God’s will

There are two components of God will that work together to accomplish the things that God wants to do, the part that God does and the part that we do. We usually know what God is doing or has already done because he tells us. Prophecy is when God tells us what he is going to do before he does it. God also tells us what he wants us to do through commands or instructions. An example of how this works can be found in Genesis 12:1-3 which records God’s promise to Abraham. It 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. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Genesis 12:4 tells us that “Abram went, as the LORD had told him.” Abraham’s obedience instigated the work that God intended to do in his and his descendants lives for hundreds of years and paved the way for a covenant that secured their participation in his eternal kingdom.

Abraham’s grandson Jacob was not as cooperative as he was and made it more difficult for God to continue working in the lives of Abraham’s descendants. After Jacob increased greatly in the land of Paddan-aram, “Then the LORD said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3). Jacob left Paddan-aram (Genesis 31:17), but stopped before he reached his father’s house. Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, but after his daughter Dinah was raped and his sons killed all the men of the city in retaliation, Jacob said to his sons Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household” (Genesis 34:30).

Jacob’s doubts and fears seemed to continue the rest of his life. When his son Joseph told him and his brothers about a dream that he had, Jacob “rebuked him and said to him, ‘What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?'” (Genesis 37:10). Jacob’s lack of faith seemed to reach its pinnacle when he was presented with his son Joseph’s coat after his brothers had dipped in the blood of a goat. Jacob “identified it and said, ‘It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces'” (Genesis 37:33). The Hebrew word that is translated “without doubt,” taraph (taw-raf’) refers to the evidence that was presented to Jacob. It appeared that Jacob had been eaten by a wild animal, but “the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard” (Genesis 37:38).

God continued to work in Joseph’s life in spite of Jacob and his other son’s resistance and even outright rebellion against God’s will for them. Joseph’s position as the governor of Egypt made it possible for Jacob’s family to receive food and remain alive during a severe famine. After Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, “They went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob. And they told him, ‘Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.’ And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them” (Genesis 45:25-26). When Jacob finally learned the truth about Joseph’s disappearance, he was unable to believe it. The King James Version of Genesis 45:26 states that “Jacob’s heart fainted.” The Hebrew word that is used, puwg (poog) means to be sluggish (H6313). A word that is derived from puwg, puwgah (poo-gaw’) means intermission (H6314), suggesting that Jacob had a heart attack or went into shock because the good news that Joseph was still alive was not at all what he had expected to hear when his sons got back from Egypt.

Before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he sent two of his disciples ahead of him, and told them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them, and he will send them at once.’ This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden”‘” (Matthew 21:2-5). It was God’s will for Jesus to enter the city at that exact moment in time and in the exact way that he did, riding on the colt of a donkey. Jesus, the two disciples that obeyed his instruction and the owner of the donkey and its colt all played a part in making it happen just as it had been foretold hundreds of years earlier. And yet, “when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee'” (Matthew 21:10-11). The crowds witnessed what happened, but interpreted it incorrectly. Jesus was not just a prophet, but the “Son of David!” (Matthew 21:9), Israel’s Messiah.

After he recovered from the shock of hearing that Joseph was still alive, Jacob went to Beersheba, “and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac” (Genesis 46:1). The fact that Jacob offered sacrifices to the God of his father, rather than his own God seems to suggest that Jacob had still not done his part of God’s will, which was to accept the Lord as his Savior. Jacob had many years earlier left Beersheba and went toward Haran (Genesis 28:10) to live with his uncle Laban and promised, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house” (Genesis 28:20-22). Jacob’s stipulation that God keep him in the way he was going suggests that he wanted God to do his will instead of the other way around. It seemed that Jacob never got to a place where he was willing to submit himself completely to God’s will. And yet, God continued to do what he said he would. He told Jacob, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes” (Genesis 46:3-4).

God’s description of Jacob’s travels as going down to Egypt and coming back up again, may have been his way of assuring Jacob that he still planned to establish his family in the Promised Land, God’s will for Abraham’s descendants had not changed. God also said that he would go with Jacob to Egypt. In other words, God would continue to work in Jacob’s life even while he was living in a foreign land. After Jacob arrived in Goshen, “Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while” (Genesis 46:29). When Joseph presented himself to his father, he was essentially proving that his father was wrong about the future. Jacob didn’t believe Joseph was alive until he saw him face to face (Genesis 46:30). The Hebrew word ra’ah (raw-aw’), which is translated presented himself, “can represent mentally recognizing that something is true” (H7200). When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, Matthew said, “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet” (Matthew 21:4). The Greek word that is translated took place, ginomai (ghin’-om-ahee) means to cause to be or “to become (come into being)” (G1096), the context being physical existence. When prophecy is fulfilled, it means that God’s will has been completed. Therefore, seeing Joseph’s face changed Jacob’s mind about God’s intention for his life.

Jesus gave his disciples a visual lesson in accomplishing God’s will. Matthew tells us, “In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once” (Matthew 21:18-19). When Jesus’ disciples observed the fig tree withering up as a result of what Jesus said, they marveled because of the immediate response he got (Matthew 21:20). Jesus explained to them that what happened was an outcome of having complete confidence in God. Jesus told them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what had been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive if you have faith” (Matthew 21:21-22). Jesus stipulated that you must have faith and not doubt because these two aspects of our human nature contradict each other. Doubt is not the absence of faith, but an opposing viewpoint. The Greek word that is translated doubt, diakrino (dee-ak-ree’-no) means “to withdraw from, or (by implication) oppose” (G1252). Figuratively, diakrino means to discriminate or decide. The two words that diakrino are derived from, dia (dee-ah’) which denotes that channel of an act (G1223), and krino (kree’-no) which means to be of opinion as in deciding if something is right or wrong (G2919), suggests that doubt is a determination that God’s will is wrong and should not be acted on.

It might be easy to think that Jesus cursing a fig tree because it had no fruit on it was unfair of him or perhaps, even a cruel act of revenge, but the purpose of the fig tree was to provide fruit for its master and it had failed to do that. Jesus had the authority to determine its fate and the fig tree was unable to oppose him. Jesus’ authority was the key that unlocked God’s ability to do things for him. The chief priests and elders of the people asked Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23). The Greek word exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) refers to the liberty of doing as one pleases (G1849). Exousia is derived from the word existi (ex’-es-tee) which essentially means “it is right” or lawful (G1832). Jesus didn’t answer the priest’s question about his authority, but went on to tell a parable about two sons that were expected to work in their father’s vineyard.

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

Jesus focused on the connection between obedience and believing what one has been told to do. Jesus said that the son that refused to work in his father’s vineyard changed his mind and did what his father told him to. The Greek word that is translated changed his mind, metamellomai (met-am-el’-lom-ahee) means to care afterward, i.e. regret and “stresses a change of the will which results in change in single individual actions and is translated ‘to repent'” (G3338). John the Baptist’s primary message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). The problem that Jesus pointed out was that the religious leaders didn’t think they needed to repent. They thought they were doing what was right, but the tax collectors and prostitutes knew they were sinners.

Jacob’s departure from the Promised Land may have felt like a demoralizing defeat to him, but God assured him that he would be blessed no matter where he went. God said, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation” (Genesis 46:3). In the same way that God had made Joseph the lord of all Egypt, he intended to transform Jacob’s family into a great nation through difficult circumstances and suffering. Jacob’s life was somewhat of a precursor to the bondage that all of his family would eventually have to endure. When Pharaoh asked him how many years he had lived, Jacob told him, “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life” (Genesis 47:9). Jacob’s description of his years as being few and evil probably had to do with his realization that God’s will for his life was not what he thought it was. It was almost as if Jacob thought he had been cursed by God rather than having received his blessing. The Hebrew word that is translated evil, ra’ (rah) “Combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences. It generally indicates the rough exterior of wrongdoing as a breach of harmony, and as breaking up of what is good and desirable in man and in society. While the prominent characteristic of the godly is lovingkindness (H2617), one of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury to both himself and to everyone around him” (H7451).

In his parable of the vineyard, Jesus associated the contradiction of God’s will with a desire to usurp his authority. Jesus likened the Jewish religious leaders to tenants of a vineyard that refused to pay their rent and asked, “When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” His disciples responded, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons” (Matthew 21:40-41). Jesus concluded by stating, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Matthew 21:43-44). Jesus’ differentiation between being broken to pieces and crushed by God’s authority might likely have to do with a person’s willingness to change his mind. To a certain extent, repentance is just admitting that you have been wrong. It seems that Jacob was broken to pieces by his disobedience, but he and his family were not abandoned by God. In fact, God made a way for them to move into the land of Goshen and thrive for hundreds of years so that his prophecy that they would become a great nation could be fulfilled.

Confidence

It could be said that Jesus was the most confident man that has ever lived. His triumphal entry into Jerusalem was a significant event because it demonstrated that Jesus’ claim to be God had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The prophet Isaiah said of Jesus Christ, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). A key prophecy about the arrival of Israel’s Messiah was that he would be identified as the “King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:11). Zechariah said of this man, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: Behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass” (Zechariah 9:9). Jesus fulfilled this prophecy when he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey on what is now referred to as Palm Sunday.

Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem was a noteworthy event because he was defying the religious authorities that were planning to kill him. Everyone was paying attention to what Jesus was doing and probably knew something spectacular was about to happen. Many of the people that met Jesus in Jerusalem had seen him raise Lazarus from the dead (John 12:17-18). Even the religious leaders said among themselves “behold, the world is gone after him” (John 12:19). The key issue at stake was Jesus’ authority (Mark 11:28). If Jesus was God, then he had the right to rule over the nation of Israel and was accountable to no one but his heavenly Father. The Apostle Paul later described Jesus as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature” and said of his authority, “for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Colossians 1:15-17).

In the midst of all that was going on, Jesus let his disciples know that his human needs still had to met. Matthew tells us, “Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he was hungered. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the tree withered away” (Matthew 21:18-19). Jesus used this opportunity to teach his disciples about the power of faith and about the authority they had received from him. Jesus said:

“Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:22-24, ESV)

Jesus’ command pointed out that believing was an essential element of answered prayer. The only thing that could keep his disciples from getting their prayers answered was doubt. The Greek word Jesus used that is translated doubt diakrino means to separate thoroughly (G1252). Jesus was probably telling his disciples that doubt was going to be the result of being separated from him. The reason Jesus was able to act with complete confidence was because he and his Father were one, spiritually there was literally no distance between them. The Greek verb translated received in Mark 11:24, lambano actually means to take or objectively “to get hold of” (G2983). This may mean that our confidence in receiving what we pray for comes from a recognition that we are just as close to Jesus as he was to his Father. Jesus prayed that all believers would be united with him just before he was arrested. He said, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word. That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:20-21).

Not God

The Jewish religious leaders did everything they could to make it seem as though Jesus was not God. One of the ways the Pharisees tried to discredit him was to say that Jesus performed miracles by the power of the devil (Matthew 12:24). In one of Jesus’ final confrontations with these men, it says in Matthew 21:23, “when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?” The reason they asked Jesus these questions was because they thought he would disclose his identity and they could arrested for claiming to be God. Instead, Jesus answered them:

“I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Matthew 21:24-27, ESV)

The chief priests and elders unwillingness to acknowledge the authenticity of John’s baptism suggests that their claim that Jesus was not God had nothing to do with their belief, but it was merely a means for them to get rid of him. Jesus used the parable of the husbandmen to point out that the religious leaders were intent on killing him (Matthew 21:33-39). In his parable, Jesus said after the husbandmen had beaten and killed the householder’s servants, “Last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance” (Matthew 21:37-38). Afterward, Jesus declared:

“Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” (Matthew 21:42-44, ESV)

Luke recorded in his gospel that the religious leaders wanted to arrest Jesus immediately after hearing this. He said, “And the chief priests and the scribes the same hour sought to lay hands on him; and they feared the people: for they perceived that he had spoken this parable against them” (Luke 20:19). Based on Luke’s statement, it seems unlikely that the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus because they believed he was not God. At this point, they probably wanted to kill him because they knew that he was.

Thank you

The many miracles Jesus performed not only proved his deity, but also demonstrated his compassion toward those who suffered from various spiritual diseases. As he set out on his final trip to Jerusalem, Jesus passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee and entered into a certain village. It is possible this village was a leper colony because it says in Luke 17:12-13 that as Jesus entered the village, “there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: and they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus told these men to “Go shew yourselves unto the priests” and as they went they were healed of their disease (Luke 17:14).

There is no indication that the ten lepers Jesus healed were believers or did anything to warrant the miracle they received from him. In fact, it states in Luke 17:16 that only one of the ten men even bothered to thank Jesus for what he did. Jesus may not have been surprised that the man that did show him gratitude was not a Jew, but a Samaritan (Luke 17:18). Samaritans were hated by the Jews and considered to be half-breeds, both physically and spiritually. Even though the Samaritans and Jews practiced open hostility toward each other, Jesus showed that his love had no national boundaries (note on Luke 10:31-33). Jesus told the Samaritan, “Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole” (Luke 17:19).

Jesus’ statement, “thy faith hath made thee whole” (Luke 17:19) indicated the Samaritan was saved, meaning his sins were forgiven and he received eternal life. The Greek word translated whole, sozo (sode´-zo) is the same word Jesus used when he told Nicodemus, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world  through him might be saved” (John 3:17). The Samaritan’s faith was the cause or you could say driving force behind his spiritual transformation. Jesus didn’t withhold salvation from the Samaritan, even though he wasn’t entitled to it. Because the Samaritan understood he needed his sins to be forgiven and relied upon Christ for his salvation, he received eternal life.

 

Faith in action

Jesus’ departure from the world presented a problem for his ministry to be carried on because his followers were used to him doing most of the work. As his death approached, Jesus began to prepare his disciples to continue on without  him. One of the significant issues was performing miracles. Jesus taught that faith in him was the key to receiving God’s power. In addition to that, Jesus said, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” (Matthew 17:20).

Jesus taught his disciples that unbelief was the opposite of faith (Matthew 17:17) and warned them that their exposure to false teaching had damaged their ability to trust him and would therefore, hinder their spiritual growth (Matthew 17:20). Jesus used the limited time he had on Earth to correct doctrinal errors in the Jews’ belief system and taught his disciples the truth about God’s kingdom. On at least one occasion, Jesus gave his disciples an opportunity to exercise their faith by sending them out to minister on their own (Luke 10:17).

When Jesus was told that his friend Lazarus was sick, he intentionally waited two days to go to his home in Bethany (John 11:6), “Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judea again” (John 11:7). Jesus already knew Lazarus was dead (John 11:14), so there was no need for him to go right away, but there was also no need for him to wait two days if his plan was to raise Lazarus from the dead. The delay in Jesus’ departure was probably due to everyone’s expectation that he would fix things for Martha and Mary, rather than them doing something about it on their own.

As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. “Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (John 11:21). Essentially, what Martha was saying was that it was Jesus’ fault that Lazarus had died. She was blaming him for not being there. Jesus’ response was meant to ignite Martha’s faith. “Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:23-24). Martha knew Lazarus was saved and was a believer herself, but she wasn’t using her faith to deal with her difficult circumstance.

Jesus refreshed Martha’s faith by giving her a quick lesson on the topic of life after death:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whosoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (ESV)

What Jesus wanted Martha to understand was that her brother Lazarus was still alive, he just wasn’t living in his body. Apparently, Martha didn’t fully grasp the concept of life after death, but she did believe Jesus was who he claimed to be, Israel’s Messiah.

When they arrived at Lazarus’ grave, which was a cave with a stone blocking the entrance, “Jesus said, Take away the stone” (John 11:39, ESV). Martha’s reaction revealed the barrier to her belief. “Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?'” (John 11:39-40, ESV). Jesus’ statement showed there was an element of Martha’s faith that was missing. She was not willing to do what he told her to. In order to be truly committed to Christ, Martha had to act, she had to demonstrate her faith through obedience.

After the stone was removed, Jesus “cried with a loud voice, Lazarus come forth” (John 11:43). Another way of saying this would be, Lazarus, get out here! When Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth, he was not calling him back from the dead. It is likely that Lazarus had already been revived by God at the time the stone was rolled away from his grave. The reason why Jesus cried out with a loud voice was so that everyone would know he wasn’t calling Lazarus out of the grave; he wanted him to come out of the cave. The miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection was not the result of Jesus’ supernatural ability to bring him back to life. It was the result of Martha’s faith filled obedience to roll away the stone.

Bad things happen to good people

“In ancient times, and even today, it was often assumed that a calamity would befall only those who were extremely sinful (see John 9:1-2; see also Job 4:7; 22:5, where Eliphaz falsely accused Job)” (note on Luke 13:2,4). Jesus refuted this belief when he responded to a report that Pilate, a Roman governor was offering human sacrifices in his temple. It says in Luke 13:2-3, “And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” Jesus was referring to the great white throne judgment when he said all who didn’t repent would likewise perish. This is the judgment of unbelievers (those who have rejected Christ) that takes place at the end of the Great Tribulation. It says in Revelation 20:11-15:

And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

Jesus used the parable of the fig tree to illustrate the difference between judgment (what happens to unbelievers) and discipline (what happens to believers). In his parable, the owner of the fig tree expected it to produce fruit, but after three years there was none. Therefore, the owner told the caretaker of his vineyard to cut it down because it was useless to him (Luke 13:7). The caretaker responded, “Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shall cut it down” (Luke 13:8-9). Jesus used the image of fruit symbolically throughout his ministry to represent spiritual activity in the life of a believer. Jesus explained the process of spiritual discipline to his disciples in John 15:1-2. He said, “I am the true vine and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” In other words, like a healthy tree that needs to be pruned, God disciplines believers so that they will produce more spiritual fruit.

One of the hindrances to believers bearing fruit is spiritual bondage. Jesus used the example of a woman’s infirmity or feebleness to show that a person can be delivered from moral sickness. It says in Luke 13:11-12, “And behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman thou art loosed from thy infirmity.” The Greek word translated loosed, apoluo (ap-ol-oo´-o) means to set free or “to let go free, release a captive: i.e. to loose his bonds and bid him depart, to give him liberty to depart (Lk 22:68; 23:32), to acquit one accused of a crime and set him at liberty” (630). It seems as though this woman may have been bound by her guilt and needed to be released from the power it had to condemn her. Jesus did not mention any sin or say that she was forgiven, but merely took away the spirit or belief she had that she was a bad person.

 

Son of God

The one thing that differentiated Jesus from every other person that had or ever will live on this planet was his biological connection to his heavenly Father. Jesus was considered to be the offspring of God. In other words, he was conceived by genetic input that was transferred to Mary through the Holy Spirit. The angel of the Lord explained it to Joseph, Mary’s future husband this way: “The angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 1:20). The Greek term translated conceived, gennao means “to procreate” (1080). The figurative sense of the word gennao means to regenerate or be reborn, especially in a spiritual or moral sense. It was most likely the unique and unusual conditions of Jesus’ birth that prompted him to tell Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Jesus stunned the Jews when he told them, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). Afterward, the Jews picked up stones to kill Jesus because they couldn’t comprehend how a man could be equal with God (John 10:33). The idea that God could exist in human form was beyond their wildest imagination. Jesus explained to them that he was equal with God because he had the same abilities. Jesus’ supernatural power was evidence of his divine character (John 10:25). The central point of Jesus’ argument was his divine appointment to be the Savior of the world. He stated, “Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” (John 10:36). The point being that Jesus was merely stating the truth and could not lie to them about his true identity.

Jesus’ final plea to the Jews was in a sense a desperate attempt to get them to consider the facts before them. He said, “If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him” (John 10:37-38). Jesus’ declaration that his Father was in him was probably not meant to mean that he carried God’s genetic code inside him, but that the spiritual connection between the two of them surpassed human relationships. Prior to Jesus’ birth, God was able to be with his people, but not in them. The key component that Jesus added to having a relationship with God was the spiritual union that enable God to dwell in rather than with his people. Jesus’ statement that he and his Father were “one” (John 10:30) may have been a reference to the spiritual union between them, which was so intimate that they were considered to be one person.

Personal testimony

Jesus’ healing of the man born blind provided an opportunity for him to give his personal testimony to the religious leaders that denied Jesus was the promised Savior of God’s people. When the man was asked how he had received his sight, “He said unto them, He put clay upon mine eyes, and I washed, and do see” (John 9:15). This straight forward account of what happened left little room for the Pharisees to question the man any further. As usual, the religious leaders were divided about the authenticity of Jesus’ miraculous power. John recorded, “Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them” (John 9:16). In an attempt to discredit the man who was healed, the Pharisees brought in his parents to see if they would corroborate his story or deny that a miracle had taken place.

The parents of the man that was healed refused to put their own reputations on the line, but instead claimed that their son was old enough to testify on his own behalf (John 9:23). It says in John 9:24, “Then again called they the man that was blind, and said unto him, Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner.” The Pharisees’ persistent haranguing of the man who was healed did little to shake his confidence in what had happened to him. In what appeared to be a sarcastic jab at the Pharisees ignorance, “He answered them, I have told you already, and ye did not hear: wherefore would you hear it again? will ye also be his disciples?” (John 9:27). This man’s courageous personal testimony left the Pharisees with little choice but to ban him from their synagogue in order to prevent him from influencing others into believing in Jesus. In a final attempt to convince the Pharisees he was telling the truth, the man said:

Why herein is a marvelous thing, that ye know not from whence his is, and yet he had opened mine eyes. Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth. Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. If this man were not of God, he could do nothing. (John 9:30-33)

After the man was cast out, Jesus found him and encouraged him in his faith. Jesus told the healed man that he was the Son of God and gave him the opportunity to be born again (John 9:35). Immediately, the man committed himself to Jesus, “And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him” (John 9:38). The commitment the man made to Jesus was not based on the miracle he done for him, but an understanding of who Jesus really was, God in human form. Jesus allowed this man to worship him because he knew his faith was genuine.

Controversy

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

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

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

 

Unbelief

The day after Jesus’ mountaintop transfiguration experience, he and his three disciples, James, John, and Peter returned to find the remaining disciples in the midst of a conflict with the Jewish scribes and a man whose son was demon possessed. The man told Jesus he had asked his disciples to cast out the demon, but they couldn’t do it (Luke 9:40). The implication being that it was impossible for his disciples to perform such a miracle. Jesus’ response to the man indicated that the reason the healing didn’t take place was not because his disciples lacked the ability, but because of the man’s unbelief (Luke 9:41). Jesus told the man, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth” (Mark 9:23). In other words, Jesus was telling this man that he had to have faith, reliance upon Jesus for salvation, in order for his son to be healed.

Jesus himself was limited by the unbelief of the people he was ministering to in his hometown of Nazareth. The people rejected Jesus because they knew him as the son of Joseph and Mary. It says in Matthew 13:54-58:

And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things? And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house. And he did not many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

It appears that even some of Jesus’ own disciples didn’t believe he was their Messiah. After casting the demon out of the man’s son, it says in Matthew 17:19-20:

Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place: and it shall remove: and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

Apparently, the amount of faith it takes to receive salvation is miniscule compared to the power that one receives as a result of having it. The Greek word Jesus used when he told his disciples they needed to have “faith” was pistis, which means persuasion (4102). “It is related to God with the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ.” One of the reasons some of Jesus’ disciples may not have believed in him at this time was because their faith was being blocked by Satan. After he had explained to them the necessity of faith, Jesus told his disciples “Let these sayings sink down into your ears: for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men. But they understood not this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not: and they feared to ask him of that saying” (Luke 9:44-45).