God’s Promise

God’s relationship with Abraham was based on mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations that were established through a covenant. The covenant that was formed between God and Abraham was the result of God selecting Abraham, a sovereign act by God that was intended to create a predetermined outcome according to the purpose of his will. Genesis 15:4-21 states:

And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”

God’s covenant with Abraham was an unconditional promise to fulfill the grant of the land to Abraham’s offspring (Major Covenants in the Old Testament, KJSB, p. 16). Genesis 15:6 “is one of the key verses in the entire Old Testament. It is an important witness to the doctrine of justification by faith and to the doctrine of the unity of believers in both Old and new Testaments. Abraham’s faith was credited to him for righteousness before he was circumcised and more than four hundred years before the law was given to his descendants. Therefore neither circumcision nor the law had a part in Abraham’s righteousness. Abraham’s faith was not merely a general confidence in God nor simple obedience to God’s command; Paul stressed that it was indeed faith in the promise of redemption through Christ (Romans 3:21, 22; 4:18-25; Galatians 3:14-18)” (note on Genesis 15:6).

God’s promise of redemption through Christ was evident when he tested Abraham’s faith. It says in Genesis 22:1-18:

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

God’s provision of the lamb for the sacrifice was central to Abraham’s understanding of redemption through Christ. The ram that God initially provided pointed to the substitutionary nature of Christ’ sacrifice and John the Baptist’s declaration when he saw Jesus coming toward him, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) indicated that Jesus’ death was meant to atone for the sins of everyone, not just the nation of Israel.

Paul explained in his letter to the Romans that God’s promise could only be realized through faith. Paul said:

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:13-25)

Paul indicated that God’s promise to Abraham depended on faith, “in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring” (Romans 4:16). Paul also pointed out that the God in whom Abraham believed was the one “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:17). The Greek word that is translated grace, charis (kharˊ-ece) refers to “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life” (G5485). Abraham’s faith was a response to God’s influence upon his heart; the result of God’s sovereign power being exercised in and through him (H1285/H1254).

Paul explained in his letter to the Galatians that Christ was the offspring that God’s promise was intended for and that believers in him are Abraham’s heirs according to that promise. Paul said:

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slavenor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:15-29)

Paul used the phrase justified by faith to describe what happens when we are born again, “’justification’ being the legal and formal acquittal from guilt by God as Judge, the pronouncement of the sinner as righteous who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ” (G1344).

Paul talked about Abraham’s justification by faith in the context of faith being counted as righteousness (Romans 4:1-12). The Greek word that is translated counted, logizomai (log-idˊ-zom-ahee) is derived from the word logos (logˊ-os) which means “something said (including the thought)” and typically refers to “a word, as uttered by the living voice” (G3056). John identified Jesus as the Logos or the Word that was “with God” and John said “the Word was God” (John 1:1). When our faith is counted to us as righteousness, it is as if we are saying the same words that Jesus said. Jesus’ words are being attributed or charged to our account by God. Righteousness “is the character or quality of being right or just. It denotes an attribute of God (Romans 3:5). It is found in the sayings of the Lord Jesus of whatever is right or just in itself that conforms to the revealed will of God (Matthew 5:6, 10, 20; John 16:8, 10); whatever has been appointed by God to be acknowledged and obeyed by man (Matthew 3:15; 21:32); the sum total of the requirements of God (Matthew 6:33)…It is used of that gracious gift of God to men whereby all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ are brought into right relationship with God. This righteousness is unattainable by obedience to any law, or by any merit of man’s own, or any other condition than that of faith in Christ. The man who trusts in Christ becomes ‘the righteousness of God in Him,’ (2 Corinthians 5:21), i.e. becomes in Christ all that he could never be in himself. Righteousness in not said to be imputed to the believer save in the sense that faith is imputed (reckoned) for righteousness (Romans 4:6, 11). The faith thus exercised brings the soul into vital union with God in Christ, and inevitably produces righteousness of life, that is, conformity to the will of God” (G1343).

Paul talked about believers being slaves to righteousness and said that we must present our members to God “as slaves of righteousness leading to sanctification” (Romans 6:19). Paul went on to say, “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:20-23). Paul identified eternal life as the end of sanctification. The Greek word telos (telˊ-os) means “(to set out for a definite point or goal); properly the point aimed at as a limit, i.e. (by implication) the conclusion of an act or state (termination [literally, figuratively, or indefinitely], result [immediate, ultimate or prophetic], purpose); specifically an impost or levy (as paid)” (G5056). The point that Paul was making was that we should allow God to do what he wants to in our lives because the end result is eternal life. In the King James Version of the Bible, the phrase present your members (Romans 6:19) is translated yield your members. The Greek word that is translated yield, paristano (par-is-tanˊ-o) means “to stand beside” (G3936). The root word histemi (hisˊ-tay-mee) “means ‘to make to stand,’ means ‘to appoint’” (G2476). It seems likely that Paul’s instruction to present our members as slaves to righteousness was intended to mean that we should allow God to determine the course of our lives and accept that his placement of us in certain circumstances is the destiny that he wants us to have.

God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt was followed by an assignment that they refused to accept. The Israelites disobedience was described in Hebrews 3:19 as unbelief; indicating that at that particular point they were still unbelievers, without Christ. Forty years later, Moses told the people of Israel, “The LORD our God said to us in Horeb, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, in the hill country and in the lowland and in the Negeb and by the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. See, I have set the land before you. Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their offspring after them’” (Deuteronomy 1:6-8). Moses later explained to the Israelites that they were God’s chosen people and that God intended to keep the covenant that he made with Abraham hundreds of years earlier (Deuteronomy 7:6-8). Moses said it was not their righteousness that prompted God to do it (Deuteronomy 9:4); but, “that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Deuteronomy 9:5). The confirmation of God’s word meant that he was making what he said to “stand up, come about.” The Hebrew word quwm (koom) is “used to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (H6965).

Joshua played an important role in the Israelites’ transition from wandering in the wilderness to entering the Promised Land. God told Joshua, “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them” (Joshua 1:5-6). A requirement for the Israelites to live in the Promised Land was that they had to drive out the previous tenants and possess it in their place. Joshua was given Moses’ leadership role in order to make that happen. After the land was divided among the twelve tribes and each of them had received their inheritance, Joshua 21:43-45 states:

Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.

Joshua indicated that “not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass” (Joshua 21:45). In other words, God’s covenant with Abraham had been brought to fruition and was at that point considered to be complete, but that was not the end of God’s involvement with Israelites because Abraham’s offspring had not yet been born (Galatians 3:16). God told Abraham that he would give the land to him and his offspring forever (Genesis 13:15). Therefore, eternal life was required and Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection was necessary for that to happen.

Closure

The Israelites’ forty-year transition from slavery in Egypt to living in the Promised Land was brought to a closure just before Moses’ death. After Joshua had been commissioned to lead Israel, God told Moses, “Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel” (Deuteronomy 31:19). The reason why the LORD needed a witness against the people of Israel was because he knew how things were going to turn out. God said, “For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give them” (Deuteronomy 31:21). The Book of Hebrews talks about what happened to the Israelites in the wilderness in the context of faith and entering into God’s rest. Hebrews 3:7-19 states:

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
    on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
    and saw my works for forty years.
Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
    they have not known my ways.’
As I swore in my wrath,
    ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

The Greek word that is translated testing in Hebrews 3:8, peirasmos (pi-ras-mosˊ) refers to “a state of trial in which God brings His people through adversity and affliction in order to encourage and prove their faith and confidence in Him” (G3986). After forty years of testing in the wilderness, God determined that the Israelites were inclined to go astray in their hearts and had been so hardened by the deceitfulness of their sin that they were unable to enter into his rest.

Testing usually involves us experiencing difficult circumstances or suffering because of our trust in God. Hebrews 11:4-38 focuses on some of the Old Testament saints who passed their tests so to speak by demonstrating their faith in God. It says in Hebrews 11:29, “By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.” The Greek words that are translated attempted, peira (piˊ-rah) lambano (lam-banˊ-o) literally mean to take a test (G3984/G2983). The Egyptians weren’t able to cross the Red Sea because they didn’t believe in God and even though the Israelites crossed the Red Sea by faith, they later rebelled against God and refused to enter the land of Canaan when they were instructed to do so (Numbers 14:1-4). The Israelites’ experience in the wilderness shows us that faith is not just an action or a one-time act that guarantees God’s blessings for the rest of our lives, but a continual demonstration of reliance upon God that gets us from one step of our journey to the next until we fulfil our destiny. Hebrews chapter eleven concludes with the statement, “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:35-40). The Greek word that is translated though commended, martureo (mar-too-rehˊ-o) means “to be a witness, i.e. testify…to testify to the truth of what one has seen, heard, or knows” (G3140). The people in Hebrews chapter eleven who suffered because of their trust in God testify to the fact that sin (moral rebellion against God) can be overcome by faith (Hebrews 12:4).

God told Moses that the song he was going to teach the Israelites would “confront them as a witness” (Deuteronomy 31:21). The Hebrew words that are translated confront, ʿanah (aw-nawˊ) paniym (paw-neemˊ) convey the idea of getting in someone’s face or telling a person exactly what you think of him. The Song of Moses begins:

“Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak,
    and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.
May my teaching drop as the rain,
    my speech distill as the dew,
like gentle rain upon the tender grass,
    and like showers upon the herb.
For I will proclaim the name of the Lord;
    ascribe greatness to our God!

“The Rock, his work is perfect,
    for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity,
    just and upright is he.
They have dealt corruptly with him;
    they are no longer his children because they are blemished;
    they are a crooked and twisted generation.” (Deuteronomy 32:1-5)

The Rock that is mentioned in Deuteronomy 32:4 is identified in the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians as Christ. It says in 1 Corinthians 10:1-5, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers,that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrownin the wilderness.” Paul referred to Jesus as “the spiritual Rock” and said that he followed the Israelites when they were in the wilderness. The Greek word that is translated followed, akoloutheo (ak-ol-oo-thehˊ-o) means “to be in the same way with, i.e. to accompany” (G190). Akoloutheo is used throughout the four gospels in connection with Jesus’ disciples following him. It says in Matthew 9:9, “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow (akoloutheo) me.’ And he rose and followed him.”

Paul’s reference to Jesus as “the spiritual Rock” (1 Corinthians 10:4) meant that Christ wasn’t visibly present with the Israelites in the wilderness, but his power was at work in their lives. Moses’ song stated, “The Rock, his work is perfect” (Deuteronomy 32:4). The Hebrew word tamiym (taw-meemˊ) refers to something that is perfect in the sense of it being blameless (H8549). In Psalm 18, which is titled “The LORD is My Rock and My Fortress,” David said of God’s salvation, “This God—his way is perfect, the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?—the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless” (Psalm 18:30-32). David indicated that not only was God’s way perfect (tamiym), but also that God had made his way blameless (tamiym). David thought of himself as being in the same way with (akoloutheo) or a follower of God (Jesus). Unfortunately, David was one of only a handful of the kings of Israel that were faithful to God’s word. Within a few hundred years of David’s reign, the prophet Isaiah echoed the words of Moses’ song. Isaiah 1:2-4 states:

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
    for the Lord has spoken:
“Children have I reared and brought up,
    but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner,
    and the donkey its master’s crib,
but Israel does not know,
    my people do not understand.”

Ah, sinful nation,
    a people laden with iniquity,
offspring of evildoers,
    children who deal corruptly!
They have forsaken the Lord,
    they have despised the Holy One of Israel,
    they are utterly estranged.

Jesus reiterated the point that the people of Israel had become “a crooked and twisted generation” (Deuteronomy 32:5) when he rebuked his disciples for their lack of faith. Matthew 17:14-21 states:

And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to 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.”

Jesus attributed his disciples’ inability to cast out the demon to their lack of confidence in him (G3640) and indicated that it only required an extremely small amount of faith for them to do miracles. Jesus referred to the people of Israel as a faithless and twisted generation, indicating that the Israelites not only had no faith in him, but they were also distorting or at the very least misrepresenting God’s word to the people around them. The problem that existed throughout the Israelites’ history was that they had a short memory when it came to the things that God had done for them and preferred to worship idols. Deuteronomy 32:15-18 states:

“But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked;
    you grew fat, stout, and sleek;
then he forsook God who made him
    and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.
They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods;
    with abominations they provoked him to anger.
They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
    to gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently,
    whom your fathers had never dreaded.
You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you,
    and you forgot the God who gave you birth.

The Rock is mentioned twice in this section of the Song of Moses. It says that the people of Israel scoffed at the Rock of their salvation and that they were unmindful of the Rock that bore them. These images seem to suggest that the Israelites wanted to distance themselves from their past. The people of Israel had likely gotten so full of themselves that they were too proud to admit that they had at one point needed God’s help.

After Israel’s rejection of her Messiah was addressed, the Song of Moses shifted its focus of attention away from Israel’s salvation to the end times. Deuteronomy 32:19-22 states:

“The Lord saw it and spurned them,
    because of the provocation of his sons and his daughters.
And he said, ‘I will hide my face from them;
    I will see what their end will be,
for they are a perverse generation,
    children in whom is no faithfulness.
They have made me jealous with what is no god;
    they have provoked me to anger with their idols.
So I will make them jealous with those who are no people;
    I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.
For a fire is kindled by my anger,
    and it burns to the depths of Sheol,
devours the earth and its increase,
    and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.”

The LORD said he would make the people of Israel “jealous with those who are no people” and indicated he “will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation” (Deuteronomy 32:21). This part of the song’s message has to do with God’s salvation being offered to the whole world. Romans 10:5-21 focuses on the message of salvation to all and restates Deuteronomy 32:21 in the context of Isaiah’s prophecy about judgment and salvation and God’s creation of new heavens and a new earth (Isaiah 65). Paul wrote:

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for

“Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
    and their words to the ends of the world.”

But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,

“I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
    with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”

Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,

“I have been found by those who did not seek me;
    I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”

But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”

Paul refuted the argument that the people of Israel had never heard the gospel when he asked the question, “Did Israel not understand?” (Romans 10:19) and then, quoted Deuteronomy 32:21, followed by Isaiah 65:1. Paul concluded his argument with Isaiah 65:2 in which God said to the people of Israel, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” The phrase held out my hands is sometimes associated with Christ’s hands being stretched out when he was nailed to the cross, but it’s possible that it was intended to convey the open invitation that Jesus extended to the crowds around him when he said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus went on to say, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30).

Much of the judgment of God’s chosen people that is outlined in the Song of Moses is reiterated in more detail in the books of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. In particular, Deuteronomy 32:23-27 corresponds with Ezekiel’s detailed account of Jerusalem’s destruction (Ezekiel 5:16-17), the day of the wrath of the LORD (Ezekiel 7:15), and Israel’s continuing rebellion against God (Ezekiel 20:23). Luke’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem included a statement linked to Deuteronomy 32:29. Luke said, “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children with you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation’” (Luke 19:41-44).

The final verses of the Song of Moses speak of a future closure that Israel will experience that coincides with the events of the Great Tribulation. Deuteronomy 32:34-41 states:

“‘Is not this laid up in store with me,
    sealed up in my treasuries?
Vengeance is mine, and recompense,
    for the time when their foot shall slip;
for the day of their calamity is at hand,
    and their doom comes swiftly.’
For the Lord will vindicatehis people
    and have compassion on his servants,
when he sees that their power is gone
    and there is none remaining, bond or free…

“‘See now that I, even I, am he,
    and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
    I wound and I heal;
    and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.
For I lift up my hand to heaven
    and swear, As I live forever,
if I sharpen my flashing sword
    and my hand takes hold on judgment,
I will take vengeance on my adversaries
    and will repay those who hate me.

Revelation 15:2-3 indicates that all those who conquer the beast and its image and the number of its name will sing the song of Moses standing beside the sea of glass just prior to the seven bowls of God’s wrath being poured out on the earth (Revelation 16:1). Afterward, is the judgment of the great prostitute and the beast (Revelation 17) and the fall of Babylon (Revelation 18), and then, rejoicing in heaven takes place (Revelation 19:1-5). At the conclusion of the Great Tribulation, the Israelites who accepted Jesus as their Messiah will reign with Christ for a thousand years (Matthew 19:28; Revelation 20:4). This will bring God’s plan of salvation to a final closure and marks the beginning of an eternal rest for all who have faith in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:1-11).

The crossroads of life

Our journey through life often includes many twists and turns, detours, and roadblocks, but the most important aspect of our travels are the decisions we make when we come to the crossroads of life. The crossroads are typically turning points and may determine whether or not we will continue or stop making progress toward our final destination. One of the ways we know we are at a crossroad is that we experience spiritual warfare and in extreme situations, may be confronted by God or the devil directly. The first crossroad of mankind occurred in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:1-7 tells us:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. 

The sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden changed the course of mankind. The issue that was presented to Eve was the truthfulness of God’s word and whether or not she was willing to obey God’s commandment even though she didn’t understand the reasoning behind it.

The Hebrew word massah (mas-sawˊ) is translated as both temptation and trial in the King James Version of the Bible. Massah appears in Deuteronomy 4:32-36 where Moses talked about the LORD being personally involved in the Israelites’ lives. It states:

“For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials (massah), by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him. Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire.”

Moses listed trials along with signs and wonders, as well as war and great deeds of terror as acts of God that were meant to show the people of Israel that there was no other God besides the LORD. The Hebrew word massah “is actually two homographs – words that are spelled the same yet have distinct origins and meanings. The first homograph is derived from the verb masas (H4549), meaning to dissolve or melt, and it means despair. This word occurs in Job 9:23. The second homograph is derived from the verb nasah (H5254), meaning to test or try, and denotes a test, a trial, or proving. It is used in reference to the manifestations of God’s power and handiwork before the Egyptians at the Exodus (Deuteronomy 4:34; 7:19; 29:3[2])” (H4531). Massah also appears in Psalm 95 in reference to the Israelites’ disobedience in the wilderness. It states:

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
    let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    and the sheep of his hand.
Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
    as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
    and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. (Psalm 95:6-9)

Psalm 95:7-11 is quoted in the book of Hebrews as a warning against unbelief (Hebrews 3:7-11). Paul said, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12-13).

Paul indicated that an evil, unbelieving heart could lead you to fall away from the living God (Hebrews 3:12). The heart is mentioned in all but four of the thirty one chapters in the Book of Proverbs and the heart’s condition is central to its theme of wise living. In the Hebrew language, “the heart is considered to be the seat of one’s inner nature as well as one of its components” (H3820). Proverbs 3:5-6 encourages believers to “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” The Hebrew word that is translated ways, derek (dehˊ-rek) “is most often used metaphorically to refer to the pathways of one’s life, suggesting the pattern of life (Proverbs 3:6)” (H1870). In Proverbs 8:1-2, wisdom is depicted as a woman that is standing beside the way trying to get our attention when we pass through the crossroads of life. It states:

Does not wisdom call?
    Does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights beside the way,
    at the crossroads she takes her stand.

The Hebrew word that is translated stand, natsab (naw-tsabˊ) means “to station” (H5324) and suggests that wisdom’s role might be to direct traffic or to act as a crossing guard. It could be that wisdom’s job is to protect believers from the trickery of the devil and to make sure that we do not veer off course at critical points in our journey through life.

Proverbs chapter nine compares and contrasts The Way of Wisdom with The Way of Folly. It begins with a description of Wisdom’s attempt to invite those who are open to her influence to come and eat with her. Proverbs 9:1-6 states:

Wisdom has built her house;
    she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine;
    she has also set her table.
She has sent out her young women to call
    from the highest places in the town,
“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
    To him who lacks sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
    and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Leave your simple ways, and live,
    and walk in the way of insight.”

Wisdom’s target audience is “him who lacks sense” (Proverbs 9:4). The Hebrew words that are translated lacks sense literally mean without heart (H2638/H3820). A person without heart could be someone that has no will of his own or perhaps, someone that is completely open to the influence of others. It seems likely that Wisdom’s plea to whoever is simple means that she is trying to reach those who have not yet made a commitment to follow the Lord. The woman Folly makes a similar plea in Proverbs 9:13-18. It states:

The woman Folly is loud;
    she is seductive and knows nothing.
She sits at the door of her house;
    she takes a seat on the highest places of the town,
calling to those who pass by,
    who are going straight on their way,
“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
    And to him who lacks sense she says,
“Stolen water is sweet,
    and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
But he does not know that the dead are there,
    that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.

Folly’s plea is the same as Wisdom’s, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” and her target audience is the same, “him who lacks sense” (Proverbs 9:16), but Folly’s objective is very different. She says to him who lacks sense, “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” Folly is appealing to the evil desires of naïve people in order to cause them to disobey God’s commandments (H3687/H3474). One of the characteristics of Folly that is mentioned is that she is seductive and it says that she knows nothing. The tactic that Folly uses to cause people to sin is to appeal to their sin nature or what the Bible refers to as the flesh. Jesus told his disciples to, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

Paul addressed the issue of the flesh’s weakness in the context of spiritual warfare in his second letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6). The Greek word that is translated warfare, strateia (strat-iˊ-ah) is used figuratively to refer to “the apostolic career (as one of hardship and danger)” (G4752) as well as “to contend with carnal inclinations” (G4754). Paul indicated that the weapons of the believer’s warfare have “divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). Paul was speaking metaphorically of strongholds as “those things in which mere human confidence is imposed” (G3794) and indicated that these strongholds consisted of “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5). We know that Paul was talking about the believer’s mind or heart because he said we need to take every thought captive to obey Christ. The Greek word that is translated arguments, logismos (log-is-mosˊ) “suggests the contemplation of actions as a result of the verdict of the conscience” (G3053). Paul’s instruction to take every thought captive meant that we need to cancel out or at the very least refuse to pay attention to thoughts that violate our conscience or clearly contradict God’s word.

Paul concluded his statement about destroying spiritual strongholds with a warning that we need to be ready to punish every disobedience when our obedience is complete (2 Corinthians 10:6). Paul was likely speaking figuratively of the filling of the Holy Spirit (G4137) and meant that believers should allow God to correct their thinking processes by submitting themselves to the Holy Spirit’s influence in their hearts and minds. Paul used the example of something he referred to as his thorn in the flesh to make the point that God’s power is able to overcome the strongholds that Satan establishes in our minds. Paul said:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

The Lord told Paul that his grace was sufficient for him. The Greek word that is translated grace, charis (kharˊ-ece) refers to “divine influence upon the heart” and indicates “favor” on the part of God by removing the guilt associated with our sin (G5485).

Paul referred to his thorn in the flesh as “a messenger of Satan” that had the ability to harass him (2 Corinthians 12:7). The Greek word that is translated messenger, aggello (angˊ-el-os) “most frequently refers to an order of created beings superior to man (Hebrews 2:7; Psalm 8:5)” (G32). Paul described this angelic order of beings in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul told the Ephesians to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:11-12). Paul indicated that the spiritual forces of evil reside in heavenly places. Therefore, it can be assumed that our minds are accessible to beings in the spiritual realm.

Moses’ repetition of the law in the Book of Deuteronomy included several references to purging “the evil from their midst” (Deuteronomy 17:7, 12; 19:19; 21:21; 22:21, 22, 24; 24:7. The Hebrew word that is translated midst, qereb (kehˊ-reb) “denotes the center or inner part of anything…but especially the inner organs of the body…This place was regarded as the home of the heart from which the emotions spring” (H7130). Typically, the phrase purge the evil from your midst was associated with the death penalty and most often had to do with stoning a person to death. You might think that killing people who committed serious crimes would eliminate evil, but it seems that the punishment was actually intended to deal with evil that was affecting the people who were left behind. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 states:

“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.”

The Hebrew word that is translated purge, baʾar (baw-arˊ) means “to kindle, i.e. consume (by fire or by eating)” (H1197). A word that is derived from baʾar is baʾar (bahˊ-ar) which is properly translated as “food (as consumed); i.e. (by extension) of cattle brutishness; (concrete) stupid” (G1198). It seems that purging the evil from our midst is related to taking down strongholds that exist in our minds in that actions and memories cannot be erased, but they can be consumed or you might say sacrificed by submitting them to God.

The Old Testament sacrifices depicted submission to God through their purifying effect and atonement for sin. James encouraged believers to submit themselves to God in order to purify their hearts. James exclaimed:

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

James referred to people that are stuck at the crossroads of their lives as being double-minded. The Greek word that is translated double-minded, dipsuchos (dipˊ-soo-khos) means “two-spirited, i.e. vacillating (in opinion or purpose)…This person lives one life for himself and lives another for God” (G1374). The double-minded person is vulnerable to the pleas of Folly because they appear to be the same pleas as those of Wisdom’s. It says about Folly’s house in Proverbs 9:18, “But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.” It is only through submission to God that we can be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:5-11, 29-31) and be able to resist temptation by God’s grace (James 4:6-7).

Jesus modeled submission to his Father at the crossroads of his life. During his temptation in the wilderness, Jesus used God’s word to resist the devil. It says in Matthew 4:1-3, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’” Jesus didn’t do what the devil told him to even though he was hungry and could have turned the stones into loaves of bread if he wanted to. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that he wouldn’t have to go to cross, but left the outcome in God’s hands. It says in Matthew 26:39, “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’” Jesus made it clear that it wasn’t his will to die for the sins of the world. When Jesus fell on his face, he placed himself in a posture of submission and in essence was giving up on the situation. It wasn’t that Jesus was stuck and didn’t know what to do. Jesus knew what he needed to do and didn’t want to do it, but he allowed God to decide for him and prayed the second time, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matthew 26:42).

The tablets of your heart

The way that we think of our hearts as an organ that pumps blood throughout our bodies is correct from a materialistic perspective, but the Bible has a different view of the heart’s primary function. The Hebrew word leb (labe) indicates that “the heart includes not only the motives, feelings, affections, and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man. In fact, it embraces the whole inner man, the head never being regarded as the seat of intelligence. While it is the source of all action and the center of all thought and feeling the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself.” In some instances, “Leb is used of the man himself, or his personality (Genesis 17:17)” and from a spiritual perspective, “the heart could be regarded as the seat of knowledge and wisdom and as a synonym of ‘mind’ when ‘heart’ appears with the verb ‘to know.’” The heart encompasses some of the activities that we typically associate with the brain. “Memory is the activity of the heart (Job 22:22),” but it goes beyond that and may even be “the seat of conscience and moral character.” The Bible tells us that “God controls the heart” and he is able to give us “a new one (Ezekiel 36:26).” The heart can also be thought of as a source of expression, it “stands for the inner being of man, the man himself, and is the fountain of all he does (Proverbs 4:4). All his thoughts, desires, words, and actions flow from deep within him. Yet a man cannot understand his own heart (Jeremiah 17:9)” (H3820).

The first appearance of the word leb in the Bible is in Genesis 6:5-6 where it says, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” In these verses we are told that God also has a heart and that it is the source or you might say the motivation for his spiritual activity. The Hebrew word that is translated intention in Genesis 6:5, yetser (yayˊ-tser) has to do with creation and is figuratively thought of as conception. Yetser is derived from the word yatsar (yaw-tsarˊ) which means “to mould into a form; especially as a potter; (figurative) to determine (i.e. form a resolution)” (H3335). A word that appears to be identical with yatsar means “to press (intransitive), i.e. be narrow; (figurative) be in distress” (H3334). The fact that the intention of the thoughts of men’s hearts was only evil continually after sin entered into the world indicates that the situation was hopeless. God wanted to give up on his creation (Genesis 6:6), but instead he started working out a way for people to be saved from the wickedness that is inherent in our fallen human nature.

The book of Job shows us that spiritual conflict is the result of Satan’s intervention in the lives of godly people. Although Job was described as “a blameless and upright man” (Job 1:8), God allowed Satan to afflict Job in order to prove that his devotion was sincere. During the process, Job’s friends tried to convince him that his wickedness was great and that he deserved to be punished (Job 22:1-11). Eliphaz the Temanite suggested to Job, “Agree with God, and be at peace; thereby good will come to you. Receive instruction from his mouth, and lay up his words in your heart” (Job 22:21-22). In his defense, Job stated:

“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there,
    and backward, but I do not perceive him;
on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him;
    he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.
But he knows the way that I take;
    when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
My foot has held fast to his steps;
    I have kept his way and have not turned aside.
I have not departed from the commandment of his lips;
    I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.
But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back?
    What he desires, that he does.
For he will complete what he appoints for me,
    and many such things are in his mind.
Therefore I am terrified at his presence;
    when I consider, I am in dread of him.
God has made my heart faint;
    the Almighty has terrified me;
yet I am not silenced because of the darkness,
    nor because thick darkness covers my face.” (Job 23:8-17)

Job thought that God had made his heart faint and that the Almighty had terrified him (Job 23:16), but in actuality, it was Satan that was responsible for the tragedies that Job experienced (Job 1:13-19, 2:7). Job knew that he needed to keep God’s commandments and also said that he had stored up God’s word as if it was necessary for his continued existence (Job 23:12), but the result Job got from his effort was not what he expected (Job 24:22-25).

Psalm 37 offers advice to those of us that feel God has abandoned or rejected us even though we have been doing the right things. It states:

Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
    be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
    and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:1-4)

Putting our trust in the Lord is a part of the process that we go through to be saved. The Greek word peitho (piˊ-tho) “in the active voice, signifies ‘to apply persuasion, to prevail upon or win over; to persuade,’ bringing about a change of mind by the influence of reason or moral considerations” (G3982). The Greek word pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) means “not just to believe, but also to be persuaded of; and hence, to place confidence in, to trust, and signifies, in this sense of the word, reliance upon, not mere credence, hence it is translated ‘commit unto’, ‘commit to one’s trust’, ‘be committed unto’” (G4100). “Peitho and pisteuo, ‘to trust,’ are closely related etymologically; the difference in meaning is that the former implies the obedience that is produced by the latter, cf. Hebrews 3:18-19, where the disobedience of the Israelites is said to be the evidence of their unbelief. Faith is of the heart, invisible to men; obedience is of the conduct and may be observed. When a man obeys God he gives the only possible evidence that in his heart he believes God” (G3982).

Proverbs 3:5-6 indicates that trust is an activity of the heart. Solomon instructed us to, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” The Hebrew word that is translated acknowledge, yada (yaw-dahˊ) has to do with knowing someone both relationally and experientially. One of the most important uses of the word yada is “depicting God’s knowledge of people: The Lord knows their hearts entirely (Exodus 33:12; 2 Samuel 7:20; Psalm 139:4; Jeremiah 17:9; Hosea 5:3)” (H3045). Jesus’ knowledge of the Pharisees hearts caused him to rebuke them on numerous occasions. In one instance, Jesus indicated that they had committed an unpardonable sin, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:32). Jesus asserted that the words we speak are an indicator of the condition of our hearts and said of the Pharisees, “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matthew 12:34-35).

The book of Hebrews reveals that the Israelites never entered into the kind of relationship that God wanted to have with them because their hearts were hardened (Hebrews 3:8-9). The term that was used to describe the condition of the Israelites’ hearts was an “unbelieving” heart (Hebrews 3:12). The Greek word that is translated harden in Hebrews 3:8 is skleruno (sklay-rooˊ-no). “This word stresses that the nape of the neck stiffens and thus renders the head in an unbending position” (G4645). This condition of the heart is illustrated in the Old Testament by Pharaoh who persistently refused to obey the LORD’s command to let his people go. It says in Exodus 7:13 that Pharaoh’s “heart was hardened.” “In reference to Pharaoh, it means to brace up and strengthen and points to the hardihood with which he set himself to act in defiance against God and closed all avenues to his heart to those signs and wonders which Moses wrought” (H2388).

Moses’ summarization of the Israelites’ forty year journey included some sharp rebukes because of their unbelief. Moses said:

“At Taberah also, and at Massah and at Kibroth-hattaavah you provoked the Lord to wrath. And when the Lord sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying, ‘Go up and take possession of the land that I have given you,’ then you rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God and did not believe him or obey his voice. You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you.” (Deuteronomy 9:22-24)

Moses said that the Israelites did not believe or obey the voice of God indicating that there was not only a lack of faith on their part, but also a lack of reverence toward God and yet, Moses interceded on their behalf and asked the LORD to give them a second chance. Moses prayed, “Do not regard the stubbornness of this people, or their wickedness or their sin, lest the land from which you brought us say, ‘Because the LORD was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness’” (Deuteronomy 9:27-28).

The prophet Ezekiel’s message from the LORD indicated that the only way the problem of the Israelites’ hardened hearts could be fixed was to give them a new heart. The LORD told Ezekiel:

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.(Ezekiel 36:22-27)

The LORD said that the Israelites’ heart of stone would be replaced with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). The Hebrew word that is translated stone in this verse is the same word that is used in Deuteronomy 10:1 in reference to the tablets of stone that God wrote the Ten Commandments on.

Moses’ account of the Israelites’ journey shifted dramatically from a materialistic perspective to a spiritual perspective when he started talking about the second writing of the Ten Commandments. Moses stated, “At that time the Lord said to me, ‘Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to me on the mountain and make an ark of wood. And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets that you broke, and you shall put them in the ark.’ So I made an ark of acacia wood, and cut two tablets of stone like the first, and went up the mountain with the two tablets in my hand. And he wrote on the tablets, in the same writing as before, the Ten Commandmentsthat the Lord had spoken to you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. And the Lord gave them to me. Then I turned and came down from the mountain and put the tablets in the ark that I had made. And there they are, as the Lord commanded me” (Deuteronomy 10:1-5). Moses emphasized the fact that everything had been done just as it had been before and that God himself wrote on the tablets, “in the same writing” (Deuteronomy 10:4), meaning that it was God’s handwriting, signifying the legality of the documents. Moses went on to specify the terms of the contract that had just been ratified. Moses said:

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)

Moses specified five things that the LORD required. First, the people were expected to fear or reverence the LORD, “whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect” (H3372). Second, the people of Israel were expected to walk in all the ways of God, meaning that they were to exhibit a godly lifestyle, their behavior was supposed to be consistent with the God they served. Third, the Israelites were required to love God; they were expected to have a strong emotional attachment to him and have a desire to be in his presence. Fourth, the Israelites were required to serve the LORD with all their hearts and with all their souls. This meant that the people’s attention was to always be on the LORD and that he would be their number one priority in their daily lives. The final requirement that the people of Israel keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD was a matter of the greatest commandment (Deuteronomy 6:1-9) being evidenced in their lives. Everything that the Lord required of Israel really boiled down to whether or not the people would actually put their trust in God and believe that he was going to do what he promised to.

The stone tablets that the Ten Commandments were written on were likely meant to be representative of the Israelites’ hardened hearts. The Hebrew word that is translated tablets in Deuteronomy 10:1, luach (looˊ-akh) is used in Jeremiah 17:1 where it says, “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of a diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart.” The concept of the heart being a tablet that can be engraved upon also appears in the New Testament in the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3). Paul compared the Ten Commandments to a letter from Christ that was written with the Spirit of the living God, suggesting that it was possible to engrave the word of God on the human heart in the same way that God wrote the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets. The key to this process being successful might be what Moses described as the circumcision of the heart.

After Moses talked about the requirements of God’s relationship with the Israelites (Deuteronomy 10:12-13), he said, “Behold to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (Deuteronomy 10:14-16). When Moses commanded the Israelites to circumcise their heart, he meant that they were to “remove the hardness and to love God” (H4135). This willful act was necessary to change the condition of the people’s hearts. Paul talked about the new life that believers are expected to live in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul instructed the Ephesians to “put off the old self” and to “put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:22-23). The Greek word that is translated put off, apotithemi (ap-ot-eethˊ-ay-mee) is derived from the word apo (apoˊ) which means “off” (G575) and tithemi (tithˊ-ay-mee) which means “to put” (G5087). Tithemi is associated with appointment to any form of service. “Christ used it of His followers.” From that standpoint circumcision of the heart or putting off the old self could mean that believers are expected to cut off any activity or relationship that interferes with their worship and/or service of God.

According to Paul, in addition to putting off the old self, it is necessary for believers to put on the new self in order for them to be able to trust in the LORD with all their hearts (Proverbs 3:5). It could be that Proverbs 3:3 is a prescription for doing just that. It states, “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.” Steadfast love and faithfulness are two of the primary characteristics of God that are evident in his work of salvation. The Hebrew word that is translated steadfast love, cheçed (khehˊ-sed) “is one of the most important in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics…Checed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law…The Bible prominently uses the term chesed to summarize and characterize a life of sanctification within” (H2617). The Hebrew word ʾemeth (ehˊ-meth), which is translated faithfulness, means “stability” (H571) and is derived from the word ʾaman (aw-manˊ) which means to “believe.” (H539). Writing steadfast love and faithfulness on the tablet of our heart might mean that we commit to memory specific verses of the Bible that are relevant to these characteristics of God. At the end of his ministry, Jesus told his disciples:

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:23-26)

The Holy Spirit’s job is to help us understand God’s word and to remind us of the things that we’ve learned about Jesus, but he can only do that if we are committing scriptures to memory, i.e. writing them on the tablets of our heart.

Believing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confession of our faith

Jesus used the parable of the sower to illustrate the process of spiritual birth, growth, and development. Jesus said:

“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” (Luke 8:5-8)

Jesus later explained the parable of the sower to his disciples. He told them:

“The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:11-15)

Jesus’ illustration and explanation showed that spiritual birth does not happen automatically when a person hears the word of God. A person must believe in order to be saved, but there is more to the process than just that. Jesus indicated that the word of God must take root in a person’s life and then, bear fruit so that their faith is evident to everyone around them. Jesus took his illustration one step further when he told his disciples:

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:23-26)

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked about the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of the dead in general terms (1 Corinthians 15:1-34), and then, Paul went on to explain how the transformation of physical life into spiritual life actually takes place. Paul said:

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:35-49)

Paul reiterated Jesus’ point that “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies” (1 Corinthians 15:36). Paul’s explanation made it clear that there are two types of bodies (1 Corinthians 15:44) and therefore it can be assumed, two types of death that need to take place in order for the transformation of our physical life into an eternal spiritual life to be complete.

Jesus told Martha shortly before he raised her brother Lazarus from the dead, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). Jesus wanted Martha to understand that spiritual life and spiritual death are more important than physical life and death when it comes to eternal existence. Jesus indicated that everyone who has experienced a spiritual birth will never experience a natural death (John 11:26). The Greek word that is translated die in John 11:26, apothnesko (ap-oth-naceˊ-ko) “is used of the separation of the soul from the body, i.e. the natural ‘death’ of human beings (e.g., Matthew 9:24; Romans 7:2); by reason of descent from Adam (1 Corinthians 15:22)…all who are descended from Adam not only ‘die’ physically, owing to sin, see above, but are naturally in a state of separation from God, 2 Corinthians 5:14. From this believers are freed both now and eternally, John 6:50; 11:26, through the death of Christ, Romans 5:8” (G599).

In the same way that a person who has experienced a spiritual birth will never experience a natural death, so a person that has experienced a spiritual death will not experience a natural life, but a supernatural type of existence similar to God’s. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). The Greek word that is translated live, zao (dzahˊ-o) means “spiritual life” and refers to “the present state of departed saints” and in particular to “the way of access to God through the Lord Jesus Christ” (G2198). With regard to physical life, zao means “the recovery of physical life from the power of death” and is sometimes translated quick in reference to God’s word. “Quick implies the ability to respond immediately to God’s word and living stresses the ongoing nature of His word; it is just as effective today as tomorrow.” John emphasized that Jesus and God’s word are one and the same. 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. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).

When Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25), he was talking about the effect of God’s word on the soul of a man. Unlike physical death, spiritual death is an ongoing process that starts when a person accepts Jesus as his or her Savior and continues until a physical death or the rapture, allassō (al-lasˊ-so) takes place (G236). Paul said:

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“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 15:50-57)

With regard to spiritual death, “Believers have spiritually ‘died’ to the Law as a means of life, Galatians 2:19; Colossians 2:20; to sin, Romans 6:2, and in general to all spiritual association with the world and with that which pertained to their unregenerate state, Colossians 3:3, because of their identification with the ‘death’ of Christ, Romans 6:8” (G599). Paul said, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:19-21).

Paul used the Greek word zao when said that it was no longer he who lived, but Christ who lived in him and that the life Paul lived in the flesh he lived by faith. Our spiritual life and spiritual death are closely connected to our faith in Jesus Christ. One of the things that seems to be particularly important in the establishment and development of our faith is obedience to God’s word. When Jesus performed miracles, he often instructed the person who wanted to get well to do something so that his obedience became a part of the healing process. Jesus instructed the man who was born blind to, “’Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing” (John 9:7). On another occasion, Jesus told a man that had been an invalid for 38 years, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk” (John 5:8). In the same way that faith in action can produce miraculous results, a denial of God’s word or unbelief disconnects us from Jesus, the source of our spiritual life and power (John 8:21).

In order to put a stop to Jesus’ ministry, the Jews “agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be the Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue” (John 9:22). The Greek word that is translated confess, homologeo (hom-ol-og-ehˊ-o) literally means “to speak the same thing,” but the specific connotation in John 9:22 is “to declare openly by way of speaking out freely, such confession being the effect of deep conviction of facts” (G3670). In other words, the Jews didn’t necessarily care if people believed that Jesus was the Christ, they just wanted to stop people from saying that they believed Jesus was the Christ. Their issue was with believers making a public profession of faith. Jesus told his followers, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men. I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). The denial that Jesus was talking about was the contradiction of a previous oath, to disavow oneself of a former commitment. John’s record of Peter’s denial of Christ states, “Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, ‘You also are not one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not” (John 18:25).

A Jewish oath was “a sacred promise attesting to what one has done or will do” and was also used “to pledge loyalty to God” (H7621). Matthew’s gospel indicates that Peter denied Jesus with an oath, stating, “I do not know the man” (Matthew 26:72). According to the Mosaic Law, if a man swore with an oath, to bind himself by a pledge, it was impossible for the man to unbind himself, meaning that he couldn’t be forgiven if he didn’t do what he promised to (Numbers 30:2). After Jesus was resurrected, he discovered that Peter had returned to his former occupation as a fisherman (John 21:7). Peter may have thought that his denial of Christ had disqualified him from the ministry, but Jesus loving restored him and repeated his original command, saying to Peter, “Follow me” (John 21:19). Similar to the Greek word homologeo, which means “to speak the same thing” (G3670), the Greek word that is translated follow, akoloutheo (ak-ol-oo-thehˊo) means “to be in the same way with” (G190). Jesus’ command to Peter to follow me was essentially a command to restore fellowship with him. Jesus wanted Peter to get back to doing what he was supposed to be doing, preaching the gospel (John 21:15).

The Jews unbelief was primary attributed to their spiritual blindness. Jesus said that the ruler of this world, Satan needed to be cast out in order for the Jews fellowship with God to be completely restored (John 12:31-32). John wrote:

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

“He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
    and understand with their heart, and turn,
    and I would heal them.” (John 12:36-40)

John said that the Jews “could not believe” (John 12:39). In other words, it was impossible for the Jews to put their trust in Jesus, but then, he went on to say, “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:42-43). John indicated that the problem was not that the Jews couldn’t believe, but that their leaders had set a bad example for them by refusing to make a public confession of their belief in Jesus because they didn’t want to be put out of the synagogue.

The dilemma for the Jews seemed to be that they were caught in the middle of two ways of thinking about how they could obtain eternal life. The Jews thought “they were God’s ‘spiritual’ children because they were Abraham’s physical children” (note on John 8:41), but Jesus taught them that they needed to experience a spiritual birth (John 3:5) in order to obtain eternal life (John 3:13-15). Jesus said the only way anyone could know for sure that he had received salvation was by the evidence of his works. John 3:19-21 states:

“And this is the judgment: 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.”

James elaborated on Jesus’ statement in his letter to the Jewish believers. James stated:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

The Greek word that James used that is translated dead, nekros (nekˊ-ros) “is used of the death of the body, cf. James 2:26, its most frequent sense, the actual spiritual condition of unsaved men” (G3498). The point James was trying to make was that the evidence of spiritual life is spiritual activity. If there is no spiritual activity going on, then a person cannot truly have been born again.

Jesus continually reminded the Jews that everything he was doing was being done in obedience to his Father. Jesus said, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment – what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me” (John 12:49-50). Jesus explained that his words were an ongoing confession because he was always speaking “the same thing” (G3670) that his Father told him to. As followers of Christ, we do the same thing Jesus did when we say what the Holy Spirit prompts us to. The writer of Hebrews encouraged believers to confess their faith on a regular basis so that the assurance of their salvation would give them confidence to not grow weary or fainthearted in their struggle against sin (Hebrews 10:23; 12:3-4). In that sense, confession of our faith is like an exercise that strengthens our spiritual muscles. The more we do it, the more agility and endurance we develop in our walk with the Lord.

Life after death

Outside of the twelve apostles that were Jesus’ constant companions during his three year ministry on earth, there are only a few people mentioned in the Bible that were close to him. One family in particular is mentioned in John’s gospel as being among Jesus’ closest friends. John tells us, “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, Lord, he whom you love is ill” (John 11:1-3). The love that Jesus had for Lazarus came from his heart and had to do with a personal attachment that had been formed between the two men. The Greek word that is translated love, phileo (ful-ehˊ-o) represents “tender affection” (G5368). John went on to say, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?’” (John 11:5-8). The Greek word that John used in this instance that is translated love is agapao (ag-ap-ahˊ-o). The distinction between the two kinds of love that Jesus had for Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus are more evident in Jesus’ conversation with Peter after he had denied the Lord (John 21:15-17). The context itself indicates that agapao, which is used in the first two questions that Jesus asked Peter, suggests the ‘love’ that values and esteems (cf. Revelation 12:11). It is an unselfish ‘love,’ ready to serve. The use of phileo in Peter’s answers and the Lord’s third question, conveys the thought of cherishing the Object above all else, of manifesting an affection characterized by constancy, from the motive of the highest veneration” (G5368). It was a deliberate assent of Jesus’ will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety rather than a desire to preserve Lazarus’ life that caused Jesus to respond to Mary and Martha’s request for him go to Judea in spite of the risk that it imposed to his own life. Jesus told his disciples, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).

Jesus explained Lazarus’ situation to his disciples in John 11:11-16. It states:

After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Jesus compared Lazarus’ death to falling asleep in order to make it clear to his disciples that Lazarus had not gone beyond a point of no return. The Greek word that is translated death in John 11:13, thanatos (thanˊ-at-os) “has the basic meaning of separation of the soul (the spiritual part of man) from the body (the material part), the latter ceasing to function and turning to dust…Death is the opposite of life; it never denotes nonexistence. As spiritual life is conscious existence in communion with God, so spiritual death is conscious existence in separation from God” (G2288).

The thing that Jesus wanted his disciples to believe was that physical death does not separate us from God. The Apostle Paul said of God’s everlasting love, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38). Jesus told his disciples that he was glad that he was not there when Lazarus died, “so that you may believe” (John 11:15). The Greek word that is translated believe, pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) means “to have faith” (G4100). Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” When we are convicted of things not seen, we are either shown to be wrong, convinced of our error or given proof that we are right (G1650). Faith enables us to have an accurate perception of what is going on in the spiritual realm.

When Jesus arrived in Bethany, John tells us:

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (John 11:21-27)

Martha’s attention was focused on the fact that her brother’s physical life had been cut short and she expressed her disappointment that Jesus hadn’t done something about it. Jesus redirected Martha’s attention to the eternal state of her brother’s soul. Jesus told Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23), meaning that Lazarus was born again and therefore, would experience a restoration of his physical life at some point in the future (G450). Martha acknowledged this when she said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24), but Jesus wanted Martha to realize that Lazarus was still living, even though he wasn’t physically present with them.

Luke’s gospel contains a story that Jesus told to illustrate life after death. It states:

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (16:19-31)

The place that Jesus described, Hades was known as the place of punishment, the abode or world of the dead. “According to the notions of the Hebrews, hades was a vast subterranean receptacle where the souls of the dead existed in a separate state until the resurrection of their bodies. The region of the blessed during this interval, the inferior paradise, they supposed to be in the upper part of this receptacle; while beneath was the abyss or Gehenna” (G86). When Jesus was dying on the cross, he told the criminal hanging next to him who asked to be remembered when he came into his kingdom, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42-43). After he was resurrected, Jesus ascended into heaven (Luke 24:51) and shortly before his death, Jesus assured his disciples that they would eventually join him there. Jesus said, “If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3).

In Jesus’ story, the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers to warn them about the torment they were going to experience in Hades. “Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” (Luke 16:30-31). In this statement, Jesus made it clear that hearing, or you might say paying attention to what God says, is a prerequisite of faith. Paul told the Romans, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The Greek word that is translated convinced, peitho (piˊ-tho) “in the active voice, signifies ‘to apply persuasion, to prevail upon or win over, to persuade’ bringing about a change of mind by the influence of reason or moral considerations…It also means ‘to persuade, to win over,’ in the passive and middle voices, ‘to be persuaded, to listen to, to obey’” (G3982). Believing in God and trusting in God are not exactly the same things. When Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25), he used the Greek word pisteuo. “Peitho and pisteuo, ‘to trust,’ are closely related etymologically; the difference in meaning is that the former implies obedience that is produced by the latter, cf. Hebrews 3:18-19, where the disobedience of the Israelites is said to be the evidence of their unbelief. Faith is of the heart, invisible to men; obedience is of the conduct and may be observed. When a man obeys God he gives the only possible evidence that in his heart he believes God. Of course it is persuasion of the truth that results in faith (we believe because we are persuaded that the thing is true, a thing does not become true because it is believed), but peitho, in New Testament suggests an actual and outward result of the inward persuasion and consequent faith” (G3982).

Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” and then, he asked her, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). Martha believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but she hadn’t yet gone so far as to put her trust in him. Jesus dealt with this issue when he instructed Martha to have the stone taken away from her brother’s tomb. John 11:38-44 states:

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Jesus used the Greek word pisteuo when he told Martha that if she believed, she would see the glory of God (John 11:40) indicating that Martha may not have actually been saved prior to her brother’s death. Martha knew in her head that Jesus was the Messiah (John 11:27), but might not yet have been persuaded to the point that she had actually put her trust in him for salvation.

John tells us that before Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out of the grave, “he lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me’” (John 11:41-42). What was going on between Jesus and his Father was a visible display of their cooperative effort to persuade the people standing around that Jesus was in fact “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) and because of that, even though Lazarus was physically dead, he was spiritually still alive. It seems that Jesus’ ability to raise Lazarus from the dead was somehow being hindered by the unbelief of the people standing around. It’s possible that belief and unbelief are somewhat like opposing forces that compete against each other to determine the outcome of a situation. When Jesus told a man that wanted him to cast a demonic spirit out of his son, “All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23), the man responded, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). The Greek word that is translated help, boetheo (bo-ay-thehˊ-o) means “to aid or relieve” (G997). The boy’s father had faith (I believe), but his unbelief was counteracting it and needed to be dealt with in order for Jesus to heal his son.

One of the biggest hindrances to the Jews accepting Jesus as their Savior was that they didn’t understand how things worked in the spiritual realm and therefore, couldn’t comprehend how a person could be “born again” (John 3:3-4). Jesus told a man named Nicodemus, “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 3:6-8). Jesus indicated that the sound of the wind is evidence of its presence. Even though it’s invisible, wind exists and can be detected by its sound. When God the Father testified to Jesus’ identity, he did so with his voice. Matthew 3:16-17 states, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” Likewise, at Jesus’ transfiguration, Matthew indicated “a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him’” (Matthew 17:5).

Jesus referred to himself as the good shepherd and told the Jews, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:3-5). Jesus’ emphasis of the sheep knowing the shepherd by his voice suggests that spiritual connections are formed through vocal interaction. Jesus often used the statement, “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:43) to draw attention to the spiritual truths in his lessons and distinguished believers from unbelieves by stating, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:47). The Greek word that is translated words, rhema (hrayˊ-mah) refers particularly to “a word as uttered by a living voice; a saying, speech, or discourse” (G4487).

After Jesus instructed Martha to take the stone away from Lazarus’ tomb, John tells us:

So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” (John 11:41-42).

Jesus wanted everyone to know that God could see and hear what was going on at Lazarus’ tomb. By looking up to heaven and praying out loud to his Father, Jesus shifted the focus of everyone’s attention to what was going on in the spiritual realm. John went on to say:

When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:43-44)

Lazarus’ response to Jesus’ command demonstrated that he was able to hear what he said to him. It seems likely that Jesus intentionally used a voice command to bring Lazarus back from the dead to show everyone that even though he had died, Lazarus was still spiritually connected to Jesus. Before they left for Bethany, Jesus told his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (John 11:11). Jesus was speaking in a figurative sense when he said he was going to wake Lazarus up, but when Jesus cried out to him with a loud voice (John 11:43) Lazarus was not actually dead; his soul was just temporarily separated from his body.

Spiritual blindness

Jesus’ miracle of healing a man that was born blind (John 9:1-7) portrayed in practical terms the spiritual condition of the Jews that Jesus was ministering to. “The Jews took pride in their ancestry as God’s chosen people and totally disregarded their own spiritual need” (note on John 9:39). Their spiritual blindness caused the Jews to cling to the false hope of their Mosaic legal system (John 9:28-29) and reject Christ’s message of salvation by grace. Paul wrote about the Jews spiritual dilemma in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul said:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

Paul talked about the world not being able to know God through wisdom, but only through the foolishness of preaching. God saves those who believe in Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:21). The Greek word that is translated wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, sophia (sof-eeˊ-ah) means “skill in the affairs of life, practical wisdom, wise management as shown in forming the best plans and selecting the best means, including the idea of sound judgment and good sense” and speaks “specifically of the learning and philosophy current among the Greeks and Romans in the apostolic age intended to draw away the minds of men from divine truth, and which stood in contrast to the simplicity of the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:17, 19-22; 2:1, 4-6, 13; 3:19; 2 Corinthians 1:12)” (G4678). Paul’s quotation of Isaiah 29:14 set the context of his statement as dealing with an intentional effort on God’s part to keep certain spiritual truths hidden from the unsaved. The broader context of spiritual blindness can be seen in Israel’s rejection of their Messiah and God’s judgment of his chosen people. Isaiah 29:9-16 states:

Astonish yourselves and be astonished;
    blind yourselves and be blind!
Be drunk, but not with wine;
    stagger, but not with strong drink!
For the Lord has poured out upon you
    a spirit of deep sleep,
and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
    and covered your heads (the seers).

And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”

And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,

therefore, behold, I will again
    do wonderful things with this people,
    with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
    and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel,
    whose deeds are in the dark,
    and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”?

Isaiah’s declaration, “the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden” focuses on the lack of spiritual perception that was evident among the Jews during Christ’s ministry on earth. Isaiah may have been using the phrases wisdom of the wise and discernment of the discerning to signify a lack of spiritual or divine gifts among the Jews. The Greek words sophia and sunesis cover a broad range of mental capabilities that have to do with comprehension. A derivative of sunesis is the Greek word sunetos (soon-etˊ-os) which means to reason out and hence to be intelligent (G4908). In a bad sense, sunetos means conceited (G5429) and therefore, suggests that intelligence or perhaps even an understanding of God’s word without the faith that is required to interpret it correctly may be the root cause of spiritual blindness. Jesus told the man that was born blind, “For judgement I came into the world, that those who do not see may see and those who see may become blind” (John 9:39). The Greek word that is translated blind, tuphlos (toof-losˊ) means “opaque (as if smoky)” (G5185) and is derived from the word tuphoo (toof-oˊ) which means “to envelop with smoke, i.e. (figurative) to inflate with self-conceit” (G5187).

A conversation between the Pharisees and the man who was born blind after Jesus healed him exposed the Jewish religious leaders’ conceit. The man who had been blind told the Pharisees:

One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. (John 9:25-34)

The point that the man who was born blind was trying to make was that his eyes were opened as a result of Jesus’ divine intervention and yet the Pharisees didn’t accept what happened as a miracle. The man who was born blind stated, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (John 9:33). The phrase “he could do nothing” consists of four Greek words that convey the absence of power, but also suggests that Jesus’ ability to do miracles did not come from within himself, but from his spiritual connection to God the Father. The man’s statement, “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him” (John 9:31) implied that the power Jesus displayed in opening the blind man’s eyes was a direct result of him doing God’s will. On the contrary, the Pharisees looked at the situation from a legalistic perspective and determined, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath” (John 9:16).

The Pharisees argument, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from” (John 9:29) was unfounded because on more than one occasion God declared Jesus to be his Son. Matthew’s gospel states, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16-17). Mark’s gospel contains a similar account of Jesus’ baptism and also states about his transfiguration, “A cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to him.’” (Mark 9:7). Rather than arguing with the Pharisees about his deity, Jesus approached the man who was born blind after he was excommunicated and asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man” (John 9:35). The man responded, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him” (John 9:36). Jesus told the man who was born blind, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you” (John 9:37). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated seen, horasis (horˊ-as-is) has to do with both physical and mental perception and refers specifically to “an inspired appearance” (G3706). With regards to seeing God, horasis means “to know Him, be acquainted with Him, know his character” (G3708). Moses’ role in delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt was particularly important because he was God’s designated representative, but Moses was human and therefore, couldn’t replicate God’s divine character. At the end of his life, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. When you have seen it you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes’ (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin)” (Numbers 27:12-14). Moses’ disobedience at the waters of Meribah is recorded in Numbers 20:2-13 where it states:

Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him. Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.

Paul explained the significance of Moses and Aaron’s mistake in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:1-5). Paul indicated that the Rock that Moses struck was Christ, the source of the Israelites’ salvation, and that the waters at Meribah were meant to quench the Israelites’ spiritual thirst. Jesus eluded to this in a conversation he had with a woman of Samaria whom he met at a well. Jesus told her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Jesus went on to say, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). Jesus referred to the spiritual drink that he wanted to give the woman at the well as living water (John 4:10) and indicated that quenching “one’s spiritual thirst was synonymous with eternal life (v. 14)” (note on John 4:10-14).

The Israelites associated eternal life with living in the Promised Land because God promised to give Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan as an eternal possession (Genesis 13:15). The problem with the Israelites’ expectation was that they didn’t realize they needed faith in order to enter the land. God told Moses and Aaron that they couldn’t bring the Israelites into the Promised Land because they didn’t believe in Him (Numbers 20:12). The Hebrew word that is translated believe, ʾaman (aw-manˊ) “signifies the element of being ‘firm’ or ‘trustworthy’…Considering something to be trustworthy is an act of full trusting or believing. This is the emphasis in the first biblical occurrence of aman: ‘And [Abram] believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). The meaning here is that Abram was full of trust and confidence in God, and that he did not fear Him (v. 1). It was not primarily God’s words that he believed, but in God Himself. Nor does the text tell us that Abram believed God so as to accept what He said as ‘true’ and ‘trustworthy’ (cf. Genesis 45:26), but simply that he believed in God. In other words, Abram came to experience a personal relationship to God rather than an impersonal relationship with his promises” (H539).

The Pharisees that criticized Jesus for opening the eyes of the man who was born blind on the Sabbath (John 9:16) claimed to be disciples of Moses. They said about Jesus, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from” (John 9:29). Their refusal to accept Jesus as the Israelites’ Messiah stemmed from a belief that the Jews were God’s ‘spiritual’ children because they were Abraham’s physical children” (note on John 8:41). Jesus rebuked their unbelief by stating:

“If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:39-47)

The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated believe, pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) means “to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing)” (G4100). Pisteuo is derived from the primary verb peitho (piˊ-tho) which means “to convince (by argument, true or false)” (G3982). Jesus told some of the Pharisees, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (John 9:41). In other words, the Pharisees’ spiritual blindness made them think they were members of God’s kingdom, but in actuality, they were going to spend eternity in “the lake of fire” because their sins had not been forgiven (Revelation 20:15).

Deception

After the Israelites defeated the king of Sihon and Og the king of Bashan, Balak the king of Moab devised a plot to keep the Israelites from entering his territory. Balak offered Balaam, a well-known false prophet, fees to pronounce a curse on the Israelites so that they would be powerless to overtake him (Numbers 22:6-7). Balak’s plan backfired and instead of cursing the people of Israel, Balaam blessed the Israelites four times (Numbers 23-24), but that was not the end of the story. Numbers 25:1-3 tells us, “While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.” The Hebrew word that is translated whore, zanah (zaw-nawˊ) means “to commit adultery,” but in this instance it is being used figuratively to refer to “the Jewish people being regarded as the spouse of Jehovah” (H2181). Deuteronomy explains from God’s perspective what was going on when Balak tried to curse the Israelites. Numbers 23:3-6 states:

“No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever, because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. But the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam; instead the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loved you. You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever.” (Deuteronomy 23:3-6)

It says in Deuteronomy 23:5 that the LORD God was in love with the people of Israel in the same way that a man and a woman have a strong emotional attachment to each other (H157). The LORD protected the Israelites from Balaam because of his deep affection for them. When the Israelites participated in the sacrifices to the Moabite gods and bowed down to worship them, they were in essence disassociating themselves from the God that had delivered them from slavery in Egypt and who had provided for all their needs throughout their 40 years of wandering in the desert.

It says in Numbers 25:3, “So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor.” The Hebrew word that is translated yoked, tsamad (tsaw-madˊ) has to do with being like-minded, two or more people thinking the same way about things. The Moabites likely had a mental framework that excluded God’s existence, but it wasn’t obvious to the Israelites. In the book of Revelation, John was instructed to write letters to the seven churches that pointed out the things that each of them was doing right and the things that they were doing wrong. In his letter to the church in Pergamum, the Lord told John to write, “But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality” (Revelation 2:14). The Greek word that is translated stumbling block, maʿaqash (mah-ak-awshˊ) means “a crook (in a road). Maʿaqash is derived from the word ʿaqash (aw-kashˊ) which means “to knot or distort; figuratively to pervert” (H6140). One way of looking at what was going on between the Israelites and the Moabites was that their practices of making sacrifices seemed to be so similar that the Israelites might have thought it didn’t matter if they did it one way or the other. The problem was that the Moabites were sacrificing to a different god. The Moabites were pledging their allegiance to Baal of Peor and the Israelites by participating in their sacrifices were doing the same (Numbers 25:5).

Numbers 25:18 indicates that the Israelites had been harassed by the Moabites with their wiles and that they had been beguiled by them in the matter of Baal of Peor. Wiles are methods of deceit that are intended to defraud someone (H5231/5230). The Apostle Paul talks about the wiles of the devil in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul told the Ephesians to “put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11, NKJV). The Greek word that is translated stand, histemi (hisˊtay-mee) means to stand fast against an enemy, but it is also used metaphorically “to impute, e.g., sin unto someone’ (G2476). In Acts 7:30 the dying martyr Stephen used the word histemi when he said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” In that sense, standing against the wiles of the devil might mean that we don’t let the devil’s false accusations stop us from doing God’s will. Jesus was constantly bombarded with false accusations by the Jewish leaders who wanted to put a stop to his ministry. On one occasion, after Jesus healed a man that had been an invalid for 38 years, “the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.’ But he answered them, ‘The man who healed me, that man said to me, “Take up your bed and walk”’…And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath” (John 5:10-11, 16).

The Jews tried to discredit Jesus by shifting the focus of peoples’ attention from the fact that Jesus was doing miracles to the fact that he was doing them on the Sabbath. Jesus countered the Jews argument against him with this statement:

“I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:21-24)

On the surface of things it seemed as if the Jews were in the right and Jesus was in the wrong, but Jesus pointed out that appearances can be deceiving. The Greek word that is translated right in John 7:24, dikaios (dikˊ-ah-yos) has to do with being impartial. Dikaios is used “especially of those whose hearts are right with God” and of things being just as they should be (G1342).

It is clear that the Jews weren’t able to discriminate between good and evil because they didn’t even realize that Jesus was their Messiah. It says in John 7:5, “For not even his brothers believed in him. John tells us, “There was much complaining among the people concerning Him. Some said, “He is good”; others said, “No, on the contrary, He deceives the people.” However, no one spoke openly of Him for fear of the Jews” (John 7:12-13, NKJV). Some of the Jews thought that Jesus was deceiving the people, but the opposite was actually true. The Greek word planao (plan-ahˊ-o) is used with the definite article in Revelation 12:9 as a title of the Devil, “the Deceiver” (G4105). Planao appears throughout the New Testament in connection with the devils activities. Jesus warned his disciples, “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many” (Matthew 24:4-5, NKJV). Jesus went on to say about the end times, “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:11-14, NKJV) and later, “false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24, NKJV). The Apostle Paul told Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and imposters will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:12-13).

John’s first epistle states about Christ, “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning” (1 John 3:7-8). Jesus’ question to the Jews pointed out the obvious discrepancy between their behavior and their espoused beliefs. He asked them, “Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” (John 7:19). The Jews intended to murder Jesus and yet they proclaimed, “You have a demon!” (John 7:20). The Jewish authorities’ hypocrisy was evident to everyone and yet the people justified their doubts about Jesus’ deity based on facts about his human birth. They posed the question, “Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ?” and then, answered themselves, “But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.” (John 7:20-21). The people were confused because they weren’t looking at things from a spiritual perspective.

Paul explained the lost state of the unsaved in his letter to the Ephesians. 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 bodyand the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.(Ephesians 2:1-3)

Paul described unbelievers as being dead in trespasses and sins, “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” (Ephesians 2:1-2). The picture Paul presented was one of involuntary cooperation. Unsaved people are dead spiritually and yet they are subject to Satan’s influence. Satan’s ultimate goal is to use deception to keep people under his control until it’s too late for them escape eternal punishment. Paul told believers:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. (Ephesians 4:17-19)

The Greek word that is translated darkened in Ephesians 4:18, skotizo (skot-idˊ-zo) means “to obscure” (G4654) and is derived from the word skotos (skotˊ-os) which is “spoken figuratively of moral darkness, the absence of spiritual light and truth, including the idea of sinfulness and consequent calamity” (G4655).

Jesus battled against the deceptive forces at work in the Jews minds by teaching them the spiritual truths that govern the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount began with the key principles of spiritual life, what we know today as the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12). Jesus also compared the ways of the world with the ways of his kingdom in order to show the stark contrast between saved and unsaved individuals. Jesus stated:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers,what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

Jesus’ declaration that we must be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect was meant to point out that the standard for Christian living is not obedience to the Ten Commandments, but complete surrender to God’s will through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus illustrated this point when he said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:38).

Jesus’ reference to the Holy Spirit caused a division among the people. John 7:40-47 states:

When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived?

The lines that were being drawn between the Jewish religious leaders and followers of Christ made it difficult for anyone associated with the Pharisees to make a profession of faith. Nicodemus, who came to Jesus at night to find out how he could be born again (John 3:1-21), was unwilling to openly declare his faith (John 7:50-52). “When Nicodemus urged the other Pharisees to consider Christ’s words before determining whether he spoke the truth, they sought to discredit him” (note on John 7:52).

Paul talked about the deceitfulness of sin being the root cause of the Jews unbelief. Paul said:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:12-19)

In a very simplistic sense, unbelief is merely a rejection of the truth, but what is really at work in the hearts of unbelievers is an unconscious choice to believe Satan’s lies. Satan’s deception cannot prevent a person from becoming a believer, but it does provide him with an alternate choice. The Holy Spirit’s instruction, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Hebrews 3:15) implies that unbelief is a decision to not listen to the voice of God.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul expressed his concern about them getting caught up in the deceptive practices of religion. Paul wrote:

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. (Galatians 4:8-11)

Paul went on to remind the Galatians that the central and perhaps only principle they really needed to focus on in order to live a godly life was God’s law of reciprocity. Paul said:

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:6-10)

Paul admonished the Galatians to not be deceived, suggesting that what he was about to say to them would be disputed by the three satanic forces that work against our belief in Christ: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Jesus indicated that we must give the Holy Spirit free reign in our hearts and lives so that we are not taken in by Satan’s deception,  (John 7:38-39).

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.”