God knows me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus’ eminent departure from Earth after his resurrection from the dead likely caused his disciples to wonder how he was going to continue to be involved in their lives after he was gone. Jesus told them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus said that he would be with his disciples always. The Greek word that is translated with, meta (met-ahˊ) denotes accompaniment and is generally used to convey an association with someone in the sense of participation or proximity (G3326). Meta appears in Matthew 1:23 where is says of Jesus, “’They shall call his name Immanuel!’ (which means, God with us)” (emphasis mine). After he died on the cross, God gave Jesus authority in heaven and on earth which means he now has the privilege of coming and going as he pleases. Jesus was given an all access pass, so to speak, to God’s kingdom. Jesus explained to the religious leaders who thought that God’s kingdom would be manifested on earth as a physical structure that God’s kingdom exists inside believers. It says in Luke 17:20-21, “Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, “See here!” or “See there!” For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you’” (NKJV).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spiritual freedom

The Apostle Paul’s letter to a believer named Philemon contains important information about Paul’s attitude regarding spiritual freedom. Paul began his letter with the salutation, “Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philemon 1:1-3). Paul wrote to Philemon while he was imprisoned in Rome, so his identification of himself as a prisoner was applicable to his circumstances, but Paul reversed the situation when he added the phrase for Jesus Christ. Even though Paul was imprisoned against his will, Paul believed that God was using his situation to further the gospel. Paul discussed this point extensively in his letter to the Philippians. Paul said:

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. Only let your manner of life be worthyof the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:12-30)

Paul said that he expected his imprisonment to turn out for his deliverance (Philippians 1:19). Paul was not only talking about being released from prison, but was also talking about his “deliverance from sin and its spiritual consequences and admission to eternal life with blessedness in the kingdom of Christ” (G4991). Paul went on to say that it was his eager expectation and hope that he would “not be at all ashamed” but that Christ would be honored in his body “whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21). What Paul likely meant by to die is gain was that the believers’ victory over sin and death is not fully realized until we are all in heaven. Revelation 12:10-11 states, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”

Paul was convinced that he would be released from prison and said, “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again” (Philippians 1:25-26). Paul echoed his confidence of being released in his letter to Philemon. Paul said, “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you” (Philemon 1:21-22). The Greek word that is translated graciously given, charizomai (khar-idˊ-zom-ahee) is spoken “of persons, to deliver up or over in answer to demands (Acts 3:14; 25:11, 16) or in answer to prayer (Acts 27:24; Philemon 1:22). Charizomai is translated granted in Acts 27:24 in reference to the lives of those who were sailing with Paul to Rome being saved from death in a storm at sea. Paul encouraged his shipmates and told them, “For this very night there stood before me an angel of God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told” (Acts 27:23-25).

Paul’s faith in God made it possible for him to experience spiritual freedom even though he was imprisoned in Rome. Paul talked about the effectiveness of sharing your faith in his letter to Philemon. Paul said:

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. (Philemon 1:4-7)

The Greek word that is translated effective in Philemon 1:6, energace (en-er-gaceˊ) has to do with the internal work of the Holy Spirit. In reference to sharing your faith, energace means that your faith is “active, operative” (G1756). Energace is translated active in Hebrews 4:12. It states, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Paul’s letter was intended to activate Philemon’s faith in that Paul used his own situation of imprisonment in Rome to trigger a particular response from his fellow worker. The Greek word that is translated prisoner, desmios (desˊ-mee-os) means “a captive (as bound)” (G1198) and is derived from the word desmos (des-mosˊ), which is translated imprisonment in Philemon 1:10 and 1:12. Desmos refers to “a band i.e. ligament (of the body) or shackle (of a prisoner). Paul used the Greek word desmos in his second letter to Timothy. Paul said, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound in chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” (2 Timothy 2:8-9). When Paul said the word of God is not bound, he used the word deo (dehˊ-o), which appears in Matthew 16:19 where Jesus told his disciples, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Being loosed on earth speaks of persons bound in sin and wickedness, who are loosed through the preaching of the gospel and a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. This is what had happened to Philemon’s slave Onesimus. Paul wrote, “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (Philemon 1:15-16).

“Paul acted in strict accordance with the requirements of the law in dealing with Onesimus, a slave who had run away from Philemon. First, Paul gave him shelter in his own hired house. He did not betray him as a fugitive nor did he send word to Philemon to come to Rome and take Onesimus back. Furthermore, Paul instructed Onesimus in the gospel, eventually leading him to salvation in Christ (Philemon 1:10). He then sent Onesimus back to Philemon as a trusted messenger and brother in Christ, bearing a request for Philemon to grant Onesimus freedom (Philemon 1:12). Paul did not accuse Onesimus of wrongdoing by running away from Philemon. Instead Paul stated that it was by the merciful providence of God that he had departed from Philemon. Paul desired for Philemon to receive Onesimus back no longer as a servant, but as a beloved brother and partner in Christ (Philemon 1:15-17)” (Introduction to the Letter of Paul to Philemon). Paul’s strict accordance to the Hebrew fugitive law (Deuteronomy 23:15-16), gave him the assurance that he was doing God’s will when he took Onesimus in and sheltered him until he had received salvation. Paul’s plea for Onesimus was based on his obedience to God’s word. Paul wrote to Philemon, “Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus—I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment” (Philemon 1:8-10).

Paul’s appeal to Philemon was likely prompted by the Holy Spirit. The Greek word that is translated appeal in Philemon 1:9, parakaleo (par-ak-al-ehˊ-o) is derived from the words para (par-ahˊ) and kaleo (kal-ehˊ-o) which “is used particularly of the divine call to partake of the blessings of redemption” (G2564). Paul wanted Philemon to voluntarily grant Onesimus his freedom (Philemon 1:18). The Hebrew fugitive law stated, “You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him” (Deuteronomy 23:15-16). Paul was not required to send Onesimus back to Philemon, but he likely did it so that Onesimus’ testimony could benefit the spread of the gospel (Philemon 1:11). Paul told Philemon, “I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord” (Philemon 1:12-14).

The Hebrew fugitive law indicated that a slave who had escaped from his master was essentially a free person; he could not be imprisoned or returned to his master (Deuteronomy 23:15). This law illustrated the principle of being delivered from spiritual bondage and fits in with Jesus’ teaching about binding and loosing things on earth and in heaven (Matthew 16:19). Jesus told the Jews who believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31-36). The Greek word that is translated free, eleuthero (el-yoo-ther-oˊ-o) means “to make free, liberate from the power and punishment of sin, the result of redemption (John 8:32, 36; Romans 6:18, 22). Jesus indicated that “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated slave, doulos (dooˊ-los) is the same word that Paul used in his letter to Philemon when he referred to Onesimus as a bondservant and said that he was sending him back to Philemon “no longer as a bondservant, but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother” (Philemon 1:16). Paul indicated that Onesimus’ spiritual status had changed because of his faith in Christ.

Paul explained in his letter to the Romans that spiritual freedom means that we are no longer slaves to sin, but have become slaves of righteousness. Paul said:

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:15-23)

According to Paul, even though believers are free in regard to righteousness, our spiritual freedom is constantly being attack. Paul said, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). Wickedness embodies that character which is opposite the character of God and may be thought of as an opposing force to righteousness (H7562). Proverbs 10:2 tells us that “treasures gained by wickedness do not profit but righteousness delivers from death.” The Hebrew word that is translated delivers, nâtsal naw-tsalˊ) is translated escaped in the Hebrew fugitive law (Deuteronomy 23:15) and also appears in Exodus 3:7-8 where the LORD speaking to Moses out of the midst of a burning bush said, “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 (nâtsal) them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of the land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (emphasis mine).

God’s ability to deliver believers from wickedness is based on the authority that Christ has in the spiritual realm. Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians:

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:15-21)

Paul said that the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward us is “according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:19-20). The Greek words that are translated working and worked are both derived from the Greek word energes, the Greek word that Paul used in his letter to Philemon when he talked about the sharing of Philemon’s faith becoming effective (Philemon 1:6).

Paul indicated in his letter to the Colossians that the powerful working of God is connected with the believer’s baptism, when he identifies himself with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Paul said:

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:11-15)

According to Paul, believers have spiritual freedom because the record of their moral debt to God has been cancelled. When Jesus died on the cross, he disarmed the rulers and authorities that wage spiritual warfare against believers and through death destroyed the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Our spiritual destination

The unbelief of the people caused Jesus to be deeply distressed the night before he was crucified. As he prepared his disciples and himself for his crucifixion, Jesus openly declared his mission to save the world. John 12:44-50 states:

Jesus shouted to the crowds, “If you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me. For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me. I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken. I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it. And I know his commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say.” (John 12:44-50, NLT)

In the upper room, after he had washed his disciples’ feet, Jesus talked about the transition that was going to take place and how he would be denied by Peter. Jesus said:

“Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” (John 13:33-38)

Jesus’ twelve disciples had been in constant contact with him since they had been called to follow him, so the news that they were going to be physically separated from him was probably shocking to them. Peter in particular was struggling to comprehend why Jesus would distance himself from the men he had spent so much time with. Jesus made it clear that he was going to a place that his disciples did not have access to, but they would be able to join him again at some point in the future. Jesus told Peter, “You will follow afterward” (John 13:36).

The Greek phrase, “you cannot come” (John 13:33) has to do with ability and suggests that Jesus was talking about physical capability rather than spiritual capability when he told Peter, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now” (John 13:36). The Greek words dunamai (dooˊ-nam-ahee) ouch (ookh), which are translated cannot, could also be translated as impossible in the sense of physical limitations preventing something from happening. “Dunamai means to be able, to have power, whether by virtue of one’s own ability and resources (Romans 15:14); or through a state of mind, or through favorable circumstances” (G1410) and ouch is “the absolute negative” (G3756) Jesus used the words dunamai ouch when he told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Jesus went on to explain why his disciples could not follow him at the present time. He said:

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.” “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” (John 14:1-7, NLT).

Jesus said that he was going to prepare a place for his disciples. The Greek word that is translated place, topos (topˊ-os) “is used of a specific ‘region’ or ‘locality’…Topos is a place, indefinite; a portion of space viewed in reference to its occupancy, or as appropriated to itself” (G5117). Jesus indicated that the place he was going to needed to be prepared for his disciples, suggesting that heaven is currently a work in progress and that Jesus will not return to Earth until it is completed. It seems likely that Jesus’ preparation of heaven is linked to the continuation of his ministry here on earth. Luke’s account of Jesus’ ascension, which appears in both the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, includes a reference in the latter version to the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. Luke wrote, “So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:6-11). Jesus told his disciples that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. The Greek word that is translated power, dunamis (dooˊ-nam-is) is derived from the word dunamai and refers specifically to “miraculous power (usually by implication a miracle itself)” (G1411). Jesus’ sudden departure immediately after he told his disciples about the power of the Holy Spirit seems to suggest that our spiritual destination is being prepared for us based on our participation in the work of the Holy Spirit.

Prior to Jesus’ ministry, no one expected to go to heaven when they died. The people of Israel thought that after the resurrection, they would spend eternity on Earth (John 11:24). God had said that he would give Abraham and his descendants the land of Canaan as an eternal possession. It says in Genesis 13:14-15, “The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever.’” The Hebrew word that is translated place, mᵉqomah (mek-o-mahˊ) is similar to the Greek word that Jesus used when he talked about going to prepare a place for his disciples. Mᵉqomah is derived from the word quwm (koom). “Sometimes quwm is used in an intensive mood to signify empowering or strengthening…It is also used to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (G6965). When the Israelites reached the border of the Promised Land, after wandering in the desert for 40 years, they were instructed to divide up the land and to distribute it by lot (Numbers 33:54). The Hebrew word goral (go-ralˊ) “means ‘lot.’ Goral represents the ‘lot’ which was cast to discover the will of God in a given situation…In an extended use the word goral represents the idea ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’…Since God is viewed as controlling all things absolutely, the result of the casting of the ‘lot’ is divinely controlled…Thus, providence (divine control of history) is frequently figured as one’s ‘lot’” (H1486).

Rather than waiting until they crossed the Jordan River to receive their inheritance, the people of Reuben and Gad asked Moses to give them the land that had already been conquered on the east side of the river (Numbers 32:1-5). Moses’ response to their request is recorded in Numbers 32:6-15. It states:

But Moses said to the people of Gad and to the people of Reuben, “Shall your brothers go to the war while you sit here? Why will you discourage the heart of the people of Israel from going over into the land that the Lord has given them? Your fathers did this, when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land. For when they went up to the Valley of Eshcol and saw the land, they discouraged the heart of the people of Israel from going into the land that the Lord had given them. And the Lord’s anger was kindled on that day, and he swore, saying, ‘Surely none of the men who came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, because they have not wholly followed me, none except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have wholly followed the Lord.’ And the Lord’s anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the Lord was gone. And behold, you have risen in your fathers’ place, a brood of sinful men, to increase still more the fierce anger of the Lord against Israel! For if you turn away from following him, he will again abandon them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all this people.”

The people of Reuben and Gad assured Moses that they intended to do their part to establish the nation of Israel. They said, “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place. And our little ones shall live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance” (Numbers 32:16-18).

The thing that is clear from the situation with the people of Reuben and Gad was that all of the children of Israel were required to cross the Jordan River and to participate in the conquest of the land of Canaan. Everyone had to be brought to their place before the assignment of taking possession of the land was considered to be complete. In a similar way, Christians are expected to participate in spiritual activities during their lives on earth. Paul wrote to the Ephesians about the ongoing spiritual conflict that is happening both in heaven and on earth. Paul encouraged them to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12). Paul indicated that spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places are fighting against believers in order to stop them from reaching their spiritual destination. The only way we can defeat the devil is by relying on the power of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14).

When Jesus told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them, Thomas argued that they didn’t know where he was going, so how could they get there? Jesus told him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:5-6) and then, Jesus went on to tell Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:9-10). The Greek word that is translated dwells, meno (menˊ-o) speaks “of place, i.e. of a person dwelling or lodging in a place, with the meaning of staying in one place” and “of relation in which one person or thing stands with another, chiefly in John’s writings; thus to remain in or with someone, i.e. to be and remain united with him, one with him in heart, mind, and will (John 6:56; 14:10; 15:4-7; 1 John 2:6; 3:24; 4:15, 16)” (G3306). Jesus’ reference to his Father dwelling in him was meant to convey a spiritual union that takes precedence over physical limitations.

Jesus continued his explanation of how we will reach our spiritual destination by talking about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

Jesus said that the Helper would dwell with us forever and would be in us in the same way that his Father was in him. The Greek word parakletos (par-akˊ-lay-tos) means “a comforter, bestowing spiritual aid and consolation, spoken of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7)” (G3875).

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a critical element of spiritual life and growth, but as the Helper, He also plays an important role in what is thought of as the journey that all Christians must make to reach the place that Jesus is preparing for them in heaven. The fact that the Holy Spirit dwells with us and is in us indicates that the traveling we must do is of an internal rather than an external nature. 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” (John 14:23). The Greek word that is translated home in this verse is the same word that is translated rooms in John 14:2 where it says “in my Father’s house are many rooms.” It could be that the preparation Jesus was talking about when he said, “I go to prepare a place for you” is not going on in heaven, but is going on inside us while we are living on earth. It is our physical separation from Christ that causes us to listen to the Holy Spirit’s voice inside us. If Jesus was physically with us, we would have no need to develop that skill. Jesus said that he and his Father would come to us and make their home with us (John 14:23), suggesting that the place Jesus is preparing for us is also of an internal rather than an external nature. Luke 17:20-21 states, “Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ”See here!” or “See there!” For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you’” (NKJV).

Jesus told his disciples, “These things I have spoken to you while being present 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 things that I said to you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:25-27, NKJV). The Greek word that is translated present in John 14:25 is the same word that is translated dwells in John 14:10 and 14:17. Jesus likened the spiritual union he had with his Father and the spiritual union we have with the Holy Spirit to him being physically present with his disciples. In that sense, we’re never separated from Jesus because when we are born again, the Holy Spirit makes our hearts his permanent home (John 3:5-6; 14:16). John clarified in his first epistle that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is not only the same as Jesus being physically being present with the believer, but also the same as us being with God in Heaven. John said, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:13-16).

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.

Fellowship

The Apostle Paul talked about his ministry of reconciliation and told the Corinthians that, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” meaning that God was not counting people’s trespasses against them (2 Corinthians 5:19), but had made Jesus, the only person who ever lived a sinless life, to be the perfect sacrifice for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that God had already done everything that was necessary for them to be pardoned from their sins and concluded by stating, “Working together with him then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1). Paul indicated that he was co-operating with Jesus to accomplish the task of reconciling the world to God by preaching the gospel. The gospel and its result of salvation was the instrument that God chose to use to reconcile the world to himself. Because salvation is received by grace and is based on God’s free gift for the forgiveness of sins (G1656), Paul encouraged the Corinthians to act immediately and not let the opportunity they were being given pass them by. Paul referred to Isaiah 49:8, a verse of scripture that indicates the day of salvation is a specific period of time in which God’s grace is available. Paul stated:

For he says,

“In a favorable time I listened to you,
    and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:2)

Paul’s emphasis on now being the favorable time and now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2) meant that there was no time to waste, immediate action was required. Paul’s final plea was directed at the Corinthians hardened hearts. He stated:

We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also. (2 Corinthians 6:11-13)

A heart that is wide open is one that is able to be molded and shaped as when an artist is working with clay or wax (G4111). Paul’s use of the Greek word platuno (plat-oo’-no) may have been intended to draw attention to the fact that God was reaching out to the Corinthians in a distinct effort to bridge the gap between himself and the non-Jewish people groups. Paul explained in his letter to the Ephesians that we are all one in Christ. He 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. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11-22)

One of the main points that Paul made in his letter to the Ephesians was that access to God was being granted to everyone that chose to put their faith in Christ. Paul stated, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (Ephesians 3:8-12).

“The plan of the mystery” (Ephesians 3:9) that Paul referred to was a mechanism by which God could unite all believers into a sound whole. The Greek word that is translated plan, koinonia (koy-nohn-ee’-ah) literally means participation, but is also translated as fellowship, communion, and to communicate, thus it is used of the common experiences of Christian men and women and of the participation in the knowledge of the Son of God (G2842). In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked about the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ and said, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9). In other words, Paul was saying that God is able to overcome our unbelief and convince us of the trustworthiness of his Son’s death on the cross in order to pay the penalty for our sins. Paul used the word koinonia or participation to connect communion, a celebration of the Last Supper, to the enactment of God’s New Covenant through Jesus’ death on the cross. Paul said, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16, emphasis mine).

Partaking in communion essentially identifies you as a follower of Christ. The Greek word meta (met-ah’) which denotes accompaniment (G3326) is similar to the word sun (soon) which denotes “union; with or together (but much closer than 3326)” (G4862). Koinonia is derived from the Greek word sun and originated from “the idea of coming in contact with everything, not separated in the least” (G2839). The root word koinos (koy-nos’) “as an adjective, means ‘common,’ and is translated ‘unclean.'” The concept of fellowship seems to contradict what was originally established through the Mosaic Law. The primary objective of the Mosaic Law was to prevent people and things from becoming unclean and the priests that ministered in God’s tabernacle went to great lengths to separate themselves from things that were considered to be common (Exodus 19:22). Consecration, “the act of setting apart, being holy (i.e. withdrawing someone or something from profane or ordinary use)” (H6942) was a part of the initial process of setting up the tabernacle of God. Exodus Chapter 29 provides details about the consecration of priests and indicates that consecration and atonement for sin were closely related with regards to fellowship with God (Exodus 29:35-37).

After all the materials that were needed to construct the tabernacle were collected (Exodus 38:24-31), designated craftsmen began to work on the necessary articles of clothing and furniture that had to be created according to the instructions that Moses received from God on Mount Sinai. Among these articles were garments that had to be worn by Aaron and his sons when they entered the tabernacle. Exodus 39:1 states, “From the blue and purple and scarlet yarns they made finely woven garments, for ministering in the Holy Place. They made the holy garments for Aaron, as the LORD commanded Moses.” The Hebrew word that is translated Holy Place, qodesh (ko’-desh) is derived from the word qadash (kaw-dash’) which means to be clean (H6942). An important characteristic of God that differentiates him from other deities is his holiness. The song of Moses that is recorded in Exodus 15 refers to God’s holiness as being an indicator of his majesty or greatness. Exodus 15:11-13 states:

“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
    Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
    awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
You stretched out your right hand;
    the earth swallowed them.

“You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed;
    you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.

The holy garments that Moses wore were most likely symbolic of the righteousness of Christ that Paul talked about in the context of believers being renewed in the spirit of their minds. Paul instructed the Ephesians to no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds (Ephesians 4:17) and said, “They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:19-24).

Paul associated the believer’s righteousness and holiness with a new self that is created after the likeness of God (Ephesians 4:24). Paul used the Greek term that is translated self, anthropos (anth’-ro-pos) metaphorically of the internal man, meaning the mind, soul, the rational man “the hidden person of the heart” (G444). Two of the holy garments that Moses wore provide us with an example of how the new man may be connected to God and other believers and is thus enabled to act with them in a unified manner. The ephod, which was worn under the breastpiece, had two shoulder pieces attached to its two edges, so that it could “be joined together” (Exodus 28:7) Two stones with the names of the sons of Israel engraved on them were set on the shoulder pieces of the ephod “as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel” (Exodus 28;12). The breastpiece had twisted chains like cords, of pure gold. The two ends of the cords were attached to the settings of the stones of remembrance and attached in the front to the shoulder pieces of the ephod (Exodus 28:22-24). The unification of the ephod, stones of remembrance and breastpiece seem to suggest that the believer’s new self, the Holy Spirit and Jesus act like a seamless garment that encapsulates the believer’s heart and protects it from exposure to anything that might make it unclean.

The tabernacle of God was also called “the tent of meeting” (Exodus 40:1). God said, “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Exodus 25:22). The tent of meeting was an appointed place for God to communicate with Moses. An important aspect of fellowship is social intercourse and the partnership that exists between believers is based on companionship (G2844). Exodus 33:11 states, “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” The fact that God spoke to Moses face to face implies there was a relationship, but at that time, Jesus had not yet made a way for man to be intimate with God (Hebrews 9:12). Also, there is no mention of Moses going through a process of consecration, so it would seem that the relationship Moses had with God was what made it possible for them to bridge the holiness gap and have fellowship with one another. Hebrews 11:24-27 talks about Moses’ faith and suggests that he may have been communicating with Jesus when he talked to God face to face. It states, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.”

Paul warned the Corinthians about having fellowship with unbelievers and asked them several rhetorical questions to make the point that it was absurd for them to try and connect with unbelievers in the same way that they did believers in Christ. Paul said, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16). Paul’s statement that “we are the temple of the living God” was meant to emphasize the point that God lives inside of believers through the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. It is impossible for us to separate ourselves from God. Paul stated in his letter to the Romans:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 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 8:35-39)

Paul indicated that love is the essential ingredient that makes unbroken fellowship with God possible. The Greek word that is translated separate, chorizo (kho-rid’-zo) means to place room between (G5593) and is related to the word chasma (khas’-mah) which Jesus used to describe the permanent separation of believers and unbelievers in the afterlife. He said, “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” (Luke 16:26).

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to enlarge their hearts so that God’s love could reach them before it was too late. He said, “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also” (2 Corinthians 6:11-13). Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that they could only receive God’s free gift of salvation by making room for him in their hearts. Paul talked about being unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14) because he knew that the Corinthians were trying to live with one foot in the world and one foot in the spiritual realm. They were compromising their faith by worshipping false gods like Belial (2 Corinthians 6:15). Paul touched on something in his second letter to the Corinthians that was explained more in depth in John’s first epistle. Paul asked, “What fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14) in order to point out that fellowship assumes there is an exclusion of contradictory activities. John also stated:

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

The connection between fellowship and the blood of Jesus cleansing us from all sin may have to do with the body of Christ, which signifies his church, being defined as “a sound whole” (G4983). Because Jesus was crucified on the cross, his body became a sacred thing that was dedicated to God in its entirety. Each of us, as members of Christ’s body, receive the benefit and the effects of that sacrifice. Jesus illustrated this point in his celebration of the Last Supper with his disciples (Matthew 26:26-29). Paul mentioned the disciples’ Last Supper in his first letter to the Corinthians and referred to it as the communion of the blood and the communion of the body (1 Corinthians 10:16). The Greek word that Paul used that is translated communion is koinonia, the same word that is translated fellowship in 2 Corinthians 6:14. A key to understanding how communion/fellowship works may be found in Colossians 2:13-15 which states:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Paul indicated that believers are made alive together with Christ (Colossians 2:13). The Greek word suzetesis (sood-zay-teh’-o) means “to reanimate conjointly” (G4806). In other words, the body of Christ will be resurrected as a united whole due to our participation in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection through water baptism (Colossians 2:12). The ultimate goal of fellowship is to get believers from earth to heaven so that we can be with Jesus throughout eternity (John 14:1-3). Paul assured the Corinthians that if they shared in his sufferings, they would also share in his comfort (2 Corinthians 1:7) and said that they should not rely on themselves, “but on the God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

Heavenly things

The Bible introduces us to the concept of heaven, but there isn’t much information or details about what it’s like or what we will be doing when we get there. The purpose of the sanctuary that the Israelites constructed in the Sinai desert was to give them a physical representation of heaven, something that would help them to connect with God in a more personal and intimate way. The Bible tells us that the immaterial part of heaven which is invisible to the naked eye is where God lives, but we are told in Luke’s gospel that when Jesus departed from his disciples, he was carried up into heaven (Luke 24:51). At that point, Jesus was in a material body and could be seen with human eyes. The book of Acts, which was also written by Luke, a medical doctor with a scientific view of the world, gives further detail about what happened when Jesus ascended from the earth. Luke said, “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). Jesus didn’t just disappear or keep going up into the sky until he couldn’t be seen anymore. The disciples view of him was blocked by a cloud. After that no one ever saw him again. Some of the meanings of the Greek word that is translated lifted up suggest that Jesus was taken to heaven in a vessel of some sort (G142) which was also visible to his disciples. A similar scene is recorded in the book of 2 Kings depicting the prophet Elijah’s departure from earth. 2 Kings 2:9-12 states:

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” And he said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.” And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more.

Elijah’s statement makes it clear that his departure from the earth might or might not be visible to his companion Elisha. There appears to be some overlap between the physical and spiritual realms. What we can see with our physical eyesight may not necessarily be all there is to the material world. Jesus told his disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. 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 take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3). The words that Jesus used that are translated “rooms” and “a place” seem to refer to physical structures, and yet, the Greek word meno (men’-o) which means “to stay” signifying a permanent dwelling place or home can also refer to a state or condition (G3306).

One of the things that we know for sure about the tabernacle that the Israelites constructed in the Sinai Desert was that it corresponded to something that exists in the spiritual realm. God told Moses, “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture so you shall make it” (Exodus 25:8-9). The Hebrew word that is translated pattern, tabniyth (tab-neeth’) means “structure (by implication) a model, resemblance” (H8403). It says in Exodus 26:30 that God told Moses, “Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to the plan for it that you were shown on the mountain.” The fact that Moses was shown the plan for the tabernacle while he was on top of Mount Sinai seems to suggest that he saw it with his eyes and that it was therefore a physical structure in heaven. Moses was on the mountain 40 days and 40 nights (Exodus 24:18) without any food or water. The Israelites assumed that Moses was dead when he didn’t come back down from the mountain within a reasonable period of time (Exodus 32:1). All of the circumstances surrounding the revealing of the pattern to Moses seem to point to a supernatural experience in which Moses may have been given the ability to see eternal and/or future events that were occurring in heaven and to record them in such a way that the building Moses viewed could be replicated on earth.

Psalm 96 depicts a future worship scene that will take place when Christ begins his reign on earth. The psalm opens with a call to worship the Lord because his work of salvation had been accomplished. It states:

Oh sing to the Lord a new song;

    sing to the Lord, all the earth!

Sing to the Lord, bless his name;

    tell of his salvation from day to day.

Declare his glory among the nations,

    his marvelous works among all the peoples!

For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;

    he is to be feared above all gods.

For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,

    but the Lord made the heavens.

Splendor and majesty are before him;

    strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

The English words splendor and majesty are usually reserved for royalty or some kind of auspicious occasion that is associated with extravagant cost. We don’t think of these words as describing common experiences and might have a hard time imagining what these kinds of things might look like. The biblical view of splendor is connected with strength and power (H1936). Majesty has to do with the impressive character of God (H1926) and how he will be treated with respect when he returns to the world to rule and reign over it (H1921). Psalm 96 eludes to the fact that the tabernacle of God will be present during the millennial reign of Christ. People will be expected to bring offerings to Jesus (Psalm 96:8) and worship him by falling prostrate to the ground (Psalm 96:9). There is no tabernacle of the Lord on the earth right now, but it can be assumed that the kinds of worship services that are depicted in Psalm 96 are currently going on because Jesus’ kingdom is eternal and the spirits of Christians are already with him in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8).

An important role that was identified with Jesus was the High Priest. The Apostle Paul stated in his letter to the Hebrews, “Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4;14-16). Paul’s exhortation to draw near to the throne of grace implies that believers currently have access to God’s throne room in heaven. Paul explained in his first letter to Timothy that Jesus acts as a mediator between God and man. He said, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:5-6). The roles of high priest and mediator were necessary for mankind to be reconnected to God because of our collective sin against him. Paul taught that sin separates us from God and because we need a way to make things right with him, Jesus, the Son of God, had to die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins in order to reconcile us to God the Father. Paul said:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for 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. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)

One of the ways that we know God hears our prayers is that he answers them. If it were not for Jesus’ death on the cross, our prayers would be falling on deaf ears. The Israelites were able to communicate with God because of their special relationship with him. The key to that relationship was the Day of Atonement, the day once a year when the High Priest went into the Holy Place inside the veil of the tabernacle and approached the mercy seat of God (Leviticus 16) which was symbolic of entering God’s throne room. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews indicated that Jesus entered into God’s throne room in heaven once and for all to make atonement for sin. He said:

Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:23-28).

Exodus chapter twenty eight describes in detail the garments that the High Priest was expected to wear when he entered into God’s presence. It can only be assumed that Jesus was wearing similar garments when he entered into God’s presence. God told Moses, “Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. You shall speak to all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him for my priesthood. These are the garments that they shall make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a coat of checker work, a turban, and a sash. They shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons to serve me as priests. They shall receive gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen” (Exodus 28:1-5).

God indicated that the garments worn by the High Priest were to be “for glory and for beauty” (Exodus 28:2). The Hebrew word that is translated glory, kabowd (kaw-bode’) means “weight; but only figurative in a good sense, splendor or copiousness” (H3519). One of the ways to understand what is meant by the word kabowd or glory is to think of it as a measurement of wealth. There used to be a saying, he is worth his weight in gold. From that standpoint weight is a measurement of how much value someone brings to an organization. Jesus’ glory is immeasurable, but the idea was that the garments that the priest wore would reflect the high value of the sacrificial system that was put in place to make atonement for the sins of mankind. The Hebrew word that is translated beauty, tiph’arah (tif-aw-raw’) means ornament (H8597). It is derived from the word pa’ar (paw-ar’) which means “to gleam, (causitive) embellish; (figurative) to boast; also to explain (i.e. make clear) oneself” (H6286). Isaiah’s prophecy about Jesus first coming to the earth stated, “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form of majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). It is therefore likely that the High Priest’s garments reflect the glory and beauty of Jesus’ second coming. Psalm 96 concludes with these words:

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness. (Psalm 96:11-13)

Psalm 96 associates Jesus’ glory and beauty with his judgment of the earth. All the heavens and the earth will rejoice when Jesus returns because he will finally put an end to sin in the world.

The six garments that made up the High Priest’s royal apparel: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a coat of checker work, a turban, and a sash (Exodus 28:4) likely all had a special significance with regard to Jesus’ sacrificial work on the cross, but the ones that were very clearly associated with his atonement for sin were the breastpiece and the ephod. The ephod was described first, probably indicating that it was the most important item in the High Priest’s garments. Exodus 28:6-14 provide the details of the ephod’s construction:

“And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and of fine twined linen, skillfully worked. It shall have two shoulder pieces attached to its two edges, so that it may be joined together. And the skillfully woven band on it shall be made like it and be of one piece with it, of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen. You shall take two onyx stones, and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel, six of their names on the one stone, and the names of the remaining six on the other stone, in the order of their birth. As a jeweler engraves signets, so shall you engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel. You shall enclose them in settings of gold filigree. And you shall set the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel. And Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for remembrance. You shall make settings of gold filigree, and two chains of pure gold, twisted like cords; and you shall attach the corded chains to the settings.”

The stones of remembrance were reminders of the process God used to build Jacob’s family. The fact that the names of the sons of Israel were engraved on the stones in birth order suggests that the stones of remembrance were intended to serve as a reminder of the designated order or ranking of their importance in the physical realm. We know their rank was altered in the spiritual realm because Reuben’s position as Jacob’s first born son was usurped by Joseph, the first born son of Jacob’s second wife Rachel. Judah, who was the fourth son of Leah, Jacob’s first wife, inherited God’s eternal kingdom by becoming the father of Israel’s Messiah.

The correlation between the ephod and the breastpiece seems to be centered around the completeness that was established by Israel having twelve tribes. Somewhat like the twelve birth stones we use today to signify which month a person is born in, there were twelve stones inlaid in the breastpiece, one for each of the twelve sons of Jacob. Exodus 28:15-21 contains the details of their placement:

“You shall make a breastpiece of judgment, in skilled work. In the style of the ephod you shall make it—of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen shall you make it. It shall be square and doubled, a span its length and a span its breadth. You shall set in it four rows of stones. A row of sardius, topaz, and carbuncle shall be the first row; and the second row an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond; and the third row a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and the fourth row a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They shall be set in gold filigree. There shall be twelve stones with their names according to the names of the sons of Israel. They shall be like signets, each engraved with its name, for the twelve tribes.”

In this particular passage, the breastpiece is referred to as the “breastpiece of judgment” (Exodus 28:15). The Hebrew word that is translated judgement, mishpat (mish-pawt’) is properly translated as “a verdict” (H4941) implying that the crime and the penalty have already been established. This most likely has to do with the Ten Commandments which had already been communicated by God directly to the Israelites (Exodus 20:1-17). Jesus told his disciples in his Sermon on the Mount that he would fulfill the requirements of the Ten Commandments. He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).

Heaven on earth

Exodus 24:9-10 tells us that “Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel went up and they saw the God of Israel.” The place that these men went up to isn’t identified, but it can be assumed that they went up to Heaven because the Bible identifies Heaven as the place where God lives. Moses said, “There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness” (Exodus 24:10). In other words, the Lord was standing on something that appeared to be a solid surface, but its transparency made it seem as if he was suspended in mid-air. The Hebrew word shamayim (shaw-mah’-yim), which is translated heaven, describes everything God made besides the earth…The heavens that humans observe with their senses are indicated by this word…The invisible heavens are the abode of God…He dwells in heaven (1 Kings 8:30, 32); yet He is not contained in even the heaven of heavens, the most exclusive part of the heavens (1 Kings 8:27)” (H8064). Luke indicated that after Jesus commissioned his disciples to take his gospel to the whole world (Matthew 28:16-20), “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51).

After the Israelites confirmed their covenant with him, God instructed Moses, “And let them make for me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture so you shall make it” (Exodus 25:8-9). A sanctuary is a physical place of worship (H4720). In that sense, the sanctuary that Moses was expected to make was supposed to be a place where the people could enter into God’s presence and commune with him. This was a distinct privilege that only the Israelites among all the peoples of the world were given because of their relationship and covenant with God. Jesus told his followers, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). The word that Jesus used that is translated midst, mesos (mes’-os) means in the middle (G3319). This is very similar to what was depicted by the sanctuary that traveled with the Israelites wherever they went. Moses was told to construct the sanctuary according to a pattern that was shown to him while he was on top of Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights (Exodus 24:18). “The Lord commanded Moses to build a sanctuary in which he would dwell among his people. It was to be a tabernacle or movable tent that would be suitable for the Israelites’ nomadic lifestyle. The Levites would have responsibility for it (Numbers 18:1-7). Its general designation was ‘the house of the LORD’ (Exodus 34:26), but it was also known as ‘the tabernacle of the testimony’ (Exodus 38:21) because it served as a depository for the tables of the law or testimony. Another designation was the ‘Tent of Meeting’ because the Lord met his people there and the sanctuary was filled with his glory and presence (Exodus 40:34-38). From this tent, God would lead the Israelites on their journey” (Note on Exodus 25:8, 9).

The most prominent feature of the tabernacle was an area identified as the Most Holy Place where the ark that contained the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments engraved on them was kept (Exodus 26:34). The ark was a wooden box that was overlaid with pure gold inside and outside. The ark was approximately 45 inches in length, 27 inches wide, and 27 inches high (Exodus 25:10) and was covered with a solid gold lid that had two cherubim on top of it, one on each end facing toward each other, that were also made of gold (Exodus 25:18-20). The estimated cost of the ark in todays dollars is $28 million and it may have weighed as much as 1300 lbs. It was carried using two poles that were also overlaid with gold and were placed in 4 gold rings, one at each corner of the ark. The gold lid for the ark with the two cherubim on it was called a mercy seat. The LORD told Moses:

Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel. (Exodus 25:19-22)

The mercy seat was symbolic of the covering over of sins that was made possible by the shedding of blood through sacrifice (H3727). The term propitiation was used by both Paul and John to describe what happened when Jesus died on the cross (Romans 3:25, 1 John 2:2). John said, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). It seems likely that the exorbitant cost of making the ark and its mercy seat were meant to represent the priceless cost of our salvation. Paul said that the person that is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him (1 Corinthians 6:17). “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

The image that is created by the cherubim that were on top of the mercy seat was one of intimacy as well as spiritual union. The cherubim were “of one piece” (Exodus 25:19), meaning they were connected to each other and their faces were “one to another” (Exodus 25:20). The Hebrew word that is translated faces, paniym (paw-neem’) is sometimes translated as countenance and refers to the look on one’s face (H6440). Paniym is derived from the word panah (paw-naw’) which means to turn. “Used of intellectual and spiritual turning, this verb signifies attaching oneself to something” and in an even stronger sense “represents dependence on someone” (H6437). It was from between the two cherubim that God spoke to the Israelites. God told Moses, “I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Exodus 25:22). In other words, God intended to give Moses step by step directions, somewhat like how a GPS system guides us to our desired destination. For this reason, there needed to ongoing communication between God and Moses and a continual awareness of the Israelites’ location.

One of the ways that the phrase “in the midst” (Exodus 25:8) can be translated is “at the heart” (H8432) which suggests the possibility that the tabernacle or perhaps the ark of the testimony was symbolic of the human heart. It seems that the primary purpose of the tabernacle was a depository for the tablets on which God wrote the Ten Commandments (Exodus 25:15). The prophet Jeremiah was given a message about the New Covenant that God intended to establish with his chosen people after they returned from exile. He stated:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

The Hebrew word leb (labe) which means heart, can be used figuratively to represent the centre of anything. “However, it usually refers to some aspect of the immaterial inner self or being since the heart is considered to be the seat of one’s inner nature as well as one of its components” (H3820). God’s ability to write his law on people’s hearts has to do with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In a similar way that the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34), the Holy Spirit fills believers and makes it possible for them to preach the gospel (Acts 4:31).

Jesus used parables to describe the kingdom of heaven in a way that would only be clear to those who are filled with the Holy Spirit. He compared the kingdom of heaven to a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field (Matthew 13:31-33), a treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13:44), and “a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46). The common theme in each of these illustrations is the invisible or you might say immaterial nature of the kingdom of heaven. The point that Jesus was trying to make was that the kingdom of heaven can be discovered and has great value to those who possess it. The link between the Ten Commandments and the kingdom of heaven could be their ability to transform the human heart. One way of looking at the kingdom of heaven might be that it is a state of being that one enters into when the word of God is operative in his or her heart. Heaven is therefore not just a place that we go to when we die, but a state that we can live in that is eternal and connected to God.

Peter, who was recognized as “the predominant disciple during the ministry of Jesus and had a tremendous impact on the early church” (Introduction to the first letter of Peter) understood that heaven on earth was not an idyllic state, but one that ran counter to the culture and mindsets of the Roman Empire and therefore, often resulted in suffering and sometimes persecution. Peter encouraged his followers to share in Christ’s sufferings so that they might be glad when his glory was revealed and said, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, your are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:13-14). Peter asked the question, “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1 Peter 4:18) and then stated, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19). Peter asserted that it is sometimes God’s will for his children to suffer because that is the example that Jesus gave us. Sharing in Christ’s sufferings means that we enter into a partnership with our Lord and Savior that is based on equal responsibility, goals, and rewards. After he denied three times that he even knew Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75), Jesus asked Peter if he loved him and then gave him this instruction:

“Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:17-19)

Peter said that we should clothe ourselves with humility toward one another and indicated that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). The Greek word that is translated humble, tapeinos (tap-i-nos’) means depressed and is used figuratively to signify being “humiliated (in circumstances or disposition)” (G5011). God’s grace is the divine influence upon the heart that enables us to act the way Jesus did when we are faced with difficult circumstances (G5485). Peter said that God gives us grace when we intentionally humble ourselves and admit that we can’t handle things on our own. He said, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Jesus indicated that people’s hearts can grow dull and be unreceptive to God’s word (Matthew 13:15). In his explanation of the Parable of the Sower, Jesus stated, “When anyone hears the word of of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart” (Matthew 13:19). The evil one, who is known as Satan or the devil (G4190), is described by Peter as our adversary. Peter said that we should “be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The image of a roaring lion that is seeking someone to devour makes it seem as if the devil feeds on believers, but it could be that Satan’s appetite for evil is quenched through our sins against God. Peter was well aware of the tactics Satan uses to deter believer’s from sharing their faith. Peter’s denial of the Lord involved an innocent question that sparked his fear and made him unwilling to risk the slightest implication that he was associated with Jesus. Matthew’s gospel states, “Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, ‘You also were with Jesus the Galilean.’ But he denied it before them all, saying, ‘I do not know what you mean.'” (Matthew 26:69-70).

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians indicated that the physical and spiritual realms are intertwined and that believers are involved in spiritual battles on an ongoing basis whether or not we are aware of it. Paul said that believers should “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12). The idea that we can have hand to hand combat with spiritual forces in the heavenly places makes it seem as if believers are caught in the middle of the two realms that continually compete for their attention. Paul said that we must stand against the schemes of the devil if we want to enjoy the spiritual blessings that God has given us. Even though we have received salvation, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are safe from the adversary that wants to make our lives a living hell. Peter said that you must resist the devil, “firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:9-11).

Eternity

The apostle John’s revelation of what is going to take place in a time period referred to as the last days concludes with a vision of an eternal world that is yet to come into existence. John said, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea” (Revelation 21:1). The Greek word translated passed away, parerchomai (par-er’-khom-ahee) has to do with a change in physical state. John was not saying that the first earth would cease to exist, but that the planet we live on would no longer have the same characteristics or properties that it once had. For example, when water changes to ice, it is no longer a liquid, but a solid mass. John noted that the new earth would not have any seas.

The primary difference between the first earth and the new earth that John’s vision revealed was that God would be living among his people. John said, “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Revelation 21:3). John also saw that there was no temple in the new Jerusalem because “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof” (Revelation 21:22-23). John also stated, “the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there” (Revelation 21:25).

One of the most intriguing aspects of John’s description of the new Jerusalem was that it was “coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). The imagery of a city being the bride of Christ makes it seem as if Christ’s church has been transformed into a physical structure. The Greek word translated church, ekklesia (ek-klay-see’-ah) refers to a religious congregation, the group of people that inhabit a building. Ekklesia “designated the new society of which Jesus was the founder, being as it was a society knit together by the closest spiritual bonds and altogether independent of space” (G1577). The Greek word translated bride, numphe (noom-fay’) means “to veil as a bride” (G3565) indicating that the wedding ceremony was in progress when the new Jerusalem descended from heaven.

The Apostle Paul used the analogy of a family to describe the relationship between Christ and the church. Paul instructed husbands to love their wives “even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27). Paul went on to say, “For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones” (Ephesians 5:29-30). And concluded, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).

The joining together of Christ and his church appears to be a physical union that takes place in heaven, but manifests itself on Earth. The Greek word translated joined, proskollao (pros-kol-lah’-o) means to cleave or be glued together. “Inherent within this word are two aspects with the second aspect being stressed. In order to cleave, one must first make a clean break; hence, cleave as in to cut. Then, once cleanly separated a joining is easy” (G4347). What this suggests is that Christ’s church will be taken out of the world through the rapture in order to make a clean break from the world’s sinful practices. At the end the millennium, the church will return to earth and be permanently joined with Jesus in the form of the new Jerusalem, a physical structure that the people of his church will inhabit.

An angel took John to see “the bride, the lamb’s wife.” John said, “And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:9-10). John’s description of the new Jerusalem is similar to what many people think heaven will be like. He said, “the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it was transparent glass” (Revelation 21:21). John went on to say, “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and of either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1-2).

It could be that the new Jerusalem is where believers live in heaven until the city is brought down to Earth and is integrated into Jesus’ millennial kingdom. Jesus told his disciples before his death, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1-3). Jesus’ prayer for the church was “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us…that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one” (John 17:21-23). The Greek word translated in, en denotes a fixed position and suggests that Jesus was referring to a permanent relationship rather than a place or location where everyone would be together.

The reason Paul indicated the joining together of Jesus and his church was a great mystery (Ephesians 5:32) could be because it is incomprehensible from a physical standpoint. It can only be understood from a spiritual perspective. What we know about the spiritual realm is that it has physical properties but it is invisible. We cannot see God or his angels and yet, they exist and are active in the physical world in which we live. When the church is raptured, it will become invisible to the physical world, but it may continue to be involved in the activities of the physical world in some way. At the conclusion of the millennium, the church will likely have a new role and will return to Earth as the new Jerusalem where all whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will be free to come and go (Revelation 21:27). In its eternal state, the church might become like Adam and Eve who originally had the privilege of communicating with God directly on a regular basis (Genesis 3:8). Once Satan’s presence is eliminated from Earth, God’s relationship with mankind will continue uninterrupted for eternity.

Some things to think about

Paul understood that heaven was not like a treasure chest that was waiting for someone to discover it. Paul emphasized the importance of pursuing things on earth that would result in a prize or crown in heaven (Philippians 3:14, 1 Corinthians 9:25, 2 Timothy 4:8). As he concluded his letter to the Philippians, Paul stated, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8). The Greek word Paul used that is translated think, logizomai (log-id’-zom-ahee) means “to take an inventory that is estimate” (G3049).

Paul’s list of things to think about had to do with the process of imputation. Paul talked about believers being imputed with Christ’s righteousness in his letter to the Romans. Speaking of Abraham, who believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness, Paul said, “And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness” (Romans 4:19-22).

Imputation has three steps: 1) the collecting of all charges and remissions; 2) the totaling of these debits and credits; 3) the placing of the balance or credit on one’s account (G3049). If you think of faith as the PIN to Jesus’ bank account, every time we activate our faith, think about what God has promised to do for us, we get a credit for that thing placed on our account. The key to imputation is of course thinking about the right things. That’s why Paul told the Philippians to think about things that are true, honest, pure, lovely, of good report (Philippians 4:8). Paul wasn’t talking about these things in a general sense, but meant for the Philippians to think about specific incidents in which these elements of faith had been witnessed by them.

The Greek word translated true in Philippians 4:8, alethes (al-ay-thace’) means true in the sense of not concealing something. Alethes speaks of true things as “conforming to reality” (G227). What Paul may have had in mind with regards to thinking about things that are true was being genuine, not trying to sugar coat things or pretend that we are someone that we’re not. Jesus used the word alethes when he told the Samaritan woman he met at a well, “for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly” (John 4:18, NKJV). Jesus wasn’t so much concerned about the fact that the woman had been married five times, but that she told him the truth about it. Being truthful with God is one of the ways that we can get credit in heaven for being a Christian.

No confidence

The Apostle Paul was one of the most remarkable converts to Christianity. He started out as a persecutor of the believers in Jerusalem and eventually took a trip to Damascus to round up anyone that was of “the way” there (Acts 9:2). It says in Acts 9:3-5, “He went on his way until he came near Damascus. All at once he saw a light from heaven shining around him. He fell to the ground. Then he heard a voice say, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you working so hard against Me?’ Saul answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ He said, ‘I am Jesus, the One Whom you are working against. You hurt yourself by trying to hurt Me’ (NLV).

Paul’s effort to stamp out Christianity was halted midstream because he was working against the very thing that God wanted him to do, to preach the gospel. Paul described his previous Jewish belief system as walking in the flesh (Romans 8:1). What Paul meant by walking in the flesh was living life focused on the material world as opposed to the spiritual realm of God. Circumcision was a sign of the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 17:13), but the Jews turned it into a ritual that meant nothing more than a regulation that had to be followed. Paul told the believers at Philippi, “For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3, NKJV).

Paul had a lot of things going for him in terms of working his way to heaven. He told the Philippians, “If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ” (Philippians 3:4-7, NKJV). If it was possible to score Paul’s effort to get himself into heaven, he probably would have gotten an A+, but Paul said he counted everything he had done as a loss, meaning it was worthless, he wasn’t scoring any points, because the only thing that mattered in God’s scoring system was Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

Paul concluded his discussion about works of the flesh by stating, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Paul’s attitude toward heaven had changed dramatically because he no longer saw it as something that he could apprehend or own in the sense that he had a right to go there. Rather than a reward for good behavior, Paul saw heaven as a prize that he must strive toward with no confidence that he could or actually had already attained it.