Spiritual conflict

When the people of Israel left Egypt, Exodus 12:37-38 tells us that there were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children and “a mixed multitude also went up with them.” The mixed multitude consisted of people from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds” (H6154), most likely descendants of Jacob that were part Egyptian and part Israelite. After the Israelites started their journey from the Sinai Desert to the wilderness of Paran, the people began to complain (Numbers 11:1) and it says in Numbers 11:4, “Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: “Who will give us meat to eat?” (NKJV). The mixed multitude’s influence over the people of Israel led to an extreme dissatisfaction that ultimately caused the entire congregation to reject God. Numbers 14:1-4 states:

Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

The people’s conclusion that it would be better for them to go back to Egypt was based on “that which is appealing and pleasant to the senses” (H2896). The people of Israel thought that it would be easier for them to go back to being slaves in Egypt than to conquer the people living in Canaan.

God pardoned the people for their rebellion against him, but also made it clear that none of the men who had seen his glory and the signs that he did in Egypt and had not obeyed his voice would see the land that he swore to give them (Numbers 14:23). And yet, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land you are to inhabit, which I am giving you, and you offer to the Lord from the herd or from the flock a food offering or a burnt offering or a sacrifice, to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering or at your appointed feasts, to make a pleasing aroma to the Lord, then he who brings his offering shall offer to the Lord a grain offering of a tenth of an ephah of fine flour, mixed with a quarter of a hinof oil; and you shall offer with the burnt offering, or for the sacrifice, a quarter of a hin of wine for the drink offering for each lamb’” (Numbers 15:1-5). The reason why the LORD communicated his expectation at that particular point in time that the people were going to occupy the land of Canaan and would offer sacrifices to him was most likely to reinforce the fact that the final outcome of the Israelites’ situation was not dependent on their faithfulness to him, but God’s faithfulness to keep his promises.

One of the things that God clarified for the people before they moved on was the difference between an unintentional sin or mistake and willful rebellion against him. Numbers 15:22-27 states:

“But if you sin unintentionally, and do not observe all these commandments that the Lord has spoken to Moses, all that the Lord has commanded you by Moses, from the day that the Lord gave commandment, and onward throughout your generations, then if it was done unintentionally without the knowledge of the congregation, all the congregation shall offer one bull from the herd for a burnt offering, a pleasing aroma to the Lord, with its grain offering and its drink offering, according to the rule, and one male goat for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for all the congregation of the people of Israel, and they shall be forgiven, because it was a mistake, and they have brought their offering, a food offering to the Lord, and their sin offering before the Lord for their mistake.

The LORD said that an unintentional sin would be forgiven because it was a mistake (Numbers 15:25). On the contrary, intentional sins would not to be forgiven. The LORD told Moses:

“But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is a native or a sojourner, reviles the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he despised the word of the LORD and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him.” (Numbers 15:30-31).

God indicated that the person that despised his word and broke his commandment would be utterly cut off. Basically, that meant that the person would be excluded from God’s covenant and his promises with regard to that specific person would become null and void. God demonstrated the principle of intentional sin when “a man gathered sticks on the Sabbath day” (Numbers 15:32). The LORD told Moses, “The man shall be put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp” (Numbers 15:35).

The people of Israel’s tendency to rebel against God was dealt with in a very severe manner, but the LORD wanted the people to understand that they couldn’t trust their own instincts. God instructed the people to put tassels on their garments to remind them of the LORD’s commandments and told them “not to follow after your own heart” (Numbers 15:39). Following after our own heart means that we explore our thoughts, feelings, and desires to discover what we would like to do or what we might happen next in a particular situation. While the heart “is the source of all action and the center of all thought and feeling the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself” (H3824). The problem with following after our own heart is that the influences from the outer word and the influences from God Himself do not usually align with each other, and as a result, there will be spiritual conflict.

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians included instructions about how to resist the influences of the outer world. 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. 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’s reference to putting on spiritual armor was meant to convey the importance of protecting ourselves from the schemes of the devil. The Greek word that is translated schemes, methodeia (meth-od-iˊ-ah) means “to work by method. To trace out with method and skill, to treat methodically; to use art, to deal artfully; hence method, in the sense of art, wile (Ephesians 4:14; 6:11)” (G3180). The devil considers it his craft to entice believers to do things that are contrary to God’s will. The devil often works through people that we admire in order to get us to do things that we know are wrong.

Korah’s rebellion against Moses and Aaron’s authority was intended to undermine their ability to influence the people of Israel to do what God wanted them to. Numbers 16:1-3 states:

Now Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men. And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men. They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?”

Korah argued against Moses and Aaron’s authority by stating that everyone in the congregation was holy. Although it was true that all of the Israelites had been consecrated to the LORD, they were not all free from sin. Moses responded to Korah’s accusation by pointing out that he and his followers were rebelling against God (Numbers 16:11) and said, “In the morning the LORD will show who is his, and who is holy, and will bring him near to him. The one whom he chooses he will bring near to him” (Numbers 16:5). Moses indicated that there was only one person who was holy in the congregation and that person had been chosen by God to lead the people.

It might seem as though Moses was referring to himself when he said that the LORD would show who was his and would bring him near to him (Numbers 16:5), but Moses was likely referring to the angel of the LORD who was sent to guard the people on their way to land of Canaan (Exodus 23:20). “There is a distinct possibility that various Old Testament references to the ‘angel of the LORD’ involved preincarnate appearances of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Things are said of the angel of the LORD that seem to go beyond the category of angels and are applicable to Christ…The designation ‘angel of the LORD’ is used interchangeably with ‘the LORD’ and ‘God’ in the account of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-6). Exodus 23:21 states that the angel of the LORD has the power to forgive sins, a characteristic belonging to God alone (cf. Mark 2:7; Luke 7:49) and that he has the name of God in him. No man can see the full glory of God and live (Exodus 33:20), but Jesus Christ, in whom all the fullness of deity was manifested in bodily form, has made God the Father known (John 1:18; Colossians 2:9)” (note on Exodus 23:20-23).

Moses and Aaron interceded for the people of Israel (Numbers 16:22) and told them to “Depart, please, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be swept away with all their sins” (Numbers 16:26). The Israelites were told that they needed to stop associating with Korah or his influence would lead to their destruction. Afterward, Moses said of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram:

“Hereby you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord.” And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. (Numbers 16:28-33)

The Hebrew word that is translated perished in Numbers 16:33, ʾabad (aw-bad) means “to wander away, i.e. lose oneself” or “to be lost” (H6). Korah and all the people who belonged to him were lost in the sense of being unsaved. Their souls were not redeemed and therefore, they were condemned to eternal punishment.

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul talked about Christ’s judgment of the living and the dead. Paul said to Timothy, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:1-4). The dead that Paul was talking about in this passage were the spiritually dead (G3498). Paul indicated that Christ would judge the living and the dead. The Greek word that is translated judge, krino (kreeˊ-no) has to do with pronouncing an opinion concerning right and wrong, in a forensic sense (G2919). The difference between a living person and a dead person in a forensic sense is quite clear therefore, you should be able to distinguish very easily what a person’s spiritual state is. The problem is that the devil is very clever in the way that he disguises himself and is able to deceive an unsuspecting or naïve believer (Matthew 24:25) and so, Paul admonished Timothy to “always be sober-minded” (2 Timothy 4:5).

The Greek word Paul used that is translated sober-minded in 2 Timothy 4:5, nepho (nayˊ-fo) signifies “to be free from the influence of intoxicants” (G3525). This seems to suggest that demonic influence can be similar to getting drunk. One way of describing this kind of effect might be the mob mentality which can easily overtake people in emotionally charged situations. In contentious sporting events, people seem to lose their minds and can get out of control very quickly. The point that Paul was trying to make was that Timothy needed to make an intentional effort to not let himself come under the influence of someone or something that would compromise his ability to serve God. Paul told Timothy that he had “fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on the Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). In this passage, Paul referred to the Lord as the righteous judge. What Paul was likely getting at was that Jesus is able to judge us as one who is an expert in human behavior because he lived a human life and can discern between human and divine characteristics. Jesus doesn’t judge people from a superior perspective, but as one who can relate to all that we have to deal with regarding the overwhelming negative influences in our lives.

Paul concluded his second letter to Timothy with some examples of the spiritual conflict that he had to deal with during the final years of his ministry. Paul said:

Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me…Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! (2 Timothy 4:9-11, 14-16)

Paul indicated that he had been deserted by all of his ministry companions and that the only one that was with him at the time when he was writing his letter to Timothy was Luke. Paul’s statement, “May it not be charged against them!” (2 Timothy 4:16) may have been related to his earlier comment about the crown of righteousness that Christ would award “to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). Paul didn’t want his companions to be judged too harshly because they had helped him a great deal in the early years of his ministry. The Greek word that is translated charged in 2 Timothy 4:16, logizomai (log-idˊ-zom-ahee) means “to take an inventory” and primarily signifies “’to reckon,’ whether by calculation or imputation…Imputation has three steps: the collecting of all charges and remissions; the totaling of these debits and credits; the placing of the balance or credit on one’s account” (G3049). The remission of sins is what makes the imputation of Christ’s righteousness balance out our account and makes it possible for us to be free from our moral debt to God. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness,” so it is one’s belief in God that causes Christ’s righteousness to be imputed to his account.

Paul’s concern for his companions’ spiritual well being was similar to Moses and Aaron’s reaction to the rebellion that undermined their ability to lead the people of Israel. After everyone grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the LORD” (Numbers 16:41), the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment” (Numbers 16:45), but instead, Moses and Aaron “fell on their faces. And Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath had gone out from the LORD; the plague has begun.’ So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. And behold, the plague had already begun among the people. And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped” (Numbers 16:45-48). When Aaron stood between the dead and the living, he was acting as a spiritual guard, similar to what Paul said Timothy should do when he instructed him to be “sober-minded” (2 Timothy 4:5). In the midst of spiritual conflict, Aaron was able to intervene and restored order to the congregation. As a result, the plague was stopped and the Israelites continued their journey to the Promised Land.

Endurance

The Apostle Paul wrote his second letter to his spiritual son Timothy from a Roman prison and “believed that his death was near…Some suggest that Paul was writing a more personal letter to Timothy because of the fact that he was expecting to die soon” (Introduction to the Second Letter of Paul to Timothy). Paul encouraged Timothy to endure suffering so that he could present himself to God “as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed” (2 Timothy 2:15). Paul said:

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (2 Timothy 2:1-7)

Paul used three analogies to get his message across to Timothy. First, Paul told Timothy that he must share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Soldiers are mentioned throughout the New Testament account of Jesus’ ministry because of the Roman occupation of Israel at that time. The Greek word that Paul used, stratiotes (strat-ee-oˊ-tace) refers to “a (common) warrior” (G4757). Paul’s idea of a good soldier of Christ Jesus was probably someone that was always engaged in spiritual battles. Paul encouraged the Ephesian believers 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” (Ephesians 6:10-11).

Paul told Timothy, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:4). The New King James Version of the Bible states it this way. “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.” The Apostle Peter also talked about becoming entangled in the affairs of this life in the context of false prophets and teachers. Peter said:

These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” (2 Peter 2:17-22)

Paul’s use of the phrase “the affairs of this life” (2 Peter 2:4) was probably meant to be interpreted in the context of normal everyday life. The Greek word that is translated life in this instance, bios (beeˊ-os) refers to “the present state of existence” and by implication “the means of livelihood” (G979). The struggle between doing God’s will and our own will often centers on the question of how we earn our living. The struggle between the two is clearly portrayed in the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt. After the Israelites “set out for the first time at the command of the LORD by Moses” (Numbers 10:13), it says in Numbers 11:1, “the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes.” Moses went on to say:

Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” (Numbers 11:4-6)

The strength that was dried up may have been the people’s physical appetite, but there was likely more to what was going on than just a lack of physical nourishment. The Hebrew word that is translated strength, nephesh (nehˊ-fesh) in an abstract sense refers to vitality and often represents “the inner being with its thoughts and emotions” and by extension, “the whole person” (H5315). At this point in time, it seems that some of the Israelites were beginning to miss their old way of life. Moses referred to the group of people that had gathered together to complain to each other as “the rabble” (Numbers 11:4). It’s not stated exactly who these people were, but it seems likely that they were dissenters who were opposed to the military campaign that was about to take place as the Israelites approached the Promised Land (Numbers 13:1-2, 17-19).

The second analogy that Paul used to encourage Timothy’s endurance was an athlete that is engaged in a competition. Paul said, “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5). The point that Paul was making was that it is possible for Christians to be disqualified from the spiritual rewards that they expect to receive from God. An example of this principle was the 40 year delay that kept everyone that grumbled against the LORD from entering the Promised Land (Numbers 14:26-30), as well as Moses’ exclusion because he broke faith with the LORD (Deuteronomy 32:48-51). Paul told Timothy at the conclusion of his letter, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge will award me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). The crown of righteousness may be the crown that Paul was referring to when he said that an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules (2 Timothy 2:5). If so, competing according to the rules might have something to do with preaching the gospel accurately, meaning that there isn’t anything added or taken away from the message that Jesus proclaimed to his followers.

Paul’s final analogy, the hard working farmer, indicated that the principle of sowing and reaping came into play with regard to suffering and endurance. Paul said, “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops” (2 Timothy 2:6). Metaphorically, fruit as it relates to work or deeds is “the visible expression of power working inwardly and invisibly, the character of the ‘fruit’ being evidence of the character of the power producing it” (G2590). Paul’s suggestion that the hard-working farmer should receive the first share of the crops meant that the person preaching the gospel would receive some of the benefits of his own message. In other words, the power of the Holy Spirit would spill over into his own life as the preacher of the gospel went about sowing the seeds of God’s word. Paul concluded with the statement, “Think over what I say; for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7). Paul seemed to be aware of the fact that his words of encouragement to Timothy weren’t really all that encouraging, at least not from a human perspective. The Greek words that Paul used, noieo (noy-ehˊ-o) which is translated think over and sunesis (soonˊ-es-is) which is translated understand have to do with the faculties of the mind and may be connected with Paul’s instruction to the Ephesians “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds” (Ephesians 4:23). Paul told the Ephesians that they must “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:21-24). Basically, what Paul was referring to was the process of sanctification which results in the divine character of God being manifested in the life of the believer (G38).

After the Israelites complained to the LORD about their misfortunes (Numbers 11:1), they were commanded to sanctify or consecrate themselves (Numbers 11:18). Numbers 11:18-20 states:

“And say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the Lord, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt.” Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, “Why did we come out of Egypt?”’”

The Hebrew word that is translated rejected, maʾaç (maw-asˊ) speaks of “despising one’s spiritual condition” and describes the Israelites’ actions “in refusing to heed God or accept his authority” (H3988). The Israelites were instructed to consecrate themselves, meaning that they had to go through a process of rededicating themselves to the LORD in order to reinstate his blessing upon them.

Moses’ role of keeping the Israelites in check was a difficult one because of the constant friction between God and his chosen people. Moses asked the LORD:

“Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me.” (Numbers 11:11-14)

A short while later, Moses’ authority was challenged by his own brother and sister. Numbers 12:1-9 states:

Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it. Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. And suddenly the Lord said to Moses and to Aaron and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting.” And the three of them came out. And the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward. And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed.

Moses’ personal relationship with the LORD made it possible for him to understand things that no other human being could. God said that he spoke to Moses “mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles” (Numbers 12:8).

Like Moses, Paul suffered because of the message that the Lord entrusted to him. Paul said that he was suffering, “bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:9-10). The Greek word that is translated endure, hupomeno (hoop-om-enˊ-o) is derived from the words hupo (hoop-oˊ) which refers to an inferior position or condition (G5259) and meno (menˊ-o) which speaks of “a person remaining in a state or condition” (G3306). The literal translation of hupomeno is “to stay under,” meaning to remain in an inferior position (5278). Paul said that he was enduring prison for the sake of the elect, “that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10). Paul believed that he was in prison because it was a part of his ministry, something that he needed to do to in order to finish his race (2 Timothy 4:7).

Paul encouraged Timothy to endure suffering because of the assurance that he had of future rewards. Paul said:

The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him. (2 Timothy 2:11-12)

The Greek word that Paul used that is translated reign, sumbasileuo (soom-bas-il-yooˊ-o) refers to a co-regent (G4821). Paul said in his letter to the Romans, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17). Jesus talked about his future glory in his high priestly prayer to his Father. Jesus said, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22-23).

One of the conditions that Paul identified for being approved by God was being able to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Paul contrasted being able to rightly handle the word of truth with irreverent babble that leads people into more and more ungodliness (2 Timothy 2:16). Another way of describing irreverent babble might be a fruitless or meaningless discussion. Some people talk about God in a way that destroys other people’s faith rather than building it up. Paul used the example of Hymenaeus and Philetus, who had said that the resurrection had already happened (2 Timothy 2:18), in order to illustrate how a central fact could undermine the entire gospel. Paul encouraged Timothy to cleanse himself from what is dishonorable, so that he would be “a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21).

Paul’s final recommendation for endurance had to do with the spiritual battles associated with winning souls for Christ. Paul said:

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Paul’s description of salvation as coming to our senses and escaping from the snare of the devil emphasized the importance of spiritual warfare and its role in helping or hindering a person’s belief in God. The Greek word that is translated captured, zogreo (dzogue-rehˊ-o) means “to take alive (make a prisoner of war)” (G2221). The concept of a prisoner of war suggests that the devil is able to render believers useless to God by tricking them into believing things that are untrue.

Paul admonished Timothy “not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers” (2 Timothy 2:14) and then went on to explain that it is the condition of our hearts when we share the gospel that makes all the difference in the success or failure of our attempt. Paul told Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). The idea that Paul was conveying of presenting ourselves to God was about the genuineness of our faith or you might say the accuracy of our view of ourselves compared to God’s view of us. We might think we are right with God, but when we stand in God’s presence every unconfessed sin will be exposed. Paul wrote in his message to the Hebrews:

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,

“Yet a little while,
    and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
    and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Hebrews 10:35-39)

The shrinking back that Paul mentioned may have had something to do with lowering a sail and so slackening the course of the ship. Paul was likely referring to being remiss in holding to the truth of the gospel (G5288). In other words, leaving out some of the details of the gospel in order to make it more palatable to unbelievers is a dangerous compromise that can diminish your faith and result in spiritual ruin. 

Heaven on earth

Exodus 24:9-10 tells us that “Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel went up and they saw the God of Israel.” The place that these men went up to isn’t identified, but it can be assumed that they went up to Heaven because the Bible identifies Heaven as the place where God lives. Moses said, “There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness” (Exodus 24:10). In other words, the Lord was standing on something that appeared to be a solid surface, but its transparency made it seem as if he was suspended in mid-air. The Hebrew word shamayim (shaw-mah’-yim), which is translated heaven, describes everything God made besides the earth…The heavens that humans observe with their senses are indicated by this word…The invisible heavens are the abode of God…He dwells in heaven (1 Kings 8:30, 32); yet He is not contained in even the heaven of heavens, the most exclusive part of the heavens (1 Kings 8:27)” (H8064). Luke indicated that after Jesus commissioned his disciples to take his gospel to the whole world (Matthew 28:16-20), “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51).

After the Israelites confirmed their covenant with him, God instructed Moses, “And let them make for me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture so you shall make it” (Exodus 25:8-9). A sanctuary is a physical place of worship (H4720). In that sense, the sanctuary that Moses was expected to make was supposed to be a place where the people could enter into God’s presence and commune with him. This was a distinct privilege that only the Israelites among all the peoples of the world were given because of their relationship and covenant with God. Jesus told his followers, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). The word that Jesus used that is translated midst, mesos (mes’-os) means in the middle (G3319). This is very similar to what was depicted by the sanctuary that traveled with the Israelites wherever they went. Moses was told to construct the sanctuary according to a pattern that was shown to him while he was on top of Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights (Exodus 24:18). “The Lord commanded Moses to build a sanctuary in which he would dwell among his people. It was to be a tabernacle or movable tent that would be suitable for the Israelites’ nomadic lifestyle. The Levites would have responsibility for it (Numbers 18:1-7). Its general designation was ‘the house of the LORD’ (Exodus 34:26), but it was also known as ‘the tabernacle of the testimony’ (Exodus 38:21) because it served as a depository for the tables of the law or testimony. Another designation was the ‘Tent of Meeting’ because the Lord met his people there and the sanctuary was filled with his glory and presence (Exodus 40:34-38). From this tent, God would lead the Israelites on their journey” (Note on Exodus 25:8, 9).

The most prominent feature of the tabernacle was an area identified as the Most Holy Place where the ark that contained the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments engraved on them was kept (Exodus 26:34). The ark was a wooden box that was overlaid with pure gold inside and outside. The ark was approximately 45 inches in length, 27 inches wide, and 27 inches high (Exodus 25:10) and was covered with a solid gold lid that had two cherubim on top of it, one on each end facing toward each other, that were also made of gold (Exodus 25:18-20). The estimated cost of the ark in todays dollars is $28 million and it may have weighed as much as 1300 lbs. It was carried using two poles that were also overlaid with gold and were placed in 4 gold rings, one at each corner of the ark. The gold lid for the ark with the two cherubim on it was called a mercy seat. The LORD told Moses:

Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel. (Exodus 25:19-22)

The mercy seat was symbolic of the covering over of sins that was made possible by the shedding of blood through sacrifice (H3727). The term propitiation was used by both Paul and John to describe what happened when Jesus died on the cross (Romans 3:25, 1 John 2:2). John said, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). It seems likely that the exorbitant cost of making the ark and its mercy seat were meant to represent the priceless cost of our salvation. Paul said that the person that is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him (1 Corinthians 6:17). “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

The image that is created by the cherubim that were on top of the mercy seat was one of intimacy as well as spiritual union. The cherubim were “of one piece” (Exodus 25:19), meaning they were connected to each other and their faces were “one to another” (Exodus 25:20). The Hebrew word that is translated faces, paniym (paw-neem’) is sometimes translated as countenance and refers to the look on one’s face (H6440). Paniym is derived from the word panah (paw-naw’) which means to turn. “Used of intellectual and spiritual turning, this verb signifies attaching oneself to something” and in an even stronger sense “represents dependence on someone” (H6437). It was from between the two cherubim that God spoke to the Israelites. God told Moses, “I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Exodus 25:22). In other words, God intended to give Moses step by step directions, somewhat like how a GPS system guides us to our desired destination. For this reason, there needed to ongoing communication between God and Moses and a continual awareness of the Israelites’ location.

One of the ways that the phrase “in the midst” (Exodus 25:8) can be translated is “at the heart” (H8432) which suggests the possibility that the tabernacle or perhaps the ark of the testimony was symbolic of the human heart. It seems that the primary purpose of the tabernacle was a depository for the tablets on which God wrote the Ten Commandments (Exodus 25:15). The prophet Jeremiah was given a message about the New Covenant that God intended to establish with his chosen people after they returned from exile. He stated:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

The Hebrew word leb (labe) which means heart, can be used figuratively to represent the centre of anything. “However, it usually refers to some aspect of the immaterial inner self or being since the heart is considered to be the seat of one’s inner nature as well as one of its components” (H3820). God’s ability to write his law on people’s hearts has to do with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In a similar way that the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34), the Holy Spirit fills believers and makes it possible for them to preach the gospel (Acts 4:31).

Jesus used parables to describe the kingdom of heaven in a way that would only be clear to those who are filled with the Holy Spirit. He compared the kingdom of heaven to a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field (Matthew 13:31-33), a treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13:44), and “a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46). The common theme in each of these illustrations is the invisible or you might say immaterial nature of the kingdom of heaven. The point that Jesus was trying to make was that the kingdom of heaven can be discovered and has great value to those who possess it. The link between the Ten Commandments and the kingdom of heaven could be their ability to transform the human heart. One way of looking at the kingdom of heaven might be that it is a state of being that one enters into when the word of God is operative in his or her heart. Heaven is therefore not just a place that we go to when we die, but a state that we can live in that is eternal and connected to God.

Peter, who was recognized as “the predominant disciple during the ministry of Jesus and had a tremendous impact on the early church” (Introduction to the first letter of Peter) understood that heaven on earth was not an idyllic state, but one that ran counter to the culture and mindsets of the Roman Empire and therefore, often resulted in suffering and sometimes persecution. Peter encouraged his followers to share in Christ’s sufferings so that they might be glad when his glory was revealed and said, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, your are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:13-14). Peter asked the question, “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1 Peter 4:18) and then stated, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19). Peter asserted that it is sometimes God’s will for his children to suffer because that is the example that Jesus gave us. Sharing in Christ’s sufferings means that we enter into a partnership with our Lord and Savior that is based on equal responsibility, goals, and rewards. After he denied three times that he even knew Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75), Jesus asked Peter if he loved him and then gave him this instruction:

“Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:17-19)

Peter said that we should clothe ourselves with humility toward one another and indicated that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). The Greek word that is translated humble, tapeinos (tap-i-nos’) means depressed and is used figuratively to signify being “humiliated (in circumstances or disposition)” (G5011). God’s grace is the divine influence upon the heart that enables us to act the way Jesus did when we are faced with difficult circumstances (G5485). Peter said that God gives us grace when we intentionally humble ourselves and admit that we can’t handle things on our own. He said, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Jesus indicated that people’s hearts can grow dull and be unreceptive to God’s word (Matthew 13:15). In his explanation of the Parable of the Sower, Jesus stated, “When anyone hears the word of of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart” (Matthew 13:19). The evil one, who is known as Satan or the devil (G4190), is described by Peter as our adversary. Peter said that we should “be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The image of a roaring lion that is seeking someone to devour makes it seem as if the devil feeds on believers, but it could be that Satan’s appetite for evil is quenched through our sins against God. Peter was well aware of the tactics Satan uses to deter believer’s from sharing their faith. Peter’s denial of the Lord involved an innocent question that sparked his fear and made him unwilling to risk the slightest implication that he was associated with Jesus. Matthew’s gospel states, “Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, ‘You also were with Jesus the Galilean.’ But he denied it before them all, saying, ‘I do not know what you mean.'” (Matthew 26:69-70).

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians indicated that the physical and spiritual realms are intertwined and that believers are involved in spiritual battles on an ongoing basis whether or not we are aware of it. Paul said that believers should “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” (Ephesians 6:10-12). The idea that we can have hand to hand combat with spiritual forces in the heavenly places makes it seem as if believers are caught in the middle of the two realms that continually compete for their attention. Paul said that we must stand against the schemes of the devil if we want to enjoy the spiritual blessings that God has given us. Even though we have received salvation, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are safe from the adversary that wants to make our lives a living hell. Peter said that you must resist the devil, “firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:9-11).