Holiness is Not Contagious

10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, 11 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Ask the priests about the law: 12 ‘If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?’” The priests answered and said, “No.” 13 Then Haggai said, “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered and said, “It does become unclean.” 14 Then Haggai answered and said, “So is it with this people, and with this nation before me, declares the Lord, and so with every work of their hands. And what they offer there is unclean. 15 Now then, consider from this day onward. Before stone was placed upon stone in the temple of the Lord, 16 how did you fare? When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten. When one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty. 17 I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me, declares the Lord. 18 Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the Lord‘s temple was laid, consider: 19 Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.” Haggai 2:10-19 ESV

Back on the 24th day of the sixth month, after a 16-year delay, the people of Judah had finally decided to obey God and commence construction on the destroyed temple of God. Nearly a month later, God encouraged them to complete the project by giving them the promise of His abiding presence (Haggai 2:1-5). But after two months of labor on the project, the people began to question the veracity of God’s word and the profitability of their efforts. Despite all their hard work, their crop production had not increased. They had finally obeyed God and begun construction on the temple, and yet, the drought continued, and the fruit of their harvests remained slim. Where were God’s blessings? Why had He not ended the drought and rewarded them for their faithful service?

They fully expected their obedience to produce some form of compensation from God. They were like disgruntled employees demanding a raise for all their hard work. So, God had Haggai deliver a much-needed lesson on moral purity and holiness. And He did so by posing a series of simple scenarios that concerned matters of holiness and defilement. God laid out these credible case studies and asked that the priests provide a ruling.

The first involved meat that had been set apart for sacrifice. According to the Mosaic Law, any meat that remained after the sacrifice was complete belonged to the priests.

“Give Aaron and his sons the following instructions regarding the sin offering. The animal given as an offering for sin is a most holy offering, and it must be slaughtered in the LORD’s presence at the place where the burnt offerings are slaughtered. The priest who offers the sacrifice as a sin offering must eat his portion in a sacred place within the courtyard of the Tabernacle. Anyone or anything that touches the sacrificial meat will become holy. If any of the sacrificial blood spatters on a person’s clothing, the soiled garment must be washed in a sacred place.” – Leviticus 6:25-27 NLT

“Any male from a priest’s family may eat from this offering; it is most holy.” – Leviticus 6:29 NLT

Based on this commandment, God asks the priests, “If one of you is carrying some meat from a holy sacrifice in his robes and his robe happens to brush against some bread or stew, wine or olive oil, or any other kind of food, will it also become holy?” (Habbai 2:12 NLT). And their answer is an emphatic, “No!”

Their answer was based on their understanding that the meat, the priest, and his garments had all been set apart or made holy by God because they were each used in the sacrificial system. The animal that was sacrificed had to be without blemish before it could be offered to God. The priest had to be ritually purified before he could offer the meat as an offering to God. And he wore garments that had been specifically set apart for use in the sacrificial system. The meat, the priest, and his garments were considered holy because they had all been set apart for one purpose: The honoring of God through sacrifice.

But their holiness was not transferable. Their distinction as being “holy unto the Lord” (Leviticus 27:30) was reserved for them alone. Not just any animal could be sacrificed. Not just any man could offer the meat of that animal to God. And not just any garment could be worn when doing so.

The consecrated priest carrying the consecrated meat in the fold of his consecrated robe was not some kind of a holiness transmitter that could somehow make ordinary food products holy and sacred simply by contact. That’s not how it worked. And yet it seems that the people believed that they were somehow holy by association because they had been working on the construction of God’s holy temple. They expected there to be some kind of transference of holiness accompanied by the requisite blessings that holiness demands. But the answer to the first question put an end to that misguided assumption.

The second question poses a similar but opposite scenario. This time, the situation involves someone who has become ceremonially unclean or impure.

“If someone becomes ceremonially unclean by touching a dead person and then touches any of these foods, will the food be defiled?” – Haggaie 2:13 NLT

Once again, the priests were expected to provide their professional assessment and, as before, they respond, “No!” And this is where Haggai drops an unexpected bombshell on the people.

“That is how it is with this people and this nation, says the Lord. Everything they do and everything they offer is defiled by their sin. – Haggai 2:14 NLT

Yes, they had finally decided to obey God and, for the last few months, they had been making progress on the rebuilding of the temple. But their determination to obey had not absolved them of their track record of sin and guilt. In God’s eyes, they were guilty of sin and, therefore, unclean. Even their offerings were considered unclean by God. This is where the two scenarios come into play. While holiness was non-transferable, the same could not be said of impurity or uncleanness. Just as good health cannot be shared from one person to another, neither can holiness. But disease or illness can be easily transmitted from the sick to the healthy. And the same is true with moral impurity. It can spread like yeast in a lump of dough or cancer cells in the human body.

Ever since the people had returned to the land from their captivity in Babylon, they had been offering sacrifices on an altar they had constructed.

Then Jeshua son of Jehozadak joined his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel with his family in rebuilding the altar of the God of Israel. They wanted to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, as instructed in the Law of Moses, the man of God. Even though the people were afraid of the local residents, they rebuilt the altar at its old site. Then they began to sacrifice burnt offerings on the altar to the Lord each morning and evening. – Ezra 3:2-3 NLT

But while their intentions were pure, their lives were not. As the book of Ezra points out, they were offering sacrifices before they had even laid the foundation of the temple, where those sacrifices should have been made.

Fifteen days before the Festival of Shelters began, the priests had begun to sacrifice burnt offerings to the Lord. This was even before they had started to lay the foundation of the Lord’s Temple. – Ezra 3:6 NLT

And now, 16 years later, God lets them know that He considered their sacrifices to be impure and unacceptable because they were contaminated by sin. He reminds them that, prior to laying the foundation of the temple, they were suffering from poor harvests caused by the blight, mildew, and hail He had sent upon them. And, even then, they had refused to return to Him (Haggai 2:17).

But now, three months after they had begun to rebuild the temple, God had good news for them. Things were about to change because He had made a determination to bless them. But not because they deserved or had earned it. Up until this very day, they had continued to experience His judgment for their disobedience – despite their efforts at rebuilding the temple. Now, He had something different in store for them.

“But from this day on I will bless you.” – Haggai 2:19 ESV

God could not and would not overlook the 16 years of disobedience that allowed His house to remain a pile of rubble. The people had managed to build homes for themselves but had repeatedly come up with excuses to put off the one thing God had commanded them to do when they returned to the land: Rebuild the temple. In failing to carry out that command, they had dishonored God and brought judgment upon themselves. They had returned to a land that was “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 33:3), but their fields remained fruitless, their cupboards bare, and their stomachs empty – all because of their unfaithfulness. Their past disobedience had to be punished. But now God was ready to pour out His blessings.

They had been set apart by God for His glory. He had chosen them to be His prized possession, a kingdom of priests who were to honor Him with their lives. But they had failed to do so. Amazingly, despite their 16 years of apathy and non-compliance and only three months of faithful service, God graciously determined to bless them.

And all of this was in keeping with the promise God had made to the people of  Israel long before they entered the land of Canaan. Moses had clearly warned them:

“…you must seek the LORD your God at the place of worship he himself will choose from among all the tribes—the place where his name will be honored. There you will bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, your sacred offerings, your offerings to fulfill a vow, your voluntary offerings, and your offerings of the firstborn animals of your herds and flocks. There you and your families will feast in the presence of the LORD your God, and you will rejoice in all you have accomplished because the LORD your God has blessed you.” – Deuteronomy 12:5-7 NLT

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

You Can Doubt God, But Never Discount Him

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

Peter feared that the “destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1 ESV) of the false teachers would take their toll on those who were spiritually immature. He even declared that these men “entice unsteady souls” (2 Peter 2:14 ESV) and lead them down a path of destruction. Driven by greed and the need for power and influence, these false teachers will say anything that might entrap the weak-willed and spiritually vulnerable.

With an appeal to twisted sexual desires, they lure back into sin those who have barely escaped from a lifestyle of deception. – 2 Peter 2:18 NLT

Peter seems to indicate that the ones most susceptible to these attacks will be the newly saved. They lack the spiritual maturity and strength to withstand the assaults on their faith that will come in the form of deceptively alluring lies. And, as a result, they will find themselves being lured back into their old ways of life, marked by slavery to sin rather than freedom in Christ.

when people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then get tangled up and enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before. – 2 Peter 2:20 NLT

Peter used two old and probably well-known proverbs to describe such people.

“The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” – 2 Peter 2:22 ESV

These two visual metaphors were meant to be vivid reminders of the unacceptable nature of spiritual apostasy. Peter wanted his readers to be appalled at the thought of falling away from the faith. He compared it to a dog eating its own vomit – a thoroughly disgusting image that was meant to illustrate just how unacceptable it was for a believer to become enslaved by sin again.

The author of Hebrews describes how difficult it can be for a fallen believer to return once again to faith. It is not impossible, but it is highly improbable.

For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened—those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come— and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame. – Hebrews 6:4-6 NLT

Peter and James are not suggesting that believers who are enticed to return to their old sinful ways have lost their salvation. But they are clearly stating that it is possible for an immature Christ-follower to be lured back into their pre-conversion state of slavery to sin. The potential for “backsliding” was an ever-present reality for every follower of Christ, and this is why the apostles so strongly promoted the need for ongoing sanctification.

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. – Colossians 3:5-10 NLT

Failure to put off the old and put on the new would eventually result in spiritual regression, not spiritual transformation. It would be like a cleanly washed sow returning to the mud and the mire. Unaccustomed to the value of cleanliness, a pig will return to its old familiar and comfortable habits. It’s only natural. And the same thing is true of a believer who fails to supplement his faith with moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, patient endurance, godliness, brotherly affection, and love (2 Peter 1:5-7).

There is no place for complacency in the life of a believer. The Christian life is not intended to be static or stagnant. Growth is expected and intended as a sign of spiritual health and well-being. The presence of the Holy Spirit within the life of a believer is intended to result in heart transformation that produces behavior modification. But the believer who fails to make progress will eventually regress. The constant presence of their old sin nature will lead them to return to the “vomit” of their former life. And though cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ, they will find themselves covered in the muck and mire of sin once again.

All of this is why Peter makes such a big deal out of the false teachers. He knows they will find a ready and willing audience, and he also knows that some within the congregations to whom he was writing would follow the way of the dog and the pig. So, as he opens up the next section of his letter, he reminds his readers that this is the second time he has had to write them. In his former letter, he spent a great deal of time teaching them about the difference between their current suffering and their future inheritance. He knew that they were undergoing difficult trials because of their faith in Christ. But he also knew that they could live with great expectation because they had “a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay” (1 Peter1:4 NLT).

Peter had wanted them to know that, despite all that was happening to them in this life, they could rejoice because God had something incredible in store for them in the next life.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. – 1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT

And Peter had told them that the prophets of written about this coming salvation, even though they couldn’t fully comprehend its meaning or significance.

They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward. – 1 Peter 1:11 NLT

But their inability to understand the scope of God’s promises did nothing to invalidate the reliability of God’s word. Those men had written under the inspiration of God’s Spirit, declaring the truth concerning God’s redemptive plan – a plan that included the glorious inheritance to which Peter had referred in his first letter. That’s why Peter wrote in his second letter: “I want you to remember what the holy prophets said long ago and what our Lord and Savior commanded through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2 NLT). He was taking them back to those promises penned by the prophets and then declared by him and his fellow apostles. Peter and his companions had come to understand that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah and that there was far more to His kingship than a temporal reign in the city of David. Jesus had come to do something far more spectacular than return Israel to power and prominence. He had come to redeem fallen mankind and to one day restore all creation to its former glory. 

And yet, there were false teachers who were questioning the truth of God’s Word as proclaimed by the prophets and contradicting the teachings the apostles had received from Christ Himself. Peter continued to warn that “in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires” (2 Peter 3:3 NLT). And he provided a specific example of how they will question the writings of the prophets and the words of the apostles. They will say:

“What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.” – 2 Peter 3:4 NLT

Notice the subtlety of their line of questioning. The apostles had been teaching that the writings of the Old Testament prophets had clearly proclaimed the second coming of Jesus. But these false teachers were arguing that everything remained just as it was when those men had penned their words. Nothing had changed. Jesus had not returned and, by inference, they were suggesting that He never would. The false teachers were propagating a form of deism. They believed that God existed but that He did not involve Himself in the daily affairs of man. In their estimation, Jesus had been nothing more than a godly man whose good life could be emulated. But He had not been God in human flesh who sacrificed His life for sinful mankind.

In essence, the false teachers were accusing the apostles of lying and twisting the words of the prophets. They were suggesting that Peter and his companions had fabricated the whole God-in-human-flesh idea and had made up the story of Jesus’ resurrection. These arrogant men were denying the teachings of the apostles but, more than that, they were calling into question the veracity of God’s Word. Peter boldly declares:

They deliberately forget that God made the heavens long ago by the word of his command, and he brought the earth out from the water and surrounded it with water. Then he used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood. – 2 Peter 3:5-6 NLT

Whether they believed it or not, God had intervened in the affairs of the world before, and He would do so again. While the false teachers would go on questioning divine intervention and future judgment, it did nothing to alter the reality of either one – a point that Peter made perfectly clear.

by the same word, the present heavens and earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed. – 2 Peter 3:7 NLT

Just because they had not yet witnessed the second coming of Jesus did not mean it was a figment of the apostles’ imaginations. It was easy for them to point out that Jesus had not yet returned. But Peter attempted to keep their focus on the promises of God. If God said it, He could be trusted to do it. It didn’t matter whether these men believed God or not. God was not hindered by their lack of faith. He was in no way hampered by their doubts about His sovereignty and providential power. God had judged the world before and He would do so again. And, according to Peter, the false teachers were “being kept for the day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed” (2 Peter 3:7 NLT).

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Sincerely Wrong and Deceptively Deadly

10 Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, 11 whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. 12 But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, 13 suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. 14 They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! 15 Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, 16 but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. 2 Peter 2:10b-16 ESV

Who were these false teachers? What were they like? Peter gives us a rather unflattering portrayal of them and wastes no time trying to hide his true feelings about them. He describes them as bold (tolmētēs) and willful (authadēs), two words that portray them as presumptuous and self-willed. Having convinced themselves that their opinions are right, they boldly and arrogantly propagate those heretical opinions to anyone who will listen. And Peter even describes them as blaspheming the glorious ones. The Greek word he used is doxa, and it had a variety of meanings. It is most often translated as “glory,” but can also be used to refer to “that which belongs to God.” But when considering the context of this passage, it appears that Peter was using it to refer to the majesty or glory of angelic beings. Evidently, these false teachers had been in detrimental terms about angels, possibly even questioning their actual existence. This would have aligned their official doctrine very close with that of the Sadducees, a religious/political party that held the majority of the seats in the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish religious council of the day. The Sadducees had played a major role in the Sanhedrin’s opposition to and eventual elimination of Jesus.

These wealthy members of the Jewish aristocratic class were extremely self-sufficient and tended to downplay the involvement of God in everyday life. They also denied the doctrine of a bodily resurrection and they would later oppose the apostles’ preaching that Jesus had risen from the dead. Since they refused to accept the possibility of resurrection after death, they denied the existence of an afterlife, teaching instead that the soul simply perished alongside the body. So, it only made sense for them to conclude that there was no form of reward or punishment after life ceased. And this same way of thinking led them to deny the existence of a spiritual world, including the existence of angels or demons. Everything that was to be experienced and enjoyed had to take place in this life because there was nothing that would follow death.

It seems apparent that the false teachers to whom Peter refers had been influenced by this same kind of thinking. Far from shy and anything but unsure about their views, these over-confident “teachers” were promoting their man-made ideas among the vulnerable and sometimes gullible believers who populated the fledgling faith communities of the day. And Peter was genuinely concerned about their growing influence.

He compares them to “irrational animals, creatures of instinct.” Like wild beasts, these individuals were driven by their basest animal urges. Their behavior was motivated by their own self-satisfaction. Jude makes a similar accusation in his letter, saying, “these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively” (Jude 1:10 ESV).

Because these men were so confident in their views, they spoke flippantly and facetiously about things they didn’t understand. There are some scholars who believe their disbelief in angelic beings had led them to speak satirically about the angels who fell alongside Satan when he attempted to rebel against God. The word Peter and Jude both used is βλασφημέω (blasphēmeō) which means “to speak reproachfully, rail at, revile” (“G987 – blasphēmeō (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org).

Again, Peter speaks of them blaspheming “the glorious ones,” using the term, δόξα (doxa), a term that be used to refer to angels. In this case, Peter could have been talking about those angels who fell from their once glorious position in heaven and were cast down by God. These false teachers were evidently belittling these fallen angels or denying their existence altogether. But as a way of contrast, Peter indicates that angels – ἄγγελος (aggelos) – “though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord” (2 Peter 2:11 ESV). Here he appears to be referring to those angels who still reside in heaven. These “good” angels do not speak reproachfully to God about those angels who have fallen. Yet these false teachers do. Jude explains that they blaspheme all that they do not understand. They discount or dismiss what they do not know. Peter says they blaspheme “about matters of which they are ignorant.” Blasphemy, at its root, refers to “stupid speech.” It is to speak authoritatively, yet ignorantly, about things you do not understand. And just like the false prophets to whom Peter referred earlier, these men would “be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing” (2 Peter 2:12-13 ESV).

It seems apparent that these overconfident purveyors of false doctrine were spouting opinions about a wide variety of matters. They were also conducting their lives in a manner that was inconsistent with true faith in Christ. Peter accused them of wrongdoing, of reveling in the daytime, having eyes full of adultery, and an insatiable appetite for sin. They were hedonistic, driven by their sinful desires, and addicted to the finer things in life. Peter’s reference to their eyes being full of adultery would seem to indicate that their minds were overflowing with thoughts of unfaithfulness to God. While it could mean that they were involved in literal adultery, it makes more sense within the context to see this as an indictment of their faithfulness to God and His Word. Their unfaithfulness was deceiving and leading astray those who had “unsteady” or unstable souls. The spiritually immature were especially susceptible to the teachings of these individuals.

Jude’s description of them is quite revealing.

These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted;  wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. – Jude 1:12-13 ESV

They were like waterless clouds. They appeared to bring much-needed rain but were simply blown by the wind, never delivering that which they promised. They were like fruitless trees, dead and uprooted, capable of providing nothing in the way of real nourishment. They were like crashing waves, loud and impressive, but ultimately destructive. And like wandering stars, they were unreliable as guides to the lost. They could not be relied upon for direction in life because they were inconsistent and constantly changing their opinions.

Both Peter and Jude accuse them of following “the way of Balaam.” This refers to a story in the Old Testament when Balaam, a false prophet, was hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to curse the people of Israel. When God prevented Balaam from doing so, the false prophet counseled Balak to invite the people of Israel to join the people of Moab in a feast to honor their false god. The book of Numbers records what happened: “Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord” (Numbers 31:16 ESV).

The Moabites were known for their practice of prostitution as part of the worship of their god. The Israelites, under the deceptive influence of Balaam, soon found themselves participating in the immoral festivities associated with the worship of the false gods of Moab.

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. – Numbers 25:1-3 ESV

So the false teachers, like Balaam, were guilty of leading the people of God astray. He “loved gain from wrongdoing.” He had been in it for what he could get out of it. And like Balaam, these false teachers would obstinately walk in their own sinful state of delusion, refusing to listen to the words of God and the warnings of His prophets. These false teachers had developed a false sense of security, ultimately believing that what they were saying was true. Their greatest danger was the sincerity and sense of authority they evoked. They appeared to believe that what they taught was true. They came across as confident and sure of themselves. But as Jude describes them, they were like “hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves” (Jude 1:12 ESV).

They were dangerous. They were subtle and seductive. They were self-serving and focused only on satisfying their own desires. So, Peter warned that these people were to be avoided at all costs. They were to be exposed and expelled from the church. They were not bad teachers. In fact, most of them were very good at what they did. The problem was that they were highly influential and inspirational. They were persuasive and their teaching came across as reasonable and right. But that was the hidden danger behind all their sophisticated rhetoric. The bottom line was that they had “wandered off the right road” (2 Peter 2:15 NLT). They had taken the wrong path and were teaching an errant gospel.

In what appears to be a rather humorous self-reference, Peter takes his readers back to the Old Testament story of Balaam. He reminds them that Balaam “was stopped from his mad course when his donkey rebuked him with a human voice” (2 Peter 2:16 NLT). God had intervened and prevented Balaam from cursing the people of Israel. In a highly unlikely miracle, Balaam received a divine word of warning from his own talking donkey. God used this “irrational” and unthinking animal to declare truth to a revered prophet who was blind to the danger he faced. It seems that Peter was portraying himself as the donkey, an unlikely instrument in the hands of God, who was attempting to warn the blind and susceptible believers of the potential danger they faced.   

And, for Peter, that danger was both real and potentially deadly. That’s why he continued to express his strong feelings about these deceptively dangerous promoters of heresy.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Faith in Action

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 2 Peter 1:3-7 ESV

Peter has just offered a prayer that grace and peace be multiplied in the lives of his readers, based on their expanding knowledge of God and His Son. As their understanding of the Father and Son grew, so would their faith in and reliance upon them. Later in his letter, Peter provides a stern warning against the dangers of false teachers. These individuals were attempting to promote a different source of knowledge. But here, he opens up with an encouragement to know God. His simple prayer reflects the thoughts of Paul found in his letter to the church in Ephesus.

Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. – Ephesians 1:15-18 NLT

Here in the opening chapter of his letter, Peter puts a heavy emphasis on spiritual growth and maturity. It echoes the words found in his first letter.

Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. – 1 Peter 2:2 NLT

While salvation is a one-time event in the life of a believer, it is far from a static process. It begins at a point in time but then carries on for a lifetime. This process is often referred to as sanctification. The apostle Paul sums up the God-ordained and Spirit-empowered process of sanctification in his letter to the believers in Rome.

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. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:29-30 ESV

In God’s grand redemptive plan, our salvation is the opening act of a marvelous drama that will one day culminate with the final scene of our glorification. The apostle John describes this ongoing transformative process in his first letter.

Beloved, we are now children of God, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when Christ appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as Christ is pure. – 1 John 3:2-3 BSB

Ephesians 2:8 makes it clear that we are “saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” He went on to warn that it is “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:9 ESV). Yet, Paul seems to be contradicting himself in his letter to the Philippian believers: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV). But Paul is not encouraging salvation by works. He is simply stating that the process of sanctification takes effort on our part. Our salvation was a gift. But our sanctification is a Spirit-empowered process that requires our cooperation and willing participation.

And Peter reminds his readers that God’s “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). In other words, they were not going to have to self-manufacture the energy to live godly lives. It had all been provided for them by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. The “all things” to which Paul refers are the divine resources they had received when they came to know Christ. They were fully equipped for the sanctifying process God had in store for them. But it would require a constant reliance upon God’s Spirit and a desire to grow in their knowledge of God and His Son.

For Peter, it was essential that his readers understand that Jesus had called them to Himself by His own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). They had been attracted to the moral excellence and virtue of the God-man, Jesus. His sinless life and sacrificial death on their behalf had been the source of their belief. The gospel that had been preached to them had declared Jesus to be the Son of God and the sole source of salvation from slavery to sin and the condemnation of death. And they had believed. But now, Peter wanted them to know that there was much more in store for them. There were precious promises attached to their salvation.

…because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. – 2 Peter 1:4 NLT

Peter raises their expectations and focuses their attention on the ultimate outcome of their salvation: Their future glorification. But that pending promise had present implications. Yes, they would one day share in Christ’s divine nature and permanently escape the influence of the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. But they didn’t have to wait for the hereafter. Peter assured them that they could also live distinctively different lives in the here-and-now.

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. – 2 Peter 1:5-7 NLT

God had promised to sanctify them and He would. But they would have a part to play in the process. Jesus had not only called them by His own glory and excellence, but He was calling them to share in His glory and excellence. They were to model their lives after His. And Peter gives them an extensive, yet not exhaustive, list of Christ-like qualities with which to supplement their faith. These are the “things” to which Peter referred back in verse three.

Peter begins with moral excellence. The Greek word is aretē, and it refers to “a virtuous course of thought, feeling and action” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). Faith in Christ should result in a life that mirrors the character of Christ. If we will one day be like Him, then it only makes sense to begin the process now. It should be our greatest desire to emulate His life and mirror His moral excellence in all that we do.

Next, Peter encourages his readers to supplement their faith with knowledge. The Greek word is gnōsis, and it refers to the acquisition of information that can be beneficial to decision-making. In the early days of the church, there was a growing heresy that came to be known as Gnosticism. The proponents of this false doctrine taught that true salvation was based on the discovery of secret or hidden knowledge that was only discoverable by a fortunate few. This “higher truth” was declared to be essential for attaining divine status and achieving spiritual maturity. But Peter was suggesting something altogether different. He was promoting an ever-increasing knowledge of God the Father and Jesus Christ, His Son. The kind of knowledge Peter had in mind was the same that Paul descrived to the believers in Philippi.

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. – Philippians 1:9-10 NLT

Next, Peter adds the quality of self-control (egkrates), which is “the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, esp. his sensual appetites” (Outline of Biblical Usage). One of the false teachings that had infiltrated the early church was dualism, which taught that the spirit was essentially holy, while the physical body was impure and defiled. This dualistic approach to life made allowances for ungodly behavior in the “body” because it didn’t matter. It propagated the idea that anything done in the body, even the grossest sin, was actually meaningless and, therefore, permissible. But Peter clarified that, for the Christian, there was no dichotomy between spirit and body. The new nature they had received by virtue of their faith in Christ was to be evidenced in every area of their lives.

And their visible exhibition of self-control was to be marked by steadfastness (hypomonē). In Greek, this word carries the idea of constancy and unswerving perseverance. According to the Outline of Biblical Usage, it is “the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.”

Peter knew that his readers were facing increasing opposition and oppression for their faith in Christ. And even when they did what was right, they would suffer for doing so. That is why they needed to persevere in spite of the adversity they would face. And when they did, they would be following the example of Christ Himself.

But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:20-21 ESV

Suffering for the sake of Christ was part of their calling. But perseverance in the face of suffering would require godliness (eusebeia). And Peter used the life of Christ to describe exactly what this looked like in his first letter.

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. – 1 Peter 2:22-23 ESV

Patient endurance will show up as godly behavior – that which reflects the character of God. And it is based on a desire to honor and please God through our actions.

According to Peter, one of those demonstrations of godliness would be brotherly affection (philadelphia). It was essential that Christians exhibit a demonstrative and distinctively different love for one another. It was Jesus who said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35 NLT). Their love for one another was to be tangible and visible. It was to set them apart from the rest of society and provide living proof that God had transformed their hearts and lives.

But Peter adds one more essential and non-negotiable attribute: Love (agapē). This takes the concept of love one step further. Here, Peter is highlighting a love that is unbiased and non-partial. It goes beyond filial or familial love. This is the kind of love that Jesus described in His Sermon on the Mount.

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Matthew 5:43-48 NLT

The apostle Paul summed up this kind of love when he wrote: “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT). This is the same kind of love they had experienced from God and they were expected to share that love with anyone and everyone, including their enemies and their friends. Even if it cost them their lives. For as Jesus declared, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 ESV).

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Work While You Wait

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:7-11 ESV

One thought that Peter and the other apostles couldn’t get out of their heads was the words Jesus had spoken to them not long before He left them.

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.” – John 14:1-4 NLT

While they didn’t fully understand the gist of His message at the time, the promise contained in it had stayed with them. And their eager anticipation of His return can be found throughout their writings. Peter clearly reveals his belief that Jesus’ return, which will signal the end of this age, could not be far away: “The end of all things is at hand” (1 Peter 4:7 ESV). But he was not alone in that estimation. James wrote:

You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near. – James 5:8 NLT

The apostle Paul, writing with equal intensity and eager anticipation, put it this way:

This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. – Romans 13:11-12 NLT

John understood that the Antichrist and the persecution he would bring would precede the return of Christ. He could sense the increasing intensity of persecution and suffering in the world and believed that the end was nearing.

Dear children, the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared. From this we know that the last hour has come. – 1 John 2:18 NLT

And the author of the book of Hebrews encouraged his readers to eagerly await the return of Christ.

And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, 28 so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him. – Hebrews 9:27-28 NLT

Each of these men lived with a sense of anticipation and expectation. They understood that that the return of the Lord was a vital part of God’s redemptive plan. As Paul put it, “the day of salvation” was tied directly to the second coming of Jesus. His return was an essential and non-negotiable requirement for the Kingdom to be restored, and each of these men still longed to see that happen in their lifetimes. Jesus’ departure had delayed but not diminished their hopes. He had promised to return and they believed Him.

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am. I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe.” – John 14:27-29 NLT

At the time Peter wrote his letter, the apostle John had not yet received his vision from God that eventually produced the book of Revelation. Late in his life, John found himself living on the desolate island of Patmos. He had been exiled there by the Roman Emperor as a punishment for his continued promotion of “the Way” – the derogatory name used by the Romans to refer to the Jewish sect that still followed the martyred Rabbi, Jesus. But as John sat imprisoned on Patmos, he was given a divinely inspired vision of the future, delivered to him by an angel of God.

This is a revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants the events that must soon take place. He sent an angel to present this revelation to his servant John, who faithfully reported everything he saw. This is his report of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. – Revelation 1:1-2 NLT

Notice that he too believed that the things he saw and later recorded would “soon take place.” John was not given a detailed timeline for the events described in the revelation he received from Jesus. But it seems clear that he believed he would live to witness their arrival. And, once again, he was given ample reason to reach that conclusion when he heard and wrote down the last words Jesus spoke in his vision.

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” – Revelation 22:20 ESV

John and his fellow apostles lived with a deep longing to see their Savior again. They had been faithful to fulfill the commission He had given them and had taken the gospel of the Kingdom to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The size of the church had increased significantly but so had the persecution. And these 1st-Century saints found motivation and determination in the promise of Christ’s return. They lived with the end in mind.

That’s why Peter told his readers to “be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7 ESV). According to Peter, the end of all things was close at hand. In other words, the return of Christ was imminent. It could happen at any moment. Peter knew that his readers were undergoing intense persecution and it would be easy for them to become fixated on their circumstances and lose hope. So, he called them to refocus their attention on the promise of Christ’s return. This was going to require that they think clearly and evaluate their circumstances soundly. The apostle Paul encouraged the believers in Colossae to have the same kind of attitude about life.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. – Colossians 3:1-4 NLT

A clear-headed understanding of Christ’s place of power and prominence at God’s right hand would result in a much-needed reminder of His sovereign control over all things, including their suffering and persecution. Nothing they would endure in this life would prevent their experience of eternal life. But, as Peter warns, the failure to think clearly about the present and the future would negatively influence their prayer lives. When believers lose sight of the goal, their prayers become focused on their present problems and their hope for the immediate gratification of their desires. This life becomes all there is. That’s why Paul said, “set your sights on the realities of heaven.”

It was Jesus who provided His disciples with a model prayer designed to refocus their petitions to God.

“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! Pray like this:

Our Father in heaven,
may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
as it is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:7-10 NLT

Even Jesus promoted a future-minded mentality. It is by focusing on the reality of the future, as prescribed by God, that believers can make sense of the present. Jesus went on to encourage prayers for daily provision, forgiveness, and protection from temptation. But all these requests are intended to provide the endurance necessary to survive in this world while waiting for the next. They are focused on the end.

But Peter went on to encourage a lifestyle marked by grace-based love, complaint-free hospitality, and a God-glorifying use of their spiritual gifts. They were to love as they had been loved by God. They were to open their hearts and homes, providing the same gracious and warm welcome into the family of God that they had received. And they were to use the gifts given to them by the Spirit of God in order to bless the people of God. As they waited for the return of the Lord, they were to remain busy about the business of doing good.

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. – Galatians 6:9-10 NLT

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Don’t Lose Hope

1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. 1 Peter 4:1-6 ESV

Peter has pulled out the big guns, choosing to use Jesus as the consummate example of suffering for the sake of righteousness. In fact, according to Peter, Jesus Christ “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18 ESV). As the sinless Son of God, Jesus willingly laid down His life so that sinful humanity might be reconciled to God. He offered Himself as the unblemished Lamb of God and allowed His blood to be poured out as the once-for-all sacrifice that would offer permanent cleansing from sin. And because Jesus accomplished the will of His Heavenly Father by giving His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:8), He was resurrected back to life and now sits “at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1 Peter 3:22 ESV).

Jesus suffered and died but was resurrected and glorified. He paid the high price for mankind’s sin debt with His own life and, as a result, He was returned to His former glorified state and restored to His well-deserved position at His Father’s side. The fact that Jesus was resurrected and restored to His former pre-incarnate state is to be understood as proof of the effectiveness of His sacrifice. His death satisfied the just demands of His holy and fully righteous Father. The apostle Paul puts it this way:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. – Romans 3:23-26 ESV

Jesus’ suffering and death allowed God to remain just and loving at the same time. Because of His holiness, God had to punish sin. He couldn’t turn a blind eye or act as if it never happened. Mankind’s rebellion against His rule and reign had to be dealt with. But because God is love, He wanted to provide a way to acquit sinful men and women of their crimes against Him. That is where Jesus came in, and He described His one-of-a-kind role in unequivocal terms.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” – John 3:16-17 NLT

And Jesus went on to explain that all those who refused to accept Him as God’s substitutionary sacrifice on their behalf would find themselves remaining under the just wrath and condemnation of God Almighty.

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. – John 3:18 NLT

And Peter uses the selfless sacrifice of Jesus as a powerful source of motivation for his readers. He reminds them, “since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too” (1 Peter 4:1 NLT). Peter wanted them to know that their suffering for the sake of righteousness was actually proof of their reconciliation with God. They had aligned themselves with Jesus Christ and were suffering the consequences of their decision. They found themselves despised and hated by the world just as Jesus had been.

All throughout his letter, Peter has been very clear that the kind of suffering to which he is referring is that which is associated with doing what is right.

For God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment…if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. – 1 Peter 2:19, 20 NLT

For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:21 NLT

And when the believer suffers for doing what is right and responds in kindness, love, and patient endurance, he or she “has ceased from sin” (1 Peter 4:1 ESV). Rather than lashing out in hate and bitter remonstrations, the Christ-follower is to follow the example of Christ and “do good.” And that unexpected response to undeserved suffering serves as proof of the believer’s status as a redeemed and Spirit-empowered child of God. No longer a slave to sin, that child of God can “live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:2 ESV). In other words, the one who has placed their faith and hope in Christ and received the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit has the power to say no to sin and yes to God. While they still retain their sinful nature, they don’t have to give in to it. Paul spoke about this capacity to choose right from wrong in his letter to the church in Galatia.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. – Galatians 5:16-17 NLT

And Paul went on to point out the powerful influence the Spirit has over the life of the believer.

the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. – Galatians 5:22-25 NLT

And that is the very same message Peter is trying to convey to his readers. He wanted them to remember that they were new creations in Christ, equipped with a new capacity to live holy lives in the midst of an unholy and, oftentimes, unjust society. They were surrounded by “godless people” who “enjoy their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols” (1 Peter 4:3 NLT). But the believers who received Peter‘s letter were being reminded that they were free to live distinctively different lives. And when they did, their former friends would be shocked and surprised at their behavior. 

your former friends are surprised when you no longer plunge into the flood of wild and destructive things they do. – 1 Peter 4:4 NLT

But rather than seeking the source of the believers’ transformed lives, these former friends will slander and malign them. Good deeds don’t always produce good responses. Our acts of righteousness can often bring down the wrath of those who misunderstand and misjudge our actions. But Peter encourages his audience to live the fate of these kinds of people to God.

remember that they will have to face God, who stands ready to judge everyone, both the living and the dead. – 1 Peter 4:5 NLT

His reference to the living and the dead was meant to be a reference to all those who had heard the gospel message but had since died. There were many who had heard the gospel message, believed it, and then went on to experience the judgment of their flesh. In other words, like all human beings, they died. But Peter reminds his readers of the part of the gospel message that makes it “good news.”

…although they were destined to die like all people, they now live forever with God in the Spirit. – 1 Peter 4:6 NLT

Peter was emphasizing the reality that every human being will one day stand before God. His concern was that those to whom he wrote would remain faithful to their calling and committed to following the example of Jesus. Their future reward was secure. And while they might suffer in this life, they could remain confident in God’s promise of their eternal security.

Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. – 1 Peter 1:3-5 NLT

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

The Ark of God

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. 1 Peter 3:18-22 ESV

Peter knew that the idea of suffering for the sake of Christ was a difficult concept to grasp and even harder to embrace. It sounded counter-intuitive. If the salvation offered through faith in Christ was supposed to be “good news,” how were Christians supposed to reconcile the presence of suffering? Yet, even Jesus had warned His disciples that their lives would be characterized by trials and sorrows.

“But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” – John 16:32-33 NLT

After Jesus’ ascension, the disciples would soon find themselves facing all kinds of opposition and persecution – all because of their relationship with Him. Refusing to hide anything from His disciples, Jesus had clearly told them that the world would hate them, just as it had hated Him.

“The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” – John 15:19 NLT

And that hatred would take the form of intense and ongoing persecution, resulting in false accusations, beatings, and even imprisonment. According to church tradition, many of the apostles were martyred for their faith. Peter himself had experienced his fair share of suffering on behalf of Christ, so his words were far from academic or theoretical. Yet, rather than point to himself, he focused their attention on Jesus.

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit. – 1 Peter 3:18 NLT

Jesus’ suffering had been purposeful and effective. It had an end in mind. He had not been mistreated for doing wrong. As Peter pointed out, Jesus “never sinned.” The author of Hebrews points out that Jesus “faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15 NLT). And the suffering of the sinless Savior should bring His children hope.

Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. – Hebrews 2:18 NLT

For Peter, one of the key takeaways concerning the suffering and death of Jesus was the victory that it ultimately produced. According to Peter, Jesus was “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 2:18 ESV). His suffering and death were physical in nature, resulting in the cessation of life. Jesus experienced real pain and went through the agony of an excruciating death. But unlike everyone human being who has ever lived, Jesus’ body did not decay.

Paul spoke of this amazing reality when addressing the congregation in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch.

“God raised Him from the dead, never to see decay. As He has said: ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’

So also, He says in another Psalm: ‘You will not let Your Holy One see decay.’

For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep. His body was buried with his fathers and saw decay. But the One whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.” – Acts 13:34-37 NLT

In His post-resurrection form, Jesus had a glorified body that still bore the marks left by the nails and spear. He consumed food just as He had done before His death. He appeared to His disciples in a recognizable form, yet He seemed to have the ability to pass through locked doors. And Peter indicates that it was in His “spirit form” that Jesus  “went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:20 ESV). This is not inferring that Jesus was a ghost or some kind of ethereal phantom. It is an indication that Jesus was no longer bound by the natural restraints of a human body. And the apostle Paul points out that every follower of Christ will have the same kind of body some day – a body made especially for an eternal existence.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. – 2 Corinthians 5:1 NLT

Because of the fall, the human body has been condemned to ongoing decay and eventual death. But because of Jesus’ sacrificial death, believers are guaranteed a new, resurrected body that will never age or deteriorate in any way. It will be both physical and spiritual, rendering it eternal.

But what does Peter mean when he says that Jesus went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison? There has been a lot of debate about this statement over the centuries. Who are these spirits in prison and what did Jesus proclaim to them? Peter seems to provide some insight when he refers to them as “those who disobeyed God long ago when God waited patiently while Noah was building his boat” (1 Peter 3:19 ESV). Why does Peter bring up Noah and the ark, and what does it have to do with Jesus’ post-resurrection nature?

First of all, the ark was intended to foreshadow the salvation that would be made possible through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. In Genesis chapter 6, the state of the world is described in highly negative terms.

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. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” – Genesis 6:5-7 ESV

But Noah “found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8 ESV). And God commanded Noah to build an ark that would become His means of “saving” a remnant of mankind. The ark became a type of Christ. Noah, like the prophets who would come after him and John the Baptist, would call sinful mankind to repent and be saved. In his second letter, Peter describes Noah as a “herald of righteousness.”

…he [God] did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly. – 2 Peter 2:5 ESV

Through his obedience in constructing the ark, Noah demonstrated righteousness to sinful humanity. He gave visible evidence of his faith in God by carrying out the command to build a  “vessel” of salvation. And Peter indicates that God “did not spare the ancient world, but…brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly” (2 Peter 2:5 ESV). Yet, because Noah and his family heeded the call of God and entered the ark, they were spared from death. 

But who are the “spirits” to whom Jesus preached and what do they have to do with Noah? In keeping with the context, it would appear that Peter is stressing that those who were destroyed by the flood in Noah’s day were judged and destroyed by God. They drowned in the flood, their souls were separated from the bodies, and they were confined to Sheol, the holding place until the final judgment.

There are some who believe that Peter was suggesting that Jesus, in His resurrected form, visited these spirits in hell. But it makes much more sense to understand that Jesus, in His pre-incarnate form, spoke through Noah, the “herald of righteousness,” and declared the coming judgment. But they refused to listen, were judged, and condemned to eternal separation from God. Verse 19 might be better translated, “He went and preached to the spirits who are now in prison.” In other words, Peter is not saying that Jesus, in His resurrected form, went and preached to those who were imprisoned in Sheol. It was in His pre-incarnate form, before He took on human flesh, that Jesus proclaimed righteousness through the provision of the ark, as ordained by God and obediently constructed by Noah.

It was in the ark that  “a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water” (1 Peter 3:20 ESV). A remnant was spared and saved. And Peter makes an interesting comparison between the water of the flood and the water of baptism. The water that flooded the earth and destroyed all life was the same water that floated the ark and spared the lives of Noah and his family. In the same way, the presence of death that entered the world because of the sins of mankind would be the very same means by which God would bring salvation to sinful mankind. Jesus’ death would result in life. And Peter states that water baptism is a reflection of both the ark and the body of Jesus. When a believer is baptized, it “is is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21 NLT).

Baptism is a symbol of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. In the same way, when Noah and his family entered the ark, it was as if they entered into death, but were spared and eventually released to walk in newness of life. The flood surrounded them but did not destroy them. Those who place their faith in Christ will survive the “flood waters” of life. Our guarantee of eternal life is secure in Christ who, according to Peter, “has gone to heaven” and “is seated in the place of honor next to God” (1 Peter3:22 NLT). And it is from heaven He will one day return for His bride, the church.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Equipped and Empowered

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 1 Peter 2:21-25 ESV

You have been called to suffer. It doesn’t take much imagination to consider how that thought must have come across to Peter’s audience. And he was quite specific about the kind of suffering he has in mind.

…if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. – 1 Peter 2:20 ESV

Peter had been addressing those within the local congregation who were slaves. The Greek word Peter used is oiketēs, which most often referred to a household servant. Another common reference to slaves was the Greek word doulos, which means “one who is subservient to, and entirely at the disposal of, his master; a slave.” It is estimated that, during the 1st-Century, as much as one-third of the Roman population were slaves. As a result, slaves were a ubiquitous part of society, with many of them coming to faith in Christ and becoming members of local congregations throughout the Roman empire. Some of these people had been taken as captives of war. Others were born into slavery. But there was another class of individuals who had been required to enter into indentured servitude out of necessity. If someone owed a debt he could not pay, he could agree to work off the unpaid balance by becoming a bondservant. This was a situation that was covered under the Mosaic Law and was essentially a form of welfare. The Law even made provision for an individual to remain a slave out of gratitude to his master.

“But the slave may declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I don’t want to go free.’ If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door or doorpost and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will serve his master for life.” – Exodus 21:5-6 NLT

Yet, it is difficult to understand how the New Testament authors seem to have remained silent about the injustice of slavery. In our day, when slavery has been deservedly castigated and virtually eradicated, we find it strange that Jesus and His followers had little to say about it.

“The church never addressed the institution of slavery in society, for it was outside its province—society in that day did not claim to be representative, and certainly not representative of Christians, concepts that arrived with the Enlightenment—but it did address the situation in the church, where no social distinctions were to be allowed, for all were brothers and sisters (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 12:13; Col. 3:11; Phile. 16), however shocking that was to society at large.” – Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter

Their silence on the matter should not be taken as a form of validation or justification. But as was pointed out in yesterday’s point, Peter and the other apostles were not out to redeem the culture of their day. They had a God-given mandate to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God and make disciples of all the nations. Any impact they were to make on the culture would come through the reconciliation of individual men and women to God. And their efforts were bearing fruit. The church was growing and its presence was beginning to be felt all throughout the Roman Empire. It was within the body of Christ that individuals from all walks of life could gather together in an atmosphere marked by unity and equity. The apostle Paul repeatedly emphasized the equalizing nature of the gospel.

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28 NLT

Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:13 NLT

And Peter took the time to address the slaves within the local fellowship to whom he wrote. He wanted to use them as an example of what it meant to suffer for the sake of Christ. These individuals, while free in Christ, still found themselves living as literal slaves to men. Considered to be little more than personal property, they had no rights. For Peter, the hopeless and helpless circumstance of a slave provided the perfect illustration of his earlier point.

For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. – 1 Peter 2:16 NLT

This message had been addressed to the entire congregation, but now Peter was applying it to the life of a slave. He knew that many of these enslaved brothers and sisters in Christ were suffering unjustly at the hands of their masters. It is quite possible that some of them were actually enduring increased hostilities for their profession of faith. So, Peter reminds them that “God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment” (1 Peter 2:19 NLT).

And because Peter knew that this call would be difficult to hear, let alone obey, he turned their attention to Jesus. Peter could recall the teachings of Jesus and knew that His life had been the consummate illustration of humble servanthood and willing submission to doing good, no matter what the cost. The words of Jesus still rang in Peter’s ear.

“Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:26-28 NLT

Jesus had been called by God to serve, suffer, and sacrifice His life, so His followers should not expect their calling to be any different.

For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:21 NLT

With the prophetic words of Isaiah in mind, Peter paints a vivid picture of Jesus, the suffering servant.

He never sinned,
    nor ever deceived anyone.
He did not retaliate when he was insulted,
    nor threaten revenge when he suffered.
He left his case in the hands of God,
    who always judges fairly.
He personally carried our sins
    in his body on the cross
so that we can be dead to sin
    and live for what is right.
By his wounds
    you are healed.
Once you were like sheep
    who wandered away.
But now you have turned to your Shepherd,
    the Guardian of your souls. – 1 Peter 2:22-25 NLT

Jesus provided an incomparable example of selfless, sacrificial servanthood. He was the Son of God and the Savior of the world, and yet He willingly allowed Himself to be rejected and ridiculed by those whom He had made. The Creator placed Himself at the mercy of His creation. Peter’s words echo the sentiment of Paul, expressed in his letter to the believers in Philippi.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
   he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.  – Philippians 2:5-8 NLT

Peter understood the formidable nature of his admonition. He was asking his readers to do the impossible. Yet, at the same time, Peter knew from personal experience that this kind of selfless life could be accomplished through the power of the indwelling Spirit of God. In fact, in a second letter he wrote, Peter introduced himself as “Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1 NLT). He considered himself to be a slave of Jesus and wanted his readers to understand that they not only shared his identity but were equipped with the same source of power to live it out in everyday life.

May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. – 2 Peter 1:2-3 NLT

There was nothing they would face for which they were not already equipped. There was no suffering they might undergo that Jesus Himself had not endured and overcome. Even enslavement could not prevent their successful emulation of Jesus. No circumstance they could face in life would be able to stand against the indwelling presence and power of the Spirit of God. They had been called to do good, and even if suffering were part of God’s divine plan, they would find themselves fully capable of following in the footsteps of Jesus.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

More Than Alive

50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God. Luke 24:50-53 ESV

What’s Up with the Ascension?Luke is a stickler for details. So, it’s not surprising that he adds a very subtle but significant factor when describing the final moments of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He points out that Jesus led His disciples “out as far as Bethany” (Luke 24:50 ESV). This was the same village, located just a few miles east of Jerusalem, where Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. He was returning to the very spot where He had earlier told Martha, the sister of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die” (John 11:25-26 NLT).

According to the apostle Paul, between the time Jesus walked out of the tomb to the moment He stood before His disciples in Bethany, He had appeared to hundreds of individuals in His resurrected form.

He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. – 1 Corinthians 5:4-8 NLT

So, as He stood among His disciples in Bethany, the scene of Lazarus’ death-to-life transformation, there was little doubt in their minds that He truly was “the resurrection and the life.” He was the literal epicenter for all hope of resurrection. Lazarus had been raised from death to life, but he had not been resurrected. His earthly body had been resuscitated, which is a miracle in and of itself, but he would live to die again. In other words, Lazarus’ new life was nothing more than his old one regained.

But what Jesus had said to Martha regarding the resurrection was something altogether different. He told her, “Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die” (John 11:26 NLT). To experience the resurrected life was to enjoy eternal life – a never-ending experience of life without pain, suffering, or physical death. It’s fascinating to consider that Jesus chose Bethany the point of departure for His ascension back to heaven. He had a new body that was prepared for its eternal existence with God the Father. Yes, He still retained the scars and visible wounds He had suffered during His crucifixion, but His “earthly tent” had been transformed into into its glorified state. The apostle Paul talked about this “eternal body” and its implications for all believers.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this… – 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 NLT

I don’t think it’s farfetched to consider that Lazarus was in the crowd that day. He was a faithful follower of Jesus and was eternally grateful for the miracle of new life that Jesus had given him. But as Lazarus looked on, he was still inhabiting his old earthly tent, while Jesus stood before him in His new “house,” a heavenly body prepared for the joys of eternal life.

For Jesus, the goal was not restored life, but resurrected life. While Judas was living proof that Jesus could raise the physically dead back to life, that had not been His primary objective. New life was not enough. What sinful man really needs is resurrected life.  The apostle Paul would drive home this point in his first letter to the believers in Corinth.

…if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. – 1 Corinthians 15:13-14 NLT

Belief in a reanimated of a formerly dead Jew was not going to be enough. Jesus wasn’t just another Lazarus – a dead man who had been restored to life. He was the resurrected and glorified Son of God. And it was His resurrection, not His resuscitation that made the difference. Consider what Paul wrote.

…if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. – 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 NLT

The point Paul was trying to make was that Jesus was not simply alive. He is the living hope for all those who have died. His resurrection was not an offer of renewed life on this earth but of eternal life in the coming Kingdom of God. And His resurrection was to stand as a guarantee of all the resurrections to come.

But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. – 1 Corinthians 15:20 NLT

And then, Paul went on to compare Jesus to Adam.

So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.– 1 Corinthians 15:21-23 NLT

What’s important to consider is an often overlooked exchange that took place between Jesus and His disciples as they gathered together in Bethany. Luke records this conversation in the opening chapter of the book of Acts.

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” – Acts 1:6 NLT

As they stood looking at the resurrected Jesus, all they could think about was the fact that He was alive. Just days earlier, Jesus had been a corpse in a tomb. But now, He stood before them in the peak of health and what they hoped would be full fighting form. Their question reveals that they were still hoping Jesus was going to set up His kingdom on earth. They had not given up hope that Jesus would finally declare His Messiahship by overthrowing the Romans and establishing His reign over Israel. Now that He was alive, there was no time like the present.

But Jesus burst their bubble by announcing, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8 NLT).

They had their sights set on a display of military power that would put Israel back on the map. But Jesus promised them a far different kind of power – that which would come from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And the only way that kind of power would become available was if the resurrected Jesus returned to His Father’s side. And according to the gospels and the book of Acts, that is exactly what happened. 

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. – Acts 1:9 NLT         

and lifting his hands to heaven, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up to heaven. – Luke 24:50-51 NLT 

When the Lord Jesus had finished talking with them, he was taken up into heaven and sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. – Mark 16:19 NLT

In his gospel account, Luke records that they “worshiped him and then returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy. And they spent all of their time in the Temple, praising God” (Luke 24:52-53 NLT). But it seems that in between the time he wrote his gospel and then penned the book of Acts, Luke had gained further details concerning that fateful day. Through interviews or word of mouth, he discovered that the disciples had experienced one last divine encounter. Two angels had appeared and confronted them about their apparent delay in returning to Jerusalem.

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” – Acts 1:11 NLT

They were standing there, probably slack-jawed and dumbfounded, as their able-bodied, fully alive Messiah slowly disappeared from sight. They had been hoping He would stay and fulfill all their hopes concerning the Kingdom of God. But He was leaving so that they might one day experience the reality of their own resurrections and the joy of life in His eternal Kingdom. And it was news of His promised return that filled them with joy and sent them back to Jerusalem in a state of heartfelt worship and praise. And we too should rejoice and worship the King for the unwavering promise of His return.

“Surely I am coming soon.” – Revelation 22:20 ESV

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 Inextinguishable Light

44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” 48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things. Luke 23:44-49 ESV

The cross is one of the most recognizable symbols in all of human history. And its image conjures up all kinds of emotions and associations. For some, it elicits a strong sense of reverence and veneration. Yet others are repulsed by the sight of it, seeing in its simple form a sinister reminder of man’s inhumanity to man. And there are those who view the cross as an archaic religious icon that no longer holds any relevance in the more complicated and scientifically sophisticated age of post-modernity.

Yet, over the centuries, the cross has left a lasting and indelible impact on the lives of countless millions and continues to do so to this day. Jesus had told His disciples, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32 ESV). And John, the one who recorded those words, added the explanatory note: “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die” (John 12:33 ESV). Jesus was clearly predicting that His death would have long-lasting and life-altering implications. And it began the very day He was crucified.

This beaten and bloodied Rabbi from Nazareth hung helplessly on the cross as a wooden placard placed above His head proclaimed His crime: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37 ESV). Jesus was being executed for being exactly who He had claimed to be: The Messiah, the anointed one of Israel. He was the long-awaited seed of Abraham and the son of David. He was the fulfillment of every Old Testament prophecy that had predicted the coming Messiah and He was the divine culmination of every promise God had made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. And yet, on that fateful day in the city of Jerusalem, the Son of God and Savior of the world hung between heaven and earth, nailed to a wooden cross. He had been beaten, spit upon, slapped, and mercilessly mocked. The skin on His back had been laid open by the sharp pieces of bone and metal attached to the flagellum or whip that was used to flog Him. He had endured the excruciating pain of having His wrists and feet pierced by the large iron spikes that were used to nail Him to the cross. And then for hours, He had been put on display and subjected to the ongoing mockery of the onlookers.

those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” – Matthew 27:39-40 ESV

So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” – Mark 15:31-32 ESV

And as Jesus endured the pain of the cross and the unrelenting insults of His enemies, He could see below Him, the soldiers who callously gambled over His garments. Then suddenly, at Noon, “the sun’s light failed” (Luke 23:45 ESV). Inexplicably and unexpectedly, the brightness of day was replaced by the darkness of night. This disconcerting cosmic display got everyone’s attention. But few would have understood the relevance of the moment, except John, the one disciple who had faithfully stayed by his Master’s side all throughout His painful ordeal. John records in his gospel account how Jesus had placed upon him the responsibility for caring for Mary, the mother of Jesus.

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. – John 19:26-27 ESV

And as John stood at the base of the cross and watched the light fade, he must have recalled the words that Jesus had spoken.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 ESV

And years later, long after Jesus’ death and resurrection, he would open his gospel with the statement: “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 1:4-5 ESV). Yet, on the day that Jesus was crucified, he must have seen the sudden appearance of darkness as an ominous sign. The one who had declared Himself to be the light of the world was suddenly plunged into darkness and, from John’s perspective, all hope must have drained from His heart. The Light of the world was about to be extinguished – forever. Or so he must have thought. As John looked up at the cross, with tears streaming from his eyes, he heard what he believed to be the final words he would ever hear from his Master’s lips.

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” – Luke 23:46 ESV

And then, Jesus died. The Light went out.

Yet even in death, Jesus made an impression. There at the foot of the cross stood a Roman centurion. We are not told his name or whether he was on official duty that day. But for some reason, he was struck by the injustice of all that he had observed, and declared, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Luke 23:47 ESV). But even more surprisingly, this pagan military commander praised Yahweh, the God of Israel. What would have possessed him to do such a thing? Could it be that this was the same Centurion whom Jesus had encountered in the city of Capernaum sometime earlier? Luke recorded that scene in chapter seven of his gospel account and revealed how this pagan military leader had approached Jesus with a request. His servant was sick and in need of healing. When Jesus had agreed to come to the Centurion’s house, the man had responded, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself by coming to my home, for I am not worthy of such an honor. I am not even worthy to come and meet you. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed” (Luke 7:6-7 NLT). And having heard this man’s humble statement, Jesus declared that his servant had been healed. Then He declared, “I tell you, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” (Luke 7:9 NLT).

Perhaps this Centurion had received orders to bring his troops to Jerusalem to help manage the large crowds arriving for the Passover. And while he was there he heard about the arrest of Jesus and Pilate’s order to have Jesus crucified. This man had once told Jesus, “Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it” (Luke 7:7-8 NLT). Now, he had just witnessed Jesus doing the will of His Heavenly Father. He had heard Jesus say, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46 ESV). And putting two and two together, the Centurion realized that this man truly was the Son of God, who had come to do the will of His Father.

Whoever this Centurion was, his life was changed. We are not told what happened to him but it seems safe to assume that he walked away transformed by what he had seen. Even in the darkness of that moment, the Light still shone forth, illuminating the heart of a hardened Roman Centurion. And he praised God.

But not far from the very spot where the Centurion stood praising the God of Israel, the followers of Jesus looked on in sadness and hopelessness. Their Messiah was dead. Their dreams had been shattered. The darkness of the moment enveloped them like a flood, and they found themselves drowning in sorrow and self-pity as the stark reality of their circumstances began to sink in. From their perspective, the Light had gone out. But what they failed to understand was that the Light, while temporarily dimmed, had not been overcome.

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