Impossibility

The Apostle John stated near the end of his book the purpose of his gospel. John said, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). John connected certain signs that Jesus did in the presence of his disciples with their belief that he was the Christ, the Son of God. The Greek word that is translated signs in John 20:30, semeion (say-miˊ-on) means “a token of proof. A sign by which the divine power in majesty is made known, a supernatural event or act, a token, wonder, or miracle by which the power and presence of God is manifested, either directly or through the agency of those whom He sends (Sept.: Exodus 4:8, 17, 28, 30)” (G4592). “Each of the incidents recorded in the gospel of John is specifically included to prove that Jesus is indeed the Son of God” (Introduction to the Gospel According to John). John started with the most obvious and perhaps what he considered to be the most import incident that Jesus was involved in, God’s creation of the universe. John said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3). John referred to Jesus as the Word, indicating that his existence was not limited to the physical expression of God’s character. The Greek word that John used, logos (logˊ-os) goes beyond something said to include also “reasoning (the mental faculty or motive; by extension a computation; specifically (with the article in John) the Divine Expression (i.e. Christ)” (G3056). When logos is used to represent the “Word of God” it means “His omnipotent voice, decree.”

John said, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). When John said that he and others had seen Jesus’ glory, he was most likely referring to the signs that were proof of his deity. Isaiah’s vision of the Lord’s glory indicated that it is linked with his inauguration as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:11-16). Isaiah stated:

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)

The words of Isaiah’s commission (Isaiah 6:9-10) were used by Jesus to explain why he taught in parables (note on Isaiah 6:1-13). Jesus said:

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. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
     and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
     and with their ears they can barely hear,
     and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
     and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
     and turn, and I would heal them.’” (Matthew 13:13-15)

“Jesus spoke in parables to explain spiritual truths, but those who had already rejected Jesus did not have divinely enlightened minds with which to perceive these truths, and no amount of explanation would make them understand (1 Corinthians 2:14). They could watch and hear Jesus with their physical eyes and ears, but they were not capable of understanding the truth in their hearts because they had rejected him (2 Corinthians 4:3, 4)…People do not hear and see because their hearts are full of wickedness; consequently, they fail to understand the truth that has been given them. They are so opposed to God’s message that they harden themselves against it, lest they should understand it and ask forgiveness of God. Once they reject Jesus, they also reject the possibility of understanding the parables that Jesus told (Isaiah 55:6-8)” (note on Matthew 13:10-17).

Isaiah’s description of the compassion of the Lord revealed that we often misunderstand God’s Word because we don’t understand the way He works. Isaiah encourages us to:

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
     call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
     and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
     and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
     neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
     so are my ways higher than your ways
     and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:6-9)

The difference between God’s ways and our ways has to do with our human limitations. God said that His ways are higher than our ways. What he meant by higher was that He and humans operate on different levels of existence. God operates on the spiritual plane and we operate on the physical plane, which skews our perception toward tangible evidence of the things that we believe in. When we seek to have a relationship with God, we have to do it on a level that is beyond our physical comprehension.

The intersection of the spiritual and physical planes is where contamination of holy things and purification of unholy or unclean things takes place. When something on the physical plane is consecrated to God, it is transferred to a higher level of existence. Likewise, when something or someone such as Jesus Christ, who is a spiritual being, is born into the physical plane, he has been brought into a lower level of existence. That’s what John was talking about when he said, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The Greek word that is translated became, ginomai (ghinˊ-om-ahee) means “to come into existence” (G1096). Ginomai is used of miracles and the like and implies that there is a tangible result of some sort. The main point that John wanted to make in the first chapter of his gospel message was that Jesus became something that he had not previously been when he became a human being, but on the spiritual plane, his physical birth was not the beginning of Jesus’ existence.

Purification is a method whereby physical things and people can be made holy and interact with God on the spiritual plane. The impossibility of transferring something or someone to a higher plane was demonstrated through the purification rites. The LORD instructed Moses and Aaron to, “tell the people of Israel to bring you a red heifer without defect, in which there is no blemish, and on which a yoke has never come” (Numbers 19:2). The red heifer was symbolic of the sacrifice of Christ and was rare because of its special color and because it had to be uniform in color, no spots or defects of any kind in its coat. The complicated process of sacrificing the red heifer added to the perplexity of its cleansing power. After the red heifer was cremated, its ashes were gathered and then, combined with water to create a solution referred to as “the water for impurity” (Numbers 19:9). Numbers 19:16-21 states:

Whoever in the open field touches someone who was killed with a sword or who died naturally, or touches a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean seven days. For the unclean they shall take some ashes of the burnt sin offering, and freshwater shall be added in a vessel. Then a clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water and sprinkle it on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there and on whoever touched the bone, or the slain or the dead or the grave. And the clean person shall sprinkle it on the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day. Thus on the seventh day he shall cleanse him, and he shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water, and at evening he shall be clean. “If the man who is unclean does not cleanse himself, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, since he has defiled the sanctuary of the Lord. Because the water for impurity has not been thrown on him, he is unclean. And it shall be a statute forever for them.

According to the Messianic Prophecy Bible Project, such a perfect creature as the red heifer that is described in Numbers 19 “is so elusive that its ceremonial burning has seldom happened in all of Jewish history. Mishnah, which is an authoritative, written embodiment of Jewish oral tradition, teaches that only nine red heifers were sacrificed from the time of the Tabernacle worship until the second temple was destroyed in 70 AD. The rabbis consider the red heifer one of the greatest mysteries of the Torah. Even they wonder how it’s possible that the ashes of the sacrificial animal can purify from sin and defilement. Furthermore, in an apparent paradox, these same ashes that purified also made anyone involved in the red heifer preparations – from the person who gathered the ashes to the person who sprinkled the water – unclean until evening” (Numbers 19:10). The commandment regarding the red heifer is considered to be such a mystery that the rabbis place it in the category of chukkim “divine decrees that cannot be understood by our limited human understanding” (free.messianicbible.com, The Red Heifer and the Third Temple in End-Time Prophecy).

Along with God’s specification of the water for impurity that was to be used to cleanse everyone that came in contact with a dead body (Numbers 19:20) was an incident in which Moses was commanded to bring water from a rock. The connection between these two events was God’s expectation that his instructions would be carried out exactly as he had stated them. Numbers 20:7-8 states:

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before your eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them to drink to the congregation and their cattle.”

We know that God was expecting Moses to operate on the spiritual plane because his instruction to tell the rock to yield its water (Numbers 20:7) made no sense on the physical plane. In his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul explained that God was referring to a spiritual Rock and indicated that “the Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4).

Rather than telling the rock to yield its water, it says in Numbers 20:11 that “Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice.” The Hebrew word that is translated struck, nakah (naw-kawˊ) is usually associated with God’s discipline or a military defeat (H5221). Nakah is translated smitten in Isaiah 53:4 where it says of Jesus, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” Moses’ actions are described as disobedience (Numbers 27:14) and a failure to honor the Lord as holy (Numbers 20:12; Deuteronomy 32:51). As a result, Moses was prohibited from entering Canaan (note on Numbers 20:9-12) because, as the LORD pointed out, the root cause of Moses’ disobedience was unbelief (Numbers 20:12).

Jesus made a distinction between operating on the physical plane and operating on the spiritual plane when he told his disciples, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). The Greek word that is translated possible, dunatos (doo-nat-osˊ) signifies “powerful” (G1415), so another way of looking at God’s ability to do things would be to equate it with his power. God is able to do everything that his power enables him to. The Greek word that is translated impossible, adunatos (ad-oo-nat-os) is a combination of the words dunatos and a (alˊ-fah) as a negative participle, which signifies that something is not possible. Another way of saying Matthew 19:26 might be, with man there is no power, but with God there is unlimited power so he can do everything that he wants to. When Jesus’ disciples asked him why they weren’t able to cast a demon out of a little boy (Matthew 17:19), he answered them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there, and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20-21). According to Jesus, faith enables us to operate on the spiritual plane where impossibility doesn’t exist.

John’s attempt to record the specific signs that would convince people that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31) began with what John described as “the first of his signs” (John 2:11) or you might say, the foremost sign, meaning that this particular sign began to make it obvious that Jesus wasn’t an ordinary human being. John’s account is of a wedding at Cana in Galilee where Jesus turned water into wine. John said:

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-11)

John said that Jesus “manifested his glory” (John 2:11) when he made the water into wine. At Cana both God’s grace and God’s power were manifested, and these constituted Jesus’ “glory” (G1391). John indicated that Jesus was full of grace and truth (John 1:14) and said, “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16-17).

Grace and truth are key components of faith. Paul told the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing. It is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Grace in a spiritual sense refers especially to “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life” (G5485). The Greek word charis (kharˊ-ece) is derived from the word chairo (khahˊee-ro) which means “to be ‘cheerful, i.e. calmly happy or well-off” (G5463). Based on this definition, when John said that Jesus was full of grace (John 1:14), it can be assumed that he meant Jesus was always happy or well-off, even when he was dying on the cross. That is one of the things that made Jesus stand out and be recognized as the Son of God.

After Jesus drove out those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting in the temple (John 2:14-15), “the Jews said to him, ‘What sign do you show us for doing these things?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’” (John 18-19). The phrase destroy this temple had significance on both the physical and spiritual plane. The Jews that Jesus was talking to were focused on the physical aspect of his declaration and determined that it was impossible for him to do what he had stated. They responded to him, “It has taken forty six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” (John 2:20). A clue that Jesus wasn’t talking about the physical structure that they were looking at can be found in the Greek word he used that is translated raise. Egeiro (eg-iˊ-ro) means to waken and “is frequently used both in the transitive sense of ‘raising up’ and the intransitive of ‘rising’” (G1453). Egeiro is used in Matthew 27:52 in reference to the resurrection of believers and also in Matthew 27:62-66 in reference to Jesus rising from the dead, but even his disciples were confused when Jesus used the word egeiro in connection with the temple being destroyed and raised up again. It wasn’t until after he was resurrected that they understood what Jesus was talking about (John 2:21-22).

The sign of Jesus’ body being resurrected was likely an intentional effort on God’s part to bridge the gap between the impossibility of life after death on the physical plane and the possibility of a dead person standing up on his feet again as if he has just been woken up from sleep on the spiritual plane. Using the illustration of the temple being destroyed and rebuilt in three days (John 2:19), Jesus was able to remove the barriers of his disciples’ physical mindset. It says in John 2:22, “When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”

Rebellion against God

It says in Exodus 13:17-18, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’ But God led the people around by way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of Egypt equipped for battle.” The Israelites spent approximately 1 -2 years traveling from Rameses in Egypt to the wilderness of Paran, where it says in Numbers 13:1-2, “The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.’” Then, in Numbers 13:25-33 it tells us:

At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the people of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.” But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”

Caleb’s confident assertion that “we are well able to overcome it” (Numbers 13:30) was based on his belief that God would give the land of Canaan to the people of Israel because he had promised it to them (Numbers 13:1). Caleb later stated, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD delights in us, he will bring us into the land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the LORD” (Numbers 14:7-9).

The Hebrew word that is translated rebel in Numbers 14:9, marad (maw-radˊ) “usually described the activity of resisting authority.” Marad is “also used to describe a general, rebellious character of a nation (Ezekiel 2:3; 20:38). Caleb admonished the Israelites to not rebel against the LORD and said of the people of Canaan, “’Their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them.’ Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones” (Numbers 14:9-10). Joshua and Caleb, two of the twelve men that were sent to spy out the land that God had promised to give the Israelites, stood alone in their conviction that the people of Israel could overcome the occupants of the land of Canaan. Caleb encouraged Israel’s army to “go up at once and occupy it” (Numbers 13:30). The Hebrew word that is translated occupy, yarash (yaw-rashˊ) means “to occupy (by driving out previous tenants, and possessing in their place).” Yarash is “used usually in connection with the idea of conquering a land” (H3423). Caleb’s suggestion that Israel’s army go up at once had a theological significance in that the Hebrew word ʿalah (aw-lawˊ) “is used in relationship to a person’s appearance before God. One must go up to stand before the Lord (Exodus 34:24; see also Genesis 35:1)” (H5927). Caleb used the Hebrew word yakowl (yaw-koleˊ) twice to add emphasis to his conviction that the Israelites were not only able to overcome the Canaanites, but well able to overcome them. “When yawkowl is used without another verb, the sense is ‘to prevail’ or ‘to overcome,’ as in the words of the angel to Jacob: ‘And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed’ (Genesis 32:28)” (H3201).

The connection between Caleb’s conviction that the people of Israel could overcome and Jacob’s name being changed to Israel is significant because Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s descendants’ destiny of becoming a nation was linked to them having faith in God. If the Israelites were able to do what they needed to in their own power and strength, there would have been no need for them to have a relationship with God. Caleb differentiated between the Israelites and Canaanites by stating that the Canaanites protection had been removed, but “the LORD is with us” (Numbers 14:9). The fact that the whole congregation wanted to stone Caleb and Jacob (Numbers 14:10) indicated that they were collectively operating in unbelief. Numbers 14:11 states, “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of the signs that I have done among them?” The Hebrew word that is translated despise, naʾats (naw-atsˊ) means “to scorn, to reject. It is related to natsats (5340), meaning to scorn or to blaspheme. This word often refers to rejecting the counsel of a wise person. This scornful attitude results in an unhappy life: people live in affliction because they reject God’s counsel (Psalm 107:11)” (H5006).

The Bible contains information about a period of time that is referred to as the Last Days or Latter Days. During that time, there will be a universal rejection of God and a man known as the Antichrist will rise to power and rule over the world. The Prophet Daniel received visions about future events leading up to this and also interpretations that make it clear that a worldwide tribulation is inevitable (Daniel 9:27). At the end of the Israelites 70 years of captivity in Babylon, Daniel prayed to the Lord God for mercy and confessed the sins of his people. Daniel pleaded:

To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity. For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem. As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth. Therefore the Lord has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice. And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day, we have sinned, we have done wickedly. O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”

As a result of his prayer, Daniel received a visit from the angel Gabriel (Daniel 9:21) and was given a timeline for the major events of the Last Days, which included the Great Tribulation, an event that has not yet taken place (Daniel 9:24-27).

The Apostle Paul’s second letter to Timothy included a warning about godlessness in the Last Days. Paul said:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men. (2 Timothy 3:1-9)

The Apostle Peter also talked about the Last Days and indicated that scoffers would come in the Last Days and follow their own sinful desires. Peter said:

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (2 Peter 3:1-7)

A scoffer is a person that makes a mockery of something or someone (G1702/G1703). It says in Luke’s gospel, “Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, ‘Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?’ And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him” (Luke 22:63-65).

Paul told Timothy that the people he needed to avoid would have “the appearance of godliness,” but would deny “its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). In the context of false teachers, Paul was saying that the gospel message would get watered down. In particular, that Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection would eventually be denied or forgotten all together. Paul said that “these men oppose the truth” and were “corrupted in mind,” as well as, “disqualified regarding the faith” (2 Timothy 3:8). Paul’s conclusion that some people would be disqualified regarding the faith might have been based on the Old Testament’s example of the Israelites not being allowed to enter the Promised Land. The LORD told Moses, “none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it” (Numbers 14:22-23). The miraculous signs that God performed when he delivered the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt were comparable to the miraculous signs that Jesus performed during his ministry on earth. Both of these showed without a shadow of a doubt that God was at work in the world and was capable of bringing his plan of salvation to a successful completion.

There was really no explanation as to why the Israelites rejected God and would not believe in him except that they were rebellious by nature. They simple kept choosing to go their own way instead of following God’s program. God indicated that the Israelites had tested him ten times and had not obeyed his voice (Numbers 14:22). “There are two views concerning the Israelites testing God ‘ten times.’ Some scholars hold that it refers to ten previous, literal instances recorded in Scripture, citing the incident at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:10-12), two demands for water (Exodus 15:24; 17:2, 3) and two for food (Exodus 16:3; Numbers 11:4-6), two occasions of disregarding God’s instructions regarding manna (Exodus 16:20, 27), the incident with the golden calf (Exodus 31:1-25), the discontent three days after leaving Sinai (Numbers 11:1), and the people’s response to the report of the spies (Numbers 14:1-4). Others say that ‘ten times’ is not to be taken literally but instead indicates multiple occurrences. In either case, the expression refers to the Israelites’ repeated acts of rebellion” (note on Numbers 14:22).

The LORD intended to strike the Israelites with a plague and disinherit them, but Moses interceded on their behalf and convinced the LORD that it would be in his best interests to forgive his chosen people. Numbers 14:13-19 states:

But Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for you brought up this people in your might from among them, and they will tell the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, O Lord, are in the midst of this people. For you, O Lord, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go before them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, ‘It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them that he has killed them in the wilderness.’ And now, please let the power of the Lord be great as you have promised, saying, ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now.”

The greatness of God’s steadfast love was clearly demonstrated when he sent his own Son Jesus to die for the sins of the world. It was necessary for Jesus to pay the penalty for not only the Israelites’ sins, but for everyone’s sins; otherwise, God couldn’t have forgiven anyone for anything.

The LORD responded to Moses’ intercession for the people of Israel and said, “I have pardoned, according to your word” (Numbers 14:20). The Hebrew word that is translated pardoned, çalach (saw-lakhˊ) means “to forgive” or “to free from or release from something.” “Calach is reserved especially to mark the pardon extended to the sinner by God. It is never used to denote that inferior kind of measure of forgiveness that is exercised by one man toward another. It is the Divine restoration of an offender into favor, whether through his own repentance or the intercession of another. Though not identical with atonement, the two are closely related. In fact, the covering of the sin and the forgiveness of the sinner can only be understood as two aspects of one truth: for both found their fullness in God’s provision of mercy through Christ (cf. Hebrews 9:22). God is always the subject of forgiveness…The Old Testament saints, while involved in sacrificial rites, put their faith in God. It was their faith in God that saved, not the sacrifices” (H5545).

Although the LORD pardoned the Israelites, he did not ignore their rebellious actions. The LORD told the Israelites:

“As I live, declares the Lord, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.” (Numbers 14:28-34)

God’s deliverance

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians pointed out that all unsaved people live according to the covenant that God made with Noah after he destroyed every living thing on the earth (Genesis 9:8-13). Paul said, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3). The phrase Paul used, “the course of this world” and the person he referred to, “the prince of the power of the air” have to do with Satan’s attempt to undermine God’s plan of salvation by imitating the work of Jesus Christ. The Greek words that are translated “sons of disobedience” uihos (hwee-os’) which means “the quality and essence of one so resembling another that distinctions between the two are indiscernible” (G5207) and apeitheia (ap-i’-thi-ah) which denotes “obstinacy, obstinate rejection of the will of God” (G543). suggest that anyone that does not do the will of God is a follower of Satan.

One of the important aspects of God’s covenant with Noah was that one of Noah’s sons was cursed because he disgraced his father. Genesis 9:20-25 states:

Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said,

“Cursed be Canaan;
    a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”

Genesis 10:6 indicates that Ham had four sons; Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. There’s no explanation as to why Canaan was the only one of Ham’s sons to be cursed, but it can be assumed that Canaan followed in the footsteps of his father Ham and was committed to being a son of disobedience rather than a worshipper of God.

The nation of Egypt is associated with the descendants of Ham in Psalm 105 where it says, “Then Israel came to Egypt; Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham” (Psalm 105:23) and “He sent Moses, his servant, and Aaron, whom he had chosen. They performed his signs among them and miracles in the land of Ham’ (Psalm 105:26-27). Psalm 105 focuses on the purpose of God’s deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt. Psalm 105:1-6 states:

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
    make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
    tell of all his wondrous works!
Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
Seek the Lord and his strength;
    seek his presence continually!
Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
    his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,
O offspring of Abraham, his servant,
    children of Jacob, his chosen ones!

The psalmist’s instruction to “tell of all his wondrous works!” was meant to encourage believers to remind ourselves that God is able to do things that are beyond human capability. The Hebrew word that is translated tell, siyach (see’-akh) means “to ponder, i.e. (by implication) converse (with oneself, and hence, aloud)” (H7878). The Hebrew word pala’ (paw-law’) which is translated “all his wondrous works” means to separate, i.e. distinguish and “is used primarily with God as its subject, expressing actions that are beyond the bounds of human powers or expectations” (H6381). In other words, believers need to talk to themselves about God’s ability to do things that we don’t expect him to, things that we can’t do for ourselves.

Moses was instructed to deliver a series of messages to Pharaoh that were designed to make him think about what God was capable of compared to his own strength and ability. Exodus 9:13-15 states, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh and say to him, “Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, ‘Let my people go, that they may serve me. For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants, and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth. For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth.'”‘” God wanted Pharaoh to understand that he could annihilate him and his people if he chose to, but he had a different objective in mind. God said, “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go” (Exodus 9:16-17).

God described Pharaoh’s behavior as exalting himself against his people. What that meant was that Pharaoh was putting himself in the place of God with the people of Israel. The Israelites were doing what Pharaoh told them to rather than listening to and obeying God’s instructions (Exodus 6:9). One of the problems that the LORD had to deal with when he delivered his people from slavery in Egypt was that they were willing to submit themselves to Pharaoh, but they weren’t willing to submit themselves to God. The foremen that were responsible for making the Israelites deliver a daily quota of bricks accused Moses of bringing evil on God’s people. They said, “The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us” (Exodus 5:21). Essentially, what Moses and Aaron had to do was to get Pharaoh to drive the Israelites away, to expel them from Egypt (Exodus 11:1). Otherwise, the people of Israel wouldn’t have been willing to leave.

God said that he had raised Pharaoh up in order to show him his power so that his name would be “proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). One of the ways that the Hebrew verb ‘amad (aw-mad’) can be used is to signify something that is immovable or unchanging (H5975). ‘Amad was most likely being used in reference to Pharaoh’s refusal to let the people of Israel go. God exercised force against Pharaoh by destroying everything that was connected to his creation. Exodus 9:23-25 states, “And the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt. There was hail and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very heavy hail, such as had never been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. The hail struck down everything that was in the field in all the land of Egypt, both man and beast. And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field.” God’s dominion over the land of Egypt was clearly demonstrated by his ability to kill everything that lived there including man and beast. The hail’s violent crushing of plants and trees was likely symbolic of the devastation that occurred during the flood of Noah’s day when the fountains of the deep burst forth and the windows of heaven were opened and God blotted out all life that was on the ground (Genesis 7:11, 23).

Pharaoh’s attitude toward God began to change when he saw that there was no hail in the land of Goshen where the people of Israel lived. Exodus 9:27-29 states, “Then Pharaoh sent and called Moses and Aaron and said to them, ‘This time I have sinned, the LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Plead with the LORD, for there has been enough of God’s thunder and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer.’ Moses said to him, ‘As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the LORD, the thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the LORD’s.'” The Hebrew word that is translated sinned, chata’ (khaw-taw’) is sin conceived as missing the road or mark. “From this basic meaning comes the word’s chief usage to indicate moral failure toward both God and men, and certain results of such wrongs” (H2398). Pharaoh’s admission of guilt indicated he understood that he had done something wrong, but it didn’t go so far as to affect a change in his behavior. Exodus 9:34-35 indicates that Pharaoh had not actually repented of his sin. It states, “But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased he sinned yet again and hardened his heart, he and his servants. So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people of Israel go, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses.”

The battle of the wills between God and Pharaoh was similar to the battle that all unbelievers go through when they are forced to admit that they don’t have the power to control their own circumstances. The essential element that was missing in Pharaoh’s situation was the gift of God’s grace. After describing the spiritual condition of unsaved men (Ephesians 2:1-3), Paul went on to tell the Ephesians, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved…so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9). Paul emphasized the hopelessness of those that are opposed to God’s will when he said, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands — remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:11-12).

The Greek word that is translated hope in Ephesians 2:12, elpis (el-pece’) has to do with the unseen and the future. As a noun in the New Testament, it means a “favorable and confident expectation, a forward look with assurance” (G1680). To be without God in the world means that one is an atheist. “In Ephesians 2:12 the phrase indicates, not only that the Gentiles were void of any true recognition of God, and hence became morally godless (Romans 1:19-32); but, being given up by God they were excluded from communion with God and from the privileges granted to Israel (cf. Galatians 4:8)” (G112). Paul explained that the reason why Pharaoh was unable to have faith was because he had no knowledge of God and was alienated from him because of the hardness of his heart (Ephesians 4:17-18). Paul used the words futility and ignorance to describe the mental barriers that can inhibit faith. One of the benefits of the miracles that Moses performed was that they revealed God’s existence and displayed his magnificent power to Pharaoh and his people. Each time the plagues were removed, Pharaoh was given the opportunity to repent and do God’s will.

One of the reasons the LORD eventually hardened Pharaoh’s heart, meaning God dulled his spiritual senses and made it impossible for him to believe, was because the LORD was strengthening the Israelites faith at the expense of the Egyptians unbelief. Exodus 10:1-2 states, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go in to Pharaoh for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.'” The Hebrew word that is translated know, yada’ (yaw-dah’) means to have an intimate experiential knowledge and primarily has to do with relational knowledge, “it refers to knowing or not knowing persons” (H3045). God was in the process of developing a relationship with his people when he delivered them from their slavery in Egypt. An important aspect of yada’ is the involvement of the senses, especially eyesight. In other words, you are only able to ascertain who someone really is by seeing them in action.

Pharaoh’s servants seemed to be able to grasp the situation better than he did because they knew there was no hope for them apart from God. Exodus 10:7 states, “Then Pharaoh’s servants said to him, ‘How long shall this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God. Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?'” Pharaoh’s servants expected Egypt to cease to exist as a result of the plagues that they were experiencing. Rather than completely destroying Egypt, God’s intention was to bring Pharaoh to his knees (Exodus 10:3). God’s discipline of Pharaoh was likely a result of his attempt to make things right in spite of the hardened state of his heart. After a plague of locusts wiped out all the vegetation that survived the hail, Exodus 10:16-17 states, “Then Pharaoh hastily called Moses and Aaron and said, ‘I have sinned against the LORD your God, and against you. Now therefore, forgive my sin, please, only this once, and plead with the LORD your God only to remove this death from me.'” The natural disasters that God used to deliver his people from slavery in Egypt were perceived to be instruments of death and each of the ten plagues became more intense as they progressed. The actual result of the plagues was not so much meant to be the death of the Egyptians as it was an awareness of their lost or unregenerate spiritual state (Exodus 10:7).

The ninth plague that the Egyptians experienced may have been designed to make them feel like they were living in hell. Exodus 10:21 states, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.'” The pitch darkness that lasted for three days made it impossible for anyone to move about or even to recognize each another (Exodus 10:22-23). The Hebrew word that is translated darkness, choshek (kho-shek’) is derived from the word chashak (khaw-shak’) which means “to be dark (as withholding light)” (H2821). In other words, there was a concealment or blocking out of all the light in the land of Egypt for three whole days. God said that the darkness was to be felt. What he may have meant by that was that the Egyptians would experience the effects of not having the sun, moon or stars as resources. After the light was restored, some of the Egyptians no doubt realized the extreme depths of their depravity and may have felt like they had been resurrected from the dead. Paul used the analogy of things that were once hidden being exposed by the light to describe the experience of being born again and encouraged unbelievers to let the light of Christ shine on them. Referring to a hymn that was used by early Christians, Paul stated:

“Awake, O sleeper,
    and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14)

Paul went on to warn believers that they should be careful about how they use the freedom that Christ has purchased for them. Paul said, “Look carefully then how you walk not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:15-17). The Greek word that is translated “making the best use of,” is exagorazo (ex-ag-or-ad’-zo). “Exagorazo, as a verb, is a strengthened form of agorazo (59 – “to buy”), and denotes “to buy out,” especially of purchasing a slave with a view of his freedom” (G1805). Christ paid the ransom to God for the life of every believer in order to satisfy the demands of His holy character. Paul’s admonition to walk not as unwise but as wise was meant to point out that like God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, there is a purpose for each believer’s salvation; to do God’s will and we must be pay attention to that because the devil is actively engaged in a war against us (Ephesians 6:10-11).

Unbelief

Jesus identified unbelief as the major cause of unanswered prayer. When he was asked why they couldn’t cure a demon possessed boy, Jesus told his disciples, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20, NKJV). The Apostle Paul admitted his own short coming in this matter when he told his spiritual son Timothy, “although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13, NKJV). Paul’s comment seems to suggest that unbelief doesn’t keep us from being saved, but it can keep us from doing God’s will.

The writer of the book of Hebrews compared the unbelief of the Jews who rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Israelites who had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. He stated:

“Today, if you will hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
In the day of trial in the wilderness,
Where your fathers tested Me, tried Me,
And saw My works forty years.
Therefore I was angry with that generation,
And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart,
And they have not known My ways.’
So I swore in My wrath,
‘They shall not enter My rest.’ ” (Hebrews 3:7-11, NKJV)

According to this statement, the source of unbelief is a hard heart. The author of Hebrews went on to say, “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:12-13). The progression from sin to unbelief might take place instantaneously or it could happen slowly over a number of years. What is clear from the standpoint of unanswered prayer is that unbelief indicates there is definitely a lack of connection with God. A person who is acting in unbelief does not have the power of the Holy Spirit working in his life.

According to the author of the book of Hebrews, the remedy for unbelief is the word of God. He said, “For the word of God is quick and powerful and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and the joints and marrow and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 3:12). Basically, what he was saying was that the word of God has the ability to convict us of our sins and to bring us to the point of repentance, even when our sins are hidden deep within our hearts. The Apostle Paul is a prime example of this because he was defiantly opposing the spread of Christianity until Jesus met him on the road to Damascus and asked him the question, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4, NKJV). After Jesus identified himself as God, Paul immediately responded, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” (Acts 9:6, NKJV).

Cast aways

God’s purpose in establishing a new covenant was not to get rid of his chosen people, but to make room for everyone to enter into his kingdom. Paul told the Romans, ” Because the Jews have been put aside, many other people in the world have been saved from the punishment of sin. Think what it will be like when they are also gathered in. It will be like the dead coming back to life!” (Romans 11:15, NLV). Paul explained that the Israelite’s spiritual blindness was the result of an intentional effort on God’s part to integrate the Jewish and Gentile populations. Paul described it as a grafting, the technique whereby tissues of plants are joined so as to continue their growth together. He stated, “But some of the branches (who are the Jews) were broken off. You who are not Jews were put in the place where the branches had been broken off. Now you are sharing the rich root of the olive tree” (Romans 11:17, NLV).

Paul used the illustration of petrified rock to convey the Jews spiritual condition. Even though God claimed responsibility for hardening the Jews’ hearts, Paul made it clear that it was their unbelief that caused God distance himself from the his chosen people. Paul told the Romans, “It is true. They were broken off because they did not put their trust in Christ. And you are there only because of your faith. Do not be proud. Instead, be afraid. God did not keep the first branches (who are the Jews) on the tree. Then watch, or He will not keep you on the tree” (Romans 11:20-21, NLV). Paul went on to say, “God has said that all men have broken His Law. But He will show loving-kindness on all of them” (Romans 11:32, NLV). The end goal of God’s plan of salvation was to show mercy on everyone. That’s why he let the Jews go their own way for a period of time, so that we can benefit from what is now referred to as the age of grace.

Paul concluded his explanation of God’s casting away of the Jews with a doxology, a natural outpouring of his praise to God. Paul rejoiced by stating:

“God’s riches are so great! The things He knows and His wisdom are so deep! No one can understand His thoughts. No one can understand His ways.” The Holy Writings say, “Who knows the mind of the Lord? Who is able to tell Him what to do? Who has given first to God, that God should pay him back?” Everything comes from Him. His power keeps all things together. All things are made for Him. May He be honored forever. Let it be so. (Romans 11:33-36, NLV)

Paul was truly amazed by God’s ability to figure out a way to save both Jews and Gentiles with a single sacrifice, the death of Jesus on the cross. Paul referred to God’s grace as great riches. The combination of God’s wisdom, his practical skill and his knowledge or complete and absolute understanding of how the world works made it possible for him to devise a plan of salvation that was perfect in every way. Therefore, it is inevitable that the Jews will one day return to God’s favor as predicted by many of the Old Testament prophets (Romans 11:24-25).



Personal testimony

Each of the four gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John includes a record of the resurrection of Jesus. It’s not surprising that each of these accounts was different considering that the authors experienced this event at different times and in different situations. What appears to be consistent about Jesus’ return from death was that everyone that saw his resurrected body talked about it through a process of giving their own personal testimony. In other words, each person shared their experience by stating, this is what I saw with my own eyes, not what someone else has told me about it. The exception to this rule was the personal testimony of the women that first encountered Jesus on what is now known as Easter morning. In the time period when Jesus’ death and resurrection happened, a woman’s testimony wasn’t considered valid. Therefore, it’s no wonder they didn’t believe Mary when she came and told Jesus’ eleven apostles that she had seen him and he was alive (Mark 16:11).

Luke’s gospel indicated there were several women that testified to Jesus’ resurrection as a result of their own personal experience. He said, “It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things to the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not” (Luke 24:10-11). The Greek word that is translated idle tales, leros (lay´-ros) means “twaddle, i.e. an incredible story…Leros denotes an incredible tale in that it is foolish talk, nonsense, lacking credibility” (G3026). The reason why the apostles didn’t believe the women may have been because they were hysterical, but it is possible that these women were both calm and coherent when they relayed the details of what happened and yet, for some reason, the apostles refused to believe them.

Perhaps, the best explanation for why the apostles didn’t believe Mary when she told them Jesus was alive can be found in Luke’s concluding statement, “and they believed them not” (Luke 24:11). The Greek words Luke used, apisteo autos suggested that it was actually unbelief or more specifically, the apostles own unwillingness to trust in God that made them reject the news that Jesus had been resurrected. Two of the apostles, Peter and John, went to the tomb to investigate Mary’s story and found that the tomb was indeed empty just like she had told them, but they still refused to believe that Jesus was alive (Luke 24:36-41). That might explain why Jesus appeared to the women first, rather than his own apostles. Even though their testimony didn’t carry much weight, at least Mary and the other women were willing to believe that what they had seen and heard when they went to Jesus’ tomb was real, not a mere fantasy or wishful thinking.

 

 

Unbelief

 

At the close of Jesus’ ministry, the Apostle John summarized his accomplishments by saying, “But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him” (John 12:37). The primary cause of the Jews unbelief appeared to be their concern for other things that they thought were more important. John said, “For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:43). Jesus’ parable of the sower revealed a deeper problem that was evident during his ministry. Using the analogy of seeds being sown on different types of soil, Jesus showed that the words he spoke about God’s eternal kingdom were not received because “the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22, ESV).

Jesus identified some extenuating circumstances that may have been preventing the Jews from recognizing him as their Messiah. He said, “And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Matthew 13:14-15). The primary issue that Jesus was pointing out was that the Jews were content with their situation. They didn’t want their lives to be disrupted by his radical teaching.

The central point of Jesus’ ministry was his death and resurrection. Just before he raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus told his sister Martha, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” and then he asked her, “Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26). Martha’s response showed that she had a limited understanding of what Jesus was talking about. She said to him, “Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world” (John 11:27). Martha’s acknowledgement of Jesus’ identity, but avoidance of the topic of his resurrection probably meant that she wasn’t convinced at that point that life after death was possible.

Jesus warned his twelve apostles repeatedly that he was going to be put to death, and yet, after he was crucified, they didn’t expect him to come back to life as he had promised. Mark reported that after Jesus “appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country. And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them. Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen” (Mark 16:12-14). In other words, in spite of eye witness accounts, Jesus’ apostles actually refused to believe that he was alive until they saw him themselves.

Jesus said of himself, “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:46). The Greek phrase Jesus used that is translated “abide in darkness” meno en skotia could mean to live in obscurity (G3306/G1722/G4653). What Jesus may have been trying to say was that belief in him would bring meaning or purpose to life, an understanding of what life was really all about. With that in mind, it seems likely that the reason the majority of the Jews’ were trapped in a state of unbelief was because they had already established a relationship with God and already knew about his plan for the world. In their case it wasn’t a matter of knowing too little, but of knowing too much.