A state of bliss

It’s easy to overlook the fact that after God created the heavens and the earth, “The earth was without form and void” (Genesis 1:2). The Hebrew word that is translated without form, tohuw (toˊ-hoo) means “to lie waste; a desolation (of surface), i.e. desert; figuratively a worthless thing” (H8414). The phrase without form and void appears in Jeremiah 4:19-31 which describes Judah’s desolation after being overtaken by the Babylonian army. Jeremiah 4:23-26 states:

I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void;
    and to the heavens, and they had no light.
I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking,
    and all the hills moved to and fro.
I looked, and behold, there was no man,
    and all the birds of the air had fled.
I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a desert,
    and all its cities were laid in ruins
    before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

Genesis 1:2 goes on to say that “darkness was over the face of the deep” before God intervened in the situation. Darkness is used figuratively throughout the Bible to represent death, misery, and destruction. It’s hard to imagine that the earth came into existence in such a terrible state, but what is clear from the creation account in Genesis 1-2 is that God had to do something in order to change the state of the earth from one of destruction and waste to one of extreme pleasure.

Genesis 1:31 states, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” God was able to make everything good by speaking into existence things that had a positive impact on the world. It says in Genesis 1:3, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Proverbs 8:22-31 indicates that God created a state of bliss on earth using wisdom. Wisdom tells us:

“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work,
    the first of his acts of old.
Ages ago I was set up,
    at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
    when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
    before the hills, I was brought forth,
before he had made the earth with its fields,
    or the first of the dust of the world.
When he established the heavens, I was there;
    when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
    when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
    so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
    then I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight,
    rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
    and delighting in the children of man.”

Wisdom refers to himself as a master workman that assisted God in developing the specifications for the sky, the sea, and the foundations of the earth (Proverbs 8:28-29). Instead of master workman, the King James Version of the Bible translates the Hebrew word ʾamown (aw-moneˊ) “as one brought up with him” (Proverbs 8:30). With regard to training and skill, you might say that God and Wisdom had the same experience. ʾAmown is similar to the Hebrew word ʾaman (aw-mawnˊ) which is derived from the word ʾaman (aw-manˊ). ˊAman has to do with faith and is translated believed in Genesis 15:6 where it says that Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”

The Hebrew word chokmah (khok-mawˊ), which is translated wisdom in Proverbs 8:1, 11 and 12, ‘is the knowledge and ability to make right choices at the opportune time. The consistency of making the right choice is an indication of maturity and development…The prerequisite is a desire to follow and imitate God as He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, without self-reliance and especially not a spirit of pride…The fruits of chokmah are many, and the Book of Proverbs describes the characters of chakam and chokmah. In the New Testament terms the fruits of ‘wisdom’ are the same as the fruits of the Holy Spirit; cf. ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law’ (Galatians 5:22-23); ‘But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.’ (James 3:17-18)” (H2451).

Luke’s gospel tells us that Jesus was filled with wisdom. Luke 2:40 states, “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” The Greek word sophia (sof-eeˊ-ah) refers to both human and divine wisdom. “Sophia denotes a mental excellence of the highest sense, to details with wisdom as exhibited in action, and adding the power of reasoning about wisdom’s details by tracing their relationships.” (G4678). The Greek word sophia appears in Romans 11:33-36 where Paul talks about the mystery of Israel’s salvation. Paul exclaimed:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
    or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given a gift to him
    that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

Paul described God’s judgments as being unsearchable and his ways as inscrutable or not able to be tracked out (G421). It’s sometimes difficult for us to do what God wants us to because it doesn’t make sense to us. We want to know the logic behind God’s actions.

An example of God’s ways being inscrutable was his command that Abraham sacrifice his son Isaac. Genesis 22:1-2 tells us, “After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 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 will tell you.’” When it says that God tested Abraham, it means that God told Abraham to do something that required faith (H5254). The only way that Abraham could do what God wanted was to act by faith; Abraham had to believe that even though it didn’t make sense to him, sacrificing his son Isaac was the right thing for him to do. Hebrews 11:17-19 tells us that, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac…of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”

The Israelites’ obedience to God’s commandments required faith in that God’s rules and regulations were based on things in the spiritual realm rather than things in the physical realm (Hebrews 9:23). Moses told the Israelites that their faith might be tested in the same way that Abraham’s was. Moses said, “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God…So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). Moses’ instruction to purge the evil from their midst had to do with the interference of evil with the Israelites’ faith or you might say the fruit of their wisdom.

Wisdom tells us in Proverbs 8:12-19:

“I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,
    and I find knowledge and discretion.
The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
    and perverted speech I hate….
Riches and honor are with me,
    enduring wealth and righteousness.
My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold,
    and my yield than choice silver.

Wisdom identified four things that were set against him; pride, arrogance, the way of evil, and perverted speech (Proverbs 8:13) and said, “My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver” (Proverbs 8:19).

Proverbs 2:6-7 indicates that the LORD gives us wisdom and that “he stores up sound wisdom for the upright.” Proverbs 2:10-12 goes on to say that wisdom comes into our heart and as a result we have knowledge and understanding that delivers us from the way of evil. In addition to receiving personal wisdom from the Lord, Proverbs 8:1-11 tells us that wisdom is constantly trying to get our attention. It states:

Does not wisdom call?
    Does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights beside the way,
    at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town,
    at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud:
“To you, O men, I call,
    and my cry is to the children of man…
Take my instruction instead of silver,
    and knowledge rather than choice gold,
for wisdom is better than jewels,
    and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.

The Hebrew word that is translated instruction in Proverbs 8:10, muwçar (moo-sawrˊ) is properly translated as “chastisement” (H4148). Muwçar is translated discipline in Deuteronomy 11:1-7 where the Israelites were instructed to love and serve the LORD. It states:

“You shall therefore love the LORD your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always. And consider today (since I am not speaking to your children who have not known or seen it), consider the discipline of the LORD your God, his greatness, his mighty hand and his outstretched arm, his signs and his deeds that he did in Egypt to Pharaoh the king of Egypt and to all his land, and what he did to the army of Egypt, to their horses and to their chariots, how he made the water of the Red Sea flow over them as the pursued after you, and how the LORD has destroyed them to this day, and what he did to you in the wilderness, until you came to this place, and what he did to Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, so of Reuben, how the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households, their tents, and every living thing that followed them, in the midst of all Israel. For your eyes have seen all the great work of the LORD that he did” (emphasis mine)

Moses’ reminder of the LORD’s harsh punishment of Pharaoh, as well as, Dathan and Abiram was meant to warn the people that God’s discipline was not something that they wanted to experience. With regard to false witnesses, Moses told the Israelites, “The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never commit any such evil among you. Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deuteronomy 19:18-21).

Job, who suffered numerous tragedies as a result of being targeted by Satan, was rebuked by his friends because they thought he was being disciplined by God. Eliphaz the Temanite told Job, “Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal” (Job 5:17-18). Eliphaz’s comment may have sounded good and might even have encouraged Job if he had actually been suffering because of a sin that he committed, but according to Wisdom, the ones who are blessed are those who keep my ways. Wisdom tells us:

“And now, O sons, listen to me:
    blessed are those who keep my ways.
Hear instruction and be wise,
    and do not neglect it.
Blessed is the one who listens to me,
    watching daily at my gates,
    waiting beside my doors.
For whoever finds me finds life
    and obtains favor from the Lord,
but he who fails to find me injures himself;
    all who hate me love death.” (Proverbs 8:32-36)

The Hebrew word that is translated blessed in Job 5:17 and Proverbs 8:32 and 34 is ʾesher (ehˊ-sher). ʾEsher “is a masculine noun meaning a person’s state of bliss. This Hebrew word is always used to refer to people and is never used of God. It is almost exclusively poetic and usually exclamatory, ‘O the bliss of…’ In Proverbs, this blissfulness is frequently connected with wisdom (Proverbs 3:13; 8:32, 34). This term is also used to describe a person or nation who enjoys a relationship with God (Deuteronomy 33:29; Job 5:17)” (H835). At the end of the book of Job, we find out that Job was right and his friends were wrong about the circumstances of his suffering. The LORD rebuked Job’s friends and restored his fortunes. Job 42:7-8 states:

After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

Job’s experience brought him to the conclusion that he didn’t really understand how things worked in the spiritual realm (Job 42:2-4). Job concluded his conversation with the LORD by stating, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6).

The LORD’s command to destroy all the people that were living in the land of Canaan may have been perceived to be too harsh or too difficult for the Israelites to carry out, but none the less, they needed to obey the LORD. Moses reiterated this command near the end of his enumeration of the law in the Book of Deuteronomy. Moses said:

“But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 20:16-18)

“This is the final statement of God’s judgment on the six peoples listed in this passage…Archeological evidence reveals how incredibly depraved these tribes were. They practiced human sacrifice and every sort of sexual perversion. It is said that the land ‘vomited out its inhabitants’ (Leviticus 18:21-25) because of the grievous nature of their sins. The sinfulness of these pagans would present a strong temptation to the Israelites; therefore these tribes were to be destroyed. As the incident with the Moabites revealed (Numbers 25:1-3), the Israelites were all too prone to adopt the idolatrous and inhuman practices of her neighbors. Those forms of Canaanite worship that the Israelites did not destroy according to God’s command are described as being a ‘snare’ to them (Exodus 23:33; 34:12; Deuteronomy 7:16; 12:30)” (note on Deuteronomy 20:16-18).

Psalm 128 makes it clear that the personal state of bliss associated with wisdom is connected to the worship of God. It states:

Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
    who walks in his ways!
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
    you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
    within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
    around your table.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
    who fears the Lord.

The Lord bless you from Zion!
    May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
    all the days of your life!
May you see your children’s children!
    Peace be upon Israel!

Even though Psalm 128 is directed toward the people of Israel, it indicates in verse one of this psalm that everyone who fears the LORD and walks in his ways will be blessed, or more specifically, will experience a state of bliss (H835).

Jesus eluded to believers experiencing a state of bliss in his Sermon on the Mount. He said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12). The Greek word that is translated rejoice, chairo (khahʾ-ee-ro) means “to be ‘cheer’ful, i.e. calmly happy or well-off” (G5463). Two Greek words that are derived from chairo, chara (khar-ahˊ) and charis (kharˊ-ece) link together God’s grace and the state of bliss that Jesus associated with Christian persecution. The epistle of James takes it one step further by connecting bliss with the testing of our faith. James said, “Count it all joy (bliss) my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). James concluded his discussion of suffering by stating, “We think of those who stayed true to Him as happy even though they suffered. You have heard how long Job waited. You have seen what the Lord did for him in the end. The Lord is full of loving-kindness and pity” (James 5:11, NLV).

Led astray

Moses’ summarization of the law in the book of Deuteronomy was focused on a key commandment that was intended to guide the Israelites into a successful relationship with God. What Jesus referred to as the greatest commandment is recorded in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, which states, “Hear O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”  In order to love the LORD and obey his commandments, Moses pointed out that the people needed to deal with the hardened condition of their hearts. Moses said, “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD which I am commanding you today for your good?…Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart and be no longer stubborn” (Deuteronomy 10:12-16). The Israelites had quickly established a pattern of turning away from the LORD because of a rebellious heart (Deuteronomy 9:12) and were susceptible to being led astray by the people that occupied the land that God intended to give them (Numbers 25:1-5), so Moses commanded them to circumcise their hearts, which meant they needed to open themselves up to God’s spiritual influence and pay attention to the things they were doing that were not consistent with the Ten Commandments.

Moses warned the people of Israel about following the example of the nations around them. He said:

“When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.” (Deuteronomy 12:29-31)

Moses indicated that following the religious practices of other nations was a trap that the Israelites needed to be careful to avoid. The Hebrew word that is translated ensnared, yaqosh (yaw-koshˊ) “always refers figuratively to the catching of a person in an undesirable situation” (H3369). Moses’ statement, “they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:31) was intended to point out that idolatry was a dangerous path to follow because of its association with the depravity of the human heart.

Moses went on to identify three scenarios that were associated with the people being led astray. The first scenario involved the LORD testing of the Israelites’ faith. Moses said:

“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.” (Deuteronomy 13:1-4)

Testing does not always suggest tempting or enticing someone to sin. The Hebrew word nasah (naw-sawˊ) also means “to try, to prove” (H5254). The purpose of a spiritual test could be to strengthen one’s faith. In the situation where a prophet was able to perform a sign that indicated he had been sent by God, but told the people to serve other gods, the message was to be disregarded because the first of God’s Ten Commandments stated “You shall have no other gods before me” (Deuteronomy 5:7). The Ten Commandments were authoritative and set a precedence for everything else that was in the Mosaic Law. Moses said, “But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your god who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk” (Deuteronomy 13:5-5).

Leaving the way was a habit that the Israelites established early in their relationship with the LORD. Moses reminded the people before they entered the Promised Land that they didn’t deserve God’s blessing. Moses said, “Know therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people. Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD” (Deuteronomy 9:6-7). The Hebrew word that is translated rebellion in Deuteronomy 13:5, sarah (saw-rawˊ) means “apostasy” (H5627). In simple terms, apostasy is a false teaching that is intended to undermine one’s faith in God. The result is a lack of confidence in God’s word and a tendency to look for the answers to life’s problems in other places. The phrase leave the way comes from two Hebrew words, nadach (naw-kakhˊ) derek (dehˊ-rek) that together convey the root cause of most sin, getting off on the wrong track. Among the laws for sin offerings that were identified in Leviticus 4 were sins that were committed unintentionally (Leviticus 4:2). An unintentional sin was one that was considered to be a mistake or one that was committed through ignorance of God’s laws (H7684). The Hebrew word that is translated sins unintentionally in Leviticus 4:13, shagah (shaw-gawˊ) means “to stray” (H7686).

The Hebrew word shagah appears three times in Proverbs 5 which focuses on the sin of adultery. Proverbs 5:1-6 states:

My son, be attentive to my wisdom;
    incline your ear to my understanding,
that you may keep discretion,
    and your lips may guard knowledge.
For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey,
    and her speech is smoother than oil,
but in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
    sharp as a two-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death;
    her steps follow the path to Sheol;
she does not ponder the path of life;
    her ways wander, and she does not know it.

The adulteress or forbidden woman as she is referred to in Proverbs 5:3 does not know what she is doing and is therefore a danger to those around her. Proverbs 5:5 states, “Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol.” The son is warned to stay far away from her (Proverbs 5:8) and to “rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Proverbs 5:18). In this particular instance, shagah is translated twice as intoxicated and at the end of the proverb as led astray. Speaking to the son about the wife of his youth, the proverb states:

Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
    be intoxicated always in her love.
Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman
    and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord,
    and he ponders all his paths.
The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
    and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.
He dies for lack of discipline,
    and because of his great folly he is led astray. (Proverbs 5:19-23)

The illustration of being intoxicated with love makes it clear that being led astray is associated with having an emotional response to a pleasurable situation. It could also have something to do with being open to the influence of another person.

The second scenario that Moses presented to the Israelites about being led astray had to do with people that were close to them, members of their own households. Moses said:

“If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known, some of the gods of the peoples who are around you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other, you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 13:6-10)

The extreme response of stoning to death a member of your own family shows that the influence of a person that is close to you can be a significant threat to your spiritual well-being. If a loved one tries to turn you away from the LORD, it seems likely that he or she will succeed.

The final scenario that Moses talked about had to do with the corruption of an entire city. Moses said:

“If you hear in one of your cities, which the Lord your God is giving you to dwell there, that certain worthless fellows have gone out among you and have drawn away the inhabitants of their city, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which you have not known, then you shall inquire and make search and ask diligently. And behold, if it be true and certain that such an abomination has been done among you, you shall surely put the inhabitants of that city to the sword, devoting it to destruction, all who are in it and its cattle, with the edge of the sword.” (Deuteronomy 13:12-15)

Devoting a city to destruction was an indicator of the severe judgment of God. It was important that the Israelites keep themselves separated from things that were devoted to destruction (Deuteronomy 13:17) because they were considered to be a deadly threat to the formation of God’s people. (H2764).

Moses referred to the Israelites as “the sons of the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 14:1) and said, “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 14:2). The Hebrew word that is translated sons is ben (bane) which generally refers to a son as “the direct male offspring of human parents,” but ben is also a relational term that can express an adopted child (H1121). The Israelites’ special role as the chosen people of God was intended to be a testimony to rest of the world of not only God’s existence, but also his involvement in the affairs of men. The Israelites’ obedience and loyalty to the LORD their God was a critical pieces of God’s plan of salvation. By the time Jesus was born, the Israelites’ sacrificial system had been perfected, but the people seemed to be completely ignorant of what their religious practices actually meant.

Jesus continually criticized the religious leaders of his day for leading people astray. On one occasion, Jesus pronounced seven woes on the scribes and Pharisees because they were abusing their power. Jesus said, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:2-4). The sharp contrast between the Pharisees’ teaching and their day-to-day activities showed that they were faking their devotion to God. Jesus said to them:

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” (Matthew 23:13-15)

The phrase child of hell was likely intended to convey the distinction between a person that had a relationship with God and a person that did not have a relationship with God. The people of Israel thought that being a descendant of Abraham guaranteed them access into the kingdom of heaven, but Jesus pointed out that a relationship with God was required. Jesus told the Jews:

I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:37-47)

Jesus’ warning to the Pharisees was followed by a sermon that focused on a period of time that he referred to as the end of the age. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:3-14)

Jesus indicated that one of the signs of the end of the age was that his followers would be led astray, just as the Israelites were.

The Book of Hebrews contains warnings against apostasy and advice for believers that want to keep themselves from being led astray. It states:

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. (Hebrews 5:11-6:6)

According to Paul, the safest way for believers to keep themselves from being led astray is to have your “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). The phrase powers of discernment refers to spiritual perception and suggests that the only way we are able to distinguish good from evil is by training our minds to do so on a regular basis. In order to do that, Paul said that we must “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1). The Greek word that is translated go on, phero (ferˊ-o) signifies being impelled by the Holy Spirit’s power, not acting according to our own wills, or simply expressing our own thoughts, “but expressing the mind of God in words provided and ministered by Him” (G5342). Jesus explained the Greek word phero in the context of bearing spiritual fruit and said in his parable of the sower, “other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding (phero) thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold” (Mark 4:8). Jesus later revealed to his disciples the secret of yielding spiritual fruit; when you hear the word of God, you must accept it as the truth (Mark 4:20).

The tablets of your heart

The way that we think of our hearts as an organ that pumps blood throughout our bodies is correct from a materialistic perspective, but the Bible has a different view of the heart’s primary function. The Hebrew word leb (labe) indicates that “the heart includes not only the motives, feelings, affections, and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man. In fact, it embraces the whole inner man, the head never being regarded as the seat of intelligence. While it is the source of all action and the center of all thought and feeling the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself.” In some instances, “Leb is used of the man himself, or his personality (Genesis 17:17)” and from a spiritual perspective, “the heart could be regarded as the seat of knowledge and wisdom and as a synonym of ‘mind’ when ‘heart’ appears with the verb ‘to know.’” The heart encompasses some of the activities that we typically associate with the brain. “Memory is the activity of the heart (Job 22:22),” but it goes beyond that and may even be “the seat of conscience and moral character.” The Bible tells us that “God controls the heart” and he is able to give us “a new one (Ezekiel 36:26).” The heart can also be thought of as a source of expression, it “stands for the inner being of man, the man himself, and is the fountain of all he does (Proverbs 4:4). All his thoughts, desires, words, and actions flow from deep within him. Yet a man cannot understand his own heart (Jeremiah 17:9)” (H3820).

The first appearance of the word leb in the Bible is in Genesis 6:5-6 where it says, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” In these verses we are told that God also has a heart and that it is the source or you might say the motivation for his spiritual activity. The Hebrew word that is translated intention in Genesis 6:5, yetser (yayˊ-tser) has to do with creation and is figuratively thought of as conception. Yetser is derived from the word yatsar (yaw-tsarˊ) which means “to mould into a form; especially as a potter; (figurative) to determine (i.e. form a resolution)” (H3335). A word that appears to be identical with yatsar means “to press (intransitive), i.e. be narrow; (figurative) be in distress” (H3334). The fact that the intention of the thoughts of men’s hearts was only evil continually after sin entered into the world indicates that the situation was hopeless. God wanted to give up on his creation (Genesis 6:6), but instead he started working out a way for people to be saved from the wickedness that is inherent in our fallen human nature.

The book of Job shows us that spiritual conflict is the result of Satan’s intervention in the lives of godly people. Although Job was described as “a blameless and upright man” (Job 1:8), God allowed Satan to afflict Job in order to prove that his devotion was sincere. During the process, Job’s friends tried to convince him that his wickedness was great and that he deserved to be punished (Job 22:1-11). Eliphaz the Temanite suggested to Job, “Agree with God, and be at peace; thereby good will come to you. Receive instruction from his mouth, and lay up his words in your heart” (Job 22:21-22). In his defense, Job stated:

“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there,
    and backward, but I do not perceive him;
on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him;
    he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.
But he knows the way that I take;
    when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
My foot has held fast to his steps;
    I have kept his way and have not turned aside.
I have not departed from the commandment of his lips;
    I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.
But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back?
    What he desires, that he does.
For he will complete what he appoints for me,
    and many such things are in his mind.
Therefore I am terrified at his presence;
    when I consider, I am in dread of him.
God has made my heart faint;
    the Almighty has terrified me;
yet I am not silenced because of the darkness,
    nor because thick darkness covers my face.” (Job 23:8-17)

Job thought that God had made his heart faint and that the Almighty had terrified him (Job 23:16), but in actuality, it was Satan that was responsible for the tragedies that Job experienced (Job 1:13-19, 2:7). Job knew that he needed to keep God’s commandments and also said that he had stored up God’s word as if it was necessary for his continued existence (Job 23:12), but the result Job got from his effort was not what he expected (Job 24:22-25).

Psalm 37 offers advice to those of us that feel God has abandoned or rejected us even though we have been doing the right things. It states:

Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
    be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
    and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:1-4)

Putting our trust in the Lord is a part of the process that we go through to be saved. The Greek word peitho (piˊ-tho) “in the active voice, signifies ‘to apply persuasion, to prevail upon or win over; to persuade,’ bringing about a change of mind by the influence of reason or moral considerations” (G3982). The Greek word pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) means “not just to believe, but also to be persuaded of; and hence, to place confidence in, to trust, and signifies, in this sense of the word, reliance upon, not mere credence, hence it is translated ‘commit unto’, ‘commit to one’s trust’, ‘be committed unto’” (G4100). “Peitho and pisteuo, ‘to trust,’ are closely related etymologically; the difference in meaning is that the former implies the obedience that is produced by the latter, cf. Hebrews 3:18-19, where the disobedience of the Israelites is said to be the evidence of their unbelief. Faith is of the heart, invisible to men; obedience is of the conduct and may be observed. When a man obeys God he gives the only possible evidence that in his heart he believes God” (G3982).

Proverbs 3:5-6 indicates that trust is an activity of the heart. Solomon instructed us to, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” The Hebrew word that is translated acknowledge, yada (yaw-dahˊ) has to do with knowing someone both relationally and experientially. One of the most important uses of the word yada is “depicting God’s knowledge of people: The Lord knows their hearts entirely (Exodus 33:12; 2 Samuel 7:20; Psalm 139:4; Jeremiah 17:9; Hosea 5:3)” (H3045). Jesus’ knowledge of the Pharisees hearts caused him to rebuke them on numerous occasions. In one instance, Jesus indicated that they had committed an unpardonable sin, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:32). Jesus asserted that the words we speak are an indicator of the condition of our hearts and said of the Pharisees, “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matthew 12:34-35).

The book of Hebrews reveals that the Israelites never entered into the kind of relationship that God wanted to have with them because their hearts were hardened (Hebrews 3:8-9). The term that was used to describe the condition of the Israelites’ hearts was an “unbelieving” heart (Hebrews 3:12). The Greek word that is translated harden in Hebrews 3:8 is skleruno (sklay-rooˊ-no). “This word stresses that the nape of the neck stiffens and thus renders the head in an unbending position” (G4645). This condition of the heart is illustrated in the Old Testament by Pharaoh who persistently refused to obey the LORD’s command to let his people go. It says in Exodus 7:13 that Pharaoh’s “heart was hardened.” “In reference to Pharaoh, it means to brace up and strengthen and points to the hardihood with which he set himself to act in defiance against God and closed all avenues to his heart to those signs and wonders which Moses wrought” (H2388).

Moses’ summarization of the Israelites’ forty year journey included some sharp rebukes because of their unbelief. Moses said:

“At Taberah also, and at Massah and at Kibroth-hattaavah you provoked the Lord to wrath. And when the Lord sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying, ‘Go up and take possession of the land that I have given you,’ then you rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God and did not believe him or obey his voice. You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you.” (Deuteronomy 9:22-24)

Moses said that the Israelites did not believe or obey the voice of God indicating that there was not only a lack of faith on their part, but also a lack of reverence toward God and yet, Moses interceded on their behalf and asked the LORD to give them a second chance. Moses prayed, “Do not regard the stubbornness of this people, or their wickedness or their sin, lest the land from which you brought us say, ‘Because the LORD was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness’” (Deuteronomy 9:27-28).

The prophet Ezekiel’s message from the LORD indicated that the only way the problem of the Israelites’ hardened hearts could be fixed was to give them a new heart. The LORD told Ezekiel:

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.(Ezekiel 36:22-27)

The LORD said that the Israelites’ heart of stone would be replaced with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). The Hebrew word that is translated stone in this verse is the same word that is used in Deuteronomy 10:1 in reference to the tablets of stone that God wrote the Ten Commandments on.

Moses’ account of the Israelites’ journey shifted dramatically from a materialistic perspective to a spiritual perspective when he started talking about the second writing of the Ten Commandments. Moses stated, “At that time the Lord said to me, ‘Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to me on the mountain and make an ark of wood. And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets that you broke, and you shall put them in the ark.’ So I made an ark of acacia wood, and cut two tablets of stone like the first, and went up the mountain with the two tablets in my hand. And he wrote on the tablets, in the same writing as before, the Ten Commandmentsthat the Lord had spoken to you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. And the Lord gave them to me. Then I turned and came down from the mountain and put the tablets in the ark that I had made. And there they are, as the Lord commanded me” (Deuteronomy 10:1-5). Moses emphasized the fact that everything had been done just as it had been before and that God himself wrote on the tablets, “in the same writing” (Deuteronomy 10:4), meaning that it was God’s handwriting, signifying the legality of the documents. Moses went on to specify the terms of the contract that had just been ratified. Moses said:

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)

Moses specified five things that the LORD required. First, the people were expected to fear or reverence the LORD, “whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect” (H3372). Second, the people of Israel were expected to walk in all the ways of God, meaning that they were to exhibit a godly lifestyle, their behavior was supposed to be consistent with the God they served. Third, the Israelites were required to love God; they were expected to have a strong emotional attachment to him and have a desire to be in his presence. Fourth, the Israelites were required to serve the LORD with all their hearts and with all their souls. This meant that the people’s attention was to always be on the LORD and that he would be their number one priority in their daily lives. The final requirement that the people of Israel keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD was a matter of the greatest commandment (Deuteronomy 6:1-9) being evidenced in their lives. Everything that the Lord required of Israel really boiled down to whether or not the people would actually put their trust in God and believe that he was going to do what he promised to.

The stone tablets that the Ten Commandments were written on were likely meant to be representative of the Israelites’ hardened hearts. The Hebrew word that is translated tablets in Deuteronomy 10:1, luach (looˊ-akh) is used in Jeremiah 17:1 where it says, “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of a diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart.” The concept of the heart being a tablet that can be engraved upon also appears in the New Testament in the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3). Paul compared the Ten Commandments to a letter from Christ that was written with the Spirit of the living God, suggesting that it was possible to engrave the word of God on the human heart in the same way that God wrote the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets. The key to this process being successful might be what Moses described as the circumcision of the heart.

After Moses talked about the requirements of God’s relationship with the Israelites (Deuteronomy 10:12-13), he said, “Behold to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (Deuteronomy 10:14-16). When Moses commanded the Israelites to circumcise their heart, he meant that they were to “remove the hardness and to love God” (H4135). This willful act was necessary to change the condition of the people’s hearts. Paul talked about the new life that believers are expected to live in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul instructed the Ephesians to “put off the old self” and to “put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:22-23). The Greek word that is translated put off, apotithemi (ap-ot-eethˊ-ay-mee) is derived from the word apo (apoˊ) which means “off” (G575) and tithemi (tithˊ-ay-mee) which means “to put” (G5087). Tithemi is associated with appointment to any form of service. “Christ used it of His followers.” From that standpoint circumcision of the heart or putting off the old self could mean that believers are expected to cut off any activity or relationship that interferes with their worship and/or service of God.

According to Paul, in addition to putting off the old self, it is necessary for believers to put on the new self in order for them to be able to trust in the LORD with all their hearts (Proverbs 3:5). It could be that Proverbs 3:3 is a prescription for doing just that. It states, “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.” Steadfast love and faithfulness are two of the primary characteristics of God that are evident in his work of salvation. The Hebrew word that is translated steadfast love, cheçed (khehˊ-sed) “is one of the most important in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics…Checed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law…The Bible prominently uses the term chesed to summarize and characterize a life of sanctification within” (H2617). The Hebrew word ʾemeth (ehˊ-meth), which is translated faithfulness, means “stability” (H571) and is derived from the word ʾaman (aw-manˊ) which means to “believe.” (H539). Writing steadfast love and faithfulness on the tablet of our heart might mean that we commit to memory specific verses of the Bible that are relevant to these characteristics of God. At the end of his ministry, Jesus told his disciples:

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:23-26)

The Holy Spirit’s job is to help us understand God’s word and to remind us of the things that we’ve learned about Jesus, but he can only do that if we are committing scriptures to memory, i.e. writing them on the tablets of our heart.

Believing

Jesus told his disciples on several different occasions that he would be killed and three days later rise again (Matthew 16:21; 17:23; 20:19), and yet, after he was crucified, it appears that no one expected to ever see Jesus again. John’s gospel tells us, “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:1-2). We aren’t told who the “they” was that Mary thought had taken the Lord’s body away, but it’s possible that she thought Jesus’ declaration that “they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day” (Matthew 17:23, emphasis mine) meant that whoever killed Jesus would also after three days take his body away. Mary’s mental perception of the situation made her believe something that was incorrect, that someone had moved Jesus’ body. John went on to say:

So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. (John 20:3-9)

John tells us that he saw and believed. The Greek word that is translated saw in John 20:8 is different from the word that is translated saw in John 20:1 and also John 20:6. Mary perceived that the stone had been taken away from the tomb, but she didn’t know how it had happened. When he “saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself” (John 20:6-7), Peter made a careful observation of the details and considered all the facts before coming to a conclusion. John, on the other hand, saw that Jesus’ body was no longer bound by the linen cloths and that the cloth that had been coving his face had been placed in a different location and even though he didn’t understand the Scripture; John believed that Jesus had risen from the dead (John 20:9).

The Greek word that is translated believed in John 20:8. pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) means “to have faith” (G4100). Hebrews 11:1 states, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” John’s assessment of the situation when he entered the empty tomb wasn’t necessarily based on what he saw, but what he didn’t see. Jesus’ body was definitely gone. Whereas, Mary concluded that because his body was gone, someone must have taken Jesus away, John believed that Jesus was alive again. “Pisteuo means not just to believe, but also to be persuaded of; and hence, to place confidence in, to trust, and signifies, in this sense of the word, reliance upon, not mere credence, hence it is translated ‘commit unto’, ‘commit to one’s trust’, ‘be committed unto’, etc” (G4100). Pisteuo is derived from the word pistis (pisˊ-tis) which means “persuasion, i.e. credence; moral conviction (of religious truth, or the truthfulness of God or a religious teacher), especially reliance upon Christ for salvation…Pistis is conviction of the truth of anything, belief; of a conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervor born of faith and joined in it. It is related to God with the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ; to Christ with a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God” (G4102). Thus, it could be said that John not only saw and believed (John 20:8), but John saw and was saved.

The difference between what happened to the others and what happened to John when he entered the tomb and saw that Jesus’ body was gone had to do with the way each person perceived the situation. John’s knowledge of what happened was affected by his close relationship with Jesus. John referred to himself as, “the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved” (John 20:2), indicating that there was affection and a personal attachment between Jesus and John. Peter’s denial of Jesus may have caused him to be detached or skeptical that Jesus still loved him. It’s possible that John wanted to see Jesus again, so much that he was willing to accept even the slightest evidence that he had indeed risen from the dead. What seemed to be obvious to John that was not to Mary or Peter was that the linen cloths had been left behind. If someone had moved Jesus’ body, it wouldn’t make sense for whoever did it to unwrap the dead body before taking it away. Likewise, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, “The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with the linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth” (John 11:44). The fact that the linen cloths that had encased Jesus’ body were lying inside the tomb and the body wasn’t there made it seem as if Jesus’ body had disappeared into thin air.

Unbelievable things can and do happen. Whether you think of it as a miracle or just something that has never happened before, the fact that something appears to be impossible doesn’t mean that it couldn’t happen. In a similar sense, something that has actually happened may not be believed because it seems impossible. The many miracles that Jesus performed were intended to build his disciples confidence in his ability to do things that had either never happened before or were considered to be impossible from a human standpoint. When God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, he did it through many signs and wonders (Exodus 7:3). Moses’ first encounter with God involved a great sight, a bush that was burning, but was not consumed (Exodus 3:2). When the LORD saw that Moses turned aside to see, “God called to him out of the bush” (Exodus 3:4). During the conversation that followed, God told Moses that he was going to give him powerful signs so that the people would believe that he had appeared to him. Exodus 4:1-9 states:

Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. But the Lord said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand— “that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” Again, the Lord said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.”

In spite of the many signs and wonders that God did, the Israelites didn’t believe that they could overcome the people that were dwelling in the land that God had promised to give them. The whole congregation grumbled against Moses and asked, “Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” (Numbers 14:3). After wandering in the wilderness for forty years, Moses encouraged the Israelites to believe they were finally ready to conquer the inhabitants of the land. Moses used the defeat of King Og as an example of their assured victory. Moses said:

“Then we turned and went up the way to Bashan. And Og the king of Bashan came out against us, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei. But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not fear him, for I have given him and all his people and his land into your hand. And you shall do to him as you did to Sihon the king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.’So the Lord our God gave into our hand Og also, the king of Bashan, and all his people, and we struck him down until he had no survivor left. And we took all his cities at that time—there was not a city that we did not take from them—sixty cities, the whole region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan. All these were cities fortified with high walls, gates, and bars, besides very many unwalled villages. And we devoted them to destruction, as we did to Sihon the king of Heshbon, devoting to destruction every city, men, women, and children. But all the livestock and the spoil of the cities we took as our plunder. So we took the land at that time out of the hand of the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, from the Valley of the Arnon to Mount Hermon (the Sidonians call Hermon Sirion, while the Amorites call it Senir), all the cities of the tableland and all Gilead and all Bashan, as far as Salecah and Edrei, cities of the kingdom of Og in Bashan. (For only Og the king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. Behold, his bed was a bed of iron. Is it not in Rabbah of the Ammonites? Nine cubits was its length, and four cubits its breadth, according to the common cubit) (Deuteronomy 3:1-11)

Moses’ comment about all the cities that were destroyed being fortified with high walls, gates, and bars and the huge size of Og the king of Bashan was directly related to the report that was given when the land was spied out 40 years earlier (Numbers 13:26-33). Moses concluded his account with a reminder that he was being punished for the Israelites unbelief. Moses had pleaded with the LORD, saying, “Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon” (Deuteronomy 3:25)  But, Moses said, the LORD was angry with him because of the people’s lack of faith and would not listen to him (Deuteronomy 3:26).

The Hebrew word that is translated angry in Deuteronomy 3:26, ʿabar (aw-barˊ) means “to cross over” and is used very widely of any transition. The word ʿabar also “communicates the idea of transgression, or crossing over the boundary of right and entering the forbidden land of the wrong” (H5674). One way of looking at the LORD’s anger was that it was an indicator that Moses had gone too far. Moses was no longer capable of completing his assignment of leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land. Rather than blaming his failure on the Israelites, it might be fair to say that Moses himself lacked faith when it came time for him to put his trust in Christ. The incident that caused Moses to be excluded from the Promised Land involved the glory of the LORD appearing to Moses and Aaron (Numbers 20:6) and an instruction from the LORD to “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water” (Numbers 20:8). According to 1 Corinthians 10:4, the Rock was Christ. The verse states regarding the Israelites, “All drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” After the incident, the LORD told Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12).

The connection between crossing over and believing in the Lord may be a matter of transitioning from the physical to the spiritual realm. Mary, who saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb (John 20:1) and came to the conclusion that “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:2) later came to the realization that the man she thought was the gardener was actually Jesus (John 20:16). The shift in Mary’s perception seemed to take place as a result of her hearing the Lord speak her name. John 20:11-18 states:

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

Mary saw Jesus standing before her, but she didn’t know that it was him at first. The Greek word that is translated saw in John 20:14 is the same word that John used to describe Peter’s investigation of the empty tomb (John 20:6-7). When Mary said, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18), a different word was used. The Greek word horao (hor-ahˊ-o) does not emphasize the mere act of seeing, but the actual perception of some object…Particularly, to see God, meaning to know Him, be acquainted with Him, know His character…In a wider sense: to see God, i.e. to be admitted to his presence, to enjoy his fellowship and special favor” (G3708). Jesus emphasized in his conversation with the woman of Samaria that “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Mary’s declaration, “I have seen the Lord (John 20:18) was an act of worship and evidence that she had transitioned from relying on her physical perception to the use of spiritual discernment.

The Apostle Thomas’ refusal to believe unless he saw the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands and placed his hand into his side (John 20:25) makes it clear to us that we can choose to believe or not believe if we want to. Jesus came to Thomas and said, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27). The Greek word that is translated disbelieve, apistos (apˊis-tos) is spoken of things “incredible, unbelievable” and is also spoken of persons who withhold belief or are “incredulous, distrustful” (G571). In Thomas’ case it meant that he had not yet been saved. Thomas’ response indicates that he did put his trust in the Lord (John 20:28). Jesus asked Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen (horao) me?” (John 20:29). I think what Jesus meant by that question was that faith is not a result of physical evidence and so Thomas didn’t need to put his finger in Jesus’ hands or place his hand into the hole in Jesus’ side in order to put his trust in him. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

John stated that the purpose of his gospel was “so that you may believe” (John 20:31). John said, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). John identified the essential truth that you need to believe in order to receive salvation, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The reason why John zeroed in on this one critical point was because if you don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God, nothing else matters. The Apostle Paul explains this further in Romans chapter eight where he says that salvation is dependent upon us being a member of God’s family and receiving our inheritance through Christ. Paul said, “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit…The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs—of God and fellow heirs with Christ…And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:3-29).

Missing the mark

The Israelites journey from Egypt to the Promised Land was not a long one from a geographical standpoint. Deuteronomy 1:2 tells us, “It is eleven days journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea.” And yet, the Israelites didn’t reach their destination until forty years later (Deuteronomy 1:3). Moses’ review of the Israelites’ journey made it clear that it was God’s will for the people to take possession of the land immediately. Moses said:

“The Lord our God said to us in Horeb, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, in the hill country and in the lowland and in the Negeb and by the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. See, I have set the land before you. Go in and take possession of the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their offspring after them.’” (Deuteronomy 1:6-8)

The statement, I have set the land before you meant that God had already transferred ownership of the land to the Israelites; but the catch, so to speak, was that in order to live in the land, the people of Israel had to drive out the previous tenants and possess it in their place (H3423). Moses’ account of Israel’s refusal to enter the land is recorded in Deuteronomy 1:19-33. It states:

“Then we set out from Horeb and went through all that great and terrifying wilderness that you saw, on the way to the hill country of the Amorites, as the Lord our God commanded us. And we came to Kadesh-barnea. And I said to you, ‘You have come to the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. See, the Lord your God has set the land before you. Go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has told you. Do not fear or be dismayed.’ Then all of you came near me and said, ‘Let us send men before us, that they may explore the land for us and bring us word again of the way by which we must go up and the cities into which we shall come.’ The thing seemed good to me, and I took twelve men from you, one man from each tribe. And they turned and went up into the hill country, and came to the Valley of Eshcol and spied it out. And they took in their hands some of the fruit of the land and brought it down to us, and brought us word again and said, ‘It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.’ Yet you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. And you murmured in your tents and said, ‘Because the Lord hated us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. Where are we going up? Our brothers have made our hearts melt, saying, “The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified up to heaven. And besides, we have seen the sons of the Anakim there.”’ Then I said to you, ‘Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the Lord your God, who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go.”

Moses encouraged the Israelites to not be afraid and to trust that God would fight for them, but ultimately he concluded that the people of Israel didn’t believe what God had told them (Deuteronomy 1:32). Moses used the Hebrew word derek (deh’-rek) three times to emphasize the fact that God was directing the Israelites’ course (Deuteronomy 1:31, 33) and was setting them up for success, not failure, but the people were determined to go back to their former lives of slavery in Egypt (Numbers 14:3-4).

Moses told the people, “And the LORD heard your words and was angered, and he swore, ‘Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give your fathers…And as for your little ones, who you said would become prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it. But as for you, turn, and journey into the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea.’ Then you answered me, ‘we have sinned against the LORD'” (Deuteronomy 1:34-41). The Hebrew word that is translated sinned is chata’ (khaw-taw’). Four main Hebrew words express the idea of sin in the Hebrew Bible, with this word used most often. Its central meaning is to miss the mark or fail. It is used in a nonmoral or nonreligious sense to indicate the simple idea of missing or failing in any task or endeavor. In Judges 20:16, it indicated the idea of a slinger missing the target…The word is used the most to describe human failure and sin. It indicates failure to do what is expected” (H2398).

John the Baptist introduced Jesus to the world with the statement, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The Greek word that John used that is translated sin, hamartia (ham-ar-tee’-ah) is derived from the word hamartano (ham-ar-tan’-o) which means “to miss the mark, swerve from the way.” Metaphorically, hamartano means “to err, swerve from the truth, go wrong; speaking of errors of doctrine or faith” (G264). Jesus described himself as “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). In a metaphorical sense, what Jesus meant by this statement was that following him would result in spiritual success, hitting the mark so to speak. The Greek word that is translated way, hodos (hod-os’) means “a road; (by implication) a progress (the route)” and in John 14:6 hodos is “spoken by metonymy of Jesus as the way, i.e. the author and medium of access to God and eternal life” (G3598).

Jesus’ true identity was a questioned throughout his ministry. At one point, there was a division among the people because no one was willing to openly declare their allegiance to him. John 7:40-52 states:

When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”

The Pharisees question, “Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him?” implied that none of the religious leaders were followers of Christ, and yet, Nicodemus “was one of them” (John 7:48, 50). “When Nicodemus urged the other Pharisees to consider Christ’s words before determining whether he spoke the truth, they sought to discredit him” (note on John 7:52). The Greek word that is translated believed, pisteuo (pist-yoo’-o) means “to have faith” (G4100). When pisteuo is used of God, it means “to believe in God, to trust in Him as able and willing to help and answer prayer.”

The fact that none of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in Jesus, or at least were unwilling to admit it, indicates that for the most part the Jews no longer had a relationship with God. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the Jews wanted to get rid of Jesus (John 12:9-11), but there were some who believed, and Jesus told them, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). To be set free means that you are liberated or exempt from punishment. The specific kind of freedom that Jesus was talking about was freedom from “the power and punishment of sin, the result of redemption (John 8:32, 36; Romans 6:18, 22)” (G1659). The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23-25).

Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve apostles that Jesus chose to be a part of his ministry, was excused from the upper room shortly after Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. John tells us:

After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. (John 13:21-30)

We aren’t told why Judas decided to betray Jesus. The only thing we know for sure is that Satan entered Judas before he left the upper room. The reason why Satan was able to possess Judas was because according to Jesus, he wasn’t clean (John 13:10-11). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated clean, katharos (kath-ar-os’) is associated with spiritual rebirth (G3824) and suggests that Judas wasn’t born again. Jesus told his Father, “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me, I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12).

Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit played a role in the judgment of sin. Jesus said, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:7-11). Jesus referred to Satan as the ruler of this world, but also noted that his judgment had already taken place. Jesus went on to say, “I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus was able to declare his victory over the world even before he died on the cross because he lived a sinless life. Isaiah 53:4-12 indicates that Jesus’ death was intended to pay the penalty for our sins, not his own. It states:

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors.

“The words ‘transgression’ (vv. 5, 8), ‘iniquity’ (vv. 6,11), ‘offering’ (v. 10), and ‘sin’ (v.12) clearly indicate that Christ died for the disease of man’s soul, not the disease of his body. Jesus’ death on the cross delivers man from sin. Deliverance from sickness is yet to come (Revelation 21:6)” (note on Isaiah 53:4-12). According to Isaiah 53:12, Jesus bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. The Hebrew word that is translated intercession, paga’ (paw-gah’) suggests that Jesus is still in the process of aggressively pursuing people that have missed the mark (H6293).

Peter’s denial of Christ is an example of how far we sometimes go to distance ourselves from the God that died in order to save us (John 18:15-18, 25-27). When Pilate asked Jesus what he had done to make the Jews want to kill him, Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36). Jesus wanted Pilate to be aware that another realm existed besides the physical realm. The Greek word that is translated world, kosmos (kos’-mos) means “orderly arrangement, i.e. decoration.” When Jesus said, My kingdom is not of this world, he wasn’t talking about our planet. He was talking about “the present order of things, as opposed to the kingdom of Christ…Specifically: the wealth and enjoyments of this world, this life’s goods” (G2889). Jesus also said, My kingdom is not from this world. The Greek word that is translated from, enteuthen (ent-yoo’-then) means “on both sides” (G1782). In other words, Jesus’ dominion is not limited to a single realm (G932).

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul talked about success in the Christian life in the context of winning a prize. Paul said, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). The Greek word Paul used that is translated mark, skeptomai is where the word skeptic comes from. It means, “to look about” (G4649). I believe the point that Paul was trying to make was that we need to be clear about the mark in order to not miss it. We can’t just wander aimlessly through life and expect to achieve God’s purpose for it. Paul said that we must present ourselves to God “as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:13-14). Paul indicated that sin has no dominion over believers, but like the Israelites who had to drive out the previous tenants of the Promised Land and possess it in their place, we have to present ourselves to God or rather, yield ourselves to God in order for him to be able to use us to accomplish his will.

Confession of our faith

Jesus used the parable of the sower to illustrate the process of spiritual birth, growth, and development. Jesus said:

“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” (Luke 8:5-8)

Jesus later explained the parable of the sower to his disciples. He told them:

“The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:11-15)

Jesus’ illustration and explanation showed that spiritual birth does not happen automatically when a person hears the word of God. A person must believe in order to be saved, but there is more to the process than just that. Jesus indicated that the word of God must take root in a person’s life and then, bear fruit so that their faith is evident to everyone around them. Jesus took his illustration one step further when he told his disciples:

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:23-26)

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked about the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of the dead in general terms (1 Corinthians 15:1-34), and then, Paul went on to explain how the transformation of physical life into spiritual life actually takes place. Paul said:

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:35-49)

Paul reiterated Jesus’ point that “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies” (1 Corinthians 15:36). Paul’s explanation made it clear that there are two types of bodies (1 Corinthians 15:44) and therefore it can be assumed, two types of death that need to take place in order for the transformation of our physical life into an eternal spiritual life to be complete.

Jesus told Martha shortly before he raised her brother Lazarus from the dead, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). Jesus wanted Martha to understand that spiritual life and spiritual death are more important than physical life and death when it comes to eternal existence. Jesus indicated that everyone who has experienced a spiritual birth will never experience a natural death (John 11:26). The Greek word that is translated die in John 11:26, apothnesko (ap-oth-naceˊ-ko) “is used of the separation of the soul from the body, i.e. the natural ‘death’ of human beings (e.g., Matthew 9:24; Romans 7:2); by reason of descent from Adam (1 Corinthians 15:22)…all who are descended from Adam not only ‘die’ physically, owing to sin, see above, but are naturally in a state of separation from God, 2 Corinthians 5:14. From this believers are freed both now and eternally, John 6:50; 11:26, through the death of Christ, Romans 5:8” (G599).

In the same way that a person who has experienced a spiritual birth will never experience a natural death, so a person that has experienced a spiritual death will not experience a natural life, but a supernatural type of existence similar to God’s. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). The Greek word that is translated live, zao (dzahˊ-o) means “spiritual life” and refers to “the present state of departed saints” and in particular to “the way of access to God through the Lord Jesus Christ” (G2198). With regard to physical life, zao means “the recovery of physical life from the power of death” and is sometimes translated quick in reference to God’s word. “Quick implies the ability to respond immediately to God’s word and living stresses the ongoing nature of His word; it is just as effective today as tomorrow.” John emphasized that Jesus and God’s word are one and the same. 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).

When Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25), he was talking about the effect of God’s word on the soul of a man. Unlike physical death, spiritual death is an ongoing process that starts when a person accepts Jesus as his or her Savior and continues until a physical death or the rapture, allassō (al-lasˊ-so) takes place (G236). Paul said:

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:50-57)

With regard to spiritual death, “Believers have spiritually ‘died’ to the Law as a means of life, Galatians 2:19; Colossians 2:20; to sin, Romans 6:2, and in general to all spiritual association with the world and with that which pertained to their unregenerate state, Colossians 3:3, because of their identification with the ‘death’ of Christ, Romans 6:8” (G599). Paul said, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:19-21).

Paul used the Greek word zao when said that it was no longer he who lived, but Christ who lived in him and that the life Paul lived in the flesh he lived by faith. Our spiritual life and spiritual death are closely connected to our faith in Jesus Christ. One of the things that seems to be particularly important in the establishment and development of our faith is obedience to God’s word. When Jesus performed miracles, he often instructed the person who wanted to get well to do something so that his obedience became a part of the healing process. Jesus instructed the man who was born blind to, “’Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing” (John 9:7). On another occasion, Jesus told a man that had been an invalid for 38 years, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk” (John 5:8). In the same way that faith in action can produce miraculous results, a denial of God’s word or unbelief disconnects us from Jesus, the source of our spiritual life and power (John 8:21).

In order to put a stop to Jesus’ ministry, the Jews “agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be the Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue” (John 9:22). The Greek word that is translated confess, homologeo (hom-ol-og-ehˊ-o) literally means “to speak the same thing,” but the specific connotation in John 9:22 is “to declare openly by way of speaking out freely, such confession being the effect of deep conviction of facts” (G3670). In other words, the Jews didn’t necessarily care if people believed that Jesus was the Christ, they just wanted to stop people from saying that they believed Jesus was the Christ. Their issue was with believers making a public profession of faith. Jesus told his followers, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men. I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). The denial that Jesus was talking about was the contradiction of a previous oath, to disavow oneself of a former commitment. John’s record of Peter’s denial of Christ states, “Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, ‘You also are not one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not” (John 18:25).

A Jewish oath was “a sacred promise attesting to what one has done or will do” and was also used “to pledge loyalty to God” (H7621). Matthew’s gospel indicates that Peter denied Jesus with an oath, stating, “I do not know the man” (Matthew 26:72). According to the Mosaic Law, if a man swore with an oath, to bind himself by a pledge, it was impossible for the man to unbind himself, meaning that he couldn’t be forgiven if he didn’t do what he promised to (Numbers 30:2). After Jesus was resurrected, he discovered that Peter had returned to his former occupation as a fisherman (John 21:7). Peter may have thought that his denial of Christ had disqualified him from the ministry, but Jesus loving restored him and repeated his original command, saying to Peter, “Follow me” (John 21:19). Similar to the Greek word homologeo, which means “to speak the same thing” (G3670), the Greek word that is translated follow, akoloutheo (ak-ol-oo-thehˊo) means “to be in the same way with” (G190). Jesus’ command to Peter to follow me was essentially a command to restore fellowship with him. Jesus wanted Peter to get back to doing what he was supposed to be doing, preaching the gospel (John 21:15).

The Jews unbelief was primary attributed to their spiritual blindness. Jesus said that the ruler of this world, Satan needed to be cast out in order for the Jews fellowship with God to be completely restored (John 12:31-32). John wrote:

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

“He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
    and understand with their heart, and turn,
    and I would heal them.” (John 12:36-40)

John said that the Jews “could not believe” (John 12:39). In other words, it was impossible for the Jews to put their trust in Jesus, but then, he went on to say, “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:42-43). John indicated that the problem was not that the Jews couldn’t believe, but that their leaders had set a bad example for them by refusing to make a public confession of their belief in Jesus because they didn’t want to be put out of the synagogue.

The dilemma for the Jews seemed to be that they were caught in the middle of two ways of thinking about how they could obtain eternal life. The Jews thought “they were God’s ‘spiritual’ children because they were Abraham’s physical children” (note on John 8:41), but Jesus taught them that they needed to experience a spiritual birth (John 3:5) in order to obtain eternal life (John 3:13-15). Jesus said the only way anyone could know for sure that he had received salvation was by the evidence of his works. John 3:19-21 states:

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

James elaborated on Jesus’ statement in his letter to the Jewish believers. James stated:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

The Greek word that James used that is translated dead, nekros (nekˊ-ros) “is used of the death of the body, cf. James 2:26, its most frequent sense, the actual spiritual condition of unsaved men” (G3498). The point James was trying to make was that the evidence of spiritual life is spiritual activity. If there is no spiritual activity going on, then a person cannot truly have been born again.

Jesus continually reminded the Jews that everything he was doing was being done in obedience to his Father. Jesus said, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment – what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me” (John 12:49-50). Jesus explained that his words were an ongoing confession because he was always speaking “the same thing” (G3670) that his Father told him to. As followers of Christ, we do the same thing Jesus did when we say what the Holy Spirit prompts us to. The writer of Hebrews encouraged believers to confess their faith on a regular basis so that the assurance of their salvation would give them confidence to not grow weary or fainthearted in their struggle against sin (Hebrews 10:23; 12:3-4). In that sense, confession of our faith is like an exercise that strengthens our spiritual muscles. The more we do it, the more agility and endurance we develop in our walk with the Lord.

Life after death

Outside of the twelve apostles that were Jesus’ constant companions during his three year ministry on earth, there are only a few people mentioned in the Bible that were close to him. One family in particular is mentioned in John’s gospel as being among Jesus’ closest friends. John tells us, “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, Lord, he whom you love is ill” (John 11:1-3). The love that Jesus had for Lazarus came from his heart and had to do with a personal attachment that had been formed between the two men. The Greek word that is translated love, phileo (ful-ehˊ-o) represents “tender affection” (G5368). John went on to say, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?’” (John 11:5-8). The Greek word that John used in this instance that is translated love is agapao (ag-ap-ahˊ-o). The distinction between the two kinds of love that Jesus had for Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus are more evident in Jesus’ conversation with Peter after he had denied the Lord (John 21:15-17). The context itself indicates that agapao, which is used in the first two questions that Jesus asked Peter, suggests the ‘love’ that values and esteems (cf. Revelation 12:11). It is an unselfish ‘love,’ ready to serve. The use of phileo in Peter’s answers and the Lord’s third question, conveys the thought of cherishing the Object above all else, of manifesting an affection characterized by constancy, from the motive of the highest veneration” (G5368). It was a deliberate assent of Jesus’ will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety rather than a desire to preserve Lazarus’ life that caused Jesus to respond to Mary and Martha’s request for him go to Judea in spite of the risk that it imposed to his own life. Jesus told his disciples, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).

Jesus explained Lazarus’ situation to his disciples in John 11:11-16. It states:

After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Jesus compared Lazarus’ death to falling asleep in order to make it clear to his disciples that Lazarus had not gone beyond a point of no return. The Greek word that is translated death in John 11:13, thanatos (thanˊ-at-os) “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).

The thing that Jesus wanted his disciples to believe was that physical death does not separate us from God. The Apostle Paul said of God’s everlasting love, “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). Jesus told his disciples that he was glad that he was not there when Lazarus died, “so that you may believe” (John 11:15). The Greek word that is translated believe, pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) means “to have faith” (G4100). Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” When we are convicted of things not seen, we are either shown to be wrong, convinced of our error or given proof that we are right (G1650). Faith enables us to have an accurate perception of what is going on in the spiritual realm.

When Jesus arrived in Bethany, John tells us:

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (John 11:21-27)

Martha’s attention was focused on the fact that her brother’s physical life had been cut short and she expressed her disappointment that Jesus hadn’t done something about it. Jesus redirected Martha’s attention to the eternal state of her brother’s soul. Jesus told Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23), meaning that Lazarus was born again and therefore, would experience a restoration of his physical life at some point in the future (G450). Martha acknowledged this when she said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24), but Jesus wanted Martha to realize that Lazarus was still living, even though he wasn’t physically present with them.

Luke’s gospel contains a story that Jesus told to illustrate life after death. It states:

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (16:19-31)

The place that Jesus described, Hades was known as the place of punishment, the abode or world of the dead. “According to the notions of the Hebrews, hades was a vast subterranean receptacle where the souls of the dead existed in a separate state until the resurrection of their bodies. The region of the blessed during this interval, the inferior paradise, they supposed to be in the upper part of this receptacle; while beneath was the abyss or Gehenna” (G86). When Jesus was dying on the cross, he told the criminal hanging next to him who asked to be remembered when he came into his kingdom, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42-43). After he was resurrected, Jesus ascended into heaven (Luke 24:51) and shortly before his death, Jesus assured his disciples that they would eventually join him there. Jesus said, “If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3).

In Jesus’ story, the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers to warn them about the torment they were going to experience in Hades. “Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” (Luke 16:30-31). In this statement, Jesus made it clear that hearing, or you might say paying attention to what God says, is a prerequisite of faith. Paul told the Romans, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The Greek word that is translated convinced, peitho (piˊ-tho) “in the active voice, signifies ‘to apply persuasion, to prevail upon or win over, to persuade’ bringing about a change of mind by the influence of reason or moral considerations…It also means ‘to persuade, to win over,’ in the passive and middle voices, ‘to be persuaded, to listen to, to obey’” (G3982). Believing in God and trusting in God are not exactly the same things. When Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25), he used the Greek word pisteuo. “Peitho and pisteuo, ‘to trust,’ are closely related etymologically; the difference in meaning is that the former implies obedience that is produced by the latter, cf. Hebrews 3:18-19, where the disobedience of the Israelites is said to be the evidence of their unbelief. Faith is of the heart, invisible to men; obedience is of the conduct and may be observed. When a man obeys God he gives the only possible evidence that in his heart he believes God. Of course it is persuasion of the truth that results in faith (we believe because we are persuaded that the thing is true, a thing does not become true because it is believed), but peitho, in New Testament suggests an actual and outward result of the inward persuasion and consequent faith” (G3982).

Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” and then, he asked her, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). Martha believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but she hadn’t yet gone so far as to put her trust in him. Jesus dealt with this issue when he instructed Martha to have the stone taken away from her brother’s tomb. John 11:38-44 states:

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Jesus used the Greek word pisteuo when he told Martha that if she believed, she would see the glory of God (John 11:40) indicating that Martha may not have actually been saved prior to her brother’s death. Martha knew in her head that Jesus was the Messiah (John 11:27), but might not yet have been persuaded to the point that she had actually put her trust in him for salvation.

John tells us that before Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out of the grave, “he lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me’” (John 11:41-42). What was going on between Jesus and his Father was a visible display of their cooperative effort to persuade the people standing around that Jesus was in fact “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) and because of that, even though Lazarus was physically dead, he was spiritually still alive. It seems that Jesus’ ability to raise Lazarus from the dead was somehow being hindered by the unbelief of the people standing around. It’s possible that belief and unbelief are somewhat like opposing forces that compete against each other to determine the outcome of a situation. When Jesus told a man that wanted him to cast a demonic spirit out of his son, “All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23), the man responded, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). The Greek word that is translated help, boetheo (bo-ay-thehˊ-o) means “to aid or relieve” (G997). The boy’s father had faith (I believe), but his unbelief was counteracting it and needed to be dealt with in order for Jesus to heal his son.

One of the biggest hindrances to the Jews accepting Jesus as their Savior was that they didn’t understand how things worked in the spiritual realm and therefore, couldn’t comprehend how a person could be “born again” (John 3:3-4). Jesus told a man named Nicodemus, “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 3:6-8). Jesus indicated that the sound of the wind is evidence of its presence. Even though it’s invisible, wind exists and can be detected by its sound. When God the Father testified to Jesus’ identity, he did so with his voice. Matthew 3:16-17 states, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” Likewise, at Jesus’ transfiguration, Matthew indicated “a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him’” (Matthew 17:5).

Jesus referred to himself as the good shepherd and told the Jews, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:3-5). Jesus’ emphasis of the sheep knowing the shepherd by his voice suggests that spiritual connections are formed through vocal interaction. Jesus often used the statement, “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:43) to draw attention to the spiritual truths in his lessons and distinguished believers from unbelieves by stating, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:47). The Greek word that is translated words, rhema (hrayˊ-mah) refers particularly to “a word as uttered by a living voice; a saying, speech, or discourse” (G4487).

After Jesus instructed Martha to take the stone away from Lazarus’ tomb, John tells us:

So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” (John 11:41-42).

Jesus wanted everyone to know that God could see and hear what was going on at Lazarus’ tomb. By looking up to heaven and praying out loud to his Father, Jesus shifted the focus of everyone’s attention to what was going on in the spiritual realm. John went on to say:

When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:43-44)

Lazarus’ response to Jesus’ command demonstrated that he was able to hear what he said to him. It seems likely that Jesus intentionally used a voice command to bring Lazarus back from the dead to show everyone that even though he had died, Lazarus was still spiritually connected to Jesus. Before they left for Bethany, Jesus told his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (John 11:11). Jesus was speaking in a figurative sense when he said he was going to wake Lazarus up, but when Jesus cried out to him with a loud voice (John 11:43) Lazarus was not actually dead; his soul was just temporarily separated from his body.

The good shepherd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus told his disciples, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32) and then, he added:

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

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

Jesus told the Jews:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spiritual blindness

Jesus’ miracle of healing a man that was born blind (John 9:1-7) portrayed in practical terms the spiritual condition of the Jews that Jesus was ministering to. “The Jews took pride in their ancestry as God’s chosen people and totally disregarded their own spiritual need” (note on John 9:39). Their spiritual blindness caused the Jews to cling to the false hope of their Mosaic legal system (John 9:28-29) and reject Christ’s message of salvation by grace. Paul wrote about the Jews spiritual dilemma in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul said:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

Paul talked about the world not being able to know God through wisdom, but only through the foolishness of preaching. God saves those who believe in Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:21). The Greek word that is translated wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, sophia (sof-eeˊ-ah) means “skill in the affairs of life, practical wisdom, wise management as shown in forming the best plans and selecting the best means, including the idea of sound judgment and good sense” and speaks “specifically of the learning and philosophy current among the Greeks and Romans in the apostolic age intended to draw away the minds of men from divine truth, and which stood in contrast to the simplicity of the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:17, 19-22; 2:1, 4-6, 13; 3:19; 2 Corinthians 1:12)” (G4678). Paul’s quotation of Isaiah 29:14 set the context of his statement as dealing with an intentional effort on God’s part to keep certain spiritual truths hidden from the unsaved. The broader context of spiritual blindness can be seen in Israel’s rejection of their Messiah and God’s judgment of his chosen people. Isaiah 29:9-16 states:

Astonish yourselves and be astonished;
    blind yourselves and be blind!
Be drunk, but not with wine;
    stagger, but not with strong drink!
For the Lord has poured out upon you
    a spirit of deep sleep,
and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
    and covered your heads (the seers).

And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”

And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,

therefore, behold, I will again
    do wonderful things with this people,
    with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
    and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel,
    whose deeds are in the dark,
    and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”?

Isaiah’s declaration, “the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden” focuses on the lack of spiritual perception that was evident among the Jews during Christ’s ministry on earth. Isaiah may have been using the phrases wisdom of the wise and discernment of the discerning to signify a lack of spiritual or divine gifts among the Jews. The Greek words sophia and sunesis cover a broad range of mental capabilities that have to do with comprehension. A derivative of sunesis is the Greek word sunetos (soon-etˊ-os) which means to reason out and hence to be intelligent (G4908). In a bad sense, sunetos means conceited (G5429) and therefore, suggests that intelligence or perhaps even an understanding of God’s word without the faith that is required to interpret it correctly may be the root cause of spiritual blindness. Jesus told the man that was born blind, “For judgement I came into the world, that those who do not see may see and those who see may become blind” (John 9:39). The Greek word that is translated blind, tuphlos (toof-losˊ) means “opaque (as if smoky)” (G5185) and is derived from the word tuphoo (toof-oˊ) which means “to envelop with smoke, i.e. (figurative) to inflate with self-conceit” (G5187).

A conversation between the Pharisees and the man who was born blind after Jesus healed him exposed the Jewish religious leaders’ conceit. The man who had been blind told the Pharisees:

One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. (John 9:25-34)

The point that the man who was born blind was trying to make was that his eyes were opened as a result of Jesus’ divine intervention and yet the Pharisees didn’t accept what happened as a miracle. The man who was born blind stated, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (John 9:33). The phrase “he could do nothing” consists of four Greek words that convey the absence of power, but also suggests that Jesus’ ability to do miracles did not come from within himself, but from his spiritual connection to God the Father. The man’s statement, “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him” (John 9:31) implied that the power Jesus displayed in opening the blind man’s eyes was a direct result of him doing God’s will. On the contrary, the Pharisees looked at the situation from a legalistic perspective and determined, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath” (John 9:16).

The Pharisees argument, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from” (John 9:29) was unfounded because on more than one occasion God declared Jesus to be his Son. Matthew’s gospel states, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16-17). Mark’s gospel contains a similar account of Jesus’ baptism and also states about his transfiguration, “A cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to him.’” (Mark 9:7). Rather than arguing with the Pharisees about his deity, Jesus approached the man who was born blind after he was excommunicated and asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man” (John 9:35). The man responded, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him” (John 9:36). Jesus told the man who was born blind, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you” (John 9:37). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated seen, horasis (horˊ-as-is) has to do with both physical and mental perception and refers specifically to “an inspired appearance” (G3706). With regards to seeing God, horasis means “to know Him, be acquainted with Him, know his character” (G3708). Moses’ role in delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt was particularly important because he was God’s designated representative, but Moses was human and therefore, couldn’t replicate God’s divine character. At the end of his life, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. When you have seen it you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes’ (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin)” (Numbers 27:12-14). Moses’ disobedience at the waters of Meribah is recorded in Numbers 20:2-13 where it states:

Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him. Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.

Paul explained the significance of Moses and Aaron’s mistake in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and 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. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:1-5). Paul indicated that the Rock that Moses struck was Christ, the source of the Israelites’ salvation, and that the waters at Meribah were meant to quench the Israelites’ spiritual thirst. Jesus eluded to this in a conversation he had with a woman of Samaria whom he met at a well. Jesus told her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Jesus went on to say, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst 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). Jesus referred to the spiritual drink that he wanted to give the woman at the well as living water (John 4:10) and indicated that quenching “one’s spiritual thirst was synonymous with eternal life (v. 14)” (note on John 4:10-14).

The Israelites associated eternal life with living in the Promised Land because God promised to give Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan as an eternal possession (Genesis 13:15). The problem with the Israelites’ expectation was that they didn’t realize they needed faith in order to enter the land. God told Moses and Aaron that they couldn’t bring the Israelites into the Promised Land because they didn’t believe in Him (Numbers 20:12). The Hebrew word that is translated believe, ʾaman (aw-manˊ) “signifies the element of being ‘firm’ or ‘trustworthy’…Considering something to be trustworthy is an act of full trusting or believing. This is the emphasis in the first biblical occurrence of aman: ‘And [Abram] believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). The meaning here is that Abram was full of trust and confidence in God, and that he did not fear Him (v. 1). It was not primarily God’s words that he believed, but in God Himself. Nor does the text tell us that Abram believed God so as to accept what He said as ‘true’ and ‘trustworthy’ (cf. Genesis 45:26), but simply that he believed in God. In other words, Abram came to experience a personal relationship to God rather than an impersonal relationship with his promises” (H539).

The Pharisees that criticized Jesus for opening the eyes of the man who was born blind on the Sabbath (John 9:16) claimed to be disciples of Moses. They said about Jesus, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from” (John 9:29). Their refusal to accept Jesus as the Israelites’ Messiah stemmed from a belief that the Jews were God’s ‘spiritual’ children because they were Abraham’s physical children” (note on John 8:41). Jesus rebuked their unbelief by stating:

“If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:39-47)

The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated believe, pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) means “to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing)” (G4100). Pisteuo is derived from the primary verb peitho (piˊ-tho) which means “to convince (by argument, true or false)” (G3982). Jesus told some of the Pharisees, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (John 9:41). In other words, the Pharisees’ spiritual blindness made them think they were members of God’s kingdom, but in actuality, they were going to spend eternity in “the lake of fire” because their sins had not been forgiven (Revelation 20:15).

Impossibility

The Apostle John stated near the end of his book the purpose of his gospel. John said, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). John connected certain signs that Jesus did in the presence of his disciples with their belief that he was the Christ, the Son of God. The Greek word that is translated signs in John 20:30, semeion (say-miˊ-on) means “a token of proof. A sign by which the divine power in majesty is made known, a supernatural event or act, a token, wonder, or miracle by which the power and presence of God is manifested, either directly or through the agency of those whom He sends (Sept.: Exodus 4:8, 17, 28, 30)” (G4592). “Each of the incidents recorded in the gospel of John is specifically included to prove that Jesus is indeed the Son of God” (Introduction to the Gospel According to John). John started with the most obvious and perhaps what he considered to be the most import incident that Jesus was involved in, God’s creation of the universe. 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” (John 1:1-3). John referred to Jesus as the Word, indicating that his existence was not limited to the physical expression of God’s character. The Greek word that John used, logos (logˊ-os) goes beyond something said to include also “reasoning (the mental faculty or motive; by extension a computation; specifically (with the article in John) the Divine Expression (i.e. Christ)” (G3056). When logos is used to represent the “Word of God” it means “His omnipotent voice, decree.”

John said, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). When John said that he and others had seen Jesus’ glory, he was most likely referring to the signs that were proof of his deity. Isaiah’s vision of the Lord’s glory indicated that it is linked with his inauguration as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:11-16). Isaiah stated:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:1-3)

The words of Isaiah’s commission (Isaiah 6:9-10) were used by Jesus to explain why he taught in parables (note on Isaiah 6:1-13). Jesus said:

This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
     and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
     and with their ears they can barely hear,
     and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
     and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
     and turn, and I would heal them.’” (Matthew 13:13-15)

“Jesus spoke in parables to explain spiritual truths, but those who had already rejected Jesus did not have divinely enlightened minds with which to perceive these truths, and no amount of explanation would make them understand (1 Corinthians 2:14). They could watch and hear Jesus with their physical eyes and ears, but they were not capable of understanding the truth in their hearts because they had rejected him (2 Corinthians 4:3, 4)…People do not hear and see because their hearts are full of wickedness; consequently, they fail to understand the truth that has been given them. They are so opposed to God’s message that they harden themselves against it, lest they should understand it and ask forgiveness of God. Once they reject Jesus, they also reject the possibility of understanding the parables that Jesus told (Isaiah 55:6-8)” (note on Matthew 13:10-17).

Isaiah’s description of the compassion of the Lord revealed that we often misunderstand God’s Word because we don’t understand the way He works. Isaiah encourages us to:

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
     call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
     and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
     and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
     neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
     so are my ways higher than your ways
     and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:6-9)

The difference between God’s ways and our ways has to do with our human limitations. God said that His ways are higher than our ways. What he meant by higher was that He and humans operate on different levels of existence. God operates on the spiritual plane and we operate on the physical plane, which skews our perception toward tangible evidence of the things that we believe in. When we seek to have a relationship with God, we have to do it on a level that is beyond our physical comprehension.

The intersection of the spiritual and physical planes is where contamination of holy things and purification of unholy or unclean things takes place. When something on the physical plane is consecrated to God, it is transferred to a higher level of existence. Likewise, when something or someone such as Jesus Christ, who is a spiritual being, is born into the physical plane, he has been brought into a lower level of existence. That’s what John was talking about when he said, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The Greek word that is translated became, ginomai (ghinˊ-om-ahee) means “to come into existence” (G1096). Ginomai is used of miracles and the like and implies that there is a tangible result of some sort. The main point that John wanted to make in the first chapter of his gospel message was that Jesus became something that he had not previously been when he became a human being, but on the spiritual plane, his physical birth was not the beginning of Jesus’ existence.

Purification is a method whereby physical things and people can be made holy and interact with God on the spiritual plane. The impossibility of transferring something or someone to a higher plane was demonstrated through the purification rites. The LORD instructed Moses and Aaron to, “tell the people of Israel to bring you a red heifer without defect, in which there is no blemish, and on which a yoke has never come” (Numbers 19:2). The red heifer was symbolic of the sacrifice of Christ and was rare because of its special color and because it had to be uniform in color, no spots or defects of any kind in its coat. The complicated process of sacrificing the red heifer added to the perplexity of its cleansing power. After the red heifer was cremated, its ashes were gathered and then, combined with water to create a solution referred to as “the water for impurity” (Numbers 19:9). Numbers 19:16-21 states:

Whoever in the open field touches someone who was killed with a sword or who died naturally, or touches a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean seven days. For the unclean they shall take some ashes of the burnt sin offering, and freshwater shall be added in a vessel. Then a clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water and sprinkle it on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there and on whoever touched the bone, or the slain or the dead or the grave. And the clean person shall sprinkle it on the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day. Thus on the seventh day he shall cleanse him, and he shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water, and at evening he shall be clean. “If the man who is unclean does not cleanse himself, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, since he has defiled the sanctuary of the Lord. Because the water for impurity has not been thrown on him, he is unclean. And it shall be a statute forever for them.

According to the Messianic Prophecy Bible Project, such a perfect creature as the red heifer that is described in Numbers 19 “is so elusive that its ceremonial burning has seldom happened in all of Jewish history. Mishnah, which is an authoritative, written embodiment of Jewish oral tradition, teaches that only nine red heifers were sacrificed from the time of the Tabernacle worship until the second temple was destroyed in 70 AD. The rabbis consider the red heifer one of the greatest mysteries of the Torah. Even they wonder how it’s possible that the ashes of the sacrificial animal can purify from sin and defilement. Furthermore, in an apparent paradox, these same ashes that purified also made anyone involved in the red heifer preparations – from the person who gathered the ashes to the person who sprinkled the water – unclean until evening” (Numbers 19:10). The commandment regarding the red heifer is considered to be such a mystery that the rabbis place it in the category of chukkim “divine decrees that cannot be understood by our limited human understanding” (free.messianicbible.com, The Red Heifer and the Third Temple in End-Time Prophecy).

Along with God’s specification of the water for impurity that was to be used to cleanse everyone that came in contact with a dead body (Numbers 19:20) was an incident in which Moses was commanded to bring water from a rock. The connection between these two events was God’s expectation that his instructions would be carried out exactly as he had stated them. Numbers 20:7-8 states:

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before your eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them to drink to the congregation and their cattle.”

We know that God was expecting Moses to operate on the spiritual plane because his instruction to tell the rock to yield its water (Numbers 20:7) made no sense on the physical plane. In his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul explained that God was referring to a spiritual Rock and indicated that “the Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4).

Rather than telling the rock to yield its water, it says in Numbers 20:11 that “Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice.” The Hebrew word that is translated struck, nakah (naw-kawˊ) is usually associated with God’s discipline or a military defeat (H5221). Nakah is translated smitten in Isaiah 53:4 where it says of Jesus, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” Moses’ actions are described as disobedience (Numbers 27:14) and a failure to honor the Lord as holy (Numbers 20:12; Deuteronomy 32:51). As a result, Moses was prohibited from entering Canaan (note on Numbers 20:9-12) because, as the LORD pointed out, the root cause of Moses’ disobedience was unbelief (Numbers 20:12).

Jesus made a distinction between operating on the physical plane and operating on the spiritual plane when he told his disciples, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). The Greek word that is translated possible, dunatos (doo-nat-osˊ) signifies “powerful” (G1415), so another way of looking at God’s ability to do things would be to equate it with his power. God is able to do everything that his power enables him to. The Greek word that is translated impossible, adunatos (ad-oo-nat-os) is a combination of the words dunatos and a (alˊ-fah) as a negative participle, which signifies that something is not possible. Another way of saying Matthew 19:26 might be, with man there is no power, but with God there is unlimited power so he can do everything that he wants to. When Jesus’ disciples asked him why they weren’t able to cast a demon out of a little boy (Matthew 17:19), he answered them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there, and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20-21). According to Jesus, faith enables us to operate on the spiritual plane where impossibility doesn’t exist.

John’s attempt to record the specific signs that would convince people that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31) began with what John described as “the first of his signs” (John 2:11) or you might say, the foremost sign, meaning that this particular sign began to make it obvious that Jesus wasn’t an ordinary human being. John’s account is of a wedding at Cana in Galilee where Jesus turned water into wine. John said:

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-11)

John said that Jesus “manifested his glory” (John 2:11) when he made the water into wine. At Cana both God’s grace and God’s power were manifested, and these constituted Jesus’ “glory” (G1391). John indicated that Jesus was full of grace and truth (John 1:14) and said, “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16-17).

Grace and truth are key components of faith. Paul told the Ephesians, “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” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Grace in a spiritual sense refers especially to “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life” (G5485). The Greek word charis (kharˊ-ece) is derived from the word chairo (khahˊee-ro) which means “to be ‘cheerful, i.e. calmly happy or well-off” (G5463). Based on this definition, when John said that Jesus was full of grace (John 1:14), it can be assumed that he meant Jesus was always happy or well-off, even when he was dying on the cross. That is one of the things that made Jesus stand out and be recognized as the Son of God.

After Jesus drove out those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting in the temple (John 2:14-15), “the Jews said to him, ‘What sign do you show us for doing these things?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’” (John 18-19). The phrase destroy this temple had significance on both the physical and spiritual plane. The Jews that Jesus was talking to were focused on the physical aspect of his declaration and determined that it was impossible for him to do what he had stated. They responded to him, “It has taken forty six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” (John 2:20). A clue that Jesus wasn’t talking about the physical structure that they were looking at can be found in the Greek word he used that is translated raise. Egeiro (eg-iˊ-ro) means to waken and “is frequently used both in the transitive sense of ‘raising up’ and the intransitive of ‘rising’” (G1453). Egeiro is used in Matthew 27:52 in reference to the resurrection of believers and also in Matthew 27:62-66 in reference to Jesus rising from the dead, but even his disciples were confused when Jesus used the word egeiro in connection with the temple being destroyed and raised up again. It wasn’t until after he was resurrected that they understood what Jesus was talking about (John 2:21-22).

The sign of Jesus’ body being resurrected was likely an intentional effort on God’s part to bridge the gap between the impossibility of life after death on the physical plane and the possibility of a dead person standing up on his feet again as if he has just been woken up from sleep on the spiritual plane. Using the illustration of the temple being destroyed and rebuilt in three days (John 2:19), Jesus was able to remove the barriers of his disciples’ physical mindset. It says in John 2:22, “When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”