Individual character

Jacob, who was later renamed Israel (Genesis 32:28), his sons and their families numbered seventy persons when they came into Egypt (Genesis 46:27). Exodus 12:37 tells us that 400 years later, when the people of Israel left Egypt, there were about “six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children.” At the time of Jacob’s death, his twelve sons and their families were referred to as the twelve tribes of Israel. Genesis 49:28 states, “All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him.” Jacob’s blessing was transferred to his sons on an individual basis. He blessed each of his sons with a blessing that was suitable to him, meaning that the blessing was appropriate for that individual son. The Hebrew word that is translated tribes in Genesis 49:28, shebet (shayˊ-bet) means “to branch off” and literally refers to “a stick” or “the ‘rod’ as a tool used by the shepherd (Leviticus 27:32) and the teacher (2 Samuel 7:14)” (H7626). Jesus told his disciples:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (John 15:1-6).

Jesus talked about branches in the context of discipline and productivity. The example that Jesus used of a vine that was intended to bear fruit was a universal theme that he used throughout his ministry to describe the process of salvation and was consistent between both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Jesus indicated that individual branches could be pruned or might be taken away if they did not bear fruit. This seems to be the case with regards to the tribe of Simeon, Jacob’s second oldest son. Simeon was left out when Moses’ pronounced his final blessing on Israel (Deuteronomy 33).

Simeon was the second son of Jacob’s first wife Leah. Genesis 29:31-33 states, “When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, ‘Because the LORD has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.’ She conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘Because the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.’ And she called his name Simeon.” The name Simeon means “hearing” (H8095). Simeon is derived from the Hebrew word shamaʿ (shaw-mahˊ) which means “to hear intelligently” (H8085). Shama is associated with discernment and understanding and refers to hearing that is both intellectual and spiritual. Simeon and his younger brother Levi responded to the rape of their sister Dinah by killing all the men in the city of Shechem. Genesis 34:13-15 and 24-31 tells us:

The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. They said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we agree with you—that you will become as we are by every male among you being circumcised”…On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away. The sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered. Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” But they said, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?”

Simeon and Levi were outraged by the rape of their sister Dinah and took vengeance by killing all the men in Shechem. Their father Jacob was upset because their method of retaliation put his family in danger. Later, Simeon was singled out by Joseph to remain in prison while the rest of his brothers returned to Canaan to get their youngest brother Benjamin to verify their identity (Genesis 42:18-20). During this incident, Joseph’s brothers acknowledged their guilt for selling him into slavery. Genesis 42:21-23 states:

Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen (shama). That is why this distress has come upon us.” And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen (shama). So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” They did not know that Joseph understood (shama) them, for there was an interpreter between them.

The Hebrew word shama (the root word of the name Simeon) appears three times in Joseph’s brothers’ brief admission of guilt. The repeated use of shama emphasizes its importance in the message that was being conveyed. It was as if Simeon’s name and his absence were providing the other brothers with a clue about the cause of the circumstances they were experiencing (no hearing).

The names of Jacob’s twelve sons were all chosen because of the circumstances of their births (Genesis 29:31-30:24, 35:16-18) and may or may not have been a reflection of their individual character. As was the case with Abram who God renamed Abraham (Genesis 17:5) and Jacob who became Israel (Genesis 32:28), Jesus gave some of his disciples new names after they became his followers (Mark 3:16-17). The connection between a person’s name and his individual character seems to be important from the standpoint of God becoming involved in the lives of individuals. The Apostle Paul referred to individual character as your inner being and said, “For this reason I bow my knee before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Ephesians 3:14-16). Paul indicated that God strengthens or empowers us in our inner being. The strengthening that occurs doesn’t happen as a sudden influx of power, but as a gradual increase in energy over time (G2901).

The idea that we can grow stronger and be more energetic as we get older is contrary to the way that we usually experience life. Typically, a person will slow down and accomplish less in their later years. Caleb, one of two individuals that was delivered from slavery in Egypt and survived the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, gave this testimony afterward:

Then the people of Judah came to Joshua at Gilgal. And Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the Lord my God. And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the Lord my God.’ And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. (Joshua 14:6-11)

Caleb indicated that he had wholly followed the LORD and that Moses had promised him an eternal inheritance as a result of it (Joshua 14:8-9). The meaning of the name Caleb (kaw-labeˊ) isn’t completely clear, but it may have been a contraction of the Hebrew words qadesh (kaw-dasheˊ) which denotes “a (quasi) sacred person” (H6945) and leb (labe) “the heart” (H3820). Qadesh is derived from the word qadash (kaw-dashˊ). “This word is used in some form or another to represent being set apart for the work of God. Qadesh, or qadash, as verbs, mean ‘to be holy; to sanctify’” (H6942).

The connection between the process of sanctification and the development of individual character as demonstrated in Caleb’s life may be related to what Paul described as “being joined together” and “being built together into a dwelling place for God” (Ephesians 2:21-22). Paul talked about believers being members of the household of God and identified Jesus as “the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:19-21). Paul indicated that we are growing into a holy temple and being built together into a dwelling place for God. The original temple that was built by King Solomon, was referred to as “the house of the LORD” (1 Kings 6:1). The Hebrew word that is translated house, bayith (bahˊ-yith) “denotes a fixed, established structure made from some kind of materials. As a ‘permanent dwelling place’ it is usually distinguished from a tent (2 Samuel 16:21, cf. v. 22)” (H1004). 1 Kings 6:7 tells us, “When the house was built, it was with stone prepared at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it was being built.” The large stones that were used to build the temple were chiseled into shape at a quarry so that they would fit together perfectly when they were placed in their designated spot. In the same way that the stones were prepared beforehand at the quarry, so are individuals prepared by God through the process of sanctification so that they can be joined together and built into a dwelling place for God.

The analogy of the potter and the clay is used throughout the Bible to describe the process of sanctification. It was first introduced through the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah 18:1-6 states:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

Paul used the analogy of the potter and the clay to explain God’s sovereign choice. Paul said:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
    and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
    there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” And as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
    we would have been like Sodom
    and become like Gomorrah.”

What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
    and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:14-33)

Paul referred to Jesus as a stone of stumbling rather than the cornerstone that orients the building in a specific direction in order to point out that faith in Jesus is what tripped up the Israelites. The people of Israel were unable to shift the focus of their attention from their own individual acts of righteousness to the sacrifice that was going to be made by Jesus so that their sins could be atoned for.

Simeon’s exclusion from Moses’ blessing (Deuteronomy 33) demonstrates how free will and God’s sovereign choice work together to produce the final outcome in an individual’s life and the legacy that is passed on to future generations. A similar example can be found in the life of Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus. Jesus told his disciples:

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” 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.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him. (John 6:63-71)

Jesus later linked Judas’ betrayal with the process of sanctification and what Paul described as the edification of the church (1 Corinthians 14:4). After Jesus had washed his disciples feet, he said, “’The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’ When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you’” (John 13:10-15). Jesus differentiated between the initial spiritual birth of a believer and regeneration when he said, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet” (John 13:10). Paliggenesia (pal-ing-ghen-es-eeˊ-ah) “is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light; it is that act by which God brings him from death to life. In the act itself (rather than the preparation for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth. Anakainos (an-ak-ahˊ-ee-no-sis), by contrast, is the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive but is a fellow worker with God” (G3824).

Jesus told his disciples, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15). It seems that anakainos is not just a process that God engineers to build individual character, but a joint process that all believers participate in for the collective benefit of everyone. From that standpoint, the twelve tribes of Israel modeled the type of community that the body of Christ is expected to emulate. Just as Simeon’s absence created a noticeable gap in Israel’s family structure (Genesis 42:36; Deuteronomy 33), so does the absence of individual members of the body of Christ. Paul said, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing?…The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have not need of you’…But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individual members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

Confession of our faith

Jesus used the parable of the sower to illustrate the process of spiritual birth, growth, and development. Jesus said:

“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” (Luke 8:5-8)

Jesus later explained the parable of the sower to his disciples. He told them:

“The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:11-15)

Jesus’ illustration and explanation showed that spiritual birth does not happen automatically when a person hears the word of God. A person must believe in order to be saved, but there is more to the process than just that. Jesus indicated that the word of God must take root in a person’s life and then, bear fruit so that their faith is evident to everyone around them. Jesus took his illustration one step further when he told his disciples:

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:23-26)

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked about the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of the dead in general terms (1 Corinthians 15:1-34), and then, Paul went on to explain how the transformation of physical life into spiritual life actually takes place. Paul said:

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:35-49)

Paul reiterated Jesus’ point that “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies” (1 Corinthians 15:36). Paul’s explanation made it clear that there are two types of bodies (1 Corinthians 15:44) and therefore it can be assumed, two types of death that need to take place in order for the transformation of our physical life into an eternal spiritual life to be complete.

Jesus told Martha shortly before he raised her brother Lazarus from the dead, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). Jesus wanted Martha to understand that spiritual life and spiritual death are more important than physical life and death when it comes to eternal existence. Jesus indicated that everyone who has experienced a spiritual birth will never experience a natural death (John 11:26). The Greek word that is translated die in John 11:26, apothnesko (ap-oth-naceˊ-ko) “is used of the separation of the soul from the body, i.e. the natural ‘death’ of human beings (e.g., Matthew 9:24; Romans 7:2); by reason of descent from Adam (1 Corinthians 15:22)…all who are descended from Adam not only ‘die’ physically, owing to sin, see above, but are naturally in a state of separation from God, 2 Corinthians 5:14. From this believers are freed both now and eternally, John 6:50; 11:26, through the death of Christ, Romans 5:8” (G599).

In the same way that a person who has experienced a spiritual birth will never experience a natural death, so a person that has experienced a spiritual death will not experience a natural life, but a supernatural type of existence similar to God’s. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). The Greek word that is translated live, zao (dzahˊ-o) means “spiritual life” and refers to “the present state of departed saints” and in particular to “the way of access to God through the Lord Jesus Christ” (G2198). With regard to physical life, zao means “the recovery of physical life from the power of death” and is sometimes translated quick in reference to God’s word. “Quick implies the ability to respond immediately to God’s word and living stresses the ongoing nature of His word; it is just as effective today as tomorrow.” John emphasized that Jesus and God’s word are one and the same. John said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).

When Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25), he was talking about the effect of God’s word on the soul of a man. Unlike physical death, spiritual death is an ongoing process that starts when a person accepts Jesus as his or her Savior and continues until a physical death or the rapture, allassō (al-lasˊ-so) takes place (G236). Paul said:

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“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 15:50-57)

With regard to spiritual death, “Believers have spiritually ‘died’ to the Law as a means of life, Galatians 2:19; Colossians 2:20; to sin, Romans 6:2, and in general to all spiritual association with the world and with that which pertained to their unregenerate state, Colossians 3:3, because of their identification with the ‘death’ of Christ, Romans 6:8” (G599). Paul said, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:19-21).

Paul used the Greek word zao when said that it was no longer he who lived, but Christ who lived in him and that the life Paul lived in the flesh he lived by faith. Our spiritual life and spiritual death are closely connected to our faith in Jesus Christ. One of the things that seems to be particularly important in the establishment and development of our faith is obedience to God’s word. When Jesus performed miracles, he often instructed the person who wanted to get well to do something so that his obedience became a part of the healing process. Jesus instructed the man who was born blind to, “’Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing” (John 9:7). On another occasion, Jesus told a man that had been an invalid for 38 years, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk” (John 5:8). In the same way that faith in action can produce miraculous results, a denial of God’s word or unbelief disconnects us from Jesus, the source of our spiritual life and power (John 8:21).

In order to put a stop to Jesus’ ministry, the Jews “agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be the Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue” (John 9:22). The Greek word that is translated confess, homologeo (hom-ol-og-ehˊ-o) literally means “to speak the same thing,” but the specific connotation in John 9:22 is “to declare openly by way of speaking out freely, such confession being the effect of deep conviction of facts” (G3670). In other words, the Jews didn’t necessarily care if people believed that Jesus was the Christ, they just wanted to stop people from saying that they believed Jesus was the Christ. Their issue was with believers making a public profession of faith. Jesus told his followers, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men. I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). The denial that Jesus was talking about was the contradiction of a previous oath, to disavow oneself of a former commitment. John’s record of Peter’s denial of Christ states, “Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, ‘You also are not one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not” (John 18:25).

A Jewish oath was “a sacred promise attesting to what one has done or will do” and was also used “to pledge loyalty to God” (H7621). Matthew’s gospel indicates that Peter denied Jesus with an oath, stating, “I do not know the man” (Matthew 26:72). According to the Mosaic Law, if a man swore with an oath, to bind himself by a pledge, it was impossible for the man to unbind himself, meaning that he couldn’t be forgiven if he didn’t do what he promised to (Numbers 30:2). After Jesus was resurrected, he discovered that Peter had returned to his former occupation as a fisherman (John 21:7). Peter may have thought that his denial of Christ had disqualified him from the ministry, but Jesus loving restored him and repeated his original command, saying to Peter, “Follow me” (John 21:19). Similar to the Greek word homologeo, which means “to speak the same thing” (G3670), the Greek word that is translated follow, akoloutheo (ak-ol-oo-thehˊo) means “to be in the same way with” (G190). Jesus’ command to Peter to follow me was essentially a command to restore fellowship with him. Jesus wanted Peter to get back to doing what he was supposed to be doing, preaching the gospel (John 21:15).

The Jews unbelief was primary attributed to their spiritual blindness. Jesus said that the ruler of this world, Satan needed to be cast out in order for the Jews fellowship with God to be completely restored (John 12:31-32). John wrote:

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

“He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
    and understand with their heart, and turn,
    and I would heal them.” (John 12:36-40)

John said that the Jews “could not believe” (John 12:39). In other words, it was impossible for the Jews to put their trust in Jesus, but then, he went on to say, “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:42-43). John indicated that the problem was not that the Jews couldn’t believe, but that their leaders had set a bad example for them by refusing to make a public confession of their belief in Jesus because they didn’t want to be put out of the synagogue.

The dilemma for the Jews seemed to be that they were caught in the middle of two ways of thinking about how they could obtain eternal life. The Jews thought “they were God’s ‘spiritual’ children because they were Abraham’s physical children” (note on John 8:41), but Jesus taught them that they needed to experience a spiritual birth (John 3:5) in order to obtain eternal life (John 3:13-15). Jesus said the only way anyone could know for sure that he had received salvation was by the evidence of his works. John 3:19-21 states:

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

James elaborated on Jesus’ statement in his letter to the Jewish believers. James stated:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

The Greek word that James used that is translated dead, nekros (nekˊ-ros) “is used of the death of the body, cf. James 2:26, its most frequent sense, the actual spiritual condition of unsaved men” (G3498). The point James was trying to make was that the evidence of spiritual life is spiritual activity. If there is no spiritual activity going on, then a person cannot truly have been born again.

Jesus continually reminded the Jews that everything he was doing was being done in obedience to his Father. Jesus said, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment – what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me” (John 12:49-50). Jesus explained that his words were an ongoing confession because he was always speaking “the same thing” (G3670) that his Father told him to. As followers of Christ, we do the same thing Jesus did when we say what the Holy Spirit prompts us to. The writer of Hebrews encouraged believers to confess their faith on a regular basis so that the assurance of their salvation would give them confidence to not grow weary or fainthearted in their struggle against sin (Hebrews 10:23; 12:3-4). In that sense, confession of our faith is like an exercise that strengthens our spiritual muscles. The more we do it, the more agility and endurance we develop in our walk with the Lord.

Son of God

The one thing that differentiated Jesus from every other person that had or ever will live on this planet was his biological connection to his heavenly Father. Jesus was considered to be the offspring of God. In other words, he was conceived by genetic input that was transferred to Mary through the Holy Spirit. The angel of the Lord explained it to Joseph, Mary’s future husband this way: “The angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 1:20). The Greek term translated conceived, gennao means “to procreate” (1080). The figurative sense of the word gennao means to regenerate or be reborn, especially in a spiritual or moral sense. It was most likely the unique and unusual conditions of Jesus’ birth that prompted him to tell Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Jesus stunned the Jews when he told them, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). Afterward, the Jews picked up stones to kill Jesus because they couldn’t comprehend how a man could be equal with God (John 10:33). The idea that God could exist in human form was beyond their wildest imagination. Jesus explained to them that he was equal with God because he had the same abilities. Jesus’ supernatural power was evidence of his divine character (John 10:25). The central point of Jesus’ argument was his divine appointment to be the Savior of the world. He stated, “Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” (John 10:36). The point being that Jesus was merely stating the truth and could not lie to them about his true identity.

Jesus’ final plea to the Jews was in a sense a desperate attempt to get them to consider the facts before them. He said, “If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him” (John 10:37-38). Jesus’ declaration that his Father was in him was probably not meant to mean that he carried God’s genetic code inside him, but that the spiritual connection between the two of them surpassed human relationships. Prior to Jesus’ birth, God was able to be with his people, but not in them. The key component that Jesus added to having a relationship with God was the spiritual union that enable God to dwell in rather than with his people. Jesus’ statement that he and his Father were “one” (John 10:30) may have been a reference to the spiritual union between them, which was so intimate that they were considered to be one person.

Paradigm shift

An important change that happened in the way Jesus’ disciples thought about their relationship with God compared to the rest of the Jews was their freedom from religious regulations. After sharing a meal with some of the outcasts of Jewish society, Jesus was asked, “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not?” (Mark 2:18). This question was intended as a criticism of Jesus’ leadership and showed that the freedom his disciples experienced was perceived to be sinful behavior. Taking it a step further, Mark said about Jesus, “And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?” (Mark 2:23-24). These two incidents captured the paradigm shift that began to take place almost immediately after Jesus’ ministry started. Jesus’ response to the criticism he received was his first attempt at explaining a key aspect of Christianity; the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the action by which God takes up permanent residence in the body of a believer in Jesus Christ. Jesus used two common staples of Jewish life to illustrate this concept. He said, “No man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filled it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles” (Mark 2:21-22). The old garment and old bottles could have represented the nation of Israel; and the new cloth and new wine, the gospel message Jesus brought to God’s people. Likewise, the old garment and old bottles could have represented individuals such as the scribes and Pharisees that were unable to receive salvation because they weren’t able to let go of their religious traditions. But, more than likely, Jesus was referring to the sinful human heart as the old garment and old bottles that would tear or burst if God were to try and take up residence there.

The prophet Jeremiah said of the sinful human heart, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). In the discourse in which he stated, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4), the LORD directed his people to “Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed: and make you a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezekiel 18:31). Later, in a prophecy to Israel, God said through the prophet Ezekiel, “A new heart also will I give you: and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Jesus’ presence on earth and constant fellowship with his disciples was only a foretaste of what would be possible after his death. Although it wasn’t until after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven that his followers were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4), all those who believed and were baptized were “born of the Spirit” (John 3:6); meaning they were given a new heart that enabled them to discern spiritual truth.

Living water

Jesus used an everyday experience to teach an important lesson to a woman that no one else would have dared to interact with. She is identified only as “a woman of Samaria” (John 4:7). Samaria became the capital of Israel after the nation was split into two separate kingdoms (Israel in the north and Judah in the south) following the death of king Solomon (1 Kings 16:29). Samaria was later destroyed when Shalmaneser king of Assyria defeated Israel and took its people into captivity (2 Kings 18:9-11). It says in 2 Kings 17:24, “the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof.” The animosity between the Jews and Samaritans was evident in the Samaritan woman’s response to Jesus’ request for a drink of water. She said, “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9).

Jesus’ open discussion with the woman of Samaria showed that he was willing to invite into his kingdom anyone that recognized him as Israel’s Messiah and the savior of the world. Pointing out her ignorance of God’s plan of salvation, Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have have given thee living water” (John 4:10). The Greek words translated living water, zao (dzah´ – o) and hudor hudatos (hoo´ – dor hoo´ – dat – os) literally mean to live (2198) and water (as if rainy) (5204). What Jesus was referring to was the spiritual birth or eternal life that he associated with water baptism. In essence, Jesus saw God’s gift of salvation as an opportunity for everyone to experience a spiritual birth or as he explained it to Nicodemus, to be born again. In the same way that Jesus clarified the difference between a physical and spiritual birth to Nicodemus, he told the woman at the well, “Whosoever drinketh this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13-14).

The concept of eternal or everlasting life was not new to the Israelites, but Jesus’ description of this kind of life as a well of water springing up inside the person was meant to convey eternal life as something that was a continual, ongoing gift from God that never ran out or dissipated. Rather than seeing salvation as a one-time transaction that merely entitled the recipient to entrance into heaven, Jesus wanted the woman of Samaria to understand that the gift that God wanted to give her was something that was available to her immediately and it could be replenished without limit. Jesus also revealed that the key that unlocked this everlasting fountain of life was worshipping God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Jesus’ reference to spiritual activity in the physical realm linked together the gift of eternal life and its source, the Holy Spirit. Although the Holy Spirit was not available to believers until after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus was preparing the way for his arrival and also letting his followers know that there was another person (Holy Spirit) involved in God’s plan of salvation.