He Has No Equal

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. – Colossians 1:15-20 ESV

As far as Paul was concerned, one of the most non-negotiable aspects of God’s will that the Colossians needed to understand concerned the preeminence of Christ. Evidently, Epaphras had informed Paul that the doctrine of Christ was under direct assault by men claiming to have apostolic authority. These unnamed individuals were teaching false doctrines concerning Christ that had left the Colossian congregation confused and dangerously close to diminishing the fruitfulness for which Paul had so graciously complimented them.

In order to redirect the focus of his letter to Christ, Paul adeptly and somewhat abruptly shifts the emphasis from God the Father to Jesus Christ the son.

For he [God] has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. – Colossians 1:13-14 NLT

Following this reminder of Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross and its eternal implications for their redemption and justification, Paul states, “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT). In coming to earth and taking on human flesh, Jesus, the Son of God and second person of the Trinity made God both visible and knowable. He became the visible image of the invisible God on earth.

In his gospel account, the apostle John elaborates on this unique aspect of Christ’s earthly ministry.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14 ESV

And John boldly proclaims that Jesus was more than just another messenger from God. He was God Himself.

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is at the Father’s side, has made Him known. – John 1:18 BSB

The author of Hebrews expands on the God-reflecting nature of Jesus and further solidifies the doctrine of His divinity.

The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. This shows that the Son is far greater than the angels, just as the name God gave him is greater than their names. – Hebrews 1:3-4 NLT

For Paul and these other authors of the New Testament, the divinity of Jesus was an essential doctrine that must be defended at all costs because it was the hinge upon which the door of salvation swung. If Jesus was not divine, then His death on the cross would prove to be ineffective. His sinlessness was the key to His death’s effectiveness.

…we have an advocate before the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He Himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins… – 1 John 2:1-2 BSB

But you know that Christ appeared to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin. – 1 John 3:5 BSB

And what makes this atoning work of Jesus even more significant is the fact that, as God, He was the Creator laying down His life for those whom He created. Paul further enhances Christ’s divine credentials by stressing His eternality and the essential role He played in the creation story.

…by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. – Colossians 1:16 ESV

And, once again, the apostle John provides ample support for Paul’s claim.

He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made. – John 1:2-3 BSB

Paul would present this same message concerning Christ’s role in the creation account when writing to the believers in Corinth.

…there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we exist. – 1 Corinthians 8:6 BSB

As the Creator-God, Jesus was responsible for all that existed, including the believers in Colossae. He was not just a Messiah who came to save them, but He was the God who had created them. He was responsible for their very existence as well as their salvation. He had formed them and forgiven them. He had breathed in them the breath of life and had become for them the means for experiencing new life.  And by His divine power, Jesus would hold them safe and secure to the end.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. – Colossians 1:17 ESV

Paul is going out of his way to stress the unique nature of Christ. He was adamant that the believers in Colossae grasped and appreciated the significance of Jesus’ life-giving and life-transforming role as the Son of God. Jesus had been so much more than a teacher, Rabbi, healer, and miracle worker. He was supreme in all things. He had no equal and there was no one who could replicate His accomplishments or diminish His one-of-a-kind status as the sovereign Savior of the world. That is why Paul stresses the headship of Christ over the church, and promotes His well-deserved position as the preeminent one.

And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. – Colossians 1:18 ESV

Paul’s point seems to be that the church would not exist without Christ. Had He not died and risen again, there would be no church because there would be no Christ-followers. He was not a martyred teacher who had managed to cultivate a faithful host of committed followers who continued to propagate His teachings. He was the “firstborn from the dead” who, through His death and resurrection, made possible the spiritual transformation of countless men and women.

There were those who were teaching that the resurrection of Jesus was a fable or myth, and downplaying its importance to the Christian faith. Paul addressed the misguided musings of these dangerous “false teachers”sovereign in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. – 1 Corinthians 15:12-14 ESV

Christ’s resurrection made possible the redemption of condemned humanity and guarantees the future resurrection and glorification of all those who accept His free gift of salvation. Again, Christ was more than a gifted teacher with a message of life transformation based on behavior modification. He had not just modeled a new way of living, but He had died so that sinful men and women might receive new lives and new natures that emulated His.

Paul emphatically states that Jesus is preeminent and one-of-a-kind. He has no equal. Jesus was the sole means by which God chose to redeem fallen humanity. That’s why Paul claims, “God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ” (Colossians 1:19 NLT), and no one else. And it was only through Christ that “God reconciled everything to himself” (Colossians 1:20 NLT). No one else could take credit for the role that Jesus had played in God’s grand redemptive plan. God used Jesus to reconcile sinful humanity to Himself. And anyone who diminished Jesus’ role as Savior or presented another means of salvation was to be avoided at all costs.

You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ. Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. – Galatians 1:6-8 NLT

You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed. – 2 Corinthians 11:4 NLT

It seems quite obvious that Paul held strong views concerning this topic. He was obsessed with defending the doctrine of Christ at all costs. He would not tolerate anyone who attempted to diminish Christ’s divinity or who tried to devalue His role as the God-man who, through His life, death, and resurrection made it possible for sinful men to be made right with a holy God.

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

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

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

 

Well Worth the Wait

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 2 Peter 3:8-13 ESV

The false teachers were raising doubts about one of the most important doctrines the apostles taught concerning Jesus:  His Second Coming. They did so by questioning the reason for its delay.

Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” – 2 Peter 3:4 ESV

Peter and his fellow apostles had been teaching about the coming Day of the Lord ever since Jesus had ascended back into heaven. Before His departure, Jesus had repeatedly told them He would be going away but He also assured them would be returning one day. But it still had not happened yet, and its delay had caused the false teachers to question the validity of the doctrine of Christ’s Second Coming. And because the members of the congregations to whom Peter wrote found themselves suffering for their faith, their hopes for Christ’s return had already begun to fade. This made them vulnerable to any teaching that cast doubts about some future day when Jesus would return and make all things right.

To make matters worse, the false teachers had begun to propagate the idea that there was no future judgment. This led them to mock and scorn the teachings of the apostles. With no fear of coming judgment, they followed their own sinful desires (2 Peter 3:3). They promised freedom but were slaves of corruption themselves (2 Peter 2:19). They seduced others to abandon godly living. Without the fear of God’s judgment, they promoted a lifestyle based on sinful passions of the flesh (2 Peter 2:18). They operated on the philosophy of “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.”

But Peter had some bad news for these people. They were deluded by their misinterpretation of God’s future plans. Peter fully admitted that the return of Christ had not yet occurred, but that did not mean it should be ruled out altogether. Peter saw the delay as a sign of God’s patience and grace.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. – 2 Peter 3:9 ESV

To those who were having to endure unexpected suffering for their faith, the delay in Christ’s coming seemed unfair and unnecessary. If His return was supposed to make all things right and restore righteousness to the world, why was He waiting? From their perspective, there was no better time than the present for Jesus to return and set up His Kingdom. But Peter reminds his readers to “not overlook this one fact … that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8 ESV).

Time isn’t an issue with God. Because He is eternal, He exists outside of time and is free from its constraints. From man’s temporal perspective, it appears as if God is taking His sweet time when it comes to the return of His Son and the final redemption of His creation. But God is in no rush. And Peter tells us why.

…he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. – 2 Peter 3:9 NLT

It is not God’s desire to destroy people. He does not love condemning the disobedient and rebellious to hell. But as a holy, just, and righteous Judge, He is obligated to do so. It is His moral responsibility to deal with the sinfulness of men. To not do so would be in violation of His godly character. He would love to see all men repent, but He knows that will not happen. As a matter of fact, without God’s sovereign intervention, no one would repent. Jesus Himself said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44 ESV). In that same chapter, Jesus stated, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them” (John 6:65 NIV). And He also claimed, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37 ESV).

Because all men are dead in their trespasses and sins, each is condemned to die and to spend an eternity separated from God. That is the righteous punishment reserved for them by God. But God has made it possible for some to be saved. His desire would be that all be saved, but that will not happen because not all will accept His offer of salvation through faith in Christ. But God is graciously delaying His judgment on all mankind until all who are going to be saved have been restored to a right relationship with Him. And according to Paul, God knows the exact number of those who will be saved. He assured the believers in Rome:

I want you to understand this mystery, dear brothers and sisters, so that you will not feel proud about yourselves. Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. – Romans 11:25 NLT

There is a divinely appointed number of those who will be saved. And when all those who have been called by God have been restored to a right relationship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ, then His Son will return. Jesus Himself said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14 ESV). So we should view God’s delay as a sign of His grace, not as a reason to deny to His coming judgment.

Peter assured his readers that God’s judgment was coming. There was no reason to allow its delay to lead to its denial. It would come according to God’s divine timeline and when it came, it would catch everyone unaware, like a thief in the night. Even Jesus had admitted to His disciples that He was not privy to God’s schedule for His own return.

But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” – Matthew 24:36 ESV

That’s why Jesus told them, “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42 ESV). And Peter gave his readers similar advice:

Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. – 2 Peter 3:11-12 ESV

Jesus is coming back. Judgment is coming. God will finish what He has started. So, as we wait for the promised fulfillment of His plan, we are to live holy and godly lives. Our hope is based on God completing His redemptive plan for mankind and the universe. God is going to make all things new, but before that can happen, He will destroy the former things so that He can make a “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13 ESV).

Jesus spoke of this divine destruction and recreation of the heavens and the earth. He told His disciples, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35 ESV). He knew that His Heavenly Father had long-term plans to renew and restore all that He had made, including the heavens and the earth. And Peter reminds his readers, “we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13 NLT). He wanted them to understand that their hope was not to be based on this world. They were to focus their attention on the new world to come. Jesus was not coming back to fix all their personal problems or mitigate their present trials and suffering. God had a far greater future in store for them.

Peter wanted them to understand that God’s final judgment would have to take place before His plan for the glorification of His creation could happen. Just as Jesus had to suffer and die before His glorification could take place. As followers of Christ, they were having to endure suffering in their present life, but they could rest in the hope of their future glorification. And they could live with the end in mind. And the apostle Paul provides all believers of all times with these encouraging words:

While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5:4-5 NLT

This earth and all it contains will one day be destroyed. But, as followers of Christ, we know how the story ends. After the Second Coming of Christ, God will make a new heaven and a new earth. And then He will have the grand opening of His masterpiece, the new city of Jerusalem, which He has been preparing from before the foundations of the world. And in that remarkable city, God will make His permanent dwelling place with man, just as the apostle John described it.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” – Revelation 21:1-5 ESV

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

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

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

Work While You Wait

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

To Love Like Christ

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. 1 Peter 3:13-17 ESV

Peter has just quoted from the book of Psalms in order to encourage his readers. He has used the Old Testament Scriptures to remind them that “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous” (Psalm 34:15). But not only that, “the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (Psalm 34:16). He wanted them to know that God the Father was watching over them and was on their side. The presence of difficulties and trials in the their lives was not a sign that God had abandoned them. The psalmist had called the people of God to live in obedience to the will of God, even in the face of opposition and the seeming absence of God’s presence. He was there. He was always there. And not only did God see their righteous response to the unrighteous actions of others, but the full weight of His righteous indignation was against those individuals. He would repay the wicked. Their only responsibility was to not return evil for evil. In fact, they were to turn away from evil and do good.

Then Peter follows up his quotation of Psalm 34 by paraphrasing yet another message found in the psalms.

in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can man do to me? – Psalm 56:11 ESV

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
    What can man do to me?
The Lord is on my side as my helper;
    I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. – Psalm 118:6-7 ESV

And the author of the book of Hebrews used these same passages as when trying to articulate God’s unwavering faithfulness and care for His own.

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
    I will not fear;
what can man do to me?” – Hebrews 13:5-6 ESV

Financial distress was no reason to worry or lose hope. And the love of or desire for money should never replace God as the believer’s sole source of sustenance and comfort. Material goods would make lousy substitutes for God. That is why Jesus warned in His Sermon on the Mount:

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

The love of money and the fear of man are two powerful forces that constantly pull on the followers of Christ. We are prone to believe that money can bring contentment and that men are our primary source of acceptance. The world teaches us that material wealth can make us happy, and that our peers can make us or break us. They can build us up or tear us down. Yet the psalmists, Jesus, and Peter teach something quite different. And Peter chooses to make his point by asking a rather strange question that is cleverly worded paraphrase of Psalm 56:11.

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? – 1 Peter 3:13 ESV

To those hearing Peter’s letter being read to them, the obvious and logical answer might be: Everybody! As they looked at the very real circumstances surrounding their lives, they could easily confess that there were plenty of people ready, willing, and able to do them harm for doing what is good. So much of their suffering was a result of their decision to follow Jesus.

But Peter was trying to get them to understand that their reaction to their suffering was a key demonstration of their faith in Christ. Were they willing to remain committed to doing good, even in the face of opposition and oppression? Would their mistreatment at the hands of their enemies cause them to respond in like manner or would they be a mimētēs or an imitator of Jesus. Centuries before Jesus suffered persecution at the hands of the Sanhedrin and the Roman government, the prophet Isaiah prophesied how He would respond to their unjustified and unrighteous treatment of Him.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth. – Isaiah 53:7 ESV

And Matthew records how Jesus fulfilled this prophecy.

But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent. – Matthew 27:12 NLT

Jesus suffered for the sake of righteousness. He didn’t defend Himself. He didn’t lash out in anger or resentment. And Peter lets his readers know that they too would suffer for the sake of righteousness and, when it happened, they could know that their suffering would bring the blessing of God. They would one day be justly and rightly rewarded for their faithfulness, just as Jesus was.

God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. – 1 Peter 3:14 NLT

Jesus had told His disciples, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28 NLT). And He knew what He was talking about. Jesus was well aware that His future fate involved His own physical death at the hands of His enemies. They would kill His body, but fail to touch His soul. Jesus would die, but His body would be resurrected and reunited with His soul in its glorified form. His death was far from the end. It was just the beginning of God’s grand redemptive plan to reconcile lost humanity to Himself. It was on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came, that Peter made the following statement to his Jewish audience.

“So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!” – Acts 2:16 NLT

And it was some time later that Peter would stand before the high council of the Jews,  defending himself for having healed a lame man. And he would tell them:

“Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead.” – Acts 4:10 NLT

Jesus had suffered the ultimate for of persecution: Death by crucifixion. And yet, He was raised to life by the power of the Holy Spirit and it was His resurrection power that enabled Peter, John, and the other disciples to do  “good deeds” even in the face of persecution. Peter knew from first-hand experience what suffering for the faith looked like. And he wanted his readers to know the secret to his ministry and resilience.

…worship Christ as Lord of your life. – 1 Peter 3:15 NLT

You might put it this way: Stop worrying and start worshiping. Rather than obsessing over what men might do to them, they needed to start praising Jesus for all that He had done for them. They were sons and daughters of God. They were heirs of the Kingdom. They were forgiven, redeemed, reconciled, and had the Holy Spirit of God living within them. They had much for which to be grateful and plenty of cause to worship Jesus.

But along with praising Jesus for all that He had done for them, they were to tell others about the source of their hope, joy, and peace in the midst of life’s struggles.

if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. – 1 Peter 3:16 NLT

And as they shared their faith, even with their persecutors, they were to do so in love. They were not come across as judgmental or self-righteous. Their relationship with Christ was not to be a badge of honor or superiority that they flaunted before the less spiritual or ungodly. No, Peter told them they were to explain their faith  “in a gentle and respectful way” (1 Peter 3:16 NLT). In doing so, they would maintain a clear conscience, free from hate and marked by gracious humility. And this Christ-like response to suffering for the sake of righteousness would have a remarkable impact on their enemies. 

Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. – 1 Peter 3:16 NLT

It’s one thing to be hated for doing what is wrong. That is to be expected. But it is another thing to be hated for doing what is right and righteous. And Peter wants the believers to whom he is writing to understand the difference. If they respond to mistreatment with hate, they will only receive more hate in return. But if they respond in love, in total contradiction to human nature, their enemies won’t know what to do with it. This is not a promise of immunity from further suffering or even death. It is a reminder that the believer’s power to show love to their enemies is evidence that they belong to Christ.

Jesus told His disciples that they would suffer. He warned them that the world would hate in the same way it hated Him. But Jesus loved the world enough to die for it. And as Jesus told the Pharisee, Nicodemus: “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17 NLT). And, as His followers, we are love the world by sharing that message of divine love and salvation – even in the face of opposition, oppression, and the threat of death.

Remember,” Peter writes,  “it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!” (1 Peter 3:17 NLT).

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

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

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

 

A Traveler’s Guide for Christian Pilgrims

1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you. 1 Peter 1:1-2 ESV

As the salutation of this letter suggests, its author is none other than “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.” This is the very same Peter whom Jesus called to be one of His disciples. He was first introduced to Jesus by his brother Andrew, who was originally a disciple of John the Baptist. These two men were fishermen, who had a business partnership with two other brothers, James and John (Luke 5:10). But Andrew had been drawn to the enigmatic ministry of John the Baptist, the rather bizarre and mysterious character who had shown up in the Judean wilderness declaring that the kingdom of God had come and calling the people to repent and be baptized. John’s message, mannerisms, and style of dress attracted a lot of attention.

John wore clothing made from camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his diet consisted of locusts and wild honey. Then people from Jerusalem, as well as all Judea and all the region around the Jordan, were going out to him, and he was baptizing them in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. – Matthew 3:4-6 NLT

John’s unconventional wardrobe and message caused a great deal of conjecture among the people. Many thought he might be a prophet sent from God. Some even believed he might be the long-departed prophet, Elijah. Others went as far as to suggest he was the long-awaited Messiah. But John put all these rumors to rest when he declared, “I am a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Clear the way for the Lord’s coming!’” (John 1:23 NLT).

The Pharisees, perplexed by John and a bit put out by John’s growing reputation among the people, demanded to know what right he had to say and do the things he did.

“If you aren’t the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet, what right do you have to baptize?” – John 1:25 NLT

And John responded emphatically, albeit a bit cryptically, “I baptize with water, but right here in the crowd is someone you do not recognize. Though his ministry follows mine, I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal” (John 1:26-27 NLT). Andrew would have overheard these exchanges between John and the Jewish religious leaders. And the very next day, he just happened to be standing next to John when Jesus walked by. When he heard John say, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36 ESV), Andrew’s curiosity got the better of him and he followed Jesus. He ended up spending the entire day in the company of this stranger from Galilee and when the day was done, he made a beeline to his brother Simon. 

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of these men who heard what John said and then followed Jesus. Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means “Christ”). – John 1:40-41 NLT

After less than 24 hours in Jesus’ presence, Andrew had become convinced that He was the Messiah, the anointed one of God who would restore the fortunes of Israel by re-establishing the Davidic dynasty and restoring the nation to power and prominence. The next morning, his excitement undiminished, Andrew introduced his brother to the man he believed to be the one of whom the prophets spoke.

Then Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus. Looking intently at Simon, Jesus said, “Your name is Simon, son of John—but you will be called Cephas” (which means “Peter”). – John 1:42 NLT

Upon meeting Simon, Jesus promptly changed his name to Cephas, the Aramaic version of the Greek name, Petras or Peter.  But Simon received far more than a name change that day. He didn’t realize it at the time, but his entire life was about to undergo a radical transformation that would have eternal ramifications. Yet, at the time, the newly named Peter seems to have made no plans to become a disciple of Jesus. In fact, according to Luke’s gospel, Peter simply went back to his normal routine. But he would soon learn that his new name was just the beginning of the changes that Jesus had in store for him.

One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”

“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.

When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus. – Luke 5:1-11 NLT

It would appear that Simon had not initially shared his brother’s enthusiasm and certainty that Jesus was the Messiah. He simply went back to work. But Jesus was not done with Simon. This “change” encounter by the Sea of Galilee would dramatically alter the trajectory of one man’s life and forever change the world. Simon the fisherman would become Peter the fisher of men. This impulsive and, oftentimes, impudent man would end up deserving his new name. He was a “rock” in more ways than one. Hardheaded and quick-tempered, Simon was a speak-first-think-later kind of guy who regularly put his mouth in gear before his brain was engaged. He was competitive, compulsive, prone to pride, and desperate for recognition. He was an overachiever whose rough edges rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. 

And while Simon had been blown away by the miracle of the massive catch of fish, the greatest miracle would be the ultimate transformation of his own life. He would go from fisherman to follower of Jesus. In time, he would become one of three disciples who formed the inner circle of Jesus. He, James, and John would be privileged to witness the transfiguration of Jesus. They would be invited to join Jesus in the garden as He prayed on the night of His arrest. Simon would be the one to declare of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). But he would also be the one who, three separate times, denied even knowing Jesus. Yet, this man would become a “rock” in the early days of the Church.

After the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Simon would earn his nickname as the “rock,” preaching with boldness and conviction and producing a harvest of new lives for the Kingdom of God.

Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”

Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all. – Acts 2:40-41 NLT

It was this same Peter who penned the words of this letter that bears his name. And he wrote to an audience made up of new converts to Christ. These were believers living in such distant lands as Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. They were predominantly Gentiles who were having to live out their newfound faith in the midst of a secular and, oftentimes, hostile culture. Peter refers to them as “elect exiles of the Dispersion” in order to stress the temporary and alien nature of their status as followers of Christ. By aligning themselves with Jesus, they had made themselves enemies of the state. Misunderstood and often maligned, these individuals were facing extreme persecution and harsh retribution for their decision to follow Jesus. Yet, Peter was writing this letter to encourage them to remain strong in the face of opposition

Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.

In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. – 1 Peter 5:9-10 NLT

Ultimately, Peter wanted the recipients of his letter to understand that God was not only aware of their difficult circumstances, but He had sovereignly ordained them. Nothing they were experiencing was a surprise to God. Their salvation had been His doing, but their suffering and sanctification were also part of His divine plan. Peter knew that these people were beginning to question the efficacy of their salvation experience. They had come to Christ fully expecting the promise of abundant life. But now they were experiencing trials and tribulation, rejection and ridicule. In their minds, the Gospel appeared to be some kind of bait and switch. But Peter wanted them to understand that it was all part of God’s sovereign will for their lives. God had not abandoned them and He was far from done with them. In fact, Peter wanted them to know that their current trials would be the source of great joy.

There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. – 1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT

In a sense, Peter was providing his readers with a traveler’s guide for Christian pilgrims. He was giving them much-needed directions for safely navigating the path that God had laid out for them.

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

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

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

More Than Alive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Inextinguishable Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And years later, long after Jesus’ death and resurrection, he would open his gospel with the statement: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5 ESV). Yet, on the day that Jesus was crucified, he must have seen the sudden appearance of darkness as an ominous sign. The one who had declared Himself to be the light of the world was suddenly plunged into darkness and, from John’s perspective, all hope must have drained from His heart. The Light of the world was about to be extinguished – forever. Or so he must have thought. As John looked up at the cross, with tears streaming from his eyes, he heard what he believed to be the final words he would ever hear from his Master’s lips.

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

And then, Jesus died. The Light went out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Call Me Barabbas

18 But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— 19 a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. 20 Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” 23 But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.  Luke 23:18-25 ESV

As far as Pilate was concerned, the Jewish religious leaders had done a poor job of prosecuting their case against Jesus. The litany of charges they had leveled against Him were dubious at best and outright lies at worst. And Pilate knew from the moment Caiaphas and his little entourage had shown up at His palace that their real issue with Jesus was religious in nature. He had seen through their little charade of faux civic duty and told them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law” (John 18:31 ESV). He wanted no part in what was obviously a doctrinal dispute among the Jews.

Even after his personal interrogation of Jesus, Pilate remained convinced that He was innocent and had done nothing worthy of death. And he told the Jewish religious leaders as much.

“Nothing this man has done calls for the death penalty. So I will have him flogged, and then I will release him.” – Luke 18:15-16 NLT

But to men who would settle for nothing less than a death sentence, Pilate’s decision was totally unacceptable and infuriating. They were out for blood – literally – and began to demand that Pilate rethink his position and give in to their demands.

For whatever reason, Luke chose to leave out a significant part of the evening’s proceedings. Matthew and Mark disclose that Pilate had offered what he believed to be a way to spare Jesus’ life. It seems that he sincerely doubted whether the Jews were truly concerned about Jesus being an insurrectionist who posed a danger to the community. So, almost as a test, he offered them a choice between the lives of two men. One was Jesus, whom Pilate had deemed as unworthy of death. The other was a man named Barabbas, a convicted insurrectionist and murderer (Mark 15:7 ESV).

Apparently, Pilate had made it a custom to allow the people to request the release of one prisoner, in honor of the Feast of Passover. The Jewish religious leaders, who were very familiar with this rather strange policy, began to demand that Pilate honor his annual commitment. Naturally, Pilate assumed they were asking for the release of Jesus.

“Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” – Mark 15:9 ESV

But much to his surprise, the Jews demanded that he set free a man who had already been condemned to death and deserved to be executed for his crimes. Yet Pilate really thought they would come to their senses and recognize that their hatred of Jesus was nothing more than a case of overinflated jealousy. Surely, they would listen to reason and not go through with this ill-fated inquisition. But he was wrong, and they vehemently vocalized their demands.

“Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas.”  – Mark 23:18 ESV

Taken aback by the degree of their hatred for Jesus, he asked,  “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” (Mark 15:12 ESV). It seems apparent that Pilate was fully aware of the true intentions of the religious leaders. He was smart enough to know that they didn’t recognize Jesus as their Messiah, and by referring to Jesus as the “King of the Jews,” he was purposely poking the bear.

But Matthew reveals that there was another factor contributing to Pilate’s reticence to condemn Jesus to death. It seems that His wife had “suffered through a terrible nightmare” about Jesus (Matthew 27:19 NLT). She had even warned her husband, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man” (Matthew 27:19 ESV). She couldn’t put her finger on it, but there was something special about this man.

But when Pilate asked what was to be done with Jesus, the crowd shouted, “Crucify him” (Mark 15:13 ESV). Moved by the content of his wife’s nightmare and his belief that Jesus was an innocent man, Pilate continued to argue for his release. But the people shouted all the more loudly, “Crucify, crucify him!” (Luke 23:21 ESV).

This prompted Pilate to ask yet a third time: “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him” (Luke 23:22 ESV). And Luke records that the crowd, influenced by the high priest, members of the Sanhedrin, and their own elders, continued to demand that Jesus be crucified, “and their voices prevailed” (Luke 23:23 NLT).

Pilate finally gave up the fight. He acquiesced to the demands of the people and turned Him over to be put to death. Yet, Matthew noted that Pilate did so under duress.

Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!” – Matthew 27:24 NLT

He literally washed his hands of the matter and placed the responsibility clearly on the heads of the Jewish religious leaders. And their response is sad, yet insightful.

“We will take responsibility for his death—we and our children!” – Matthew 27:24 NLT

What an amazingly arrogant attitude these people displayed. They were basically calling down a curse from God on their own heads and those of their descendants. Driven by anger and a demonic-like hatred for Jesus, these men lost all sense of composure and reason. And their actions had just proven the veracity of the words that Jesus had spoken concerning them.

“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44 NLT

Mark records that Pilate “ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified” (Mark 15:15 NLT). John adds that “the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and struck him with their hands” (John 19:2-3 NLT). And Luke provides the sobering statement: “he delivered Jesus over to their will” (Luke 23:25 ESV). This was exactly what the religious leaders had set out to do. It was their will. And yet, their will was subject to that of God. They did what they did of their own accord and driven by their own sinful hearts, but it was all according to the sovereign will of God Almighty.

But one of the most significant aspects of this story that often goes overlooked is the release of Barabbas. The details concerning this man are few and far between. The gospel authors simply reveal that he was a prisoner, charged with murder and insurrection, and likely facing execution for his crimes. And, of course, the primary form of capital punishment practiced by the Romans was crucifixion.  This man was a condemned criminal facing the most gruesome of deaths. He had already been convicted and condemned. His fate was sealed and there was nothing he could do about it.

Then, someone took his place. Jesus became the substitute for Barabbas, bearing his cross and suffering the death that had been intended for him. The sinner had been set free and the innocent man was crucified on his behalf. What an incredible picture of the entire redemptive story. Jesus, the innocent Lamb of God, was killed so that Barabbas could live. But it seems unlikely that Barabbas experienced a radical conversion experience, placing his faith in Jesus as his sin substitute. He probably went on to live his life just as he always had. He was a sinner, condemned, unclean and yet, Jesus had died in his place. Just as Jesus died in the place of all because all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).

The apostle Paul reminded the believers in Corinth that they too had been like Barabbas. They had been people imprisoned for their rebellion against God and facing a well-deserved death sentence. Yet, Jesus took their sins upon Himself by taking their place upon a cross that had their name on it. And, as a result, they were free to enjoy the benefits of forgiveness and a restored relationship with God.

Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NLT

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

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

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

Our Sinless, Suffering Savior

39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. 45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Luke 22:39-46 ESV

One of the truly fascinating things about studying Scripture is how the Spirit of God constantly reveals new insights that had previously been hidden from view. So often, we can find ourselves reading through a passage and focusing on a portion that seems particularly relevant to our current circumstances. Then, at a later date, we read the same passage and discover something we had overlooked. For instance, I had never noticed the statement made by Luke in chapter 21, verse 37.

Every day Jesus went to the Temple to teach, and each evening he returned to spend the night on the Mount of Olives. – Luke 21:37 NLT

I had assumed that Jesus returned each evening to the nearby village of Bethany where Lazarus and his two sisters resided. I had never noticed that Jesus and His disciples had actually been camping out on the Mount of Olives, located just across the Kidron Valley from the Eastern walls of Jerusalem.

But on this night, Jesus led His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane, which was located on the Mount of Olives. Once there, He instructed His disciples to pray, then He took Peter, James, and John and found a more isolated spot where He informed them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matthew 26:38 NLT). According to Matthew, Jesus was “anguished and distressed” (Matthew 26:37 NLT). As the moment of His suffering and death drew nearer, Jesus could feel the intensity and immensity of the burden He was about to bear. The scene as described by the gospel writers paints an image of increasing isolation as Jesus moves from the company of the 11 to the more intimate companions of Peter, James, and John. And then, it ends with Jesus in completely isolated and alone, except for the presence of His Heavenly Father.

…he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed… – Luke 22:41 ESV

From 11 to three to one. Jesus was entering a period marked by extreme sorrow and pain, and none of His disciples could fathom its weight or empathize with His suffering. Matthew describes Jesus as bowing down “with his face to the ground” (Matthew 26:39 NLT). Mark provides an added detail that describes the intensity of Jesus’ actions.

he fell on the ground – Mark 14:35 ESV

Jesus was emotionally vested in the moment. His entire being was experiencing the full brunt of the responsibility given to Him by His Father. In this seminal moment of Jesus’ life, we are given a vivid portrait of both His divinity and humanity. He was fully God and fully human, and nowhere does this unique union of two essences become more evident than in the darkness of the Garden of Gethsemane. As the Son of God, Jesus declares His intention to faithfully fulfill the will of His Father. But as the Son of Man, Jesus displays His humanity and a natural aversion to the intense suffering He is about to undergo. He openly and honestly shares His heart with the Father.

“Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. – Luke 22:42 NLT

Jesus was not an automaton, preprogrammed to mechanically adhere to a predetermined set of instructions. He was not simply going through the motions. And we tend to forget that, as a man, Jesus would endure all the intense pain, heartache, physical and emotional trauma that any other man would feel who was forced to endure scourging and crucifixion. And yet, He was prepared to do it on His own initiative and not because He was being forced to do so.

“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:18 NLT

At one time, Jesus had described Himself as “the good shepherd” and added that “The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep” (John 10:11 NLT). And He made it perfectly clear that His sacrifice was voluntary and not coerced.

“I sacrifice my life for the sheep.” – John 10:15 NLT

Jesus did not have a death wish. As a human, He knew that the pain ahead would be excruciating. Yet, as God, He knew it was also inescapable. His human nature was revolted at the prospect of death by crucifixion. He knew it would be like nothing He had ever experienced before or ever again. And, in allowing Himself to endure such a devastatingly cruel form of execution, Jesus was making Himself one with us. The author of Hebrews reminds us:

Therefore, 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. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. – Hebrews 2:17-18 NLT

One of the things we fail to recognize is that the mental, emotional, and psychological suffering Jesus endured prior to the cross is what makes Him an empathetic and understanding Savior. He understands our pain because He has endured it. He knows the reality of the fear and apprehension that so often grips our lives because He experienced it. He is intimately familiar with those moments when our will stands in direct opposition to God’s. But what He models for us is a complete reliance upon and submission to His Father’s sovereign will for His life.

“Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” – Luke 22:42 NLT

Jesus’ death on the cross was not performance art. He was not pretending to bleed. He wasn’t putting on a well-rehearsed show that appeared real but was really all an act. No, the pain was intense. The beatings took their toll. The nails pierced through real flesh, severing real veins, and spilling real human blood. His muscles were cramped. His breath grew labored. His sight became blurred from the sweat, the blood, and the unrelenting pain. And yet, knowing all of this long before it happened, Jesus was willing to endure it – all for us.

For 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

Luke provides us with insight into the intensity of Jesus’ prayer time. This was not a “now-I-lay-me-down-to-sleep” kind of prayer. It was so emotionally exhausting and draining that “an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him” (Luke 22:43 NLT). But even this divinely ordained respite failed to make the rest of Jesus’ prayer time any less difficult. If anything, it seems to have renewed and re-energized Jesus’ efforts.

He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. – Luke 22:44 NLT

It is impossible to know the exact meaning behind this reference to sweat falling like drops of blood. Suffice it to say, this was an intensely emotional experience for Jesus. Every aspect of His being was engaged and impacted by this moment. Yet, both Mark and Matthew record that while Jesus was pouring out His heart and exhausting every last vestige of emotional energy, the disciples were fast asleep (Matthew 26:40; Mark 14:37). Luke seems to cut them some slack by indicating that they were “exhausted from grief” (Luke 22:45 NLT).

It’s interesting to consider that Jesus was grieved, yet He faced it by asking that His Heavenly Father’s will be done. He knew that His sorrow was real, but that it took a backseat to the divine plan for mankind’s redemption. But the disciples faced their sorrow through escape. They sought relief from their grief by sleep rather than prayer. In a sense, they sought their own will. Instead of facing the unappealing prospect of suffering by submitting to God’s will, they chose the temporary prospect of sleep.

So, Jesus woke them and warned, “Get up and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation” (Luke 22:46 NLT). What Luke chooses to leave out of his narrative is that Jesus directed this statement to Peter, one of the three whom He had chosen to accompany Him further into the garden. And Jesus made this statement the first time He found Peter, James, and John asleep. 

He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” – Matthew 26:40-41 NLT

This was the same man who had boldly declared, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33 ESV). And yet, Jesus knew that it would only be a matter of time before Peter would deny even knowing Him. What Peter needed was divine help, not sleep. What Peter should have been doing was praying. But he was about to learn the truth behind Jesus’ words: The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.

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 Glimpse of His Glory

28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen. – Luke 9:28-36 ESV

Verse 27 of chapter 9 provides a link or bridge between Jesus’ teachings regarding the cost of discipleship and Luke’s account of the transfiguration.

But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God. – Luke 9:27 ESV

Jesus made this rather cryptic statement immediately after declaring, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26 ESV). And this had followed close behind Jesus’ rebuke of Peter for refusing to accept God’s will concerning Jesus suffering, death, and resurrection. Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Christ but then had balked at the idea of Jesus dire pronouncement that “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22 ESV). He had actually rebuked Jesus for saying such things.

The discussions recorded in chapter 9 reveal the growing tension among Jesus’ disciples as they try to reconcile their understanding of His identity as the Messiah with His speech and actions. They were confused by all His talk of suffering and death because it made no sense. When they heard Him tell the crowd, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23 ESV), they had been stunned.

Jesus knew His disciples well, so He was fully aware of their apprehensions and fears. It’s likely that some of them were having second thoughts about their decision to follow Him. His arguments with the religious leaders had become embarrassing. There were all kinds of rumors circulating about Jesus and His followers. People pointed fingers at them. The disciples must have cringed every time someone said Jesus was crazy or possessed of a demon. His habit of speaking in parables left many confused, including them. So, when Jesus said, “whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38 ESV), it was a not-so-subtle reference to their doubts and fears.

And that is why Jesus quickly added, “I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Kingdom of God arrive in great power!” (Mark 9:1 NLT). He was not done providing His disciples with further proof of His identity and mission. He was about to confirm Peter’s earlier confession with incontrovertible evidence that He truly was the Messiah. A handful of His disciples were going to get a glimpse behind the curtain, providing them with front-row seats to a spectacular display of Jesus’ glory. Rather than the plainly-clad, thoroughly-human Rabbi they saw every day, they were going to see the glorified Son of God.

Luke’s buildup to this remarkable event is somewhat disappointing. He simply states that about eight days later, Jesus took three of His disciples “and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white” (Luke 9:28-29 ESV). Not exactly a riveting description of what must have been a momentous and life-changing experience for Peter, James, and John. Mark simply states that Jesus was transfigured before them. The Greek word is metamorphoō, and it means “to change into another form, to transform.”

Jesus’ appearance was suddenly and radically changed. We’re not told how it happened, or long it took for the transformation to take place. But Mark does give us a brief description of the final result: “his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:3 ESV). This imagery brings to mind John’s description of Jesus in the opening of his gospel.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:4-5 ESV

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. – John 1:9-10 ESV

The fact that John was one of the three disciples who were privileged to experience the transfiguration of Jesus helps to explain the nature of his description of Jesus as light.

And both Luke and Mark’s accounts of the transfiguration seem to provide a subtle link to another spectacular event where God’s glory was put on full display. It is recorded in the book of Exodus.

Then Moses climbed up the mountain, and the cloud covered it. And the glory of the Lord settled down on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from inside the cloud. To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the Lord appeared at the summit like a consuming fire. Then Moses disappeared into the cloud as he climbed higher up the mountain. – Exodus 24:15-18 NLT

The gospel authors seem to be tying the manifestation of God’s glory to Moses on Mount Sinai to the manifestation of Jesus’ glory to His disciples. Jesus, the Son of God, appeared to them like a dazzling light, like a consuming fire. And accompanying Jesus was Moses himself along with the prophet Elijah.

Just imagine this spectacular scene. The three disciples are looking on in stunned silence as they witness Jesus, ablaze with glory, talking with two of the great patriarchs of the Hebrew people. We’re not told how the disciples recognized these two men, whom they had never seen before. It could be that as the disciples overheard the discussion between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, their names were mentioned, or some clue was given as to their identity. Luke provides a bit more detail concerning the content of their discussion with Jesus.

Suddenly, two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared and began talking with Jesus. They were glorious to see. And they were speaking about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem. – Luke 9:30-31 NLT

Peter, James, and John were given the privilege of listening in as Jesus, Moses, and Elijah discussed His “exodus.” The Greek word Luke used is exodos, and it means “departing.” There were no two people better qualified to discuss the topic of departing than Moses and Elijah. Moses had led the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt. But He also had “departed” this life in a rather extraordinary manner.

Then Moses went up to Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab and climbed Pisgah Peak, which is across from Jericho…So Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, just as the Lord had said. The Lord buried him in a valley near Beth-peor in Moab, but to this day no one knows the exact place. Moses was 120 years old when he died, yet his eyesight was clear, and he was as strong as ever. – Deuteronomy 34:1, 5-7 NLT

When Moses’ work was done and his life’s days were finished, his burial service was conducted by God Himself.

And the account of Elijah’s “exodus” from this life is no less spectacular. The book of 2 Kings records that Elijah was walking along with his successor, Elisha, when something remarkable took place.

As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress. – 2 Kings 2:11-12 NLT

These two “experts” had personal “exodus” experience and were sharing their insights with Jesus. They discussed with Him the events that would surround His coming exodus from this world. And their words would have supported all that Jesus had told the disciples. They discussed the very events Jesus had predicted would happen in Jerusalem and that Peter had rebuked Him for sharing. And that’s when Peter spoke up. He couldn’t remain silent any longer.

As Moses and Elijah were starting to leave, Peter, not even knowing what he was saying, blurted out, “Master, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” – Luke 9:33 NLT

Nervous excitement got the better of him. And whether he realized it or not, Peter stuck his foot in his mouth yet again. In a desire to prolong the moment, Peter suggested that he, James, and John build three small shelters for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses to live in. The Greek word he used is skēnē, which translates into “tabernacle.” It was almost as if Peter wanted to set up three little temples or holy structures to house these three extraordinary individuals. We can only speculate what was going through Peter’s mind, but it could be that he viewed the appearance of Elijah and Moses as the sign that Jesus was about to set up His Kingdom on earth.

The prophet Malachi had recorded the following promise of God:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” – Malachi 4:5 ESV

And Moses had predicted that God would raise up another prophet like him.

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him…” – Deuteronomy 18:15 NLT

And God gave Moses further insight into the role of this coming prophet.

“I will raise up a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell the people everything I command him. I will personally deal with anyone who will not listen to the messages the prophet proclaims on my behalf.” – Deuteronomy 18:18-19 NLT

The final words in God’s prophecy are particularly pertinent to what happens next. Peter had expressed his misguided desire to prolong this holy convocation on the mountain top. But God interrupts his little speech and declares, This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35 ESV).

In essence, God was telling Peter to shut up and listen to what Jesus was trying to tell him. He had no business rebuking Jesus. There was no need for Peter to build tabernacles. He simply needed to listen.

And just as quickly as it had all started, it was suddenly over. The glory diminished, Elijah and Moses vanished, and the three disciples found themselves standing alone with Jesus. The two Old Testament prophets had made their exodus from the scene. Now, all that was left was for Jesus to face His own exodus from this world. He still had to face the reality of the cross. In a very short period of time, Jesus would find Himself alone. There would be no Elijah or Moses to comfort Him. His disciples would abandon Him. And rather than being cloaked in glory, Jesus would be mockingly draped in a purple robe and a crown of thorns. He would be ridiculed, beaten, and nailed to a wooden cross. And later, He would make His exodus from this life. All according to the sovereign will of His Heavenly Father.

God would have Peter remember: “I will personally deal with anyone who will not listen to the messages the prophet proclaims on my behalf” (Deuteronomy 18:19 NLT). And it seems that Peter and his companions took God seriously because “they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen” (Luke 9:36 ESV). This once-in-a-lifetime experience had improved their hearing and increased their receptivity. From that moment forward they couldn’t help but see Jesus in a different light.

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