Men on Mission

And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. Mark 6:7-13 ESV

In the closing half of verse 6, Mark reveals that Jesus “went about among the villages teaching.” At this point in His ministry, Jesus is concentrating His energies and efforts on the region of Galilee. Having been rejected by the citizens of His own hometown of Nazareth, Jesus has moved on, taking His message of the Kingdom to other towns and villages where He will find a more receptive audience.

In this section, Jesus, as Master and Teacher, begins to prepare His disciples for the role they will play when the time comes for Him to return to His Father’s side in heaven. These men had been hand-picked by God (John 17:6) and assigned to serve by Jesus’ side, but their greater contribution to the Kingdom would come after the Son’s eventual departure.

For some time now, they have been witnesses to the witnesses of Jesus. They have seen Him cast out demons, heal the sick, minister to the needy, display His power over the elements of nature, and confound the people with His preaching and parables. But now, they were going to become participants rather than spectators. These men were going to be given an opportunity to practice what Jesus has preached. Instead of standing in the background safely observing the ministry of Jesus, they will find themselves on the frontlines of the effort to declare the arrival of the kingdom of heaven. And to validate their message, they will be given unprecedented power to perform miracles, just like their Lord and Master.

Jesus chooses to send them out in pairs, most likely in keeping with the Old Testament teaching concerning witnesses. Since these men would be declaring the news regarding the kingdom’s arrival and the reality of Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, a second witness would serve to validate that message. And Jesus knew that these men would need the strength and encouragement that comes with companionship.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NLT

This entire enterprise was intended for the benefit of the disciples. While the nature of their message and ministry was vital, Jesus was giving them this assignment to prepare them. As He has been doing all along, Jesus is attempting to strengthen their faith. Despite their constant exposure to His teaching and their front-row seats to His amazing displays of power, they still struggled to comprehend His true identity. Even after witnessing Him calm the winds and waves on the Sea of Galilee, they had expressed their shock and displayed their uncertainty.

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” – Mark 4:41 ESV

Jesus knew that His disciples remained unconvinced as to who He was. They wanted to believe He was the Messiah of Israel, but so much of what He said and did seemed to contradict their expectations and aspirations. They couldn’t deny His power and it was clear, from the crowds that followed Him wherever He went, that Jesus was growing in popularity. But His ongoing disputes with the religious leaders confused the disciples. How did He expect to unite the people and lead them in victory over the Romans if He continued to alienate the most powerful men in the nation?

But the disciples had much to learn about the Kingdom and the reign of the Messiah. They were going to have to repent of their preconceived ideas concerning God’s plans for His people. They had their own visions of the future and when Jesus did not do things the way they expected, they found themselves wrestling with doubt.

So, this brief mission on which they were being sent was meant to put them on the frontlines of the battle and bolster their belief in the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. As He prepared to send them, He gave them “authority over the unclean spirits” (Mark 6:8 ESV). They would find themselves possessing the very same power He had displayed and that had allowed Him to cast out the demons from the Gadarene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20). But, while they would have access to great power, they were to place themselves on the mercy and provision of God. Jesus instructed them to travel light and to trust God for all their needs.

He told them to take nothing for their journey except a walking stick—no food, no traveler’s bag, no money. He allowed them to wear sandals but not to take a change of clothes. – Mark 6:9 NLT

Matthew reveals that Jesus provided strict instructions regarding the destination of the disciples. They were to focus their efforts on the Jews and were prohibited from ministering among the Gentiles and Samaritans.

“Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” – Matthew 9:5-8 ESV

Their message was clear. They were to declare the same news that John the Baptist had preached in the wilderness of Judea. It was the same message of the kingdom that Jesus had been spreading throughout Galilee. And to validate their message, they were given the power to perform the same kind of miracles that Jesus did. These signs and wonders would provide proof that their message was from God and that its content should be heard and heeded.

And, Jesus warns, if anyone should refuse to listen to their message, the disciples are to walk away. They are not to waste their time on those who reject the message of the kingdom and the call to repentance. He instructs them to “shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them” (Mark 6:11 ESV). This symbolic act was meant to condemn the unrepentant Jews as unbelieving, defiled, and subject to divine judgment. And Jesus knew that there would be plenty of Jews who would refuse to listen to His disciples. These men would experience the same level of rejection Jesus had encountered in Nazareth.

All of this is in keeping with the words of John found in the opening chapter of his gospel.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:11-13 ESV

Sadly, all those Jews who believed themselves to be the children of God but who refused to accept Jesus as the Son of God would find themselves rejected by God.

Equipped with divine power and a clear message, the disciples made their way into the far reaches of Galilee. They called the people to repentance and “cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them” (Mark 6:13 ESV). This brief but eventful venture would do wonders for the disciples’ confidence and go a long way in solidifying their faith in Jesus. It would provide them with a glimpse of the future when they would receive the Great Commission from their resurrected Lord and Savior. The day was coming when He would depart and turn over the ministry of the gospel to these very same men. And they would take the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth. But for now, they were being given a taste of things to come.

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 Touch of Faith

21 And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. 22 Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23 and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” 24 And he went with him.

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 25 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’ 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Mark 5:21-34 ESV

The disciples sailed back to the opposite shore with their minds filled with the images of the herd of demon-possessed swine plummeting over the cliff into the sea and the former demoniac sitting calmly at the feet of Jesus. It had been a whirlwind 24 hours. They had witnessed Jesus calm a violent storm and restore a demon-possessed man to sanity. In addition, they had heard those demons refer to their master as the “Jesus, Son of the Most High God” (Mark 5:7 ESV). In a sense, with the testimony of the demons still ringing in their ears, they had unknowingly received the answer they had posed earlier. When they had witnessed the miracle of Jesus calming the storm, they had asked, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41 ESV).

They should have had their answer. But Jesus was not done revealing the true nature of His identity. There would be more God-ordained encounters in the days ahead that would provide further proof that Jesus was who He claimed to be and who the demons confessed Him to be.

Having returned from their brief but eventful trip to the region of Decapolis, Jesus and His disciples found themselves immediately surrounded by a large crowd. Mark gives the impression that, before Jesus could even disembark from the boat, the masses of people had been lined the shoreline. And Luke supports that idea by adding,, “they were all waiting for him” (Luke 8:40 ESV).

Still standing by the sea and surrounded by a mass of people, Jesus was approached by a man named Jairus, who was a ruler in the local synagogue. This man was not a professional priest, but a layman who was responsible for conducting Sabbath services and for the ongoing care of the synagogue. His role would have made him a recognized and well-respected member of the local community. And his high-visibility position most likely resulted in some familiarity with the Pharisees and other religious rulers of Israel. So, when he kneeled at the feet of Jesus, in front of a large gathering of his own neighbors and friends, he was taking a great risk – not only personally but professionally.

We know from John’s gospel that the religious leaders of Israel were intensifying their efforts to discredit Jesus and to pressure the people from following Him. John records an occasion when Jesus healed a man who had been blind from birth. When the Pharisees interrogated the man’s parents, attempting to discern whether he had truly been born blind, they were racked with fear. And John tells us why.

His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. – John 9:22 ESV

Yet, here was Jairus, a ruler in the local synagogue, kneeling before Jesus and begging Him to heal His daughter.

“My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” – Mark 5:23 ESV

Mark tries to convey the intensity of the man’s desperation when he writes, “he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly” (Mark 5:22-23 ESV). Mark uses the same Greek word, parakaleō, that he used to describe how the demons begged Jesus not to torment them, but to cast them into the swine. And it was the same word he used to describe the fearful townspeople begging Jesus to leave their community.

This man was emotionally distraught and willing to do anything to save the life of his dying daughter. She meant far more to him than his career or reputation. And if expressing faith in Jesus could preserve her life, the loss of his job was a price he was willing to pay. And much to his relief, Jesus agreed to go with him. But they didn’t go alone. Mark reports that “a great crowd followed him and thronged about him” (Mark 5:24 ESV). The crowd moved en masse, pressing in on Jesus and the anxious father as they made their way to the man’s home. But before they could reach their destination, something else took place.

There was another individual in the crowd that day. But, unlike the ruler of the synagogue, this person held no high position in the community. It was an obscure, unnamed woman who had made her way to the seashore that day with the desperate hope of receiving healing from this man named Jesus. But she was just one among many, struggling to fight her way through the crowd in an effort to get close enough to touch the hem of His garment.

This woman had what appears to be an incurable medical condition that Mark describes as “a discharge of blood” (Mark 5:25 ESV). And she had suffered with it for 12 long years. Not only that, she had exhausted all her resources seeking a cure through traditional medical treatments. But nothing had worked. In fact, her condition had grown worse, leaving her in a state of desperation. But unlike Jairus, the crowds were not going to part and allow her access to Jesus. She was going to have to fight and claw her way through the bustling crowd just to get close enough to see Jesus.

But what stands out is the woman’s faith. She fully believed that if she could only touch Jesus’ robe, she would be healed.

If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” – Mark 5:28 ESV

Jairus was convinced that if Jesus would only touch his daughter, she would be made well. This woman believed that if she could just touch Jesus, she would be healed. Both believed that Jesus was the solution to their particular problem.

Somehow, this frail and physically weakened woman forced her way through the crowd and touched the edge of Jesus’ robe. And Mark describes that “immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease” (Mark 5:29 ESV). Her healing was immediate, and she knew it. But no one else in the crowd was even aware of her presence., and they had no idea that a miracle had even taken place. Yet, Jesus did.

Jesus realized at once that healing power had gone out from him, so he turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my robe?” – Mark 5:30 NLT

Luke reports that Jesus informed His disciples, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me” (Luke 8:46 ESV). It seems likely that Jesus was fully aware of the woman’s identity. He could have said nothing and simply allowed the woman to walk away unnoticed and rejoicing in her renewed health. But Jesus wanted His disciples to know what had happened. And He was willing to postpone his trip to Jairus’ house in order to reveal the miracle that had just taken place.

Suddenly exposed and unable to extricate herself from the crowd, the woman timidly and guiltily stepped forward. She “came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth” (Mark 5:33 ESV). Once again, her confession was not for Jesus’ benefit. He already knew what had happened. But this woman’s remarkable testimony was meant to encourage the disciples and provide them with further proof of who Jesus was. It was also meant to illustrate the kind of faith they were supposed to have. Notice what Jesus said to the woman.

“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” – Mark 5:34 ESV

Jesus had not spoken her healing into existence. He had not even touched her.  And yet, she stood before Him completely whole. It was her faith in Jesus that had brought about her remarkable transformation. He wants to correct a dangerous misconception in the woman’s thinking. She had reasoned that there must be some kind of power emanating from Jesus, and this power must be transferable. But Jesus insists that her healing was a result of faith, not superstition or some kind of supernatural force field.

As incredible as it may sound, at the moment the woman touched the edge of His robe, Jesus was aware of the woman’s presence, the purpose of her action, and He willingly released His power to heal her. This was not some kind of automatic outflow of energy that was outside of Jesus’ control or volition. There were countless people who touched Him that day, many of whom longed to receive healing. But it was only this woman who received that for which she had hoped. And Jesus describes her action as an example of faith.

The author of Hebrews describes faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). This woman hoped to be healed, and was fully assured it would happen if she could only manage to get close enough to touch the edge of Jesus’ robe. She didn’t need to talk to Him. She believed His power was so great that a simple touch of His garment could do what countless physicians had been unable to do. And her faith was rewarded.

And when Jesus said, “be healed of your disease,” He was confirming the veracity of her testimony and the source of her healing. It had been Him.

But before the crowds could take in all that had just happened or the disciples could ask any questions, the mood of the moment was about to take a dramatically dark turn. The focus was going to shift from healing to death, from joy to sorrow, and from hope to despair. But Jesus was far from done.

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 Power to Love

1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, 10 for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. 11 And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 12 And he strictly ordered them not to make him known. Mark 3:1-12 ESV

After dropping the bombshell statement, “the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28 ESV), Jesus simply walked away. Mark provides no details regarding the response of either the crowd or the religious leaders, but it’s safe to assume that it was a strange mix of awe, confusion, and anger. The people found themselves fascinated with and strangely drawn to Jesus. But the religious leaders were becoming increasingly more concerned with His growing popularity and blatant disregard for their oral laws.

Mark faithfully records the remarks made by Jesus concerning the Sabbath and His relationship to it and then skips to yet another Sabbath encounter. Luke makes it clear that this event took place on a different Sabbath.

On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. – Luke 6:6 ESV

Mark provides a subtle reminder that this was not the first time that Jesus had attended the local synagogue in Capernaum.

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. – Mark 3:1 ESV

In chapter one, Mark described Jesus’ first visit and the scene that took place.

And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching.…And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. – Mark 1:21, 23 ESV

On that occasion, Jesus had created quite a stir by casting out the demon and restoring the man to health and wholeness. The people, who had marveled at the authoritative nature of Jesus’ teaching, had been treated to an even more spectacular display of His power.

Amazement gripped the audience, and they began to discuss what had happened. “What sort of new teaching is this?” they asked excitedly. “It has such authority! Even evil spirits obey his orders!” – Mark 1:27 NLT

Now, on yet another Sabbath, Jesus encounters a man with a withered hand. Was this just a coincidence? Had the man heard what happened the last time Jesus came to town and decided it was his turn? Or was this man a plant, purposefully placed in the synagogue by the religious leaders? This last option should not be considered far-fetched because Mark indicates that these men “watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him” (Mark 3:2 ESV).

As far as they were concerned, Jesus was already guilty of being a law-breaker. He had cast out a demon, healed Simon’s mother-in-law, and allowed His disciples to “harvest” grain – all on the Sabbath. Now, they were looking for additional evidence to convict Him as a serial violater of their Sabbath laws.

Jesus seems to know that this man was being used. He was nothing more than an innocent victim and an unwitting pawn in the evil schemes of the religious leaders. So, Jesus invited the man forward then addressed His adversaries with an unexpected question.

“Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” – Mark 3:4 ESV

Jesus purposely juxtaposed the legal requirements of the law with the moral obligations that were intended to accompany all of God’s commands. The Mosaic law was never meant to be a sterile list of dos and don’ts. The commandments of God were intended to guide God’s people toward behavior that reflected their love for Him and for one another. On a later occasion, Jesus was asked by some scribes, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (Mark 12:28 ESV). And Jesus had Jesus responded, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31 ESV).

So, when Jesus asked the religious leaders if laws concerning the Sabbath were intended to produce good deeds or bad ones, they knew the right answer, but refused to speak up. Their silence condemned them. They had no compassion for the man with the withered hand. He was just a means to an evil end. Their hearts were wicked and their intentions were anything but good. They greatly desired to see Jesus heal the man, but not so they could rejoice in his miraculous transformation. They were hoping to use his healing as evidence against Jesus.

And Mark reveals that Jesus was fully aware of their evil intentions and angered and grieved by their actions.

…he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart. – Mark 3:5 ESV

But rather than lecture them about their faulty understanding of the law, Jesus simply turned to the man and said, “Stretch out your hand” (Mark 3:5 ESV). And as soon as the man did, his withered hand was miraculously and immediately restored.

Remember what Jesus asked the religious leaders: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm?” In other words, Jesus was asking if doing something loving and beneficial for another human being could ever be in violation of God’s commands. By healing the man’s withered hand, Jesus was expressing love for His neighbor. And in doing so, He was loving one made in the image of God. For Jesus to have the capacity to do something about the man’s condition and refuse to do so would have been an act of hatred. And the apostle John lets us know why this kind of loathing of another human being is so dangerous.

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. – 1 John 2:9-11 ESV

And John provides further insight into the danger inherent in our failure to love other.

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. – 1 John 4:20-21 ESV

The religious leaders would have vehemently defended their love for God. And yet, John infers that their lack of love for the man with the withered hand was proof of their hatred for God. They failed to love those things that God loved, including the helpless, hopeless, defenseless, diseased, and disenfranchised. By healing the man’s condition, Jesus was expressing His love for God by loving a child of God.

And just a few verses earlier in his letter, John wrote: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12 ESV). The point John is trying to make is that when we love others, we are actually demonstrating the love of God. We become conduits of that love. The Greek word that is translated as “perfected” is teleioō and it means “to accomplish” or “to carry through.” God’s love for us flows to us and through us to those around us. And He receives glory.

But we get a real glimpse into the darkened hearts of the religious leaders when Mark records that they, “went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him” (Mark 2:6 ESV). Rather than rejoice over the clear display of God’s power as demonstrated in the miraculous restoration of the man’s hand, they stormed from the room and began plotting Jesus’ demise.

But while His adversaries planned and schemed, Jesus continued to express the love of God by ministering selflessly and sacrificiously to the growing number of people who flocked to His side.

…a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. – Mark 3:6-7 ESV

News about Jesus had spread far and wide, and people were coming from all over the land of Palestine to see this miracle worker for themselves. And many of those who had made the arduous journey to see Jesus were suffering from various diseases, disabilities, and even demon-possesion. And Mark indicates that Jesus “healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him” (Mark 2:10 ESV). Jesus was literally mobbed by the masses of people, forcing Him to have a boat ready to aid His escape should the situation grow too intense.

Every time Jesus healed someone, He was manifesting His Heavenly Father’s for them. He was living out John 3:16: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…” And But the greatest demonstration of God’s love was yet to come. And as He would later tell His disciples, the ultimate expression of that love would take the form of His own self-sacrifice.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:12-13 ESV

We have all used the expression, “I love you to death!” But for most of us, it is just a form of hyperbole, exaggerated speech intended to drive home a point. Yet for Jesus, those words would become far than a rhetorical statement. He would actually love the world to death. And rather than offering healing from a physical disability, Jesus would offer His life as an expression of love so that the spiritually sick might have life.

And it should not go without notice that every time Jesus cast out a demon, these other-worldy beings testified to His identity: “You are the Son of God” (Mark 2:11 ESV). They recognized His divine nature and the power and authority He wielded. These demonic beings were subject to His power and incapable of experiencing His love. But they were able to confirm His identity as the Son of God and the future Savior of the world.

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

A Mission Validated, Tested, and Begun

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:9-15 ESV

Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark dedicates no part of his gospel to the birth of Jesus. Instead, he opens with very brief descriptions of Jesus’ baptism and His testing by Satan in the wilderness. Even when covering these two significant events, Mark is stingy with the details. He seems to use them as further proofs of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah but then moves quickly past them in order to focus on the actual ministry of Jesus.

Mark mentions, almost in passing, that Jesus was from Nazareth. Since Mark does not cover the birth of Jesus, there is no mention of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. For Mark, the most important details concerning Jesus began with His adult life. He is not negating the importance of the incarnation but is simply concentrating the focus of his gospel on the launch of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus had spent His life growing up in Nazareth, a nondescript town in Galilee. Even among the Jews, Nazareth was a town of little import and low estimation. In fact, when Philip met Jesus for the first time, he told his friend Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45 ESV). To which Nathanael sarcastically responded, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46 ESV). Yet, it was out of this unlikely and unimpressive town that the Savior of the world would come.

Luke reveals that Jesus was 30-years-old when He left Nazareth and made His way to the wilderness of Judea where John was baptizing (Luke 3:23). And Jesus chose to inaugurate the official launch of His ministry by being baptized. Now Mark has made it clear that John’s baptism was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4 ESV). It was intended to be a public expression of the individual’s admission of their sin and need for forgiveness. By submitting themselves to being baptized, they were indicating their willingness to repent and be cleansed of their sins, so that they might be ready for the Messiah and His coming Kingdom. 

But why was Jesus baptized? The Scriptures make it clear that He was sinless. The author of Hebrews states that Jesus “was tempted in every way that we are, yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 BSB). And Paul adds that “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT).

The author of Hebrews provides some much-needed insight into the motivation behind Jesus’ decision to be baptized that day.

…it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. – Hebrews 2:17 NLT

Not only had Jesus taken on human flesh and become one of us, He was willing to undergo the same ritual of baptism in order to associate Himself with sinful humanity. Even though He was sinless, He willingly submitted to John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It is the same reason Jesus allowed Himself to be crucified. Though He was sinless, He willingly died the death that we deserved. As Peter put it, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24 BSB). And Paul succinctly states that “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3 NLT).

Jesus became one of us – in every way – so that He might give His life on behalf of us. And in being baptized by John, Jesus was fulfilling the will of His Father. Matthew records that when Jesus showed up at the Jordan River and asked John to baptize him, John was reticent.

John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?” – Matthew 3:14 NLT

But Jesus insisted, telling John, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires” (Matthew 3:15 NLT). Everything Jesus did was in keeping with His Father’s will. He would later claim, “I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will” (John 6:38 NLT). And He described His faithful adherence to His Father’s will as a form of nourishment and sustenance.

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work.” – John 4:34 BSB

Another reason behind His baptism was that it foreshadowed another kind of baptism He would undergo as a part of God’s sovereign will. Sometime later, Jesus would have a difficult exchange with two of His disciples. He had just told all of His disciples about what was going to take place in Jerusalem.

“The Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans. They will mock him, spit on him, flog him with a whip, and kill him, but after three days he will rise again.” – Mark 10:34-35 NLT

And in response, the two brothers, James and John, asked Jesus to do them a favor.

“When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” – Mark 10:37 NLT

To which Jesus soberly responded:

You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?” – Mark 10:38 NLT

Jesus was going to be “immersed” in an overwhelming form of suffering that would no one else could have endured. And it would be the will of God for Him to do so. Jesus later described the unbearable nature of this baptism of suffering.

“I have a terrible baptism of suffering ahead of me, and I am under a heavy burden until it is accomplished.” – Luke 12:50 NLT

It was the Father’s will, so Jesus was determined to carry it out. It was also the Father’s will that the people of Israel come to John in the wilderness and submit to the “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John had clearly called them to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV). And they were expected to obey the will of God. So, in submitting to baptism, Jesus was providing them with an example of faithful obedience, even though He had no sins that needed forgiving.

And Jesus had fulfilled the will of His Father, Mark records that something incredible happened.

…when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” – Mark 1:10-11 ESV

An amazing, supernatural sign from heaven appeared. And it culminated with the sound of the voice of God, calling out from heaven and declaring His pleasure with His Son. This scene provided a divine seal of approval on Jesus. God the Father was validating Jesus’ identity as His Son and declaring His complete satisfaction with all that was about to happen. The next three-and-a-half years of Jesus’ life would have the full blessing and approval of God.

But this fantastic scene is followed by the rather strange statement: “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12 ESV). Yet, even what follows is to be clearly understood as the will of God for Jesus’ life. Jesus, the Son of God, was driven by the Spirit of God in order to do the will of God. And His destination was the wilderness where He would undergo a series of temptations by Satan over a period of 40 days. Mark doesn’t mention it, but Jesus went without food and water the entire time He was in the wilderness. He would have been weak and famished. His physical condition would have deteriorated. But, as Jesus told His disciples, His nourishment came from doing the will of His Father.

And the author of Hebrews reminds us, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV). And His suffering allowed Him to fully undertand and empathize with those whom He came to save.

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

Jesus survived His baptism by fire. He overcame the temptations of the enemy and emerged from the wilderness 40 days later completely sinless and fully obedient to His Heavenly Father. And now, His real earthly ministry could begin.

tEnglish 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

What Is That to You?

20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. John 21:20-25 ESV

Jesus has just called Peter to follow Him. But Peter received this somewhat innocuous invitation immediately after hearing the kind of death he would suffer for feeding and caring for Jesus’ sheep. For Peter, following Jesus was to come with a death sentence. And Peter seems to have understood exactly what Jesus had inferred when He had said, “when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18 ESV).

John even clarifies that Jesus’ words were intended “to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God” (John 21:19 ESV). In the Roman-dominated culture in which they lived, the term “stretch out you hands” had become a euphemistic and more palatable way of referring to crucifixion. It was a word picture that described the victim’s arms being stretched out and tied to the upper beam of the cross (Ernst Haenchen, A Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2:226-27).

Peter’s immediate response to this news reveals that he fully understood the import of what Jesus had said to him. As he and Jesus walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Peter turned and saw John following close behind. And the sight of “the disciple whom Jesus loved” seems to have filled Peter with jealousy. Peter was a natural-born competitor. He was always jockeying for position, trying to establish himself as the lead-dog among the rest of the disciples. Yet, John always seemed to be the teacher’s pet, the obvious favorite of Jesus, and this must have infuriated and frustrated the highly-competitive Peter.

So, like a petulant child, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” (John 21:21 ESV). Peter’s unbridled and impetuous nature was on full display. He always had a difficult time controlling his impulses and words proved to be a particularly thorny problem. He habitually struggled to get his brain in gear before he put his lips in motion. Thinking before speaking was not a strong suit.

Peter, having heard the less-than-pleasant ending to his own life, wants to know what John’s fate will be.  What does God have in store for “the disciple whom Jesus loved?” Will he have his “hands stretched out?” Is John going to have to suffer death for following Jesus? It seems that Peter felt like he had been singled out. Perhaps he believed the death that Jesus had predicted he would suffer was a form of punishment for his earlier denial. Whatever the case, Peter was not asking out of concern for John. He was trying to determine whether the other disciples were going to end up like him. And the tone of Jesus’ response reveals that He understood the self-centered nature of Peter’s question.

“If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? – John 21:22 ESV

In a sense, Jesus told Peter, “that’s none of your business.” Jesus had just had a personal and intimate conversation with Peter, yet none of the other disciples were demanding to know what they had discussed. Jesus had plans for each of His disciples, but all Peter needed to know was what Jesus had in store for him. Obviously, Peter was not particularly pleased with how Jesus described the ending to his life’s story. There’s little doubt that Peter had always envisioned some much more positive. But he was discovering the difficult truth that God’s will was not obligated to mirror his own. In time, he would learn to pray as Jesus did in the garden, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Luke 22:42 NLT).

But for now, he was struggling with the twin demons of comparison and competition. He was jealous of John and his intimate relationship with Jesus. And his competitive nature made it difficult for him to accept the outcome Jesus had described. Peter didn’t want to die a martyr, despite his earlier claim that he would lay down his life for Jesus (John 13:37). Peter was naturally attracted to glory and gain. He was prone to seek credit for anything that he did. His actions tended to be driven by reward and recognition. But this brings to mend the words spoken by Jesus spoke in His sermon on the mount.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. –Matthew 6:1 ESV

Peter didn’t need to worry about John. He needed to focus on the mission Jesus had given to him.

“Feed my lambs.” – John 21:15 ESV

“Tend my sheep.” – John 21:16 ESV

“Feed my sheep.” – John 21:17 ESV

If Jesus willed for John to live a long and prosperous life, that was none of Peter’s business. Even if John were divinely destined to live long enough to see the return of Jesus, that should be of no concern to Peter. He had his marching orders. He knew exactly what Jesus required of him. But he was allowing jealousy and envy to blind him from the task at hand. And James warns what happens when believers allow these twin temptations to take over their lives.

But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. – James 3:14-16 NLT

John adds an interesting side note that reveals how easy it is to draw false conclusions from God’s word. It seems that Jesus’ words regarding John had been wrongly interpreted to mean that John would never die. This statement from the lips of Jesus had taken on a life of their own, spreading throughout the early church in the form of a rumor that John would outlive all the disciples, being miraculously kept alive until the return of Jesus.

So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die. – John 21:23 ESV

But John put that rumor to rest by restating and clarifying what Jesus had said. The key word in Jesus’ statement had been the first one: “If…” Jesus had been making a propositional statement. It could have gone either way. If John lived until Jesus returned, it would have been God’s will. If he didn’t, that too would have been God’s will. Jesus had not guaranteed one or the other. He had simply been encouraging Peter to keep his mind focused on the revealed will of God for him.

As John prepares to wrap up his gospel account, he restates that he is its author. He has been an eyewitness to all that he has written. While he has constantly referred to himself in the third-person throughout his gospel, John had first-person knowledge of all that he has recorded. And because he is writing near the end of the 1st-Century, years after the events recorded in his gospel had taken place, he can boldly state that his testimony is true. They have been verified by time and the testimonies of others.

And John adds that his gospel was anything but comprehensive. He is not inferring that it is somehow incomplete or inadequate, but only that it would have been impossible to record all that Jesus had said and done during His earthly ministry. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, John had carefully and purposefully chosen which details to include. And they all supported his overall thesis.

these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. – John 20:31 ESV

The lofty goal John had set out for his gospel had been to establish Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He began with his claim that Jesus was the Word of God made flesh. He was the second person of the Trinity, the very Son of God who, by becoming a man, made the invisible God visible. Jesus manifested or revealed the Father by demonstrating the Father’s love for mankind. And He did it by willingly taking the form of sinful man and dying as the sinless substitute required to satisfy the just demands of His Heavenly Father. Jesus became “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29 ESV).

And John painstakingly recorded the words and works of Jesus so that those who came to faith in Him long after His ascension would continue to believe in who He was and what He had come to do. The early church was under attack and believers were constantly being tempted to walk away from the faith. They struggled with doubts about Jesus’ true identity because false teachers were constantly bringing into question either His divinity or His humanity. Some claimed Him to be God, but not a man. Others taught that He was a man, but not God. But John has spent 21 chapters defending the deity of Jesus while, at the same time, strenuously defending His humanity. Jesus was the God-man. And it was that one-of-a-kind nature that allowed Him to do what He came to do: Give His life as a ransom for many.

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

Not What They Expected

27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” – John 4:27-38 ESV

The Samaritan woman had come to the well to draw water. The disciples had gone to a nearby town to find food. John’s emphasis on the contrast between the physical and the spiritual is all over this section of his gospel. With his depiction of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman, John accentuates the stark contrast between earthly and the heavenly, the temporal and the eternal. The woman’s life depicts mankind’s obsession with meeting physical needs. The water was a symbol of her insatiable need to satisfy her earthly desires. Jesus’ revelation concerning her five failed marriages speaks volumes about her neediness, insecurity, and susceptibility to her own passions and desires. That she was living with yet another man, outside the bonds of marriage, reveals her deep-seated desire for acceptance and love. She had tremendous physical, emotional, and psychological needs. Yet, she was blind to the fact that her greatest need was spiritual in nature.

All the while Jesus had been attempting to quench this woman’s spiritual thirst, His disciples had been in search for food. And John points out their shock when they returned to find Jesus speaking to a woman, and a Samaritan woman at that. This was unacceptable behavior for someone like Jesus. The disciples, as Jews, would have been appalled that their teacher had been willing to risk becoming ceremonially unclean through interaction with a Samaritan. And while they were dying to know what had prompted Jesus’ actions, they kept their questions to themselves.

Meanwhile, the woman had made her way back into town, anxious to share the exciting news of her unexpected encounter with Jesus.

The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?” – John 4:28-29 NLT

John’s mention of the water jar is an important part of the story that can be easily overlooked. That jar was an essential part of her daily routine. It was the key to her drawing water from the well, which, as she had told Jesus, was deep. Without the jar, she would have no means of satisfying her thirst. But her willingness to leave it behind is a subtle statement by John that she had found something far more important and significant. It is reminiscent of the words of Jesus, spoken during His sermon on the mount.

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:31-33 NLT

Jesus would later reiterate this same thought to His disciples, telling them, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing.” (Luke 12:22-23 NLT). And He would add a further note of instruction:

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.” – Luke 12:31-32 NLT

By leaving her water jar behind, the Samaritan woman was putting the teaching of Jesus into action. She was illustrating what it means to seek the Kingdom of God above all else. Suddenly, the earthly things that had meant so much to her, lost their value and appeal. She had discovered something of far greater worth.

Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?” – John 4:29 NLT

Her interest was piqued. She was curiously intrigued by all Jesus had said to her. And her excitement was contagious because she eventually returned with a crowd of her fellow townspeople in tow.

But John returns our attention to the contrast between the physical and the spiritual by describing the disciples’ attempt to get Jesus to eat. They had gone out of their way to get food, even risking their own purity by entering into a Samaritan town to purchase it, and now they expected Jesus to satisfy His physical hunger with it. But Jesus refused their offer, informing them instead that He had “food to eat that you do not know about” (John 4:32 ESV). This admission confused them because they could not imagine where Jesus had found anything to eat. And what Jesus said next did little to clear up their confusion.

“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. – John 4:34 ESV

And just a few chapters later, John records the words of Jesus as He declares His resolute determination to accomplish His Father’s will.

“For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.” – John 6:38-40 NLT

The disciples were focused on the physical, while Jesus had His eyes set on accomplishing the spiritual and eternal will of His Heavenly Father. And, interestingly enough, just before Jesus made that statement to His disciples, He had told them:

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But you haven’t believed in me even though you have seen me. However, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them.” – John 6:35-37 NLT

Hunger and thirst. Jesus had come to meet a need the disciples didn’t yet know they had. They were more concerned about a physical meal and the coming of the Messiah’s physical kingdom. But Jesus was on a mission from God to satisfy man’s spiritual hunger and provide a means by which sinners could gain access to the kingdom of God.

This entire exchange between Jesus and His disciples was meant to refocus their attention. They were obsessed with physical and temporal matters. Their attention was focused on their own needs and their own self-centered understanding of the kingdom. Here they were, standing in the middle of Samaria, surrounded by people they believed to be unclean and unworthy of God’s attention. And yet, Jesus said to them:

“You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest. The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike!” – John 4:35-36 NLT

It seems likely that, as Jesus spoke these words, the Samaritan woman and the townspeople had come into sight. And His mention of eternal life in conjunction with a crowd of Samaritans would have shocked His disciples. But He wants them to wake up and understand the unique nature of the moment. They were standing in the presence of the Messiah, the Son of God, who had come to do the will of His Father. And the need He had come to meet was spiritual in nature, not physical. Even the physical differences between the Jews and the Samaritans were insignificant in light of God’s plan to bring redemption to all mankind through His Son’s death and resurrection.

And Jesus wants His reluctant disciples to understand that they are going to play a significant part in the coming harvest of souls.

“You know the saying, ‘One plants and another harvests.’ And it’s true. I sent you to harvest where you didn’t plant; others had already done the work, and now you will get to gather the harvest.” – John 4:37-38 NLT

Jesus had come sowing the good news of salvation that He had come to offer. He would plant the seeds, but the disciples would reap the harvest. But they would have to be willing to reap wherever the seeds had been sown – even if that meant returning to the “fields” of Samaria.

This was a head-scratching, paradigm-shifting scene for the disciples. And while John does not give us their response to Jesus’ words, it doesn’t take much imagination to think of them staring at one another in equal parts confusion and consternation. Everything about this scenario was distasteful to them. They were in a place they didn’t want to be. They were soon to be surrounded by Samaritans whom they considered unclean and unworthy of God’s mercy and grace. And yet, their Rabbi and teacher was inferring that these very same people would be included in the kingdom of God.

Whether they realized it or not, the disciples were slowly discovering that God’s will stood in stark contrast to their own. His plans for the world looked nothing like what they were expecting or hoping. And this would be just the first in a series of eye-opening, expectation-shattering lessons they would receive from the lips 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.

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

Misguided Belief

23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” – John 2:23-3:2 ESV

As someone who seems obsessed with providing evidence for the identity of Jesus, John can be maddeningly stingy when it comes to the details. Even when describing Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, John cuts to the chase, providing the basic facts about what happened but leaving a great deal up to the reader’s imagination. He does the same thing in verse 23, where he makes an almost cursory allusion to the signs Jesus performed in Jerusalem.

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. – John 2:23 ESV

It’s difficult to read that verse without wanting to ask, “What signs?” But John appears to have no interest in explaining the nature of miracles Jesus performed. It’s not that the signs were unimportant to John because they will become the basis for what he describes in chapter three. It’s almost as if he assumes his audience is already familiar with the topic and he has more important matters to discuss.

The miracles performed by Jesus were an essential facet of His ministry, and, as John alludes to, they produced a certain measure of belief in Jesus. And that seems to be the primary point John wants to make. For John, the details concerning the signs Jesus did were irrelevant, but the belief they produced was not. It is likely that Jesus healed the lame, gave sight to the blind, and cast out demons. And when He did, the people marveled at His indisputable supernatural powers. Not only that, they believed in His name. But what does that mean? What was the nature of their belief and why does John state that their belief was in “the name” of Jesus?

To understand what’s going on, you have to go back to verse 20 of chapter one. The priests and Levites had sent a delegation to make inquiries about John the Baptist. His activities in the Judean wilderness had stirred up a lot of attention and resulted in much speculation as to his identity. And one of the first assumptions people made was that John the Baptist must be the long-awaited Messiah. This seems quite clear because when the delegation asked John the Baptist who he was, he declared, “I am not the Christ.” He knew what the people were saying about him. His call to repentance and his declaration that the kingdom of heaven was at hand had caused people to speculate that the Messiah had finally arrived.

Messiah-fever had begun to spread. And so had the news of Jesus’ miracle at Cana. So, when He had shown up in Jerusalem, cleansed the temple, and started performing miracles, the people believed in His name: Jesus Christ – Jesus the Messiah. Remember what Andrew told his brother Simon.

“We have found the Messiah” (which means “Christ”). – John 1:41 ESV

Philip had told Nathanael:

“We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.” – John 1:45 ESV

And upon meeting Jesus, Nathanael had confessed:

“Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!” – John 1:49 ESV

This news had spread. Word had gotten out that the Messiah had come. So, when Jesus performed signs and wonders, the people took it as evidence that He truly was the Messiah.

But John’s primary concern is in the object of their faith or belief. The people were believing Jesus to be the Messiah, but their understanding of what that meant would prove to be inaccurate. They were expecting the Messiah to be a conquering king and a mighty military leader like King David had been. They were looking for a deliverer, a political savior of sorts, who would lead them against the Roman occupying forces and set them free from the centuries-long misery of subjugation and suffering they had experienced since the Babylonian invasion.

And John points out that Jesus was aware of their misguided and misunderstood belief in Him.

But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. – John 2:24 ESV

Jesus was not fooled by their expressions of faith. He knew their belief in Him was solely based on their deeply held desire that He deliver them from Roman rule. If they had their way, they would take Jesus by force and attempt to thrust Him into their preconceived idea of a super-savior. You see this same fanatical fervor in John’s account of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the 5,000.

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. – John 6:14-15 ESV

Jesus had not come to be their earthly king. He would lead no armies against the Romans. There would be no battles waged, rebellions launched, or earthly kingdom established – at least, not yet. And that is the point John is attempting to make.

Chapter three opens with an encounter between Jesus and a member of the Pharisees. This highly revered religious leader schedules a somewhat clandestine meeting with Jesus, choosing to meet with Him under the cover of darkness. Due to his prestigious role as a Pharisee and his standing within the community, he wants his meeting to remain a secret.

John is going to use this Pharisee to illustrate the stark difference between what the people believed about Jesus and what Jesus would reveal to be the true nature of His incarnation. Nicodemus, as a Pharisee, would have been well-educated and a student of the Hebrew scriptures, and would have been highly familiar with the many Messianic prophecies they contained. So, when he meets Jesus, he states his own belief that Jesus is a God-ordained messenger from God.

“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” – John 3:2 ESV

His use of the terms “rabbi” and “teacher” indicate his respect and professional admiration for Jesus. He admired Jesus for His obvious divine anointing. He was intrigued by Jesus’ works and words. But he also knew that any association with Jesus could prove detrimental to his role as a Pharisee. Even at this early stage in His earthly ministry, the Pharisees and other Jewish religious leaders were beginning to see Jesus as a potential threat. These men were members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious council, that was comprised of the high priest and 70 members who represented the various sects within Judaism, including the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots.

They held sway over the people of Israel, functioning as a kind of supreme court or religious council. Their authority was second only to that of the Roman government. And they took exception to anyone who might attempt to disrupt or displace their sovereign rule over the people. Even the thought of a Messiah would have been threatening to their authority. Someone claiming to be the “chosen one” of God could cause all kinds of trouble, promoting political unrest, stirring up the common people, and, ultimately, angering the Roman government. And, if that happened, the Romans would step in, putting a swift end to any rebellion and holding the Sanhedrin responsible for allowing it to happen.

So, Nicodemus shows up at night, but his presence and his words indicate that he believes Jesus just might be the one for whom they have been waiting. Even he, as a member of the Pharisees, longs to see the Messiah. He greatly desires to see the kingdom of God reestablished on earth in the form of a revitalized Jewish state. But he is about to get a personal lesson from the Messiah Himself that will reveal just how misguided and misinformed he really was about God’s plans for Israel’s future.

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

Come and You Will See

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” – John 1:35-51 ESV

As has already been states, one of the things the apostle John is attempting is to establish and support the deity of Jesus. To do so, he has used the testimony of John the Baptist, who referred to Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). He also shared that he had been witness to the moment when the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove. This had happened exactly the way God had told him it would happen. And it had been accompanied by a voice from heaven declaring, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy” (Matthew 3:17 NLT).

But one of the most convincing comments to come from the lips of John the Baptist was his confession “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34 ESV). At no point does John the Baptist refer to Jesus as the Christ or Messiah. The only time he used the Greek word “Christ” was when he answered the question from the Jewish religious leaders, asking whether that was who he was. He simply told them, “I am not the Christ” (John 1:20 ESV).

But when speaking of Jesus, John the Baptist referred to Him as the Lamb and the Son of God. To the average Jews, the term “Christ” or “Messiah” had come to mean a human savior who would appear on the scene much like David had. He would be a military and political leader who would rescue Israel from their subjugation to Rome and reestablish them as a formidable power in the Middle East. In their minds, the Messiah would be a man sent by God, but they had no suspicion or expectation that he would be God. So, when John the Baptist refers to Jesus as the Son of God, he is boldly proclaiming His divinity. This supports the claim made earlier by John.

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. – John 1:18 NLT

But John is not done establishing the deity of Jesus. He picks up the story by describing the events that took place the very next day. Jesus, having been baptized and anointed by the Holy Spirit, began His earthly ministry. The scene John describes most likely took place somewhere in the Judean wilderness, near the shore of the Jordan River where Jesus had been baptized. John the Baptist, standing with two of his followers, spots Jesus walking by and repeats his earlier claim: “Behold, the Lamb of God!”

Hearing these words, the two disciples of John the Baptist decided to follow Jesus. They were intrigued. They wanted to know more. And when Jesus saw them, He asked them, “What are you seeking?” (John 1:38 ESV). Basically, Jesus is asking them what it is they want. He is requiring that they state their intentions. But, interestingly enough, rather than answer His question, the two men ask Jesus where He is staying. They address Jesus as “Rabbi,” a term of respect that clearly reflects their understanding that Jesus was some sort of teacher. Their inquiry into where Jesus lived was most likely their way of asking where He did His teaching. They were signaling their interest in becoming His disciples. But at this point, these two men show no awareness that Jesus was the Messiah. And it does not appear that they understood Him to be divine. All they knew was that their teacher had proclaimed Jesus to be his superior.

among you stands one you do not know, he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” – John 1:26-27 ESV

They probably understood Jesus to be their Rabbi’s teacher and now they wanted to become His disciples as well.

In response to their question, Jesus stated, “Come and you will see” (John 1:39 ESV). His words feature an invitation and a promise. They think they’re about to get a tour of Jesus’ place of residence, but He is signaling something far more significant. Their decision to follow Him is going to open their eyes to things they have never seen before. They end up spending the rest of the day with Jesus and during that time, they begin to grow in their awareness of who He was. John states that one of the men, who he identifies as Andrew, went to search for his brother, Simon. We know from the other gospel accounts that these two brothers were fishermen. Upon finding Simon, Andrew excitedly announced, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ)” (John 1:41 ESV).

During his time with Jesus, something had opened the eyes of Andrew so that he was able to see who Jesus truly was. He had become convinced that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. But, unlike his former Rabbi, John the Baptist, Andrew is not yet convinced of Jesus’ deity.

Intrigued by his brother’s announcement, Simon followed him to where Jesus was staying. And upon meeting Simon, Jesus does something a bit strange. He immediately changes Simon’s name to Cephas, an Aramaic word that means “rock.” In Greek, it translates into “Peter.”

John provides no explanation for why Jesus did what He did. But there is some irony in this scene. As the gospel narratives unfold, they reveal that Peter was a hotheaded, impulsive, and opinionated man who was quick to speak and rash by nature. He would prove to be a loose cannon whose propensity to put the mouth in gear before the mind was engaged would end up getting him into hot water. And yet, it would be this very same man who would later testify of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV).

And Jesus would respond to Peter’s testimony by pronouncing a blessing upon him.

“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” – Matthew 16:17-18 ESV

John continues the narrative by describing Jesus’ departure for the region of Galilee, in the north. There He found Philip, who lived in Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Simon Peter. Philip quickly accepted the invitation from Jesus to follow Him. Perhaps he had already been informed about Jesus by Andrew and Simon Peter. But whatever the case, he was fully convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, telling his friend, Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45 ESV). 

Philip was familiar with the Old Testament prophecies concerning the promised Messiah and believed Jesus to be the fulfillment of them. But he was also fully aware that Jesus was the son of Joseph, from the unimpressive town of Nazareth. You can sense the common disdain for Jesus’ hometown by Nathanael’s reaction: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46 ESV).

But Philip challenges his friend to “Come and see” for himself. And Nathanael was not disappointed. As Jesus saw Nathanael, He declared, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:47 ESV). Nathanael is taken aback by Jesus’ words, somehow sensing that Jesus knew him intimately. They had never met before, but Jesus revealed things about Nathanael that were personal and private. And then, Jesus blew Nathanael away by announcing, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you” (John 1:48 ESV).

The fact that Nathanael saw Jesus’ words as proof of supernatural power is reflected in his response: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49 ESV).

In a sense, Jesus tells Nathanael, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” There was going to be far more convincing proof of who Jesus was and it would be confirmed by supernatural signs and wonders.

you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” – John 1:51 ESV

This imagery is reminiscent of the experience the Old Testament patriarch, Jacob had when he dreamed of a ladder descending from heaven.

And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! – Genesis 28:12 ESV

And Jacob was given an interpretation of that dream that assured him, “in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 28:15 ESV). Jesus was announcing that He was the fulfillment of that promise. It would be through Him that all the families of the earth would be blessed. In time, Nathanael and the rest of the disciples of Jesus would have ample proof that He truly was the Son of God, the King of Israel. Jesus had invited these men to “come and see.” By following Him they would be given an opportunity to see the heavens opened and the power of God revealed on earth as never before.

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 Lord Will Provide

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” – John 1:29-34 ESV

John the apostle is providing a chronological outline of the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus, the Word of God, and the light of the world. He is using John the Baptist as a witness to the unique nature of Jesus’ deity and humanity. There had been some speculation among the Jewish religious leaders that John the Baptist might be the long-awaited Messiah of Israel, but he put that rumor to rest when he told them, “I am not the Christ” (John 1:20 ESV). He declared himself to be the precursor, sent to prepare the way for someone greater, “the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:27 ESV). 

Now, John fast-forwards to the very next day, when Jesus arrived on the scene in the Judean wilderness. This was likely not the first time that Jesus and John the Baptist had met. In fact, there is a good chance that they had met long before because they were relatives. The Gospel of Luke records the encounter between the angel Gabriel and Mary, when he announced to her that she would conceive and give birth to a child.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.” – Luke 1:35-36 ESV

Mary and Elizabeth were relatives, which means there is a good chance that Jesus and John the Baptist knew one another during their childhood and early adulthood. Extended family relationships were important in Jewish life and it only makes sense that the families of Jesus and John the Baptist had spent time together over the years.

Luke provides an important insight into John the Baptist’s background. His father, Zechariah, was a priest. His mother, Elizabeth, was a descendant of Aaron, the brother of Moses. And when the angel had visited Zechariah to announce that his barren wife was going to give birth, he provided insight into his son’s future role.

“…for he will be great before the Lord.… And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” – Luke 1:15-17 ESV

Now, three decades later, the time had come for the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth to fulfill the role he had been destined to play. From this day forward, his relationship with Jesus would be forever changed. No longer would they interact as family members, but John the Baptist would now recognize Jesus as His Messiah and Lord.

When Jesus appeared at the shores of the Jordan River that day, John the Baptist immediately identified Him, not as his relative, but as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). It would appear that John, the author of this gospel account, has compressed the timeline, leaving out some of the details provided in the synoptic gospels. At this point in the story, Jesus had already been baptized by John. Matthew records that encounter. 

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” – Matthew 3:13-15 ESV

And Matthew goes on to describe the scene that took place as John baptized his relative, Jesus.

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” – Matthew 3:16-17 ESV

This must have been when the light went on and John the Baptist fully recognized the identity of Jesus. He even confessed, “I did not recognize him as the Messiah, but I have been baptizing with water so that he might be revealed to Israel” (John 1:31 NLT). John had been following his divinely ordained instructions, proclaiming the coming kingdom and baptizing all those who would repent of their sins. And while doing God’s will, God’s Son had shown up. But this was something John had been expecting to happen. God had told him, “The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33 NLT).

It is unlikely that John fully understood what this message meant, but he had proclaimed it to all those who would listen.

“I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!” – Mark 1:8 NLT

So, when Jesus showed up asking to be baptized, John had obliged Him, and immediately, the confirmation God had promised occurred. And John the Baptist gives his personal testimony as to what happened.

“I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. – John 1:32 ESV

He had been an eye-witness to a miracle. He had seen the Spirit of God descend upon Jesus in the form of a dove, just as God had promised. But not only that, he had heard the voice of God, audibly confirming the identity of Jesus.

“This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” – Matthew 3:17 NLT

The witness was fully convinced. From that moment forward, John the Baptist harbored no doubts as to the true identity of Jesus. He was “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” The image of the sacrificial lamb was a vital part of the Jewish way of life. The offering on an unblemished lamb was and had been an instrumental feature of the Jewish sacrificial system and the means by which they could receive atonement for their sins. John’s statement, “Behold, the Lamb of God” recalls the story of Abraham and Isaac, recorded in the book of Genesis.

God had given Abraham a difficult assignment, designed to test his faith and to teach an invaluable lesson about God’s provision.

“Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” – Genesis 22:2 ESV

Isaac was the son Abraham and Sarah had waited years to receive from God. And now, God was asking Abraham to offer him up as a sacrifice. As Abraham and his unsuspecting son made their way to the land of Moriah, Isaac innocently asked, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7 ESV). And Abraham had responded, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8 ESV). It is doubtful that Abraham was expressing a belief that God would provide a substitute lamb to take the place of his son. He was simply acknowledging that God had been the one who had made possible the miraculous birth of Isaac to an elderly man and his barren wife.

That Moses believed his son to be the “lamb” God had provided for the sacrifice is made clear by the fact that he bound his son, laid him on the altar, and prepared to follow through with the command. But God intervened. He sent an angel to stay Abraham’s hand and to declare that he had passed the test.

“Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” – Genesis 22:12 ESV

And then, suddenly, God revealed to Abraham the answer to Isaac’s question.

And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. – Genesis 22:13 ESV

God provided the sacrifice. He offered up a substitute for the life of Isaac. And the momentous nature of this divine act did not escape Abraham. He named the place Jehovah Jireh – “The Lord will provide” (Genesis 22:14 ESV). God had graciously spared the life of Isaac by providing a stand-in or substitute in his place.

And centuries later, John the Baptist recognized that God had sent another substitute, an unblemished Lamb, who would take away the sins of the world. Jehovah had provided a Savior – His own sinless Son.

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

Dark Days Ahead

1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 ESV

If Paul’s purpose in writing this letter was to encourage Timothy, this section seems to veer wildly off course. In it, Paul shares a rather bleak and pessimistic view of the conditions Timothy can expect to find in the days ahead. Essentially, he is warning his young friend that things are going to get worse before they get better. In his efforts to spread the gospel and instruct the saints, Timothy should not expect the world to be transformed into heaven on earth.

With his use of the term, “last days,” Paul is referring to the time period that began with the birth of the church at Pentecost and will continue until the Lord returns for His bride at the Rapture. In his first letter, Paul had already warned Timothy to expect an increase in apostasy and demonic activity.

Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons. These people are hypocrites and liars, and their consciences are dead. – 1 Timothy 4:1-2 NLT

And  Paul was not alone in his gloomy assessment of the final days. The apostle Peter also shared a rather dismal outlook for the future.

Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again?” – 2 Peter 3:3-4 NLT

And Jude echoed the words of the apostles, warning his readers to expect the last days to be marked by an increase in “scoffers” – those who stand opposed to Christ, His followers, the things of God, and the truth of the gospel.

But you, my dear friends, must remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ predicted. They told you that in the last times there would be scoffers whose purpose in life is to satisfy their ungodly desires. These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you. They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them. – Jude 17-19 NLT

If Timothy was successful in helping believers to live lives that were set apart from the world, they would act as bright lights in the darkness, exposing the sinfulness of those around them and accentuating the glaring difference between holiness and wickedness.

Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible. – Ephesians 5:11-14 NLT

Timothy could expect difficult days ahead because of the increasingly wicked context in which he would carry out his ministry. He would find himself sharing the good news of the gospel in a world filled with evil people with bad motives. And Paul shares a long and far-from-flattering description of what Timothy can expect to encounter in these last days.

…people will love only themselves and their money – Vs. 2

People will be plagued by selfishness and self-centeredness. They will be narcissistic and self-consumed, refusing to love others and spending all their time and energies on loving themselves. And they will use money as a means to gratify their own desires. They will chase the almighty dollar in an attempt to satisfy their insatiable appetite for pleasure, possessions, power, and prominence.

They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God – Vs. 2

Their growing affluence will make them self-sufficient and arrogant, as they glory in their own greatness. Their self-made success will cause them to dismiss the very idea of a sovereign God of the universe. They will see themselves as the masters of their own fates and the captains of their souls. Mankind will inculcate the values expressed by Napoleon Hill in his classic work, Think and Grow Rich.

“You are the master of your destiny. You can influence, direct, and control your own environment. You can make your life what you want it to be.” – Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich (1937)

King David wrote a psalm that describes the very nature of these kinds of people.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

They are corrupt; their acts are vile. There is no one who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if any understand, if any seek God.

All have turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. – Psalm 14:1-3 BSB

Money will become a substitute for God, serving as the primary source of comfort, provision, and purpose for life.

And Paul goes on, describing the world’s inhabitants as “disobedient to their parents” (2 Timothy 3:2 NLT). Each of these descriptions stands in stark contrast to the Ten Commandments. Rather than honoring their fathers and mothers, people will treat them with disdain by disregarding their God-given authority.

Ingratitude will become commonplace. And this ungratefulness will be primarily directed at God. A spirit of dissatisfaction fueled by unmet expectations will run rampant. People will never be happy with all that they have and will refuse to give thanks to God for all that He has done. Paul expressed this problem in his letter to the church in Rome.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. – Romans 1:21 NLT

And it gets worse.

They will consider nothing sacred – Vs 2

Paul used one Greek word to describe these individuals: anosios, and it means unholy or wicked. Their lives will be marked by a complete disregard for all that God has deemed holy. While Christ-followers are called to live set-apart lives, the rest of humanity will share the common distinction of being unholy because they will not belong to God. They will stand in rebellion against Him.

And their antipathy toward God will reveal itself in a range of godless behaviors that expose the destructive nature of their chosen lifestyle.

…unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, savage, opposed to what is good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, loving pleasure rather than loving God. – 2 Timothy 3:3-4 NET

The last days will be marked by love of self and hatred of others. This narcissistic, self-consumed lifestyle will have corporate consequences. No one will truly care for anyone other than themselves. The world will become an increasingly selfish place where everyone looks out for their own self-interests, at the expense of all others. It will be every man for himself. Disunity, discord, dissension, and division will be the order of the day. Everyone will care only for themselves, a trait Paul describes as self-love that is motivated by self-pleasure.

If it feels good, do it. That will be the mantra of the day. And the love of pleasure will replace the love of God. The quest to fulfill sinful desires will overwhelm any sense of living in obedience to the will of God. But Paul warns Timothy that this will not be an irreligious time. In fact, people will pursue all kinds of spirituality in the form of a wide assortment of man-made religions. But they will all prove unprofitable because they will lack any transforming power. Paul states that people “will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly” (2 Timothy 3:6 NLT).

The pursuit of godliness apart from God is impossible. The desire for contentment, significance, and meaning in life can never be fulfilled apart from a relationship with God. Man’s tireless quest for pleasure at all costs will always fall short because true joy is unattainable without God. And a restored relationship with God is impossible apart from a belief in the saving work of Jesus Christ. So, as Timothy continued to do his work of preaching the good news of Jesus Christ, he was to avoid all those who displayed a persistent and stubborn rejection of the truth. The self-righteous and falsely religious were not interested in what Timothy had to offer. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, they viewed themselves as spiritually whole and in no need of a Savior. They pridefully viewed themselves as healthy individuals who did not require the services of the Great Physician.

But there would always be those who understood their need for healing. Timothy would always find that there were some who recognized their sickness and were unashamed to seek the help of the Savior. So, he was to keep on teaching, preaching, and proclaiming the good news of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone.

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