Israel’s Messiah

God’s promise to give Abraham and his descendants all the land of Canaan forever (Genesis 13:14-15) was the first indicator that a resurrection would take place sometime in the future. We know that Abraham believed in life after death because Hebrews 11:17-19 tells us, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense” (NKJV). God reiterated his unconditional divine promise to Jacob who told his son Joseph shortly before his death, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession’” (Genesis 48:3-4, NKJV). When Jacob called his sons together to give them his final blessing, he spoke of a time period that he referred to as “the last days” (Genesis 49:1) and he told his son Judah:

“Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise;
Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
Your father’s children shall bow down before you.
Judah is a lion’s whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He bows down, he lies down as a lion;
And as a lion, who shall rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor a lawgiver from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes;
And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.” (Genesis 49:8-10, NKJV)

The Hebrew word that is translated Shiloh in Genesis 49:10, shiyloh (shee-loˊ) is an epithet of Israel’s Messiah (H7886). The scepter that Jacob mentioned is a symbol of authority in the hands of a ruler (H7626) and in connection with the last days was likely meant as a reference to Christ’s second coming when he will reign on earth for a thousand years. Revelation 20:4-6 states regarding this time period:

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

The scepter of Israel’s Messiah is also mentioned in Balaam’s final oracle. After the Israelites defeated the king of Sihon and Og the king of Bashan (Numbers 21:21-35), Balak the king of Moab wanted to stop the Israelites from taking over his territory. Balak hired Balaam, who was a false prophet, to curse the Israelites so that he could drive them from the land (Numbers 22:6). When Balak promised to give Balaam a position of honor in his kingdom in exchange for his cooperation, Balaam responded, “Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak” (Numbers 22:38) and before he pronounced his final oracle, Balaam referred to the time period known as “the latter days” (Numbers 24:14). Balaam said:

I see him, but not now;
    I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
    and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead of Moab
    and break down all the sons of Sheth.
Edom shall be dispossessed;
    Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed.
    Israel is doing valiantly.
And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion
    and destroy the survivors of cities!” (Numbers 24:17-19)

Matthew’s gospel contains a record of the visit of wise men who came to King Herod at the time of Jesus’ birth asking the question, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2). Herod immediately went to work to kill Jesus (Matthew 2:16) and his family likely remained in hiding until Jesus’ public ministry was launched (Matthew 2:19-23). Jesus’ role of Savior of the world was not talked about openly, but those who came to know him were aware of the fact that he was Israel’s Messiah (John 4:42).

One of the key factors of Jesus’ revelation of his kingdom was that everyone would be resurrected, not just the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus said in his Olivet Discourse:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

Jesus identified two possible outcomes of being resurrected, eternal punishment or eternal life. The Greek word that is translated punishment, kolasis (kolˊ-as-is) means “penal infliction” and is “spoken of the temporary torment produced by fear in the soul of one conscious of sin before the love of God brings peace at salvation (1 John 4:18)” (G2851). Therefore, it might be said that eternal punishment is the never ending torment that results from an awareness of one’s unforgiven sins. On the other hand, eternal life is characterized by the uninterrupted peace that comes from a knowledge of God’s forgiveness and the removal of all guilt.

The Greek word that is translated life in Matthew 25:46, zoe (dzo-ayˊ) speaks “of life or existence after rising from the dead” and “in the sense of existence, life, in an absolute sense and without end” (G2222). Zoe means “life as God has it, which the Father has in Himself, and which he gave to the Incarnate Son to have in Himself (John 5:26), and which the Son manifested in the world (1 John 1:2). From this life man has become alienated in consequence of the Fall, and of this life men become partakers through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:15), who becomes its Author to all such as trust in Him (Acts 3:15), and who is therefore said to be ‘the life’ of the believer (Colossians 3:4), because the life that He gives He maintains (John 6:35, 63). Eternal life is the present actual possession of the believer because of his relationship with Christ (John 5:24; 1 John 3:14), and that it will one day extend its domain to the sphere of the body is assured by the resurrection of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:4; 2 Timothy 1:10).” Zoe is derived from the Greek word zao (dzahˊ-o) which simply means “to live” and refers to “the recovery of physical life from the power of death” (G2198).

Jesus used the miracle of feeding more than five thousand people with a five loaves of bread and two fish (John 6:5-13) to demonstrate the principles of eternal life. An important thing to note about this miracle is that Jesus started with food that already existed. Later on, when Jesus referred to himself as “the bread of life” (John 6:35) and compared what he had to offer people to the manna that Moses gave the Israelites (John 6:32-33), the focus of Jesus’ attention was zoe, life in the absolute sense. John recorded the event this way:

Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6:4-14)

John’s account of Jesus’ feeding the five thousand focused in on Philip’s conclusion that the disciples didn’t have the material resources that they needed to feed the people. Even though they started with just five loaves of bread and the 5000 men ate as much as they wanted, afterward Jesus instructed the disciples to “gather up the leftover fragments” (John 6:12). The twelve baskets full of broken pieces that were gathered indicated that there were actually more material resources than were necessary to meet the people’s physical needs. The abundance of resources resulted in Jesus being recognized as Israel’s Messiah (John 6:14).

Jesus told his disciples, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). In this statement, the Greek word zoe, which is translated life, associates the kind of life that we receive when we are born again with abundance. The Greek word perissos (per-is-sosˊ) denotes “what is superior and advantageous” (G4053). Jesus was therefore implying that eternal life is better in both quantity and quality than the temporal, physical existence that ends when we die. Jesus explained:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:47-51)

Jesus referred to himself as “the living bread” (John 6:51). By that, Jesus meant that the manifestation of divine power was already at work in his physical body and it could not be destroyed by death as evidenced by his resurrection three days after he was crucified. Jesus said, “If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:51). The process of chewing and digesting food in order to sustain our physical lives is something that everyone does without giving much if any thought to what is happening. In order to gain any nourishment from our food, there has to first of all be substances that can be absorbed into the body and then chemicals in our bodies that can break the food down and convert it into energy. The substances that we are able to absorb that come from Jesus are his words and what is necessary for them to be converted into spiritual energy is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus went on to say:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-58)

Jesus used the terms flesh and blood to represent the basic elements of physical life. These elements were associated with the sacrifices that were required for the atonement of sins (Exodus 30:10). Jesus incorporated these elements into his institution of the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-29) and made it clear that the purpose of this practice was to identify oneself with his death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Therefore, it can be assumed that the Eucharist was intended to be a means of activating and sustaining zoe, eternal life.

Jesus told his disciples, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe” (John 6:63-64) indicating that faith is necessary for our spiritual existence. John recorded, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:68-69). The Greek word that is translated Holy One, christos (khris-tosˊ) means “anointed, i.e. the Messiah, an epithet of Jesus” (G5547). Peter indicated that Jesus’ twelve disciples had believed and also come to know that he was Israel’s Messiah. The Greek word ginosko (ghin-oceˊ-ko) is simply translated sure in the King James Version of the Bible. Peter seemed to be saying that it wasn’t just faith that led Jesus’ twelve disciples to the conclusion that he was their Messiah, but that they were sure of it because of a complete and absolute understanding of his teaching.

The Greek word ginosko “is also used to convey the thought of connection or union, as between a man and woman” and as a verb, ginosko means “to know by observation and experience” (G1097). Part of the reason why Jesus became known as Israel’s Messiah was because he acted like the person he claimed to be, God’s only begotten Son. Peter told Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Another way of saying this might be, “You sound like you know what eternal life is all about.” Jesus knew what eternal life was all about, even before he died on the cross, because according to John’s gospel, Jesus existed before the creation of the world and “without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1-3). In the note on John 1:1-17, it says, “John’s gospel is the only one that begins with a discussion of the eternal existence of Jesus Christ rather than the time he appeared on earth. He is called the logos (G3056), ‘word,’ the term used by the Greeks in reference to the governing power behind all things. The Jews used the term to refer to God. Jesus created everything that is (v. 3) and later came to dwell among his creation (v. 14). There are two main verbs that contrast what Jesus had always been and what he became at his incarnation. There is ēn, the imperfect of eimi (G1510), ‘to be,’ which could be translated as ‘had been.’ This verb is found in every instance in this passage where Jesus is referred to in his eternal state of being (vv. 1, 2, 4, 9, 10, 15). The divine nature of Christ is clearly seen in the statement theos (G2316, ‘God’) ēn ho logos, literally, ‘the Word was God’ (v. 1). The second verb is egeneto (the aorist form of ginomai [G1096], ‘to become’). It refers to becoming something that one was not before. The Lord Jesus became that which he was not before, a physical being (v. 14).”

The resurrection of the dead signifies an important transition in the activities that take place on earth. After the great white throne judgment, John tells us in the book of Revelation:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

The former things that John was referring to were most likely the government systems that preceded the Messiah’s reign. After the devil and his followers are thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10, 15), God’s eternal kingdom will be established.

Life after death

Paul’s summary of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 concluded with an identification of the ultimate reason for believing in Christ. He stated, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14, ESV). Paul went on to say, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). Life after death was a key issue in Paul’s gospel message. His primary concern was a misconception that death marked the end of physical life. The Greek word translated resurrection, anastasis means literally “to cause to stand up on one’s feet again” (G386). Paul made it clear that physical death was a temporary state of human existence that would eventually be eliminated. He said about Jesus’ triumph over death, “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:25-26, ESV).

Paul used the analogy of a seed to explain the difference between our natural and spiritual bodies and stated, “Someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised? What kind of bodies will they have?’ What a foolish question! When you plant a seed, it must die before it starts new life. When you put it in the earth, you are not planting the body which it will become. You put in only a seed. It is God Who gives it a body just as He wants it to have. Each kind of seed becomes a different kind of body.” (1 Corinthians 15:35-38, NLV). Paul likened the transformation that occurs when a seed is changed into a plant to what happens when our natural bodies are resurrected. Paul pointed out that our resurrected bodies will have an unending existence (1 Corinthians 15:42). and then he stated, “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50, ESV)

Paul’s description of the resurrection of the dead was framed in the context of a mystery or a divine revelation that can only be understood with the help of the Holy Spirit (G3466). He said, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). The Greek term Paul used that is translated sleep, koimao (koy-mah’-o) means “to put to sleep” and refers to the phase of sleep when you are still fully conscious (G2837). Koimao is used figuratively to represent the death of Christians because there is no loss of consciousness when our spirits are temporarily separated from our human bodies. Paul concluded his discussion of life after death by connecting the resurrection of the dead with Isaiah’s prophecy about God’s completed work of salvation (Isaiah 25:8). He stated, “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57 ESV).

Love

Paul concluded his discussion of spiritual gifts with this statement, “But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.” (1 Corinthians 12:31, NKJV). Paul’s reference to a more excellent way was meant to describe the ultimate attainment for a believer who wants to become like Christ. You could say that Paul was unlocking the secret to a successful Christian life. He said:

I may be able to speak the languages of men and even of angels, but if I do not have love, it will sound like noisy brass. If I have the gift of speaking God’s Word and if I understand all secrets, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I know all things and if I have the gift of faith so I can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give everything I have to feed poor people and if I give my body to be burned, but do not have love, it will not help me. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NLV)

Paul was talking about a way of life the ran counter to the mainstream culture of his day. Paul’s ministry took place when the Roman Empire was at the height of its success. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written around 55 B.C., when Nero had just become the emperor of Rome. Nero was one of the most violent leaders of the Roman Empire who killed his own mother and made public his hatred of Christians by burning them alive.

Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 emphasized the importance of putting others above ourselves. His statement “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7, ESV) suggested that Paul expected believers to strive toward perfection in their pursuit of loving others. In fact, Paul likened Christian love to the completeness or perfect maturity that a believer is able to achieve in his or her life. Paul stated, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away” (1 Corinthians 13:9-10).

The Greek word translated perfect in 1 Corinthians 13:10 is teleios. “Teleios means brought to its end, finished” (G5046). When Jesus was dying on the cross, he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The word he used, teleo and teleios are derived from the same Greek word telos, which means “to set out for a definite point or goal” and by implication, “the conclusion of an act or state” (G5056). Paul made it clear that the goal every Christian should be to love his neighbor as himself (Matthew 22:39), but he also understood that perfection was not something that could be attained in this life. Paul concluded his discussion with a statement about life after death. He said, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face;: now I now in part; but then shall I know even as I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). What Paul was saying was that everything we know about each other right now is like a snapshot that can only capture a brief moment in time. When we get to heaven, we will see the whole story and be able to recognize the truth about who we really are. We will have a type of full perception that enables us to be perfectly united with everyone we love (G1921).

The hour

Jesus described his appointment with death as an opportunity for his divine character to be manifested to the world. He told his disciples, “The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified” (John 12:23). Even though he knew he would be brutally murdered, Jesus thought of his death as a necessary part of God’s plan of salvation. He said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24). The picture Jesus created of a seed being planted in the ground portrayed his death as a source of new life. The reason Jesus said the seed would abide alone unless it died was to convey the point that his sinless life entitled him to entrance into heaven, but there would be no one there with him unless he paid the penalty for the sins of everyone else.

Jesus told his disciples, “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal” (John 12:25). Jesus’ message was probably intended to motivate his followers to make a sacrifice similar to his own. The idea that they would lose their life by trying to hang on to it, was Jesus’ way of saying that the temporal pleasures of this world were incomparable to what they had to look forward to in heaven. Jesus knew it wouldn’t be easy for his disciples to continue believing in him after he was crucified, but wanted them to understand that his only purpose in coming to this world was to make a way for them to be with him later. He said, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father save me from this hour: but for this cause I came to this hour” (John 12:27).

The hour Jesus referred to was the appointed time for him to leave Earth and return to his Father in heaven (John 13:1). So that his disciples would know that there was no mistake in what was happening, Jesus said:

“Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel spoke to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be case out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.(John 12:28-33)

Jesus’ intention in dying for the sins of the world was not to bring glory to himself. His identification with God was specifically linked to the glorification of his Father. “As the glory of God is the revelation and manifestation of all that He has and is,” so Jesus’ life was a “Self-revelation” in which God manifested all the goodness that he wanted to give to the world (G1392). It was because Jesus willingly gave up his life on Earth that he was able to picture the hour of his death as a seed being planted in the ground. The fruit that he expected to come from it was human immortality.

Ambition

James and John were one of two sets of brothers that were included in Jesus’ twelve member exclusive team of evangelists. Jesus told these men, “in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). James and John were often singled out and given special privileges such as witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration (Matthew 17:1) and the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37). In his list of the twelve apostles, Mark said of these two men, “And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; (and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder:). The name Boanerges could also be translated sons of commotion (G993), but in its original form, the word Jesus used stood for violent anger or rage (H7266). It is likely that James and John had a reputation for losing their tempers and may have been raised in a home where violence was used to discipline them.

One of the few incidents of conflict among Jesus’ twelve apostles is recorded in Mark 9:33-34 where it says, “And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.” James and John took this conflict one step farther when they approached Jesus and asked him to give them the seats next to his in his throne room (Mark 10:37). James and John’s ambition appeared to be driven by a desire to be equal with Jesus (Mark 10:38-39). Jesus told them, “Ye shall drink indeed of my cup. and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, in not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared by my Father” (Matthew 20:23). The Greek word translated prepared, hetoimazo (het-oy-mad´-zo) means to prepare or make ready (G2090). Hetoimazo refers to those things which are ordained by God, such as future positions of authority.

Jesus told his disciples, “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” (John 14:2). The word Jesus used that is translated prepare in this verse is also hetoimazo. The Greek word translated place, topos suggests that Jesus is building his kingdom based on our prayers or requests for occupancy in a particular spot that might be available (G5117). In this sense, you could say that Jesus is currently taking reservations and assigning spots to believers inside his Father’s house. James and John’s request may not have been all that unreasonable, but it was determined that their ambition to be seated next to Jesus was not at his discretion. Jesus revealed that the top spots in his kingdom were reserved for God’s elect and said, “whosoever will be great among you let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28).

The Greek word translated minister in the phrase “let him be your minister” (Matthew 20:26) is diakonos (dee-ak´-on-os). Diakonos refers to “an attendant that is (generally) a waiter (at a table or in other menial duties)” (G1249). This term is used specifically in reference to a Christian teacher or pastor who is technically supposed to be a deacon or deaconess. Jesus identified himself as a minister and stated the purpose of his service was to “give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). In other words, the job Jesus was assigned by his Father was to die for the sins of the world. This was the position God prepared for him and the reason Jesus would be located at the head of the table or in the top spot in God’s eternal kingdom. When Jesus asked James and John, “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” (Matthew 20:22), he may have been asking them if they were willing to make the same kind of sacrifice that he was expected to. When they responded, “We are able” (Matthew 20:22) James and John were basically volunteering to become martyrs.

Faith in action

Jesus’ departure from the world presented a problem for his ministry to be carried on because his followers were used to him doing most of the work. As his death approached, Jesus began to prepare his disciples to continue on without  him. One of the significant issues was performing miracles. Jesus taught that faith in him was the key to receiving God’s power. In addition to that, Jesus said, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” (Matthew 17:20).

Jesus taught his disciples that unbelief was the opposite of faith (Matthew 17:17) and warned them that their exposure to false teaching had damaged their ability to trust him and would therefore, hinder their spiritual growth (Matthew 17:20). Jesus used the limited time he had on Earth to correct doctrinal errors in the Jews’ belief system and taught his disciples the truth about God’s kingdom. On at least one occasion, Jesus gave his disciples an opportunity to exercise their faith by sending them out to minister on their own (Luke 10:17).

When Jesus was told that his friend Lazarus was sick, he intentionally waited two days to go to his home in Bethany (John 11:6), “Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judea again” (John 11:7). Jesus already knew Lazarus was dead (John 11:14), so there was no need for him to go right away, but there was also no need for him to wait two days if his plan was to raise Lazarus from the dead. The delay in Jesus’ departure was probably due to everyone’s expectation that he would fix things for Martha and Mary, rather than them doing something about it on their own.

As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. “Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (John 11:21). Essentially, what Martha was saying was that it was Jesus’ fault that Lazarus had died. She was blaming him for not being there. Jesus’ response was meant to ignite Martha’s faith. “Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:23-24). Martha knew Lazarus was saved and was a believer herself, but she wasn’t using her faith to deal with her difficult circumstance.

Jesus refreshed Martha’s faith by giving her a quick lesson on the topic of life after death:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whosoever 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.” (ESV)

What Jesus wanted Martha to understand was that her brother Lazarus was still alive, he just wasn’t living in his body. Apparently, Martha didn’t fully grasp the concept of life after death, but she did believe Jesus was who he claimed to be, Israel’s Messiah.

When they arrived at Lazarus’ grave, which was a cave with a stone blocking the entrance, “Jesus said, Take away the stone” (John 11:39, ESV). Martha’s reaction revealed the barrier to her belief. “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?'” (John 11:39-40, ESV). Jesus’ statement showed there was an element of Martha’s faith that was missing. She was not willing to do what he told her to. In order to be truly committed to Christ, Martha had to act, she had to demonstrate her faith through obedience.

After the stone was removed, Jesus “cried with a loud voice, Lazarus come forth” (John 11:43). Another way of saying this would be, Lazarus, get out here! When Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth, he was not calling him back from the dead. It is likely that Lazarus had already been revived by God at the time the stone was rolled away from his grave. The reason why Jesus cried out with a loud voice was so that everyone would know he wasn’t calling Lazarus out of the grave; he wanted him to come out of the cave. The miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection was not the result of Jesus’ supernatural ability to bring him back to life. It was the result of Martha’s faith filled obedience to roll away the stone.

Hell

Jesus told the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) to illustrate what takes place at the time of death. In the Old Testament of the Bible, hell was referred to as she’ol or hades. She’ol was, “a place of degradation, the locality or condition of those who have died or have been destroyed. It is implied that although, so far as the world is concerned, they have perished, yet they are still in a state of existence and are within God’s cognizance.” Prior to Jesus’ resurrection, everyone went to the same location when they died. She’ol was the place of the dead. It referred to the “netherworld or the underground cavern to which all buried dead go. It was not understood to be a place of punishment, but simply the ultimate resting place of all mankind (Gen 37:35)” (7585). In the New Testament, the word translated hell is geenna (gheh´-en-nah). Gehenna (or Ge-Himmon) was a valley of Jerusalem used figuratively as the name of the place (or state) of everlasting punishment (1067). Gehenna may have been believed to be a place that everyone that had turned their back on God went in order to be separated from him for eternity. Gehenna is described as “a gorge (from its lofty sides; hence, narrow, but not a gully or winter-torrent)” (1516).

Jesus’ story went like this:

“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 good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.'” (Luke 16:19-25, ESV)

After the rich man was denied relief from his suffering, he asked Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers of their impending doom. Abraham denied the rich man’s request stating that his family had already been warned by Moses and the prophets (Luke 16:27-29). The rich man replied, “Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him. If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:30-31).

The interesting thing about Jesus’ story is that a short time later, he raised a man named Lazarus from the dead. He may have done it as a witness to the fact that the story he told about the rich man going to hell was actually true.

Justification

One of the advantages God built into his plan of salvation was a provision for all sinners to be acquitted of every charge brought against them when God judges the world. In other words, by their admission of personal wrong doing, sinners are by default guilty, but through the justification provided them, they are declared innocent by God (1344). In order to qualify for this justification, a person must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and accept his payment of their debt to God through his death on the cross. Once justification takes place, the sinner is awarded eternal life and entrance into God’s kingdom. The believer’s one-way ticket to heaven can only be redeemed on an individual basis and is thought to be irrevocable after salvation has been received.

As the Savior of the World, Jesus was given authority over demonic forces and enabled to accomplish certain tasks on earth that no mortal man was able to. For instance, Jesus rebuked a devil that possessed a lunatic boy and caused him to depart from him (Matthew 17:18) and he restored the sight of a man born blind (John 9:7). In addition to the many miracles he performed, Jesus also taught his followers about the kingdom of heaven and forgave the sins of people considered to be hardened criminals (John 8:11). In preparation for his departure, Jesus sent out seventy of his disciples to spread the good news that Israel’s Messiah had arrived. After they returned, the disciples reported, “Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name” (Luke 10:17).

Jesus’ disciples didn’t seem to understand the significance of the justification that he was making available to everyone. Although they had the power to perform miracles because of Jesus’ authority in the spiritual realm, the primary purpose of justification was so that people could go to heaven when they died. Jesus explained, “I  beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall be any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:18-20). The book of life that Jesus referred to is a permanent record of each person’s salvation (Revelation 3:5).

Following Jesus’ interaction with his disciples, a lawyer asked him the question, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 10:25). Essentially, what this man was asking was how he could get to heaven without being justified by Jesus. The lawyer understood God’s commandments and thought he had lived according to them. He basically stated that he needed to love God and his neighbor as himself (Luke 10:27). It says in Luke 10:29, “But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Jesus used the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35) to show this man that it wasn’t enough for him to just refrain from harming others, he needed to demonstrate his love to anyone in need in order to earn his own way into heaven.

The good shepherd

Jesus often used parables and analogies to describe the kingdom of heaven to those that wanted to know about the spiritual life that awaited them after their physical death. One of the ways Jesus portrayed himself in the believer’s journey to heaven was a shepherd caring for his flock of sheep. Perhaps, the most famous psalm written by King David was Psalm 23 which stated, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want, he maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters” (Psalm 23:1-2). The role of the shepherd was to protect and guide his sheep along a pathway that was usually predetermined in order to keep them safe and well fed. When Jesus referred to himself as the “good shepherd” (John 10:11), he meant that he was perfectly suited for or well adapted to the circumstances of a shepherd (2570). The reason why that was true was because Jesus made it as easy as he possibly could for believers to go to heaven by making it a free gift that one could obtain simply by believing that he was who he said he was, the Savior of the World. Essentially, you could say that Jesus paved our way to heaven through his death on the cross.

Jesus’ statement, “I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7), was a reference to the gate that had to be passed through in order for a sheep to enter the sheepfold, a place for him to rest at night. Jesus went on to say, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (John 10:9). The connection between entering the sheepfold and being saved was evident in the purpose of the sheepfold, to keep the sheep from the death they would certainly face if they were to be left out in the open, unattended overnight. Jesus depicted Satan as a thief that wanted to steal, kill, and destroy his flock of sheep (John 10:10). In order to drive home the point that Satan would stop at nothing to damage God’s kingdom, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Jesus also stated that his death was a voluntary act that he was predestined for. He said, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:17-18).

An aspect of Jesus’ analogy that may have been difficult for his listeners to grasp was the reference he made to his sheep hearing and knowing him by his voice (John 10:3-4). In the same way that someone today might be labeled crazy if he said he had heard God speak to him, the people that lived in Jesus’ time didn’t expect God to speak to them directly. Up to that point, God had always spoken to his people through prophets who were considered to be his spokespersons or quite literally his mouthpieces (5030). Something that Jesus made clear was that his voice was a unique identifier that made it possible for his followers to distinguish him from strangers (John 10:5), and more specifically, to prevent believers from being influenced by satanic forces that might try to lead them astray (John 10:8). Jesus’ primary goal as the good shepherd was to protect his sheep from anything that might harm them. One thing that made Jesus more than just a good shepherd was his ability to fulfill every spiritual need of those that chose to follow him. Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). The Greek word translated abundantly, perissos can mean to go beyond or exceed (4053). In other words, the life Jesus gives us exceeds our expectations.

Misunderstanding

After his lesson about the bread of life (John 6:22-59), many of Jesus’ disciples “went back, and walked no more with him” (John 6:66), probably due to a misunderstanding of what he meant by eating his flesh and drinking his blood in order to have eternal life. From a physical standpoint, what Jesus said made absolutely no sense. It was only from a spiritual perspective that his teaching was understandable. Jesus’ concluding statement more than likely left the crowd of people gathered around him perplexed and dismayed by the possibility that they could receive eternal life through an act of cannibalism. Jesus said, “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by my Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever” (John 6:56-58).

Jesus’ reference to the manna that was eaten while the Israelites wandered in the desert was probably a clue to the type of spiritual food he was prepared to give his followers. Manna was an unknown substance that appeared out of nowhere every morning except on the Sabbath (Exodus 16:15). The Hebrew word translated manna, man (mawn) literally means “a whatness” (4478). In other words, there was no name for it. The terms flesh and blood are what we typically use to refer to a real or live person. Someone might say of a movie star, “I saw him in the flesh,” meaning, I saw him offscreen or as he is in his normal day to day existence. The expression “flesh and blood” is also used to refer to someone in your family, especially someone who is related by blood rather than marriage. Therefore, Jesus’ portrayal of himself as the bread of life must have had something to do with having a spiritual connection or relationship with God while living on earth.

In order to further illustrate his point, Jesus said, “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you that believe not” (John 6:63-64). The Greek word translated quickeneth, zoopoieo (dzo-op-oy-eh’-o) means to revitalize or to make alive again (2227). Later, Jesus asked his twelve apostles privately if they wanted to go away, or in essence, distance themselves from his unorthodox teaching. “Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68-69). Peter’s response showed that he was willing to believe what Jesus said, even if there was still some misunderstanding about it. In other words, like the manna the Israelites ate in the desert, Peter didn’t need to know what “the bread of life” was in order to benefit from it. He believed Jesus was who he said he was and was able to do what he said he could, give Peter eternal life.