first century.

Peter explained the process of purification that Christians go through in 1 Peter 5:5-10. He stated:

Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. (NKJV)

A key characteristic of a Christian that has been through the process of purification is humility. Peter said that we are to be clothed with humility (1 Peter 5:5). The Greek word translated clothed, egkomboomai (eng-kom-bo’-om-ahee) refers to putting on an apron as a badge or sign of servitude (G1463). Peter was most likely trying to communicate what Jesus did when he washed his disciples feet (John 13). The Greek word translated humility, tapeinophrosune (tap-i-nof-ros-oo’-nay) refers to “humiliation of the mind, i.e. modesty).” “This virtue, a fruit of the gospel, exists when a person through most genuine self-evaluation deems himself worthless. It involves evaluating ourselves as small because we are so. The humble person is not stressing his sinfulness, but his creatureliness, of absolute dependence, of possessing nothing and receiving all things from God” (G5012).

Peter said that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). Another way of stating it might be, God is on the side of the loser, the one that doesn’t think he can do it himself. Peter instructed believers to “humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6). What Peter was saying was that we should submit ourselves to God because he can do more that we can do ourselves. Peter added, “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, NKJV). Cares have to do with the thoughts that go through our mind on a daily basis, the things we focus our attention on. Peter was indicating that we need to focus all our attention on God because he is our provider and is responsible for our welfare. Peter’s warning to “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8) emphasized the importance of spiritual awareness. Even though we cannot see what is going on in the spiritual realm, we can affect the outcome of spiritual wars by asking for God’s help when we are faced with trials and temptations.

Suffering

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out of the darkness

Paul encouraged believers to change their behavior and to act like children of God. He told the Ephesians, “At one time you lived in darkness. Now you are living in the light that comes from the Lord. Live as children who have the light of the Lord in them” (Ephesians 5:8, NLV). Paul encouraged the believers in Ephesus to be engaged in spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:13) and told them to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11).

The unfruitful works of darkness that he referred to in Ephesians 5:11 may have been rumors that were being spread about Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome. The Greek word translated reprove, elegcho (el-eng’-kho) means “to rebuke another with the truth so that the person confesses, or at least is convicted of his sin” (G1651). There was most likely a lot of conflict in the church at Ephesus and Paul wanted the believers there to resist the temptation to be drawn back into their old lifestyles. The Greek word translated unfruitful, akarpos refers to “those influenced by the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches” (G175).

Paul’s final instruction to the Ephesians was to be properly equipped for spiritual battles. He said, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11). Paul became familiar with the armor of the Roman soldiers while he was under house arrest. The constant poking and prodding Paul had to endure from his captors may have prompted him to think of ways to thwart their attempts to antagonize him.

Paul said that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). The descriptors Paul used suggest that a structured organization exists in the spiritual realm. The Greek word translated powers, exousia refers to “the power of one whose will and commands must be obeyed by others” (G1849). Rulers of the darkness implies a world-ruler and may have been a reference to Satan himself. Paul was talking about “spirit powers, who, under the permissive will of God, and in consequence of human sin, exercise satanic and therefore antagonistic authority over the world in its present condition of spiritual darkness and alienation from God” (G2888).

Paul’s instructed believers to “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day” (Ephesians 6:13). This might suggest that we can only withstand Satan’s attempts to overcome us by using all of the spiritual resources we have available to us. Paul identified six pieces of clothing or armory that could be used in spiritual battles: a girdle (truth), breastplate (righteousness), shoes (gospel), shield (faith), helmet (salvation), and a sword (word of God). These pieces of armor may correspond to the process whereby a person becomes a child of God. A person must first hear the truth, then be convicted of his sins, understand that Jesus died for all sins and by faith receive Jesus as his savior, and finally, read the Bible to learn more about God’s kingdom.

Strongholds

A spiritual stronghold is an invisible structure that Satan erects to disable a believer’s faith. The Greek word translated strong holds, ochuroma (okh-oo’-ro-mah) “is used metaphorically in 2 Corinthians 10:4 of those things in which mere human confidence is imposed” (G3794). A better understanding of the word ochuroma can be obtained by looking at its origin. Ochuroma is a derivative of the word echo or scheo (skheh’-o), a primary verb which means to hold. “This word stresses that one has the means to accomplish a task” (G2192). Another word derived from scheo, ochlos (okh’los) means a vehicle, “a disorganized throng (as borne along)” (G3793). Another way of describing a stronghold might be popular opinion or what we read in the news headlines and hear on TV. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”

Paul used the Greek word kathairesis (kath-ah’ee-res-is) to describe the process of eliminating strongholds. Kathairesis means demolition and suggests that Paul was thinking about a forceful removal of any thought that interfered with belief in the truth of God’s word. Paul stated that believers are to cast down imaginations (2 Corinthians 10:5). What Paul was likely referring to was the estimation of our own abilities. When we feel convicted to do something as a result of what we have read in the Bible, our imagination causes us to think; that’s impossible, I could never do that. Paul’s instruction was to get rid of that thought by means of spiritual warfare. Paul said, “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God (2 Corinthians 10:4). The Greek word translated mighty, dunatos means powerful or capable (G1415). In other words, we must believe what God says is possible in order to demolish Satan’s stronghold.

Paul made it clear that Satan seeks to gain an advantage over believers (2 Corinthians 2:11) and he uses unfair means to trick us into believing his lies. Paul described Satan’s servants as “false prophets, deceitful workers” and indicated they transform themselves into the apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13). The Greek word translated transforming in 2 Corinthians 11:13 is metaschematizo (met-askh-ay-mat-id’-zo) which means to transfigure or disguise (G3345). Metashematizo is derived from the words meta (G3326) and schema (G4976). These words have to do with Satan working through external circumstances to disrupt believers’ lives. Paul talked about those who wanted to disrupt his ministry as desiring an occasion or looking for an opportunity to trip him up. Paul said, “But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them (2 Corinthians 11:12). Paul’s tactic to frustrate Satan’s effort was to do what he said he was going to. In his first letter, Paul told the Corinthians he was going to visit them (1 Corinthians 4:19). Even though he was delayed, Paul eventually made it to Corinth as promised (2 Corinthians 13:1).