You must be born again

Jesus’ conversation with a ruler of the Jews named Nicodemus revealed important information about how to get to heaven. Nicodemus approached Jesus with the intent of discovering the secret to his success. John’s gospel tells us, “This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’” (John 3:2). Nicodemus knew there was a spiritual component to Jesus’ ministry that couldn’t be overlooked, but he didn’t realize that Jesus was more than just a teacher and that he had the ability to do things that were beyond the scope of normal human comprehension. Nicodemus’ recognition that Jesus had come from God was a step in the right direction, but Nicodemus missed the mark when he admitted “No one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). God was not with Jesus, Jesus was God in human flesh. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated see, eido (iˊ-do) has to do with experience and suggests that Jesus wanted Nicodemus to connect the kingdom of God with something beyond the perception of his physical senses. The phrase that Jesus used, born again isn’t related to a person’s physical birth, but has the connotation of spiritual regeneration.

You might say that Jesus’ comment about being born again went right over Nicodemus’ head because he responded, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4). Jesus likely used the term born, or gennaō (ghen-nahˊ-o) in the Greek, because birth signified a definite event that occurred at a specific point in time. We all know that being born is something that is necessary for us to be alive and can relate to birth as a significant event in everyone’s life. If you have been born, you are clearly aware of it. The part that was probably confusing to Nicodemus was the part about being born again. The Greek word that is translated again in John 3:3, anothen (anˊ-o then) means “from above” (G509). Anothen is derived from the word ano (anˊ-o) which means “upward or on the top” (G507). In Acts 2:9 ano is used to signify being “in a higher place” and also refers to heavenly things in the sense that they are above or more important than other things. Nicodemus may have misunderstood Jesus’ use of the term anothen in the phrase born again because he knew that all life originates with God, but Jesus wasn’t talking about a second physical birth. Jesus was talking about an actual event, a second birth that superseded the first one because it was of a spiritual rather than a physical nature.

John said about Jesus, “He who comes from above is above all” (John 3:31). In this statement, John used the same Greek word anothen, which is translated again in John 3:3, to convey Jesus’ superiority over everything else. When we are born again, our spiritual life begins to take precedence over our physical life and we are able to live on a higher plane, the spiritual plane which is associated with heaven. Matthew referred to the kingdom of heaven on numerous occasions and his gospel contains many parables that Jesus used to describe what this realm is like. After telling his followers the parable of the sower, Jesus’ disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” (Matthew 13:10). Jesus answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:11-13).

Jesus connected being able to understand what he was saying to being born again and said that you cannot see or hear things associated with heaven unless you have access to that realm. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:5-8). Jesus equated being born again with entering the kingdom of God. The Greek word that is translated enter, eiserchomai (ice-erˊ-khom-ahee) is derived from the words eis (ice) which signifies the primary idea of motion into any place or thing (G1519) and erchomai (erˊ-khom-ahee) which represents movement in a particular direction (G2064). Essentially, what Jesus was saying was that there was a passage way that one had to travel through in order to reach the kingdom of God. Somewhat like the birth canal that must be passed through when a child is born, there is a particular way for a person to get into the kingdom of heaven and Jesus equated that with being “born of water and of the Spirit” (John 3:5).

Jesus noted the Holy Spirit’s prominent role in the process of spiritual birth when he said that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). It seems that Jesus’ indication that both water and the Spirit were involved in spiritual birth means that both are required for it to happen. In the same way that it takes both an egg and a sperm to make a child, the Holy Spirit and water or perhaps water baptism make it possible for spiritual regeneration to take place. It could be that Jesus’ comment about entering the kingdom of God was not about spiritual birth, but about spiritual life. As we all know, conception takes place inside the mother’s womb, but the child’s birth doesn’t happen until later. Birth makes is possible for a new stage of the child’s development to begin. It’s possible that being born again happens in two stages. First the conception, when the Holy Spirit comes in and regenerates a person and then, the birth, when a person is baptized and makes a public profession of faith.

Jesus associated the human spirit with the wind and said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). A unique characteristic of the wind that differentiates it from other natural forces is that you can’t see it, but you know that it’s present because of its effect on the things that it comes in contact with. The Greek word pneuma (pnyooˊ-mah) is translated as both wind and Spirit in John 3:8. Pneuma is “the vital spirit of life, the principle of life residing in man. The breath breathed by God into man and again returning to God, the spiritual entity in man (Matthew 27:50; Luke 8:55; 23:46; John 19:30; Acts 7:59; 1 Corinthians 15:45; Revelation 13:15)” (G4151). Pneuma is derived from the word pneo (pnehˊ-o) which means “to breathe hard, i.e. breeze” (G4154). This might make it seem as if the spiritual aspect of man is uncontrollable, but it could be that God causes us to be born again so that like the wind he can get us moving and so that his power will have a channel to flow through.

Psalm 135 focuses on the greatness of God and his ability to accomplish things. Psalm 135:5-7 states:

For I know that the Lord is great,
    and that our Lord is above all gods.
Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,
    in heaven and on earth,
    in the seas and all deeps.
He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth,
    who makes lightnings for the rain
    and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.

The Hebrew word that is translated wind in Psalm 135:7, rûwach (rooˊ-akh) is similar to the Greek word pneuma. Ruwach also describes the breath of a human being or the natural wind that blows. “The human spirit is sometimes depicted as the seat of emotion, the mind, and the will. The human spirit and the Spirit of God are closely linked with moral character and moral attributes” (H7307) It says in Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26 that God will give his His people a new spirit so they will follow His decrees and laws.

Psalm 135:7 emphasizes God’s control of the natural forces. The psalmist said that God “makes the clouds rise…makes lightnings for the rain…and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.” It could be that when we are born again, we become more like that natural forces that are under God’s control. Jesus eluded to this in his final words to Peter who had previously denied his relationship with Jesus three times (John 18:17, 25-27). Jesus told Peter, “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” (John 21:18).

Following Jesus comment that “the wind blows where it wishes…but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8), Nicodemus openly acknowledged his lack of spiritual perception by asking, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9). Rather than explaining things to Nicodemus, Jesus took the conversation in whole new direction. He stated:

Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but youdo not receive our testimony.If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:11-15)

Jesus referred to an experience that the Israelites had while they were wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. The incident is recorded in Numbers 21:6-9. It states:

Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronzeserpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

Moses’ account of what happened included three important steps that the Israelites had to take in order to avoid death after being bitten by the fiery serpents. The first step they took was to admit that they had sinned (Numbers 21:7). The Hebrew word that is translated sinned, chata (khaw-tawˊ) is a verb meaning to miss the mark…It indicates failure to do what is expected; the one who fails to find God in this life destroys himself (Proverbs 8:36)” (H2398). Second, the Israelites asked Moses to intercede with God on their behalf (Numbers 21:7). It says in Numbers 21:7, “So Moses prayed for the people.” The last thing that the Israelites had to do was to look at the bronze serpent (Numbers 21:9). The Israelites didn’t just glance at the bronze serpent and live, they had to consider its ability to save them and make a conscious decision to rely on it as a cure for their sin.

Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). Jesus emphasized the requirement of belief in order to have eternal life. Believing in something or someone means that you have faith in him with the idea of hope and certain expectation (G4100). One of the keys to having faith is trust. When you believe in someone, you trust that he will do what he says he’s going to, that he won’t disappoint you. The Greek word that is translated believes in John 3:15, pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) is derived from the word pistis (pisˊ-tis). Pistis is “a technical term indicative of the means of appropriating what God in Christ has for man, resulting in the transformation of man’s character and way of life. Such can be termed gospel faith or Christian faith (Romans 3:22ff.)” (G4102). Pistis means “persuasion, i.e. credence; moral conviction (of religious truth, or the truthfulness of God or a religious teacher), especially reliance upon Christ for salvation.” The Greek word pistis comes from the word peitho (piˊ-tho) which means “to convince…meaning to let oneself be persuaded…to assent to, obey, follow” (G3982).

The argument that Jesus presented to Nicodemus was that God loved the world and wanted to save it. Jesus said:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:16-18)

Jesus’ explanation of why God sent him into the world to save it made it clear that condemnation was the thing that needed to be avoided. Condemnation is the result of sin and will be the outcome of everyone’s lives that does not put their trust in Jesus Christ.

Jesus went on to say, “And this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:19-21). Jesus used the contrast of light and darkness to show Nicodemus that the Pharisees criticism of his ministry was motivated by guilt. Jesus said, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:20). Jesus was likely prompting Nicodemus to search his own soul and see if there was anything that needed to be forgiven. It seems that Nicodemus left without making a decision one way or the other to follow Christ because their conversation ended abruptly after Jesus’ comment about those who do wicked things hating the light.

John the Baptist echoed Jesus’ sentiment when he said, “He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all…Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:31-36). The Greek word that John used that is translated does not obey is apeitheo (ap-i-thehˊ-o) which means “to disbelieve (willfully and perversely)” (G544). Apeitheo speaks of a conscious decision being made to not believe what one knows to be true. It’s not clear in John 3 if Nicodemus accepted or rejected Jesus’ message the night that he spoke to him or went away and gave it some more thought before making his final decision. John recorded in his gospel that Nicodemus later defended Jesus when the Pharisees spoke against his ministry (John 7:49-52) and was present when Joseph of Arimathea prepared Jesus’ body for burial (John 19:38-40).

God is holy

Psalm 99, which is titled The LORD Our God is Holy, begins with a tribute to God’s exalted position in the world. Psalm 99:1-5 states:

The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble!
    He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
The Lord is great in Zion;
    he is exalted over all the peoples.
Let them praise your great and awesome name!
    Holy is he!
The King in his might loves justice.
    You have established equity;
you have executed justice
    and righteousness in Jacob.
Exalt the Lord our God;
    worship at his footstool!
    Holy is he!

The Hebrew word that is translated holy, qadowsh (kaw-dosheˊ) “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). Therefore, in the Old Testament, God is accorded the title ‘The Holy One of Israel’ (2 Kings 19:22; Psalm 78:41; Isaiah 17:7; Jeremiah 50:29). As such, God instructed that humanity should be holy because He is holy (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2)” (H6918).

God indicated that the way that people were to become holy was through consecration. He said to the Israelites, “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 11:44-45). On another occasion, God made it clear that all the people of Israel were to be holy (Leviticus 19:2) and later added that he is the one that sanctifies us (Leviticus 20:8). God said, “You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” (Leviticus 20:24).

In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul explained the process that God established before the foundation of the world to make his chosen people holy. Paul said:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:3-10)

Paul continued his explanation using the analogy of a husband and wife’s relationship to each other to illustrate how sanctification works. Paul said:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:22-27)

The process of sanctification is focused on the unification of Christ with his church. Paul said that we need to submit ourselves to Christ, so that his word can make us holy. The Greek word that is translated sanctify in Ephesians 5:26, hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) means “to make holy” and when “spoken of persons: to consecrate as being set apart of God and sent by Him for the performance of His will” (G37). Hagiazo is derived from the word hagios (hagˊ-ee-os) which is translated as both holy and saints throughout Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (1:1, 4, 13, 15, 18; 2:19, 21; 3:5, 8, 18; 4:12, 30; 5:3, 27; 6:18). When the word saints is used in the New Testament, it is referring to someone that has been purified and sanctified by the influences of the Holy Spirit. “This is assumed of all who profess the Christian name” (G40).

The term saints is also used in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word qadowsh (kaw-dosheˊ) which is usually translated holy is translated saints in Deuteronomy 33:3 in the King James Version of the Bible. Qadowsh is also translated as saints or holy ones in Psalm 16:3, 34:9 and 89:5, as well as in several books of prophecy (Daniel 8:13, Hosea 11:12, Zechariah 14:5) and in the book of Job (5:1; 15:15). Zechariah’s prophecy of the coming Day of the LORD seems to link together both the Old and New Testament saints and the unification of Christ with his church. Zechariah proclaimed:

Behold, the day of the Lord is coming,
And your spoil will be divided in your midst.
For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem;
The city shall be taken,
The houses rifled,
And the women ravished.
Half of the city shall go into captivity,
But the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city.

Then the Lord will go forth
And fight against those nations,
As He fights in the day of battle.
And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives,
Which faces Jerusalem on the east.
And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two,
From east to west,
Making a very large valley;
Half of the mountain shall move toward the north
And half of it toward the south.

Then you shall flee through My mountain valley,
For the mountain valley shall reach to Azal.
Yes, you shall flee
As you fled from the earthquake
In the days of Uzziah king of Judah.

Thus the Lord my God will come,
And all the saints with You.

It shall come to pass in that day
That there will be no light;
The lights will diminish.
It shall be one day
Which is known to the Lord—
Neither day nor night.
But at evening time it shall happen
That it will be light.

And in that day it shall be
That living waters shall flow from Jerusalem,
Half of them toward the eastern sea
And half of them toward the western sea;
In both summer and winter it shall occur.
And the Lord shall be King over all the earth.
In that day it shall be—
“The Lord is one,” And His name one. (Zechariah 14:1-9, NKJV)

Zechariah’s vision indicated that the LORD would come to the earth “And all the saints” with him (Zechariah 14:5). This is what is referred to in the Bible as the second coming of Christ, the appointed time when he will return to the earth and will reign over the entire world. The period of time in between Christ’s first and second coming is sometimes referred to as the Church Age, a period of time when the Gentiles will gain equality with the Jews and will enter God’s kingdom on the same basis, by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). Paul talked about the Jews and Gentiles becoming one in Christ in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the same household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:17-22).

Paul used the Greek word hagios (hagˊ-ee-os) to refer to both “the saints” and the “holy” temple that was being built together into a dwelling place for God (Ephesians 2:19, 21). The Greek word that is translated are being built together, sunoikodomeo (soon-oy-kod-om-ehˊ-o) means “to construct, i.e. (passive) to compose (in company with other Christians, figurative)” (G4925). Sunoikodomeo is derived from the words sun (soon) which denotes a union “i.e. by association, companionship, process, resemblance, possession, instrumentality, addition etc.” (G4862) and oikodomeo (oy-kod-om-ehˊ-o). Figuratively, oikodomeo means “to build up, establish, confirm. Spoken of the Christian Church and its members who are thus compared to a building, a temple of God, erected upon the one and only foundation, Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Colossians 3:9, 10) and ever built up progressively and unceasingly more and more from the foundation” (G3618).

The Greek word oikodomeo is sometimes translated as edify and is related to the word oikodome (oy-kod-om-ayˊ) which means “architecture that is (concretely) a structure” (G3619). Oikodome is usually translated as edifying or edification and was used by Paul to describe the process that the Church is going through in order to reach maturity and unification with Christ. Paul talked about this process in his letter to the Ephesians under the topic of unity in the Body of Christ. Paul said:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)

Edification may be a type of joint sanctification in which each member of the Body of Christ that is continually being added contributes to the collective state of the whole. Hebrews 12:12-14 indicates that holiness is the final state of the Church and a necessary condition for the Lord’s return. It states, “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” The Greek word that is translated holiness, hagiasmos (hag-ee-as-mosˊ) is derived from the word hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) which means to make holy (G37) and refers to the resultant state of the process of sanctification (G38).

The book of Leviticus teaches us that holiness is a state that can be transferred between things and people. The opposite of holiness is to be defiled which resulted from coming in contact with something that was unholy or profane. Leviticus 21:7 and 22:1-3 indicate that a woman whose virginity had been violated entered a state of defilement (H2491) and was cut off from the LORD’s presence. Numbers 5:1-3 states that anyone that was defiled had to be put outside the camp, “that they may not defile their camp” because the LORD resided there. In the same way that something or someone could become defiled; things and people could be made holy by coming in contact with something that had been consecrated to the LORD. Exodus 29:36-37 states, “Also you shall purify the altar, when you make atonement for it, and shall anoint it to consecrate it. Seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and consecrate it, and the altar shall be most holy. Whatever touches the altar shall become holy.”

In addition to the altar, the sanctuary of the tabernacle, all the utensils that were used for sacrifices, the priests, and even the priests’ garments were considered to be holy things (Exodus 30:29; Leviticus 6:18, 27). The transfer of holiness from one object to another was connected with physical touch, but the Hebrew word that is translated touch, naga (naw-gahˊ) is sometimes used figuratively in the sense of emotional involvement and also sexual contact with another person (H5060) suggesting that the physical contact might have something to do with intimacy. Jesus often touched the people that he healed and on at least one occasion had physical contact with a man who had leprosy, a condition that defiled a person (Leviticus 13:3). Matthew tells us that when Jesus “came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord if you will, you can make me clean. And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (Matthew 8:1-3). The Greek word that is translated touched in Matthew 8:3, haptomai (hapˊ-tom-ahee) is properly translated as “to attach oneself to” (G680). Haptomai, used figuratively, means “to have sexual intercourse” (1 Corinthians 7:1), so the sense of intimacy seems to apply to the circumstance of Jesus healing the leper.

Isaiah’s vision of God’s throne room validates Jesus’ inherent holiness. Isaiah wrote:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:1-3)

Isaiah referred to Jesus as the “Holy One” and said of him, “For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called” (Isaiah 54:5).

“God’s presence is what makes any place, anything, or anyone holy (Exodus 3:5)” (H6944). One of the distinct characteristics of the Israelites’ camp while they were traveling to the Promised Land was that the Lord was dwelling in their midst (Numbers 5:3). Numbers 7:89 states, “And when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak to the LORD, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim; and it spoke to him.”

Moses’ interaction with the LORD involved a type of emotional involvement that might be considered to be intimacy or attaching oneself to another person. It says in Exodus 33:11 that God spoke “to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” and in Exodus 34:29 it states, “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” The rays of light that were coming from Moses’ face bare a resemblance to the description that Matthew gave of Jesus’ transfiguration. Matthew recorded, “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him” (Matthew 17:1-3).

The Greek word that is translated transfigured in Matthew 17:2, metamorphoo (met-am-or-foˊ-o) appears to be related to the process of sanctification. Metamorphoo is derived from the words meta (met-ahˊ) which denotes accompaniment (G3326) and morphoo (mor-foˊ-o) “to fashion.” “Morphoo refers, not to the external and transient, but to the inward and real; it is used in Galatians 4:19, expressing the necessity of a change in character and conduct to correspond with inward spiritual condition, so that there may be moral conformity to Christ” (G3445). Paul used the word metamorphoo in his second letter to the Corinthians in connection with the veil that Moses put over his face to cover the light that shone from it (2 Corinthians 3:12-16; Exodus 34:33-35). Paul said, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (metamorphoo) into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Paul expanded on his discussion of transformation in his letter to the Romans. Paul wrote:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

According to Paul, the renewal of the mind was the key to sanctification. Paul said that we are not to be “conformed to this world” but transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2). The Greek word that is translated renewal, anakainosis (an-ak-ahˊ-ee-no-sis) stresses “the continual operation of the indwelling Spirit of God” (G342) which is commonly referred to as the Holy Spirit or hagios (hagˊ-ee-os) pnuema (pnyooˊ-mah) in the Greek.

Regeneration

Jesus described a future state of his kingdom as the new world and told his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Matthew 19:28). Jesus’ comment about the first being last and the last first had to do with the amount of sacrifice one made in order to follow him. Jesus explained this further in his parable about laborers in a vineyard. He said:

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:1-16)

The laborers who grumbled about receiving the same wages as those who worked only one hour were concerned about the fairness of the master paying everyone the same amount. The Greek word that is translated equal, isos (ee’-sos) has to do with perception (G2470) and suggests that the laborers who were hired first thought they were superior or you might say had worked harder than their fellow laborers. The master of the house said he hadn’t done anything wrong because the laborers that were hired first thing in the morning agreed to be paid a denarius (Matthew 20:2).

The thing that distinguished the laborers was not how much they got paid, but when they got paid their wages. The owner of the vineyard told his foreman to call the laborers and pay them their wages and instructed him to do it, “beginning with the last, up to the first” (Matthew 8). One of the key characteristics of the new world that Jesus was explaining to his disciples seemed to be the importance of activity. The Greek word that is translated idle in Matthew 20:3 and 20:6 is argos (ar-gos’) which refers to inactivity in the sense of being unemployed (G692). When they were asked why they had been standing idle all day, the laborers that were hired at the eleventh hour replied “Because no one has hired us” (Matthew 20:7).

In this instance the word hired seems to refer to God’s divine election and appointment of duties in Christ’s kingdom. The Apostle Paul identified five occupations that believers can be appointed to. He said, “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift…And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:7, 11-12). Paul indicated that the work of the ministry is accomplished through grace which is a gift that is received as a result of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The owner of the vineyard admonished the laborers who complained about receiving the same wages as those who had worked only one hour. He said, “Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (Matthew 20:14-15).

The Greek word that is translated generosity in Matthew 20:15, agathos (ag-ath-os’) “describes that which, being ‘good’ in its character or constitution is beneficial in its effect…God is essentially, absolutely and consummately ‘good'” (G18). Titus, a gentile convert of Paul’s, wrote to believers about being ready for every good work. He said, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:3-5).

The Greek word that is translated regeneration in Titus 3:5, paliggenesia (pal-ing-ghen-es-ee’-ah) is the same word Jesus used in reference to “the new world” in Matthew 20:28. “Regeneration stresses the inception of a new state of things in contrast with the old. This word means ‘new birth’ (palin, ‘again,’ genesis, ‘birth’), and is used of ‘spiritual regeneration'” (G3824). Titus indicated that salvation involves two things, “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Regeneration (paliggenesia) and renewal (anakainos) work hand in hand to restore the believer to a healthy spiritual state. Anakainosis (an-ak-ah’-ee-no-sis) “is the result of paliggenesia. The paliggenesia “is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light; it is that act by which God brings him from death to life. In the act itself (rather than the preparation for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth. Anakainos, by contrast, is the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive but is a fellow worker with God” (G3824).

Jesus illustrated the transition from paliggenesia to anakainosis in his parable of the laborers in the vineyard by the master of the house going out and hiring laborers to work in his vineyard. The ones who were standing idle in the marketplace (Matthew 20:3) could be believers that had not yet experienced anakainosis. Their passive state signified a lack of what Titus referred to as “the renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Even though the believer is in an active state when renewal takes place, it is the power of the Holy Spirit that makes renewal possible and it is a result of God’s grace rather than human effort. That’s why the rewards, or wages according to Jesus’ parable, were not based on anyone’s merit, but God’s goodness and loving kindness toward the workers of his kingdom.

Joseph’s transformation from a slave to the governor over the land of Egypt illustrates a type of regeneration in the life of an Old Testament believer. When Pharaoh sent for Joseph and he was brought out of the pit (Genesis 41:14), it was because he had a prophetic gift that Pharaoh wanted to make use of. “Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.’ Joseph answered Pharaoh, ‘It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer'” (Genesis 41:15-16). Joseph didn’t take credit for his ability to interpret dreams and later he told his brothers, “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5). The Hebrew word that is translated sent, shalach (shaw-lakh’) “suggests the sending of someone or something as a messenger to a particular place” (H7971). After Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and gave him a plan for storing up grain as a reserve to be used during the seven years of famine that were ahead, Pharaoh asked his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” (Genesis 41:38).

Joseph seemed to understand that the suffering he experienced was a part of God’s plan to establish his kingdom on earth. Joseph explained to his brothers, “For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors” (Genesis 45:6-7). The Hebrew word that is translated preserve, siym (seem) “means to put or place someone somewhere” and refers to appointing or assigning a task (H7760). Jesus informed his disciples about the task that God had assigned him. He told them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day” (Matthew 20:18-19).

Jesus linked his crucifixion with his resurrection in order to show that regeneration was not only about the institution of something new, but also the destruction of something that was old. “Regeneration stresses the inception of a new state of things in contrast with the old” (G3824). There is a connection between the old and the new that makes them both relevant in the context of eternal life. Jesus pointed this out when the mother of the sons of Zebedee asked “‘that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.'” (Matthew 20:21-23).

The Greek word that is translated prepared in Matthew 20:23, hetoimazo (het-oy-mad’-zo) means to make ready (G2090) and refers to fitness or laying the foundation for a particular objective to be accomplished (G2092). Jesus talked about his disciples preparation for leadership by stating, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28). The Greek term that is translated slave, doulos (doo’-los) refers to “one who was in a permanent relation of servitude to another one whose will was completely subject to the will of another…The focus is on the relationship, not the service” (G1401). In that sense, Jesus was talking about having a relationship with Christ and being dedicated to doing the will of God on a continuous basis.

The Apostle Paul often referred to himself as a servant of Jesus Christ and explained in his letter to the Ephesians that believers need “to put off the 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 4:22-24). The Greek word that is translated renewed is ananeoo (an-an-neh-o’-o). “The renewal here mentioned is not that of the mind itself in its natural powers of memory, judgment and perception, but ‘the spirit of the mind’; which, under the controlling power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, directs its bent and energies God-ward in the enjoyment of fellowship with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ, and of the fulfillment of the will of God” (G365).

When Paul said we are to put off our old self (Ephesians 4:22), he was most likely referring to changing our outward appearance so that we don’t resemble the kind of person we were before we came to know Christ e.g. drug addict, prostitute, or thief. After Joseph was brought out of the pit, he prepared for his meeting with Pharaoh by shaving himself and changing his clothes (Genesis 41:14). Joseph’s brothers didn’t even recognize him when they came to buy food in Egypt because he looked like an Egyptian. When Joseph finally revealed his identity to them, “his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence” (Genesis 45:3). Joseph told his brothers, “So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt'” (Genesis 45:8-9).

The Hebrew word siym (seem) which is translated made in Genesis 45:8-9 “signifies the creation of the thing (fixing its nature) and its use (its disposition)” (H7760). In that sense, Joseph was regenerated, there was an inception of a new state in contrast with the old (G3824). Jesus’ reference to “the new world” that will exist when he sits on his glorious throne (Matthew 19:28) suggests that things as well as people can undergo spiritual renovation. Paul talked about the renovation of the earth in the context of a future glory that has yet to be revealed. He said, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved” (Romans 8:18-24).

In a nutshell

In his letter to Titus, Paul provided a brief summary of the purpose of God’s plan of salvation. Paul said:

God’s free gift of being saved is being given to everyone. We are taught to have nothing to do with that which is against God. We are to have nothing to do with the desires of this world. We are to be wise and to be right with God. We are to live God-like lives in this world. We are to be looking for the great hope and the coming of our great God and the One Who saves, Christ Jesus. He gave Himself for us. He did this by buying us with His blood and making us free from all sin. He gave Himself so His people could be clean and want to do good. (Titus 2:11-14, NLV)

In a nutshell, Paul stated that the purpose of God’s plan of salvation was to change people’s lives. Paul said we are to live “God-like lives” (Titus 2:12, NLV). This phrase would have no meaning if it weren’t for the example that Jesus gave us when he was alive on Earth. We can know for sure what we are supposed to do as Christians because of the life of Jesus.

Paul said that Jesus “gave Himself so His people could be clean and want to do good” (Titus 2:14, NLV). In the King James version it says that Jesus wanted to “purify unto himself a peculiar people.” The Greek word translated peculiar, periousios (per-ee-oo’-see-os) has to do with “being beyond usual, i.e. special (one’s own possession)” (G4041). What actually happens when we become Christians is we take on Jesus’ characteristics. It’s not something that we have to try to do or pray for it to happen. It is a natural result of being born again. We become children of God (God-like).

The change that happens when we accept Jesus as our savior is both instantaneous and occurs over the course of our lifetimes. Paul said, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul described this instantaneous change as reconciliation (Colossians 1:20-21) and said that it resulted in peace with God. The change that occurs over the course of our lifetimes and results in our transformation into the image of Christ is referred to by Paul as sanctification. This is what makes us want to do good things or as it says in the King James Version, “zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14).

To be zealous for something means that it heats you up or gets you emotionally charged. Another way of saying it would be you’re passionate about it. The unusual or special thing about Christians is that they are passionate about helping people, doing good things for others. In a nutshell, that was the purpose behind God’s plan of salvation and the reason why Jesus was willing to die on the cross.

A new mind

It could be said that the human mind is a culmination of all the experiences we have had in our lives. The Greek word phroneo (fron-eh’-o) means “to be minded in a certain way” (G 5426). Phroneo implies “moral interest or reflection, not mere unreasoning opinion.” Paul used the word phroneo when he said, “Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits” (Romans 12:16). Paul’s instruction to be of the same mind one toward another could only be accomplished through the transformation of one’s thinking processes. Paul was essentially saying that believers should try and understand the world from other people’s perspective. We need to walk in each others shoes so to speak.

In order to accomplish the task of thinking like others, Paul admonished believers to renew their minds, similar to the way you would renovate an old home. He stated, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2, NKJV). The word Paul used that is translated mind in Romans 12:2 is nous (nooce). Nous refers to the intellect and denotes, “speaking generally, the seat of reflective consciousness, comprising the faculties of perception and understanding, and those of feeling, judging and determining” (G3563).

The Greek word translated renewing in Romans 12:2, anakainosis (an-ak-ah’-ee-no-sis means “the adjustment of the moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God, which is designed to have a transforming effect upon the life; and stresses the willing response on the part of the believer” (G342). God initiates the process of transformation in our lives by prompting us to think differently. We can cooperate with the Holy Spirit and yield ourselves to his work in our hearts or resist change and live our lives as we always have. Paul said that we should not be conformed to this world. What he meant by that was not acting like everyone else. The Greek word suschematizo (soos-khay-mat-id’-zo) “stresses outward conformity and means to shape one thing like another and describes what is transitory, changeable, and unstable” (G4964). In other words, following the latest fad.

Paul indicated that God gives each of us a measure of faith which we as believers are expected to use to develop our spiritual gifts. Paul said the gifts we receive differ according to the grace that is given to us (Romans 12:6), “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members of another” (Romans 12:4-5). The Greek word translated office, praxis means practice and by extension a function (G4234). God’s kingdom is operating in the world today in a somewhat invisible fashion. Even though we don’t see everything that is going on, there is constant activity that believers are expected to participate in. It is through the renewing of our minds that we begin to detect these activities and are able to contribute to the establishment of God’s kingdom on Earth.

Transformation

Paul talked about the death of believers’ physical bodies in the context of moving to a new home. He said, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1, ESV). Paul continued his discussion of the believers’ transformation by explaining to the Corinthians how the transformation process takes place. Paul described life after death as being clothed with immortality and said, “For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked” (2 Corinthians 5:2-3). Paul’s idea that we will put on our eternal bodies like a new set of clothes may have come from his understanding of spiritual transformation. The Greek word Paul used that is translated clothed, enduo comes from the two words en which has to do with a fixed position (G1722) and dumi which means “to sink into” and is used of the “setting” of the sun. In Paul’s time, “the sun, moon and stars were conceived as sinking into the sea when they set” (G1416). Paul might have been thinking about the fact that when the sun sets, we can’t see it, but it still physically exists and will return at an appointed time.

Paul made it clear that our heavenly bodies are not the same as our earthly bodies. He said, Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul’s comparison of old things and new things was probably meant to explain the change in material structure that would be necessary for a human body to go from a temporal to an eternal existence. Paul went on to say, “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19, NKJV). The Greek word translated reconciliation, katallage (kat-al-lag-ay’) means to exchange (G2643). What I believe Paul was talking about here was the exchange of our old bodies for one like Christ’s. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked about the church collectively as the body of Christ and indicated we are all members or particular parts of Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:12). When believers get to heaven, it appears that all the parts get put together so that a single unit exists instead of the individual pieces our human bodies now represent.

One of the keys to understanding the transformation that takes place when a believer’s body and spirit are separated from each other at death is the process God uses to reconcile us to himself. The Greek word translated reconciling and reconciled in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 is katallasso which means “to change mutually” (G2644). What Paul was saying was that the sum total of the propitiation of everyone’s sins to Christ’s account of righteousness will result in a balanced account. In other words, there will be no discrepancies when we all get put together, somewhat like a completed puzzle that has no missing pieces. On the day we received salvation, Paul said we were given the Holy Spirit as an earnest or down payment on the heavenly bodies we receive when we die (2 Corinthians 5:5). At the time of our death, a transaction takes place that Paul described as being absent from the body and present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). What I believe happens is that we leave our physical bodies behind and take on a new appearance that reflects our place in the body of Christ; one that is completely suited to the work we have been designed for in God’s eternal kingdom and one that fits perfectly with the spiritual schema that was developed during our lifetime on earth.

Life after death

Paul’s summary of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 concluded with an identification of the ultimate reason for believing in Christ. He stated, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14, ESV). Paul went on to say, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). Life after death was a key issue in Paul’s gospel message. His primary concern was a misconception that death marked the end of physical life. The Greek word translated resurrection, anastasis means literally “to cause to stand up on one’s feet again” (G386). Paul made it clear that physical death was a temporary state of human existence that would eventually be eliminated. He said about Jesus’ triumph over death, “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:25-26, ESV).

Paul used the analogy of a seed to explain the difference between our natural and spiritual bodies and stated, “Someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised? What kind of bodies will they have?’ What a foolish question! When you plant a seed, it must die before it starts new life. When you put it in the earth, you are not planting the body which it will become. You put in only a seed. It is God Who gives it a body just as He wants it to have. Each kind of seed becomes a different kind of body.” (1 Corinthians 15:35-38, NLV). Paul likened the transformation that occurs when a seed is changed into a plant to what happens when our natural bodies are resurrected. Paul pointed out that our resurrected bodies will have an unending existence (1 Corinthians 15:42). and then he stated, “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50, ESV)

Paul’s description of the resurrection of the dead was framed in the context of a mystery or a divine revelation that can only be understood with the help of the Holy Spirit (G3466). He said, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). The Greek term Paul used that is translated sleep, koimao (koy-mah’-o) means “to put to sleep” and refers to the phase of sleep when you are still fully conscious (G2837). Koimao is used figuratively to represent the death of Christians because there is no loss of consciousness when our spirits are temporarily separated from our human bodies. Paul concluded his discussion of life after death by connecting the resurrection of the dead with Isaiah’s prophecy about God’s completed work of salvation (Isaiah 25:8). He stated, “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57 ESV).

A united front

Saul’s dramatic transformation was evidenced by his immediate preaching of the gospel in Damascus where he had previously planned to arrest Christians and “bring them bound unto Jerusalem” (Acts 9:2). Luke said, “And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. But all that heard him were amazed and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ” (Acts 9:20-22).

Saul’s conversion had two profound effects on the spread of the gospel. First, Luke said Paul’s transformation “confounded the Jews” (Acts 9:22). The Greek word translated confounded, sugcheo (soong-kheh´-o) means to commingle promiscuously (G4797). The phrase we might use today would be “sleeping with the enemy.” In a figurative sense, sugcheo can mean to throw an assembly into disorder or to perplex the mind. You might say the Jews were caught off guard;  they were unable to process the news that Saul had gone over to the other side. The second effect of Saul’s conversion was that he was able to convince people that God was really at work. Luke said Saul was “proving that this is very Christ” (Acts 9:22). In other words, people couldn’t dispute the fact that Saul had changed dramatically.

The Greek words Luke used that are translated confounded and proving are derived from the same root word, sun (soon) which denotes union; with or together, “i.e. by association, companionship, process, resemblance, possession, instrumentality, addition” (4862). What was happening was that the gaps were being filled in and the gospel was no longer able to be disputed. It was evident from the miracles that were taking place and the dramatic changes people were witnessing that Jesus’ gospel message really was true.

Saul’s conversion was a significant turning point in the spread of the gospel because he was viewed as a respectable Jewish citizen. His collaboration with the Jewish council to stamp out Christianity made Saul a serious threat once he switched sides and began preaching the gospel. It says in Acts 9:23-25, “And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him. But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.” The threat on Saul’s life made his conversion even more believable. As a result of the danger he faced, Saul was accepted into a close inner circle of persecuted believers. A man named Barnabas vouched for his credibility and was able to introduce Saul to Jesus’ twelve apostles in Jerusalem.

The bond that formed between Saul and Jesus’ apostles was a testament to the power of the Holy Spirit to bring unity among believers. Although the apostles were suspicious of Saul and may have resented his miraculous transformation, they didn’t question his loyalty because he was willing to risk his life in order to preach the gospel. When Barnabas took Saul into his confidence, it was just as much an act of faith for him as it was when he sold his property and gave all the proceeds to the church in Jerusalem (Acts 4:36). As a result of Saul being joined together with the apostles, Luke said, “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied” (Acts 9:31).

A different form

Perhaps, the most remarkable thing that happened during Jesus’ three-year ministry was his transfiguration. Only three of Jesus’ disciples were allowed to witness this amazing event. Following his disclosure to his disciples that he would suffer many things and be killed and on the third day be raised from the dead (Matthew 16:21), Matthew tells us Jesus took Peter, James and John “and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart” (Matthew 17:1). The private place he took these men to may have been somewhere Jesus went to on a regular basis. After Jesus had fed the five thousand and sent his disciples away in a ship, Matthew tells us, “And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was alone there” (Matthew 14:23). It could be that on this particular occasion Jesus didn’t want to leave Peter, James and John alone. They were most likely disheartened by the reminder that Jesus would soon be killed and needed this beneficial experience of seeing the end result of Jesus’ death and resurrection to get them over their discouragement.

Matthew’s description of his transfiguration indicated that Jesus became like a shining star, “his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). Since Matthew wasn’t present at the time, it is likely his description of the transfiguration was based on his interpretation of what he heard Jesus looked like. Luke said of Jesus’ transfiguration that “the fashion of his countenance was altered” (Luke 9:29), meaning literally, Jesus became a different person. A deeper understanding of the words used by Matthew and Luke to describe what happened to Jesus show that the change that took place was an inward and real change of Jesus’ character and likely had nothing to do with his physical appearance. The root word morphe (mor-fay’) has to do with the nature or essence of a person, “not in the abstract, but as actually subsisting in the individual, and retained as long as the individual itself exists (3444). From this standpoint, it appears that when Jesus was transfigured, he took on or was given a different identity.

An interesting aspect of Jesus’ transfiguration is recorded in Matthew 17:5 where it says, “a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.” As if there might have been some confusion as to who he was at this point, his Father made it clear that Jesus was still the same person he was when he was baptized (Matthew 3:17), the Son of God. In other words, Jesus didn’t or wouldn’t become God at some point in time. Jesus was and always would be God’s son. From this standpoint, you could say that when Jesus was transfigured, he took on or was given a different nature, not identity, meaning he changed from who he was in the form of a man into who he was in the form of God. An example of this is water turning into steam or ice. It still has the same chemical makeup, but looks completely different. Another way of looking at it would be a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. They are one and the same creature, but look nothing like each other.

Expectations

In a series of ten promises, God revealed his intent to restore Jerusalem to its former state of glory. Referring to the capital of Israel as if it were his wife, God said, “I was jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I was jealous for her with great fury” (Zechariah 8:2). The name Zion is associated with the Messiah’s kingdom on earth. It is mentioned 37 times in the Psalms, primarily by King David, who said, “Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! when the LORD bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad” (Psalm 14:7). In another psalm written for the Levitical choir, it says, “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King” (Psalm 48:1-2). The mention of the great King in this psalm is a reference to the Messiah, Jesus Christ who is expected to one day rule the world from this centralized location known as Zion.

Even though the remnant of people that returned to Jerusalem were living in harsh conditions, God expected them to believe things would change radically after their Messiah was born. The LORD depicted a scene quite different from anything his people had experienced while they were living in captivity. He said, “There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof” (Zechariah 8:4-5). What might seem like ordinary life, was probably beyond the imagination of those living in the rubble of the once great city of Jerusalem. Zechariah proclaimed, “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; If it be marvelous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in these days, should it also be marvellous in my eyes? saith the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 8:6). In other words, God wanted his people to expect a miraculous transformation of their city because he was the one that had created the earth and everything in it.

Rather than keeping the Ten Commandments and observing all the statutes and ordinances that he had laid out for them when they were delivered from bondage in Egypt, God had a short list of expectations for the remnant of people that returned to Jerusalem. He said, “These are the things that ye shall do; speak ye every man truth to his neighbor; execute judgment of truth and peace in your gates: and let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbor; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the LORD” (Zechariah 8:16-17). God expected his people to be different than the rest of the world. One of the reasons God chose the descendants of Abraham to be his people was because he wanted the world to see the positive difference he made in their lives. After concluding his ten promises, God let his people know that they should expect to be recognized as his children. Speaking of the time period known as the millennial reign of Christ, God said, “In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you” (Zechariah 8:23).