God’s protection

The establishment of God’s Royal Grant covenant with Abraham began with a vision in which God stated, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great” (Genesis 15:1). The shield that God referred to was a small one that was used by a soldier in hand to hand combat (H4043). A buckler was usually made from the scaly hide of a crocodile in order to protect the fighter from jabs and strikes from his enemy, but it could also be used as an offensive weapon to directly attack an opponent by punching with either its flat face or its rim. God’s description of himself as Abraham’s shield was meant to convey the idea of a personal protector that could keep him from physical harm. God told Abraham, “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess” (Genesis 15:7). God’s unconditional divine promise to give Abraham the land of Canaan involved driving out the previous tenants and possessing it in their place (H3423). In order to do that, the Israelites had to go through a process of suffering that was intended to deliver them from their dependence on material resources. Genesis 15:12-14 states:

As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.”

After Moses killed an Egyptian and hid his body in the sand, he fled to Midian and lived as a shepherd for 40 years. Exodus 2:23-25 tells us that, “During those days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel — and God knew.”

God’s awareness of the situation in Egypt had to do with the fact that he was watching over and protecting the children of Israel even though they were living in a foreign land. God appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush (Exodus 3:2) “And he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:6). The flame of fire out of the midst of the bush was a type of preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ (note on Exodus 23:20-23). Moses’ encounter with the Savior of the World caused him to not just be afraid, but to stand in awe of the person who had the ability to rescue God’s people from slavery in Egypt. The LORD told Moses, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:7-10).

God used signs and wonders to get Pharaoh to give up his control over the Israelites, but Pharaoh’s hardened heart caused him to change his mind each time he agreed to let God’s people go. The tenth and final plague that the LORD caused was intended to permanently sever all ties between the Israelites and the Egyptians. “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Yet one plague more I will bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt. Afterward he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will drive you away completely” (Exodus 11:1). The Hebrew word kalah (kaw-law’) can have both positive and negative connotations (H3617). It is likely that the driving away completely that the LORD was referring to was the right to ownership that Pharaoh thought he had of his Hebrew slaves. Numerous times, Pharaoh was commanded to let the people of Israel go so that the could “serve the LORD their God” (Exodus 10:7). The Hebrew word that is translated serve, ‘abad (aw-bad’) has to do with slavery (H5647). Exodus 13:3 indicates that God redeemed the people Israel from slavery. In other words, God purchased the Israelites from Pharaoh so that they could serve him instead.

The way that God redeemed the people of Israel was through the substitutionary death of a lamb which served as a blood sacrifice to pay the price for their redemption. God described his process of redemption this way:

“Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it…In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.

God’s protection of the children of Israel had to do with a distinction he made between his people and the Egyptians. He said, “About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. There shall be a great cry throughout the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again. But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel” (Exodus 11:4-7).

God’s redemption of Israel was based on the covenant he made with Abraham and his divine pledge that Abraham’s descendants would be his chosen people (Genesis 17). John the Baptist’s introduction of Jesus indicated that there was a greater significance to the blood that Jesus shed on the cross than the lamb that was killed for the Lord’s Passover. John proclaimed of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). “John was saying that Jesus would be the sacrifice that would atone for the sin of the world. There was first a sacrifice for the individual (Genesis 4); then for a family at passover (Exodus 12); and then for the nation on the day of atonement (Leviticus 16); now it is broadened so that Christ is a sacrifice for the entire world” (note on John 1:29, KJSB). Jesus mentioned his atonement for sin in a conversation he had with his disciples about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. He said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).

Jesus put himself in the category of a slave to show that he was taking on himself the lowest position a person could have in order to accomplish his mission of saving the world. The Greek word that is translated ransom, lutron (loo’-tron) stands for a redemption price. In the Old Testament ransom “is always used to signify ‘equivalence.’ Thus it is used of the ‘ransom’ for a life, e.g., Exodus 21:30, of the redemption price of a slave” (G3083). Titus, a convert of the Apostle Paul, indicated that Jesus redeemed us in order to make us a people for his own possession. Titus 2:11-14 states, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

The night before Jesus was crucified, he celebrated the Passover with his disciples. During what is now referred to as the Lord’s Supper, Jesus talked about his blood being shed for the forgiveness of sins and also mentioned the new covenant that was being instituted through his death. Matthew’s gospel states:

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated body, soma (so’-mah) is derived from the word sozo (sode’-zo) which means “to save, i.e. deliver or protect” (G4982). Sozo is used of the material and temporal deliverance from danger, suffering, etc. and “of the spiritual and eternal salvation granted immediately by God to those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul talked about God’s plan of salvation and said that believers are made holy and blameless through Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross (Ephesians 1:4). Paul said, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:7-10). Paul indicated that God’s plan of salvation involved the uniting of all things in Christ. The Greek word that is translated united, oikonomia (oy-kon-om-ee’ah) is where the English word economy comes from. Oikonomia has to do with the administration of a household or estate (G3622) and refers to the arrangement God made for Jesus to fulfill both the Old and New Testament requirements for redemption of sins.

The intersection of the Jewish Passover celebration and the Lord’s Supper, which took place on the night of Jesus’ death, symbolically integrated the old and new covenants because the single focus of attention was the shedding of Jesus’ blood which fulfilled both covenants. The mystery that Paul briefly mentioned in Ephesians 1:9 and then, further explained in Ephesians 3:6 was “that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” In other words, John’s declaration that Jesus was “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” was meant to be taken literally. Jesus took upon himself the sin of the entire human race (G2889) and made it possible for everyone that believes in him to have eternal life (Matthew 25:46). Similar to the annual celebration of the Passover, Paul reminded Christians that the Lord’s Supper was to celebrated on a regular basis. Paul stated:

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Paul’s emphasis of celebrating the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of him was meant to focus the believer’s attention on the purpose of Jesus’ death, to pay the penalty for our sins. The Greek word anamnesis (an-am’-nay-sis) is not just an external bringing to remembrance but an awakening of the mind; a heart-felt conviction (G364) somewhat like an instant replay that is able to recapture the moment when we first gave our hearts to the Lord.

Psalm 91 is “a glowing testimony to the security of those who trust in God” (note on Psalm 91, KJSB) and reminds believers of the protection their salvation provides. It may have been written by one of the Israelites that celebrated the first Passover and was delivered from the plague of death that killed all the firstborn in Egypt. Satan quoted from this psalm when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:6). Psalm 91:9-16 states:

Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
    the Most High, who is my refuge —
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
    no plague come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder;
    the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
    I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble;
    I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”

When we make the Lord our dwelling place we are essentially moving in with him; we are making his home ours. That is how we receive God’s protection, by being under his roof so to speak, a member of his household. God said, “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name” (Psalm 91:14). The phrase holds fast in love means to “cling to” (H2836) and may refer to the act of making love. The last sentence of Psalm 91, “With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation” (v. 16) seems to suggest that salvation is a process that takes place throughout one’s lifetime. You might say that we aren’t saved as if it happens in a single moment, but continually being saved by God until our life is over. That might be why Jesus instructed his disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25) with regards to celebrating the Lord’s Supper. It is through the mental process of searching our hearts for unconfessed sin and reminding ourselves of our need for forgiveness that we experience God’s salvation on a daily basis and and are protected from the consequences of our sins.

Missing the mark

Jesus made it clear to his disciples that it was God’s will for him to be crucified. Not long before he was arrested Jesus said, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified” (Matthew 26:2). Romans 8:31-32 tells us that God was the one that delivered Jesus up to be crucified. It states, “What then shall we we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” God’s plan of salvation required that Jesus pay the penalty for all sins through his death on the cross. When Jesus said, “you know that,” he was emphasizing the predetermined course that his life must follow in order to fulfill his mission of saving the world. After Jesus acknowledged his imminent crucifixion, Matthew recorded, “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him” (Matthew 26:3-4).

The chief priests and the elders of the people thought they were in control of the situation. They wanted to get rid of Jesus as quickly and quietly as possible. They agreed that it shouldn’t be done, “during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people” (Matthew 26:5). Matthew tells us, “Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him” (Matthew 26:14-16). The opportunity that Judas was looking for had to do with the timing, not the inevitability of Jesus’ death. The Greek word kairos (kahee-ros’) refers to a “set or proper time” (G2540). It might be that Judas thought he could catch Jesus off guard or would be able to surprise everyone with a midnight raid so to speak, but Jesus knew about everything that was going on and willingly surrendered himself to the Jewish authorities. Jesus instructed his disciples, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples'” (Matthew 26:18).

Jesus indicated that his death was linked to a specific time and place. One way of thinking about the prophecies that were associated with Jesus’ death would be to see them as a bullseye or a mark that he was aiming toward. The Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Philippians, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). The Greek word that is translated mark, skopos (skop-os’) refers to a watcher and denotes “a mark on which to fix the eye” (G4649). The Greek word hamartano (ham-ar-tan’-o) which is translated sin in Matthew 18:21 “means literally ‘to miss the mark’ and is used of ‘sinning’ against God” (G264). Matthew 18:21 states, “Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?'”

The Old Testament of the Bible views sin in a similar manner. The Hebrew word chata’ (khaw-taw’) is properly translated as “to miss” and causatively refers to being lead astray. “The basic nuance of chata’ is sin conceived as missing the road or mark…From this basic meaning comes the word’s chief usage to indicate moral failure toward both God and men, and certain results of such wrongs…It also connotes the guilt or condition of sin” (H2398). Sin and evil often appear together in the Old Testament as in the account of Pharaoh’s decision to withhold straw from the children of Israel as punishment for the LORD’s demand that he let his people go from their bondage. In Exodus 5:15-19, Chata’ is translated as “fault” and the Hebrew word for evil, ra’ is translated as “trouble.” Exodus 5:15-19 states:

Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this? No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.” But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.” The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.”

The Hebrew word ra’, which is translated trouble in Exodus 5:19, “combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences. It generally indicates the rough exterior of wrongdoing as a breach of harmony, and as breaking up of what is good and desirable in man and in society. While the prominent characteristic of the godly is lovingkindness, one of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury both to himself and to everyone around him” (H7451).

Judas Iscariot’s inclination toward evil was evident in his rebuke of Mary when she anointed the feet of Jesus. John’s gospel states, “Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:1-6). Jesus responded to Judas’ accusation by stating, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me” (Matthew 26:10-11).

Jesus’ rebuke of Judas may have been what triggered him to cross over the boundary of right and enter the forbidden land of the wrong. Luke’s record of the Passover celebration indicated that Satan entered Judas just before he consulted with the chief priests and officers about betraying Jesus. Luke said, “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). Matthew indicated that Jesus confronted Judas about what he intended to do during their Passover meal. He said:

When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.” (Matthew 26:20-25

Judas’ question, “Is it I, Rabbi?” (Matthew 26:25) revealed his lack of spiritual discernment. Whereas the other disciples had asked the question, “Is it I, Lord?,” acknowledging Jesus’ supreme deity, Judas used the Hebrew word rab or rhabbi (hrab-bee’) in the Greek to address Jesus. This seems to suggest that Judas was either unaware or unconvinced that Jesus was who he claimed to be, the Son of God.

Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper made it clear to all of his disciples what the purpose of his death was, to expiate or atone for the sins of mankind. Matthew said, “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to his disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26;26-28). The Greek word that is translated sins, harmartia (har-ar-tee’-ah), “as a verb, is literally ‘a missing of the mark’ but this etymological meaning is largely lost sight of in the New Testament. It is the most comprehensive term for moral deviations. It is used of ‘sin’ as a principle source of action, or an inward element producing acts” (G266). From this standpoint, the forgiveness of sins might be viewed as an adjustment to the sinful human nature that guides our day to day behavior. Jesus was essentially saying that his blood would neutralize the effect of sin in our lives.

After sharing the good news about his death, Jesus gave his disciples the bad news. He said, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Matthew 26:31). Falling away is what happens when our faith is challenged and we renege on our commitment to the Lord. The Greek word skandalizo (skan-dal-id’-zo) is where the English word scandalize comes from. “Skandalizo means to put a stumbling block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall; metaphorically to offend; to entice to sin; to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey” (G4624). Jesus indicated that all of his disciples would fall away that night, but he went even farther to say that Peter would flat out deny him three times. “Peter answered him, ‘Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times” (Matthew 26:33-34). The Greek word that is translated deny, aparneomai (ap-ar-neh’-om-ahee) means “to affirm that one has no connection with a person” (G533). In other words, Peter was not only going to deny being a Christian, but would also swear that he had never even met Jesus (Matthew 26:72).

Moses and Aaron’s initial encounter with Pharaoh resulted in a similar denial of the existence of God. Exodus 5:1-2 states, “Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God Israel, “Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.”‘ But Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.'” Pharaoh’s argument that he was not obligated to do what Moses and Aaron asked him to because he didn’t “know the LORD” was based on the assumption that only the children of Israel had to obey God’s commands. Pharaoh retaliated against Moses and Aaron’s request by stating, “Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words” (Exodus 5:9). The phrase “pay no regard to lying words” had to do with Pharaoh’s disrespect for God’s authority. Essentially, what Pharaoh was saying was that Moses and Aaron had lied to him about God saying, “Let my people go” (Exodus 5:1), but Pharaoh’s resistance was actually based on him having an unrepentant attitude toward God (Exodus 4:21).

The foremen of the people of Israel blamed Moses and Aaron for the trouble they were in. They said, “‘The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.’ Then Moses turned to the LORD and said, ‘O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all'” (Exodus 5:22-23). Moses shifted the blame off of himself and onto the LORD by asking “why have you done evil to this people?,” implying that the LORD had intentionally set him up for failure. The Hebrew word that is translated evil in this instance isn’t ra’, but ra’a’ (raw-ah’) which literally means to spoil something by breaking it to pieces (H7489). Moses seemed to be saying that the situation in Egypt had been fine until he came along and ruined everything. In actuality, the foremen of the people of Israel were the ones that were making the people miserable because they were partnering with Pharaoh’s taskmasters to get the Israelites to do what Pharaoh wanted them to, which was to make their quota of bricks each day regardless of their ability to do so (Exodus 5:10-11).

Even Jesus became discouraged on the eve of his crucifixion. Matthew tells us, “Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go over there and pray.’ And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me. And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:36-39). Jesus was experiencing an extreme amount of external pressure to give up on his mission. In a moment of frustration, after finding Peter, James, and John asleep instead of praying for him as he had asked them to, Jesus said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:40-41). Jesus was referring to Peter’s promise to not deny him when he said, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” What Jesus meant was that Peter wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to abandon him if he was sleeping rather than being actively engaged in spiritual warfare.

After the chief priests and the elders of the people came to arrest Jesus, Matthew said, “Then all the disciples left him and fled” (Matthew 26:56). The Greek word that is translated left, aphieme (af-ee’-ay-mee) means “to depart from one and leave him to himself so that all mutual claims are abandoned” (G863). One of the uses of aphieme is of a husband divorcing his wife. Aphieme appears in Matthew 4:20 and 4:22 where it says about Peter, Andrew, James, and John that they left their occupation as fishermen in order to follow Jesus. In seems that when these men left Jesus in the garden of Gethsemene, they no longer intended to be his disciples. Peter’s denial of his Lord and Savior was the ultimate betrayal that Jesus experienced from the standpoint of his influence and investment in his disciples being negated. After denying that he had been with Jesus (Matthew 26:70) and taking an oath that he didn’t even know the man (Matthew 26:72), it says in Matthew 26:73-75, “After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are one of them, for your accent betrays you.’ Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know the man.’ And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times. And he went out and wept bitterly.”

Psalm 41 is considered to be a Messianic psalm because it contains statements that clearly pertain to Jesus Christ. Verse 9 states, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” This passage appears to be connected to God’s condemnation of the serpent that tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:15 states, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15 depicts Christ lifting his heel against Satan and bruising his head, but Psalm 41:9 indicates a close friend would lift his heel against Jesus. It seems that Peter could be the close friend that lifted his heel against Jesus because his denial of Christ must have felt like a crushing blow to the man that was about to die for the sins of the world. The fact that Peter was fully restored in his faith and relationship with the Lord may explain why Psalm 41:9 states that his close friend lifted his heel against him, but did not bruise Jesus as Christ did Satan when he rose from the dead.

The consequences of sin

The first persons to live on planet Earth, Adam and Eve were given the opportunity to live in an idyllic world and never experience death. The only restriction God placed on this first human couple was that they couldn’t eat from one tree that he referred to as “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Genesis 2:15-17 states, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Unlike other cosmic elements and beings that were required to do as God commanded them (Genesis 1:3), Adam and Eve were allowed to disobey God, as long as they were willing to suffer the consequences. God communicated the consequences ahead of time, so that Adam and his wife would be aware of what would happen to them if they chose to rebel against their creator.

The Hebrew word translated commanded, tsavah (tsaw-vaw’) means to constitute or enjoin (H6680). The constitution of the United States is a body of fundamental principles and established precedents that everyone who resides in our country agrees to be governed by. What God did when he commanded Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was to establish the essential rule that would govern his creation, planet Earth. God’s commandment didn’t apply only to Adam and Eve, but to everyone that did, would, and still does live here. God intended for mankind to live in an environment that was free from sin. In other words, God didn’t want us to be exposed to the effects of evil. The knowledge of good and evil was evidently something that God was already aware of, and therefore, it can be assumed that Satan’s rebellion against God (Isaiah 14:12-14) had already taken place when Adam and Eve were created and placed in the garden of Eden.

Revelation 12:9 depicts Satan’s eventual expulsion from heaven. It says, “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” Satan’s characterization as the deceiver of the whole world implies that he is the source of all deception. The Greek word translated deceiver, planao (plan-ah’-o) is also translated as “gone astray,” (Matthew 18:12) and “are wrong,” (Matthew 22:29) in connection with being separated from God, suggesting that Satan’s deceitful practices are the primary cause of humans’ sinful behavior.

Genesis 3:1 states, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.” The Hebrew word translated crafty, ‘aruwm (aw-room’) is derived from the word ‘aram (aw-ram’) which means “to be (or make) bare” (H6191). One way to interpret the meaning of ‘aram would be to say that the serpent knew how to expose the inner workings of the mind. Most likely, the serpent a.k.a. the devil, had previous experience with and was skilled at evading the truth.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

The serpent’s assertion that Eve would not die, but would have her eyes opened was partially true in that she didn’t experience physical death as a direct result of her action (Genesis 3:22) and she was be able to see things from God’s perspective after she disobeyed his command (Genesis 3:8). The important truth that the serpent left out was that after they ate the fruit, Adam and Eve immediately experienced the negative consequence of their sin which was spiritual death.”Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7).

Before Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they were both naked, but they weren’t ashamed of it (Genesis 2:25). After their eyes were opened, they comprehended what nudity actually meant; their sex organs were exposed and they realized they were indecent (H5903). The Hebrew word translated naked in Genesis 3:7 is derived from a primary root word that means to be or causatively to make bare (H6168). It appears that the serpent’s real intent and possibly his only objective in causing Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was to expose her nakedness, something he may have done before, perhaps with angelic beings or other creatures in God’s kingdom.

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians indicated that all people are “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3), meaning we are born into this world as a result of the consequences of Adam and Eve’s original sin. Paul said, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3). The Greek word Paul used that is translated dead, nekros (nek-ros’) has to do with the actual spiritual condition of unsaved men (G3498). What Paul was saying was that the natural inclination of mankind is to obey Satan rather than God.

The two phrases Paul used, “following the course of this world” and “following the prince of the power of the air” were most likely intended to convey the idea of self-destructive behavior. The Greek word translated power, exousia (ex-oo-see’ah) denotes authority “or liberty of doing as one pleases” (G1849). Another meaning of exousia is freedom which can also be translated as right or liberty. Paul referred to Satan as the prince of the power of the air because his influence permeates every aspect of human life. The idea that we can do as we please and not suffer any consequences is a distinct lie that Satan wants every person to believe. When the serpent told Eve “You will not surely die’ (Genesis 3:4), he wanted Eve to put her trust in him instead of God.

Eve’s misunderstanding of God’s motive behind prohibiting her from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil may have been rooted in a distrust of his control over her life, but also a desire to be like the person that had created her. The Hebrew word translated wise in Genesis 3:6, sakal (saw-kal’) has the connotation of “insight, intellectual comprehension” (H7919). Eve wanted to be more intelligent, to understand the world that she was a part of. Eve perceived wisdom to be a desirable attribute and probably thought God would want her to have it. I’m sure Eve was quite surprised to find out the serpent had lied to her and was most likely horrified when she discovered that shame rather than wisdom was the consequence of her disobedient behavior.

God reprimanded Adam and Eve for their sin, but he also indicated he would make a way for them to be restored to his good favor. He told the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). Paul explained God’s plan of salvation in further detail. He said, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by his grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7).

Paul used a phrase to describe what happens when we are born again that indicates the spiritual death that resulted from Adam and Eve’s sin can be reversed. He said that God could make us “alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5). The Greek word Paul used, suzoopoieo (sood-zo-op-oy-eh’-o) “means to make a person able to respond immediately to spiritual stimuli; neither growth nor time is necessary before one is capable of walking in the Spirit. It is used in Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 2:13, of the spiritual life with Christ, imparted to believers at their conversion” (G4806). Paul indicated that God’s quickening of believers’ spirits is due to the “great love with which he loved us” (Ephesians 2:4). The love Paul was referring to “was an exercise of the divine will in deliberate choice, made without assignable cause save that which lies in the nature of God Himself” (G26). Paul informed the Ephesians that God had made his determination of who would be saved, “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).

After Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden, they were forced to leave the paradise that God established for them. It says in Genesis 3:22-23, “Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever –‘ therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.” Some time later, two sons were born to Adam and Eve and they each brought an offering to God. Genesis 4:4-5 states, “And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” God’s disregard of his offering caused Cain to be angry. “The LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:6-7).

The Hebrew word translated well in Genesis 4:7, yatab (yaw-tab’) “does not mean amend nor improve your ways but to make one’s course line up with that which is pleasing to God and that which is well-pleasing in his sight” (H3190). Cain’s offering wasn’t rejected because there was something wrong with it. It is likely that his grain offering was actually more appropriate than his brother Abel’s (H4503). “It may have been that the attitude of faith with which Abel brought his offering pleased God (Hebrews 11:4) rather than the offering itself. The sacrifices and service of men please God only when they are prompted by obedient faith” (note on Genesis 4:3-7). God told Cain if he did well, he would be accepted and also warned him that his disobedience was putting him in danger of being overtaken by the sinful desires of his heart (Genesis 4:7).

Cain’s murder of his brother Abel (Genesis 4:8) demonstrated that he was a ruthless murderer (H2025) that deserved to be punished for his sin, but rather than striking him dead, God told Cain, “When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth” (Genesis 4:12). Cain’s reaction showed that he was aware of the importance of having a relationship with God. He said, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden” (Genesis 4:13-14). Separation from God meant that Cain would no longer experience God’s favor. God’s mercy is what releases the sinner from the misery of guilt. The Greek word translated mercy in Ephesians 2:4, eleos (el’-eh-os) “is the outward manifestation of pity; it assumes need on the part of him who receives it, and resources adequate to meet the need on the part of him who shows it” (G1656).

Although God withdrew his mercy from Cain, his grace was still available. If Cain had repented of his sin, God would have forgiven him (note on Genesis 4:13, 14). Paul told the Ephesians that God’s grace is a gift that cannot be earned or deserved. He said, “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 2:9). The only thing God requires from anyone that wants to be saved is faith and yet, God meets this requirement himself by supplying the necessary faith as a gift to us. Speaking of mankind’s universal sin nature, Paul made it clear that all sinners are like Cain, hidden from the presence of God. He said, “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” (Ephesians 2:12).

Paul explained that Jesus restored fellowship with God through his sacrifice on the cross and made it possible for sinners to “have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). Paul described this spiritual transaction as breaking down the dividing wall of hostility and reconciling us to God in one body (Ephesians 2:14, 16). The Greek word translated hostility, echthra (ekh’-thrah) means enmity and is the opposite of agape, the love that God has for his son and the human race (G2189). Echthra is derived from the word echthros (ekh-thros’) which means an adversary, especially Satan (G2190). Paul said, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).

Even though Satan’s influence continues to permeate the world in which we live, Paul indicated there is spiritual activity going on that will result in a new world order at some point in the future. Paul said that believers are being joined together into a holy temple in the Lord and that we “are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 21-22). The spiritual death that was a consequence of Adam and Eve’s original sin is not only reversed when a person is born again, but the believer also becomes a part of a spiritual structure that permanently connects him to God and other believers. Paul described this structure as “a dwelling place for God.” This dwelling place for God is a new type of eternal paradise in which “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be any mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

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

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

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

God bless you!

Lamb of God

John’s visit to the throne room of heaven took place at a time when an important event was commencing. As he viewed the worship of one who sat on a throne by twenty four elders who proclaimed, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created,” ( Revelation 4:11, NKJV) John “saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals” (Revelation 5:1). The mysterious book is believed by some to be a copy of the New Covenant that God enacted when Israel was about to be expelled from the the promised land in actualization of the most severe covenant curse (Major Covenants of the Old Testament, KJSB, p. 16). John said about this book, “And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon” (Revelation 5:2-3).

The fact that no one was able to open the book or to look at its contents suggests that it was a legal document of some sort that might have contained private information, perhaps a will that could only be read by the heir to the estate. John said, “So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it. But one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals'” (Revelation 5:4-5, NKJV). The Greek word translated prevailed, nikao means to conquer or get the victory (G3528). This is the same word that was used in each of the messages John was given for the seven churches regarding their reward for overcoming (Revelation 2-3). Jesus said in his message to Laodicea, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:21, italics mine).

The specific victory that Jesus won took place when he died on the cross at Calvary. John said, “And I beheld, and lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne” (Revelation 5:6-7). The transfer of the book from the right hand of him that sat on the throne to the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29) likely signified the completion of God’s plan of salvation. At that point in time, it’s possible that the Lamb’s work will be finished in that everyone that wants to accept his substitutionary death on the cross as payment for their sins have already done so. John said, “And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:8).

The scene that took place as John looked on could have been a type of coronation in which the Lamb of God was ascending to the throne. The elders worship of the Lamb signified their acceptance of his authority over them. What seems to be clear about what was happening was that a transfer of power was taking place and the Lamb was claiming his inheritance which was documented in the book with seven seals. One of the roles that Jesus fulfilled was the kinsman redeemer of Israel. The kinsman redeemer was a blood relative that qualified to buy back property that had been sold for debt. “The book of Ruth is a beautiful account of the kinsman-redeemer. His responsibility is summed up in Ruth 4:5: ‘What day thou buyest the field of the hand of Naomi, thou must buy it also of Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance.’ Thus the kinsman-redeemer was responsible for preserving the integrity, life, property, and family name of his close relative or for executing justice upon his murderer” (H1350). It says in Ruth 4:13 that after Boaz claimed Elimelech’s property, Ruth became his wife.

One aspect of what was taking place in the throne room in heaven was the settlement of Israel’s debt of sin against God. After the elders fell down before the Lamb, John said, “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou was slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10). The Greek word translated redeemed, agorazo (ag-or-ad’-zo) is properly translated as “to go to market, i.e. (by implication) to purchase” (G59). Jesus purchased or bought back the souls of believers from Satan with his own blood which was shed on the cross. The prophet Hosea portrayed this transaction when God instructed him to purchase his wife out slavery. “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go again and love your wife, even when she is loved by another and is not faithful. Love her as the Lord loves the people of Israel, even when they turn to other gods and love cakes of dried grapes.’ So I bought her for fifteen pieces of silver money and ten baskets of barley. Then I said to her, ‘You must stay with me for many days, and be faithful to me. Do not have another man, and I will also be faithful to you’” (Hosea 3:1-3, NLV).

One of the parables Jesus told the religious leaders that wanted to kill him was about a marriage dinner. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come….But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’” (Matthew 22:2-9, NKJV). The marriage supper of the Lamb that is recorded in Revelation 19 indicates that the great whore must be judged and the blood of God’s servants avenged before the wedding can take place, chapters 16 – 18 record that process. Revelation 5:13 appears to take place at the end of that process. It says, “And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!’” (NKJV).

So much better

The writer of the book of Hebrews began his discourse with a comparison of Jesus to the angels in Heaven. He said:

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. (Hebrews 1:1-4, NKJV)

Although Jesus existed before he was born on Earth, it says in Hebrews 1:5 that he was begotten or conceived by God through physical means. The writer of Hebrews distinguished Jesus from angels by stating “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’?” (Hebrews 1:5, ESV). Jesus’ unique nature as both God and man set him apart from any other created being.

Another distinction the writer of Hebrews made between Jesus and the angels was his position of authority at God’s right hand. In Hebrews 1:13 he asked the question, “And to which of the angels has he ever said, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’?” (Hebrews 1:13, ESV) and then responded, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14). It is evident from these statements that one of the things that made Jesus so much better than the angels was his physical state. God had to take on the form of his human creatures in order to save them from the destruction that was associated with sin.

God’s plan of salvation included the necessity for a savior to die for the sins of the world. God couldn’t have fulfilled this requirement through the death of anyone other than a human being. It was Jesus’ dual nature as both God and man that uniquely qualified him to be the sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). It says in Hebrews 2:9, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Jesus’ experience with death consisted primarily of the separation of his physical body from his spirit which lasted only three days until he was physically resurrected.

Some people believe that humans become angels when they die. This belief might be founded on the erroneous idea that humans cannot exist without bodies. Revelation 6:9-10 makes it clear that our souls consist of matter that can be seen in the spiritual realm. It says, “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” Perhaps the single most important reason Jesus’ death and resurrection made him so much better than the angels was that it made it possible for the physical and spiritual realms to be united. Even though it might seem nice to become an angel when we die, wouldn’t it be so much better to have a body like Jesus’ that can exist in both the physical and spiritual realms?

In a nutshell

In his letter to Titus, Paul provided a brief summary of the purpose of God’s plan of salvation. Paul said:

God’s free gift of being saved is being given to everyone. We are taught to have nothing to do with that which is against God. We are to have nothing to do with the desires of this world. We are to be wise and to be right with God. We are to live God-like lives in this world. We are to be looking for the great hope and the coming of our great God and the One Who saves, Christ Jesus. He gave Himself for us. He did this by buying us with His blood and making us free from all sin. He gave Himself so His people could be clean and want to do good. (Titus 2:11-14, NLV)

In a nutshell, Paul stated that the purpose of God’s plan of salvation was to change people’s lives. Paul said we are to live “God-like lives” (Titus 2:12, NLV). This phrase would have no meaning if it weren’t for the example that Jesus gave us when he was alive on Earth. We can know for sure what we are supposed to do as Christians because of the life of Jesus.

Paul said that Jesus “gave Himself so His people could be clean and want to do good” (Titus 2:14, NLV). In the King James version it says that Jesus wanted to “purify unto himself a peculiar people.” The Greek word translated peculiar, periousios (per-ee-oo’-see-os) has to do with “being beyond usual, i.e. special (one’s own possession)” (G4041). What actually happens when we become Christians is we take on Jesus’ characteristics. It’s not something that we have to try to do or pray for it to happen. It is a natural result of being born again. We become children of God (God-like).

The change that happens when we accept Jesus as our savior is both instantaneous and occurs over the course of our lifetimes. Paul said, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul described this instantaneous change as reconciliation (Colossians 1:20-21) and said that it resulted in peace with God. The change that occurs over the course of our lifetimes and results in our transformation into the image of Christ is referred to by Paul as sanctification. This is what makes us want to do good things or as it says in the King James Version, “zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14).

To be zealous for something means that it heats you up or gets you emotionally charged. Another way of saying it would be you’re passionate about it. The unusual or special thing about Christians is that they are passionate about helping people, doing good things for others. In a nutshell, that was the purpose behind God’s plan of salvation and the reason why Jesus was willing to die on the cross.

Cast aways

God’s purpose in establishing a new covenant was not to get rid of his chosen people, but to make room for everyone to enter into his kingdom. Paul told the Romans, ” Because the Jews have been put aside, many other people in the world have been saved from the punishment of sin. Think what it will be like when they are also gathered in. It will be like the dead coming back to life!” (Romans 11:15, NLV). Paul explained that the Israelite’s spiritual blindness was the result of an intentional effort on God’s part to integrate the Jewish and Gentile populations. Paul described it as a grafting, the technique whereby tissues of plants are joined so as to continue their growth together. He stated, “But some of the branches (who are the Jews) were broken off. You who are not Jews were put in the place where the branches had been broken off. Now you are sharing the rich root of the olive tree” (Romans 11:17, NLV).

Paul used the illustration of petrified rock to convey the Jews spiritual condition. Even though God claimed responsibility for hardening the Jews’ hearts, Paul made it clear that it was their unbelief that caused God distance himself from the his chosen people. Paul told the Romans, “It is true. They were broken off because they did not put their trust in Christ. And you are there only because of your faith. Do not be proud. Instead, be afraid. God did not keep the first branches (who are the Jews) on the tree. Then watch, or He will not keep you on the tree” (Romans 11:20-21, NLV). Paul went on to say, “God has said that all men have broken His Law. But He will show loving-kindness on all of them” (Romans 11:32, NLV). The end goal of God’s plan of salvation was to show mercy on everyone. That’s why he let the Jews go their own way for a period of time, so that we can benefit from what is now referred to as the age of grace.

Paul concluded his explanation of God’s casting away of the Jews with a doxology, a natural outpouring of his praise to God. Paul rejoiced by stating:

“God’s riches are so great! The things He knows and His wisdom are so deep! No one can understand His thoughts. No one can understand His ways.” The Holy Writings say, “Who knows the mind of the Lord? Who is able to tell Him what to do? Who has given first to God, that God should pay him back?” Everything comes from Him. His power keeps all things together. All things are made for Him. May He be honored forever. Let it be so. (Romans 11:33-36, NLV)

Paul was truly amazed by God’s ability to figure out a way to save both Jews and Gentiles with a single sacrifice, the death of Jesus on the cross. Paul referred to God’s grace as great riches. The combination of God’s wisdom, his practical skill and his knowledge or complete and absolute understanding of how the world works made it possible for him to devise a plan of salvation that was perfect in every way. Therefore, it is inevitable that the Jews will one day return to God’s favor as predicted by many of the Old Testament prophets (Romans 11:24-25).



Death

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

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

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

Negative publicity

The Apostle Paul received a lot of negative publicity because of his gospel message. When Paul arrived at Athens, he immediately encountered philosophers that wanted to discredit him. It says in Acts 17:18, “Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods? because he preached unto them Jesus, and his resurrection.” Paul criticized the Athenians for being too superstitious (Acts 17:22) and said to them, “For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you” (Acts 17:23).

Paul pointed out that the Athenians had become so religious that they had lost sight of the one true God that they really needed to focus their attention on. In his Mars Hill message, Paul described the “God that made the world and all things therein” (Acts 17:24) and said, “For in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Paul’s quotation of a familiar Greek poet was probably meant to bridge the gap between the physical and spiritual realms that the Athenians seemed to be caught up in. The Athenians may have been trying to connect with the God of the Universe, but didn’t know how to reach him. Paul briefly explained God’s plan of salvation to them this way:

Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. (Acts 17:29-31)

Paul’s reference to Jesus’ resurrection without mentioning his name may have been his way of peaking the curiosity of the Athenians that were listening to him preach. It says in Acts 17:32, “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.” It’s possible that Jesus’ name had become a hot button that caused people to shut down and immediately tune Paul out. Although Paul didn’t water down his message, he might have been concerned about the negative publicity he had received at Philippi and Thessalonica. Rather than stay in Athens and continue to preach his gospel message, it says in Acts 17:33, “So Paul departed from among them.” Paul may have done this in order to leave the door open so he could return to Athens later and have a better chance of reaching the people that were open to hearing about Jesus’ gift of salvation.

The great commission

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he called four men to be his disciples that were fishermen. Matthew recorded in his gospel that Peter and Andrew were the first two men that Jesus invited to follow him. He said, “And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him” (Matthew 4:18-20). Peter’s enthusiasm to serve the Lord was probably diminished by his realization that death would most likely be the end result of his devotion to Christ. After he denied three times having anything to do with Jesus’ ministry, “Peter went out, and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62), maybe because he could see the look of disappointment on Jesus’ face when he heard Peter lie about being his disciple (Luke 22:60-61).

It was probably Peter’s denial of him that caused Jesus to go to greater lengths to restore his fellowship with this particular apostle. First on the road to Emmaus, then in a locked room where his disciples were hiding out, Jesus reiterated God’s plan of salvation and explained the important role Peter and the other apostles were to play in his ministry in the coming months and years (Luke 24:25-26, 46-49). Peter’s natural leadership ability and influence on the other apostles was probably what caused him to be singled out by Satan and tempted to forsake his master (Luke 22:31). John reported that Jesus’ final appearance took place at the sea of Tiberias where Peter and some of the other disciples had gone to fish. He said, “There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples. Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing” (John 21:2-3).

Jesus chose this point in time to confront Peter with his responsibility to carry out the great commission of preaching his gospel to the whole world. According to Mark’s gospel, Jesus told his disciples, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15-16). John’s version of this assignment focused on the forgiveness of sins. He stated, “Then said Jesus to them again, Peace by unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained” (John 20:21-23). Peter’s failed fishing trip may have been Jesus’ way of reminding him that his first priority was to be preaching the gospel. After Jesus enable Peter to catch more fish than he was able to carry in his boat (John 21:11), Jesus asked Peter this question, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” (John 21:15). Although his meaning wasn’t perfectly clear, Jesus was most likely referring to the 153 fish that Peter was now in possession of. Jesus refocused Peter’s attention on the lost souls that needed God’s word preached to them, whom he referred to as his baby sheep or lambs, and then, Jesus admonished Peter to, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17).