The greatest commandment

Jesus’ controversial teaching enraged the religious leaders who wanted the people to see them as the authorities on Jewish religious matters. On one occasion, the chief priests and the elders directly challenged Jesus’ authority and asked him the question, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23). Jesus’ response may have seemed like a clever sidestep, but it showed these men that he was not intimidated by their positions of power (Matthew 21:24-27). When he was later tested on his interpretation of the scriptures, Jesus clearly demonstrated his superior exegesis of God’s word. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
    until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:34-46)

Jesus’ summation of the entire written word of God into two simple commandments likely astounded his audience, but it was his understanding of the Messiah’s identity that silenced the crowd that was trying to publicly discredit him. In other words, Jesus blew them away with his incredible insight into God’s word, so much so, that the Pharisees realized they were no match for Jesus’ keen intellect.

Jesus referred to Deuteronomy 6:5 as the great and first commandment. What Jesus meant by that was that this verse of scripture takes precedence over everything else. The Greek word that is translated great, megas (megˊ-as) means “big” and is sometimes translated as higher, larger, older, profound, severe, strong, too much (G3173). The Greek word that is translated first, protos (proˊ-tos) means “foremost (in time, place, order or importance)” (G4413). Today we might refer to this verse as a heavy hitter and might think of it in terms of getting the most bang for your buck when you’re trying to understand the Bible and want to live according to its principles. Jesus said that we are supposed to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind (Matthew 22:37). I think the point that Jesus was trying to make was not that we are to love God with our heart, our soul, and our mind, but that we are to love the Lord with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. The Greek word that is translated all, holos (holˊ-os) means “whole” or “’all,’i.e. complete (in extent, amount, time or degree)” (G3650). In that sense, you could say that we are expected to love the Lord with every bit of our heart, with every bit of our soul, and with every bit of our mind.

The heart, the soul, and the mind are likely similar to the three parts of the Godhead: God, the Father; God, the Son; and God the Holy Spirit; in that we have a triune nature like God that is meant to function in an integrated fashion. We can’t love God with just our heart because we wouldn’t be able to understand who God is and have a relationship with him, nor can we love Him with just our mind because we wouldn’t feel close to Him or have a desire to be in His presence. The soul is what makes it possible for us to identify with God as an eternal being that is connected to everything around us. The issue for us is being able to focus our minds completely on God or being able to give our hearts to him without any reservations. Jesus said that we must love God with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds (Matthew 22:37). The only way that we can do that is by becoming one with God. In his high priestly prayer, Jesus prayed to God the Father, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:120-21).

The unity that Jesus has with his Father is clearly expressed in Deuteronomy 6:4 where it says, “Here, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” The Hebrew word that is translated one, ʾechad (ekh-awdˊ) means “united” (H259) and is derived from the word ʾachad (aw-khadˊ) which means “to unify, i.e. (figurative) collect (one’s thoughts)” (H258). ʾAchad is translated “go one way or other” in Ezekiel 21:16. From that standpoint, you might say that God is the unifier of all things and that His word is a unified thought that makes us go one way or the other. The fact that all believers read the same Bible and seek to live according to the same principles is what makes us look, act, and talk like each other and how we essentially become one with Jesus and the Father. Jesus,’ through the example of his relationship with his Father, took it one step further by stating that we should “become perfectly one” (John 17:23). I believe what Jesus meant by become perfectly one was that we would not just understand God’s word, but that we all would understand what it means in the context of our own lives. In other words, for each and every person to understand and seek to attain God’s perfect will for their lives. Paul talked about this in his letter to the Philippians. Paul wrote:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. (Philippians 3:12-4:1)

Paul indicated that there was a three-fold effort involved in becoming perfectly one. First of all, our thinking must be aligned with God’s word. Paul said, “If in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you” (Philippians 3:15). Paul is talking here about our minds being submitted to God and under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word phroneo (fron-ehˊ-o) means “to exercise the mind, i.e. entertain or have a sentiment or opinion; by implication to be (mentally) disposed (more or less earnestly in a certain direction); intensive to interest oneself in (with concern or obedience)” (G5426). Secondly, Paul instructed believers to imitate him and to “keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Philippians 3:17). The King James Version of the Bible uses the phrase followers together to describe the process of imitating other believers. The Greek word that is translated example, tupos (tooˊ-pos) refers to a prototype and is “spoken figuratively of a person as bearing the form and figure of another, a type, as having a certain resemblance in relations and circumstances (Romans 5:14)” (G5179). The point that Paul was trying to make was that we shouldn’t just mimic the behaviors of other Christians, but we need to pay attention to what mature believers are doing and follow their examples. Keeping our eyes on someone means that we watch them closely and therefore, regard them in our heart. It is important that we don’t regard the wrong people, such as the ones that Paul identified as “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18). Finally, Paul indicated that Jesus will transform our bodies to be like his glorious body and said that he will do this by “the power that enables him to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:21). The involuntary transformation of our bodies suggests that the physical change that is necessary for us to become perfectly one with other believers is not something that we are able or would want to do on our own. Obviously, no one would want to follow Christ if it involved crucifixion, but according to Paul, the believers’ old man was crucified with Christ and we will all one day be united with him in a resurrection similar to his. Paul said, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:5-6).

Moses’ recitation of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5:7-21 was followed by the statement, “You shall be careful therefore to do as the LORD your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess” (Deuteronomy 5:32-33). The Hebrew word that is translated careful in Deuteronomy 5:32, shamar (shaw-marˊ) appears 16 times in Deuteronomy 4-6 where Moses talks about obedience to God’s commandments. In Deuteronomy 4:9, Moses elaborated on his instruction to be careful and stated, “Only take care and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life.” The idea that we can forget the things that our eyes have seen and that they can depart from our heart has to do with us becoming oblivious to or intentionally turning off our spiritual discernment.

The book of Proverbs, which was primarily written by King Solomon who is thought by some Bible scholars to be the wisest man that ever lived, contains numerous analogies between spiritual and material things (Proverbs, Introduction, p. 714). It says in Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Solomon indicated that fools have no regard for wisdom or instruction. “The fool’s only authority is himself.” He “twists God’s ways into his own” and “is insensitive to godly prodding” (H191). On the contrary, Solomon said, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7). The kind of fear that Solomon was referring to was the fear that is “produced by God’s word and makes a person receptive to knowledge and wisdom” (H3374). God employed wisdom as his master craftsman to create all things and thus, it is inherent in the created order (H2451). Knowledge has to do with knowing how to please God. These two qualities are the theme of the book of Proverbs as a whole. “The acquisition and application of wisdom are paramount concerns throughout the book” (note on Proverbs 1:1-7).

Solomon took great care to illustrate for us the results of becoming oblivious to or intentionally turning off our spiritual discernment. Solomon began with the enticement of sinners. He said:

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
    and forsake not your mother’s teaching,
for they are a graceful garland for your head
    and pendants for your neck.
My son, if sinners entice you,
    do not consent.
If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
    let us ambush the innocent without reason;
like Sheol let us swallow them alive,
    and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
we shall find all precious goods,
    we shall fill our houses with plunder;
throw in your lot among us;
    we will all have one purse”—
my son, do not walk in the way with them;
    hold back your foot from their paths,
for their feet run to evil,
    and they make haste to shed blood.
For in vain is a net spread
    in the sight of any bird,
but these men lie in wait for their own blood;
    they set an ambush for their own lives.
Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain;
    it takes away the life of its possessors. (Proverbs 1:8-19)

Solomon emphasized the foolishness of committing a crime by stating, “in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird” (Proverbs 1:17) and then, drove home his point about the punishment that sinners will ultimately receive in his statement, “but these men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives” (Proverbs 1:18). The Hebrew word that is translated lives is nephesh (nehˊ-fesh). The best Biblical definition of this word is found in Psalm 103:1 where nephesh is defined as “all that is within” a person. Nephesh is usually translated as “soul” which “makes sense in most passages. The Hebrew system of thought does not include the opposition of the terms ‘body’ and ‘soul,’ which are really Greek and Latin in origin. The Hebrew compares/contrasts ‘the inner self’ and ‘the outer appearance’ or, as viewed in a different context, ‘what one is to oneself’ as opposed to ‘what one appears to be to one’s observers.’ The goal of Scripture is to make the inner and the outer consistent” (H5315).

The reason that Moses gave for the Israelites being careful to do as the LORD had commanded them was “that you may live, and that is may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess” (Deuteronomy 5:33). In this instance, to live meant more than physical existence, it meant to revive the spirit or to revive the heart (H2421). The Hebrew word that is translated well in Deuteronomy 5:33, towb (tobe) means “to be happy, to please, to be loved…the word naturally expresses the idea of being loved or enjoying the favour of someone” (H2895). Moses repeated the statement that it may go well with you for emphasis and linked it with the blessing that was promised to Abraham in order to drive home his point that God’s covenant with the nation of Israel was conditional and was dependent upon their obedience to his commandments (Major Covenants of the Old Testament, KJSB, p. 16). Moses said:

“Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Deuteronomy 6:3)

Afterward, Moses summarized the law by stating the greatest commandment:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

And then, Moses concluded his summarization with some personal advice:

“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:6).

The King James Version of the Bible indicates that the words that Moses spoke should be “in” the Israelites’ hearts rather than on their hearts. The difference between something being on our heart and something being in our heart may have to do with the memorization of scripture as opposed to the external viewing of it on a scroll or in a book. Moses’ warning to not forget it or let it depart from your heart (Deuteronomy 4:9) would make more sense in that context.

One of the words that Solomon used to describe the person that ignores God’s word was simple. He asked, “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?” (Proverbs 1:22). The Hebrew word that is translated simple, pᵉtha˒iy (peth-aw-eeˊ) is derived from the word pathah (paw-thawˊ) which means “to open, i.e. be (causatively make) roomy” (H6601). In that sense, someone that is simple might be thought of as being empty headed or lacking in education. Solomon may have been thinking about a person that had never studied the scriptures or committed a single verse to memory. Solomon reproved the simple ones, encouraging them to repent before it was too late and said of wisdom:

“Because I have called and you refused to listen,
    have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
because you have ignored all my counsel
    and would have none of my reproof,
I also will laugh at your calamity;
    I will mock when terror strikes you,
when terror strikes you like a storm
    and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
    when distress and anguish come upon you.
Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
    they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
    and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
would have none of my counsel
    and despised all my reproof,
therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
    and have their fill of their own devices.
For the simple are killed by their turning away,
    and the complacency of fools destroys them;
but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
    and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” (Proverbs 1:24-33)

Solomon stated that “the simple are killed by their turning away” (Proverbs 1:32). The Hebrew word that is translated turning away, mᵉshubah (mesh-oo-bawˊ) means apostasy and is usually translated backsliding (H4878). What Solomon likely meant by the simple are killed by their turning away was that since the simple have turned their backs on God and have no protection from him, they will become victims of the violence that is going on in the world around them and will die as a result of it.

Believing

Jesus told his disciples on several different occasions that he would be killed and three days later rise again (Matthew 16:21; 17:23; 20:19), and yet, after he was crucified, it appears that no one expected to ever see Jesus again. John’s gospel tells us, “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:1-2). We aren’t told who the “they” was that Mary thought had taken the Lord’s body away, but it’s possible that she thought Jesus’ declaration that “they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day” (Matthew 17:23, emphasis mine) meant that whoever killed Jesus would also after three days take his body away. Mary’s mental perception of the situation made her believe something that was incorrect, that someone had moved Jesus’ body. John went on to say:

So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. (John 20:3-9)

John tells us that he saw and believed. The Greek word that is translated saw in John 20:8 is different from the word that is translated saw in John 20:1 and also John 20:6. Mary perceived that the stone had been taken away from the tomb, but she didn’t know how it had happened. When he “saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself” (John 20:6-7), Peter made a careful observation of the details and considered all the facts before coming to a conclusion. John, on the other hand, saw that Jesus’ body was no longer bound by the linen cloths and that the cloth that had been coving his face had been placed in a different location and even though he didn’t understand the Scripture; John believed that Jesus had risen from the dead (John 20:9).

The Greek word that is translated believed in John 20:8. pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) means “to have faith” (G4100). Hebrews 11:1 states, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” John’s assessment of the situation when he entered the empty tomb wasn’t necessarily based on what he saw, but what he didn’t see. Jesus’ body was definitely gone. Whereas, Mary concluded that because his body was gone, someone must have taken Jesus away, John believed that Jesus was alive again. “Pisteuo means not just to believe, but also to be persuaded of; and hence, to place confidence in, to trust, and signifies, in this sense of the word, reliance upon, not mere credence, hence it is translated ‘commit unto’, ‘commit to one’s trust’, ‘be committed unto’, etc” (G4100). Pisteuo is derived from the word pistis (pisˊ-tis) which means “persuasion, i.e. credence; moral conviction (of religious truth, or the truthfulness of God or a religious teacher), especially reliance upon Christ for salvation…Pistis is conviction of the truth of anything, belief; of a conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervor born of faith and joined in it. It is related to God with the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ; to Christ with a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God” (G4102). Thus, it could be said that John not only saw and believed (John 20:8), but John saw and was saved.

The difference between what happened to the others and what happened to John when he entered the tomb and saw that Jesus’ body was gone had to do with the way each person perceived the situation. John’s knowledge of what happened was affected by his close relationship with Jesus. John referred to himself as, “the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved” (John 20:2), indicating that there was affection and a personal attachment between Jesus and John. Peter’s denial of Jesus may have caused him to be detached or skeptical that Jesus still loved him. It’s possible that John wanted to see Jesus again, so much that he was willing to accept even the slightest evidence that he had indeed risen from the dead. What seemed to be obvious to John that was not to Mary or Peter was that the linen cloths had been left behind. If someone had moved Jesus’ body, it wouldn’t make sense for whoever did it to unwrap the dead body before taking it away. Likewise, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, “The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with the linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth” (John 11:44). The fact that the linen cloths that had encased Jesus’ body were lying inside the tomb and the body wasn’t there made it seem as if Jesus’ body had disappeared into thin air.

Unbelievable things can and do happen. Whether you think of it as a miracle or just something that has never happened before, the fact that something appears to be impossible doesn’t mean that it couldn’t happen. In a similar sense, something that has actually happened may not be believed because it seems impossible. The many miracles that Jesus performed were intended to build his disciples confidence in his ability to do things that had either never happened before or were considered to be impossible from a human standpoint. When God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, he did it through many signs and wonders (Exodus 7:3). Moses’ first encounter with God involved a great sight, a bush that was burning, but was not consumed (Exodus 3:2). When the LORD saw that Moses turned aside to see, “God called to him out of the bush” (Exodus 3:4). During the conversation that followed, God told Moses that he was going to give him powerful signs so that the people would believe that he had appeared to him. Exodus 4:1-9 states:

Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. But the Lord said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand— “that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” Again, the Lord said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.”

In spite of the many signs and wonders that God did, the Israelites didn’t believe that they could overcome the people that were dwelling in the land that God had promised to give them. The whole congregation grumbled against Moses and asked, “Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” (Numbers 14:3). After wandering in the wilderness for forty years, Moses encouraged the Israelites to believe they were finally ready to conquer the inhabitants of the land. Moses used the defeat of King Og as an example of their assured victory. Moses said:

“Then we turned and went up the way to Bashan. And Og the king of Bashan came out against us, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei. But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not fear him, for I have given him and all his people and his land into your hand. And you shall do to him as you did to Sihon the king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.’So the Lord our God gave into our hand Og also, the king of Bashan, and all his people, and we struck him down until he had no survivor left. And we took all his cities at that time—there was not a city that we did not take from them—sixty cities, the whole region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan. All these were cities fortified with high walls, gates, and bars, besides very many unwalled villages. And we devoted them to destruction, as we did to Sihon the king of Heshbon, devoting to destruction every city, men, women, and children. But all the livestock and the spoil of the cities we took as our plunder. So we took the land at that time out of the hand of the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, from the Valley of the Arnon to Mount Hermon (the Sidonians call Hermon Sirion, while the Amorites call it Senir), all the cities of the tableland and all Gilead and all Bashan, as far as Salecah and Edrei, cities of the kingdom of Og in Bashan. (For only Og the king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. Behold, his bed was a bed of iron. Is it not in Rabbah of the Ammonites? Nine cubits was its length, and four cubits its breadth, according to the common cubit) (Deuteronomy 3:1-11)

Moses’ comment about all the cities that were destroyed being fortified with high walls, gates, and bars and the huge size of Og the king of Bashan was directly related to the report that was given when the land was spied out 40 years earlier (Numbers 13:26-33). Moses concluded his account with a reminder that he was being punished for the Israelites unbelief. Moses had pleaded with the LORD, saying, “Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon” (Deuteronomy 3:25)  But, Moses said, the LORD was angry with him because of the people’s lack of faith and would not listen to him (Deuteronomy 3:26).

The Hebrew word that is translated angry in Deuteronomy 3:26, ʿabar (aw-barˊ) means “to cross over” and is used very widely of any transition. The word ʿabar also “communicates the idea of transgression, or crossing over the boundary of right and entering the forbidden land of the wrong” (H5674). One way of looking at the LORD’s anger was that it was an indicator that Moses had gone too far. Moses was no longer capable of completing his assignment of leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land. Rather than blaming his failure on the Israelites, it might be fair to say that Moses himself lacked faith when it came time for him to put his trust in Christ. The incident that caused Moses to be excluded from the Promised Land involved the glory of the LORD appearing to Moses and Aaron (Numbers 20:6) and an instruction from the LORD to “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water” (Numbers 20:8). According to 1 Corinthians 10:4, the Rock was Christ. The verse states regarding the Israelites, “All drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” After the incident, the LORD told Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12).

The connection between crossing over and believing in the Lord may be a matter of transitioning from the physical to the spiritual realm. Mary, who saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb (John 20:1) and came to the conclusion that “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:2) later came to the realization that the man she thought was the gardener was actually Jesus (John 20:16). The shift in Mary’s perception seemed to take place as a result of her hearing the Lord speak her name. John 20:11-18 states:

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

Mary saw Jesus standing before her, but she didn’t know that it was him at first. The Greek word that is translated saw in John 20:14 is the same word that John used to describe Peter’s investigation of the empty tomb (John 20:6-7). When Mary said, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18), a different word was used. The Greek word horao (hor-ahˊ-o) does not emphasize the mere act of seeing, but the actual perception of some object…Particularly, to see God, meaning to know Him, be acquainted with Him, know His character…In a wider sense: to see God, i.e. to be admitted to his presence, to enjoy his fellowship and special favor” (G3708). Jesus emphasized in his conversation with the woman of Samaria that “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Mary’s declaration, “I have seen the Lord (John 20:18) was an act of worship and evidence that she had transitioned from relying on her physical perception to the use of spiritual discernment.

The Apostle Thomas’ refusal to believe unless he saw the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands and placed his hand into his side (John 20:25) makes it clear to us that we can choose to believe or not believe if we want to. Jesus came to Thomas and said, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27). The Greek word that is translated disbelieve, apistos (apˊis-tos) is spoken of things “incredible, unbelievable” and is also spoken of persons who withhold belief or are “incredulous, distrustful” (G571). In Thomas’ case it meant that he had not yet been saved. Thomas’ response indicates that he did put his trust in the Lord (John 20:28). Jesus asked Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen (horao) me?” (John 20:29). I think what Jesus meant by that question was that faith is not a result of physical evidence and so Thomas didn’t need to put his finger in Jesus’ hands or place his hand into the hole in Jesus’ side in order to put his trust in him. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

John stated that the purpose of his gospel was “so that you may believe” (John 20:31). John said, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). John identified the essential truth that you need to believe in order to receive salvation, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The reason why John zeroed in on this one critical point was because if you don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God, nothing else matters. The Apostle Paul explains this further in Romans chapter eight where he says that salvation is dependent upon us being a member of God’s family and receiving our inheritance through Christ. Paul said, “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit…The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs—of God and fellow heirs with Christ…And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:3-29).

Confidence

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians didn’t follow his typical pattern, but was filled with a significant amount of information about his call into the ministry and what he felt was his responsibility as a servant of Christ. Paul specifically mentioned his ministry of reconciliation and said, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:16-19). At the heart of Paul’s message of reconciliation was the idea that it is possible for us to be restored to divine favor. The Greek word katallage (kat-al-lag-ay’) “denotes an adjustment of a difference, reconciliation, restoration to favor, especially the restoration of the favour of God to sinners that repent and put their trust in the expiatory/propitiatory death of Christ. Man changes and is reconciled. God does not change. It is translated atonement in Romans 5:11, signifying that sinners are made ‘at one’ with God” (G2643).

Paul indicated that he no longer regarded anyone according to the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16). What Paul meant by that was that his opinion of people wasn’t based on their outward appearance (G1492). The flesh is often thought of as the physical part of man, but the Greek term sarx (sarx) deals with human nature and is thought of as “the weaker element in human nature…the unregenerate state of men” (G4561). In his defense of his ministry, Paul stated, “I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh For the weapons of are warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:2-4). The accusation that Paul and his companions were walking in the flesh was based on their change of plans to come to Corinth after visiting Macedonia (2 Corinthians 1:15-18). The Corinthians thought that Paul was vacillating because he was still angry at them and hadn’t forgiven the sinner that was in their midst (2 Corinthians 2:1-11). Paul explained to them that he was being led to go to Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:12-13) and his confidence came from his reliance upon Christ. Paul stated:

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6)

The Greek word that is translated confidence, pepoithesis (pep-oy’-thay-sis) is derived from the word pascho (pas’-kho) which means to suffer and signifies the sufferings of Christ. In certain tenses, pascho means “to experience a sensation or impression (usually painful)” (G3958). Paul’s reference to God making them sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant that was “not of the letter, but of the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:6) was most likely meant to point out that Paul and his companions were being directed by the Holy Spirit to go to certain locations at certain times so that their gospel message could be distributed in an efficient manner. As much as Paul would have liked to go to Corinth as he had planned, he knew that his ministry was dependent on God’s leading for its success (2 Corinthians 4:1-6).

When he arrived in Corinth, Paul said that he did not want to “show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 10:2). Paul may have thought it would be necessary for him to show the Corinthians his credentials so to speak. Paul tried to convince the Philippians that it was useless for him to boast of his accomplishments in the flesh. Paul told them:

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:2-8)

Paul said that he counted as loss everything that he had done in his flesh because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ as his Savior (Philippians 3:7-8, emphasis mine). The value Paul placed on his salvation was related to the cost that was associated with Jesus’ sacrifice of his life. Paul described it as the surpassing worth or in the Greek huperecho (hoop-er-ekh’-o) which literally means to over achieve (G2192/G5228). Paul’s claim that he was blameless under the law (Philippians 3:6) meant that he had followed the Mosaic Law perfectly. And yet, Paul said about Christ, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11).

Paul indicated that he was not walking according to the flesh, but was walking in the flesh (2 Corinthians 10:2-3, emphasis mine) and said, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). The warfare that Paul was referring to in this passage was his “apostolic career (as one of hardship and danger)” (G4752). It seems likely that the divine power that Paul was talking about had to do with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but in order for him to destroy strongholds, Paul had to engage his audiences in what we might think of today as difficult conversations. The Greek word that is translated strongholds, ochuroma (okh-oo’-ra-mah) is used metaphorically in this verse to refer to “those things in which mere human confidence is imposed” (G3794). That could be anything from a savings account to perfect attendance at church. Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that their mindsets were skewed in their favor and could not be relied upon for spiritual security. Paul said, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:5-6). The Greek word that is translated arguments, logismos (log-is-mos’) “suggests the contemplation of actions as a result of the verdict of the conscience” (G3053). Logismos is derived from the word logizomai (log-id’-zom-ahee) which has to do with the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner’s account. “Imputation has three steps: the collecting of all charges and remissions; the totaling of these debits and credits; the placing of the balance or credit on one’s account” (G3049).

Abraham was the first person to have Christ’s righteousness imputed to him. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Paul’s defense of his ministry was built on this principle and Paul emphasized that he had to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Paul was most likely concerned about the contradiction and/or dilution of spiritual truth. God’s word is often contrary to the things that we hear from our government officials and the media. The implication of taking our thoughts captive is that we are able to control the mindsets that govern our behavior and can reject the negative thought patterns that keep us from doing God’s will. Obedience to Christ involves a submission to God’s will by allowing our lives to be under his control (G5218). The Greek word that is translated disobedience in 2 Corinthians 10:6, parakoe (par-ak-o-ay’) has to do with “the mind and will both wavering” (G3876). “Primarily, parakoe, means ‘hearing amiss’ (para, ‘aside,’ akouo, ‘to hear’), hence signifies ‘a refusal to hear.'” Paul’s comment, “when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:6) was most likely meant as a figurative reference to the the process of sanctification. The Greek word pleroo (play-ro’-o) means “to fill one’s heart, to take possession of it” (G4137).

The priests in the Old Testament were consecrated to God so that they could do the work that was assigned to them without any wavering. During the ordination of Aaron and his sons, a ram was killed “and Moses took some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. Then he presented Aaron’s sons, and Moses put some of the blood on the lobes of their right ears and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the big toes of their right feet” (Leviticus 8:23-24). The blood symbolized consecration and by placing it on the ears of Aaron and his sons Moses was designating that the priests were consecrated in order to “hearken to the word and commandments of God” (Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament). Leviticus 10:1-2 shows us that consecration didn’t guarantee obedience to God. It states:

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came down from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.

The unauthorized fire that Nadab and Abihu offered was something that was outside the law of God (H2114). Therefore, it was something that was done according to their flesh, meaning that they weren’t listening or paying attention to what God told them to do. Moses explained to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ And Aaron held his peace” (Leviticus 10:3). Being near to God involves entrance into his presence as well as being actively and personally involved with him (H7126). In order to be sanctified, God has to be separated from anyone or anything that is not dedicated to him. Nadab and Abihu’s disobedience demonstrated their lack spiritual discernment and made it clear that they had not submitted themselves to God’s will as a result of being ordinated into the priesthood.

Jesus made the same comment several times in order to emphasize the importance of listening to what he had to say. After he told the parable of the sower, Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9). Jesus probably wasn’t talking about having physical ears because that would have meant he was directing his comment to pretty much everyone in the crowd. It seems likely that there was a spiritual component to Jesus’ instruction. The prophet Isaiah’s commission from the Lord included some distinction about the spiritual aspect of hearing God’s voice. He said:

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull,
    and their ears heavy,
    and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
    and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
    and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:8-10)

Isaiah’s message pointed out that hearing is connected to understanding and seeing is connected to perception in the spiritual realm. The Lord suggested that making the people’s ears heavy would prevent them from being able to hear him. The Hebrew word that is translated heavy, kabed (kaw-bade’) is related to being weighed down by something and seems to be associated with the burden of sin (H5313). Another form of the word kabed “bears the connotation of heaviness as an enduring, ever-present quality, a lasting thing. Used in a negative but extended sense, the word depicts sin as a yoke ever pressing down upon one” (H3515).

Paul instructed the Corinthians to, “Look at what is before your eyes. If anyone is confident that he is Christ’s, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ’s so also are we. For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed” (2 Corinthians 10:7-8). Paul acknowledged the fact that the Corinthians had a right to be confident as a result of their relationship to Christ, but he also cautioned them to not go too far with it because of the authority that had been given him to oversee their church. The Greek word that is translated authority, exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) comes from the meaning of “‘leave or permission,’ or liberty of doing as one pleases…the right to exercise power” (G1849). Paul indicated that his authority was given to him so that he could build up the church (2 Corinthians 10:8) and that his area of influence entitled him to certain privileges because God had assigned it to him (2 Corinthians 10:13). What Paul seemed to be getting at was that his confidence was not a threat to the Corinthians because he was being directed by God to help them grow in their faith. The important thing that Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand was that a person’s subjective mental estimate or opinion about something may be right or wrong since it always involves the possibility of error, but God is not subject to error. Therefore, Paul concluded, “it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom God commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18).

God’s supernatural ability

It’s not unusual for everything that God does to be considered a miracle because he is a supernatural being. On the other hand, humans have a limited amount of strength and ability that they can rely on and therefore do not typically do extraordinary things on a regular basis. The 40 years that the Israelites spent in the desert after they were delivered from slavery in Egypt demonstrated that it is possible for people to live miraculous lives by relying on God’s power to accomplish things that they cannot do themselves. Most of the miracles that happened in the desert were a result of God working through Moses to perform supernaturally feats (Exodus 15:25; 17:6, 11), but the construction of the tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant was kept was a collective effort that showed God’s supernatural ability could be distributed among the people in such a way that everyone could play a part in getting the job done. Moses started by asking everyone to “take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD’s contribution: gold, silver, and bronze; blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twisted linen; goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, and goatskins; acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, and onyx stones and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece” (Exodus 35 5-9). Basically, everything that was needed to construct the tabernacle and its contents had to come from the Israelite’s personal belongings. Moses asked everyone who had a generous heart to give up their possessions so that their material wealth could be used to benefit the LORD’s work.

A generous heart is not something that comes naturally to human beings. For the most part, the Israelites were selfish with their possession just like most people are today, but Exodus 35:20-29 tells us:

Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the Lord. And every one who possessed blue or purple or scarlet yarns or fine linen or goats’ hair or tanned rams’ skins or goatskins brought them. Everyone who could make a contribution of silver or bronze brought it as the Lord’s contribution. And every one who possessed acacia wood of any use in the work brought it. And every skillful woman spun with her hands, and they all brought what they had spun in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair. And the leaders brought onyx stones and stones to be set, for the ephod and for the breastpiece, and spices and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense. All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord.

The freewill offering to the Lord was characterized by spontaneity. “This term can denote that state of being which allows a person to offer a gift or a favour to someone else without any thought of return or payback. The favour is not given out of any obligation owed by the giver; rather, it is the result of an overflow from an abundance within the heart” (H5071).

In addition to the materials that were needed for the tabernacle to be constructed, there was a need for laborers as well. Moses asked the people to give up their time and talent too. He said, “Let every skillful craftsman among you come and make all that the LORD has commanded” (Exodus 35:10). Exodus 36:2-7 states:

And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whose mind the LORD had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work. And they received from Moses all the contribution that the people of Israel had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, so that all the craftsmen who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task that he was doing, and said to Moses, “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.” So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp, “Let no man or woman do anything more for the contribution for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more.

Moses indicated that the Lord had put skill into the minds of every craftsman, “everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work” (Exodus 36:2). The Hebrew word that is translated stirred up, nacah (naw-saw’) “is used of the undertaking of the responsibilities for sins of others by substitution or representation” (H5375). This seems to suggest that the people whose hearts were being stirred up were believers that wanted to participate in the process of salvation that God was enacting.

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians was focused on his ministry of spreading the gospel which God had entrusted to him by way of supernatural revelation (Ephesians 3:3). Paul said, “Therefore having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose hart. But we have renounced disgraceful underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:1-4). Paul emphasized the fact that God’s word was able to affect the minds of believers because it was the truth. The Biblical definition of truth is something that is real, it conforms to the nature and reality of things, therefore it is credible and not to be rejected (G227). An open statement is an expression of truth that makes something visible or observable to you that might otherwise go unnoticed (G5321). Paul’s mission of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles was necessary because it was a mystery that they were “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:6). Paul said that he had “commended himself to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2), meaning that he was leaving it up to God to convict and convince the people that he was preaching to that his gospel message was indeed the truth.

The conscience enables people to see things from God’s perspective. It is a “faculty of the soul which distinguishes between right and wrong and prompts one to choose the former and avoid the latter” (G4893). Paul said that his gospel message was veiled to those who were perishing because “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Paul referred to Satan as the god of this world because everyone that has not accepted Jesus as their Savior is under his dominion. Paul told the Ephesians that “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3). Paul encouraged the Ephesian believers to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might…that you might be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 5:10-11) and identified the word of God as a sword that can be used offensively to defeat Satan’s army (Ephesians 5:17). The Greek word that is translated strong, endunamoo (en-doo-nam-o’) means “to empower” and is used metaphorically of the mind being strengthened by God (G1743). Endunamoo is derived from the Greek words en and dunamoo. Dunamoo comes from the Greek word dunamis (doo’-nam-is) which refers specifically to God’s ability to do miracles (G1411).

God’s supernatural ability is transferred to believers, at least in part, through our minds and in particular through our understanding of his word. Paul told the believers in Corinth that he had not tampered with God’s word (2 Corinthians 4:2), meaning that he hadn’t mingled the truths of God’s word with false doctrines (G1389). Paul had kept his opinions to himself and only conveyed to the Corinthians what God’s Spirit had prompted him to. Paul said, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:5-6). Paul used the metaphor of light shining out of darkness to show that God’s word is not constrained by the limitations of our human comprehension. Paul went on to say, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us’ (2 Corinthians 4:7). The surpassing power that Paul was referring to was dunamis. “Dunamis almost always points to new and higher forces that have entered and are working in this lower world of ours. It is ‘power, ability,’ physical or moral, as residing in a person or thing” (G1411). Paul thought of his gospel message as a treasure that had been placed in jars of clay in order to show that its effectiveness was linked to God’s supernatural ability rather than Paul’s preaching.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked a lot about the foolishness of preaching the gospel. He said, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Paul used the word dunamis to describe the power that God uses to save people. The word of the cross is basically the gospel message which states that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. Paul indicated that this message was considered to be folly or an absurdity (G3472) to those that were destined for destruction (G622). Paul explained that “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16). Spiritual discernment is the ability to understand that which is non-physical by nature (G4153). Paul went on to say, “But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Paul’s statement corresponds to Jesus’ teaching about the vine and the branches. Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine dresser. 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” (John 15:1-2). Then Jesus stated:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:12-17)

Jesus bracketed his teaching about the power that is available to believers through God’s word with a commandment to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). This seems to suggest that we are expected to refrain from using God’s word as a tool to hurt others, but rather as an instrument of encouragement and support. Paul eluded to this in his explanation of why he was suffering even though he was doing God’s will. Paul said:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:8-12)

Paul hinted at that fact that God’s supernatural ability was at work in his life when he said that even though he was afflicted in every way, he was not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). The contrasting language that Paul used made it clear that his ability to preach the gospel had not been diminished by the trouble he had gone through. Paul wanted the Corinthians to know that he was still strong in his faith and was determined to accomplish the mission that was entrusted to him. Paul’s statement that death was at work in him (2 Corinthians 4:12) was meant to convey the idea that there was a cost associated with undertaking the responsibilities for the sins of others. Paul encouraged the Corinthians by stating:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

The outer self and the inner self that Paul was referring to were the physical and spiritual aspects of mankind. The Greek word that is translated self, anthropos (anth’-ro-pos) is generally used to designate a human being without reference to sex or nationality and in distinction from God and animals. In this phrase, “the inner man means the regenerate person’s spiritual nature personified, the inner self of the believer…as the sphere of the renewing power of the Holy Spirit” (G444). Paul’s prayer for spiritual strength included a petition for power through the Holy Spirit. He said:

For this reason I bow my knees 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, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Being filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19) has to do with the process of sanctification which leads to our oneness with Christ (Ephesians 4:13). Paul indicated that this process is driven by the power of the Holy Spirit who strengthens us in our inner being (Ephesians 3:16). Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Helper and said, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:25-26). Thus, the role of the Holy Spirit is to help us remember God’s word and to teach us spiritual lessons.

Paul’s prayer concluded with an acknowledgement of God’s supernatural ability. Paul stated, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21). Paul used the superlative “far more abundantly” to express the infinite degree to which God is able to do what we ask of him. The point Paul was trying to make was that we can’t deplete God’s resources. His supernatural ability is beyond what humans can even think or imagine him doing. Paul made it clear that believers can access God’s supernatural ability through the power of the Holy Spirit who is at work within us. What Paul likely meant by the statement “according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20) was that dunamis, miraculous power and/or ability, is not available to believers on an as needed basis, but it can be stored up or put to use at any time. An example of this is the parable of the talents which Jesus told his disciples not long before he was crucified. In this parable, the servant that received five talents was commended for using them to gain five more talents by putting them to work (Matthew 25:21). The servant that received one talent was rebuked because he didn’t even bother to invest his talent so that his master could gain something from the resources that had been entrusted to him (Matthew 25:26-27). Afterward, the talent was taken away from him and given to the servant that had ten talents (Matthew 25:28). Jesus concluded his parable by stating, “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matthew 25:29)

A stranger

Jesus’ resurrected body had different capabilities than the one he had before he died. While she was at his tomb looking for his missing body, Jesus appeared to Mary, but she didn’t recognize him (John 20:15). It wasn’t until he spoke her name that Mary was able to comprehend that the man speaking to her was actually Jesus (John 20:16). Afterward, Jesus instructed Mary “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father” (John 20:17). Later that day, Luke’s gospel tells us that Jesus appeared to two travelers that were on their way to a village called Emmaus (Luke 24:13). Somewhere along their 7.5 mile journey, Jesus joined Cleopas and his companion. Luke stated, “But their eyes were holden that they should not know him” (Luke 24:16). The Greek word translated holden, krateo is derived from the word kratos. “Kratos, ‘force, strength, might,’ more especially ‘manifested power,’ is derived from a root which means ‘to perfect, to complete’; ‘creator’ is probably connected. It signifies ‘dominion,’ and is so rendered frequently in doxologies” (G2904).

Apparently, one of the capabilities Jesus had after he was resurrected was to keep his identity a secret. After Jesus began talking to Cleopas and his companion, Luke recorded, “And the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?” (Luke 24:18). Cleopas’ identification of him as stranger meant Jesus no longer resembled the man he once was. Cleopas who was a follower of Christ (Luke 24:13) should have been able to recognize Jesus if he looked the same. It’s likely that Jesus’ clothes and mannerisms were unlike the people around him, but even though Jesus’ appearance had changed, he still looked human. Mary mistook him for the gardener (John 20:15) and Cleopas and his companion merely thought Jesus was from a foreign country (G3939).

The irony of Jesus’ mistaken identity was that Cleopas and his companion began telling him what had happened concerning “Jesus of Nazarath”, how he had been condemned to death and crucified (Luke 24:19-20). They even told Jesus about Mary’s discovery that his tomb was empty and her testimony to the apostles that he was alive. In his account of this incident, Luke went on to say that Jesus rebuked Cleopas and his traveling companion, “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). In other words, Jesus preached the gospel to them so that they could see they didn’t really know what they were talking about. Luke went on to say:

And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures? (Luke 24:30-32).

The Greek words translated vanished in Luke 24:31, ginomai (ghin´-om-ahee) aphantos (af´-an-tos) mean that Jesus became invisible to them (G1096, G855), he was still there, but they could no longer see him. It’s possible, the reason Jesus first appeared to Cleopas and his companion as a stranger was because they didn’t truly understand who he was from a scriptural standpoint. Once their eyes were opened, meaning Cleopas and his companion had sufficient spiritual discernment to understand what was happening, Jesus’ physically manifestation was no longer necessary.