Spiritual contamination

The Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians was primary focused on defending his position as a minister of the gospel. There was a faction in the congregation at Corinth who denied that Paul was truly an apostle of Jesus (Introduction to the second epistle of Paul to the Corinthians). Paul asked the Corinthians, “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:1-3). Paul argued that the proof of his apostleship was the result of his ministry. Paul had established the church in Corinth during his first stay there and was responsible for its early growth. Paul was offended that the Corinthians had doubted his apostleship and stated, “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown and yet well known; as dying, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:8-10).

Paul went on to explain that the Corinthians minds had been contaminated by their interaction with unbelievers. Paul cautioned the Corinthians against forming relationships that compromised their faith. Paul said:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
    then I will welcome you,
and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)

Paul used the term unequally yoked to describe relationships between believers and unbelievers. This might have been Paul’s way of saying that the Corinthians were getting involved in illegal activities, but more than likely the point Paul was trying to make was that there would be diminished productivity if believers worked with unbelievers. The term unequally yoked means that two different kinds of animals are being forced to work together to pull a load (G2086). The stronger animal is hindered by the weaker animal and the difference in strength creates friction between them.

Paul used several words in his argument against being unequally yoked that were connected with the early church’s growth and development. Paul asked the Corinthians, “what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16). The words partnership, fellowship, accord, portion, and agreement all imply that a spiritual union of some type has taken place. A key word that was used by the first Christians to describe their association with each other was koinonia (koy-nohn-ee’-ah). The Greek word koinonia means “partnership, i.e. (literal) participation, or (social) intercourse” (G2842). Koinonia is derived from the word koinos which means common. Koinos was used figuratively by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians in reference to “those who eat meats offered to idols, partakers or companions either with God or with demons (1 Corinthians 10:18, 20)” (G2844). This relates back to the practices of the Israelites who were commanded to separate themselves from the people and things around them that would cause them to be unclean or spiritually contaminated.

Leviticus 11:1-3 states, “And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth. Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat.'” The LORD went on to say that certain animals were from a ceremonial or moral sense considered to be contaminated and would defile a person if they were eaten (Leviticus 11:24). The key point in the concept of becoming defiled was physical contact. Leviticus 11:26 states, “Every animal that parts the hoof but is not cloven-footed or does not chew the cud is unclean to you. Everyone who touches them shall be unclean.” This was illustrated in the book of Genesis when Jacob’s daughter Dinah was raped by Shechem. It says in Genesis 34:2, “And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her” (KJV). God’s justification for keeping the Israelites uncontaminated was they were expected to be holy because he was holy. He said:

“Every swarming thing that swarms on the ground is detestable; it shall not be eaten. Whatever goes on its belly, and whatever goes on all fours, or whatever has many feet, any swarming thing that swarms on the ground, you shall not eat, for they are detestable. You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, and you shall not defile yourselves with them, and become unclean through them. For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:41-45)

The Hebrew word that is translated holy in Leviticus 11:44, qadowsh (kaw-doshe’) is “an adjective meaning sacred, holy. It is used to denote someone or something that is inherently sacred or has been designated as sacred by divine rite or cultic ceremony. It designates that which is the opposite of common or profane. It could be said that qadowsh is a positive term regarding the character of its referent, where common is a neutral term and profane a very negative term. This word is often used to refer to God as being inherently holy, sacred, and set apart (Psalm 22:3[4]; Isaiah 6:3; 57:15); and as being free from the attributes of fallen humanity (Hosea 11:9). As such, God instructed that humanity should be holy because He is holy (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2)” (H6918).

Paul’s message to the Corinthians focused on the separation that was necessary for God’s people to achieve holiness. Quoting Isaiah 52:11, Paul stated, “Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:17-18). The Greek word Paul used that is translated be separate has to do with physically separating yourself from someone (G873), but it could be that Paul was trying to convey the idea of being stand-offish or you might say emotionally distant in that you no longer consider yourself to be in a close relationship with that person. Paul told the Corinthians, “Since we have these promises, beloved. let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). Defilement refers to pollution in a moral sense (G3436). In order to cleanse ourselves from moral pollution, we need salvation. We need the blood of Jesus to cleanse us from all sin (1 John 1:7). It says in the book of Hebrews, “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:13-14).

Paul’s concern for the Corinthians’ moral purity was based on his conclusion that they were being taught incorrect doctrine. Paul told the Corinthians, “I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:1-3). Paul’s emphasis of the importance of our thought processes in keeping us devoted to Christ made it clear that spiritual warfare was a key factor in believers becoming spiritually contaminated. Paul indicated that our thoughts can lead us astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. The Greek word that is translated thoughts, noema (no’-ay-mah) means “a perception” (G3540). Paul used the word noema five times in his second letter to the Corinthians. The first time Paul mentioned noema was in 2 Corinthians 2:11 when he was talking about being outwitted by Satan and the need to forgive the sinner. Paul said, “I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan: for we are not ignorant of his designs” (emphasis mine). Satan’s designs could be mental tricks that he uses to get us to perceive things incorrectly so that God’s word doesn’t seem practical or necessary in our lives. Paul said that the minds of unbelievers are being blinded (2 Corinthians 3:14) by the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4) and that we need to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, emphasis mine).

The Greek word that Paul used in 2 Corinthians 11:3 that is translated led astray, phtheiro (fthi’-ro) is translated corrupted in the King James Version of the Bible. Phtheiro has to do with the ruin that comes as a result of negative moral influences and generally means “to bring to a worse state.” It can also mean “to corrupt, with the meaning of to subvert or corrupt opinions” (H5351). With regard to corrupt opinions, Paul said, “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough” (2 Corinthians 11:4). What Paul meant by you put up with it was that the Corinthians were giving him the impression that they were fine with the false doctrines that had been infiltrating their church. Paul wanted the Corinthians to realize that they were to a certain extent being raped by these false teachers because their devotion to Christ was being questioned by other churches such as the Macedonians (2 Corinthians 8:24) and Paul himself was at risk of being humiliated by their behavior (2 Corinthians 9:4).

Paul understood that the real source of the Corinthians spiritual contamination was demonic forces and it was likely that they did not have the spiritual strength to defend themselves. Paul tried to expose the enemy’s activities in a way that would make the Corinthians more aware of the devil’s tactics. Paul said, “And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:12-15). The Greek word that is translated disguising, metaschematizo (met-askh-ay-mat-id’-zo) means “to transform, change the outward form or appearance of something” (G3345). Paul used the word metaschematizo in his letter to the Philippians in connection with believers spiritual transformation after death. Paul said, “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” (Philippians 3:17-21, emphasis mine).

Satan’s ability to disguise or transform himself into an angel of light is the primary reason why it is so difficult for believers to recognize and to separate themselves from his activities. Paul contrasted his experiences as an apostle with those of the Corinthians in order to point out that our perception of what life is supposed to be like as a Christian is often skewed in the wrong direction. Paul declared:

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

Paul elaborated on his list of personal afflictions in his second letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying” (2 Corinthians 11:25-31).

Paul’s experience of being associated with Christ’s gospel is consistent with many of the Old Testament prophets that were faithful to God’s word. One of the difficulties that Christians face in their attempt to avoid spiritual contamination is that they will likely be mocked and mistreated by the people that are closest to them. Before David became king of Israel, he was hunted and nearly killed by King Saul on multiple occasions. His hopeless situation brought David to the brink of despair. When he ended up in the hands of a pagan king that had no regard for him or the God that he served (1 Samuel 21:10-13), David wrote Psalm 56, his personal testimony about God’s love and faithfulness to those who serve him. David prayed, “Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me; my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (Psalm 56:1-4). King Saul’s hostility toward David was evidence of the spiritual conflict that was going on behind the scenes. David was able to transcend his circumstances and seemed to realize that his physical separation from Saul made it possible for him to be closer to God. David wrote:

You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?
Then my enemies will turn back
    in the day when I call.
    This I know, that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise,
    in the Lord, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can man do to me?

I must perform my vows to you, O God;
    I will render thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
    yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God
    in the light of life. (Psalm 56:8-13)

David’s recognition that he must perform his vows to the LORD was a direct result of the spiritual union he had with his Savior. David knew that he didn’t have a chance of surviving when the Philistines seized him in Gath (1 Samuel 21:11). Therefore, he needed the LORD’s protection and had to make sure that his heart was right before God. The Hebrew word that is translated vows, neder (neh’-der) means “a promise (to God)” (H5088). David’s spiritual devotion may have been called into question when he fled Jerusalem and sought refuge in the land of Gath, but David made it clear that he hadn’t compromised his relationship with the LORD. David remained loyal to God’s calling and “departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam” (1 Samuel 22:1) in order to keep himself from being spiritually contaminated by living with the Philistines.

An earnest desire

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians was meant to restore the fellowship that he had with them when he first established their church. The dishonorable behavior of some of the church’s members had caused Paul to pay them an unpleasant visit and resulted in harsh treatment of the offender. Paul urged the Corinthian believers to forgive the sinner (2 Corinthians 2:7) so that he wouldn’t be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Paul said, “So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan: for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:8-11). Paul went on to explain that his ministry of reconciliation was intended to restore fellowship between God and mankind and that we are all new creatures in Christ. Paul stated:

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)

The Greek word that is translated reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5:18, katallage (kat-al-lay-ay’) means exchange “i.e. restoration to (the divine) favor” (G2643). Reconciliation has to do with God’s ability to give us credit for Christ’s righteousness even though we haven’t done anything to earn or deserve it. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul talked about putting off the old self and putting on the new self in order to be renewed in the spirit of our minds (Ephesians 4:22-23). Paul said that the new self is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).

Paul addressed the Corinthian sinner’s transgression by admonishing him to cleanse himself from the moral pollution that had affected not only his body, but also his spirit. Paul said, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). Paul’s use of the term beloved indicated that he was speaking to someone that was a follower of Christ. The Greek term that is translated beloved, agapetos (ag-ap-ay-tos’) is “spoken of Christians as united with God or with each other in the bonds of holy love…meaning conjoined in the bonds of faith and love” (G27). Bringing holiness to completion was probably Paul’s way of referring to the process of sanctification which unites believers with Christ and each other. Paul implied in his letter to the Ephesians that it is possible for us to achieve spiritual success. He said that we are to “be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1). Paul’s reference to a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God was connected to the peace offering that was a part of the moral and ethical instruction of God’s chosen people (Leviticus, Introduction, p. 113). Leviticus 1:3-9 states:

“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. And Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.”

The offering of a male without blemish signified the perfection, as well as the completion of the sacrifice that was being made. The Hebrew word that is translated blemish, tamiym (taw-meem’) “means complete, in the sense of the entire or whole thing” (H8549). Tamiym is translated blameless in Genesis 17:1-2 where it says, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.'” Christ’s atoning sacrifice fulfilled the requirement of perfection that God demanded from Abraham and all those who would seek entrance into his kingdom. Jesus told his followers, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) and he later instructed a rich young man, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21).

The blood of the sacrificed animal was symbolically thrown against the sides of the altar in order to depict the violence involved in the act of atonement. Leviticus 17:11 states, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make an atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” The Hebrew word that is translated “to make atonement for” in Leviticus 1:4 is kaphar (kaw-far’). “On its most basic level of meaning, kaphar denotes a material transaction of ‘ransom’…The righteous God is neither implacable nor capricious, but provides Himself the ‘ransom’ or substitute sacrifice that would satisfy Him. The priest at the altar represents God Himself, bringing the requisite offering before God; sacrifice is not essentially man’s action, but God’s own act of pardoning mercy. Kaphar is first found in Genesis 6:14, where it is used in its primary sense of ‘to cover over.’ Here God gives Noah instructions concerning the ark, including, ‘Pitch it within and without with pitch.’ Most of the uses of the word, however, involve the theological meaning of ‘covering over,’ often with the blood of sacrifice, in order to atone for some sin. This means that the ‘covering over’ hides the sin from God’s sight until the death of Christ takes away the sin of the world (cf. John 1:29, Hebrews 10:4)” (H3722).

When he instituted the Lord’s Supper, a celebration of his sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus told his disciples, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:15-16). The Greek words that Jesus used that are translated earnestly desired, epithumia (ep-ee-thoo-mee’-ah) epithumeo (ep-ee-thoo-meh’-o) were meant to emphasize the passion that Jesus had to complete his mission of saving the world. Epithumeo means “to fix the desire upon” and stresses the inward impulse to do something regardless of the outcome (G1937). Epithumia suggests that it was an irrational longing that drove Jesus to give up his life for his friends (G1939). During the Lord’s Supper, Jesus revealed that he would be betrayed by one of the twelve apostles that he had personally chosen to serve with him. Luke’s account of the incident states it this way:

And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this. (Luke 22:17-23)

Jesus’ earnest desire to institute the Lord’s Supper may have been centered around the fact that it would be the remembrance of him that would keep his ministry active in the hearts of believers. Jesus pointed out that even Peter, who was the most vocal in his allegiance to Christ, would be subject to Satan’s devices. Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me” (Luke 22:31-34).

Paul’s compassion for the sinner in Corinth that had disrupted his ministry was most likely a result of his understanding of the schemes of the devil. Paul talked extensively about spiritual warfare in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul encouraged believers to be joined together with the Lord in order to defeat Satan. Paul told them, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10-13). Paul mentioned his own struggle against spiritual forces in connection with the incident in Corinth which had disrupted his ministry. Paul said, “For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more” (2 Corinthians 7:5-7). Paul was encouraged by the fact that the Corinthians had repented and were also seeking a restoration of their fellowship with him. The Greek word that Paul used that is translated longing in 2 Corinthians 7:7 is translated earnestly desire in the King James Version of the Bible. In the same way that Jesus earnestly desired to eat the Lord’s Supper with his disciples, the Corinthians wanted to restore fellowship, or you might say, have communion with Paul.

Paul explained to the Corinthians that the grief he had caused them had served a purpose in that it worked to bring them back together and strengthened their relationship with each other and the Lord. Paul said, “For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us” (2 Corinthians 7:8-9). Paul referred to a godly grief that brought the Corinthians to a place of repentance. Repentance has to do with thinking differently about our behavior. The Greek word metanoia (met-an’-oy-ah) in a religious sense implies “pious sorrow for unbelief and sin and a turning from them unto God and the gospel of Christ” (G3341). The reason why Paul associated repentance with godly sorrow may have been because it is the conviction of the Holy Spirit that produces repentance in the believer’s heart. Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Comforter and said, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 15:26). Paul talked about God as the one who comforts the downcast (2 Corinthians 7:6). In this instance, comfort has to do with coming along side and encouraging someone that is in need of help (G3870).

Paul talked in his letter to the Ephesians about Christians being fellow citizens and “members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord (Ephesians 2:19-21). The metaphor Paul used of a holy temple in the Lord was meant to connect the sacrificial system of the Mosaic Law with the process of sanctification which unites believers in and to Christ. Paul identified the Holy Spirit as the source, or you might say, the power that drives sanctification when he said, “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). The Greek word that is translated are being built together, sunoikodomeo (soon-oy-kod-om-eh’-o) is derived from the words sun (soon) which signifies union (G4862) and oikodomeo (oy-kod-om-eh’-o) which means “to be a house-builder” (G3618). Oikodomeo “is used metaphorically, in the sense of ‘edifying,’ promoting the spiritual growth and development of character of believers, by teaching or by example, suggesting such spiritual progress as the result of patient labor.” Paul wanted both the Ephesians and Corinthians to understand that what he was doing may have been painful for them, but was necessary for their spiritual growth. Paul told the Corinthians, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter” (2 Corinthians 7:10-11).

Paul contrasted godly grief with worldly grief in order to point out that grief in and of itself was not the objective of his message. Paul wanted the Corinthians to see that the work of the Holy Spirit was essential for his preaching and teaching to be effective. Paul said that worldly grief produces death (2 Corinthians 7:10). What he likely meant by that was that the sorrow we feel when we do something wrong can sometimes be overwhelming, Excessive grief can lead to things like suicide and depression. One of the ways that we know that the Holy Spirit is working in our hearts is that we experience the comfort of God as we admit our mistakes and take responsibility for our wrong actions. Paul said “godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10). In other words, godly grief draws us closer to God, not away from him. Paul said that godly grief also produces earnestness. The Greek word spoude (spoo-day’), which means “speed,” is translated many different ways, e.g. diligence, haste, earnest care, and forwardness (G4710). One of the ways to think of earnestness is a person in motion, someone that is always making forward progress. This is an important aspect of the Christian life because believers will inevitably experience setbacks and must be able to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start over again whenever they are overtaken by sin or become the target of Satan’s devices. An example of this was Peter’s restoration to the ministry after he had denied Jesus three times. Jesus asked Peter, “‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep’…And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me'” (John 21:17-19).

Paul told the Corinthians that they had proved themselves innocent by their indignation, longing, and vindication by God (2 Corinthians 7:11). The Greek word that is translated proved, sunistemi (soon-is’-tay-mee) means “to set together” (G4921). What Paul may have meant by proved themselves innocent was that the Corinthians he was talking to had remained members of the body of Christ. They had not left the church because of the trouble they had gotten into, but had stuck it out and worked through their conflict with Paul. Paul was commending them for it and said, “So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. Therefore we are comforted. And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all” (2 Corinthians 7:12-13). Paul’s experience with the Corinthians was considered to be a success because it led to the church being built up and the faith of the believers that were there being strengthened to the point that they became an encouragement to others that were struggling. Paul said that Titus’ spirit had been refreshed by the Corinthians. In other words, Titus, a fellow minister and friend of Paul’s, was able to take a spiritual vacation because of the remarkable turnaround at the Corinthian church.

Godly sorrow

One of the primary reasons God communicated the Ten Commandments directly to the Israelites was so that there wouldn’t be any confusion or misunderstanding about his expectations of them. Afterwards, Exodus 20:22-23 states, “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven. You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold.” The Hebrew word that is translated seen ra’ah (raw-aw’) means to see. Its basic denotation is to see with the eyes. It also has several derived meanings, all of which require the individual to see physically outside of himself or herself, such as to see so that one can learn to know, whether it be another person or God (H7200). The experience the Israelites had on Mount Sinai left them with the impression that being in a relationship with God might result in their death. Exodus 20:18-20 states, “Now when all the people saw the thunder and flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.'” Moses explained to the people that the fear they experienced when they saw God was meant to keep them from sinning against him (Exodus 20:20). The point being that the Israelites needed to take God’s commandments seriously and do what he told them to.

Underlying God’s communication of the Ten Commandments to the Israelites was the LORD’s desire to have a relationship with his chosen people. God’s holiness prevented the people from coming near him. The only way anyone could approach God was through a process of consecration that essentially took away the reproach of sin so that the barrier between God and his people was temporarily eliminated and he could be seen or you might say experienced through means of physical eyesight (Exodus 19:10-20). The tabernacle that the Israelites erected for God to live in so that he could travel with them to the Promised Land was patterned after a model that Moses was shown while he was on top of Mount Sinai (Exodus 26:30). God told Moses that he needed to make everything “exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle” (Exodus 25:9). The tabernacle was likely a bridge between the physical and spiritual realms, a place where both God and people could coexist in spite of their different natures. God said, “There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God” (Exodus 29:43-45).

The outcome of the union of God and mankind was that it enabled them to work together to achieve God’s divine objectives. Exodus 31:1-5 states, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘See I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood. to work in every craft.'” Bezalel’s unique position and role in constructing the tabernacle of God was similar to that of Christians today because he had the benefit of having God’s indwelling Spirit to guide him through the process of doing the work that he was called to do. Bezalel was given ability, intelligence, knowledge, and craftmanship that were not based on his human capacity to do things. The Hebrew word that is translated ability in Exodus 31:3, chokmah (khok-maw’) means wisdom or to act according to wisdom. Chokmah has to do with God’s gracious creation and is thus inherent in the created order. “God alone knows where wisdom dwells and where it originates (Job 28:12, 20); no other living being possesses this knowledge about wisdom (see Job 28:21). For humans, the beginning of wisdom and the supreme wisdom is to properly fear and reverence God (Job 28:21; Proverbs 1:7; cf. Proverbs 8:3)” (H2451).

One of the gifts that God gave Bezalel was the ability to “devise artistic designs” (Exodus 31:4). To devise something means that you are able to invent new things (H2803) and an artistic design is anything that requires thought or intention to create it. The Hebrew word machashabah (makh-ash-aw-baw’) denotes the thoughts of the mind, either belonging to people or God; the plans or intentions that arise from these thoughts and the skillful inventions that come from the mind of an artist (H4284). Machashabah appears in Genesis 6:5 where it says, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” This proved to be true in the case of the Israelites because less that 40 days after they had heard the voice of God and received his command to not make any “carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath” (Exodus 20:4), we are told in Exodus 32:1-6 that:

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.

God wasn’t surprised by the Israelites quick abandonment of his covenant with them. He knew they were acting according to their sinful human nature. Exodus 32:7-10 states:

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”

God’s anger was justified because the Israelites intentionally broke his commandment shortly after they had received it. There was no way they could have forgotten or been unclear about what was expected of them. Moses intervened on behalf of the people of Israel in a similar way that Christ intervenes with God on our behalf. Exodus 32:11-14 states:

But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.

The dilemma that Moses pointed out was that the Israelites had clearly broken God’s commandments and deserved to be killed, but if God did so, he would be breaking the promise he made to Abraham and his descendants to make them into a great nation (Genesis 12:2). Moses appealed to God on the basis of his integrity and God’s holy character which caused him to always do the right thing. Moses pleaded with God to “Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people” (Exodus 32:12). Moses used three key words that combined together convey the essence of what it means to repent from sin. Turn, or in Hebrew shuwb (shoob), in the simple stem is used to describe divine and human reactions, attitudes, and feelings and indicates the possibility of changing one’s mind. The Hebrew word that is translated disaster, ra’ (rah) “combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences. It generally indicates the rough exterior of wrong-doing as a breach of harmony, and as breaking up of what is good and desirable in man and in society. While the prominent characteristic of the godly is lovingkindness (2617), one of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury both to himself and to everyone around him” (H7451). The Hebrew word that is translated relent, nacham (naw-kham’) means to be sorry. “To repent means to make a strong turning to a new course of action. The emphasis in on turning to a positive course of action, not turning from a less desirable course. Comfort is derived from ‘com’ (with) and ‘fort’ (strength). Hence, when one repents, he exerts strength to change, to re-grasp the situation, and exert effort for the situation to take a different course of purpose or action” (H5162).

Exodus 32:14 tells us that “the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.” In other words, God was sorry that he had considered breaking his covenant with Abraham even though he was justified in doing so. When Moses returned to the camp of the Israelites, he confronted Aaron and the people of Israel. He said:

“You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” But the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book. But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.”

The problem with Moses’ plan to make atonement for the people of Israel was that he wasn’t perfect and therefore didn’t qualify to be their redeemer. God indicated that whoever had sinned against him would be blotted out of his book of life. The book of Revelation tells us that after God’s final judgment of mankind, anyone whose name is not written in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked about forgiving Christians that have sinned against us. Paul delayed his third visit to Corinth because he didn’t want to visit them too soon after having harshly criticized them because of the damage that had been done to his reputation there. Paul said, “For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained…For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you” (2 Corinthians 2:1-2, 4). In the King James Version of the Bible, 2 Corinthians 2:2 is stated this way: “For if I make you sorry, who is he then that maketh me glad, but the same which is made sorry by me?” Paul was evidently talking about having brought the people of the church in Corinth to a point of repentance and he wanted to restore his fellowship with them. The Greek word that is translated pain and sorry, lupeo (loo-peh’-o) means to be sad or sorrowful (G3076). Lupeo is used in 2 Corinthians 2:5 with the specific meaning of “to cause grief, offend.” Paul said, “Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (2 Corinthians 2:5-7).

Paul used the words forgive and comfort to show that repentance is not meant to be a permanent state. If someone expresses godly sorrow, the next step is to forgive and then, to forget the sin that has been committed against you. The Greek word that is translated comfort in 2 Corinthians 2:7, parakaleo (par-ak-al-eh’-o) means to call near, apologize (G3870). Paul used this word four times in his opening statement to the Corinthians. He said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Paul pointed out that God is the source of all comfort and that we are expected to comfort others because God comforts us. Affliction is another word for all the troubles that go along with being a Christian. Paul said, “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Corinthians 1:5). Paul indicated that comforting those that have repented of their sins is a sign of being a genuine believer in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 2:8-9).

Paul made the argument that forgiveness and comfort are necessary for us to defeat our enemy the devil in spiritual warfare. Paul said, “Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:10-11). The Greek word that is translated outwitted, pleonekteo (pleh-on-ek-teh’-o) means to outwit or to take advantage of from a mental standpoint (G4122). The Greek word noema (no’-ay’mah) which is translated designs, means a perception. “A thought. That which is thought out, planned, devised, in a negative sense (2 Corinthians 2:11; 10:5). By metonymy: the mind itself, the understanding (2 Corinthians 3:14; 4:4; 11:3)” (G3540). In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul talked about the fact that we are not fighting against a physical enemy when we engage in warfare with the devil. Paul said, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12). The schemes of the devil have to do with the lifestyle that we become accustomed to (G3180). The Israelites decision to make a golden calf and worship it was based on hundreds of years of influence by the Egyptians who practiced idolatry. Even though God had specifically told them not to makes gods of gold (Exodus 20:23), it was easy for the Israelites to revert to their old behavior when they thought Moses had abandoned them (Exodus 32:1).

One way of looking at spiritual warfare is that it is a battle that goes on in our minds to either think the way God thinks or to think the way the devil wants us to. We are constantly being barraged with ideas that seem to be of our own making, but most, if not all of the time, these thoughts are coming from one of two sources, God or Satan. There used to be a popular saying, “the devil made me do it.” Although it’s true that Christians are sometimes unknowingly under the influence of Satan and his demons, we have the ability to resist the devil’s suggestions and do what we know to be right. God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments so that they would be clear about what they were supposed to and not supposed to do on a daily basis. If they were able to keep the Ten Commandments, the Israelites would have inherited God’s kingdom without Christ having to enter the world and die for their sins. The fact that the people of Israel turned away from God and broke his most important commandment just days after having received it shows that apart from Christ no one can keep from offending God and we all, both believers and unbelievers alike, cause him a great deal of sorrow when we choose to resort to our own devices.

God’s power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians indicates that God’s plan of salvation began before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) and resulted in Christ being seated at God’s right hand after he was raised from the dead (Ephesians 1:20). Paul indicated that believers benefit from the working of God’s power that was exercised when Christ was raised from the dead. Paul prayed that the Ephesians would know what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe (Ephesians 1:19) as a result of Christ being seated at the right hand of God “in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” (Ephesians 1:21). Paul went on to say, “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23). Paul’s reference to the immeasurable greatness of Christ’s power and the fact that he is far above all rule and authority and power and dominion was intended to make it clear that there is no longer any competition between Christ and Satan. Jesus’ victory over death put an end to Satan’s attempt to overtake God’s kingdom.

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

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 4:17-19)

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

Jesus commissioned his disciples to go into the world and preach the gospel so that everyone would know the truth about God and would have an opportunity to accept Christ as their Savior. He told them:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Jesus said that he had been given “all authority” (Matthew 28:18). The Greek word exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) has to do with privileges that one has obtained through delegation of power. “From the meaning of ‘leave or permission,’ or liberty of doing as one pleases, it passed to that of ‘the ability or strength with which one is endued,’ then to that of the ‘power of authority,’ the right to exercise power, e.g. Matthew 9:6;21:23; 2 Corinthians 10:8; or ‘the power of rule or government,’ the power of one whose will and commands must be obeyed by others, e.g. Matthew 28:18; John 17:2; Jude 25; Revelation 12:10; 17:13; more specifically of apostolic ‘authority,’ 2 Corinthians 10:8; 13:10” (G1849).

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

Paul learned through experience that spiritual warfare was a part of doing God’s will. Paul encouraged the Ephesians to “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13). Paul’s instruction to take up the whole armor of God implies that it is up to us to protect ourselves from Satan’s spiritual onslaught, but it could be that Paul was talking about something that is available to us and yet, deemed to be unnecessary. Paul may have been referring to the power that is at believers’ disposal, but rarely accessed because of our tendency to try and do things in our own strength rather than in God’s power. Paul said, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12).

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

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

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

Missing the mark

Jesus made it clear to his disciples that it was God’s will for him to be crucified. Not long before he was arrested Jesus said, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified” (Matthew 26:2). Romans 8:31-32 tells us that God was the one that delivered Jesus up to be crucified. It states, “What then shall we we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” God’s plan of salvation required that Jesus pay the penalty for all sins through his death on the cross. When Jesus said, “you know that,” he was emphasizing the predetermined course that his life must follow in order to fulfill his mission of saving the world. After Jesus acknowledged his imminent crucifixion, Matthew recorded, “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him” (Matthew 26:3-4).

The chief priests and the elders of the people thought they were in control of the situation. They wanted to get rid of Jesus as quickly and quietly as possible. They agreed that it shouldn’t be done, “during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people” (Matthew 26:5). Matthew tells us, “Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him” (Matthew 26:14-16). The opportunity that Judas was looking for had to do with the timing, not the inevitability of Jesus’ death. The Greek word kairos (kahee-ros’) refers to a “set or proper time” (G2540). It might be that Judas thought he could catch Jesus off guard or would be able to surprise everyone with a midnight raid so to speak, but Jesus knew about everything that was going on and willingly surrendered himself to the Jewish authorities. Jesus instructed his disciples, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples'” (Matthew 26:18).

Jesus indicated that his death was linked to a specific time and place. One way of thinking about the prophecies that were associated with Jesus’ death would be to see them as a bullseye or a mark that he was aiming toward. The Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Philippians, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). The Greek word that is translated mark, skopos (skop-os’) refers to a watcher and denotes “a mark on which to fix the eye” (G4649). The Greek word hamartano (ham-ar-tan’-o) which is translated sin in Matthew 18:21 “means literally ‘to miss the mark’ and is used of ‘sinning’ against God” (G264). Matthew 18:21 states, “Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?'”

The Old Testament of the Bible views sin in a similar manner. The Hebrew word chata’ (khaw-taw’) is properly translated as “to miss” and causatively refers to being lead astray. “The basic nuance of chata’ is sin conceived as missing the road or mark…From this basic meaning comes the word’s chief usage to indicate moral failure toward both God and men, and certain results of such wrongs…It also connotes the guilt or condition of sin” (H2398). Sin and evil often appear together in the Old Testament as in the account of Pharaoh’s decision to withhold straw from the children of Israel as punishment for the LORD’s demand that he let his people go from their bondage. In Exodus 5:15-19, Chata’ is translated as “fault” and the Hebrew word for evil, ra’ is translated as “trouble.” Exodus 5:15-19 states:

Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this? No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.” But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.” The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.”

The Hebrew word ra’, which is translated trouble in Exodus 5:19, “combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences. It generally indicates the rough exterior of wrongdoing as a breach of harmony, and as breaking up of what is good and desirable in man and in society. While the prominent characteristic of the godly is lovingkindness, one of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury both to himself and to everyone around him” (H7451).

Judas Iscariot’s inclination toward evil was evident in his rebuke of Mary when she anointed the feet of Jesus. John’s gospel states, “Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:1-6). Jesus responded to Judas’ accusation by stating, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me” (Matthew 26:10-11).

Jesus’ rebuke of Judas may have been what triggered him to cross over the boundary of right and enter the forbidden land of the wrong. Luke’s record of the Passover celebration indicated that Satan entered Judas just before he consulted with the chief priests and officers about betraying Jesus. Luke said, “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people. Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd” (Luke 22:1-6). Matthew indicated that Jesus confronted Judas about what he intended to do during their Passover meal. He said:

When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.” (Matthew 26:20-25

Judas’ question, “Is it I, Rabbi?” (Matthew 26:25) revealed his lack of spiritual discernment. Whereas the other disciples had asked the question, “Is it I, Lord?,” acknowledging Jesus’ supreme deity, Judas used the Hebrew word rab or rhabbi (hrab-bee’) in the Greek to address Jesus. This seems to suggest that Judas was either unaware or unconvinced that Jesus was who he claimed to be, the Son of God.

Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper made it clear to all of his disciples what the purpose of his death was, to expiate or atone for the sins of mankind. Matthew said, “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to his disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26;26-28). The Greek word that is translated sins, harmartia (har-ar-tee’-ah), “as a verb, is literally ‘a missing of the mark’ but this etymological meaning is largely lost sight of in the New Testament. It is the most comprehensive term for moral deviations. It is used of ‘sin’ as a principle source of action, or an inward element producing acts” (G266). From this standpoint, the forgiveness of sins might be viewed as an adjustment to the sinful human nature that guides our day to day behavior. Jesus was essentially saying that his blood would neutralize the effect of sin in our lives.

After sharing the good news about his death, Jesus gave his disciples the bad news. He said, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Matthew 26:31). Falling away is what happens when our faith is challenged and we renege on our commitment to the Lord. The Greek word skandalizo (skan-dal-id’-zo) is where the English word scandalize comes from. “Skandalizo means to put a stumbling block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall; metaphorically to offend; to entice to sin; to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey” (G4624). Jesus indicated that all of his disciples would fall away that night, but he went even farther to say that Peter would flat out deny him three times. “Peter answered him, ‘Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times” (Matthew 26:33-34). The Greek word that is translated deny, aparneomai (ap-ar-neh’-om-ahee) means “to affirm that one has no connection with a person” (G533). In other words, Peter was not only going to deny being a Christian, but would also swear that he had never even met Jesus (Matthew 26:72).

Moses and Aaron’s initial encounter with Pharaoh resulted in a similar denial of the existence of God. Exodus 5:1-2 states, “Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God Israel, “Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.”‘ But Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.'” Pharaoh’s argument that he was not obligated to do what Moses and Aaron asked him to because he didn’t “know the LORD” was based on the assumption that only the children of Israel had to obey God’s commands. Pharaoh retaliated against Moses and Aaron’s request by stating, “Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words” (Exodus 5:9). The phrase “pay no regard to lying words” had to do with Pharaoh’s disrespect for God’s authority. Essentially, what Pharaoh was saying was that Moses and Aaron had lied to him about God saying, “Let my people go” (Exodus 5:1), but Pharaoh’s resistance was actually based on him having an unrepentant attitude toward God (Exodus 4:21).

The foremen of the people of Israel blamed Moses and Aaron for the trouble they were in. They said, “‘The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.’ Then Moses turned to the LORD and said, ‘O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all'” (Exodus 5:22-23). Moses shifted the blame off of himself and onto the LORD by asking “why have you done evil to this people?,” implying that the LORD had intentionally set him up for failure. The Hebrew word that is translated evil in this instance isn’t ra’, but ra’a’ (raw-ah’) which literally means to spoil something by breaking it to pieces (H7489). Moses seemed to be saying that the situation in Egypt had been fine until he came along and ruined everything. In actuality, the foremen of the people of Israel were the ones that were making the people miserable because they were partnering with Pharaoh’s taskmasters to get the Israelites to do what Pharaoh wanted them to, which was to make their quota of bricks each day regardless of their ability to do so (Exodus 5:10-11).

Even Jesus became discouraged on the eve of his crucifixion. Matthew tells us, “Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go over there and pray.’ And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me. And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:36-39). Jesus was experiencing an extreme amount of external pressure to give up on his mission. In a moment of frustration, after finding Peter, James, and John asleep instead of praying for him as he had asked them to, Jesus said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:40-41). Jesus was referring to Peter’s promise to not deny him when he said, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” What Jesus meant was that Peter wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to abandon him if he was sleeping rather than being actively engaged in spiritual warfare.

After the chief priests and the elders of the people came to arrest Jesus, Matthew said, “Then all the disciples left him and fled” (Matthew 26:56). The Greek word that is translated left, aphieme (af-ee’-ay-mee) means “to depart from one and leave him to himself so that all mutual claims are abandoned” (G863). One of the uses of aphieme is of a husband divorcing his wife. Aphieme appears in Matthew 4:20 and 4:22 where it says about Peter, Andrew, James, and John that they left their occupation as fishermen in order to follow Jesus. In seems that when these men left Jesus in the garden of Gethsemene, they no longer intended to be his disciples. Peter’s denial of his Lord and Savior was the ultimate betrayal that Jesus experienced from the standpoint of his influence and investment in his disciples being negated. After denying that he had been with Jesus (Matthew 26:70) and taking an oath that he didn’t even know the man (Matthew 26:72), it says in Matthew 26:73-75, “After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are one of them, for your accent betrays you.’ Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know the man.’ And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times. And he went out and wept bitterly.”

Psalm 41 is considered to be a Messianic psalm because it contains statements that clearly pertain to Jesus Christ. Verse 9 states, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” This passage appears to be connected to God’s condemnation of the serpent that tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:15 states, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15 depicts Christ lifting his heel against Satan and bruising his head, but Psalm 41:9 indicates a close friend would lift his heel against Jesus. It seems that Peter could be the close friend that lifted his heel against Jesus because his denial of Christ must have felt like a crushing blow to the man that was about to die for the sins of the world. The fact that Peter was fully restored in his faith and relationship with the Lord may explain why Psalm 41:9 states that his close friend lifted his heel against him, but did not bruise Jesus as Christ did Satan when he rose from the dead.

Spiritual Bondage

The death of Jacob and then his son Joseph ended an era of spiritual prosperity in the lives of God’s chosen people. Even though Joseph and his brothers were reunited, there seemed to be an element of distrust among them that lingered for the rest of their lives. It says in Genesis 50:15, “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.'” Joseph was disappointed that his brothers didn’t understand God’s will and reminded them, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear, I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:20-21).

“When the Hyksos invaded Egypt and gained political power, the descendants of Jacob were forced into slavery (Exodus 1:8, 10)” (Introduction to Exodus, p. 64). It says in Exodus 1:8-12:

Now there arose a king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raames. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad.

The Egyptian taskmasters were rulers that had the authority to punish the people of Israel if they didn’t do what was expected of them. The taskmasters afflicted the Israelites “with heavy burdens” (Genesis 1:11). The Hebrew word that is translated afflict, ‘anah (aw-naw’) “often expresses harsh and painful treatment” (H6031). The purpose of their affliction was to morally degrade the Israelites, to make them think less of themselves and to bring them into submission to Pharaoh.

It says in Exodus 1:11 that the Israelites were afflicted “with heavy burdens.” That meant that the people were suffering physically, but there was likely a spiritual aspect to their burdens as well. Jesus told his followers to “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give your rest” (Matthew 11:28). The Greek term that is translated heavy laden, phortizo (for-tid’-zo) means “to load up (properly as a vessel or animal), i.e. (figuratively) to overburden with ceremony (or spiritual anxiety)” (G5412). Jesus went on to say, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). Jesus indicated that the type of burden people needed to be relieved from was their personal development. The idea that we need rest for our souls comes from our human tendency to relentlessly pursue happiness. Jesus said we should learn from him. In other words, we should follow his example of how to serve God appropriately.

Jesus didn’t sidestep the issue of spiritual bondage. He told his followers they needed to take his yoke upon them (Matthew 11:29). A yoke signifies servitude and is used metaphorically “of submission to authority” (G2218). The point Jesus was making was that we get to choose who our spiritual master will be, God or Satan, but we must and will serve one or the other of them. Spiritual servitude, or if you will spiritual bondage, is not optional. Jesus’ instruction to “learn from me” meant that we can find relief from our spiritual work through an understanding and application of Jesus’ teaching. The Greek word manthano (man-than’-o) is not simply doctrine of Christ, but Christ himself, a process of not merely getting to know the person but of so applying the knowledge as to walk differently from unbelievers (G3129). Jesus said his yoke was easy, meaning that it was a natural fit and was useful for everyday life (G5543). Jesus’ reference to his burden being light was most likely related to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word phero (fer’-o) which means to ‘bear’ or carry “is rendered ‘being moved’ in 2 Peter 1:21, signifying that they were ‘borne along,’ or impelled by the Holy Spirit’s power, not acting according to their own wills, or simply expressing their own thoughts, but expressing the mind of God in words provided and ministered by Him” (G5342).

The Apostle Paul indicated that there is an ongoing battle between God’s people and Satan’s army because our loyalty to God often wavers. Paul said we are to be “strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12). Paul’s description of spiritual warfare as wrestling was meant to point out that personal interaction with Satan’s demonic forces is inevitable and probably happens more often than we realize. The Greek word that is translated wrestle, pale (pal’-ay) means to sway or vibrate (G3823). The Greek word palin (pal’-in), from which the word paliggenesia (pal-ing-ghen-es-ee’-ah) is derived, means anew or again and refers to the repetition of ideas or events (G3825). Paliggenesia means rebirth and refers to the regeneration of believers, “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” (G3824).

Paul indicated that Satan’s organization consists of various invisible agents that he identified as rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces of evil. Spiritual rulers are first in political rank or power (G757) and may have a direct correspondence to rulers in the physical realm in that spiritual rulers are assigned on a one to one basis to interact with political leaders that control the world’s power. Spiritual authorities are free agents that probably act as disrupters of peace. The Greek word exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) signifies “the right to exercise power” and indicates Satan’s spiritual authorities can do as they please (G1949). Cosmic powers or kosmokrator (kos-mok-rat’-ore) in the Greek means “a world-ruler, an epithet of Satan.” Ephesians 6:12 “shows that not earthly potentates are indicated, but spirit powers, who under the permissive will of God, and in consequence of human sin, exercise satanic and therefore antagonistic authority over the world in its present condition of spiritual darkness and alienation from God” (G2888).

It seems likely that the Egyptian king that set taskmasters over the people of Israel to afflict them (Exodus 1:11) was under the influence of a cosmic power and/or spiritual ruler. The taskmasters themselves played a part in making the Israelites lives miserable because “they ruthlessly made them work as slaves” (Exodus 1:14), but not everyone in Egypt was being controlled by Satan. Exodus 1:15-17 states, “Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, ‘When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.’ But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.” The midwives were rewarded by God (Exodus 1:20) because their disobedience made it possible for Moses to be born.

Paul’s final category of Satan’s invisible agents, the spiritual forces of evil, are likely demons that inhabit human bodies. The Greek word that is translated spiritual, pneumatikos (pnyoo-mat-ik-os’) refers to men in Christ who walk so as to please God and the blessings that accrue to the regenerate men. In fact, “all that is produced and maintained among men by the operations of the Spirit of God is ‘spiritual'” (G4152). Therefore, the spiritual forces of evil could be counterparts to spirit-filled believers. They operate in the same way, but instead of producing the effects of spiritual regeneration, spiritual forces of evil produce spiritual degradation, a moral decline in the behavior of an individual, for example a serial rapist who becomes more and more violent or twisted over time in his acts of sexual abuse.

Jesus warned the crowds and his disciples about the religious leaders that were leading them astray. He said, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on peoples’ shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:2-4). The language Jesus used of tying up heavy burdens and laying them on peoples shoulders suggests physical labor, but he was clearly talking about the religious practices the were being imposed on the Jews. The Greek word that is translated tie up, desmeuo (des-myoo’-o) means “to be a binder (captor), i.e. to enchain ( a prisoner)” (G1195) and carries the connotation of someone being held hostage or an oppressive situation. Exodus 1:12 indicates that the Israelites were being oppressed by their taskmasters, “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad.”

God’s blessing was on the Israelites while they endured slavery in Egypt and Jesus associated humility with spiritual success. Jesus told his disciples, “The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12). The difference between affliction which produces spiritual growth and spiritual bondage which enslaves the believer to demonic forces may be the willingness on the part of those who are dealing with it to rely on God for help. Paul instructed believers to “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day” (Ephesians 6:13). The Greek word that is translated take up, analambano (an-al-am-ban’-o) means to receive or to get hold of something that is being offered to you (G353/2983). Jesus used the Greek word lambano when he said, “everyone who asks receives” (Matthew 7:8), the implication being that it’s not a matter of God’s willingness to give us what we need, but our unwillingness to ask him for it.

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians revealed that the power to fight against the schemes of the devil comes from Christ. Paul referred to the riches of Christ’s glorious inheritance and the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward us who believe that was at work when Jesus was raised from the dead and said that God “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:18-21). Paul emphasized that Jesus is not just above other spiritual rulers and authorities, but far above all rule and authority, suggesting that Christ’s power is of a better quality and that it is superior to any other type. The Greek word that is translated power in Ephesians 1:21, dunamis (doo’-nam-is) refers to miraculous power (G1411) and dominion, kuriotes (koo-ree-ot’-ace) denotes lordship or someone that is supreme in authority and is associated with Jesus’ deity (G2963/2962).

Jesus pronounced eight woes on the scribes and Pharisees that were interfering with his ministry and began with a scathing rebuke of their hypocrisy. He stated, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in” (Matthew 23:14). What Jesus meant by shutting the kingdom of heaven in people’s face was that God’s compassion wasn’t being received because people were under the impression that you had to work your way into heaven. Jesus reiterated that the religious leaders were mistaken about the way to get to heaven by stating, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:16). In this instance, Jesus used the Greek word huios (hwee-os’) to refer to a child. “Primarily this word stresses the quality and essence of one so resembling another that distinctions between the two are indiscernible” (G5207).

Jesus’ identification of the scribes and Pharisees as children of hell suggests that they were so much under the control and influence of demonic forces that it was impossible to tell the difference between them and the demons that he often cast out of people. The Greek word that is translated hypocrites in Matthew 23:14 and 16, hupokrites (hoop-ok-ree-tace’) means “an actor under an assumed character (stage player)” (G5273). Jesus knew that the scribes and Pharisees were only pretending to be concerned about keeping God’s commandments and were intentionally breaking the laws they expected others to keep. Jesus told them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28). Jesus concluded by stating, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:33).

Jesus broadened his condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees to include the entire city of Jerusalem. He lamented, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 24:37). Jesus’ statement shows that in general, the population of Jerusalem had turned away from God and were unwilling to repent. The Greek words thelo (thel’-o) and ouch (ookh) which are translated not willing stress the finality of a decision in conjunction with the nature of the person that is deciding (G2309/G3756). Another way of expressing what Jesus meant by not willing might be “it wasn’t what you wanted to happen” or “you didn’t like that outcome.” Something that became clear about the Israelites’ bondage in Egypt over time was that they were content with things the way they were. One way of looking at it might be to say that they didn’t want to give up the security of their steady jobs.

Jesus expressed to the people he was talking to at the temple in Jerusalem that it was his desire to gather them “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Matthew 23:37). Jesus’ comparison of himself to a hen was likely meant to convey the tender heartedness with which God was inclined to deal with his chosen people. Jesus invited all who were tired of trying to work their way into heaven to come to him because he was “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:28-29). The Greek word that is translated gentle is praios (prah’-os). “Gentleness or meekness is the opposite of self-assertiveness and self-interest. It stems from trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation. The gentle person is not occupied with self at all. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, not of the human will” (G4235). Jesus demonstrated his trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation by willingly going to the cross to die for the sins of the world. He also told his disciples that, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it…For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:24-25, 27).

The right place

There was a time in our planet’s history when everyone spoke the same language. It says in Genesis 11:1, “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.” One way of looking at language and words is to see them as a type of world view or culture. In a sense, language is what connects people to each other. It makes it possible for them to share their experiences and ideas with each other. A common language helps us to draw the same conclusions as other people and to see things from a similar perspective.

The Hebrew word translated words in Genesis 11:1, dabar (daw-baw’) refers to a matter (H1697) and could be thought of as a topic of discussion. A specialized occurrence of dabar is in reference ”to records of the ‘events of a period.” Dabar can also be used as a more general term in the sense of “something.” In this way, it is an indefinite generalized concept rather than a reference to everything in particular. In connection with prophecy, when the phrase “the word of the Lord” is used, it is meant to focus our attention on the content or meaning of what is being said instead of the actual words themselves.

As a result of everyone speaking the same language, people were able to accomplish amazing things and became less reliant on God for their natural resources. It says in Genesis 11:4:

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

The place that was built became known as Babel. “Babel was a deliberate rejection of God’s instruction to ‘fill the earth’ (Genesis 9:1), a flagrant example of the corporate pride of man (Genesis 11:4). “The expression ‘a tower with its top in the heavens’ may refer to their desire to ascend to heaven or may denote a tower with an idolatrous ‘temple of heaven’ at its top” (note on Genesis 11:1-9).

One of the things that is clear from God’s reaction to the tower of Babel was that he didn’t intend for mankind to function without him. It says in Genesis 11:5-6, “And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.'” God acknowledged the power and potential of a unified people that all spoke the same language. Because of this, he intervened and caused the people’s language to be confused so that they could not “understand one another’s speech” (Genesis 11:7).

God’s strategy to keep mankind from becoming independent of him was to keep people from understanding what was meant when they said something to each other. For example, if I were to say, I don’t want to talk to you anymore; it could mean that I’m busy and I need to end our conversation or it could mean that I’m angry and I’m never going to speak to you again. These kinds of nuances to language make communication very difficult. When we misunderstand something that is said to us, it usually affects our relationship with that person and tends to over time break relationships apart.

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians included some guidelines for keeping relationships intact. He said, “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’ Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1-4). Paul’s instructions indicated that God wants us to have good relationships and that he blesses our efforts toward that end. In particular, we know that family relationships are important to God because he promises to bless us when we honor or pay attention to what our parents instruct us to do.

After God confused the language of men and dispersed them over the face of the earth (Genesis 11:7-8), God began to focus his attention on one family, in fact, a single person that he intended to bless and make into a great nation. Genesis 12:1-2 states, “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” The phrase “the land that I will show you” consists of two Hebrew words that convey the message of an unknown place, somewhere that Abram hadn’t been to before. God was definitely referring to the material world that Abram lived in, but he also implied that the location Abram was going to had a special spiritual significance.

God’s promise to Abram (Genesis 12:1-3) “is one of the most significant passages in the entire Bible. It points ultimately to the redemption of the whole world. Abraham’s family became a divinely appointed channel through which blessing would come to all men” (note on Genesis 12:1-3). Abram’s obedience to the words God spoke to him started the first spiritual awakening in the world. It also initiated a spiritual journey that took Abram about 40 years to complete. Afterward, the process continued with Abram’s descendants for hundreds of years until finally a temple for God to dwell in was built in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8).

It says in Genesis 12:4, “So Abram went, as the LORD had told him to, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed Haran.” The Hebrew word translated went, yalak (yaw-lak’) literally means to walk (H3212) and it seems likely that Abram traveled by foot when he left Haran. The Hebrew word translated departed, yatsa (haw-tsaw’) has to do with movement away from some point, but there could be more to what was happening than just Abram leaving one city and going to another. Abram was likely disassociating himself from one way of life and embracing another. It says in Genesis 12:6, “When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh.” The Hebrew word translated passed, `abar (aw-bar’) is used very widely of any transition. “This word communicates the idea of crossing over the boundary of right and entering the forbidden land of wrong” (H5674).

Abram’s arrival in Canaan may not have been so much about getting him to the right place for God to bless him as it was about getting Abram to the right place for him to be a blessing to others. The LORD took Abram to the place where his distant cousin Nimrod’s sinful kingdom was located (Genesis 10:10, 11:1-9). When he arrived in Shechem, “the LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘to your offspring I will give this land'” (Genesis 12:7). Abram’s reaction to this news seemed to be twofold. First, Abram was thankful and demonstrated his appreciation by building an altar to the LORD (Genesis 12:7), but Abram may also have been terrified because he immediately moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east” (Genesis 12:8).

Abram’s positioning of himself between the cities of Bethel and Ai likely had something to do with their future spiritual significance. Bethel was the place where Abram’s grandson Jacob discovered the house of God (Genesis 28:17) and Ai was the location where the Israelites experienced their first military defeat after entering the Promised Land (Joshua 7:5). Abram may have been wondering how he was going to maintain his relationship with the LORD and not get killed in the process. Abram probably realized he couldn’t handle his precarious situation without God’s help and may have thought in the meantime he just needed to stay out of harms way.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians pointed out that spiritual warfare is a real battle that every believer is expected to engage in. Paul began his explanation of how spiritual warfare works by stating that the Lord is the source of our spiritual strength. He said:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Paul’s description of our spiritual enemy, the devil, included the organization structure he uses to overtake us. Paul said that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

A spiritual ruler is someone that is first in rank or power (G757), similar to the president or CEO of a company. Authorities are persons that have the ability to direct the actions of others. You might say that spiritual authorities are beings that are able to make things happen in the spiritual realm (G1537). Cosmic powers over this present darkness are associated with Satan as a world-ruler that is opposed to God’s kingdom. The Greek word kosmokrator (kos-mok-rat’-ore) does not refer to earthly potentates, “but spiritual powers, who, under the permissive will of God, and in consequence to human sin, exercise satanic and therefore antagonistic authority over the world in its present condition of spiritual darkness and alienation from God” (G2888). The spiritual forces of evil that Paul referred to were most likely the invisible powers that believers must contend with on a daily basis (G4152). Perhaps, the best way to describe these evil forces would be to say that they are demons that cohabitate with Christians who are addicted to sin.

What may or may not be true based on Paul’s description of the spiritual landscape is that Satan’s forces are concentrated in areas where there is little resistance to their presence. One can only assume that believers are more secure when they are surrounded by other believers. When God instructed Abram to leave his homeland and go to Canaan, he was essentially asking him to go to a place that was similar to the pit of hell. Abram’s willingness to accept this assignment showed that he believed God was more powerful than Satan’s evil forces.

One the remarkable aspects of God’s promise to Abram was that he said he would give the land of Canaan to Abram’s offspring (Genesis 12:7). At that time, Abram didn’t have any offspring. His only living relative besides his wife was the son of his deceased brother. It says in Genesis 11:30 that “Sarai was barren; she had no child.” The Hebrew word translated barren, `aqar (aw-kawr’) means sterile in the same sense as someone that has had a hysterectomy (H6135). It was physically impossible for Sarai to conceive a child. What this meant was that Abram’s faith was placed in God with no misunderstanding that it was going to take a miracle for the words that God spoke to him to actually happen.

Paul instructed believers to “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). The Greek word translated schemes, methodeia (meth-od-i’-ah) means traveling over (G3180). Methodeia’s two root words, meta (met-ah’) and hudeuo (hod-yoo’-o) denote accompaniment on a journey (G3326/G3593). What this seems to suggest is that when Abram left his hometown and headed for Canaan, Satan went with him. This might be true in a sense because Abram took his nephew Lot with him when he left Ur of the Chaldeans even though God told him to leave his country and his kindred behind (Genesis 12:1). Abram’s obedience to God included a measure of disobedience and that’s how Satan was able to work his way into Abram’s situation.

A detour that Abram took after entering the land of Canaan was a trip to Egypt. It says in Genesis 12:10, “Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.” Abram’s reaction to the famine was to find a way out by taking advantage of alternate resources. Abram’s actions showed that he wasn’t depending on the LORD for protection, but rather his own ingenuity. It says in Genesis 12:11-13, “When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.”

Initially, Abram’s actions seemed to pay off. He “went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb” (Genesis 13:1), but there were likely some long term spiritual consequences from Abram’s decision to deceive Pharaoh and use his resources to prosper himself. Genesis 13:5-7 states, “And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock.” Abram’s solution to the problem was to separate himself from his nephew and to give Lot the opportunity to make a go of it on his own in the land of Canaan (Genesis 13:8-9).

The Apostle Paul’s description of spiritual warfare suggests that it’s an ongoing battle that takes place in the spiritual realm. Paul talked about resisting the devil and indicated that spiritual attacks had to be faced head on. Paul’s message to the Ephesians stated, “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:10-16).

The Greek word translated withstand in Ephesians 6:13, anthistemi (anth-is’-tay-mee) is derived from the words anti (an-tee’) and histemi (his’-tay-mee). The word anti means opposite. “This preposition is first of equivalence and then of exchange, stressing being in the place where another should be; total replacement” (G473). The Greek word histemi means to appoint or to be singled out, in order that it might be made known that one has been chosen by God (G2476). When Abram gave Lot the opportunity to choose the place he wanted to settle down, Lot chose Sodom. Genesis 13:12-13 states, “Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.”

Sodom was definitely the wrong place for Lot to settle if he wanted to live a godly life. Abram’s willingness to let Lot go there indicated that he was not being a good spiritual leader or withstanding the devil at that point in his life. In spite of this, the LORD confirmed that Abram was right where he wanted him. “The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length, and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you'” (Genesis 13:14-17).

The Hebrew word translated place in Genesis 13:14 is maqowm (maw-kome’) which is properly translated as “a standing” (H4725). Maqowm refers to the place where something stands. With regard to spiritual warfare, you might say that the LORD was intentionally placing Abram in a location where he would have to continually take a stand for his faith and as a result develop that capability on a daily basis. Maqowm is derived from the word quwm which means to rise and can refer to the origin of something (H6965). The LORD told Abram to “arise, walk through the length and breadth of the land” (Genesis 13:17). In this instance, quwm is translated arise and may have indicated empowering or strengthening. Quwm “is also used to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged.” In that way, you could say that God’s promise to Abram depended not only on him going to the right place, but also staying there in spite having to engage in spiritual warfare on a continual basis.

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart.

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

Deceivers

John’s brief message to the elect lady and her children focused on one central point, deceivers that were disrupting the spread of the gospel. John said, “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist” (2 John 1:7). The Greek word translated deceiver, planos (plan’-os) means an imposter (G4108). The Apostle Paul addressed the deception that was taking place near the end of his life in his first letter to Timothy. Paul said, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (1 Timothy 4:1). Paul’s mention of seducing spirits and doctrines of devils indicated that he was addressing the spiritual warfare that typically accompanied his preaching of the gospel. John’s statement, “This is a deceiver and an antichrist” also indicated that he associated deception with Satan’s spiritual war against God.

The Greek word John used that is translated antichrist, antichristos (an-tee-khris-tos) refers to an opponent of the Messiah (G500). John indicated that antichrists or imposters that claimed to be Israel’s Messiah were present in the world during his lifetime. These deceivers were apparently supported by demonic powers that were used to make people think God was at work in these fake ministries. The terms Paul used “seducing spirits” and “doctrines of devils” (1 Timothy 4:1) were specifically meant to point out that there was more than just human effort behind these kinds of attacks. The Greek word translated devils, daimonion (dahee-mon’-ee-on) refers to a demonic being (G1140). Throughout his ministry, Jesus cast out demons from human bodies. Mark’s gospel states about Jesus’ ministry, “Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him” (Mark 1:34, NKJV).

John’s primary concern about the deceivers that were making their way into the first century churches was that Christians were being taken in by their lies. John stated plainly that the doctrine of Christ was the only gospel message that should be preached (2 John 1:9). He said, “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 John 1:10-11). “The instruction does not prohibit greeting or even inviting a person into one’s home for conversation. John was warning against providing food and shelter, since this would be an investment in the ‘evil deeds’ of false teachers and would give public approval” (note on 2 John 1:10). The one thing that seems clear from John’s warning about deceivers was that they were hard to spot and even though their doctrines were false, they were convincing people that they could go to heaven some other way than believing in Jesus Christ.

Out of the darkness

Paul encouraged believers to change their behavior and to act like children of God. He told the Ephesians, “At one time you lived in darkness. Now you are living in the light that comes from the Lord. Live as children who have the light of the Lord in them” (Ephesians 5:8, NLV). Paul encouraged the believers in Ephesus to be engaged in spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:13) and told them to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11).

The unfruitful works of darkness that he referred to in Ephesians 5:11 may have been rumors that were being spread about Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome. The Greek word translated reprove, elegcho (el-eng’-kho) means “to rebuke another with the truth so that the person confesses, or at least is convicted of his sin” (G1651). There was most likely a lot of conflict in the church at Ephesus and Paul wanted the believers there to resist the temptation to be drawn back into their old lifestyles. The Greek word translated unfruitful, akarpos refers to “those influenced by the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches” (G175).

Paul’s final instruction to the Ephesians was to be properly equipped for spiritual battles. He said, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11). Paul became familiar with the armor of the Roman soldiers while he was under house arrest. The constant poking and prodding Paul had to endure from his captors may have prompted him to think of ways to thwart their attempts to antagonize him.

Paul said that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). The descriptors Paul used suggest that a structured organization exists in the spiritual realm. The Greek word translated powers, exousia refers to “the power of one whose will and commands must be obeyed by others” (G1849). Rulers of the darkness implies a world-ruler and may have been a reference to Satan himself. Paul was talking about “spirit powers, who, under the permissive will of God, and in consequence of human sin, exercise satanic and therefore antagonistic authority over the world in its present condition of spiritual darkness and alienation from God” (G2888).

Paul’s instructed believers to “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day” (Ephesians 6:13). This might suggest that we can only withstand Satan’s attempts to overcome us by using all of the spiritual resources we have available to us. Paul identified six pieces of clothing or armory that could be used in spiritual battles: a girdle (truth), breastplate (righteousness), shoes (gospel), shield (faith), helmet (salvation), and a sword (word of God). These pieces of armor may correspond to the process whereby a person becomes a child of God. A person must first hear the truth, then be convicted of his sins, understand that Jesus died for all sins and by faith receive Jesus as his savior, and finally, read the Bible to learn more about God’s kingdom.

Strongholds

A spiritual stronghold is an invisible structure that Satan erects to disable a believer’s faith. The Greek word translated strong holds, ochuroma (okh-oo’-ro-mah) “is used metaphorically in 2 Corinthians 10:4 of those things in which mere human confidence is imposed” (G3794). A better understanding of the word ochuroma can be obtained by looking at its origin. Ochuroma is a derivative of the word echo or scheo (skheh’-o), a primary verb which means to hold. “This word stresses that one has the means to accomplish a task” (G2192). Another word derived from scheo, ochlos (okh’los) means a vehicle, “a disorganized throng (as borne along)” (G3793). Another way of describing a stronghold might be popular opinion or what we read in the news headlines and hear on TV. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”

Paul used the Greek word kathairesis (kath-ah’ee-res-is) to describe the process of eliminating strongholds. Kathairesis means demolition and suggests that Paul was thinking about a forceful removal of any thought that interfered with belief in the truth of God’s word. Paul stated that believers are to cast down imaginations (2 Corinthians 10:5). What Paul was likely referring to was the estimation of our own abilities. When we feel convicted to do something as a result of what we have read in the Bible, our imagination causes us to think; that’s impossible, I could never do that. Paul’s instruction was to get rid of that thought by means of spiritual warfare. Paul said, “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God (2 Corinthians 10:4). The Greek word translated mighty, dunatos means powerful or capable (G1415). In other words, we must believe what God says is possible in order to demolish Satan’s stronghold.

Paul made it clear that Satan seeks to gain an advantage over believers (2 Corinthians 2:11) and he uses unfair means to trick us into believing his lies. Paul described Satan’s servants as “false prophets, deceitful workers” and indicated they transform themselves into the apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13). The Greek word translated transforming in 2 Corinthians 11:13 is metaschematizo (met-askh-ay-mat-id’-zo) which means to transfigure or disguise (G3345). Metashematizo is derived from the words meta (G3326) and schema (G4976). These words have to do with Satan working through external circumstances to disrupt believers’ lives. Paul talked about those who wanted to disrupt his ministry as desiring an occasion or looking for an opportunity to trip him up. Paul said, “But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them (2 Corinthians 11:12). Paul’s tactic to frustrate Satan’s effort was to do what he said he was going to. In his first letter, Paul told the Corinthians he was going to visit them (1 Corinthians 4:19). Even though he was delayed, Paul eventually made it to Corinth as promised (2 Corinthians 13:1).