God knows me

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was addressed “to the saints who are in Ephesus” (Ephesians 1:1). Paul used the term saints to identify “those who are purified and sanctified by the influences of the Spirit…This is assumed of all who profess the Christian name” (G40). Since Paul was also a saint, he referred to this group as us when he said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:3-4, emphasis mine). Paul indicated that saints are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places and were chosen by God before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him. The Greek word that is translated chosen in Ephesians 1:4, eklegomai (ek-legˊ-om-ahee) means “to select” (G1586) and is derived from the words ek (ek) which speaks “of the efficient cause or agent, that from which any action or thing proceeds, is produced or effected” and lego (legˊ-o) which means “to ‘lay’ forth, i.e. (figurative) relate (in words [usually of systematic or set discourse])” (G3004). The Greek word logos (logˊ-os) is derived from the word lego and was used in John’s gospel to identify Jesus as “the Word.’ John said, “The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1-3). In the same way that God spoke things into existence in the creation account recorded in Genesis 1:3-26, God causes those whom he has chosen to become saints to respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ by relating its message to them personally.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews made it clear that faith is the means by which everyone, including Old Testament believers, are justified or grated access to God (Hebrews 10:38). Hebrews 11:1-3 states:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews went on to name specific individuals from the Old Testament that by faith had been commended as righteous before God and would be made perfect along with all the New Testaments saints at a future point in time (Hebrews 11:39-40).

Moses talked about the Israelites being chosen by God in his final discourse shortly before his death. Moses said:

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face.” (Deuteronomy 7:6-10)

God dealt with the people of Israel as a whole, but also singled out individuals who hated him and would not keep his commandments. When the covenant was renewed in Moab, Moses pointed out that a reciprocal choice had to be made by each person. Moses said, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

The Hebrew word that is translated choose in Deuteronomy 30:19, bachar (baw-kharˊ) means “to select” and can designate human choice or divine choice, “in either case, it generally has theological overtones.” Bachar’s “meaning is to take a keen look at, to prove, to choose. It denotes a choice, which is based on a thorough examination of the situation and not an arbitrary whim” (H977). “Being ‘chosen’ by God brings people into an intimate relationship with Him.” An example of this in the Old Testament can be seen in the life of King David. When David was anointed king of Israel, the Prophet Samuel went to his home, but didn’t know which of his father Jesse’s sons had been selected by God to be king. It says that Samuel “looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the LORD’s anointed is before him.’ But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:6-7). The Hebrew word raʾah (raw-awˊ), which is translated looks, in this instance is being used to connote “seeing only what is obvious” (H7200).

David talked about God’s ability to see what was obvious in his heart in Psalm 139. David opened this psalm with the declaration, “O LORD, you have searched me and known me!” (v. 1). The Hebrew word that is translated searched, chaqar (khaw-karˊ) is properly translated as “to penetrate; hence, to examine intimately” (H2713). David’s statement implied that God could penetrate the surface of his being and examine the intimate parts of his soul. Knowing David this way meant that God had a relational viewpoint of David’s character and could communicate with him about intimate matters. God talked about his relationship with the people of Israel in the context of love and unity and promised to go with them into the Promised Land. Moses told the people:

“The Lord your God himself will go over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, so that you shall dispossess them, and Joshua will go over at your head, as the Lord has spoken. And the Lord will do to them as he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when he destroyed them. And the Lord will give them over to you, and you shall do to them according to the whole commandment that I have commanded you. Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:3-6)

The words leave and forsake suggest that God could physically depart from his chosen people, but the Hebrew words that are translated leave and forsake have to do with God’s divine influence upon the human heart. The Hebrew word ʿazab (aw-zabˊ), which is translated forsake, “can mean to ‘allow someone to do something,’ as in 2 Chronicles 32:31, where ‘God left [Hezekiah], to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart’; God ‘let’ Hezekiah do whatever he wanted” (H5800).

God promised not to leave or forsake his chosen people, but indicated there would come a time when he would hide his face from them because of their evil behavior (Deuteronomy 31:18). God said, “For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give them” (Deuteronomy 31:21). A person’s inclination to do certain things is a result of the way his heart and/or mind works. The Israelites were known to be stubborn and rebellious (Deuteronomy 31:27) and God did not expect them to change even though he had given them the opportunity to do so (Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:19).

The thing that distinguished David from the other Israelites that God had to choose from when he anointed David to be king over Israel was his openness to having intimacy with the LORD. David said:

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. (Psalm 139:2-4)

Just like the twelve apostles that lived with Jesus during his three-year ministry on earth, David believed that the LORD was aware of his every movement and also knew what he was thinking during every waking moment of the day. David also believed that God was in control of his circumstances. David said:

You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it. (Psalm 139:5-6)

David admitted that God’s knowledge of his inner workings compared to his own was incomprehensible. David didn’t even have access to or you might say have an awareness of the things that God knew about him. David concluded:

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

David realized that he couldn’t keep God from knowing things about him. Even if David wanted to escape God’s presence, there was no where he could go, including Sheol or Hell that God didn’t have access to. Proverbs 15:3 states, “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”

Jesus’ eminent departure from Earth after his resurrection from the dead likely caused his disciples to wonder how he was going to continue to be involved in their lives after he was gone. Jesus 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 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 would be with his disciples always. The Greek word that is translated with, meta (met-ahˊ) denotes accompaniment and is generally used to convey an association with someone in the sense of participation or proximity (G3326). Meta appears in Matthew 1:23 where is says of Jesus, “’They shall call his name Immanuel!’ (which means, God with us)” (emphasis mine). After he died on the cross, God gave Jesus authority in heaven and on earth which means he now has the privilege of coming and going as he pleases. Jesus was given an all access pass, so to speak, to God’s kingdom. Jesus explained to the religious leaders who thought that God’s kingdom would be manifested on earth as a physical structure that God’s kingdom exists inside believers. It says in Luke 17:20-21, “Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, “See here!” or “See there!” For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you’” (NKJV).

Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of heaven revealed the internal nature of God’s kingdom (Matthew 13). In his parable of the sower (Luke 8:4-8), Jesus taught his disciples about the effect of God’s word on the human heart. Luke’s gospel tells us, “And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that “seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:9-15). Jesus also talked about the light in you being a source of spiritual health. Jesus said, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light” (Luke 11:33-36).

In Psalm 139:13-16, David depicted the intricate detail of God’s work in his invisible soul. David said:

For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.

David indicated that God had formed his days and wrote them in his book before his birth. The Hebrew word that is translated formed, yatsar (yaw-tsarˊ) means “to press (through the squeezing into shape); to mould into a form; especially as a potter; (figurative) to determine (i.e. form a resolution)…By extension, the word conveys the notion of predestination and election (2 Kings 19:25; Isaiah 49:5)” (H3335).

God used analogy of the potter and the clay to describe his process of conversion to the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah 18:1-6 states, “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “’Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the LORD came to me: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.’” The Apostle Paul also used the analogy of the potter and the clay to refute the injustice of God’s sovereign choice. Paul argued, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:19-24)

Paul’s argument in favor of God’s sovereign choice points out the fact that everyone would be destined for destruction if it weren’t for God’s mercy. Proverbs 15:10-11 also indicates that God knows the hearts of people so well that he is able to determine who wants to go to heaven and who wants to go to hell. It states, “There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; whoever hates reproof will die. Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the LORD; how much more the hearts of the children of man!”

David concluded Psalm 139 by inviting God to search his soul and to determine if there was anything inside of him that needed to be corrected. David said:

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24)

David indicated that he wanted to go to heaven by asking God to “lead me in the way everlasting.” The way refers to “a course of life or mode of action.” The Hebrew word derek (dehˊ-rek) “is most often used metaphorically to refer to the pathways of one’s life” (H1870).

In the New Testament book of Acts, Christianity is referred to as “the Way.” Before his conversion, Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul, was dedicated to persecuting Jesus’ disciples. It says in Acts 9:1-2, “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” According to the Book of Hebrews, belonging to the Way meant that a person had access to God in the same way that Jesus has access to his Father (G3598) and in the same way that God has access to us. Hebrews 10:19-22 tells us that Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross opened up a new and living way that enables believers to draw near to God in the full assurance of faith and it says in Hebrews 7:25, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for us.” Because Jesus is making intercession for the saints, it is not only possible for God to know believers intimately, but it is also possible for them to experience intimacy with God and to have the full assurance of faith that they will be with him forever (John 14:1-4).

A spiritual pathway

The Israelites journey from Egypt to the land of Canaan had both physical and spiritual elements to it. As the people traveled through the desert, they were focused on worshipping God and were given many opportunities to experience spiritual success and failure. After they rebelled against God (Numbers 14:1-4), the people of Israel were pardoned, but none of the men who had seen God’s glory and the signs that he did in Egypt and in the wilderness were allowed to enter the land that God had promised to give them (Numbers 14:20-23). The LORD told the Israelites, “According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure” (Numbers 14:34). At the end of the forty years, Moses recounted the Israelites’ journey. Moses wrote, “This is the route the Israelites followed as they marched out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. At the Lord’s direction, Moses kept a written record of their progress. These are the stages of their march, identified by the different places where they stopped along the way.” (Numbers 33:1-2, NLT). Moses indicated that the Israelites’ route was determined by the LORD and their progress was dependent upon their stops along the way. Deuteronomy 1:2 states that “it is eleven days journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea” and yet, the Israelites arrived in Kadesh-barnea “in the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month” (Deuteronomy 1:3).

Moses told the people of Israel that the LORD had carried them, “’all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ Yet in spite of this word you did not believe in the LORD your God, who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go” (Deuteronomy 1:31-33). The Hebrew word that is translated place, mᵉqomah (mek-o-mahˊ) is properly translated as “a standing, i.e. a spot; but used widely of a locality (generally or specifically); also (figuratively) of a condition (of body or mind)” (H4725). Mᵉqomah appears in Genesis 28:11 where it says that Jacob “came to a certain place and stayed there that night.” Mᵉqomah is derived from the Hebrew word quwm (koom) which means “to arise, stand up, come about…It is also used to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (H6965). When it says that the LORD carried the Israelites all the way that they went until they came to this place, it meant that the Israelites’ final destination was prearranged, but it also meant that the people were going to arrive at their destination at a particular time because of the way or route that they traveled. The Hebrew word that is translated way, derek (dehˊ-rek) “represents a ‘distance’ (how far or how long) between two points.” Derek is used figuratively of “a course of life or mode of action.” In Jeremiah 10:23, derek “signifies the overall course and fixed path of one’s life, or his ‘destiny’” (H1870).

Jesus told his followers, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). When Jesus said he was the way, he was speaking of himself as “the author and medium of access to God and eternal life” (G3598). In that sense, Jesus was the pathway, the route that people needed to follow in order to connect with God. When Jesus called his disciples, he commanded them to, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19, 9:9; John 1:43). Jesus talked about the pathway to heaven in the context of the Golden Rule. Jesus said:

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” (Matthew 7:12-14, NLT)

Jesus referred to the pathway to hell as a highway because that’s the route that most people choose to take. The idea that Jesus conveyed was a paved road that had lots of traffic on it. By contrast, the pathway to heaven was very narrow and difficult, likely a single lane, dirt road that required a four-legged animal or today a four-wheel-drive vehicle to get to your destination.

Psalm 95 provides insight into why the people of Israel were unsuccessful in the spiritual aspect of their journey to the Promised Land. It says of God, “For forty years I loathed that generation and said, ‘They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways’” (Psalm 95:10). The Israelites didn’t understand God’s way of doing things and also made the mistake of following the examples of other nations. Proverbs 12:26 says, “One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were referred to as wicked men in Numbers 16:26. Moses said, “These men have despised the LORD” (Numbers 16:30). Korah, Dathan, and Abiram rejected the LORD and were influencing other Israelites to rebel against Moses and Aaron’s leadership (Numbers 16:2-3). Numbers 16:25-33 states:

So Moses got up and rushed over to the tents of Dathan and Abiram, followed by the elders of Israel. “Quick!” he told the people. “Get away from the tents of these wicked men, and don’t touch anything that belongs to them. If you do, you will be destroyed for their sins.” So all the people stood back from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Then Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the entrances of their tents, together with their wives and children and little ones. And Moses said, “This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things that I have done—for I have not done them on my own. If these men die a natural death, or if nothing unusual happens, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord does something entirely new and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them and all their belongings, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have shown contempt for the Lord.” He had hardly finished speaking the words when the ground suddenly split open beneath them. The earth opened its mouth and swallowed the men, along with their households and all their followers who were standing with them, and everything they owned. So they went down alive into the grave, along with all their belongings. The earth closed over them, and they all vanished from among the people of Israel. (NLT)

Going astray in their heart meant that these wicked men’s will and God’s will were not aligned with each other. In Proverbs 4:23 we are told to guard our “heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (NLT). The Hebrew word that is translated heart, leb (labe) “includes not only the motives, feelings, affections, and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man…the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself” (H3820).

It says in Genesis 8:21 that “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” and in Deuteronomy 29:4 that the LORD did not give the Israelites hearts that could understand what he was doing. The only way the people knew how to do what God wanted them to was to obey his commandments and follow Moses’ directions. It says in Proverbs 12:15, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” The Hebrew word that is translated listens, shama (shaw-mahˊ) “means to give undivided attention” and refers to hearing in both an intellectual and spiritual context. “The most famous use of this word is to introduce the Shema, ‘Hear, O, Israel,’ followed by the content of what the Israelites are to understand about the Lord their God and how they are to respond to him” (H8085). Deuteronomy 6:4-5 states, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” The connection between loving God and listening to him had to do with the relationship that God wanted to have with his chosen people. It says in Deuteronomy 7:6 that the Israelites were chosen by God to be a people for his treasured possession. “Being ‘chosen’ by God brings people into an intimate relationship with Him” (H977).

God encouraged the Israelites to do what he commanded them to by promising to bless them if they were obedient and to curse them if they were not. Moses told the people, “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2). The Hebrew word that is translated high in Deuteronomy 28:1, ʿamad (aw-madˊ) is an epithet for God and means “to stand” and “can suggest ‘immovable,’ or not being able to be moved…another nuance appears in Psalm 102:26, which teaches the indestructibility and/or eternity of God—the creation perishes but He ‘shalt endure [will ever stand].’ This is not the changelessness of doing nothing or standing physically upright, but the changelessness of ever-existing being, a quality that only God has in Himself” (H5975).

God’s promise of an eternal kingdom provided a strong incentive for the people of Israel to follow the spiritual pathway that he had prepared from them, but knowing that they were unlikely to live up to his expectations, God established a strong deterrent against disobedience as well. Moses said, “But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field…The LORD will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me” (Deuteronomy 28:15-16, 20). The Hebrew word that is translated cursed in Deuteronomy 28:16, ʾarar (aw-rarˊ) generally denotes to inflict with a curse. “There are at least five other Hebrew words with the same general meaning. This verb, in a more specific sense, means to bind (with a spell); to hem in with obstacles; to render powerless to resist” (H779).

After Simon Peter declared Jesus to be the Christ, “the Son of the living God,” Jesus told Peter, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:16-19). Jesus told Peter that he was blessed because a spiritual truth had been revealed to him by God the Father. The Greek word that is translated revealed, apokalupto (ap-ok-al-oopˊ-to) means “to take off the cover, i.e. disclose…The subjective use of apokalupto is that in which something is presented to the mind directly as…the will of God for the conduct of his children (Philippians 3:15)” (G601). Jesus indicated that the spiritual truth that was revealed to Peter would be the rock on which his church was built “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus’ reference to the gates of hell not being able to prevail was likely intended to point out that a spiritual battle was taking place and that this particular spiritual truth could free a person from spiritual bondage. Jesus said, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). The Greek word that is translated loosed, luo (looˊ-o) speaks “of persons bound in sin and wickedness, who are loosed through the preaching of and a saving relationship with Jesus Christ” (G3089).

The fact that the Israelites who did not obey the voice of the LORD were cursed and therefore, rendered powerless to resist the temptation of sin suggests that they were forced to go down a spiritual pathway that was contrary to God’s will, but God used the Israelites’ disobedience to accomplish his ultimate purpose, the salvation of the world and unification of the Jews and Gentiles into a single body of believers. Paul discussed this in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. (Ephesians 2:11-18, NLT)

The Book of Hebrews explains that God has provided a better way for us to know and do his will through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It says in Hebrews 10:14-22:

For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy.

And the Holy Spirit also testifies that this is so. For he says,

“This is the new covenant I will make
    with my people on that day, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
    and I will write them on their minds.”

Then he says,

“I will never again remember
    their sins and lawless deeds.”

And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. (NLT)

It says in Hebrews 10:20 that Jesus’ death opened up “a new and life-giving way.” In other words, Jesus created a spiritual pathway that takes us into the presence of God. The Greek word that is translated life-giving, zao (dzahˊ-o) appears in Matthew 16:16 where Peter identified Jesus as “the Son of the living God.” Jesus also used the Greek word zao when he told the woman at the well that he could give her “living water” (John 4:10). Zao is associated with the resurrection of believers, but more specifically with, “the recovery of physical life from the power of death” (G2198). The writer of Hebrews said that Jesus’ death opened the way or in Hebrew the hodos (hod-osˊ). The Greek word hodos is similar to the Hebrew word derek. It refers to the road or the route one takes on a journey, but metaphorically it represents “a course of conduct,” or “way of thinking” (G3598). Jesus’ death made the recovery of physical life from the power of death possible for us and now we can “go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him” (Hebrews 10:22, NLT).

Proverbs 12:28 states, “In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.” Basically, what this verse means is that if we travel through life on the pathway of righteousness, hell will not be a part of our route. Righteousness is the state that believers enter into when they accept Jesus’ death on the cross as the atonement for their sins. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham believed the LORD, “and he counted it to him as righteousness.” The transaction that takes place when a person puts his or her trust in Jesus is called justification. Paul talked about Abraham’s justification in his letter to the Romans. Romans 4:18-25 states, “In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’ But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

The keys to the kingdom

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

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

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

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

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

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