Silencing the Ungodly

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. – Titus 1:10-16 ESV

Like Timothy, Titus was one of Paul’s protégés. He was a Greek Gentile whom Paul had evidently led to Christ. This young man had actually accompanied Paul on several of his missionary journeys. Over time, he earned the apostle’s trust, so that Paul was confident in sending him out on his own on numerous occasions. In fact, Paul had sent him to the island of Crete to appoint elders and establish some sense of order among the congregations there.

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you. –  Titus 1:5 NLT

As he had done with Timothy, Paul provided Titus with advice on how to deal with false teachers who had become a recurring problem within the fledgling churches on Crete.

Titus found himself ministering in a place where the reputation of the inhabitants was far from stellar. Paul even quoted Epimenides, a 6th Century BC philosopher and religious prophet who happened to be from Crete and who held a low view of his fellow Cretans.

Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons. – Titus 1:12 ESV

Paul concurred with Epimenides’ assessment and went out of his way to paint a less-than-flattering picture of the people of Crete. He described them as  “insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party” (Titus 1:10 ESV). Evidently, the false teachers were not the only people of poor repute on Crete. So were some of the members of the local churches. That’s why Paul spends a great deal of time in his letter talking about good works. He wanted Titus to understand just how important good character and moral behavior were to be in the life of a believer.

Paul commanded Titus to deal harshly and firmly with those whose lives were marked by laziness and lying. He didn’t want his young disciple to tolerate the disorder and chaos these kinds of people were bringing into the church. He told Titus to “rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13 ESV). Rebuking and restoration were both to be a part of Titus’ ministry on Crete.

Paul’s objective was for these individuals to become “sound in the faith,” because they were spreading false and deceptive ideas concerning faith in Christ. Paul’s use of the term “faith” refers to eternal salvation made possible through belief in Jesus Christ as Savior. The false teachers were confusing and even contradicting what Paul, Titus, and others had taught regarding what it means to have faith in Christ, experience forgiveness of sins, and have a restored relationship with God.

Rather than teaching faith alone in Christ alone, these false teachers were proclaiming novel messages regarding salvation that were contradictory to the gospel proclaimed by Paul and the other apostles, and it was weakening the faith of the Cretan believers. They didn’t know who or what to believe anymore.

One of the qualifications for elders that Paul gave Titus was “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9 ESV). These men were to be knowledgeable of the truth so that they might refute falsehood and rebuke those who taught it. As far as Paul was concerned, sound faith was totally dependent upon sound doctrine.

But these false teachers were teaching “what they ought not to teach” and all “for shameful gain” (Titus 1:11 ESV). Paul refers to them as being from the circumcision party. This is a reference to Jews who had expressed faith in Christ, but who held to the idea that Gentiles who became believers in Christ must also keep the Law of Moses and undergo the rite of circumcision in order to be truly saved.

Paul fought this heresy with every fiber of his being. And Paul’s fear was that, based on the reputation of the Cretans, they would easily accept this false teaching, and end up “devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:14 ESV).

The Cretans were easily swayed by the “commands” or teachings of these people, readily accepting what they had to say about circumcision, abstinence from certain foods, the keeping of Jewish feasts and festivals, and adherence to the Mosaic law. But Paul warned Titus that these false teachers “claim they know God, but they deny him by the way they live. They are detestable and disobedient, worthless for doing anything good” (Titus 1:16 ESV).

Paul made it clear that the real problem with these false teachers was their hearts.

Everything is pure to those whose hearts are pure. But nothing is pure to those who are corrupt and unbelieving, because their minds and consciences are corrupted. – Titus 1:15 NLT

They were obsessed with the externals: the keeping of laws and commands and adherence to rituals and religious rules.

There was an occasion when Jesus was approached by a group of Jewish religious leaders who wanted to know why His disciples didn’t follow their man-made tradition of ceremonial hand-cleansing before they ate. Jesus responded to them:

“And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents. And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,

‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce,
    for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:3-9 NLT

Jesus went on to say: “It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth” (Matthew 15:11 NLT).

These self-righteous religious leaders had missed the point. They were so busy keeping external rules that they missed the real issue: The condition of their hearts. And Paul knew that the false teachers who were so negatively impacting the churches on Crete were suffering from the same problem. Their minds and consciences were defiled. Their hearts were hardened to the truth regarding faith in Christ. They were convinced that there had to be more to salvation. Faith alone in Christ alone was not enough. Works of self-righteousness were necessary. But Paul describes them as defiled and unbelieving. They were wrong and they were dangerous.

So, Paul tells Titus to rebuke them sharply. He was to deal harshly with the false teachers, and he was to rebuke the Cretans who were so easily buying into their lies. Sound doctrine and sound faith go hand in hand. The Word of God is not open to our interpretation. We are not free to add to the gospel or alter the truth of God in any way. And we are not to tolerate those who attempt to mislead by misinterpreting what God has said. Again, that is why Paul told Titus an elder must “have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong” (Titus 1:9 NLT).

Paul had also written to Timothy, telling him that the purpose of his letter was that “you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God. This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 NLT). The church and its leaders were to adhere to and uphold the truth of God, especially as it relates to the message and means of salvation. There is no other gospel except the one we have been given: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31 ESV).

We live in the midst of an ungodly world and there is an ongoing need for godly men who will step forward and provide leadership and protection for the flock of God. The church needs men of character who are led by the Spirit of God and committed to the Word of God. Disorder and disruption are all around us. That’s why qualified men are in great need, even today.

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

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

Hold Fast to Faith

12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. – 1 Timothy 1:12-20 ESV

The law was never intended as a means of achieving righteousness. Paul made that point quite clear when he wrote to the believers in Galatia.

…no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. – Galatians 3:11 NLT

And Paul went on to tell them that the law was given “to show people their sins” (Galatians 3:19 NLT). God provided the Israelites with the law so that they might “see how terrible sin really is” (Romans 7:13 NLT). And Paul confessed that the law had proven to be effective at revealing sin in his own life.

…it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” – Romans 7:7 NLT

The command prohibiting coveteousness actually caused Paul to covet. His sinful nature rebelled against the law and aroused all kinds of covetous desires within him (Romans 7:8). If there had been no law against coveting, Paul’s battle with covetousness would not have existed. But that doesn’t mean he would have been free from sin. The presence of the law simply exposed the sinful nature within him.

But Paul never reached the conclusion that the law was somehow flawed or responsible for his sin. No, he confidently asserted “the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good” (Romans 7:12 NLT). And this was the point he was trying to make with Timothy. The self-professed teachers of the law who had infiltrated the church in Ephesus were promoting the law as a tool for measuring righteousness. They were demanding adherence to the law as a litmus test for determining saving faith, and Paul demanded that Timothy deal decisively with this error.

…the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners. – 1 Timothy 1:9 ESV

He was not suggesting that the just are exempt from living according to God’s holy standards. He was simply stating that the law was not a requirement for achieving righteousness. The law had played no part in the conversion of the Ephesian believers. What was true for the believers in Galatia was true for them.

Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? – Galatians 3:2-3 NLT

As Paul reminded Timothy, the law was intended “for lawless and rebellious people, for the ungodly and sinners” (1 Timothy 1:9 NLT). And he provided Timothy with a virtual rogue’s gallery of lawless behaviors, including murderers, the unholy and profane, the sexually immoral, homosexuals, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and even those who fail to honor their fathers and mothers. It is those kinds of people for whom the law was given, not the righteous. They live their lives in opposition to sound doctrine. And Paul was concerned that the teachers of the law were promoting false doctrine concerning the law that was confusing the Christians in Ephesus. They were turning the freedom found in Christ into just another form of legalism and religious rule-keeping. 

Paul was well aware of his dark past and referred to it regularly. He used to be among “the ungodly and sinners.” He even told Timothy, “I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor, and an arrogant man” (1 Timothy 1:13 NLT). But Paul rejoiced in the amazing grace shown to him by God.

I was treated with mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief, and our Lord’s grace was abundant, bringing faith and love in Christ Jesus. – 1 Timothy 1:13-14 NLT

Paul had not been saved by keeping the law. And now that he was in Christ, he would not remain saved by keeping the law. Paul was a free man. He had been released from his slavery to the law and he wanted every believer to experience that same feeling of joyous liberation.

…because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. – Romans 8:2-4 NLT

As Timothy’s mentor, Paul had been careful to share all of these truths with his young protégé. It is likely that Timothy had read every letter that Paul had written to the various congregations under his care. He was well-schooled in Paul’s views on the law and the gospel, so he was probably not surprised when he read Paul’s words: “‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ — and I am the worst of them!” (1 Timothy 1:15 NT). He was familiar with Paul’s backstory. He had heard about Paul’s miraculous encounter with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus. And even though Timothy looked up to Paul as an icon of the faith, he also knew that his mentor had a humble and self-effacing view of himself. So, when Paul described himself as the worst of all sinners, Timothy was not surprised. And Paul’s explanation of his divine calling was not a new revelation to Timothy.

…here is why I was treated with mercy: so that in me as the worst, Christ Jesus could demonstrate his utmost patience, as an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life. – 1 Timothy 1:16 NLT

Paul gave all the glory to God because his salvation had been the work of God from beginning to end. He had played no role in his own redemption story. That is why Paul inserts a short but powerful doxology into the middle of his letter.

Now to the eternal king, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever! Amen. – 1 Timothy 1:17 NLT

God deserves all the credit. No one can claim responsibility for their own salvation. That is exactly what Paul had written to the believers in Ephesus in an earlier letter.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

But now, in Paul’s absence, others were proclaiming a contradictory message. They were encouraging legalism and promoting self-effort. And Paul was placing the mantle of pastoral responsibility on Timothy, assigning him the vital task of affirming and defending the integrity of the gospel message. Paul wanted Timothy to remain committed to the simplicity of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. But it was going to be a fight and would require diligence and determination.

To do this you must hold firmly to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck in regard to the faith. – 1 Timothy 1:19 NLT

Timothy would need to keep himself grounded in the faith of the gospel. Otherwise, he might succumb to the lies of the enemy and find himself adopting and promoting a modified version of the gospel that was not only false but destructive. And Paul reminded Timothy that there were two individuals who had already taken that path.

Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. – 1 Timothy 1:20 NLT

Paul provides little explanation concerning the actions of these two men. So it would seem that Timothy was very familiar with what they had done and why Paul “handed them over to Satan.” This phrase most likely means that Paul had removed them from leadership and from fellowship in the local congregation until they repented. In other words, he de-fellowshipped them, effectively placing them outside the local body of Christ and at the mercy of the enemy. Paul’s ultimate goal was their repentance and restoration, but he had cast them from the fellowship to prevent them from having any further impact on the rest of the community.

According to 2 Timothy 2:16-16, Hymenaeus had been guilty of promoting godless behavior through “worthless, foolish talk.” Paul compared his actions to an infectious disease that had spread throughout the local congregation. It seems that Alexander had decided to stand up to Paul and publically contradict his teachings. Paul declared that “ Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm” and “he fought against everything we said” (2 Timothy 4:14, 15 NLT).

These men had done great damage to the cause of Christ and Paul wanted Timothy to learn from their mistakes. Anyone was capable of veering from the path of truth and wandering into the high weeds of false doctrine. That is why Paul urged Timothy to “hold firmly to faith and a good conscience” (1 Timothy 1:19 NLT). The key to his survival and success would be an unwavering commitment to the gospel message and his own faith in it.

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

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

The Sufficiency of the Gospel

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. Colossians 2:8-15 ESV

Paul now warms to his primary task: Warning the Colossian believers about the dangers of the doctrinal heresy that was threatening their congregation. He has established the preeminence of Christ and emphasized the foundational nature of His divinity and humanity. Now Paul presents a stinging indictment of the false teachers, labeling their rhetoric concerning Jesus as nothing more than captivating a purely human-based philosophy based on tradition and filled with empty deceit. Paul’s use of the term “philosophy” was not meant to refer to an academic or scientific study of thought, but the teaching of “certain Jewish Christian ascetics, which busied itself with refined and speculative inquiries into the nature and classes of angels, into the ritual of the Mosaic law and the regulations of Jewish tradition respecting practical life” (The Online Bible: Outline of Biblical Usage).

Paul was emphasizing that the teaching that had infiltrated the Colossian church was purely speculative in nature and not based on divine revelation. It was not according to or in keeping with the prophetic pronouncement concerning Christ found in the Old Testament. And it was not in line with Christ’s teachings concerning Himself. No, these men were propagating false doctrines based on “the elemental spirits of the world” (Colossians 2:8 ESV). The word translated as “spirits” is στοιχεῖον (stoicheion), which might be better translated as “principles.” Paul seems to be juxtaposing teaching that is Christ-centered focus with that which is worldly and man-centered. According to Paul, the elemental or fundamental theories of a non-Christian, fallen world were insufficient to explain or guide the Christian life. The false teachers were attempting to use human reasoning to explain spiritual truths.

Paul explained to the believers in Corinth that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV). He followed up this statement by quoting Isaiah 29:14.

For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Then Paul excoriated the false teachers and religious traditionalists of his day.

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. – 1 Corinthians 1:20-25 ESV

There were those who found the apostles’ teaching concerning Christ to be illogical and unacceptable. For some of them, the idea that Jesus was fully God and fully man was untenable and indefensible. For others, the idea of Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection was little more than wishful thinking or a fairy tale. But Paul refers to his teaching concerning Christ as the power and wisdom of God.

Paul considered the false teachers’ denial of Christ’s divinity as a particularly egregious sin. That’s he unapologetically stated, “in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body” (Colossians 2:9 ESV). This was a foundational truth concerning the doctrine of salvation and, without it, the validity of Christ’s substitutionary death was rendered impotent. The sinlessness of Christ was based on His divinity. He was the unblemished God-man who was “tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV).

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

To deny Jesus’ deity was to invalidate His entire ministry. He was the sinless and fully righteous Son of God who took on human flesh so that He might do what no man had ever done: Fully obey every one of the commands of God found in the Mosaic Law.

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh… – Romans 8:3 ESV

The deity and humanity of Christ were both non-negotiable aspects of His character. Jesus was fully divine and fully human. He was not a phantom or a god masquerading as a man. There were those who taught that Jesus only appeared to be human. And this erroneous teaching led to a distorted understanding of Jesus’ death on the cross. If He wasn’t truly human, then His death was a sham or little more than a show. And that would mean the substitutionary nature of His death was invalid. Not only that, if Jesus didn’t die, then there was no resurrection. And if there was no resurrection, then mankind has no hope.

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

Paul assures the Colossians believers that the resurrection of Jesus was real and that its implications for their lives were substantial.

…you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. – Colossians 2:12 NLT

He wanted them to understand that they needed nothing more than Christ. Despite the claims of the false teachers, the believers in Colossae were lacking nothing in their spiritual experience. They had been filled with the fulness of Christ. The Spirit of Christ indwelled them, making the nature of Christ available to them. The righteousness of Christ had been imputed to them. And, unlike the Judaizers, who were teaching that Gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to be fully saved, Paul emphasized a  circumcision of the heart.

When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. – Colossians 2:11 NLT

This was the same thought Paul had shared with the believers in Rome.

For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people. – Romans 2:28-29 NLT

Paul reminded the Colossians that, prior to encountering Christ, they had been spiritually dead because their “sinful nature was not yet cut away” (Colossians 2:13 NLT). But that problem had been taken care of by God.

God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. – Colossians 2:13-14 NLT

And in doing so, God “disarmed the rulers and authorities” (Colossians 2:15 ESV). This is most likely a reference to “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). Paul describes them as “the cosmic powers over this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). In conquering sin and death on the cross, God has effectively silenced Satan and his minions, voiding the accusations of guilt and shame they level against God’s people. In Revelation 12:10, Satan is described as the accuser of the brethren, “who accuses them day and night before our God.” But, because of the atoning nature of the cross, Satan’s accusations carry no weight. His weapons lack any power against the children of God. But, as Paul warned the believers in Ephesus, the Colossians were to “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11 ESV).

The false teachers were attempting to undermine the effectiveness of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection by questioning its validity. These godless men were acting as pawns of the enemy by sowing doubts among the believers in Colossae. But Paul exposed their so-called truths as nothing more than cleverly disguised lies meant to deceive and destroy the faith of God’s people.

For Paul, the gospel was enough. There was no new teaching required. And the power of the cross required no additional enhancement or improvement. As Paul told the believers in Corinth, the message of the gospel required no help from human reasoning and cleverly-crafted rhetoric.

When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified.

Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 2:1-2, 4-5 NLT

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

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

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

 

New Life

35 While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38 They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. 41 Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. 43 And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. Mark 5:35-43 ESV

It is easy to get caught up in reading Mark’s narrative about the woman’s miraculous healing and forget all about Jairus. This poor man had been forced to bide his time and wait for Jesus to finish His conversation with the woman. And while what he had witnessed must have bolstered his faith in Jesus, it must have been difficult for him to hide his frustration at the unexpected delay. From his fatherly perspective, he would have seen his daughter’s circumstance as more pressing and immediate. The woman had lived with her chronic condition for 12 years and she could have waited a bit longer. After all, his daughter was dying.

But the chronology of these two events is critical. The woman’s decision to touch Jesus’ garment had caused what appeared to be an unexpected delay, that appears to have compromised Jesus’ plans and placed Him in a difficult situation. While He had been dealing with the woman, the young girl had died. And Mark records that the news of her death came abruptly and bluntly.

While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” – Mark 5:35 ESV

The delay had been costly. Yes, the woman had received healing from her debilitating medical condition, but it had been at the expense of the young girl’s life. And it seems that Mark wanted his readers to wrestle with the conflicting emotions this sad scene would stir up. Immediately, one is forced to question what would have happened had the woman not touched the edge of Jesus’ garment. What if she had not been able to force her way through the crowd and make contact with Jesus? There would have been no delay and the young girl might still be alive. What kind of thoughts must have going through the mind of Jairus as he was forced to process this devasting news? Was he angry with Jesus? Did he blame the woman?

Mark provides us with no answers to any of these questions. He simply mentions that Jesus overheard the messengers delivering the fateful news to Jairus. But rather than expressing His sorrow over Jairus’ loss or apologizing for the untimely delay, Jesus tells the grieving father, “Do not fear, only believe.”

Let the weight of this statement sink in. Jairus has just been told that his 12-year-old daughter has died. And the one man who he believed could have healed her is telling him not to fear. In a sense, Jesus is encouraging Jairus not to allow this news to frighten or upset him. Instead, he is to replace his fear with faith. He is to believe.

But Jairus had believed. He had come to Jesus, kneeled at His feet, and begged Him to help his dying daughter.

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

He had believed that Jesus could do something about her condition. But now, it was too late. She was dead. And Jairus must have struggled to control his frustration and anger at this callous-sounding comment from Jesus. The time for believing was gone.

This whole scene is similar to one recorded by John in his gospel. He tells of another delay that resulted in death. Jesus had been called to the home of His dear friend Lazarus. Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, had sent Jesus a message informing Him that Lazarus was ill. But upon hearing this news, Jesus delayed His departure for two days, then informed His disciples, “Lazarus has died,  and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him” (John 11:14-15 ESV).

When Jesus finally arrived in Bethany, He was informed that the body of Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. And Martha, the sister of Lazarus, expressed her disappointment and frustration with Jesus.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. – John 11:21 ESV

And Mary would echo her feelings.

 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” – John 11:32 ESV

But go back and look at what Jesus had told His disciples.

“…for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.” – John 11:15 ESV

Jesus had delayed His departure on purpose. The two days had been more than enough time for Lazarus to die and to be buried. Jesus had purposefully created what appeared to be a completely hopeless scenario that even His disciples would have seen as beyond His power to remedy. But Jesus had allowed it so that they might believe. He wasn’t surprised by the news of Lazarus’ death. He wasn’t even concerned that, after four days, the body of Lazarus would have already begun to decay. He stepped up the tomb, commanded the stone to be rolled away, and confidently shouted, “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43 ESV). And John records, “The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth” (John 11:44 ESV). And the words that Jesus spoke to Martha just before this incredible event took place must have been ringing in her ears.

“Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” – John 11:40 ESV

So, when Jesus told Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe,” He meant it. Because Jesus knew what He was about to do. And if Jairus would only continue to believe, he too would see the glory of God.

Jesus accompanied the grieving father to his home and invited Peter, James, and John to join them. Upon their arrival, they were greeted by a scene of great sorrow with “people weeping and wailing loudly” (Mark 5:38 ESV). The mourning process had already begun. The funeral preparations were already well underway. But Jesus interrupted the proceedings with a question and a comment:

“Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” – Mark 5:39 ESV

His words must have come across as either painfully callous and insensitive or simply misinformed. In either case, the people respond with derisive laughter. But Jesus, ignoring their reaction, has them removed from the scene. Then, accompanied by the deceased girl’s parents and His three disciples, Jesus entered her room. As Jairus and his wife wept and the disciples looked on in disbelief, Jesus took the little girl by the hand and spoke to her.

“Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” – Mark 5:41 ESV

And according to Mark’s account, the transformation was instantaneous.

And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. – Mark 5:42 ESV

She went from being fully dead to being fully alive in an instant. And her amazing transformation was almost as though she had simply been awakened from asleep. And, for Jesus, restoring the dead girl to life had been no more difficult than waking up someone from sleep. It’s no coincidence that Jesus used the waking-sleeping analogy in both of these death-to-life scenarios. Even when Jesus had known that Lazarus had died, He had told His disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (John 11:11 ESV).

For Jesus, death was no obstacle. As John put it in his gospel account, “ In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4 ESV). And Jesus would later refer to Himself as “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6 NLT). As the Son of God, Jesus was the author of all life. He was the giver of life. And He would soon prove Himself to be the conqueror of death. These two events were meant to encourage His disciples to believe that He was who He claimed to be. As impressed as they had been with His calming of the storm and His exorcism of the demons, this miracle must have left the disciples in complete shock. Mark simply says they were overcome with amazement.

They couldn’t believe their eyes. They had just witnessed Jesus do the impossible. And Peter, James, and John must have been chomping at the bit to rush and tell their companions what they had just seen. But before they could rush out the door and spread the news of this amazing miracle, Jesus throws cold water on their enthusiasm. He commands them to tell no one what they have seen. And this prohibition applied to the parents as well.

…he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. – Mark 5:43 ESV

Jesus was on a divine timeline. His mission was on a tightly-orchestrated schedule that was all part of God’s preordained plan. Jesus was a student of human nature. He knew that if news of this particular miracle got out, the people would attempt to make Him their king. Anyone with that kind of power would have no problem overcoming the Romans. But Jesus’ hour had not yet come. He had more ministry to accomplish and much more training to complete with His disciples.

And this incredible miracle was meant to provide His disciples with undeniable proof of His power and authority, but also clarify for them the nature of His mission. He had not come to be their King. At least, not yet. He had not come to destroy the Romans and restore the political fortunes of Israel. No, He came to restore the spiritually dead to new life. And that was the message He had communicated to Martha just before He restored her brother to life.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” – John 11:25-26 ESV

The young girl and Lazarus would both end up dying – again. Their new lives were temporary, not permanent. And they would both need to experience the new birth that Jesus described to Nicodemus.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again [from above]  he cannot see the kingdom of God.” – John 3:3 ESV

The real resurrection from death to life is yet to come. And it provides not only new life but life eternal – a never-ending, uninterrupted existence with God the Father and His Son.

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

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

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

A Different Kind of Kingdom

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. 39 But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” 40 They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber. John 18:33-40 ESV

It doesn’t take long to recognize that Pilate, the Roman governor, has no clue as to the seriousness or scope of what is taking place outside his headquarters. His early morning routine has been interrupted by a contingent of angry Jewish religious leaders who are demanding the execution of one of their own people. Pilate, whose official residence was in Caesarea, the capital of the Roman province of Judea, has traveled to Jerusalem because of the Jewish Feast of Passover. This was one of the most well-attended of all the Jewish festivals, attracting pilgrims from all over the world. As a precaution, the Romans tended to increase their military presence in order to quell any trouble that might occur. So, Pilate was in town to ensure that the proceedings were peaceful and non-eventful. The last thing he would have wanted was a riot on his hands.

So, when the religious leaders showed up outside his door with a prisoner in tow, he was forced to give it his full attention. But it seems obvious that he saw the situation as nothing more than an internecine religious dispute that had nothing to do with Rome. He even demanded that they judge the man according to their own law. But the men who had dragged the beaten and disheveled Jesus to Pilate’s doorstep were not going to be satisfied by a sentence of ex-communication. They were seeking execution.

Leaving the Jewish leaders outside, Pilate entered his residence and had Jesus brought before him. In an attempt to get to the bottom of the matter, Pilate asked Jesus a series of short but direct questions.

“Are you the King of the Jews?” – vs. 33

“Am I a Jew?” – vs. 35

“What have you done?” – vs. 35

“So you are a king?” – vs. 36

“What is truth?” – vs. 38

Pilate’s line of questioning was directed at determining the identity of Jesus. He needed to know who this man was and what He had done to cause such an uproar among the religious leaders of Israel. Since the first question that Pilate posed had to do with kingship, it is apparent that the Jews had communicated Jesus’ claim to be the King of Jews.

Matthew records that during Jesus’ interrogation before the Sanhedrin, Caiaphas, the high priest had said to Him, “I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63 NLT). And when Jesus had answered in the affirmative, His fate was sealed. They declared Him to be a blasphemer for having declared Himself to be equal with God. But knowing that the Roman governor would have no interest in Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah and the Son of God, the Jews put their charges in terms that would get Pilate’s full attention. This man was claiming to be the King of the Jews.

One of the greatest concerns of the Romans was any form of insurrection or uprising. So, a Jew claiming to be the rightful King of Israel was a potential problem that had to be addressed quickly and effectively. But Pilate, more curious than concerned, asked Jesus to confirm the charge against Him.

“Are you the King of the Jews?” – John 18:33 ESV

He was looking for a simple “Yes” or “No” answer. But instead, Jesus responds with a question of His own: “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” (John 18:34 ESV). Jesus doesn’t confirm or deny His kingship. He asks Pilate whether his question is based on personal curiosity or professional protocol. Was Pilate really interested in knowing if Jesus was the King of the Jews or was he simply reiterating the charges of the Sanhedrin?

But Jesus was not really looking for a response because He already knew the answer. Pilate, as a Roman, had no interest in whether Jesus was the legitimate king of the Jews or not. In his mind, Caesar was not only the king but his boss as well. And his job was to protect Caesar’s interests in Judea. And Pilate responds to Jesus with a tone of incredulity and disdain.

“Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” – John 18:35 ESV

What Pilate failed to understand was that Jesus truly was the King of the Jews. But not only that, He was Pilate’s King as well. This royal prefect was staring into the face of the King of kings and Lord of lords. He was in the company of true royalty. Yes, Jesus’ face was bloodied and bruised, His clothes were disheveled, and His hands were bound, but He was no less a King.

And Jesus affirms and clarifies the nature of His kingship by declaring, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36 ESV). In a sense, Jesus assuaged any concerns Pilate might have had. Caesar had nothing to fear from Jesus or His kingdom because it was of a different kind. His kingdom was other-worldly. 

“If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” – John 18:36 ESV

In His high priestly prayer, recorded in chapter 17, Jesus made a declarative statement concerning His disciples:

they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” – John 17:14-16 ESV

And now, He tells Pilate that if His kingdom was of this world, His followers would be mounting an insurrection to set their King free. But He alone stood before Pilate. There were no riots in the streets. There were no enraged followers pounding down the doors of Pilate’s residence demanding the release of their rightful King. And yet, Jesus was still affirming His kingship and His right to rule and reign.

But before Jesus could sit on His throne, He would have to hang on a cross. He had come to be “lifted up” but not on a royal dais wearing flowing robes and a jewel-encrusted crown. No, He would have His garments stripped from Him and a crown of thorns mockingly placed on His head. And just hours later, Pilate himself would command that a sign be placed above the head of Jesus as He hung on the cross. It would read: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19 ESV).

Pilate, clueless as to what Jesus was talking about, simply responds: “So you are a king?” (John 18;37 ESV). He had no time or interest in discussing the nature of Jesus’ kingdom. All he wanted to know was if the charge against Jesus was accurate. Did Jesus consider Himself to be the King of Jews? And, once again, rather than answer Pilate directly, Jesus somewhat cryptically responds:

“You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” – John 18:37 ESV

Jesus seems to be saying that Pilate’s use of the term “king” was laden with all kinds of misconceptions and misunderstandings. He and Pilate were talking on two different levels and the governor was incapable of understanding what Jesus was saying to him.

Pilate was stuck on the earthly topic of kingship. All he wanted to know was if Jesus was a real threat to Rome’s authority in the region. Had this obscure Rabbi from Nazareth been trying to mount an insurrection and establish Himself as the King of Israel? If so, then Pilate would have to deal with this threat quickly and effectively.

But Jesus claims that He was born into the world for a different kind of purpose. He was of the lineage and line of King David and therefore, the rightful heir to the throne. But He had come into the world to “bear witness to the truth.”

In the opening chapter of his gospel, John declared, “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16-17 ESV). Jesus came to earth in order to declare the truth regarding God’s plan of salvation. He was the embodiment of that truth. He had later declared of Himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV).

And Jesus confirms to Pilate that, while He was a King, He had not come to earth to set up an earthly Kingdom. He had come to reveal the truth about how sinful humanity could be made right with God. And this offer of redemption and restoration was available to “everyone.”

He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. – John 1:11-12 NLT

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

Pilate was standing face-to-face with the truth of God but didn’t realize it. So, he was left asking the question: “What is truth?” (John 18:38 ESV). The very “truth” that could set him free was standing right in front of him but all Pilate saw was a Jewish Rabbi bound with ropes and facing charges of insurrection.

So, he walked back out to Jesus’ accusers and announced, “I find no guilt in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:38-39 ESV). Hoping to diffuse the situation, Pilate offered what he believed to be a viable option. Since he could find no legally viable reason to put Jesus to death, he offered to release him as a gesture of goodwill. But he made the mistake of referring to Jesus as “the King of the Jews.” And this unintended slight infuriated the Sanhedrin, leading them to demand the release of a common criminal named Barabbas. They preferred a convicted felon over the Savior of the world. The one who had been declared guiltless would take the place of the guilty.

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 Trial of Peter

15 Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16 but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. 17 The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.

19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22 When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” 24 Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26 One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27 Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed. John 18:15-27 ESV

Jesus has been dragged before Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest. Of the four gospel authors, John is the only one who records this meeting between Jesus and Annas. The Synoptics each have Jesus being brought before Caiaphas and then Pilate. John refers to Jesus’ appearance before Caiaphas (v. 24) but chooses not to provide any of the details concerning their meeting. It seems that John is more interested in the patriarch of the high priestly dynasty because Annas’ father/son relationship with Caiaphas, his son-in-law, echoes the many references to Jesus and His Father found in his gospel.

The setting is the residence of the high priest. Jesus has been brought to the home of the man who served in the same role as Aaron, the brother of Moses and the first high priest of Israel. God had ordained Aaron and his sons to serve as His priests, ministering on behalf of the people of Israel throughout the generations.

“I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.” – Exodus 29:44-46 ESV

But over the centuries, the high priesthood had mirrored the spiritual state of the nation. They were just as guilty of apostasy and idolatry. Rather than maintain their consecrated status as God’s priests, they led the people in committing sins against the Almighty. And the prophet Hosea records God’s indictment against them.

“When the people bring their sin offerings, the priests get fed.
    So the priests are glad when the people sin!
‘And what the priests do, the people also do.’
    So now I will punish both priests and people
    for their wicked deeds.” – Hosea 4:8-9 NLT

“But like Adam, you broke my covenant
    and betrayed my trust.

“Gilead is a city of sinners,
    tracked with footprints of blood.
Priests form bands of robbers,
    waiting in ambush for their victims.
They murder travelers along the road to Shechem
    and practice every kind of sin.” – Hosea 6:7-9 NLT

And not much had changed by the time Jesus appeared in the courtyard of the high priest. As John has shown, the high priest and his fellow members of the Sanhadrin had no love for Jesus and they refused to accept His claims to be the Son of God. The whole reason Jesus stood before Annas with His hands bound like a criminal was that they saw Him as a threat to their way of life. When Jesus had ransacked the temple, turning over the tables of the moneychangers, the priests had seen this as a direct attack on their authority and power. So now, Jesus was about to stand for His crimes against the religious authorities of Israel.

But as John records, there was more than one person facing a trial this night. Peter, in the darkness of the courtyard, would also find himself undergoing intense interrogation and facing the very real prospect of suffering guilt by association. This entire scene brings to mind an earlier conversation between Jesus and Peter. It had taken place not long after Jesus and His disciples had shared their final Passover meal together. In sharing with the 11 men who remained at His side after Judas had left the room, Jesus made a shocking announcement to Peter.

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” – Luke 22:31-32 ESV

This news left Peter stunned and indignant. And he responded with a strong sense of denial, declaring his willingness to lay down his life for Jesus.

Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” – Luke 22:33 ESV

But to Peter’s shock and embarrassment, Jesus prophesied a far different outcome.

“I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” – Luke 22:34 ESV

Now, that fateful moment had come. Peter and John had followed the procession from the garden, keeping to the shadows to avoid detection. But when they arrived at the high priest’s residence, John arranged for them to gain entrance because he was known to the servants of the high priest. John doesn’t disclose the nature of his relationship with the high priest but simply states that he was able to negotiate Peter’s entrance into the courtyard, an act of kindness Peter would probably regret.

As Peter made his way through the gate into the courtyard, a servant girl asks Peter a simple and somewhat harmless question.

“You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” – John 18:17 ESV

It seems that this girl had recognized John and knew him to be a disciple of Jesus. When John had asked her to allow his friend to enter the courtyard with him, she was curious to know if Peter was a disciple as well. There was no threat involved. She was pointing a finger of accusation against Peter. She was simply making small talk.

But Peter, in his heightened state of fear, immediately took her question as an accusation. And with a short and quick reply, he vehemently denied any association with Jesus.

“I am not.” – John 18:17 ESV

In his record of the night’s proceedings, John leaves Peter warming himself by a charcoal fire and shifts the scene inside, where Jesus stands before Annas. What takes place here is less a trial than an interrogation. Annas “questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching” (John 18:19 ESV). Just as the servant girl had asked Peter about his relationship with Jesus, Annas wants to know about Jesus’ relationship with the disciples. He has heard all the rumors concerning Jesus and now he wants to hear what Jesus has to say for Himself. Who were His disciples and what exactly had He been teaching them? Annas is wanting to know how this uneducated Rabbi from Nazareth has managed to attract such a large following in such a short period of time. The news of Jesus’ grand entrance into Jerusalem before thousands of cheering people had not escaped Annas.

Jesus, unphased by His surroundings and unimpressed by the lofty reputation of His interrogator, simply replies: “Everyone knows what I teach. I have preached regularly in the synagogues and the Temple, where the people gather. I have not spoken in secret. Why are you asking me this question? Ask those who heard me. They know what I said” (John 18:20-21 NLT).

Jesus is not being disrespectful. He is simply stating that His days of teaching and explaining Himself are done. His witness concerning His ministry and identity is complete. He is done teaching and the final phase of His mission is about to begin. If Annas is looking for witnesses to vouch for who Jesus is, there are more than enough people who can speak on His behalf. And the time is quickly coming when the followers of Jesus will lift their voices and declare the good news of the gospel. But the words of Jesus recall the sad image of Peter, cowering in silent fear by the glow of the charcoal fire.

But Jesus’ response to Annas earned Him a slap in the face from the hand of one of the officers standing beside Him. His answer had come across as dishonoring and deserving of rebuke. His face still stinging from the guard’s physical abuse, Jesus calmly replied, “If I said anything wrong, you must prove it. But if I’m speaking the truth, why are you beating me?” (John 18:23 NLT).

This statement will establish the tone for the rest of the night’s proceedings. Jesus is going to be repeatedly questioned and physically abused. But as Pilate will clearly state, “I find no guilt in him” (John 19:4 ESV). Nothing Jesus has said over the last three years has been false. And what He said to Annas had not been disrespectful, He had simply been stating the truth. These trials would prove to be a mockery of justice. They were not interested in the truth. The one who claimed to be “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6) stood before them, but they would declare Him to be a liar and a deceiver. And in so doing, they would prove what Jesus had said about them earlier:

“…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

And with that, Annas sent Jesus to Caiaphas. But what about Peter? He is still standing by the fire, awaiting the final two of his “siftings” by Satan. And they come in quick succession. But rather than serve as a faithful witness to His friend and Messiah, Peter denies knowing Him…“and at once a rooster crowed” (John 18:27 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

All You Need to Know

1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:1-7 ESV

Jesus has just told Peter that he will deny Him, not once, but three times. Then He followed this painful pronouncement with a rather incongruous statement that seems a bit out of place.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” – John 14:1 ESV

Everyone in the room that night was troubled, including Jesus (John 13:21). Jesus’ mind was filled with knowledge about all that was about to take place. He had been aware of Judas’ betrayal. He knew that Peter, one of the members of His inner circle, would end up denying any knowledge Him. Jesus knew His disciples would all desert Him in His hour of greatest need. The crowds that had eagerly flocked to watch Him perform signs and wonders would be long gone. And He was fully aware that the hours ahead would be filled with humiliation, insufferable pain, and the agony of the cross.

But what about the disciples? They were unaware of most of these details but they were still reeling from all that Jesus had just told them. They were disturbed by the news that one of them would betray Him. But even when Judas left the upper room, they remained unsure as to what he was about to do. Yet their hearts were troubled. Because they knew something ominous was about to happen. They just couldn’t put their finger on what it was.

And when Jesus had announced His imminent departure, He added the disconcerting news that they would not be joining Him. After three years of constant companionship with Jesus, He was going to abandon them. And then He tells them, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.”

And poor Peter must have taken this statement particularly hard. He had just been outed as the one who would deny Jesus. How was he supposed to be untroubled by this news? And was Jesus’ statement about belief aimed at him? Was Jesus insinuating that Peter lacked faith?

Jesus, in His compassionate and caring way, is attempting to encourage His dismayed and discouraged disciples. He knows they are struggling. And as the Good Shepherd, He cares deeply about their physical and spiritual well-being. His love for them is a primary factor behind His pending death for them.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. – John 10:11 NLT

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15:13 NLT

But in their greatest moment of confusion and consternation, Jesus encourages them to believe. The darkness is closing in but He remains the light of the world. While everything around them is looking bleak and foreboding, He remains the same. He is still “the Christ, the Son of the living God” just as Peter had confessed Him to be (Matthew 16:16). He was still “the Messiah,” just as Andrew had announced to Peter three years earlier (John 1:43). And He was still “the Son of God” and “the King of Israel” as Nathanael had proclaimed (John 1:49).

But now, they were beginning to get a glimpse into His true mission. He had not come to set them free from slavery to Rome. His advent as the Son of God was not so He could set up His Kingdom on earth. He had come to offer His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). And the time had come for Him to fulfill His God-ordained mission.

There was so much they didn’t know or understand. But it is not as if Jesus had kept them in the dark about His future. In fact, Matthew records that immediately after Peter had made His public confession that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 NLT), Jesus “began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead” (Matthew 16:21 NLT).

And yet, the very same man who had boldly confessed Jesus to be the Messiah pulled Him aside and rebuked Him.

“Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” – Matthew 16:22 NLT

Jesus’ plains words concerning His death left Peter stunned and appalled. It was not what he expected or wanted. It didn’t fit into his concept of the Messiah. So, he simply rejected it.

And this had not been the last time Jesus shared news of what was going to happen. Even as they had made their way to Jerusalem and before His triumphal entry into the city, Jesus had reiterated to His disciples all that was about to happen.

“Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die. Then they will hand him over to the Romans to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.” – Matthew 20:18-19 NLT

He couldn’t have made it much clearer. But they had refused to accept what He had to say because His words were not what they wanted to hear. And it is interesting to note that, immediately after Jesus made this announcement to His disciples, John’s own mother had approached Jesus with a rather presumptuous request on behalf of John and his brother, James.

“In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” – Matthew 20:21 NLT

She obviously expected Jesus to set up an earthly kingdom and was hoping to convince Him to award her two sons with places of prominence in His administration. But Jesus informed her and her two sons who were standing right beside her, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?” (Matthew 20:22 NLT). 

They had the timeline all wrong. They had been expecting a Messiah who would come as a conquering King. But Jesus had come to play the part of the suffering servant. And, once again, Jesus had made this aspect of His earthly ministry quite clear.

When the other 10 disciples had gotten wind of what the mother of James and John had done, they had been furious. They all shared an expectation that they would play major roles in Jesus’ coming kingdom. But Jesus had new for them.

“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:25-28 NLT

Jesus had come to earth so that He could hang on a cross, not sit on a throne. He had taken on human flesh so that He might bear a crown of thorns, not one made of gold and precious stones. His incarnation had been so that He might suffer the humiliation of crucifixion, not the joy of His own inauguration as king. That time would come, but it would not be now.

But Jesus wanted His disciples to know that they could still trust Him. Despite all that was happening around them, they could take Him at His word as the Son of God. And while much of what they had heard Him say had been less-than-encouraging, He wanted them to know there was good news. This dark cloud had a silver lining.

“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” – John 14:2-3 ESV

Yes, Jesus would be leaving them, but for a very good reason. He would be returning to His Father’s side where He would begin preparations for the day when they would each join Him. And when the time was right, Jesus assured them, He would return for His own.

Like so many of Jesus’ other statements, this one flew right over the heads of His disciples. It would only be after Jesus had died, been resurrected, and returned to heaven, that the disciples would put all the pieces together and understand the significance of His words. With the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, John and the other 10 disciples received a divine capacity to comprehend all that Jesus had said and done in their three years with Him. For the first time, it all began to make sense.

But on that night in the upper room, when Jesus insinuated that they knew where He was going, Thomas had confessed, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5 ESV). He was confused and concerned. How would they find Jesus if they didn’t know where He was going?

Then Jesus dropped the bombshell that destroyed all their preconceived notions concerning righteousness, salvation, forgiveness, and justification before God.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6 ESV

He boldly and unequivocally proclaimed Himself to be the one and only source of access to God. And the pathway to the Father would pass through the shadow of the cross. Jesus assures His disciples that it is their relationship with Him that assures them of having a permanent relationship with God. Verse seven might better be translated, “If you have known me, you will know my Father too” (John 14:7 NET). And the inference seems to be that they since they have known Jesus, they most certainly have known and seen God. It was their belief in Jesus as the Son of God that made possible their access to and relationship with God. So, when Thomas had said they didn’t know the way, Jesus assured them He was wrong. They knew Him and that was all they needed to know.  

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

Another Gospel

Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. – 2 John 1:9-11 ESV

John, as an apostle of Jesus Christ, took his role seriously. He had high regard for the teachings of Jesus and a strong sense of responsibility when it came to the wellbeing of the body of Christ. Like Paul, his fellow apostle, John was always on the lookout for those who would do harm to the church of Jesus Christ. They were both very aware that the enemy was out to destroy what Jesus had created. And Jesus, on the very night He was betrayed into the hands of the Jewish religious leaders, had made a heartfelt request of His Heavenly Father:

“I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.” – John 17:14-19 NLT

Jesus knew His followers were going to face intense opposition. Satan was going to throw all his resources against those who aligned themselves with Jesus Christ. When his attempt to thwart the redemptive plan of God by murdering the Son of God proved an abysmal failure, Satan would ramp up his efforts to stifle the Gospel by diluting and distorting it with lies and half-truths. But notice what Jesus prayed that night. He asked that His Father would keep His followers holy or set apart by the truth of His Word.

The truth of the Gospel message was going to be the key to resisting the lies of the enemy. And John warns his readers that anyone who did not remain committed to the teachings of Jesus never really knew Him. If they ended up rejecting the claims of Jesus to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world, it would be because they never truly believed in Him, to begin with. And John bluntly states that the rejection of Jesus as the incarnation of God in the flesh was to reject God Himself.

Anyone who wanders away from this teaching has no relationship with God. – 2 John 1:9 NLT

It is interesting to note that John describes these deserters of the Gospel as “running ahead.” He used the Greek word, parabainō, which conveys the idea of passing over or stepping around something. It is often translated as “transgress.” Under the influence of the false teachers, these people would choose to walk around the truths regarding Jesus and pass on to something new and seemingly better. Convinced that they were hearing new and improved information regarding Jesus, they would leave the teachings of the apostles behind. But John warns that, in doing so, they would be turning their backs on God. And John was not making this up. He was simply repeating what He had heard Jesus say.

“If I were to testify on my own behalf, my testimony would not be valid. But someone else is also testifying about me, and I assure you that everything he says about me is true. In fact, you sent investigators to listen to John the Baptist, and his testimony about me was true. Of course, I have no need of human witnesses, but I say these things so you might be saved. John was like a burning and shining lamp, and you were excited for a while about his message. But I have a greater witness than John—my teachings and my miracles. The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he sent me. And the Father who sent me has testified about me himself. You have never heard his voice or seen him face to face, and you do not have his message in your hearts, because you do not believe me—the one he sent to you.” – John 5:31-38 NLT

The testimony of God verified the claims of Jesus. And no additional truth or new revelations from the lips of men were going to replace what God had declared about Jesus. “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him” (Luke 9:35 NLT).

John had no doubt as to Jesus’ deity and His claims of divinity. He had heard Jesus boldly claim, “I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me” (John 8:18 ESV). And John had been an eye-witness to not only the crucifixion of Jesus but also His miraculous resurrection. Everything had happened just as Jesus had said it would. He had risen from the dead, and John had seen it with his own eyes. 

So, John flatly asserts that if anyone suddenly decided that the truth as testified by God was false, they were the ones who were in error. John could well remember the extremely harsh words Jesus had spoken to the religious leaders of the Jews.

“Since you don’t know who I am, you don’t know who my Father is. If you knew me, you would also know my Father.” – John 8:19 NLT

A false understanding of Jesus and His identity will lead to a false understanding of God. If Jesus was just a man, then God is a liar. If Jesus did not resurrect from the dead, then God has provided no means by which men can be restored to a right relationship with Him. The apostle Paul pointed out the futility of faith in a Jesus who did not rise from the grave.

…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 15:17-18 NLT

But Paul goes on to provide the truth regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection.

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 15:19 NLT

And John fully supports Paul’s assertion when he states, “But anyone who remains in the teaching of Christ has a relationship with both the Father and the Son” (2 John 1:9 NLT). Those who remain committed to and dependent upon the promise of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone will not be disappointed. To know Jesus is to know the Father. That is why Jesus claimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” (John 14:6-7 NLT).

John wanted his audience to know that they were to have nothing to do with those who preached a different version of Jesus. If their teaching contradicted that of Jesus and the apostles, the church was to have nothing to do with them.

If anyone comes to your meeting and does not teach the truth about Christ, don’t invite that person into your home or give any kind of encouragement. – 2 John 1:10 NLT

When it came to the Gospel, there was to be no place for toleration of alternate versions or new insights into who Jesus was and what He had come to do. The apostle Paul accused the church in Corinth of happily putting up with all kinds of false messages, including “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). He issued a similar condemnation to the church in Galatia.

I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News. – Galatians 1:6 NLT

This was a real problem in the early days of the church, and it remains so even today. And the warning John gave to the members of the church in Asia Minor is just as relevant for us as it was for them.

Anyone who encourages such people becomes a partner in their evil work… – 2 John 1:11 NLT

The Gospel is the Gospel. It is not to be added to, distorted in any way, clarified, or amplified. In fact, the apostle Paul warns that anyone who tampers with the Gospel message as testified by God, proclaimed by Jesus, and preached by the apostles was to be cursed.

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. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed. – Galatians 1:8-9 NLT

Serious and sober words because the message of the Gospel is the key to eternal life.

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 Truth Vs. The Lie

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, people who do not confess Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh. This person is the deceiver and the antichrist! Watch out, so that you do not lose the things we have worked for, but receive a full reward. – 2 John 1:7-8 ESV

John is encouraging his readers to live their lives according to the truth of the Gospel. And at the core of the gospel message can be found the love of God. The “good news” is that God sent His Son to be the payment for mankind’s sin debt. Jesus Christ took on human flesh so that He might do what no other human being has ever been able to do: Obey every single law given by God. And Jesus did so willingly and perfectly.  The apostle Paul points out the necessity for Jesus to become a man so that He might obey God’s commands “in the flesh.”

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. – Romans 8:3 NLT

The author of Hebrews supports Paul’s point, adding that Jesus became like us so that He might become the acceptable substitute for us.

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

And Paul expands the scope of God’s actions by pointing out that it was Jesus’ sinlessness or purity that made Him an acceptable sacrifice to God. He paid for our sins with His life and provided a means by which we can be restored to a right relationship with God.

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

And all of this was done because God “so loved the world” (John 3:16). The truly amazing thing is that God’s love was despite us, not because of us. He loved us when we were at our worst. As Paul points out in Romans, it was “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 ESV). And it is that same kind of selfless, sacrificial love that we are to share with those around us, especially to those within the body of Christ. We are to live our lives according to the truth of the Gospel – in keeping with the love displayed through the Gospel.

But John had some words of warning for the local fellowship to whom he was writing. He wanted them to recognize the very real threat of those who would seek to distort the truth. John had been around long enough to know that the message of the Gospel was under constant attack, from without and from within. There were those outside the church who opposed the truth regarding Jesus Christ. They rejected the claims that He was the Messiah and the Savior of the world. They denied the reality of the resurrection. To them, Christianity was nothing more than just another cult or sect of Judaism. But even the Jews themselves took issue with this movement they labeled “the way.” To them, Christians were, at best, a nuisance and, at worst, a very real threat to their religious system. So, the Jews persecuted Christians wherever and whenever they could.

But the greatest threats to the faith usually come from within. And the agents behind these threats are subtle and sinister, disguising themselves as purveyors of truth and beacons of light. But notice that John describes these people as “deceivers.” They claim to be fellow followers of Christ, yet all the while denying His deity.  John pulls no punches when he states that they “do not confess Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh” (2 John 1:7 ESV). The New Living Translation puts it this way: “They deny that Jesus Christ came in a real body.

The truth regarding the incarnation of Jesus was under constant attack. And there were those who, while claiming to be followers of Jesus, regularly denied the teaching that Jesus took on human flesh. And you can see why this bothered John. If Jesus did not become a man, then the Gospel lost its power. It was the humanity of Jesus that made Him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of man. Yet these deceivers were eliminating the possibility of the incarnation. In fact, John talked about the impact of these false teachers in his first letter.

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

So, what were these “deceivers” saying about Jesus? Obviously, they denied His humanity. They were claiming that Jesus, the man, had not been born of the Father and was, therefore, not divine. By denying the deity of Jesus, they were contradicting the testimony of God Himself, and John pointed this out in his previous letter.

All who believe in the Son of God know in their hearts that this testimony is true. Those who don’t believe this are actually calling God a liar because they don’t believe what God has testified about his Son. – 1 John 5:10 NLT

These false teachers denied that Jesus was God’s Anointed One who had come in the flesh. And John labels anyone propagating these lies as “the deceiver and the antichrist!” (2 John 1:7 ESV). In essence, John accuses these people of being Satan himself. John remembered how Jesus had described Satan: “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).

In his second letter to the believers in Thessalonica, Paul warned them about a future day when the Antichrist, the man of lawlessness, would appear on the scene.

This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. So God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies. Then they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth. – 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 NLT

This end-times character will show up on the world scene, exhibiting great power and utilizing deception to turn the world away from the truth of the Gospel. As a pawn of Satan, the Antichrist will convince people to reject the truth that could save them – the truth regarding God’s love as displayed through the incarnation of His Son, and demonstrated by His sacrificial death on the cross as the payment for their sin debt.

And while the Antichrist is not scheduled to appear until the period known as the Great Tribulation, his spirit is alive and well. Even in John’s day, this deceptive influence was making its way through the local church as these false teachers spread around the world, disseminating their half-truths and pious-sounding platitudes about Jesus. That is why John warned his readers to “Watch out, so that you do not lose the things we have worked for, but receive a full reward” (2 John 1:8 ESV). 

But what is John saying here? Is he inferring that the believers to whom he is writing can somehow lose their salvation? John refers to them losing “the things we have worked for.” He and the rest of the apostles had spent their lives spreading the truth of the Gospel all around the known world. They had diligently and faithfully preached the life-transformative power of the gospel to save and sanctify. John had fully believed and taught the words of Jesus: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV).

He wanted his fellow Christ-followers to experience all that Jesus had died to deliver to them. He longed for them to experience the abundant life Jesus had promised. But if they bought into the lies of the false teachers and began to question the very deity of Jesus, they would find themselves doubting the very truth of the Gospel and questioning their own salvation.

John is in no way suggesting that Christians can lose their reward. They are at no risk of missing out on eternity. In fact, it seems that John is warning that if you accept the lies of the false teachers, you never really believed the truth of the Gospel to begin with. Your faith was false all along. Which brings us back to love, the topic John covered in the previous verses of his letter. Love is the driving force of the Gospel message, as illustrated in God sending His own Son in the likeness of human flesh. The apostle Paul points out that Jesus…“gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8 NLT).

And He did it out of love. If you fail to believe that, you have failed to experience the love of God. And you will never experience the abundant life Jesus came to offer. And if you deny that Jesus was God in the flesh, you have no hope of ever enjoying the ultimate reward of eternal life.

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 Highway of Holiness

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.– Matthew 7:12-14 ESV

Verse 12 has come to be commonly referred to as The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is essentially a summation of all that Jesus has said, and acts as a bookend to verse 17 of chapter five:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

These two verses comprise what is known as an inclusio, bracketing all that is contained between them and forming a single unit of thought. The over-arching theme has been Jesus’ treatment of the Law and the Prophets or the Old Testament revelation. Here, in verse 12, Jesus brings His thoughts to a conclusion, summarizing all that He has said in one succinct and simple statement: So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them. This is the law of love, and it supersedes and fully expresses all that was written in the law. Paul summarizes it well:

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. – Romans 13:8-10 ESV

He simplified it, even more, when he wrote to the believers in Galatia:

For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:14 NLT

And not long before Jesus was to go to the cross, He would tell His disciples:

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” – John 13:34-35 NLT

But it is essential that we understand what Jesus is saying. In our sinful, self-centered state, it would be easy to draw a faulty conclusion from His words that allows us to focus on what we want from others. In other words, if we want our back scratched, we will reluctantly scratch someone else’s back, expecting them to do the same to us in return. Our outwardly, gracious actions would be selfishly motivated. But that is not the kind of love Jesus is talking about. He is referring to a selfless kind of love that expects and demands nothing in return. It is focused on giving, not getting. The apostle Paul warned against turning the law of love into some kind of self-centered mechanism to get what you want.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:1-4 ESV

No one enjoys being hated, so why would we choose to hate others? There is no joy in being taken advantage of, so why would we treat someone else that way? If the idea of someone having an affair with your spouse offends you, it should also prevent you from ever considering doing the same thing to someone else. Jesus’ statement is not intended to be self-centered but other-focused. He is telling us that the law was essentially about loving God and loving others, and not yourself. And those who have been blessed or approved by God will love as He loves. They will do as Jesus did, which Paul sums up in his letter to the Philippians:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8 ESV

Jesus knows that the life of love and self-sacrifice to which He is calling His audience would not be easy. He is fully aware that His words have been difficult to hear and that what He has been commanding them to do would be impossible to pull off. The crowds who had followed Jesus to the hillside in Galilee had been attracted by His miracles. They were enamored by His ability to heal the sick and cast out demons. There was something attractive about this man who could do the impossible. But now, they were hearing that He expected the impossible of them.

He was teaching that if they wanted to be part of God’s kingdom, they were going to have to live radically different lives. Their status as descendants of Abraham was not going to be enough. Their adherence to man-made laws and religious rules was not going to win them favor with God. In fact, Jesus breaks the news that the path to God was actually narrow and quite difficult, and the number of those who take that path would be quite small. But, in contrast, the path to hell is like a broad, sprawling avenue, filled with countless people who have chosen that way because it is easy and rather enjoyable.

Jesus is letting His listeners know that the way to God was not what they thought. It was not going to be through keeping the law. It would not be due to their ethnic identity as Jews and descendants of Abraham. Jesus is presenting another, exclusive way to God: Himself.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6 ESV

He would also present Himself as the gate or door that provides the sole means by which men and women might be saved and find entrance into God’s kingdom.

“Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures.” – John 10:9 NLT

Obviously, Jesus did not believe in universalism, the false, yet popular, doctrine that teaches that all will eventually be welcomed into heaven by God because of His love. Jesus promoted Himself as the sole means by which anyone is made right with God. He is the way, not just one of many ways. He alone has satisfied the just demands of God and paid for the sins of mankind with His own life. And He offers Himself to any and all who will receive Him as their Savior and sin substitute.

Those who accept His selfless sacrifice on their behalf receive the forgiveness of their sins and enjoy a restored relationship with God the Father. But Jesus warns that few will take Him up on His offer because the gate is small. It’s narrow and limited. It requires faith. And the path beyond that gate is difficult.

The Christian life is not an easy road. Salvation provides us with freedom from condemnation for our sins but does not provide us with a trouble-free life on this earth. We will face tribulation and difficulty. Living out our faith in the midst of a fallen world will be trying at times. Too often, Christianity is sold as a panacea for all of life’s problems. We falsely advertise faith in Christ as a solution to difficulty and the key to happiness. It explains why a book with the title, Your Best Life Now can become an international best-seller. But that is not what Jesus came to bring.

Jesus did not die in order for us to have our best life now. Yes, He did promise to give us life and life more abundantly, but not our own terms. The real benefit we receive from placing our faith in Christ is not our best life now, but eternal life to come. We have been promised a future sinless state, free from pain, suffering, sorrow, and tears. We have been guaranteed a place in God’s kingdom and no one can take it from us. So, with that in mind, we are encouraged to view our life on this earth as temporary. We are on a journey to a better place. We are on a path that will eventually lead us to our eternal home. This is why the author of Hebrews encourages us to, “strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Hebrews 12:1 NLT).

The prophet, Isaiah, tells us of another path, a highway that will lead through the barren and desolate land, a highway of holiness. It will provide a path for the redeemed into God’s earthly kingdom, where His Son will reign in Jerusalem. Those who enter the narrow way now and walk the path provided by Jesus’ death and resurrection, will one day walk that Highway of Holiness, free from sorrow and sin.

And a great road will go through that once deserted land. It will be named the Highway of Holiness. Evil-minded people will never travel on it. It will be only for those who walk in God’s ways; fools will never walk there. Lions will not lurk along its course, nor any other ferocious beasts. There will be no other dangers. Only the redeemed will walk on it. Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness. – Isaiah 35:8-10 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.

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