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).

Good news!

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians included many topics that are relevant to Christians today. In 1 Corinthians, Paul outlined the basics of what every believer needs to know in order to be successful at following Christ. One of the important things Paul talked about was the content of the gospel message that he had been preaching throughout Asia. Paul started with the statement, “I declare unto you the gospel” (1 Corinthians 15:1). What this meant was that Paul was certifying the content of his gospel. In other words, Paul was saying his gospel message was the real deal, it was guaranteed to produce results in converting people to Christ. The Greek word translated gospel, euaggelizo (yoo-ang-ghel-id’-zo) means “to announce good news” or evangelize (G2097).

Paul believed the gospel of Jesus Christ was not only good news, it was the best news anyone could receive: “You are saved from the punishment of sin” (1 Corinthians 15:2, NLV). Paul conveyed his gospel message in four relatively short sentences. He stated:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, ESV)

The three central points of Paul’s gospel message were that Jesus died, he was buried, and he was raised on the third day. Jesus’ appearance to numerous witnesses was a means of not only verifying, but also validating his resurrection. One of Jesus’ skeptical disciples said, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Thomas had either seen or heard about the wounds Jesus received during his crucifixion and was convinced that Jesus had actually died on the cross. Thomas’ request for validation of Jesus’ resurrection seems reasonable under the circumstances. After Thomas request was met, Jesus told him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

Paul understood that the only way a person could be saved was by the grace of God. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul stated, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8, NKJV). Paul told the Corinthians that he had been saved by God specifically for the purpose of preaching the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:10), and then he added, “It makes no difference how you heard the Good News. It could have been through the other missionaries or through me. The important thing is this: We preached the Good News to you and you believed it” (1 Corinthians 15:11, NLV).

Personal testimony

Each of the four gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John includes a record of the resurrection of Jesus. It’s not surprising that each of these accounts was different considering that the authors experienced this event at different times and in different situations. What appears to be consistent about Jesus’ return from death was that everyone that saw his resurrected body talked about it through a process of giving their own personal testimony. In other words, each person shared their experience by stating, this is what I saw with my own eyes, not what someone else has told me about it. The exception to this rule was the personal testimony of the women that first encountered Jesus on what is now known as Easter morning. In the time period when Jesus’ death and resurrection happened, a woman’s testimony wasn’t considered valid. Therefore, it’s no wonder they didn’t believe Mary when she came and told Jesus’ eleven apostles that she had seen him and he was alive (Mark 16:11).

Luke’s gospel indicated there were several women that testified to Jesus’ resurrection as a result of their own personal experience. He said, “It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things to the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not” (Luke 24:10-11). The Greek word that is translated idle tales, leros (lay´-ros) means “twaddle, i.e. an incredible story…Leros denotes an incredible tale in that it is foolish talk, nonsense, lacking credibility” (G3026). The reason why the apostles didn’t believe the women may have been because they were hysterical, but it is possible that these women were both calm and coherent when they relayed the details of what happened and yet, for some reason, the apostles refused to believe them.

Perhaps, the best explanation for why the apostles didn’t believe Mary when she told them Jesus was alive can be found in Luke’s concluding statement, “and they believed them not” (Luke 24:11). The Greek words Luke used, apisteo autos suggested that it was actually unbelief or more specifically, the apostles own unwillingness to trust in God that made them reject the news that Jesus had been resurrected. Two of the apostles, Peter and John, went to the tomb to investigate Mary’s story and found that the tomb was indeed empty just like she had told them, but they still refused to believe that Jesus was alive (Luke 24:36-41). That might explain why Jesus appeared to the women first, rather than his own apostles. Even though their testimony didn’t carry much weight, at least Mary and the other women were willing to believe that what they had seen and heard when they went to Jesus’ tomb was real, not a mere fantasy or wishful thinking.

 

 

Unbelief

 

At the close of Jesus’ ministry, the Apostle John summarized his accomplishments by saying, “But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him” (John 12:37). The primary cause of the Jews unbelief appeared to be their concern for other things that they thought were more important. John said, “For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:43). Jesus’ parable of the sower revealed a deeper problem that was evident during his ministry. Using the analogy of seeds being sown on different types of soil, Jesus showed that the words he spoke about God’s eternal kingdom were not received because “the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22, ESV).

Jesus identified some extenuating circumstances that may have been preventing the Jews from recognizing him as their Messiah. He said, “And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Matthew 13:14-15). The primary issue that Jesus was pointing out was that the Jews were content with their situation. They didn’t want their lives to be disrupted by his radical teaching.

The central point of Jesus’ ministry was his death and resurrection. Just before he raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus told his sister Martha, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” and then he asked her, “Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26). Martha’s response showed that she had a limited understanding of what Jesus was talking about. She said to him, “Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world” (John 11:27). Martha’s acknowledgement of Jesus’ identity, but avoidance of the topic of his resurrection probably meant that she wasn’t convinced at that point that life after death was possible.

Jesus warned his twelve apostles repeatedly that he was going to be put to death, and yet, after he was crucified, they didn’t expect him to come back to life as he had promised. Mark reported that after Jesus “appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country. And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them. Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen” (Mark 16:12-14). In other words, in spite of eye witness accounts, Jesus’ apostles actually refused to believe that he was alive until they saw him themselves.

Jesus said of himself, “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:46). The Greek phrase Jesus used that is translated “abide in darkness” meno en skotia could mean to live in obscurity (G3306/G1722/G4653). What Jesus may have been trying to say was that belief in him would bring meaning or purpose to life, an understanding of what life was really all about. With that in mind, it seems likely that the reason the majority of the Jews’ were trapped in a state of unbelief was because they had already established a relationship with God and already knew about his plan for the world. In their case it wasn’t a matter of knowing too little, but of knowing too much.

Lazarus

Lazarus was the only man outside of Jesus’ intimate circle of disciples that was referred to as his friend. Because of their personal relationship, it says in John 11:3, “Therefore his sisters sent unto him saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.” The Greek word translated lovest, phileo (fil-eh´-o) means to “have affection for (denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling)” (G5368). Jesus’ attachment to Lazarus may have been a result of them spending a lot of time together, but it could also be that Jesus’ feelings stemmed from his compassion toward this man’s unfortunate circumstances. Lazarus lived in the town of Bethany, a short distance from Jerusalem where the cost of living was likely very high. There is no indication that Lazarus was married or had any other family members besides his two sisters Martha and Mary, who also appeared to be unmarried. It is possible Lazarus was about the same age as Jesus and had never been married because he was too poor to support a family.

When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he told his disciples, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (John 11:4). The Greek terms translated glory and glorified have to do with the reputation Jesus gained through his self-manifestation (G1391/1392). In other words, how people interpreted his actions. It says in John 11:5-6, “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.” Jesus’ reaction to the situation showed that he was in complete control of his behavior in spite of his feelings about what was going on. Jesus knew Lazarus was already dead (John 11:14), therefore, he refrained from going to Jerusalem because it wasn’t necessary for him to be there right away. The problem was that Jesus’ presence in the city would have ignited the wrath of the Jews that had already tried to stone him (John 10:31). He may have avoided this by waiting to go to Bethany until after Lazarus’ burial.

The key to understanding Jesus’ decision to go to Bethany in spite of the danger that awaited him was his determination to do the will of his Father. We know it was God’s will for Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead because he stated “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God” (John 11:4), but in order for him to do God’s will, Jesus had to put his own life at risk. Jesus’ motivation for doing what was expected of him was likely the love he felt for not only Lazarus, but also for his sisters Martha and Mary. When John stated that Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus (John 11:5), he wasn’t talking about the same kind of love that Martha and Mary identified when they asked Jesus to come to Bethany (John 11:2). John used the Greek word agapao (ag-ap-ah´-o)which is an expression of God’s love. “In respect of agapao as used of God, it expresses the deep and constant love and interest of a perfect Being towards entirely unworthy objects, producing and fostering a reverential love in them towards the Giver, a practical love towards those who are partakers of the same, and a desire to help others seek the Giver” (G25).

Jesus’ disciples expected him to be killed when he returned to the area in and around Jerusalem (John 11:16). Their trip toward Jerusalem had already been filled with numerous warnings of Jesus’ imminent death (Matthew 20:18, Mark 10:33). When Jesus told his disciples that Lazarus was dead, he added, “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him” (John 11:15). Jesus’ miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead was likely meant to be a preview of his own resurrection in order to demonstrate his power over the grave. Jesus wanted his disciples and everyone else to know that he had the ability to bring someone back to life that had been dead for several days.

Alive again

Jesus’ ability to raise someone from the dead was demonstrated three different times during his ministry. The first occasion is recorded in Luke 7:11-17. This miracle was performed by Jesus in the presence of many witnesses. Luke tells us, “And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people. Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her” (Luke 7:11-12). The circumstances of the situation were such that Jesus decided to act without any request or intervention from anyone that was involved. Jesus saw the dead man being carried out of the city and discerned within himself that his help was needed. Luke said, “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not” (Luke 7:13).

The focus of Jesus’ attention was the mother of the dead man, who also happened to be a widow. Because her only son was dead, and she no longer had a husband to take care of her, the woman would have quickly become destitute after her son’s death, and likely would have herself died within a short period of time. Jesus’ command to the woman, “weep not” indicated that the woman was deeply distressed. The Greek word translated weep, klaio (klah´-yo) means to sob that is wail aloud (2799). It is evident from Luke’s account that the dead man himself had nothing to do with Jesus’ decision to raise him from the dead. In fact, it can be assumed from his command, that Jesus was invoking his will upon the dead man. Luke states, “And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise” (Luke 7:14).

The Greek word Jesus used egeiro (eg -i´-ro), which is translated “arise” (Luke 7:14), is the same word he used in John 5:21 where it says, “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.” It is possible that Jesus intended his action of bringing the dead man back to life to be an object lesson for his disciples of what he meant by rising from the dead or being alive again after death. Even though this was the first time Jesus had performed this type of miracle, it was not the first time such a thing had ever happened. In the Old Testament, prophets had the ability to raise people from the dead (2 Kings 4:34). What Jesus was demonstrating was his authority to raise from the dead anyone he chose to. It is likely that the woman’s dead son was not a believer. After Jesus spoke the command, “Arise” (Luke 7:14), Luke tells us, “And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother” (Luke 7:15).

Life after death

Jesus’ special relationship with God infuriated the Jews because they didn’t understand how he could be equal with God when he was a human like them. Jesus referred to God as his Father (John 5:17). The idea that God could have conceived a child seemed ludicrous to the Jews who thought that God’s primary purpose was to regulate the behavior of men, not become one of them in order to deliver them from sin and death.

Jesus said, “My father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17). At the time when Jesus lived, fathers and sons usually had the same occupation. While they were living at home, young men learned their father’s trade and were expected to contribute to the family’s income. Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph was a carpenter (Matthew 13:55) and it is assumed that Jesus worked in that trade until he began his ministry at about the age of 30.

Rather than associating himself with his carpentry job, Jesus focused everyone’s attention on the joint spiritual activity that was going on between him and his heavenly Father. Jesus said, “For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and will shew him greater works than these that ye may marvel” (John 5:20). The greater works Jesus was referring to was resurrecting the dead.

In order to set the stage for an unprecedented revelation about his establishment of God’s kingdom on earth, Jesus talked about eternal life in the context of faith in God. He said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). Jesus wanted everyone to know that eternal life was a gift that could only be obtained through belief.

Following this statement, Jesus declared that the resurrection of the dead would take place at his command (John 5:25). It was only because he had been given authority to execute judgment on behalf of his father that Jesus could command the dead to come back to life. The shocking news was that everyone would be brought back to life, even those that didn’t believe in Jesus. He told the Jews:

Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and those that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. (John 5:28-29)

Trouble

Daniel’s prophecy of end times (Daniel 11) was described to him as a time of trouble. The angel Gabriel told him, “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book” (Daniel 12:1). Some have interpreted the time of trouble to be the time when the first century church was persecuted by the Romans. The Hebrew term translated trouble, tsarah (tsaw – raw´) is also translated as tribulation. In Judges 10, the people of Israel cried to the LORD for deliverance from their enemies. His answer to them was that in spite of the many times he had delivered them in the past, “Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation” (Judges 10:13-14).

It appears that the time of trouble Gabriel was referring to was associated with the resurrection of the dead that is mentioned in Revelation 20:12. Daniel was told, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever” (Daniel 12:2-3). The term “great tribulation” is used in Revelation 7:14 where John, one of the apostles of Jesus said concerning the saints he saw wearing white robes, “And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” The great tribulation is thought to be “the period of final hostility prior to Christ’s return. Some hold that the beginning of this hostility was already being experienced by the church in John’s day” (note on Revelation 7:14).

Daniel’s final encounter with heavenly beings took place on the bank of a river where Daniel posed the question, how long will it be until this is all over? (Daniel 12:5-6). Jesus’ response to Daniel’s question is recorded in Daniel 12:7. It says, “And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever that it shall be for a time, times, and a half; and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished.” The period of “a time, times, and a half” are also used in Daniel 7:25 to refer to the time when the antichrist, or a world power sharing in the characteristics of the antichrist, will rule over the earth. This time of trouble or great tribulation is believed to be coming sometime in the near future. The only clue we have as to when exactly it will take place is given in Daniel 12:11, where it says, “And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand and two hundred and ninety days.”

Resurrection

God used a dramatic illustration of dead bones being brought back to life to show Ezekiel the miraculous nature of the resurrection the LORD planned for his people. Ezekiel started the recount of his vision by saying, “The hand of the LORD was upon me and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones.” Ezekiel did not give us the name of the valley, but it can be assumed that it was an actual location where bones existed, most likely the valley of the son of Hinnom which was renamed the valley of slaughter in Jeremiah 7:32. Hinnom was the site of child sacrifice during the days of kings Ahaz and Manasseh. Jeremiah proclaimed that this place of human sacrifice would become their cemetery when the people  of Judah were slaughtered by the Babylonian invaders (notes on Jeremiah 7:31-32).

Jeremiah declared, “At that time, saith the LORD, they shall bring out the bones of the kings of Judah, and the bones of the princes, and the bones of the priests, and the bones of the prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, out of their graves: and they shall spread them before the sun, and the moon, and all the host of heaven, whom they have loved, and whom they have served, and after whom they have walked, and whom they have sought, and whom they have worshipped: they shall not be gathered, nor be buried; they shall be for dung upon the face of the earth” (Jeremiah 8:1-2). Although it is uncertain whether or not these were the bodies brought back to life in Ezekiel’s vision, it seems to be a fitting illustration of the rebirth that takes place when a sinner is saved by grace.

Ezekiel’s description of the resurrection of the bones included the restoration of life through the spirit of God. He said, “And I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army” (Ezekiel 37:8-10). The Hebrew word translated both wind and breath in this passage is ruwach (roo´ – akh). “It is clear that the wind is regarded in scripture as a fitting emblem of the mighty penetrating power of the invisible God. Moreover, the breath is suppose to symbolize not only the deep feelings that are generated within man, such as sorrow and anger: but also kindred feelings in the Divine nature” (7307).

The apostle John taught that in the resurrection, Jesus will bring everyone back to life. He said, “Marvel not of this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-29). The Greek term resurrection, anastasis literally means “to cause to stand up on one’s feet again” (386). The resurrection is associated with the millennial reign of Christ, which will take place sometime in the future. Ezekiel was told, “Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel, and ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves” (Ezekiel 37:12-13).

The Resurrection

In the midst of Isaiah’s description of God’s judgment of the world, was a bright spot that appeared as if it were a silver lining to the cloud of doom that hung over God’s people. Speaking of the Messiah, Isaiah declared, “He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces” Isaiah 25:8). Isaiah portrayed the Messiah in that passage as both God and man. It was clear that Isaiah saw the Messiah as one who would arrive on the scene after God’s judgment was completed.

The belief that the Messiah would triumph over death may have been why his disciples were confused when Jesus said he would be crucified (Matthew 26:2). Jesus stated plainly that his victory over death would not come through avoidance of death, but through his resurrection (Luke 18:33). In spite of his explanation, Jesus’ followers were unaware of his impending resurrection at the time of his death (Luke 18:34). It wasn’t until the apostle Paul wrote about the transformation of believers that would occur when Christ returned, that the resurrection was finally understood (1 Corinthians 15:51-54).

Isaiah’s depiction of the resurrection implied a separation between the lost and the saved. Referring to the enemies of God, Isaiah said, “They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, the shall not rise: therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish” (Isaiah 26:14). The Hebrew word translated perish, ’âbad (aw – bad´) “represents the disappearance of someone or something. In its strongest sense the word means ‘to die or cease to exist'” (6).

In contrast to those whose memory would cease to exist, Isaiah said of God’s people, “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Arise and sing, ye that dwell in the dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead” (Isaiah 26:19). Isaiah spoke of dead bodies coming back to life. His reference to the earth casting out the dead implied a restoration to normal life (7496).

The context of the resurrection Isaiah depicted was what is now referred to as the great tribulation. It is possible that Isaiah was actually describing the event known as the rapture which is expected to occur immediately prior to the great tribulation. After stating that the earth would cast out the dead, Isaiah went on to say, “Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut the doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be over past. For behold, the LORD cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity” (Isaiah 26:20-21).