The Unforgivable Sin

22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. – Matthew 12:22-32 ESV

This entire section of Matthew’s gospel centers around the authority of Jesus, given to Him by His Heavenly Father, and accompanied by the power of the Spirit of God. Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah of the Jews, and the Savior of the world. At His incarnation, He had taken on human flesh. At His baptism, He had been anointed by the Spirit of God. And He operated under the divine auspices and with the full approval of God the Father.

But as Matthew has already shown, Jesus faced growing opposition to His mission and increasing resistance to His claim to be the Messiah. And the religious leaders of the day formed the nexus of the swelling antagonism against Him. The more His popularity grew, the more they hated Him. They followed Him everywhere, searching for any evidence they could use against Him. They examined every word that came out of His mouth, endeavoring to expose Him as a fraud and a threat to their way of life. In their minds, Jesus posed a serious problem that required immediate action.

But the Pharisees and their religious compatriots faced another problem: The rapidly expanding number of so-called disciples who showed up everywhere Jesus went. There is little doubt that this group of people was comprised of curiosity seekers, the diseased and disabled in search of healing, and a small group who held out hope that Jesus really was the long-awaited Messiah. And with every miracle Jesus performed, the Pharisees knew that there was a strong likelihood that the curious could become the committed.

So, when Matthew records, rather matter-of-factly, an occasion where Jesus exorcised a demon from a man, he juxtaposes the reaction of the crowd with that of the Pharisees. This sets the stage for yet another battle between the Pharisees and Jesus.  After having watched Jesus cast out the demon, resulting in the restoration of the man’s faculties of sight and speech, the crowds were forced to consider the implications of what they had just seen. Someone put into words what everyone was thinking:

“Can this be the Son of David?” – Matthew 12:23 ESV

The actual tone of their question was actually a bit more suspicious and doubtful. A more accurate translation would read, “He can’t be the Son of David, can He?” You can sense the reticence in their words and how they were struggling to reconcile their expectations of the Messiah with the words and works of Jesus. The very fact that they refer to the Messiah as “the Son of David” reflects their understanding that He would come as a warrior-king. They were looking for a mighty deliverer who would rescue the nation of Israel from its subjugation to Rome and restore it to power and prominence.

And while there was no doubt that Jesus displayed power, it was not exactly what the Jews had been expecting. His miracles, while awe-inspiring, were doing little to free them from Roman rule. His little band of ragtag disciples wasn’t exactly the kind of army a conquering king would require. And yet, they couldn’t ignore what they had seen. Jesus was different. His power was undeniable. He spoke with such authority. He displayed an aura of quiet confidence, accompanied by powerful signs and wonders.  But His identity was still up for grabs. They weren’t quite sure what to make of Jesus. And this is where the Pharisees decided to sow seeds of doubt among the people.

They immediately attributed the work of Jesus to Satan.

“It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” – Matthew 12:24 ESV

Fearing that the crowds just might decide that Jesus was the Messiah, the Pharisees provide them with another option: Jesus was operating under the influence of Beelzebul or Satan. His miracles weren’t divine but merely demonic in nature. Sure, Jesus displayed power, but it was from the pit of hell, not from heaven.

The Pharisees hadn’t thought this one through. And Jesus quickly exposes the absurdity behind their logic. Why in the world would Satan cast out one of his own demons? What possible good could come from the enemy releasing one of his own captives? It made no sense.

“…if Satan is casting out Satan, he is divided and fighting against himself. His own kingdom will not survive.” – Matthew 12:26 NLT

Their assertion was ridiculous. And, on top of that, it meant that anyone else who cast out demons was guilty of operating under the influence of Satan as well. That included their own “sons” or fellow Jews who practiced exorcism. If what Jesus did was demonic, then it had to be true for all.

Having exposed the shoddy logic behind their accusation, Jesus offers another, more plausible, explanation.

“But if I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you.” – Matthew 12:28 NLT

With one statement, Jesus answers the question asked by the crowd: “Can this be the Son of David?” And the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” The very fact that He had the power to cast out demons was a sign of His authority as the Son of God. He was the Messiah, and His arrival in their midst was proof that the Kingdom of God had come. 

Jesus’ authority over demons was given to Him by God and made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. And Jesus makes it clear that His battle was not going to be with the Romans, but with “evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT). He came to do war with “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2 ESV). And Jesus informs the Pharisees that they have a choice to make. They can either join Him or continue to align themselves against Him.

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” – Matthew 12:30 ESV

But the one thing they do not want to do is to attribute His work to the enemy. That was a dangerous and deadly mistake to make. Jesus lets them know that, by attributing His works to Satan, they were rejecting the power of the Spirit and the testimony of God. They were guilty of blaspheming the Spirit. By blasphemy, Jesus meant that they were guilty of slandering or vilifying the testimony of the Spirit of God. The Spirit’s power, as revealed in the miracles of Jesus, was meant to give evidence of who Jesus was. His casting out of the demon, done by the power of the Spirit of God, was a testimony to His identity. So, Jesus informs the Pharisees that they were guilty of the unforgivable sin: The rejection of Jesus as Messiah.

For this sin there is no forgiveness, “either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:32 ESV). The Pharisees would be forgiven their verbal abuse of Jesus, if they eventually accepted Him as their Savior and Lord. But if they continued to deny the testimony of God and the visible proof of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus, they would not be forgiven.

The interesting aspect of this whole encounter was that the Pharisees were blind to the reality of Jesus’ claim because they denied the proof of the Spirit of God. They were devoid of the Spirit themselves. The apostle Paul would later write:

So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:3 NLT

And John would also provide further insight into the Spirit’s illuminating role in man’s ability to recognize Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God come in the flesh.

This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. – 1 John 4:2 NLT 

But the Pharisees, lacking the presence of the Spirit of God, were incapable of recognizing the Son of God. And Jesus declared them to be aligned against Him, operating in direct opposition to His divine mission.

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” – Matthew 12:30 ESV

The battle lines were drawn. The King had come. The Son of God had taken on human flesh and was in the process of fulfilling the divine will of His Heavenly Father. But the Pharisees represented the forces of this world, aligned against the redemptive plan of God. And their hatred of Jesus was going to end up destroying them. While they would eventually succeed in putting Jesus to death, they would fail in their efforts to put an end to His rule and reign. They could deny His claim to be the Messiah, but they could not deny His right to rule as King of kings and Lord of lords.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Miracles Versus Messiah

1 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” – Matthew 10:1-15 ESV

Jesus had just challenged His disciples to be in prayer: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38 ESV). This statement was likely expressed to the growing number of people who had chosen to follow Jesus. The term “disciple” was often used by Jesus to refer to more than just His 12 hand-picked followers. But immediately after issuing His invitation for all to pray for laborers, Jesus began the process of equipping His 12 disciples for their future role as those laborers.

Matthew provides us with the names of the 12 men whom Jesus had personally called. These were not random individuals who had showed up somewhere along the way, but the men whom Jesus had personally sought out and to whom He had extended the invitation, “Follow me.” This was a rather motley group of men, made up of common fishermen, a tax collector, and an assortment of other nondescript and unimpressive individuals. They did not come from the ranks of the rich and the elite. They were not highly educated or influential. None were members of any of the Jewish religious sects such as the Pharisees and Essenes. They didn’t rub shoulders with the Sadducees, the prominent Jewish political party of their day. Only Simon, designated as “the Zealot,” had any known affiliation with an established group with political aspirations. The Zealots were a grass-roots political movement with strong anti-Roman sentiments.  For the most part, these men were ordinary and unimpressive. But they had each been hand-picked by Jesus.

Now, He was preparing to send them out. And Matthew clearly conveys that Jesus equipped them for their coming mission by giving “them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction” (Matthew 10:1 ESV). There is no indication that these men had possessed this kind of power before. Up until this point in any of the gospel narratives, there are no reports of the disciples having healed anyone from anything. They had been mere spectators, watching Jesus display His God-ordained, Spirit-enabled power and confirming His divine authority on earth.

That Jesus “gave them authority” indicates that it was His to give. He had the right to share this power with them. And Matthew provides us with no insight into what this bestowal of power might have looked like. There is no description of any accompanying physical manifestation. Unlike the day of Jesus’ baptism, there was no sign of a dove descending on the disciples. And unlike the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon all of these men, except Judas, there were no tongues of fire present.

Matthew provides us with a subtle, yet highly significant bit of information. It is an important point of differentiation. He starts out describing these men as “his twelve disciples,” but then, when listing their names, he calls them “the twelve apostles.” This is the first time in the gospel accounts when this designation is used. The word “apostle” simply means “one who is sent.” It conveys the idea of someone carrying a message on behalf of another.

More than three years later, Jesus would tell 11 of these same men that they were about to become His messengers again. And they would have a permanent source of power to enable them in their mission.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 ESV

But at this point in the gospel story, Jesus was preparing His 12 apostles or messengers to venture out into the world so that they might experience firsthand what their future role would be like. And Mark indicates that Jesus sent these men out in pairs (Mark 6:7), and Luke adds that they were given very specific instructions:

Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” – Luke 9:3-5 ESV

Matthew provides further details regarding Jesus’ instructions, adding that they were to focus their efforts on the Jewish communities, avoiding any Gentile regions or those occupied by the Samaritans. They were to go “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6 ESV). The restrictive nature of Jesus’ command ties directly back to the statement recorded by Matthew in the preceding verses.

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. – Matthew 9:36-37 ESV

Jesus had been teaching in the synagogues, a clear reference to the Jews. He had been visiting their cities and villages, performing miracles and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. But He had been disturbed by what He saw, people who were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” So, He sent His 12 Jewish apostles or messengers into the field that was ripe unto harvest. He provided them with authority to display the power of God among the chosen people of God – the Jews.

But while He gave them the power to perform miracles, He also gave them a message to convey to the people of Israel: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:7 ESV). That was to be their primary responsibility. This was the very same message that John the Baptist had proclaimed. And it was the message on which Jesus had begun His own earthly ministry.

The miracles were meant to provide proof of their authority to proclaim this message of the kingdom. Each time they healed or cast out a demon, it would display their God-given power to speak on His behalf. And yet, Jesus seems to warn them that the reception to their message was going to be less-than-ideal.

“…if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. – Matthew 10:14 ESV

People would love the miracles they performed, even offering to pay for them, but the disciples were to accept nothing for their efforts. This was to be a God-ordained, God-provisioned initiative, where all their needs were met by Him. Jesus knew that the disciples would be tempted to downplay the message of the kingdom and focus all their attention on their newfound ability to perform miracles. The allure of the spectacular would overshadow the truly life-changing message of the gospel.

It seems that the number of “worthy” individuals they would encounter along the way would be small. For the most part, they would find people enamored with their miracles but turned off by their message. The majority of the Jews with whom they came in contact would long to see the power of God on display, but reject the news that the Son of God had descended. The presence of miracles would take precedence over the appearance of the Messiah.

In a way, Jesus was giving His disciples first-hand experience with the stubborn hearts of their own people. Jesus had come to the Jews. He had been born a Jew, but as the apostle, John stated, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). This was going to be a painful lesson for the disciples and they would not learn it all at once. It would take years for them to grasp that Jesus, though the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews, had come to be the Savior of the world. And, as John further states, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13 ESV).

And Jesus must have shocked His disciples when He announced that any town that refused to receive them and their message would find themselves suffering a fate worse than that of Sodom and Gomorrah.

“Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” – Matthew 10:15 ESV

Gladly accepting the miracles of God while rejecting the Messiah of God was going to leave these communities and their inhabitants facing the future judgment of God. Their refusal to recognize Jesus as the chosen one of God would result in their judgment at the hand of God. And, as John made clear, the Jews, the chosen people of God, would refuse to accept Jesus as the Son of God and their Savior.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

You Did Not Believe

19 “Then we set out from Horeb and went through all that great and terrifying wilderness that you saw, on the way to the hill country of the Amorites, as the Lord our God commanded us. And we came to Kadesh-barnea. 20 And I said to you, ‘You have come to the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. 21 See, the Lord your God has set the land before you. Go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has told you. Do not fear or be dismayed.’ 22 Then all of you came near me and said, ‘Let us send men before us, that they may explore the land for us and bring us word again of the way by which we must go up and the cities into which we shall come.’ 23 The thing seemed good to me, and I took twelve men from you, one man from each tribe. 24 And they turned and went up into the hill country, and came to the Valley of Eshcol and spied it out. 25 And they took in their hands some of the fruit of the land and brought it down to us, and brought us word again and said, ‘It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.’

26 “Yet you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. 27 And you murmured in your tents and said, ‘Because the Lord hated us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. 28 Where are we going up? Our brothers have made our hearts melt, saying, “The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified up to heaven. And besides, we have seen the sons of the Anakim there.”’ 29 Then I said to you, ‘Do not be in dread or afraid of them. 30 The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, 31 and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ 32 Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the Lord your God, 33 who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go.” – Deuteronomy 1:19-33 ESV

Moses continues his recitation of Israel’s history in an attempt to remind the next generation of their heritage of sin and rebellion against God. He wanted this younger group of Israelites to understand that the reason they were the newly designated conquerors of the land of Canaan was because their mothers and fathers had refused to do what God had commanded them to do. If the previous generation had done what they were supposed to do, these young people would have grown up in the land of Canaan rather than wandering around the wilderness. They would have enjoyed all the blessings and benefits that God had promised. But their parents had disobeyed God. And Moses makes it very clear that their disobedience was a byproduce of their disbelief. They didn’t believe God.

When the 12 men who had been sent to spy out the land had returned, they had good news and bad news. They unanimously agreed that the land was rich and bountiful, just as God had said. They had even brought back samples of the fruit as proof and declared, “It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us” (Deuteronomy 1:25 ESV). But there was a second part to their report. The land was filled with fruit, but it was also overflowing with enemies, a fact the spies made painfully clear.

“The people of the land are taller and more powerful than we are, and their towns are large, with walls rising high into the sky! We even saw giants there—the descendants of Anak!” – Deuteronomy 1:28 ESV

The spies provided physical proof of the land’s fruitfulness, but they also shared personal testimony as its inherent dangers. There were giants in the land! And the fortified cities had walls that reached to the sky! Now, it’s easy for us to write this off as a case of obvious hyperbole, but that’s not how the Israelites viewed it. They were terrified by what they heard. They believed the words of the spies and it produced a growing sense of panic.

“The Lord must hate us. That’s why he has brought us here from Egypt—to hand us over to the Amorites to be slaughtered. Where can we go?” – Deuteronomy 1:27-28 NLT

God had set them free from their captivity in Egypt, miraculously bringing a series of judgments against the Egyptians in the form of ten devastating plagues. The final plague, the death of the firstborns, had caused Pharaoh to release the Israelites, but he quickly changed his mind and sent his troops to recapture them and bring them back. But God had defeated the army of Pharaoh at the Red Sea. Then God had led the people of Israel through the wilderness, caring for their every need and providing them with His law. But when they had come to the edge of the long-awaited promised land, they too had a change of heart. The news of well-armed giants and skyscraper-like fortifications caused them to disbelieve the promise of God. God had clearly told them that He would assist them in capturing the land. It would be His doing.

“See, I am going to make a covenant before all your people. I will do wonders such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation. All the people among whom you live will see the work of the Lord, for it is a fearful thing that I am doing with you.

“Obey what I am commanding you this day. I am going to drive out before you the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite.” – Exodus 34:10-11 NLT

He had promised to fight for them and alongside them. Notice that God had not promised a lack of enemies in the land. He never said they would just walk into the land without a fight. He promised victory, not a lack of opposition. But rather than take God at His word, they listened to the majority opinion of the spies. Which had caused Moses to plead with them to remember the promise of God and reconsider their decision.

“Don’t be shocked or afraid of them! The Lord your God is going ahead of you. He will fight for you, just as you saw him do in Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 1:29-30 NLT

This scene brings to mind another encounter recorded on the pages of Scripture, where God’s people found themselves dealing with fruit and an enemy. All the way back in the beginning, as described in the book of Genesis, we see Adam and Eve faced with a decision to believe God or to listen to an opposing view that contradicted the command of God. On this occasion, the enemy took the form of a serpent, not an army filled with giants. And rather than a cluster of grapes from the land of Canaan, Adam and Eve were presented with the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And it was obviously tempting, because the Genesis account records that Eve saw and she ate.

When the woman saw that the tree produced fruit that was good for food, was attractive to the eye, and was desirable for making one wise, she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some of it to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. – Genesis 3:6 NLT

But it wasn’t just the tempting nature of the fruit that caused Eve to eat. It was the lies of the enemy. And he began by causing Eve to doubt to doubt the word of God by subtly twisting what God had said.

“Is it really true that God said, ‘You must not eat from any tree of the orchard’?” – Genesis 3:1 NLT

When the woman had attempted to correct the enemy’s words, clearly relating that God had promised death as a punishment for disobedience, Satan essentially called God a liar and a deceiver.

“Surely you will not die, for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 NLT

He caused Eve to doubt the word of God, which led to disbelief in the promise that God had made. And the disbelief eventually manifested itself in disobedience.

…she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some of it to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. – Genesis 3:6 NLT

The decision of Adam and Eve to doubt God led to their disobedience of God. And their disobedience led to their banishment from the presence of God. They had started life in the garden, but found themselves on the outside looking in. The Israelites had been standing on the outside looking into the promised land, but God had promised that it was theirs for the taking, if they would only take Him at His word and enter in.

But, like Eve, the Israelites refused to believe what God had said. God had not promised a lack of enemies in the land or a conflict-free conquest of the land. He had promised to go before them and to fight for them. He had assured them of victory, not a lack of war.

From the minute they had left Egypt, God had proven Himself faithful and more than capable of caring for them. He had gone before them, fought on behalf of them, and provided food and clothing for them. And yet, Moses points out, that despite all of God’s loving care and concern, they doubted Him, which caused them to disbelieve Him, and eventually to disobey Him.

“But even after all he did, you refused to trust the Lord your God, who goes before you looking for the best places to camp, guiding you with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. – Deuteronomy 1:32-33 NLT

They had “rebelled against the command of the Lord your God and refused to go in” (Deuteronomy 1:26 NLT). And now, 40 years later, Moses was watching a new generation facing the very same circumstance and wondering how they would respond. Would they believe and obey?  Or, like their parents, would they allow their circumstances to doubt the word of God, disbelieve the promises of God, and disobey the command of God?

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson




Disbelief Can Be Deadly

Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day — just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. 

Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. – Jude 1:5-8 ESV

Jude wastes no time getting to the point of his letter. He has already made it clear that he is writing in regards to a group of individuals who are having a negative impact on the local body of believers. And he describes them as “ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality” (Jude 1:4 ESV). Jude isn’t interested in making friends with these people. He is out to expose them for what they were: A danger to the spiritual well-being of the body of Christ. In fact, Jude flatly states that they “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Those are serious words that clearly reveal Jude’s disdain for these people and the perverted message they were preaching.

And, having exposed the perpetrators of the false doctrine that had infiltrated the church, Jude provides a wake-up call to all those within the church. He wanted them to understand the gravity of the situation and to recognize their need to resist falsehood at all costs. For Jude, this was all about the issue of belief. Were they going to believe God and take Him at His word, or listen to the lies of those who were preaching and teaching heretical and dangerous half-truths?

To drive home the gravity of the situation, Jude used a well-known historic event: The exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt. But what is interesting is that Jude places Jesus in the midst of that Old Testament context, claiming, “Jesus, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, later destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 1:5 NLT). Revealing his belief in the deity and divinity of Jesus, Jude stresses that it was He who rescued the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. But it was also Jesus who destroyed an entire generation of Israelites because they failed to believe the promises of God. Rather than entering into and taking possession of the land of Canaan promised by God to Abraham, the Israelites let their fear of the occupants of the land to replace their faith in God. The chose to disbelieve God and, as a result, that generation died in the wilderness.

Next, Jude brings up the story of the angels who chose to side with Satan in his attempt to make himself god. The book of Isaiah records this event:

“How you are fallen from heaven,
    O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
    you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
    ‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
    I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
    in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
    I will make myself like the Most High.” – Isaiah 14:12-14 ESV

In his attempted rebellion, Satan was accompanied by angels, who were later cast out of heaven by God. Jude states that God’s fate concerning these rebellious angels was they be “kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day” (Jude 1:6 ESV). Many of these fallen angels were placed in confinement in a place called the Pit or the Abyss. And, as Jude alludes to, the day is coming when they will be released. The book of Revelation associates this event with the 5th trumpet judgment.

He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. – Revelation 9:2-3 ESV

These fallen angels or demons will wreak havoc on the earth, tormenting mankind for five months during the period of time called the Great Tribulation. But Jude’s emphasis is on their current state of incarceration in the pit, because they refused to believe God. Rather than believe in and trust God, they had sided with Satan in an ill-fated attempt be overthrow God. They failed to believe in the power and sovereignty of God. They failed to believe in the judgment of God against all who rebel against Him. And, as a result, they found themselves living in exile from God.

Next, Jude brings up the infamous Old Testament cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. These two cities had become icons for sin and rebellion. They had also become the symbols of God’s wrath against sin. He completely destroyed them and they remain unoccupied to this day. Jude reminds his audience that the occupants of these two large cosmopolitan enclaves had “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire” (Jude 1:13 ESV). They were wicked beyond belief. Their sin was so eggregious, that God decided to wipe them off the face of the earth. One of the angels who visited Lot in order to rescue he and his family from the cities before their destruction told him, “we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it” (Genesis 19:13 ESV). Once again, the issue was one of belief. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah did not believe in or worship God. And so, God destroyed them. But Peter tells us that God “rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him” (2 Peter 2:7 NLT).

Jude is attempting to drive home the danger of disbelief. Failing to take God at His word can have devastating, even deadly, consequences. The disbelieving Israelites died in the wilderness. The disbelieving angels were locked away for all time, until God chooses to release them during the Tribulation. And the people of Sodom and Gomorrah disbelieved that God hated their sin, and they died as result.

When Jude addresses the topic of belief and disbelief, he is not necessarily talking about salvation. The Israelites who died in the wilderness believed in the existence of God, but they failed to believe the expressed word of God. And it would seem that Jude is attempting to stress the disbelief of these “ungodly” people. He is addressing their actions, not making a sweeping judgment about their salvation. They were guilty of teaching doctrine that was in conflict with the expressed word of God. As we will see, they were guilty of adding to the gospel, something to which Jude and the apostle Paul were vehemently opposed.

This little history lesson by Jude is intended to set the stage for his attack against these false teachers who were negatively impacting the faith of the church. Jude accuses them of “relying on their dreams,” a direct attack on the veracity of their teaching. These men were not teaching the Word of God, but the thoughts of man. Jesus had some strong words for those in His day who did the same thing:

“Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” – Matthew 15:9 NLT

As a result of their twisting of and adding to the Word of God, the individuals of whom Jude spoke ended up defiling the flesh, rejecting authority, and blaspheming the glorious ones. While all of this has an ominous tone about it, Jude doesn’t clarify what he means by these things. But he will.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Blind to the Signs.

1 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed. – Matthew 16:1-4 ESV

After their brief foray into the Gentile region of Decapolis, Jesus and His disciples returned to Jewish territory. And as soon as they arrived, they were met by a delegation comprised of Pharisees and Sadducees, whose sole intent was to test Him. These two religious sects made up the Sanhedrin or high council of the Jews. Like modern-day Democrats and Republicans, these two groups were diametrically opposed to one another, but they found a common enemy in Jesus. They were willing to set aside their differences and join forces against what they believed was a growing threat to their power and prestige. Jesus was attracting huge crowds with His miracles and message about the coming kingdom. And the jealousy of these religious leaders was growing at pace with His reputation.

At first blush, their request appears somewhat innocuous. They simply asked Jesus to show them a sign from heaven, but He saw through their ruse, fully comprehending the motive behind the request. This was not the first time this had happened. Back in chapter 12, Matthew records another instance when the Pharisees demanded that Jesus perform a sign for them. But He had refused. And now, they add a caveat, asking that He perform a sign from heaven. In the Jewish way of thinking, demons could perform earthly signs, which is why they accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. But a sign from heaven required the power and approval of God. They could not deny that Jesus did miraculous signs. They were well aware of the many healings He had performed and the had witnessed His power over demons, but they still refused to believe that He was divinely anointed.

In essence, these men were demanding verifiable proof that Jesus was who He claimed to be. They were not convinced and would not be satisfied until He met their criteria for authenticity. But Jesus knew these men would never believe. There was nothing He could do that would change their opposition to Him. They were spiritually blind to the truth. Paul would later describe their sad predicament:

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. –  Corinthians 4:4 NLT

There was no sign that Jesus could do that would change the hearts of these men. Their hatred for Jesus blinded them. He had already given ample proof to His divinity, but they had stubbornly refused to accept the reality of His miracles and message. And Jesus had already made clear the issue at hand.

31 “If I were to testify on my own behalf, my testimony would not be valid. 32 But someone else is also testifying about me, and I assure you that everything he says about me is true. 33 In fact, you sent investigators to listen to John the Baptist, and his testimony about me was true. 34 Of course, I have no need of human witnesses, but I say these things so you might be saved. 35 John was like a burning and shining lamp, and you were excited for a while about his message. 36 But I have a greater witness than John—my teachings and my miracles. The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has testified about me himself. You have never heard his voice or seen him face to face, 38 and you do not have his message in your hearts, because you do not believe me—the one he sent to you.

39 “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life. – John 5:31-40 NLT

These men were experts in the Old Testament Scriptures and they knew well what God’s Word had to say about the coming Messiah. They were fully expecting His arrival, but were unable to recognize Him when He showed up in their midst. Because their hearts and minds were hardened.

14 But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ. 15 Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand. – 2 Corinthians 3:14-15 NLT

They could look at the sky and predict the weather, but they were blind to the clear and present signs taking place all around them. They remained unimpressed and unconvinced by all that Jesus had said and done. So, they demanded more. And Jesus gave them the same response He had the last time they demanded a sign.

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” – Matthew 16:4 ESV

This time around, Jesus didn’t bother to elaborate on His statement. But the first time they had demanded a sign, He had told them:

“For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” – Matthew 12:40 ESV

The day was coming when Jesus would die and be buried, remaining in the grave for three days. But He would be raised back to life by the power of the Spirit of God. And news of this miraculous event would spread all throughout the land of Israel. But the Pharisees and Sadducees would end up rejecting this sign as well. They would continue to discount the claims of Jesus and the testimony of the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead. The apostle Paul would clearly articulate the requirement for salvation.

…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. – Romans 10:9 ESV

But even when faced with the sign of Jonah, the Pharisees and Sadducees would remain stubbornly opposed to Jesus. His inexplicable resurrection would do nothing to change their minds about Him because their hearts and minds were hardened against Him. And Matthew simply records: “So he left them and departed.”

Matthew chose to use a very specific word when referring to jesus departure. It is the Greek word, kataleipō, and it can mean “to forsake or abandon.” In a sense, Jesus turned His back on these men, focusing His attention on His disciples and beginning to prepare Himself for His ultimate destiny in Jerusalem.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Danger of Disbelief.

At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the sons of Israel a second time.” So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth. And this is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the males of the people who came out of Egypt, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness on the way after they had come out of Egypt. Though all the people who came out had been circumcised, yet all the people who were born on the way in the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised. For the people of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished, because they did not obey the voice of the Lord; the Lord swore to them that he would not let them see the land that the Lord had sworn to their fathers to give to us, a land flowing with milk and honey. So it was their children, whom he raised up in their place, that Joshua circumcised. For they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way.

When the circumcising of the whole nation was finished, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” And so the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day. Joshua 5:2-9 ESV

For this passage to make any sense, it requires an understanding of the rite of circumcision, as practiced by the people of Israel. Circumcision was not a cultural rite of passage, created by men, but a divinely mandated sign of their covenant relationship with God. It had been instituted by God and given by Him to Abraham centuries earlier, long before there were any Israelites.

And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” – Genesis 17:9-14 ESV

For generations, the Israelites had kept God’s command to circumcise their infant sons, even during the dark days of their captivity in Egypt. Circumcision was a physical sign and tangible reminder to the Jews of their having been set apart by God. They belonged to Him. And it was tied to the covenant God had made with Abraham, promising to make of him a great nation.

“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:4-8 ESV

God had kept His promise to Abraham. From one man, who was old in age and married to a barren wife, God produced the nation of Israel. But now, as they stood on the western bank of the Jordan, preparing to possess the land God had promised to Abraham, they faced a problem. The men of Israel were uncircumcised. They were missing the sign of the covenant, the mark of their ownership by God. The generation that had been released from captivity in Egypt had been circumcised, but because of their refusal to enter the promised land 40 years earlier, God had forbidden them from ever entering the land. They all died in the wilderness. And during those days of wandering in the wilderness, a new generation was born. But for whatever reason, outright disobedience or simple neglect, the people of Israel had failed to circumcise their male children. So, by the time Joshua and the nation made it to the land of Canaan, an entire generation of Israelite men were in violation of their covenant commitment to God. Their parents had failed to set them apart through the practice of the God-ordained rite of circumcision. And from the passage, it would appear that not a single male within the Israelite camp bore the mark of circumcision. The rite had been totally abandoned by the people of Israel during the 40 years they had spent wandering in the wilderness.

There is far more going on here than the neglect of a religious rite. The failure of the people of God to keep the command of God reveals the sad state of their relationship with Him. The author of Hebrews provides us with an insightful understanding of what was really going on. He warns his readers to avoid making the same mistake the people of Israel did, when they rebelled against God and refused to enter the promised land.

16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. – Hebrews 3:16-19 ESV

Notice that he blames their ban from entering the land on their unbelief. They had failed to trust God, listening instead to the dire reports of the spies who told them of giants in the land. That generation disbelieved the promises of God. They doubted His word. And after having been barred from entering the land, they continued their rebellion and disbelief, choosing to ignore His command to circumcise their sons. And a whole new generation of men made it to adulthood without bearing the sign of the covenant with God. But God was not going to allow them to take another step until they had rectified the problem. So, He commanded Joshua to order the immediate circumcision of each and every male in the camp. It is interesting to note that God had provided them with entrance into the land by making a way for them to cross over the Jordan River on dry ground, and all while they were in their uncircumcised states. He had not required their circumcision before allowing them to cross. God had kept His part of the covenant commitment in spite of their failure to keep theirs. He had allowed them to enter the land uncircumcised, but He would not allow them to remain that way. They would be required to commit themselves to the covenant by keeping God’s covenant sign.

And one of the fascinating aspects of this entire scene is that it clearly illustrates an obedience to and reliance upon God by the people of God. Here they were, standing in the land of promise, surrounded by potential enemies, and the very first thing God has them do is circumcise all their males. This procedure would have left their entire fighting force incapacitated for days as they recovered. They would have been sitting ducks, easy prey to the Amorites and Canaanites who occupied the land. To obey God’s command to circumcise all the men in their camp was going to require trust in God. He would have to protect them while they were in this vulnerable state. But their obedience was more important than any risk to their well-being. God had done His part, now it was their turn.

When the people had stepped out in faith and had circumcised all the males in their camp, God spoke the following words: “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you” (Joshua 5:9 ESV). The exact meaning of this statement is unclear. It could be that God is simply stating that their willingness to keep His command to circumcise their males was the final phase in their deliverance from Egypt. With that one neglected task now taken care of, the process of possessing the land could proceed unabated. But there is also the possibility that this remark by God was a reference to a fear that Moses had expressed on several different occasions. During their days in the wilderness, when the people had made the golden calf, God had determined to wipe out their generation, but Moses had intervened.

12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” – Exodus 32:12-13 ESV

When the original generation had refused to the enter the promised land, God had threatened to wipe them all out with a plague, but Moses had intervened yet again.

13 But Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for you brought up this people in your might from among them, 14 and they will tell the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, O Lord, are in the midst of this people. For you, O Lord, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go before them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. 15 Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, 16 ‘It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them that he has killed them in the wilderness.’ – Numbers 14:13-16 ESV

So, it could be that “the reproach” to which God referred had to do with any future possibility of Egypt or any other nation accusing God of failing to keep His word. Not only were the people in the land, but they were covered by the sign of His ownership. No one could question God’s integrity or impugn His ability to care for His own.


English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

You Reap What You Sow.

You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your own way and in the multitude of your warriors, therefore the tumult of war shall arise among your people, and all your fortresses shall be destroyed, Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle; mothers were dashed in pieces with their children. Thus it shall be done to you, O Bethel, because of your great evil. At dawn the king of Israel shall be utterly cut off. – Hosea 10:13-15 ESV

At times, even as believers, we are surprised at the outcomes of some of our decision making. We are somehow amazed that our lies have consequences. We are shocked when our love affair with materialism leaves us struggling with greed, envy, covetousness, worry and anxiety. We wonder why we are so angry, yet never connect the dots to our daily consumption of violence-filled media. We wrestle with lust, but never seem to associate it with the sexually explicit programming that fills our TV screens each and every night.

The Israelites were also oblivious to the cause-and-effect nature of their lives. So God made it clear to them: “you have cultivated wickedness and harvested a thriving crop of sins” (Hosea 10:13 NLT). In other words, they were reaping exactly what they should have expected. No surprises. Just the natural consequences of living their lives apart from God. They had consumed a daily dose of lies about everything. They had been told that God would not punish them for their sins because they were His chosen people. They had been promised that alliances with foreign powers would protect them from destruction. They believed that the gods of pagan nations were anything but false. But while a steady diet of lies may taste good going down and make you feel good for the moment, it will leave you spiritually weak, malnourished, and starving to death. 

Self-reliance and misplaced trust were behind the behavior of the Israelites. “Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22 ESV). The prophet, Jeremiah, recorded a similar indictment from God against the people of Judah. “My people are foolish and do not know me. They are stupid children who have no understanding. They are clever enough at doing wrong, but they have no idea how to do right!” (Jeremiah 4:22 NLT). They thought they knew better than God. They rejected His commands and ignored His warnings. They lived life according to their own terms. They stopped trusting God and, instead, placed their hope in false gods. When things got tough and they found themselves threatened by outside forces, they turned to alliances with countries like Egypt. They refused to rely on God. He had become small, insignificant and insufficient to meet their needs. The God who had delivered them from captivity in Egypt and given them the land of Canaan had become too weak to meet their needs. They had long ago forgotten the words of David:

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright. – Psalm 20:6-8 ESV

Not only did they doubt God’s salvation, they denied His judgment. They really did not believe that they could fall. They were so confident in their status as God’s chosen people, that they believed they were invincible. And yet, they never seemed to recognize the fact that their protection by God was based on their obedience and faithfulness to him. He had warned them that disobedience would bring His discipline. Unfaithfulness would have consequences. So God gave them the bad news: “Now the terrors of war will rise among your people” (Hosea 10:14 NLT). Their army would be impotent. Their alliances would prove useless. Their fortresses and defensive measures would be insufficient. And their false gods would be exposed for what they were: non-existent and, therefore, no help in time of need.

The devastation would be horrific. Referring to a past battle, God warned them that their fall would be brutal and merciless: “as Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle; mothers were dashed in pieces with their children” (Hosea 10:14b ESV). The Assyrians were going to show no mercy. Their destruction of the nation of Israel would be complete and no one would escape their wrath. From king to commoner, priest to prostitute, the influential to innocent infants – all would feel the wrath of the Assyrians and the judgment of God.

These kinds of passages make us uncomfortable as believers. They paint a picture of God that seems to contradict our view of Him as loving, gracious, forgiving and merciful. But too often, our understanding of God can become one-dimensional. We prefer to emphasize His love while downplaying His holiness and hatred of sin. We find comfort in His grace, but don’t want to think about His righteous wrath and divine obligation to punish sin. In doing so, we diminish the value of the gift of His Son. But it is in understanding the severity of sin’s offensiveness to God and His just and righteous obligation to punish sin that we fully comprehend the magnitude of what Christ has done for us. “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). Jesus “was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God” (Romans 4:25 NLT). The inescapable reality was that “even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead” (Ephesians 2:5 NLT).

Our sin was real. God’s judgment against our sin was deserved. And yet He showed us mercy – in spite of our sinfulness. Grace does not diminish the gravity of sin. It actually reveals the amazing love of God as He provides a means of salvation that is capable of satisfying His wrath against sin. He gave His Son. It was the death of Jesus alone that could propitiate or satisfy the just judgment of God against the sinfulness of mankind. Nothing else would do. No other payment could have been made that would have paid the debt that was owed. So when we elevate God’s love while ignoring His wrath, we actually diminish the amazing nature of that love. He loved us in spite of us, not because of us.

And yet, we continue to sow and reap, sin and suffer, because we don’t fully appreciate the gravity of sin and the greatness of His grace. We justify our actions, rationalize our sinful behavior and then wonder why we reap discontentment, dissatisfaction, anger, joylessness, envy, greed, and immorality. It is an accurate understanding of the grace of God that should produce in us the fruit of righteousness. As God told the people of Israel, “Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you” (Hosea 10:12 NLT).

For Heaven’s Sake.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. – 1 Peter 5:6-11 ESV

Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand.

Cast all your anxieties on God.

Be sober-minded.

Be watchful.

Resist the devil, standing firmly in your faith.

Know that you are not alone in your suffering.

Suffer well, knowing that it is temporary, but that God’s plan for you is eternal.

Sometimes we just need words of reminder and encouragement, because this life can be difficult at times. The promises of God can appear to be so distant and even unrealistic in our daily lives. The peace He promises can seem non-existent. The joy He offers can be overwhelmed by the sorrows of life. The satisfaction He said we would find in Him can leave us feeling, well, unsatisfied. And we can sometimes feel as if His love for us is nowhere to be found, even though He promised that nothing could ever keep Him from loving us. When it comes to our relationship with God, perception is not always reality. How we feel is not always a good indicator of how things really are. What we sense to be the case rarely is. So we need to be reminded to keep our eyes focused on God. We need a gentle nudge to realign our thinking and recommit our trust to God and His Word. And that is exactly what Peter seems to be doing as he wraps up his letter.

For two chapters, Peter has addressed the issue of suffering. It was an everyday reality for his audience. The likelihood of them suffering for their faith was not a matter of if, but when. So he took great pains to discuss the topic with them. It was his desire that they suffer well. He wanted them to keep their focus on the promises of God. That is why he wraps up his letter with the simple admonition: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5:6 ESV). They were to willingly submit to God’s faithful plan for their lives, recognizing that suffering was part of that plan. As the sovereign God of the universe, He was in control of all things. He was well aware of all that was happening in their lives. And He had a purpose for it all. James gave similar words of encouragement in his letter.

But he [God] 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 4:6-10 ESV

Humility is a state of mind, not a condition. It is not to be confused with humiliation. Humility is a mindset that communicates our willing reliance upon a God who is bigger, smarter, more powerful, and far more loving than we could ever imagine. It is an attitude that looks past circumstances and zeroes in on the character of God. He is loving, faithful, all-knowing, all-powerful, sovereign over all, and never fails to keep follow through on His commitments. Peter does not deny that we will have anxieties and worries in this life. Those things are natural and normal human reactions to difficulties. But he tells us to cast them on to God. We are to give them over to Him. Why? Because He cares for us. He knows we have doubts. He if fully aware of our fears and apprehensions. He is not blind to our struggles and sorrows. But rather than dealing with them on our own, God wants us to bring them to Him, recognizing that He alone can help and comfort us. Peter is not telling us that God will take away all our problems and pain. He is not promising us that God will eliminate all our difficulties. But he is saying that God is to be our one and only place of refuge and hope.

We have to live in this world with a sober-minded outlook, recognizing that we have a real enemy who is out to destroy us. Jesus warned us about the intentions of our enemy. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV). We can’t go through this life with a cavalier or complacent mindset, thinking that everything is meant to be easy and care-free. As believers, we walk around with target on our chest and a real-life enemy who is gunning for us. Which is why Peter warns, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 ESV). So we need to resist him. Paul warned the believers in Ephesus:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:10-12 ESV

We are in the middle of a spiritual conflict. It is a real battle with real casualties. And our only hope is our faith in God, trusting in His power and leaning on His promises. The church is under attack all over the world. And where we stand the most vulnerable as individual believers is when we allow the enemy to cause us to doubt, deny, and disobey what God has said. That was the point of attack of Satan in the garden. He said to Even, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1 ESV). His attack was subtle and sly. He wanted to get her to doubt God’s word. Because he knew that doubt leads to disbelief and disbelief ultimately results in disobedience.

The key to making it through this life is to keep our focus on the life to come. God has called us to “eternal glory in Christ” (1 Peter 5:10 ESV). That is the ultimate outcome of our faith in Christ. And the day is coming when God will “himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:11 ESV). Yes, we can experience that in some measure on this earth, but the real fulfillment of our hope is the future redemption of our bodies and our final glorification. We have to constantly remind ourselves that our team wins. God is in control. His plan is perfect and unstoppable. We may suffer now, but the day is coming when we will never suffer again. He rules. He reigns. He finishes what He starts. He fulfills what He promises. “To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

No Rest For The Weary.

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.”

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. – Hebrews 4:1-13 ESV

There is an ominous-sounding warning in these verses. When the author speaks of the people of God not entering the rest provided for them by God, it can’t help but get our attention. But what does he mean when he writes, “those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of unbelief” (Hebrews 4:6 ESV)? There have been many over the centuries who have tried to equate the crossing over of the Israelites into the land of Canaan with the death of the believer and their entrance into heaven. But if we apply this analogy to the author’s meaning of “rest” we will find ourselves wrestling with the possibility of one losing their salvation. Because he is writing to believers and he is warning them not to make the same mistake as their ancestors in the wilderness. They “heard and yet rebelled” (Hebrews 3:16 ESV). They sinned and their “bodies fell in the wilderness” (Hebrews 3:17 ESV). “They were unable to enter because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19 ESV).

That last line is key to understanding what is going on in these verses. The issue is that of unbelief. He warned his readers, “Take care, brothers, lest there by in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12 ESV). He encouraged them to exhort one another, “that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13 ESV). The problem with equating the promised land with heaven is that the people of Israel had to immediately to battle once they entered the land. They had to strive to possess the land and dispossess the people that lived there. Their time in the land of promise was one of testing, conflict, and a constant struggle to trust God rather than their own resourcefulness. Yes, God blessed them. He gave them victories over their enemies. But because of unfaithfulness, they were eventually evicted by God from the promised land and sent into captivity for their rebellion against Him. That is why making the promised land analogous to heaven makes no sense and eventually breaks down. No one will be evicted from heaven because of unbelief.

So what is the author talking about? What is this rest he warns against not entering? Several times in these verses he refers to the “good news” they had received. “For the good news came to us just as to them” (Hebrews 4:2 ESV). He uses the Greek word, euaggelizō which is the same word used by Jesus when referring to the gospel message He preached. It is the same word used by the angels when they told the shepherds in the field of the good news regarding the birth of Jesus. The author of Hebrews says that the people of Israel had heard the good news, “but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened” (Hebrews 4:2 ESV). They heard, but they did not listen. They heard, but failed to believe the good news given. They had evil, unbelieving hearts.

Several times in this passage the author refers to the sabbath rest of God. He talks about the fact that God, after having created the universe, rested on the seventh day. The Hebrews word shabbath means “rest.” God was not tired, but he ceased from His labors because His work had been completed. All that He had intended to do had been done. His will had been accomplished. The writer makes it clear that the entering into the land was not the rest that God intended. “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later one” (Hebrews 4:8 ESV). In fact, he writes, “there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:9 ESV). The issue seems to be that of works verses faith. The rest the author is speaking of is the belief we are to have in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and our complete and total dependence on what He has done for us. We can rest in the sufficiency of His sacrifice. There is nothing more that we need to do. The Jewish audience to whom this letter was addressed had heard the good news regarding Jesus and His sacrificial death on the cross, but they ran the risk of hearing, but not listening. They, like their ancestors, were prone to go back to their own methods of attempting to achieve a right standing with God. Rather than resting in the finished work of Christ, they were being tempted to go back to Judaism with all of its ritual and rights. So the author warns them to “strive to enter that rest so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:11 ESV). He is not suggesting that they can lose their salvation, but that their initial “belief” may not have been belief at all. They had not been fully convinced that God’s redemptive work on their behalf was complete. They were not resting in the promise of eternal salvation. They were not trusting in the sufficiency of Christ and the hope of their future redemption.

Jesus did not promise us a trouble-free, peaceful life on this earth. He did say, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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 11:28-30 ESV). And yet, He told His disciples right before His death, “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:32-33 ESV). Our time on this earth is anything but easy. But we can have peace in the midst of the struggles because we know that He has overcome the world. Our rest is found in the promise of His finished work. He is going to some day return and wrap up what He started and complete what God has given Him to do. It is in that fact that we are to find our rest. The temptation for all of us is to doubt God, to fail to take Him at His word. We can look at the circumstances surrounding us and begin to disbelief His promises and question the reliability of all that Christ has done. So the author invites us to allow the Word of God as a divine scalpel to penetrate our hearts and expose and remove those thoughts and intentions of the heart that would cause us to doubt and disbelieve God. He wants us to rest in the reality of our future rest. He wants us to trust in His promise of not only our future redemption, but the final restoration of the world. God’s will WILL be done. And we can rest in that fact.

The Danger of Disbelief.

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. – Hebrews 3:7-19 ESV

Reaching back into the pages of the Old Testament narrative, the author quotes from Psalm 95, using the history of people of Israel as a life lesson for his Hebrew audience. The psalmist recounts the story of Israel’s rebellion against God during their journey from Egypt to the promised land. Under the direction of God, they had reached a place called Rephidim, and after setting up camp the discovered, “there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink’” (Exodus 17:1-2 ESV). Moses’ response was to ask them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” (Exodus 17:2 ESV). But driven by their physical thirst, they demanded, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (Exodus 17:3 ESV). The people were so angry with Moses that he feared for his life, suspecting that they would stone him. But God told Moses, “‘Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.’ And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” (Exodus 17:5-7 ESV). That last line is key to understanding the story and to grasping the point that the author of Hebrews is trying to make. Influenced by the negative nature of their circumstances and their own physical desires, they doubted the presence, power and provision of God. This was in spite of all He had done to deliver them from Egypt and secure their freedom from slavery. The miracles of the ten plagues and the wonder of the Red Sea crossing faded into oblivion at the first sign of trouble. Suddenly, their God was no match for their personal problems. And they grumbled. They complained. They revealed their ingratitude for all that God had done. And yet, in the face of their rebellion, God graciously provided them with water – from a rock. The apostle Paul provides with insight into what was going on behind the scenes.

I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. – 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 NLT

The rock was Christ. It was a representation of the mercy and grace of God that would one day be expressed through the gift of His Son. Moses was instructed to strike the rock. The rock was beaten and from it came living water. God provided for them the very thing for which they had grumbled and complained. But while they “drank the same spiritual water,” God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. They never made it to the land of promise, the place of rest. The psalmist clearly portrays the anger of God with those who had doubted His saving power. “For forty years I loathed that generation and said, ‘They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known “my ways.” Therefore, I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest’” (Psalm 95:10-11 ESV).

The letter to the Hebrews provides us with the application. “Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still ‘today,’ so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ” (Hebrews 3:12-14 NLT). The author is not suggesting that we can lose our salvation. But he warns against having “evil and unbelieving” hearts. The danger the Jewish believers in his audience face is turning away from the saving grace provided by God through Jesus Christ and returning to their old, familiar faith in Judaism. Warren Wiersbe writes, “every believer is tempted to give up his confession of Christ and go back into the world system’s life of compromise and bondage.” Again, this is not about losing our salvation, but missing out on all that God has promised us as believers in this life. By turning away from God and doubting the sufficiency of His Son’s saving work, F. F. Bruce provides with the context: “a relapse from Christianity into Judaism would be comparable to the action of the Israelites when they ‘turned back in their hearts unto Egypt’ (Acts 7:30); it would not be a mere return to a position previously occupied, but a gesture of outright apostasty, a complete break with God’ (F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews).

There will always be the temptation to doubt God and return to whatever way of life we lived before. We may even be tempted to try something completely new and different, other than the walk of faith. That is why the writer of Hebrews warns us, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12 ESV). The issue is one of unbelief. That is why we are to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’’ (Hebrews 3:13 ESV). We need to encourage one another to keep the faith, to remain committed to the cause of Christ. We must not allow circumstances or our own personal passions to drive us away from God and back to the false promises of this world. We must continue to believe in and rest on the promises of God, in spite of all we see happening around us. As the writer of Hebrews puts it a little later on in this letter, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV).