God’s power

The LORD’s deliverance of the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt involved a unique display of what God described as “signs and wonders” (Exodus 7:3). He told Moses, “Then, I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment” (Exodus 7:4). “God’s ‘hand’ is another term for God’s ‘power'” (H3027). The signs and wonders that Moses performed in Egypt were meant to be evidence that God was directly involved in what was happening and that his power was superior to all others. The Hebrew word that is translated wonders, mopheth (mo-faith’) “signifies a divine act or a special display of divine power” (H4139). The first occurrence of mopheth in the Bible is in Exodus 4:21 where it says that the LORD transferred his power to Moses, making it possible for him to do miracles without any divine assistance.

The first two miracles that Moses performed were duplicated by Pharaoh’s magicians, but when “Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast…The magicians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, but they could not…Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God'” (Exodus 8:17-19). The expression “the finger of God” was most likely meant to convey God’s handwriting or a signature that confirmed God’s identity. The magicians were letting Pharaoh know that Moses and Aaron were authentic representatives of a divine being with supernatural power. Exodus 8:19 states, “But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.” Pharaoh’s disregard of Moses’ miracle was based on the condition of his heart. The Hebrew word chazaq (khaw-zak’) means to be strong. “In reference to Pharaoh, it means to brace up and strengthen and points too the hardihood with which he set himself to act in defiance against God and closed all the avenues to his heart to those signs and wonders which Moses wrought” (H2388).

Psalm 67 links God’s saving power with his grace and indicates that God’s method of saving people was designed to make him known around the world. The psalmist states, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations” (Psalm 67:1-2). The Hebrew word that is translated way in Psalm 67:2, derek (deh’-rek) means a road and is used figuratively of “a course of life or mode of action” (H1870). Jesus’ life was not filled with a random set of events, but a fixed course that he was expected to follow that would end with his crucifixion. Several times, Jesus warned his disciples of what was ahead. Matthew’s gospel states, “When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, ‘You know that after two days the Passover is coming and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.’ Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him” (Matthew 26:1-4).

On several different occasions, Jesus was asked to perform miracles as an indication of his divine authority and power. Matthew recorded one such incident this way:

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. (Matthew 12:38-42)

Jesus was eluding to his death and resurrection when he said the Son of Man would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. On another occasion he likened his body to the temple of God and said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). Jesus indicated that he would raise himself from the dead and likely specified when his resurrection would occur as additional validation that he was able to control the circumstances that were involved in his death. The chief priests and the Pharisees seemed to think they could prevent Jesus from exiting his tomb by sealing it and placing a guard there. Matthew tells us:

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. (Matthew 27:62-66)

The purpose of sealing Jesus’ tomb and setting a guard outside was supposedly to make sure that no one could get in or out, but really the only thing that it guaranteed was that it would be impossible for someone to enter the tomb without the guards knowing about it. According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus exited his tomb while the sealed stone was still intact. Matthew said:

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” (Matthew 28:1-7)

The fact that no one was present when Jesus was resurrected suggests that he didn’t want there to be any confusion about the source of his miraculous reanimation. Whether it was God the Father or God the Son or a combined effort between the three persons of the trinity that caused Jesus to come back to life, the thing that is clear about Jesus’ resurrection is that there was no human involvement and the miracle itself was performed behind closed doors so to speak, somewhat like God’s creation of the universe which was witnessed only by angels (Psalm 148:1-2).

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians indicates that God’s plan of salvation began before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) and resulted in Christ being seated at God’s right hand after he was raised from the dead (Ephesians 1:20). Paul indicated that believers benefit from the working of God’s power that was exercised when Christ was raised from the dead. Paul prayed that the Ephesians would know what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe (Ephesians 1:19) as a result of Christ being seated at the right hand of God “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 1:21). Paul went on to say, “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23). Paul’s reference to the immeasurable greatness of Christ’s power and the fact that he is far above all rule and authority and power and dominion was intended to make it clear that there is no longer any competition between Christ and Satan. Jesus’ victory over death put an end to Satan’s attempt to overtake God’s kingdom.

The goal of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection was to bring unity to mankind and to reconcile everyone to God. Speaking directly to the Ephesians and indirectly to all non-Jewish people on earth, Paul stated:

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. (Ephesians 4:17-19)

Paul described non-Jewish people as those who have no hope and are without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12). The Greek word that is translated without God, atheos (ath’-eh-os) means atheist, an individual that is void of any true recognition of God and is therefore excluded from communion with God (G112). Paul further clarified this by stating, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (Ephesians 4:17-19).

Jesus commissioned his disciples to go into the world and preach the gospel so that everyone would know the truth about God and would have an opportunity to accept Christ as their Savior. He 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 of 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 had been given “all authority” (Matthew 28:18). The Greek word exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) has to do with privileges that one has obtained through delegation of power. “From the meaning of ‘leave or permission,’ or liberty of doing as one pleases, it passed to that of ‘the ability or strength with which one is endued,’ then to that of the ‘power of authority,’ the right to exercise power, e.g. Matthew 9:6;21:23; 2 Corinthians 10:8; or ‘the power of rule or government,’ the power of one whose will and commands must be obeyed by others, e.g. Matthew 28:18; John 17:2; Jude 25; Revelation 12:10; 17:13; more specifically of apostolic ‘authority,’ 2 Corinthians 10:8; 13:10” (G1849).

Paul described Satan as the prince of the power of the air and indicated that everyone that is not committed to Christ is under his influence. Paul told the Ephesians, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3). The Greek word pneuma (pnyoo’-mah), which means a current of air and is translated spirit in Ephesians 2:2, is rarely used of wind, but when so used it is known for its strength, vigor, and force” (G4151). Paul used the word pneuma figuratively to represent the spirit that is at work in the sons of disobedience because Satan’s demonic forces have the ability to affect the inner workings of people’s minds and can cause us to act in ways that we might not want to due to our sinful human nature.

Paul learned through experience that spiritual warfare was a part of doing God’s will. Paul encouraged the Ephesians to “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13). Paul’s instruction to take up the whole armor of God implies that it is up to us to protect ourselves from Satan’s spiritual onslaught, but it could be that Paul was talking about something that is available to us and yet, deemed to be unnecessary. Paul may have been referring to the power that is at believers’ disposal, but rarely accessed because of our tendency to try and do things in our own strength rather than in God’s power. Paul said, “Finally, 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).

In the same way that Christ was raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God in the heavenly places far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, we can stand against the schemes of the devil by exercising God’s power. Paul said that we are to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10). The Greek word endunamoo (en-doo-nam-o’-o) which is translated strong means to empower (G1743). Dunamoo is derived from the word dunamis (doo’-nam’is) which refers specifically to miraculous power. “Dunamis almost always points to new and higher forces that have entered and are working in this lower world of ours” (G1411). The Greek word translated strength, kratos (krat’-os) generally refers to might or power and is spoken of God with regards to his ruling control and dominion (G2904). The Greek word that is translated might, ischus (is-khoos’) refers to forcefulness of both body and mind (G2479) and is used to describe Christ’s potency and preeminence in Ephesians 1:19 where Paul talked about the immeasurable greatness of God’s 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.”

Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to “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” was followed by this assuring statement, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus’ reference to being “with” his disciples might seem like he was assuring them of his constant presence because the Greek word meta (met-ah’) denotes accompaniment, but meta is “often used in composition, in substantially the same relations of participation or proximity, and transfer or sequence” (G3326). It could be that what Jesus meant by being “with” his disciples was that it would seem like he was still doing all the things that he had been when he was living on earth. The same power that Jesus used to perform miracles, including being raised from the dead, would be at work in and through his disciples. God’s power was transferred to Jesus’ disciples so that they could carry on with his ministry. Paul eluded to this when he said that God put all things under Christ’s feet “and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23).

The Greek word that is translated fullness in Ephesians 1:23, pleroma (play’-ro-mah) refers to God, in the completeness of His Being and “the church as the complement of Christ, Ephesians 1:23” (G4138). The Greek word pleroo (play-ro’-o) which is translated fills means “to make replete, i.e. (literally) to cram (a net), level up (a hollow), or (figuratively) to furnish (or imbue, diffuse, influence), satisfy, execute (an office), finish ( a period or task)” (G4137). Paul said that the fullness of Christ fills all in all (Ephesians 1:23) with regards to the church acting as his body to carry out his will on earth. From that standpoint, all of the power that was available to Christ while he was living on earth is available to Christians that are making disciples of all nations and teaching them to observe all that Christ commanded us. The way that we access God’s power is to “take up the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:13). In other words, we have to rely on Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross and believe that it applies to us.

Negative publicity

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

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

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

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