Overcoming the world

John concluded his first epistle with a bold statement about the victory that every believer can expect to have as a child of God. John said:

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:2-5)

John equated overcoming the world with keeping God’s commandments and indicated that our faith in Jesus is what makes this victory possible for us. John’s concept of overcoming the world was most likely linked to the Jewish belief that eternal life could be attained through moral perfection (Matthew 19:16). The Greek word that John used that is translated world, kosmos (kos’-mos) “is first a harmonious arrangement or order, then by extension, adornment or decoration, and came to denote the world or universe, as that which is divinely arranged” (G2889). The reason why John thought it was necessary for Christians to overcome the world was because the present condition of human affairs is alienation from and opposition to God. If we go the way of the world, we will end up separated from God for all of eternity.

God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and gave them the opportunity to go in and possess the land that he had promised to give their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but along with that opportunity came the obligation for the children of Israel to serve God and keep his commandments. God assured the Israelites that he would bless them for their obedience and said:

“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely. I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land. You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. I will turn to you and make you fruitful and multiply you and will confirm my covenant with you. You shall eat old store long kept, and you shall clear out the old to make way for the new. I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect. (Leviticus 26:3-13)

God’s expectation that the children of Israel would walk in his statutes and observe his commandments was based on his deliverance of his chosen people from slavery. God told them, “I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect” (Leviticus 26:13). God used the euphemism of breaking the bars of your yoke to signify that the Egyptian Pharaoh was no longer the Israelite’s master. The children of Israel were free to do as they pleased. God’s declaration that he had made the Israelites walk erect meant that his sovereign will had been carried out according to his plan of redemption that was set in motion before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-4). All the Israelites had to do was choose which way they wanted to go.

In order to convince the Israelites that it would be best for them to pursue a path of righteousness, God informed his chosen people of the consequences of their disobedience. God said:

“But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you. And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins, and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.”

“Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.”

“And if by this discipline you are not turned to me but walk contrary to me, then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins. And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant. And if you gather within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.”

“But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you. And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas. And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it.” (Leviticus 26:14-32)

God’s stern warning was likely intended to inspire the awe and reverence that his chosen people seemed to lack. The grumbling and complaining that was a constant part of Moses’ assignment to lead the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt was a reflection of the Israelites’ negative attitude about leaving behind their lifestyle of spiritual bondage.

The book of Leviticus concludes with an important lesson about the value of a soul. Leviticus 27:1-8 states:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, If anyone makes a special vow to the Lord involving the valuation of persons, then the valuation of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old shall be fifty shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. If the person is a female, the valuation shall be thirty shekels. If the person is from five years old up to twenty years old, the valuation shall be for a male twenty shekels, and for a female ten shekels. If the person is from a month old up to five years old, the valuation shall be for a male five shekels of silver, and for a female the valuation shall be three shekels of silver. And if the person is sixty years old or over, then the valuation for a male shall be fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels. And if someone is too poor to pay the valuation, then he shall be made to stand before the priest, and the priest shall value him; the priest shall value him according to what the vower can afford.

The Hebrew word that is translated valuation in this passage, erek (eh’-rek) is derived from the word arak (aw-rak’) which means “to set in a row, i.e. arrange, put in order…’To arrange in order’ makes it possible ‘to compare’ one thing with another” (H6186). In many ways, that is what happens when we get involved in activities in the world. We compare ourselves with other people and we often think we are better than they are.

Jesus talked about the value of our soul in the context of compromising our commitment to him in order to gain an advantage in the world. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his own soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26). Jesus used the same word interchangeably for life and soul indicating that the part of a person that is saved or becomes born again is the soul. Salvation is comparable to the redemption of persons that was discussed in Leviticus 27 except that salvation is a permanent state of redemption that can only be attained through a spiritual transaction with God. When Jesus died on the cross and paid the penalty for the sins of all of mankind, he completed the necessary transaction on our behalf. Thus, we can experience the benefits or gain from this transaction without doing anything ourselves. Jesus asked the question, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26). In other words, if we work to get ahead in the world and neglect the salvation of our souls, we won’t experience any real benefit.

John concluded, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4). John’s statement had to do with personal conquest. The point I believe John was trying to make was that at the end of our lives there is only one thing that really matters and that’s the salvation of our souls. In order to be saved, we need to be born again (John 3:3) and John made it clear that the only way we can do that is by faith. The Apostle Paul talked about this in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

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. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Paul indicated that we are saved by grace through faith, therefore, grace and faith work together to accomplish the task of saving a soul. You might say that grace is God’s part and faith is our part, but Paul went on to say that “this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). I believe this was the point Jesus was getting at when he asked the question, “what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). A person that is in unsaved state, is spiritually bankrupt and has no means of redeeming himself. It is only through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross that we can be reconciled to God and have eternal life.

John seemed to be addressing a concern that some believers had when he said, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:13-15). Like the Israelites who grumbled and complained about everything that didn’t seem to be right with them, some of the 1st Century Christians may have expected a life of ease after they committed their lives to Christ. John emphasized the fact that God hears our prayers, but also pointed out that it is only when we ask for something according to God’s will that we know we have the requests that we have asked of him (1 John 5:15). One of the evidences that we have overcome the world is that our will and God’s will are aligned with each other.

John’s message about overcoming the world was continued in the book of Revelation. Each of the seven churches that the Lord instructed John to write to was encouraged to overcome a difficult circumstance in order to obtain a reward. The letter to the church at Ephesus stated, “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7, NKJV) and the church in Smyrna was told, “He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death” (Revelation 2:11, NKJV). The Lord told the church in Pergamos, “To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it” (Revelation 2:17, NKJV). Each of these spiritual rewards was connected with the kingdom of heaven that Jesus talked about throughout his ministry on earth and seem to form a comprehension picture of what believers will experience after the resurrection of the dead. The final piece of the puzzle was given to the church at Laodicea. The Lord told them, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21, NKJV). In this instance, sitting down on a throne denotes the assumption of power and rule over a specific dominion. When Jesus sat down with his Father on His throne, his conquest over the world became a reality in that he was able to exercise his authority over it (Ephesians 1:20-23). Jesus indicated that we who have overcome the world will do the same after we are resurrected from the dead.

Children of God

John opened his gospel about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ with a somewhat confusing statement about the nature of God’s only Son. John said:

In the beginning was the Word, and 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 any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

John referred to Jesus as the Word. The Greek word that John used, logos (log’-os) refers to something said and in this case signifies “the Divine Expression” (G3056). John connected Jesus’ divine expression with life in an absolute sense, life without end, “that life of bliss and glory in the kingdom of God which awaits the true disciples of Christ after the resurrection” (G2222). John went on to say:

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:9-13)

John used the phrase children of God to express the kind of relationship we have with God when we accept Jesus as our Savior. John indicated that we are born into the family of God in the same way that we are born into our biological family, except that we are not born “of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Jesus described this transaction in his conversation with a man named Nicodemus. Jesus said:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)

Jesus made it clear that our birth into the family of God is a spiritual birth and suggested that it will be like we are starting all over from the beginning. That’s why Jesus referred to it as being born again. The Greek word that is translated again, anothen (an’-o-then) means “from above” with regard to place. We are born from a higher place. “Hence spoken of whatever is heavenly or from heaven, and since God dwells in heaven, it signifies from God, in a divine manner” (G509).

Jesus talked about the believer’s relationship to God in his Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). Jesus’ instruction to let our light shine before others was intended to point out that we are not meant to keep our spiritual birth a secret. Eternal life is something that everyone would want to have if they knew that it was available to them. We know that eternal life is available to everyone because Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).

Jesus made it clear in his Sermon on the Mount that spiritual life is not easy. In fact, spiritual life goes against our human nature and is only possible with the help of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45). The Greek word that is translated sons, uihothesia (hwee-oth-es-ee’) means “the placing of a son, i.e. adoption…In the New Testament, figuratively meaning adoption, sonship, spoken of the state of those whom God through Christ adopts as His sons and thus makes heirs of His covenanted salvation” (G5206).

Jesus went on to explain in his Sermon on the Mount that if we have been born again, our behavior is important to our Father. God wants us to act like we are his children and he rewards us when we do so. Jesus warned his disciples, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven…But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:1, 3-4). Jesus also talked about prayer and taught his disciples to address God as “Our Father” (Matthew 6:5-13). Jesus concluding his teaching about the believers relationship to God by stating, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).

John went a step further in his first epistle in explaining our relationship to God by talking about the kind of love that we receive from God as his children. John said:

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)

John said that when Jesus appears, “we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Even though believers become children of God through a spiritual birth, they are not immediately transformed into the likeness of Christ. The Greek word that is translated like in 1 John 3:2, homoios (hom’-oy-os) means “just like, equal, the same with: in kind or nature (Jude 7); in conduct, character (John 8:55); in authority, dignity, power (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Revelation 13:4)” (G3664). John indicated that the key to being like Christ was seeing him as he is. In other words, seeing Jesus in his glorified state will have such a great impact on us that we will not only want to, but also will be, immediately transformed into his likeness.

John’s comment about everyone who hopes in Christ being purified as he is pure (1 John 3:3) had to do with believers possessing a confident expectation of good things to come (G2192/G1680). One of the reasons why the Israelites had to go through a continual process of purification in order to have a relationship with God was that they weren’t able to do the things that they were expected to in order to remain in fellowship with him. God’s deliverance of the Israelites wasn’t based on their relationship to him, but their relationship to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

John the Baptist discouraged the Pharisees and Sadducees that were coming to him to be baptized from doing it because he knew they didn’t believe his message about salvation. John said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham s our father, for I tell you God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Matthew 3:7-9).

The biological descendants of Abraham were used to thinking of themselves as the special people to whom God would grant eternal life. They didn’t understand that eternal life was connected to spiritual life and therefore, it was necessary for them to experience a spiritual birth. The closest thing the Israelites had to the concept of spiritual birth was the process of sanctification. Sanctification made it possible for the Israelites to become holy or pure. The LORD instructed Moses, “Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you” (Leviticus 20:7-8). The LORD’s emphasis of his expectation for the Israelites to be holy made it seem as though it was a permanent state that they were able to attain, but in actuality, being holy was impossible for anyone but God. The only way the Israelites could be holy was for them to be completely isolated from everyone and everything that was not dedicated to God (Leviticus 20:22-26).

Throughout the book of Leviticus, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are referred to as the children of Israel. God gave Jacob the name Israel after he wrestled with him all night. Genesis 32:24-28 states:

And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:24-28)

The Hebrew name that is translated Israel, Yisra’el (yis-raw-ale’) means “he will rule as God” (H3478). The idea being that of equality. God gave Jacob the name Israel because he had striven with God and with men, and had prevailed (Genesis 32:28). The King James Version of the Bible translates it this way, “for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” The Hebrew word that is translated power, sarah (saw-raw’) is “a verb meaning to persist, to exert oneself, to persevere” (H8280). The Hebrew name Yisra’el is derived from the word sarah and is also connected with the name Sarah which was given to Abraham’s wife after Isaac’s birth was promised to them (Genesis 17:15-16).

Jacob’s ability to prevail against God and man had to do with his attitude about life. Jacob believed that God had the power to save him from death (Genesis 32:30; H5337) and that God’s blessing would ensure that he obtained eternal life because he would be resurrected after his death (Genesis 49:29). When God called the Israelites the children of Israel, God was essentially reminding them of their relationship to Jacob and the encounter that Jacob had with him, as well as the blessing that Jacob received, even though he wasn’t Isaac’s oldest son. God often pointed out that the connection that kept the children of Israel in a state of blessedness was their common bond of sanctification (Leviticus 22:31-33), which was linked to the celebration of appointed feasts and more specifically, the holy convocations (Leviticus 23:1-2) that were intended to focus everyone’s attention on obedience to God’s commandments.

John contrasted believers who were purified through Christ with unbelievers that ignored God’s commandments by pointing out that habitual sin was evidence of being in an unregenerate spiritual state. John stated:

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:4-8)

John distinguished the children of God from the children of the devil by their ability to practice righteousness. John said that “whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous” (1 John 3:7). In other words, our righteousness is a result of our identification with Christ.

John said the reason why the Son of God was made visible to the world was to loosen the bonds of sin and wickedness that the devil had imposed on those who did his will instead of God’s. John indicated that anyone that is not a child of God is by default a child of the devil. John said:

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:9-10)

John’s explanation of why someone that has been born of God cannot practice sin may seem like an over simplification of the believer’s ability to resist the devil’s temptations, but John’s use of the Greek term meno (men’-o), which is translated abides, reveals an important truth about the type of sanctification that comes through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is the indwelling Holy Spirit in Christians that actually keeps them from practicing sin (G4690). John referred to the Holy Spirit as “God’s seed” (1 John 3:9), indicating that He is the source of our spiritual birth in the same way that the sperm is the seed of conception to a woman’s egg, and John said that God’s seed abides in us, meaning that the Holy Spirit keeps us united with Christ in such a way that we are one with him in heart, mind, and will (G3306).

Paul explained in his letter to the Romans that it is our spiritual birth into God’s family that entitles us to share in Christ’s eternal inheritance. Paul said:

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:12-17)

Paul indicated that believers are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, but also added the stipulation that we must suffer with our Savior in order to be glorified with him. Paul went on to talk about God’s everlasting love for his children and the fact that Christ is seated at the right hand of God interceding on our behalf (Romans 8:34) and then, Paul asked the rhetorical question, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35). Paul concluded by reassuring believers that our relationship with our heavenly Father is unbreakable. Paul stated, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Us and them

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

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

The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:12-17)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hebrew word that was used to describe the way the Israelites were expected to love their neighbors was the same word that God used when he commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Genesis 22:2 states, “He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you’” (emphasis mine). This seems to suggest that God wanted the Israelites to love their neighbors with the kind of deep abiding affection that would motivate them to do whatever God asked of them so that their neighbors could be blessed by God.

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

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

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

Reconciliation

The thing that separates the human race from all other creatures on the earth is that it was created for the specific purpose of having fellowship with God. Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created man in his own image, “in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” The fall of mankind resulted in the separation of God and man (Genesis 3:8) and made it necessary for something to be done to restore the fellowship that was once existed (Genesis 3:15). One of the first steps in God’s plan of salvation was the establishment of a covenant with Abraham that made it possible for them to have a relationship based on equality. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham believed the LORD, “and he counted it to him as righteousness.” The Hebrew word that is translated counted, chashab (khaw-shab’) means that God ‘reckoned’ Abraham’s faith as righteousness (H2803). Reckon is an accounting term that has to do with settling accounts, to make a calculation. Generally, the word chashab “signifies a mental process whereby some course is planned or conceived.” Therefore, when God counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness, he was applying the credit that was established when Jesus died on the cross in advance in order to make it possible for Abraham to be free from his moral debt. The biblical term for this is act is atonement. The theological meaning is that of “‘covering over,’ often with the blood of a sacrifice, in order to atone for some sin. This means that the ‘covering over’ hides the sin from God until the death of Christ takes away the sin of the world (cf. John 1:29; Hebrews 10:4)” (H3722).

The beginning of the restoration of fellowship between God and mankind was the construction of a tabernacle which was also referred to as the tent of meeting, a place where God could reside among the Israelites (Exodus 25:8). God told Moses, “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 25:22). The materials that were needed for constructing the tabernacle were taken from the Israelites’ personal possessions through freewill offerings that had to eventually be stopped because the people brought much more than was needed for doing the work that the LORD had commanded them to (Exodus Exodus 36:5). Exodus 38:24-25 states that “all the gold that was used for the work, in all the construction of the sanctuary, the gold from the offering was twenty-nine talents and 730 shekels, by the shekel of the sanctuary. The silver from those of the congregation who were recorded was a hundred talents and 1,775 shekels by the shekel of the sanctuary.” Using today’s prices, the silver and gold that was used for constructing the tabernacle would have been worth about $70 million dollars. The interesting thing about the huge amount of gold and silver that was collected was that it came from millions of pieces of jewelry and other such trinkets that weren’t worth very much on an individual basis (Exodus 35:22). It was only because everyone did their small part that the massive fortune that it took to build the temple was able to be accumulated.

In spite of their extreme value, the articles that were inside the tabernacle were not kept under lock and key. The tabernacle or tent of meeting as it was also known was literally a tent that was made up of ten curtains that were clasped together so that they appeared to be a single structure (Exodus 26:6). The simple arrangement of the articles inside the tabernacle suggest that it was meant to be for the most part an open space where God’s glory could rest (Exodus 40:34-35). Exodus 40:2-8 describes the tabernacle’s layout. It states:

“On the first day of the first month you shall erect the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. And you shall put in it the ark of the testimony, and you shall screen the ark with the veil. And you shall bring in the table and arrange it, and you shall bring in the lampstand and set up its lamps. And you shall put the golden altar for incense before the ark of the testimony, and set up the screen for the door of the tabernacle. You shall set the altar of burnt offering before the door of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, and place the basin between the tent of meeting and the altar, and put water in it. And you shall set up the court all around, and hang up the screen for the gate of the court.”

The most important item in the tabernacle was the ark of the testimony which was separated from everything else by a linen veil (Exodus 40:3). The Hebrew word that is translated veil in Exodus 40:3, paroketh (paw-roh’-keth) is derived from the word perek (peh’-rek) which means “to break apart; fracture, i.e. severity” (H6331). It could be that the veil was somewhat like a do not enter sign that served as a warning to any curious observers that might have been thinking about checking out its contents. The ark of the testimony is described in Exodus 25:10-16 which states:

“They shall make an ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and you shall make on it a molding of gold around it. You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark by them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.”

A cubit was roughly 18 inches, so the dimensions of the ark would have been about 45 inches long by 27 inches wide and 27 inches high. The fact that the ark was overlaid with pure gold inside and out meant that it was not only expensive to produce, but also very heavy. The poles that were used to carry the ark were very dense and therefore, resistant to decay, but they also added additional weight that made transporting the ark an arduous task. The stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments were kept inside the ark and were identified as “God’s testimony (Exodus 25:16; 31:18; 32:15).” Because the Ten Commandments represent the covenant that God made with Israel, they are also called the “‘tables of the covenant’ (see Deuteronomy 9:9; 11:15);” and they were preeminent in the tabernacle. As a result, the tabernacle is sometimes called the tabernacle of the testimony; and the ark is sometimes called the ark of the testimony (H5715).

The Apostle Paul talked about God’s word in the context of something that is being veiled from unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Paul may have associated his gospel with the ark of the testimony because he received it from God through direct revelation (Ephesians 3:5). Paul said, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us: (2 Corinthians 4:7). Paul referred to his physical body as a jar of clay in order to emphasize the point that God was using him as a vessel for carrying his word to the Gentiles, but being made out of clay meant that Paul wasn’t necessarily a good vessel or one that was enhancing the contents of his message in any way. Paul indicated that the surpassing power of the gospel, which was its ability to draw men to God, belonged to God and not to those who were preaching it (2 Corinthians 4:7). The Greek word that is translated surpassing, huperbole (hoop-er-bol-ay’) comes from the word huperballo (hoop-er-bal’-lo) which means “to throw beyond the usual mark” or surpass in the sense of going above and beyond the call of duty (G5235). The Greek word dunamis (doo’-nam-is) which refers specifically to miraculous power (G1411) makes it seem as if surpassing power would have been unnecessary, but I think that Paul wanted people to understand that God’s word has no limits. It can achieve anything that God wants it to. Paul said:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:13-16)

The reconciliation that Paul was talking about had to do with bringing together the Jews and the Gentiles under one covenant that would make it possible for them to share in the riches of God’s grace. Paul explained to the Ephesians that Jesus achieved a level of excellence that would result in God’s commandments being fulfilled. Paul said:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)

The body building itself up in love (Ephesians 4:16) was one of the main lessons of Paul’s gospel and a central theme of Jesus’ teaching during his ministry on earth. When he was asked to give a brief summary of the Mosaic Law, Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Paul used the comparison of a tent and a building to drive home the point that our physical bodies, though similar to our spiritual bodies, do not have the same capacity to make us feel at home in God’s presence. Paul said:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 5:1-5)

Paul’s reference to being found naked was related to the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden. It says in Genesis 3:7-11, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?'” Adam and Eve hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God because they knew they had disobeyed his commandment and became aware of the fact that they were naked through their sin. “Nakedness (the uncovered sex organs) is symbolic of shame” (H6172). Paul used nakedness as an analogy when he compared mortality with eternal life. He explained, “not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:4), meaning that God’s gift of eternal life takes away the shame that sin makes us feel.

Jesus was able reconcile God and mankind because his death on the cross paid the penalty for every sin that ever had and would be in the future committed against God (Hebrews 9:26). Paul said that “he who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 5:5). The guarantee that Paul was talking about was “part of the purchase money or property given in advance as security for the rest” (G728). In this instance, that means that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a partial reality of what it will be like when believers are resurrected and have the full benefit of eternal life. Paul concluded, “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:6). Walking by faith is evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts and minds. In order to walk by faith, we have to depend on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us in the way that God wants us to live our lives. Paul said, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he had done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:9-10). Paul’s use of the word soma (so’-mah), which is translated body in this verse, was not meant to draw attention to the physical activities of our day to day life, but to emphasize the current reality of living on earth. Paul said that each of us will receive what we are due for what we have done during the time in which we were limited by physical existence (Matthew 25:14-46).

Paul summarized his message about Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation this way:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:16-21)

The essential point that Paul wanted to make was that the way God was able to reconcile the world to himself was by not counting their trespasses against them (2 Corinthians 5:19). Paul described a process that he later referred to as regeneration in which believers become a new creation. He said, “the old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul talked about regeneration in his letter to Titus where he stated, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7). Regeneration “is 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; it is the act by which God brings him from death to life” (G3824). Paul also mentioned the renewal of the Holy Spirit: “The gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive, but is a fellow worker with God.” Paul indicated that the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit work together to bring believers into a state of oneness with God and others. In his high priestly prayer, Jesus asked that his followers might “become perfectly one” (John 17:23). In other words, Jesus’ request was that we would be completely reconciled to God and others, meaning that there would be equality between us and Jesus in God’s accounting system.

Spiritual disclosure

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians included a prayer that was meant to encourage their spiritual growth. Paul asked, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you” (Ephesians 1:17-18). The phrase “eyes of your hearts” refers to one’s ability to see things that are normally covered up or kept secret in order to prevent them from being disclosed to the wrong person. The Greek word that is translated enlightened, photizo (fo-tid’-zo) is used figuratively to refer to the impartation of moral and spiritual light (G5461). What Paul meant was that he wanted the Holy Spirit to illuminate the minds of the Ephesian believers so that they could understand spiritual truth. The implication being that without the help of the Holy Spirit it would be impossible for the Ephesians to understand what God was saying to them through Paul’s teaching.

The Greek word that is translated revelation in Ephesians 1:17, apokalupsis (ap-ok-al-oop’-sis) means disclosure or an uncovering (G602). Apokalupsis probably originated from the idea of discovering a crime. The reason why the knowledge of God can only be received through a revelation or spiritual disclosure is because the devil has stolen our ability to discern the truth about our creator. In a sense, we are spiritually blindfolded until God decides to reveal himself to us by way of photizo or shedding light on the eyes of our hearts (Ephesians 1:18). Paul said that it is by grace that we are saved through faith. “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Paul went on to say that believers are God’s workmanship, something that is produced by an inward act of the mind or will (G4160). Paul said, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

The process of spiritual growth includes several stages, one of which King David described as being like a weaned child. David said about the difficult situation he was dealing with, “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me” (Psalm 131:2). David realized that his circumstances were out of his control and had decided to accept them rather than scream his head off to God like a hungry child that wanted to be fed immediately. David said, “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me” (Psalm 131:1). The Hebrew word that is translated marvelous, pala’ (paw-law’) has to do with distinguishing the supernatural ability of God. “Pala’, as a verb, means ‘to be marvelous, be extraordinary, be beyond one’s power to do” (H6381). David said that he did not occupy himself with things too great and too marvelous from him. In other words he left things in God’s hands rather than trying to work them out himself.

After Laban departed and returned home, Genesis 32:1-2 tells us that “Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them he said, ‘This is God’s camp!’ So he called the name of that place Mahanaim.” The angels of God did not accidentally cross Jacob’s path, but were there to intentionally intervene in his situation. When it says that the angels of God met him, it implies that Jacob was like a target that they were focused in on and that there was a reason why the angelic host had been sent there. The fact that Jacob was able to see the angels suggests that he had become consciously aware of the supernatural activity that was taking place around him. The reason why he said “This is God’s camp!” (Genesis 32:2) was because Jacob recognized that a spiritual war was taking place (H4264) and yet, he seemed to ignore the angels presence and went about his business as if nothing unusual was happening.

Rather than continuing on his journey, Jacob stopped for the night and sent messengers ahead of him to let his brother Esau know he was on his way home. “And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.’ Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, thinking, ‘If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape'” (Genesis 32:6-8). The thought didn’t seem to occur to Jacob that God’s heavenly host was there to help him and that he had nothing to worry about with regard to engaging in a battle with the four hundred men that were headed toward him with his brother Esau. Even though Jacob could see the angels of God, the eyes of his heart had not been enlightened and he was therefore ignorant about what God was doing in his midst.

John the Baptist is an example of an Old Testament believer that saw Jesus, Israel’s Messiah with his own eyes and yet, was unable to spiritually comprehend what his ministry was all about. Matthew’s gospel tells us, “Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?'” (Matthew 11:2-3). John’s question seems completely absurd given that he had already declared Jesus to be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). John’s ability to recognize Jesus as the Savior of the World did not mean that he understood his mission of spreading the gospel. Matthew said, “And Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me'” (Matthew 11:4-6). In other words, Jesus wanted John to know that he needed to be saved like everyone else.

Jesus explained to his disciples that John was no different than anyone else. Yes, John had been given the gift of prophecy, but that did not mean that the eyes of his heart had been enlightened. John had limited knowledge of God’s plan of salvation and was operating under the assumption that Jesus was going to establish his kingdom on Earth immediately. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11). What Jesus was saying was that John knew more than anyone else from a human standpoint about how God’s kingdom was supposed to operate and yet, he still hadn’t received the spiritual disclosure from God that was necessary to place his trust in Christ. John was blinded to the fact that Jesus was in the process of saving the world even though he was on his way to being crucified by the very people he had come to save.

Jesus told his disciples, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). The Greek word that is translated suffered violence, biazo (bee-ad’-zo) means to “force one’s way into” (G971). Biazo is derived from the root word bios (bee’-os) which means life, i.e. literally “the present state of existence” (G969). The phrase “the violent take it by force” has to do with exerting energy in order to accomplish something. What Jesus may have meant by his comment that the kingdom of heaven had suffered violence until he came into the world was that before salvation was offered to man as a gift from God, the only way people could obtain eternal life was by fighting for it or you might say to demand that God give it to them, except that it was the other way around, God was continually forcing the Israelites to let him save them.

Jacob’s struggle to do things his own way instead of following God’s instructions culminated when he spent the night at Mahanaim, a place he described as “God’s camp” (Genesis 32:2). When Jacob discovered that his brother was on his way to meet him with 400 men, he prayed this prayer:

“O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good.’ I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please deliver me from the hand of Esau for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.'” (Genesis 32:9-12)

In his hour of desperation, Jacob poured out his heart to God and was finally willing to ask for his help. One indication that Jacob had a genuine change of heart was that he sent his brother a present in order to make peace with him (Genesis 32:20).

Jacob indicated that he wanted to appease his brother Esau and said, “Perhaps he will accept me” (Genesis 32:20). The Hebrew word that is translated accept, nacah (naw-saw’) “is used of the undertaking of the responsibilities for sins of others by substitution or representation” (H5375). Jacob realized that he had sinned against Esau and wanted his brother to absolve him of his spiritual debt. Unfortunately, the debt Jacob owed wasn’t to Esau, but to God. During the night, Jacob sent his family across the river to safety, “And he was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day” (Genesis 32:24). The wrestling match that took place at Mahanaim may have had both physical and spiritual qualities. The person that wrestled with Jacob was simply identified as a man, but later was recognized by Jacob as God (Genesis 32:30). Therefore, it seems likely that God’s purpose in having hand to hand combat with Jacob was to bring him to a point of submission. It says that, “When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him” (Genesis 32:25).

God’s use of force to disable Jacob suggests that he wasn’t going to let Jacob win their battle of the wills and yet, it says in Genesis 32:28 that God told Jacob, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” The Hebrew name Israel or Yisra’el (yes-raw-ale’) means “he will rule (as) God” (H3478). The key to understanding Jacob’s victory over God could be his demand to be blessed by his creator. After the man put Jacob’s hip out of joint, it says in Genesis 32:26, “Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day has broken.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.'” Jacob was determined to get the spiritual advantage he felt he needed in order to succeed in life. The implied benefits of God’s blessing were righteousness, prosperity, and eternal life (H1293). All of these things together could be summed up in what we think of today as being saved, “the spiritual and eternal deliverance granted immediately by God to those who accept his conditions of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus in whom alone it is to be obtained” G4991).

It isn’t clear how much of what happened at Mahanaim was understood by Jacob. The only thing we are told is that Jacob called the place where he wrestled with God “Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered'” (Genesis 32:30). The Hebrew words that are translated “seen God face to face,” ra’ah (raw-aw’) ‘elohiym (el-o-heem’) paneh (paw-neh’) indicate that Jacob could perceive God’s attitude toward him (H7200/H430/H6440). In other words, Jacob’s personal encounter with God made it possible for him to tell by the look on God’s face how he felt about him. Paneh which is translated face to face is derived from the word panah (paw-naw’) and most likely meant that God was turning towards Jacob or becoming attached to him in the sense of developing a relationship with him (H6437). It’s possible that the Lord was giving Jacob a chance to see that he was his friend, not an adversary that needed to be beaten. The Hebrew word that is translated delivered in Genesis 32:20, natsal (naw-tsal) is the same word Jacob used when he prayed that God would deliver him from the hand of his brother,” so it seems likely that Jacob thought God would kill him if he got too close to him, but discovered that it was safe for him to interact with God in an intimate manner.

Jesus thanked his Father, whom he referred to as the Lord of heaven and earth, because he had hidden the things that he was teaching the people from “the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” (Matthew 11:25). Jesus was comparing those who had intellectual capability with a simple minded person who had no ability to communicate spiritual truths. Jesus was pointing out that spiritual disclosure wasn’t dependent on a person’s intellectual development, but could even be received by someone that was a brand new believer. An example of this principle was the complicated doctrine that Paul delivered in his letter to the Ephesians, Gentiles that had been deeply immersed in worshipping the Greek goddess of Diana until Paul arrived on the scene. Paul talked to the Ephesians about spiritual blessings in Christ and covered such topics as predestination, redemption, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:3-14) and then, Paul indicated that he was praying that God would give the Ephesian believers the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation of Jesus, so that they could comprehend these great truths.

Jesus told his disciples, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27). This seems to suggest that Jesus was entrusted with the sole responsibility of disclosing spiritual truth to believers. Jesus said that all things had been handed over to him, meaning that everything there was to know about God’s kingdom was transmitted to him by his Father. The Greek word that is translated chooses in the phrase “whom the Son chooses,” boulomai (boo’-lom-ahee) “expresses strongly the deliberate exercise of the will” (G1014), indicating that God’s gift of salvation was distributed by means of Jesus choosing who would be saved. Paul said that God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). In other words, Jesus identified the people he wanted to save and communicated it to his Father before the world was created. Jesus’ desire to have certain individuals with him throughout eternity was based on God’s love for humanity.

One of the ways we know what kind of people Jesus wanted to be with him in his Father’s eternal kingdom was who he invited to follow him. Jesus said, “Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Jesus was looking for people that were tired of carrying the burdens of their sins around with them. Jesus said that his followers could find rest for their souls by taking his yoke upon them. The Greek word that is translated yoke, zugos (dzoo-gos’) means to join and refers to a coupling that enables two people to work together to complete a task (G2218). Jesus said that his yoke was easy, meaning that everything that was needed to get the job done was being provided (G5543); and his burden was light, it would be easy to handle (G1645). The only thing that Jesus required from those that wanted to be saved was faith and he made that possible by enlightening the eyes of the believer’s heart.

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!

Spiritual success

A major problem with life is that it always ends in death. The goal of Jesus’ ministry on Earth was to overcome death, to make a way for humans to live forever. Jesus told his followers, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24, ESV). The Apostle Paul expanded on this point by stating, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2, ESV). The Greek word translated condemnation, katakrima means an adverse sentence or verdict (G2631). Paul was referring to the punishment that is associated with sin and made it clear that believers are excluded from God’s judgment of mankind.

One of the stipulations Paul placed on the believer’s freedom from condemnation was to “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). What Paul meant by that was to think about things from a spiritual or eternal perspective rather than a carnal or temporal perspective. Paul said, “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). The Greek words translated spiritually minded, pneuma (pnyoo’-mah) phronema (fron’-ay-mah) have to do with the inner prompting of the Holy Spirit (G4151/G5427). In other words, Paul was saying that we need to listen to the Holy Spirit and let him tell us what to do in order to achieve spiritual success. Paul described this process as intercession and stated:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches our hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

Intercession is possible because the Holy Spirit dwells in the heart of the believer and is able to see what is going on from both a temporal and an eternal perspective. An advantage that believers have over unbelievers is that the Holy Spirit knows the will of God and can lead us to do the right thing in every situation. Paul stated, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV). Paul associated God’s calling with his purpose in the life of a believer and suggested there was a spiritual joining that takes place when a believer accepts Christ. Paul may have been referring to the marriage supper of the Lamb mentioned in Revelation 19:9 which is probably retroactive to the believer’s date of salvation.

In addition to the intercession of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer, Jesus is also interceding for believers in heaven. Paul asked, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). Paul made it clear that our spiritual success is not dependent on our knowledge or understanding of God’s will. Even as much as we might like to know everything that God has planned for our lives, we have to live on a need to know basis of what God wants us to do. Many of the things that we do during our life on Earth that are God’s will for us might not be known to us until we get to heaven.

Death

God’s plan of salvation included a provision for everyone to be reconciled to him through the death of his son Jesus on the cross (Romans 3:24). In order for there to be a level playing field, God provided salvation by grace, as a free gift, so that no one would be left out. Paul stated, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28). Paul’s comparison of the wages of sin to God’s free gift of salvation showed that there was no logical reason why a person should choose to live a life of sin. He stated, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The Greek word translated death, thanatos “has the basic meaning of separation of the soul (the spiritual part of man) from the body (the material part), the latter ceasing to function and turning to dust…Death is the opposite of life; it never denotes nonexistence. As spiritual life is conscious existence in communion with God, so spiritual death is conscious existence in separation from God” (G2288).

Paul used the analogy of a woman that was freed from the law of marriage by the death of her husband to explain how a believer is dead to sin as a result of receiving God’s free gift of salvation. Paul stated, “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6). Paul’s primary concern was that believer’s understand that freedom from sin was something that had to be dealt with apart from the sinner’s justification by faith. Although the guilt of sin is removed instantaneously when a person is born again, the desire to commit sin does not go away. Paul admitted, “I do not understand myself. I want to do what is right but I do not do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15, NLV). The Apostle Paul, who is considered by most to be a model Christian wasn’t exempt from the natural human tendency to rebel against God. His description of the believer’s struggle to overcome sin (Romans 7:13-25) is thought by some to be a personal testimony to the weakness of his flesh.

Paul suggested that sin is a powerful force that operates in believers and unbelievers alike. He argued, “Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me” (Romans 7:20-21). Rather than giving believers an excuse to commit sin, Paul’s identification of the sin nature that dwells in everyone was most likely meant to explain why Christian’s are not made perfect when they are reconciled to God. Paul stated, “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin” (Romans 7:15:14). The point Paul was trying to make was that his human body or flesh was still subject to sin as evidenced by the physical death he would eventually experience. It was only his spirit that was regenerated when he accepted Christ. Paul stated, “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Romans 7:23). It seems likely that Paul was thinking of his own physical death when he exclaimed, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24).

A free gift

Salvation is something that happens to us, not something we can accomplish ourselves. Paul described salvation as a free gift and said, “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life” (Romans 5:18). Among the many things that happens automatically when a person accepts God’s free gift of salvation is the complete removal of guilt of any sins that have been committed against him (Romans 3:24-25). As a result of this transaction, Paul encouraged believers to “walk in newness of life” and “not serve sin” (Romans 6:4, 6).

Paul’s exhortation to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4) was meant to challenge believers to make themselves living testimonies to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Greek word Paul used that is translated life, zoe (dzo-ay’) refers to life in the absolute sense (G2222). Zoe is derived from the word zao which has to do with the recovery of physical life from the power of death (G2198). Paul made it clear that eternal life was the result of receiving God’s free gift of salvation. He stated, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21, ESV).

Serving sin is what we do when we allow addictions to dictate our behavior. Paul said our old man, the person we were before we were saved, was crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6) and “he that is dead is freed from sin” (Romans 6:7). The Greek word Paul used that is translated freed, dikaioo (dik-ah-yo’-o) means to render or regard as innocent. Dikaioo is related to the process of reconciliation in the sense of being justified by Christ’s death on the cross. “‘Justification’ being the legal and formal acquittal from guilt by God as Judge, the pronouncement of the sinner as righteous, who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ” (G1344). What Paul was saying was that being freed from guilt should make us want to stop sinning.

Paul contrasted the results of sin and God’s free gift of salvation in order to show the absurdity of living in sin after having received salvation. He asked, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16, NKJV). Paul concluded his argument by stating, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The primary reason Paul gave for overcoming the addiction of sin was its guaranteed payment of death, conscious existence in separation from God (G2288). Paul compared the wages of sin to the gift of God in order to emphasize that salvation could not be earned through acts of righteousness.

Temptation

Paul compared the Corinthian believers to the Israelites that wandered in the wilderness for 40 years in order to illustrate their need for spiritual nourishment. Paul said that the Israelites “all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthian 10:3-4, ESV). Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that their spiritual health was dependent upon a regular intake of spiritual food. Paul’s declaration that Christ was the Rock that provided water was based on Jesus’ statement to a Samaritan woman that he met at a well. He told her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14, ESV). Jesus went on to explain that we obtain our spiritual nourishment through worshipping God. He said, ” But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those that worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24, ESV).

Paul talked about the Israelites’ being tempted in the wilderness and said, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11, ESV). Paul may have wanted to stress the importance of the time period in which he lived by describing it as “the end of the ages.” What Paul was referring to was the culmination or end result of God’s work of saving his chosen people. Although the age of God’s grace has been going on now for more than 2000 years, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was a single event that marked the fulfillment of God’s promise to the Israelites to give them a Messiah. Therefore, Paul warned the Corinthians to not take for granted their spiritual health. He stated, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Paul was probably focusing his attention on the Corinthian Jews in particular when he talked about being tempted to ignore the gift of salvation that Jesus had made available to them. The Greek words translated stand and fall in 1 Corinthians 10:12 likely have something to do with the Israelites’ status as God’s chosen people. Stands or histemi in the Greek is comparable to the word tithemi (tith’-ay-mee) which was used by Peter to refer to unbelieving Israel (1 Peter 2:8). What seems clear from Paul’s discussion of temptation was that it was related to spiritual health. Paul stated, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you to be tempted beyond your ability; but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV). The phrase “beyond your ability” refers to spiritual strength that can be attained through spiritual exercise or as an inherited trait. To be able to do something means that you have the power to accomplish it. Paul concluded his lesson on temptation with this admonition, “Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14). In other words, don’t do things that you obviously know are wrong.

Unbelief

 

At the close of Jesus’ ministry, the Apostle John summarized his accomplishments by saying, “But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him” (John 12:37). The primary cause of the Jews unbelief appeared to be their concern for other things that they thought were more important. John said, “For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:43). Jesus’ parable of the sower revealed a deeper problem that was evident during his ministry. Using the analogy of seeds being sown on different types of soil, Jesus showed that the words he spoke about God’s eternal kingdom were not received because “the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22, ESV).

Jesus identified some extenuating circumstances that may have been preventing the Jews from recognizing him as their Messiah. He said, “And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Matthew 13:14-15). The primary issue that Jesus was pointing out was that the Jews were content with their situation. They didn’t want their lives to be disrupted by his radical teaching.

The central point of Jesus’ ministry was his death and resurrection. Just before he raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus told his sister Martha, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” and then he asked her, “Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26). Martha’s response showed that she had a limited understanding of what Jesus was talking about. She said to him, “Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world” (John 11:27). Martha’s acknowledgement of Jesus’ identity, but avoidance of the topic of his resurrection probably meant that she wasn’t convinced at that point that life after death was possible.

Jesus warned his twelve apostles repeatedly that he was going to be put to death, and yet, after he was crucified, they didn’t expect him to come back to life as he had promised. Mark reported that after Jesus “appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country. And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them. Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen” (Mark 16:12-14). In other words, in spite of eye witness accounts, Jesus’ apostles actually refused to believe that he was alive until they saw him themselves.

Jesus said of himself, “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:46). The Greek phrase Jesus used that is translated “abide in darkness” meno en skotia could mean to live in obscurity (G3306/G1722/G4653). What Jesus may have been trying to say was that belief in him would bring meaning or purpose to life, an understanding of what life was really all about. With that in mind, it seems likely that the reason the majority of the Jews’ were trapped in a state of unbelief was because they had already established a relationship with God and already knew about his plan for the world. In their case it wasn’t a matter of knowing too little, but of knowing too much.