Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
© 2016 John David Clark, Sr.
I am indebted to many for their contributions to this work, that is, for their contributions to my life. Some have gone on to be with the Lord and cannot see this fruit of their labor. To those who are still here, I offer my sincere and humble thanks. Without them, this book would not be what it is, for I would not be who I am.
My love and gratitude go out to my wife, Barbara, and our four children, Token, Rebekah, John David, and Elijah, without whose help this would have been a poorer work. I also thank my Greek and Hebrew students who helped in the translation of the scriptures used in this book, especially Damien Callaghan, Gary Savelli, and Aaron Nelson. Sincere thanks is also offered to my secretaries, Amy Boveia and Token Embry, whose zeal for this project at least matched my own, and to all the wise and faithful saints whom God has sent to support me in my labor for God and His Son. Their help was invaluable, and their discerning observations inspired many portions of this book. God bless them all.
Of those who played a part in shaping me and, so, this work, most important was “Preacher Clark”, who was both my pastor and my father. He led me to Christ, “whose I am and whom I serve.” I am who I am because of him. And I am
your servant in Christ.
John David Clark, Sr.
In 2007, I became acquainted with a group of sincere believers who taught that, other than in the mind of God, the Son of God did not exist until the birth of Jesus. They rejected the notion that in the beginning, the Son of God existed as a person alongside the Father. Inasmuch as the Bible exhorts us to “prove all things”, I carefully considered their teaching. I read a couple of their books and even traveled with some friends to visit a leading proponent of that doctrine. We all came to love that brother and his wife, and we still honor them as we honor everyone who believes in Christ Jesus our Lord. Unfortunately, I could not make their doctrine agree with the Bible’s teaching concerning the Father and the Son, for I could not deny the Bible’s clear teaching that from the beginning, the Son of God existed with the Father in heaven as a fully rational being. Nevertheless, I still “rejoice in hope” that God will someday bring us and all His people together in “the unity of the faith”.
My brief association with that group of believers prompted me to conduct a Bible study with my congregation on the subject of the Father and the Son. This book is the result of that study.
Three truths serve as the foundation for everything revealed about God in the New Testament. When understood, they reshape our perception of the Divine. The first truth is that from the beginning, God kept His Son a secret from all creatures, both in heaven and on earth (Col. 1:26). No one knew that God was a Father until the Son was revealed. The second truth is that God hid all wisdom and knowledge within His Son (Col. 2:3), so that no one can truly know God without first knowing the Son. The third truth is that the Son was not revealed to man while he walked on earth as Jesus Christ, but only after he sent back the Spirit, for the Spirit alone reveals the Son and, through him, the Father (Jn. 16:13).
The revelation of the Son was the revelation of God as He really is. It revealed, first of all, that God is a God of relationships, for in the beginning, His first act was to create Someone to love, and then to love that Someone so dearly that He gave him all power in heaven and earth. The Son was God’s first and only creation, the beginning and the end of His creative work (Rev. 3:14; 22:13); everything else was then created by that Son (Jn. 1:3). The revelation of the Son’s existence also taught us that the Son alone was created with God’s kind of life (the holy Spirit), and only with that life can anyone truly know God or His Son.
The revelation of the Son compels us to consider difficult questions such as this: If all wisdom and knowledge was hidden in the Son until the Spirit came, then what did the righteous who lived before Pentecost, including Jesus’ disciples, know about God before the Spirit came? Or this: If the Son was hidden even from heavenly beings, then who did Satan think Jesus was when he met him in the wilderness Temptation? These questions, and many others like them, we will answer. My hope is that you will experience the power and light with which my congregation and I were blessed as we pursued the knowledge of this New Testament revelation: God had a Son with Him in heaven long before Mary had a son born to her in Bethlehem.
In the beginning, the Word was there,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
The Beginning and the End
The truth that John was attempting to convey in the opening lines of his gospel is also the essential point of this book, and of the Gospel itself, namely, that God had a Son with Him in glory from before the beginning of the world. For His own wise purposes, God kept the existence of His Son secret until “the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4). Then, when God’s appointed time came, His revealing of the Son became the foundation for a new and everlasting covenant between God and man.
We are all familiar with the lovely way John 1:1 is translated in the King James Version: “In the beginning was the Word.” That simple translation is accurate; however, it does not quite communicate the revelation John was declaring. Literally, the Greek text says, “In the beginning, the Word was being.” Other possible translations include the following: “In the beginning, the Word existed,” or even, “In the beginning, the Word already was.” John’s point was that the Son existed before anything else did. The Son was not merely there at the beginning; he was there before the beginning began.
In the book of Revelation, the Son referred to his pre-existence with the Father when he said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 22:13). He also told us what he was the beginning of, when he called himself “the beginning of the creation of God” (Rev. 3:14). In other words, the Son was “the first and the last, the beginning and the end” of the Father’s creative work, which means that the Father created the Son, and then the Son created everything else, just as John said: “All things were created through him, and without him was nothing created that was created” (Jn. 1:3).
The following scriptures, written by New Testament men of God, proclaimed the astonishing and thrilling revelation that from the beginning, there had been a Son in heaven with God, a Son who had been God’s agent in creating all things:
15.He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature,
16.for by him were all things created, things in the heavens and things on earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or rulers, or authorities, all things were created through him and for him,
17.and he is before all things, and all things are held together by him.
1.After God spoke in many and various ways to the fathers in olden times by the prophets, He spoke to us in these last days by a Son,
2.whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.
Hebrews 1 (quoting Pss. 45:6–7; 102:25)
8.To the Son, God said, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness.
9.You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore, God, even your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your fellows.”
10.And [still to the Son], “You, Lord, in the beginning, laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands.”
Throughout the New Testament, we are alerted when a writer’s meaning differs from what he appears to be saying (e.g., Mt. 24:15; 1Cor. 10:15; Gal. 4:24), but never did a New Testament writer alert his readers that he was speaking figuratively when he declared the Son’s pre-existence and creative work. They all spoke consistently of the Son as living in heaven with the Father from before the foundation of the world. Not once does any biblical writer veer from that simple, clear course. All of them would have agreed wholeheartedly with what John meant when he wrote, “In the beginning, the Word was there.”
The Father and the Son are the “us” of Genesis 1:26, as well as of Genesis 3:22 and Genesis 11:7. In Genesis 1:26, when God said, “Let us make mankind in our image”, He was not speaking to angels. To create is not a function of angels; they are messengers only, as is indicated by the fact that in both Hebrew and Greek, the word for “angel” means “messenger”. Sometimes, “angel” refers to heavenly messengers, such as the messengers Jacob saw in a vision (Gen. 28:12) or Gabriel, who spoke to Daniel, Zacharias, and Mary (Dan. 8:16; 9:21; Lk. 1:19, 26–27). But “angel” can also refer to human messengers, such as the servants Jacob sent to meet Esau (Gen. 32:3) or the two messengers whom John the Baptist sent to Jesus (Lk. 7:19, 24), or even John the Baptist himself (Mt. 11:10). Whether heavenly or earthly, then, angels are just messengers, and they are never said to have participated to any degree in the act of creation. The notion that it was to angels that God said “Let us make mankind”  is simply indefensible.
To create what God wanted created was the Son’s function in creation. When the Father said, “Let us make mankind”, He was speaking to His Son, who then created man according to God’s expressed will. God had said, “Let us make”, and so, the Son made.
“Where He Was Before”
While on earth, the Son of God spoke openly about having been with the Father in glory before he came to live among us:
28.I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father.
61.Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Does this offend you?
62.Then, what if you see the Son of man ascending to where he was before?”
Strict logic would lead us to conclude that if in the beginning, the Son was merely “the first creative thought in the mind of God,” then, for him to “ascend to where he was before” would mean that when the Son ascended back to heaven, he returned into his Father’s head! That is an absurd conclusion, of course, and nobody teaches such a thing. However, it is a conclusion which logic demands if the Son was only a thought in the mind of God before he came to earth.
Before returning to the Father, the Son prayed that He would restore to him the glory that he had before the world began: “Jesus lifted his eyes toward heaven and said, ‘Father, glorify me to be at your side, with the glory I used to have with you before the universe existed’” (Jn. 17:1a, 5).
Before this universe existed, the Son lived in happy, open glory with the Father (Prov. 8:22–31); it was only when rational beings were created that God hid him. The Son prayed for the glory he used to have because he knew it was time for him not to be hidden any longer; however, if the Son had not lived in open glory previously, then this prayer to do so again would make no sense.
During the time of the Old Testament kings, God sent Amos from a Judean village called Tekoah to the idolatrous sanctuary at Bethel to prophesy against the apostate northern tribes (Amos 1:1; 7:15). But the thing that made it possible for Amos to be sent from Tekoah was that he existed in Tekoah before he was sent. At another time, God sent Elijah from Gilgal to Bethel (2Kgs. 2:2), and again, it was possible for Elijah to be sent from Gilgal only because Elijah existed in Gilgal before God sent him. Neither Amos nor Elijah came into existence when they arrived in Bethel. So it was with the Son. He did not come into existence when he arrived on earth. He existed in heaven before he was sent to earth, and that made it possible for him to be sent from heaven.
Dozens of times in the gospel of John alone, the Son of God testified that God had sent him from heaven, and even more specifically, that he had been sent “down from heaven” (e.g. Jn. 6:41). Nothing like that was ever said about any man sent by God, and no other man of God ever spoke of himself as being sent down from heaven the way Jesus did. Nor did any man of God, when his time came to die, claim that after his death he would be returning to heaven, where he was before. No man had such a testimony because no man had ever lived in heaven with the Father before the Father sent him. But the Son did. And the primary reason that the Son was able to reveal the Father as no one else ever could (Jn. 1:18) is that prior to coming to earth, he had been with the Father since before the foundation of the world.
Why the Son Is the Greatest
When John the Baptist prophesied to the Jews that someone mightier than he was coming, he was speaking by the unction of the Spirit of God. He could not have known the meaning of his own words when he first saw Jesus and proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29). John had no knowledge of the Son of God, much less of the Son’s future crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension into heaven to make an eternal sacrifice for the sins of the entire human race. Nor did John understand the prophetic words that came from his own lips when he said, “After me is coming a man greater than I, for he was before I was” (Jn. 1:15, 30).
In saying, “He was before I was,” John could not have been speaking of Mary’s son, for John was born about six months before Mary bore Jesus (Lk. 1:26–36). So, if John had been speaking of physical age, John would have said, “I was before he was.” But because God’s Son existed first, the Spirit moved John to say the opposite, just as the Spirit moved all the prophets to speak mysteries concerning the hidden Son. John was as ignorant of his prophecy as were the ancient prophets of theirs (1Pet. 1:10–12); even seeing Jesus face to face did not reveal to John the meaning of his words. The truth would be revealed only by the Spirit when it came (Jn. 16:13), and the Spirit was not yet given (Jn. 7:39).
The central revelation of the New Testament is that God really is a Father and that He was a Father before the world began. This means that God had a Son a long, long time before Mary did. It also means that the Son is “Lord of all” (Acts 10:36) because he existed before everything and everybody (except, of course, the Father who created him). John had it right. The Messiah is the greatest of all creatures because he was the first of all creatures. Those who teach that God had a Son only when Mary gave birth to Jesus will admit that Satan existed before Jesus was born. That being so, and if John the Baptist’s standard for preeminence holds true (that is, whoever exists first is greater), then Satan would have to be considered greater than the Son of God, which is obviously not the case.
After the Spirit came, other men of God would proclaim that the Son is greatest of all because he existed before all, but unlike John and the old prophets, these men understood what they were saying. They wittingly taught what the prophets had ignorantly proclaimed:
17.He is before all things, and all things are held together by him.
18.He is also the head of the body, the Assembly of God; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that in everything, he might be preeminent.
Why the Son Is Not the Greatest
As has been mentioned, the Son of God declared himself to be the first of all that God created: “To the messenger of the Assembly in Laodicea, write: “The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God, says these things” (Rev. 3:14).
With that declaration, we are offered two bedrock truths of the New Testament. The first is that the Son of God was the first thing created. The second is that the Father is greater than the Son because He existed before the Son did. Both the Oneness and the Trinity doctrines contradict these truths. The former claims that the Father and the Son are one and the same being, and the latter claims that the Father and His Son are co-equal and co-eternal. But Jesus knew nothing of such doctrines. He said that his life had been given to him by the Father (Jn. 5:26), and he also said that the Father was greater than he (Jn. 14:28). The Gospel preached by the apostles took both those facts for granted.
Paul saw no problem at all in the Son falling down before the Father – something impossible for the Son to do if he were the same person as the Father, and something illogical for the Son to do if he were his Father’s equal:
1Corinthians 15 (referring to Ps. 8:6)
27.He [the Father] has subdued all things under his [the Son’s] feet. But when it says, “all things are subdued”, it is obvious that He who subdued all things under him is an exception.
28.And when all things are subdued under him, then will the Son submit himself to Him who subdued all things under him, so that God might be all things to all people.
When the Son said, “The Father and I are one” (Jn. 10:30), he did not mean that he and the Father are the same person; he meant that they are in such spiritual harmony that nobody can have one without the other. This is made obvious when Jesus went on to pray that those who believe in him might be one as he and the Father are one (Jn. 17:22). Obviously, we who believe cannot become the same person, but we can be one in spirit. We can be, as are the Father and Son, “like-minded” (2Cor. 13:11), “perfectly united”, “speaking the same thing”, with “no divisions” among us (1Cor. 1:10), “thinking the same thing" and “having the same love” for one another (Phip. 2:2).
“Why Call Me Good?”
The unity of the Father and the Son does not imply equality of the Father with the Son any more than the unity of believers and Christ implies equality of believers with Christ. Christ is greater than believers, and the Father is greater than the Son. Jesus confessed that the Father was greater than he (Jn. 14:28), and he feared and obeyed his Father (Heb. 5:7; Jn. 15:10). Jesus has been given “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Mt. 28:18), but the Father, who gave it to him, remains the one true God to whom the Son bows (1Cor. 15:28). When Hebrews says that the Son is the one “through whom He made the worlds” (Heb. 1:2), the “He” in that verse is the Father. The Son was God’s agent in creation, but the Father is the Creator, as Jesus himself said (Mk. 10:6; 13:19).
When a certain young man excitedly greeted Jesus with the words, “Good teacher!” Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except One, that is, God” (Mt. 19:17). Jesus trusted in the righteousness of God alone and put no confidence in human righteousness, including his own. Though the Son is the greatest of all creatures and Lord over all creation, he considers himself to be but a servant of the Father (Isa. 49:4–5), and that is in accord with the Father’s frequent reference to the Son as His servant (e.g., Isa. 42:1; 49:1–3, 6). When the Son came to live among us, he still possessed the power with which he was created; at his word, raging storms instantly became calm (Mk. 4:37–39) and the dead were brought back to life (e.g., Jn. 11:43–44). But the Son dignified his majesty and power by being faithful to the One who gave him majesty and power. He loved and reverenced his Father, and he always did what pleased Him (Heb. 5:7; Jn. 8:29), completely without sin (Heb. 4:15).
At the same time, the Son keenly felt the foolishness and sinfulness of the fleshly nature he had taken on. Psalm 69 is quoted twice in the New Testament as a prophecy of the sinless Son of God (Jn. 2:17; Rom. 15:3), and yet, within that psalm, we hear the Son crying out, “O God, you know my foolishness, and my trespasses are not hidden from you.” (Ps. 69:5). We would not expect such a confession from the holy Son of God because we know that he was not foolish and that he “committed no sin” (1Pet. 2:22). But part of the Son’s becoming one of us is that he experienced the shame of the foolishness and sinfulness of our fallen nature.
The same kind of confession from the sinless Lamb of God is found in Psalm 41:9. At the Last Supper, the Son quoted what he had spoken through David in that psalm a thousand years before, explaining that it was a prophecy of his betrayal (Jn. 13:18b). Yet, in another verse from the same psalm, we hear the Son pleading with God, “O Lord, have mercy on me! Heal my soul, for I have sinned against you!” (Ps. 41:4).
Our natural response to this is to ask, “How could this prayer have belonged to the sinless Son of God?” The only reasonable answer is that the Son of God really did become one of us. He really did take on the corrupt nature of man, and he really was “tempted in every way that we are” (Heb. 4:15). He really felt the desperate sinfulness of the fleshly nature that he took on, and he earnestly prayed for deliverance from its power. For the Son to feel the shame of our sinfulness and to cry out to God for mercy was only a consequence of his taking on himself a fleshly body with its desperately sinful nature. In sum, when God made His Son, “who knew no sin, to be sin for us” (2Cor. 5:21), the awful feelings of guilt and shame came with it.
His Own Thoughts in Heaven
The verses below, from Hebrews 2, reveal thoughts, words, and deeds that belonged to the Son before he came to earth. They show that the Word who was with God in the beginning was a thinking, feeling, speaking being who loved both his Father and us and who desired to heal the breach between us and his Father which our sins had caused, regardless of what it cost him personally. The author, quoting Old Testament scriptures, tells us that the Son, while still in heaven, thought on us with great affection and spoke of us to the Father:
11.Both he who sanctifies [i.e., the Son] and those who are sanctified [those who believe in the Son] are all of One [the Father], for which reason he [the Son] is not ashamed to call them brothers,
12.saying [in Psalm 22:22], “I [the Son] will declare your [the Father’s] name to my brothers. In the midst of the congregation, will I sing you praise.”
13b.And again [in Isaiah 8:18], “Behold, I and the children whom God gave me!”
The indispensable basis of the scriptures quoted here is that the Son was alive in heaven with the Father, with his own feelings and thoughts, before he took on a human body. In verses 12 and 13, above, the Son is the speaker, and his words communicate no embarrassment at the thought of one day having us as brothers and sisters because we all would be sanctified by the same Father (Jn. 10:36; Jude 1:1). Clearly, the Son in heaven was looking forward to that day – this day! – when others would be sons of God with him.
The Son and His Earthly Temple
5.When coming into the world, he said, “Sacrifice and offering you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me.”
This verse shows us that when the Son of God came into the world, he was aware that the Father had prepared an earthly body for him. That body became the “temple” in which the Son lived from the time he came to earth until that temple was crucified. Then, when his temple died, the Son, still very much alive, left it for a few days to go to the heart of the earth to preach to spirits imprisoned there (Mt. 12:40; 1Pet. 3:19). Three days later, he ascended from the heart of the earth, re-entered his crucified temple, and walked out of the tomb, just as he had said he would do:
19.Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I’ll raise it up.”
20.Then said the Jews, “For forty-six years was this temple under construction, and you will raise it up in three days?”
21.But he was talking about the temple of his body.
The following prophecy from Psalm 40, quoted in the book of Hebrews, shows that as he was coming into the world the Son was talking to the Father. This tells us that when the Son was leaving heaven, he was aware of what was taking place; otherwise, he could not have been talking to his Father about it. And not only was the Son aware of what he was doing, but he was also committed to his Father’s purpose for doing it:
Hebrews 10 (cp. Ps. 40:6–8a)
5.When coming into the world, he said, “Sacrifice and offering you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me.
6.In whole burnt offerings and such for sin, you have taken no pleasure.
7.Then I said, ‘Behold, I am here (in a roll of a book it is written of me) to do your will, O God!’ ”
Since the Son was speaking of his purpose for leaving one place and going to another as it was happening, it is obvious that when he came to earth, he had full knowledge of where he had come from and where he was going. Just the fact that the Son knew anything at that moment tells us something significant about him, for if when he came, the Son knew that he was coming, and if when he came, he knew his Father’s purpose for sending him, then when he came, he was already a living being with a mind of his own. And if he had a mind, then he was much more than a mere thought within the mind of God.
In the prophecy from Psalm 40, just quoted by the author of Hebrews, the Son added this:“I delight to do your will, my God, for your law is in my heart” (Ps. 40:8).
So, as he was entering into the world, the Son was joyfully determined to do the Father’s will because love for God’s law was already in his heart. And if that simple statement is true, then the Son already had a heart as well as a mind when he left heaven; otherwise, there would have been no heart in the Son into which God could have put that love for His law.
Love for the Father and doing His will consumed the Son when he was on his way to earth because it had always consumed him, and it continued to consume him after he was sent to earth (Ps. 69:9a; fulfilled in Jn. 2:13–17). There has never been a moment when the Son was lukewarm about pleasing the Father. To do the Father’s will was so important to the Son that he considered it essential to his life, just as food is essential to human life:
31b.His disciples kept asking him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.”
32.But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.”
33.At this, the disciples began saying to one another, “Has anybody brought him something to eat?”
34.Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work.”
To do the will of the Father was the Son’s entire purpose for coming to earth. He spoke of it when he was leaving heaven, and he spoke of it repeatedly while he was here, warning his followers that the only people he considered to be his family are those who do the will of God as he did (Mt. 12:48–50). The Son absolutely loved his Father and was absolutely devoted to Him before, during, and after he came to earth.
The Father Spoke, Too
The love that the Father feels for the Son and that the Son feels for the Father is profound. John’s famous statement, “God is love” (1Jn. 4:8, 16), sprang from the revelation that the first thing the Father created was someone to love. We can see how very much the Father and the Son enjoy each other’s company in such verses as Proverbs 8:30, where the Son describes their life together before the world began: “I was at His side, like a master workman, daily His great delight, always laughing in His presence.” And that being the case, it must have grieved the Father deeply to send His Son away from Him.
When the Son left his happy home in glory to come to this cruel world to suffer and die, his devotion to the Father was revealed in his parting words: “I go to do your will, O God!” But the deep emotions which filled the Father’s heart were revealed when He responded with parting words of His own. Both Mark and Luke tell us that at that painful moment, “there came a voice from heaven, saying, ‘You are my beloved Son; in you, I am well pleased’ ” (Lk. 3:22b). The story of the Gospel is a story of love, not just God’s love for fallen man, but also, and primarily, the deep, abiding love that exists between God and His Son.
We should also note that the Father speaking to the Son when he left heaven shows us that the Son was a fully conscious being when he came into the world; had he not been, the Father would not have been talking to him. Surely, when the Father said, “You are my beloved Son,” He was speaking to someone who was really there, someone whom He dearly loved, not just to a good idea that was in His head. Otherwise, He would only have been talking to Himself.
Malachi prophesied of the day the Son would come from heaven and enter into the temple the Father had prepared for him: “The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. Behold, he is coming!” says the Lord of Hosts (Mal. 3:1b).
Inasmuch as Malachi said that when the Messiah came to his earthly temple, he would come “suddenly”, the virgin Mary could not have been the temple that God prepared for His Son. It took about nine months for the baby Jesus to be formed within Mary, and no one would call that sudden – least of all Mary. If, however, the Son of God suddenly came from heaven (in the form of a dove) and entered his temple when the son of Mary was baptized in the Jordan River, then “Jesus” is the name of the earthly temple that the Father prepared for His Son.
16.And when he had been baptized, Jesus came up straightway from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending in the form of a dove, and coming upon him.
The difference between the pre-baptism Jesus and the post-baptism Jesus was extraordinary, and it was extraordinary because the extraordinary Son of God now occupied the ordinary human temple that Mary had borne for God. The Son had transferred his life out of his heavenly body into the earthly body that his Father had prepared for him! Paul described this event as the Son “emptying himself ”, or “divesting himself ”, and taking on a human body:
6.Existing in the form of God, [Christ] did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped after.
7.Instead, he emptied himself, assuming the form of a slave, made in the likeness of men.
8.And being found as a man in appearance, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death – the death of a cross.
That last verse emphasizes the fact that once the Son had come into the world, he was “found as a man”; he was not found as a fertilized egg in Mary’s womb. The child that Mary bore was created in her womb by God, and so, Jesus was physically God’s son. But the Son of God through whom God “made the worlds” did not spend nine months as a fetus in Mary’s womb.
Paul refers to Christ as a second Adam (1Cor. 15:45–47). One reason that analogy is appropriate is that the Son of God began his life on earth as a fully formed man, just as the first Adam did, and he began his earthly life when he took upon himself the fully grown, earthly body of a man – Jesus.
Taking Us On
14.Inasmuch, then, as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he likewise partook of these so that by means of death, he might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the Accuser ,
15.and set free those who through fear of death their whole lives were subject to bondage.
16.(For it is obvious that he did not take on the nature of angels, but took on himself that of the seed of Abraham.)
Now, if the Son of God took on man’s nature, then on what did he take it? There can be no answer to that question if God had no Son before Mary did. If the Son did not exist until Mary conceived and bore her child, then the Son could not have “taken on” man’s nature because people who don’t exist can’t take on anything. But Hebrews 2:16, above, tells us that the Son of God took the nature of man on himself, which means that the Son had a “himself ” on which to take the nature of man, which, in turn, tells us that the Son of God was himself before he was a man.
The hidden Son of God could not die for our sins in heaven because up there, he was living in the incorruptible spiritual body given to him by his Father when He created him. He had to come down and take on a mortal human body in order to “taste of death” for us (Heb. 2:9). The Son of God was created immortal, like his Father (Heb. 7:3). He was also created as the “king of righteousness” (Heb. 7:2), and “in the path of righteousness, there is no death” (Prov. 12:28). To die, he had to come live as a man on earth.
“He Is with Me”
More happened at the Jordan River than the Son coming as a dove to his temple, for as we are told several times, the Son was in the Father, and the Father was in him (Jn. 10:38; Jn. 14:10–11; 17:21a). Therefore, when the Son came, the Father came with him, in spirit. Near the end of his earthly life, the Son told the disciples that the Spirit was with them but would soon be in them (Jn. 14:17), and he promised that when that happened, both he and the Father would dwell within them, too: “If anyone loves me, he’ll obey my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn. 14:23). This precious promise, that the Father and the Son would come dwell within believers, is the thing that moved Jesus to pray his earnest prayer that the Father would bless all those who believed in him with the same sweet unity that he and his Father had always known:
20.I’m not asking for these alone, but also for those who believe in me through their word,
21.that they all might be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may also be one in us so that the world might believe that you sent me.
22.And the glory that you’ve given me, I’ve given to them, that they might be one, just as we are one:
23a.I in them, and you in me, so that they might be perfected in unity.
Jesus’ prayer began to be answered when the disciples received the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. From that day on, the disciples dwelt in the Father and in the Son, spiritually speaking, and the Father and the Son dwelt in them.
The holy Spirit is the Father, minus His celestial body. It is also the Son, minus his celestial body, for the Spirit is the Father’s life, which He shared with His Son. When Jesus said, “He who sent me is with me” (Jn. 8:29), the people probably looked around to try to find the man who sent him. But Jesus was referring to the Father who was living, by the Spirit, within him, and at that time, no one could understand what he meant because no one but Jesus knew what it meant to have God living within.
Jesus’ declaration of the Father being in him and he in the Father was neither a Trinitarian nor a Oneness confession. The Father is in His Son because He shared His life with the Son, and the Son is in the Father because he shares his Father’s life. It is the same with all who believe in Jesus and receive the Father’s kind of life; He is in them, and they are in Him (cp. Jn. 17:21–22). It was Jesus’ greatest desire, indeed, his very purpose for suffering and dying, to make it possible for him and his Father to dwell within those who believe, and for those who believe to be in him and his Father. Jesus promised his wondering disciples that when that glorious day came, they would no longer be in the dark about what he was saying: “On that day, you’ll know for yourselves that I’m in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (Jn. 14:20).
These were mysterious words, to be sure, impossible for the disciples to comprehend at the time they were spoken. However, after the Spirit came, they began to understand what it meant to be “in Christ” and for Christ to be in them.
The People’s Confusion: Two Sons
Everyone who was acquainted with Mary’s son knew where he came from:
54.When he came to his home town, he taught them in their synagogue, and they were astonished and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and miracles?
55.Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother called Mary, and his brothers, James, Joses, Simon, and Judas?
56.And his sisters, aren’t they all with us? So, where’d he get all these things?”
The Jews of Jesus’ time had been taught that when the Messiah appeared, no one would know where he came from, and since they knew where Mary’s son came from, they were certain that Jesus could not be the Messiah: “We know where this man’s from, but when the Messiah comes, nobody will know where he’s from” (Jn. 7:27). And in the very next verse, the Son of God admitted to the people that they knew where his temple came from: “You know me, and you also know where I’m from’ ” (Jn. 7:28a). However, everyone became confused when God’s Son spoke of his homeland, where he had lived from the beginning with the Father:
32.Jesus therefore said to them, “Truly, truly, I tell you, Moses didn’t give you that bread from heaven, but my Father is giving you the true bread from heaven.
33.For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34.Then they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
35.Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life.”
41.Then the Jews started grumbling about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”
42.And they kept saying, “Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? So, how does he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Every time the Son spoke of coming from God in heaven instead of from Mary in Nazareth, his words provoked turmoil:
28b.“I haven’t come on my own, but the One who sent me is true; Him you do not know.
29.I know Him because I am from Him, and He sent me.”
30a.Then they tried to seize him.
It is little wonder that even Jesus’ relatives thought he had gone insane:
21.And his kinsmen came out to take him, for they were saying, “He’s lost his mind.”
Persecution notwithstanding, the Son of God never stopped testifying that he came from heaven instead of from Nazareth and from God instead of from Mary, which completely bewildered those who had heard him say previously, “You know me, and you know where I am from”:
14b.Jesus answered them and said, “You don’t know where I come from or where I’m going.
17.Even in your law it is written that the testimony of two men is true.
18.I’m one who bears witness of myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness of me.”
19.Then they began to say to him, “Where is your father?” Jesus answered, “You don’t know me or my Father; if you had known me, you would have known my Father, too.”
So, according to Jesus’ own words, the people knew him and his father, and they did not know him and his Father; and they knew where he came from, and they did not know where he came from. So, what can we say about this, except that the people were confused and that they were not confused? They knew what they thought, but what they thought they knew was right only when speaking of Mary’s son. Of God’s Son, they knew nothing.
Jesus understood their predicament. And he loved them.
… having their understanding darkened,
being aliens to the life of God.
Kinds of Life
God’s Spirit is God’s life (Rom. 8:10), just as your spirit is your life (Jas. 2:26), but God is not a big one of us. His kind of life is completely different from and infinitely superior to our human kind of life, and to all others as well. God is so wise and so powerful that in creation, He not only conceived of different kinds of life, but He was able to bring those different life forms into existence. It is clear, even to children, that the kind of life God created in plants differs from the kind of life God created in animals. He also created heavenly beings with their own kind of life, and lastly, He created us humans with our kind of life, which though a little inferior to that of angels (Ps. 8:5; Heb. 2:7, 9), is very much superior to plants and animals (Gen. 1:26, 29). It may be true that humans were originally created to live forever, like the angels, but even so, neither humans nor angels were created with God’s kind of life. Therefore, even if in the beginning, men and angels were created to live forever, it was not given to them to live forever with God’s kind of life, but with their own.
Plants can vary widely in physical appearance and other attributes; still, they all share the same kind of life, the kind of life that makes them plants. Thus it is with the animal kingdom. Whether land animals, sea creatures, or birds that navigate the sky, all animals share the kind of life which makes them animals instead of plants, humans, or angels. Notwithstanding physical differences which may exist among plants, and among animals, humans, and angels, the kind of life which God created in each group is unique to that group.
With each kind of life comes its own kind of knowledge. A plant can draw nutrients out of the soil because of its “knowledge” of what is useful for food. Admittedly, that kind of “knowledge” hardly qualifies as knowledge at all. Nevertheless, although plants do not make conscious choices, their selective drawing of nutrients out of the soil requires a kind of knowing, even if it is one of the lowest kinds of knowing in creation. Animal life is superior to plant life, and in that superior kind of life is a superior kind of knowledge. While plants are not conscious of animals, animals are very much aware of plants. Plant-eating animals possess knowledge from their Creator that enables them to recognize one plant from another and to discern what is edible, as well as where and when those plants grow. And while plants have no awareness of humans, animals are in some cases aware enough of humans to form relationships with them.
The kind of life that God gave humans when He created them makes it possible for humans to observe plants and animals, nurture them, and even train them. Likewise, angels, having been created with a kind of life superior to human life, have knowledge that is superior to human knowledge. They are more aware of us than we are of them, just as we are more aware of plants and animals than they are of us.
Let us suppose that you are a blade of grass growing in a cow pasture. Grass neither thinks nor sees, of course, but just imagine that you, as a blade of grass, saw a herd of hungry cows coming your way. If you and your fellow blades of grass could reason, you would all agree that it would not be right for grass to be eaten. You would probably even pass laws against eating grass. But cows have a completely different and higher standard for determining right conduct, and they would not even acknowledge grass law. Unlike grass, cows can see and think, and when they see grass, they rightly think “food”, for they were created to eat grass. In spite of whatever laws the grasses passed against eating grass, then, it would not be “unrighteous” for cows to eat it.
Of course, if cows were capable of our kind of reasoning, they would condemn the eating of cows, just as grasses would condemn the eating of grass. If they could, they, too, would pass laws forbidding the slaughter of their own kind. But humans, with their superior kind of life, would not acknowledge cow laws any more than cows would acknowledge grass laws. Humans were created with a superior standard for proper conduct that allows them to plant, nurture, harvest, and consume plants, as well as to breed, care for, slaughter, and eat animals – all in perfect innocence before God.
Continuing up the ladder of the kinds of life that God created, angels were created with a kind of life that is superior to human life (Ps. 8:5; Heb. 2:7, 9), and they cannot be judged by human laws any more than humans can be judged by animal or plant laws (if there were such things). Human laws against killing humans apply only to humans; such laws mean nothing to angels. Angels have killed many thousands of humans (e.g., 2Kgs. 19:35) and have remained guiltless before God. Angels can fly (eg. Rev. 8:13; 14:6); angels are invisible to us, but can appear (Judg. 6:12; 13:3); and, remarkably, angels can leave their bodies and enter into the bodies of lower creatures at will (e.g. 1Kgs. 22:22–23), though for them to do so is evil.
God’s life is, of course, the highest form of life, and in it are the highest forms of knowledge and righteousness. God is not subject to any law devised by any of His creatures, and He is much more aware of His creatures than any of His creatures are aware of Him. He can, in perfect righteousness, sustain or destroy plants, animals, humans, angels, or any other of His creatures, as He will. His knowledge is infinitely superior to all other kinds, and no creature can judge His actions. He is perfect in righteousness and knowledge, regardless of what any of His creatures think is right or wrong.
Before the Son came to earth, he and the Father knew us, but we did not know them. They had powers and knowledge we never dreamed of. We were at least as ignorant of God’s kind of life as animals are of ours. Animals were created with the capacity to understand things pertaining to animals; humans were created with the capacity to understand things pertaining to humans; angels were created with the capacity to understand the things of angels. The Son alone was created with the capacity to understand the things of God (Lk. 10:22). We could not think God’s thoughts or feel God’s feelings. And just as with plants and animals in regard to us, we did not even know that we did not know. Mercifully, God came to us and told us what we were missing:
8.“My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways,” says the Lord.
9.“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
When God said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways,” He was speaking to man. But angels, though to a lesser extent, could say the same thing to man, and man could say the same thing to animals, and animals could say the same thing to plants. This is a part of the order which God has established throughout creation, and it cannot be abrogated.
All creatures except the Son were “aliens to the life of God”. When the Son of God came and walked among us, he said that he had come to earth so that we humans “might have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10). We were already alive, but we were alive with our kind of life; we were aliens to the life of God. Moreover, our kind of life was under the curse of death (Gen. 3:17–19; Heb. 9:27). But even if human life had not been cursed, it would have been pointless for the Son to come and give us more of the kind of life we already had. No amount of human life could make us holy or give us the knowledge of God – no, not a billion years of it. Indeed, no amount of any kind of life but God’s can make us His children (Rom. 8:9b) or enable us to understand Him (1Cor. 2:14). With their own kind of life, no plant, animal, human, or angel will ever know God (1Pet. 1:12), not even if they live forever.
The Father’s kind of life is eternal, that is, it had no beginning, and it will have no end. The Son was created with that kind of life, which made him infinitely greater than the angels (Heb. 1:4), but to him, it is everlasting life instead of eternal life because with him, it had a beginning, and that beginning was when the Father created the Son with His kind of life. The Son spoke of this when he was here among us:
26.Just as the Father has life in Himself, so He has also given to the Son to have life in himself.
Just so, the beginning of our life in Christ is when the Father shares His eternal life with us as He did with the Son when He created him. As with the Son, that life is everlasting life to us because with us, too, it had a beginning.
The Light of God’s Life
The knowledge of God can be possessed only by those who possess God’s kind of life, and the Son came from heaven to pay the price to make it available to us – not to plants, animals, or angels (Prov. 8:4) – so that we might know God and partake of the fellowship that He has with His Son. We cannot understand God without a miracle of communication from heaven, and Jesus said that those who follow him would experience that miracle when they were enlightened with God’s life:
12.Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of [God’s] life.”
How honored we are that God loved us so much that He chose for us to know His thoughts and ways! It is humbling to consider that of all the creatures God created, He chose to give us His life and to show us His ways:
4.Unto you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the children of Adam.
God set His love on us! John confessed, “We love Him because He first loved us” (1Jn. 4:19) because John understood that the only reason any of us love God is that God loved us first and chose to reveal Himself to us. Love is God’s idea, and He sent His Son to teach us that.
This is the beauty and the glory of the Gospel, that we mortals can now share in the Father’s life with the Son of God and can know His thoughts, His kind of love, His kind of righteousness, and be able to walk in His ways.
Because of Jesus, we humans may now have the kind of life we knew nothing about but that knew everything about us. Paul explained this to the saints in Corinth:
11.Who among men knows the things of man except the spirit of man that is in him? Likewise also, no one knows the things of God, except the Spirit of God.
12.Now, we have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we might know the things freely given to us by God.
13.These things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom but with those taught by the holy Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people.
14.A natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot comprehend them because they are spiritually discerned.
From creation to Pentecost, everyone, including the ancient prophets, were “natural men” (v. 14), and the hidden things of God would have seemed foolish to them all, even if someone had been able to teach such things. But nobody could tell of the hidden things of God because nobody knew about them. The prophets spoke the things of God, and those who heard them heard the things of God; however, neither the prophets nor those who heard them had the kind of life that would have enabled them to understand what the Spirit was talking about when it spoke (1Pet. 1:10–12).
“Natural men” are proud by nature, and although they are completely ignorant of God, some of them unwisely speak as authorities on what God will or will not do. One such man, a professor of New Testament, told us seminarians that God would never kill an innocent child. He did not explain why the Bible plainly states the contrary, one example being the child born of David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba:
13.David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord!” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.
14.Nevertheless, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the son that is born to you shall surely die.”
15.And Nathan went to his house. And the Lord struck the boy that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it was very sick.
18a.And it came to pass on the seventh day that the child died.
As I have said, God is not a big one of us. His ways and thoughts are far beyond what our kind of life can comprehend. If we succumb to our natural tendency to use our own ways as the standard by which to make judgments, we may find ourselves deciding, as my seminary professor did, what God will or will not do. But God does “all things according to the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11), not according to how His creatures think He ought to do them. Genuine faith in God creates in our hearts the understanding that God is good and right, no matter what He does – and no matter what we think. He was good when He cursed Adam and Eve with death; He was good when He destroyed the earth with a flood; He was good when He sent foreign armies into Canaan to take His people into captivity; and He was good when He sent His precious, hidden Son to this wicked world to be abused and crucified. Humans are the ones lacking in goodness, and nothing in our makeup as humans qualifies us to judge anything our Creator does. Without God’s kind of life, we are all – even the very best of us – just “natural men”.
The Body and Nature
A creature’s body determines the nature of the creature. This is true throughout creation, in both heaven and earth. A creature with animal life that has the body of a fish has the nature of a fish. It behaves as a fish, and it can only do what a fish with that kind of body can do. If you had the body of a fish, you would be a fish; you would think and act like a fish, and you could do nothing else. Paul touched on this issue when he categorized God’s creatures, including even inanimate heavenly objects, on the basis of the kinds of bodies they possessed:
39.Not all flesh is the same flesh; there is one kind for humans, another flesh for land animals, another for fish, and another for birds.
40.There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one sort, and that of the earthly, another.
41.There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory.
It is unnatural for creatures to behave contrary to the kind of bodies they possess. Paul taught that if people behave contrary to the nature belonging to their body, they not only dishonor the Creator, but also dishonor the body that the Creator gave them (Rom. 1:24–27). Nevertheless, some of the most celebrated men in history, aware that spirits could possess their bodies with supernatural powers, thought it an honor to be possessed by spirits foreign to their bodies – spirits they themselves called demons.
In the ancient world, the word “demon” had no intrinsic evil connotation, and poets such as Homer and Virgil actually began their epic poems with a prayer for demons to possess them and give them superhuman knowledge and eloquence so that they could tell their tales convincingly. In ancient Philippi, for another example, the owners of a demon-possessed slave-girl felt blessed that she was possessed because the supernatural knowledge which the demon revealed through her brought them much gain. When Paul delivered the child from that demon, the citizens of Philippi were outraged, and city officials had Paul and Silas flogged and thrown into prison because of it (Acts 16:16–23).
The most remarkable case in the Old Testament of someone’s body having a foreign nature control it is that of King Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel warned the proud king to honor God for the power and glory that God had given him, and the king humbled himself and heeded the warning for about a year. But then, one day as Nebuchadnezzar was walking in his magnificent palace, he began again to boast of his own power and majesty (Dan. 4:27–30). But while the king’s proud boast was still on his tongue, God’s wrath came upon him and changed the human kind of life in his body to that of an animal, for seven long years:
31.While the word was in the king’s mouth, a voice came down from heaven, saying, “To you it is spoken, O King Nebuchadnezzar: The kingdom is departed from you!
32.They will drive you away from men, and your dwelling will be with the beasts of the field. They will feed you grass like oxen, and seven times will pass over you until you learn that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men and that He gives it to whomsoever He will.”
33.That very moment, the thing came upon Nebuchadnezzar, and he was driven from men, and he ate grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven until the hair of his head grew long like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.
As has been noted, the body and the nature are mutually inclusive. Therefore, the change in Nebuchadnezzar’s nature to that of an animal wrought animal-like changes to his human body.
Once God restored to Nebuchadnezzar his human kind of life, the king’s body lost its beastly qualities, and he could again act according to the nature that belonged to a human body. Then, as Daniel had pleaded with the king to do eight years before, Nebuchadnezzar humbled himself to God:
37.I, Nebuchadnezzar, now praise and extol and give glory to the King of heaven, all whose works are right, and His ways, just. And those who walk in pride, He is able to abase.
Corrupted, Not Changed
For God to punish a man by changing his nature was extremely rare. Usually, God’s chastisement came in milder forms. For example, Adam and Eve’s punishment for corrupting their nature with sin was to be cast out of the garden of Eden, to labor hard for their sustenance, and eventually to die. That was a severe punishment, but their human nature, corrupted though it was, remained human, and they continued to act and think like humans even as they suffered their punishment.
Before Adam and Eve’s fall, Satan corrupted his nature, too. He was created upright, an anointed cherub, “perfect in beauty”, but his nature was corrupted by pride (Ezek. 28:12–15, 17). His nature did not change; Satan continued to act and think like a cherub. His perfect beauty was also unchanged; he still appeared to be the holy creature he had always been. This is why the Son of God called Satan the father of lies (Jn. 8:44). Through Satan, creation was introduced to a creature who was not what he appeared to be, a creature who was a lie, whether he said anything or not. From the moment Satan became proud, God saw him for what he was, but God was the only one to see him that way because to see beyond appearances is impossible for anyone without God’s kind of life.
When the Son of God came and walked among men, he saw men’s hearts as God did because he had God’s kind of life. And seeing the hearts, he called some men “sons of Satan” because, like Satan, they appeared to be good but were not:
27.Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You’re like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear to be so very lovely, but inwardly are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.
28.And so are you! Outwardly, you appear so righteous to men, but inwardly, you’re full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
A Good Difference
When we look at a tree, we recognize it as a tree because of its “body”. Likewise, when we see a horse, a human, or any other creature, we recognize it as being what it is because of the body we see. The body tells us, first, what kind of life is in it, and second, what kind of nature to expect. That is the natural order of things. Normally, whenever a body is taken over by a kind of life foreign to it, an unnatural and bad thing has happened. However, even though it was unnatural when the body of Mary’s son was taken over by the heavenly Son of God at the Jordan River, it was a good thing. It was, in fact, a very good thing, for it was “God with us” in human form (Isa. 7:14; Mt. 1:23). The experience wrought so dramatic a change in Jesus, the son of Mary, that he described it as being “born again” (Jn. 3:7), but his experience was more than dramatic; it was good. King Nebuchadnezzar’s experience, as well as the experience of others whose bodies were possessed by spirits other than their own, was dramatic, but it was bad.
Because of the Son, God’s kind of life became for us what Jesus, Peter, and Paul called “the gift of God”, and the giving of that gift to humans is the watershed experience in human history. The gift of God’s kind of life was the “new thing” that God mysteriously promised through Isaiah (Isa. 43:19), and it is available now to everyone on earth because of the sacrifice that the Son made in heaven after his resurrection and ascension (Heb. 10:10).
When Adam and Eve had children, their fallen, sinful nature was passed on to their offspring, which is the natural order of life throughout creation. The one thing that parents of every kind pass on to their offspring, in addition to their kind of life, is their kind of body and the nature that goes with it. It is impossible for eagle parents to produce anything but eagles, or for flowers, or humans, or other creatures, to produce anything but their own kind.
When Jesus was born to Mary, his fleshly body defined him. It defined him first of all as a human being, just as all humans since Adam had been defined. It also defined him as male instead of female. And finally, when his infant body was circumcised, it defined him as a Jew. However, when the Son came into Jesus’ body, that fleshly, circumcised body no longer defined him. Nor could it. The body was earthly, but the Son of God was heavenly.
To everyone on earth and in heaven, it appeared that Jesus was still merely the son of Mary, and that is the basis on which everyone except the Father judged Jesus. That is how the world looks at all who, like Jesus, are “born of God” (1Jn. 3:9; 5:1). From Pentecost morning until now, whenever believers are born again, their unchanged earthly bodies have given the impression that they are still human, like everybody else on earth, but they are not. They are “new creatures” in Christ Jesus (2Cor. 5:17), children of God (1Jn. 3:1), and aliens to this world (1Pet. 2:11), and they yearn for the new, eternal bodies Jesus has promised them so that who they really are may be manifest:
19.Indeed, the earnest longing of the creature is eagerly awaiting the manifestation of the sons of God.
2.In this house [this body] we groan, longing to be clothed with our home that is from heaven.
Until the day that Jesus returns with our new bodies, we wait patiently and rejoice just to be children of God, even if the world does not recognize us:
1.Behold, what great love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! The reason the world does not know you, is that it did not know Him.
2a.Beloved, we are now children of God, but what we shall be is not yet made manifest.
In God’s family, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor freeman, nor male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Like Jesus after the Son entered his temple, the earthly body of those who are born again no longer reveals anything about them. As long as they are in their fleshly bodies, they will appear to the world to be either Jew or Gentile, male or female, old or young, or white, red, black, or yellow, and that is how the world will judge them. But Paul said, “We do not look at things that are seen, but at things that are not seen, for things that are seen are temporal, but things that are not seen are eternal” (2Cor. 4:18).
The Spirit’s entrance “circumcises” our hearts from worldly connections that are seen, and makes us children of Abraham, spiritual Jews (Rom. 2:28–29), enabling us to say from our heart what Jesus said:
50.Whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.
The souls of those who possess God’s kind of life have already been delivered from death (Jn. 5:24; 1Jn. 3:14). The salvation Jesus will bring with him when he returns is for the body, not the soul. The new bodies that Jesus will bring to God’s children (1Cor. 15:35–44) are bodies appropriate to their new nature and are the reward he will give to those who are faithful to him in this life (Isa. 40:10; 62:11). Paul repeatedly spoke of the day Jesus would return to “transform our lowly body into the likeness of his glorious body” (Phip. 3:21), and that glorification of the body is the unique hope of everyone who has been born again.
Changes Made by God’s Life
Here are several of the qualities of our Father that are created within us by the entrance of His kind of life:
Understanding. Through the prophet Isaiah, God said that His thoughts are not human (Isa. 55:8), but no one at that time understood how true that was. It is impossible for humans to think the thoughts of God. However, people who receive God’s kind of life begin to think His kind of thoughts. It is true that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered the heart of man the things God has prepared for those who love Him”; however, it is also true that “God has revealed them to us by His Spirit” (1Cor. 2:9–10). Nobody knows all that God knows, not even the Son (Mk. 13:32), but that kind of ignorance does not come from sin; it comes from not being God, which is a condition shared equally by all creatures. The entrance of the Spirit simply empowers a person to view things from God’s perspective and to understand things in ways that humans cannot comprehend on their own.
Righteousness. God’s life creates in people a new nature which brings with it a kind of righteousness that is different from and infinitely superior to all human righteousness. When God’s kind of life lives in a heart, His righteous nature governs that person’s every thought and word and deed. About half a century ago, my father made this perceptive comment in a sermon:
“When a person receives the holy Ghost and walks in it, he can do anything in the world he wants to do, and thank God for it, because the Spirit brings with it God’s nature, and God’s nature only wants what is good.”
God’s kind of righteousness equips men to do as God would do in every situation. It is not a philosophical concept; it is a practical way of living in God’s wisdom and goodness. With God’s life and the new nature it brings, a believer is made holy as God is holy, though still living in this unholy world:
11.For the saving grace of God has appeared to all men,
12.teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, and righteously, and godly in this present world.
Prophetic Insight. Jesus told his disciples that when God gave them His life, it would show them things to come (Jn. 16:13). This is one reason the Spirit we receive from God is called the Spirit of prophecy (Rev. 19:10). Now that the Spirit has come, we have been made like God in the sense that we are given Godlike insight into the future. We know how the world will end, even if we do not yet know when. (While here among us, the Son admitted that he did not know when, either – Mark 13:32.) And knowing how the world will end, we can follow events that transpire among nations with an understanding that even the wisest rulers of this world do not possess.
Perfect Judgment. “The entrance of your words gives light,” said the psalmist (Ps. 119:130), and when the Spirit writes the words of God on our hearts (Heb. 8:8–11), it circumcises us from earthly partisanships so that we can judge all things without partiality. It is impossible for humans without God’s life to rightly judge those they love or their cherished causes because human love perverts human judgment. God’s life alone can circumcise our hearts from earthly entanglements and personal preferences, and replace those things with Godlike love and impartiality. Then, as creatures living among lower life forms, saints on earth are able to judge all things, both people and situations, the way God does, as Paul said:
14.A natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot comprehend them because they are spiritually discerned.
15.But a spiritual person judges everything, yet he himself is judged by no one.
Authority. The apostle Paul taught that God “made us alive together with Christ … and raised us up together, and sat us down with him in heaven”  (Eph. 2:5–6). Consequently, whenever God’s children gather in the fellowship of God’s life, it is an authoritative event. In Psalm 133, David spoke by the Spirit about New Testament saints and said that when they come together as one, their fellowship carries authority like that of Israel’s high priest – and every Israelite had to submit to the judgment of the high priest or be put to death (Dt. 17:8–12)! Such fellowship was unknown under the law. No number of Israelites, regardless of how much harmony they had, was equal to the authority of God’s high priest. But in this New Covenant, since the least of the saints is greater than the best saint under the Old Covenant (Mt. 11:11), the judgment of a body of righteous believers can be opposed only at the risk of one’s soul. The authority that comes with the anointing of God is so magnified in this covenant that heaven stands behind the judgment of even two saints who gather in Jesus’ name (Mt. 18:18–20). Indeed, Jesus promised Peter – a single soul – that heaven would stand behind any judgment that he would make, after he was born of the Spirit (Mt. 16:19).
Deathlessness. When we receive God’s kind of life, we are re-created as beings who will never die, for God’s life is eternal. But eternal life is actually a kind of life; it is the way God lives, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with time. Jesus described this kind of life as “a pearl of great price”, adding that wise men are willing to give all they own to obtain it (Mt. 13:46). Paul, too, described God’s life as a treasure, even if it is at the present time hidden within “earthen vessels” (2Cor. 4:7). Our physical bodies will die; nothing the Son did reversed the curse of death that God placed on Adam and Eve and their descendants (Gen. 3:17–19). Jesus himself had to die. Every human being is born under the sentence of death because we are all born with a sinful nature (Rom. 3:23; 5:12; Ps. 51:5). To deny that is to lie (1Jn. 1:8–10). Being humans descended from cursed parents, we must all face the enemy called death (1Cor. 15:26), and we will all lose that battle. Long ago, Solomon pointed this out:
8.There is no man who has control over the spirit, to retain the spirit; neither has he control in the day of death. There is no discharge in that war.
What Solomon said, however, applied only to descendants of the first Adam. In Christ, our second Adam, we have been discharged from that war! Death no longer has power over us:
25.Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me shall live even if he dies,
26a.and everyone who is living and believing in me will never, ever die.”
In Christ Jesus, we are free from the curse of sin and death, “for as by one man’s disobedience, many were made sinners, so also by the obedience of one man, many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). Children of God are created to live forever with Him, just like the Son, through whom they have been given the inestimable gift of God’s kind of life.
The qualities of our Father’s nature described above are ours in Christ, and if we live according to that nature, we will please God just as Jesus did (Jn. 15:10; 1Jn. 2:6). Before we received God’s life, it was impossible for us to live according to God’s nature and please Him (Rom. 8:7), but with that life, it is possible. Paul told the saints in Colossae that the very reason they were given God’s life was
10.that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
Paul explained it this way to the Philippian saints:
13.It is God who is working within you, both to will and to work according to His good pleasure.
The Father is not here on earth in person. He is sitting on His heavenly throne, with the Son at His right hand. In this covenant, nothing on this cursed earth is holy except the people who have been made holy by the entrance of God’s holy Spirit. Moreover, God has given nothing holy for men on earth to receive except His life, the holy Spirit (Rom. 8:10). This is the reason Paul taught that whoever does not have God’s life does not belong to God (Rom. 8:9b) and has no hope of salvation (Eph. 2:12). But with God’s life, we do belong to God and we do have hope, for Christ in us is our hope (Col. 1:27).
Receiving God’s Life
After the resurrected Son returned to heaven and offered himself to the Father as a sacrifice for our sins, the Father shared His kind of life with those on earth who believed in His Son:
1.When the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all in one accord, in one place.
2.And suddenly there came a sound from heaven like a violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.
3.And there appeared to them divided tongues like fire, and it sat upon each of them,
4.and they were all filled with holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit moved them to speak.
As important as the Son’s coming to earth was, his coming to earth was not the Turning Point in human history. The Turning Point in human history was when God’s purpose for the Son’s coming was fulfilled: the day of Pentecost, when God shared His kind of life with humans. It was essential for the Son to come and suffer, and for him to be resurrected and to ascend to offer himself to the Father for our sins. But the purpose for the Son’s death, resurrection, ascension, and sacrifice was what followed: God’s acceptance of the Son’s sacrifice and then, at the Son’s request, the Father’s sharing of His kind of life with man (Acts 2:33; Heb. 9:12). For the followers of Jesus, that event was a baptism with God’s life, and it created a new nation on earth, the nation of God’s children, human in form but with God’s kind of life within.
This new nation would eventually be comprised mostly of Gentiles, to whom God would offer His kind of life after the Jews had rejected Christ. No one expected God to do that. The Jews considered the Gentiles to be so unclean that they were unfit even to visit (Acts 11:2–3). Jesus even called them “dogs” (Mt. 15:22–26). God Himself likened the Gentiles to wild beasts, but beasts who would one day respond to God’s mercy and honor Him for it:
20.The beast of the field will honor me, the jackals and the unclean fowl because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen.
21.I planned this people for myself; they shall declare my praise.
22.But you did not call on me, Jacob. You grew tired of me, O Israel.
Prophets had been foretelling of the coming of this new nation for centuries, though nobody at the time, not even the prophets themselves, understood what their prophecies meant:
18.This shall be written for the generation to come, and a people that will be created will praise the Lord.
30.A seed shall serve Him, and it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.
31.They shall come declare His righteousness to a people that shall be born, that He has done this.
8a.Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be born in one day? Shall a nation be born at once?
Paul spoke of three distinct groups of people on earth: Jews, Gentiles, and God’s children (1Cor. 10:32). This nation of new creatures was born on the day of Pentecost. It is a nation whose life did not come from an earthly source and cannot be comprehended by any earthly creature. The very existence of this people is “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). That is why, as the prophet foretold, the world does not acknowledge the nation of God’s saints (Num. 23:9). Men cannot acknowledge God’s nation because it is not of this world (Jn. 18:36), and no creatures, including humans, can comprehend anything above the realm of their own kind of life.
Only the nation of new creatures in Christ can truly understand the Gospel. Plants cannot understand it; animals cannot understand it; humans cannot understand it (1Cor. 2:13–14); even angels cannot understand it (1Pet. 1:12). The time is coming when the children of God will be revealed for who they are (Rom. 8:19; 1Jn. 3:2), and in that day, they will be appointed their places in their Father’s kingdom and reign with Christ on earth for a thousand years (Rev. 20:4). Until then, however, the existence of a nation of holy creatures on earth will remain as unbelievable to this world as was the Son of God when he was here. The world does not believe in the Son, and therefore, it cannot recognize those who, like him, are born of God. As John said, “The reason the world does not know you is that it did not know Him” (1Jn. 3:1b).
Jesus forewarned his disciples of the misunderstanding and hatred they would face in this world (Jn. 15:20), and later, his disciple John warned the children of God that only those who had been touched by God would be able to believe their testimony: “We are of God. He who knows God listens to us; he who is not of God does not listen to us” (1Jn. 4:6).
To stress the supreme importance of the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost is not to diminish the importance of the Son’s coming to live on earth. As I have said, the very reason the Son was sent to earth was to make it possible for humans to receive God’s kind of life (Jn. 10:10). Everything the Son did was important, but his accomplishment of God’s purpose for sending him to earth is, for us, the most important accomplishment of all, and God’s purpose was to make the way for humans to receive (or “be baptized with”) God’s life and be born into God’s family. That unparalleled blessing is what makes the Pentecost experience in Acts 2 the Turning Point in human history.
The Sprinkling of Blood
The New Testament did not begin in Matthew, just as the Old Testament did not begin in Genesis. The Old Testament began in Exodus 24, when Moses sprinkled “the blood of the covenant” on the people whom God had chosen and prepared (Ex. 24:6–8). The author of Hebrews refers to this momentous event:
19.When every commandment of the law had been spoken by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of bullocks and goats … and he sprinkled both the book itself and all the people,
20.saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God has ordained for you.”
The scriptures leading up to Exodus 24 are important, for they tell us why a covenant between God and man was needed and how God prepared a people upon whom to sprinkle the blood of the covenant. However, the covenant remained unratified until that sprinkling of blood took place. The New Testament followed this pattern of ratification by the sprinkling of blood upon chosen and prepared people, but this time, the mediator was Jesus, not Moses, and the blood that he “sprinkled” on people was the Spirit.
The blood is what gives life to the body (Lev. 17:11), and since the Spirit is what gives life to the body of Christ, the apostles routinely referred to the Spirit as the blood of Christ. This invisible “blood” is the life of God, His holy Spirit, which is “sprinkled” on the hearts of sinners who repent, purging them from their sins:
22a.Let us draw near with a true heart, in the full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.
Differences of opinion abound concerning when the initial sprinkling of the holy Spirit took place, but the truth of the matter is simple. The Spirit was poured out after Jesus ascended and was glorified (Jn. 7:39), and since Jesus ascended into heaven in Acts 1, the Spirit must have first been sprinkled on believers on the day of Pentecost, in Acts 2. The New Testament was not ratified in the gospels when the Son came; it was ratified in Acts when the Spirit came. In Acts 2, the life-giving spiritual blood of the risen Christ was sprinkled from heaven upon believers huddled in an upper room in Jerusalem, and the New Testament was begun.
Afterward, the apostles often referred to the Spirit as “the blood of Christ”. The author of Hebrews taught that “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22), and it is more than a coincidence that in Peter’s first sermon as a born-again man, he used this “shedding of blood” imagery:
32.This Jesus has God raised up, of which we all are witnesses!
33.Moreover, being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the holy Spirit, he has shed forth this, which you yourselves now see and hear.
Filled, Not Touched
On the day of Pentecost, for the first time ever, God shared His kind of life with someone other than His Son. In the millennia before Pentecost, on rare occasions, God granted to special individuals a taste of His kind of life, but He never fully shared it with them as He shared it with His Son. If He had shared His life with them, those individuals would have been completely transformed into new and holy creatures, but the Father was reserving for His Son the honor of doing that.
King David was one of those privileged individuals. He tasted of New Testament mercy when God forgave him of adultery and murder (2Sam. 11:1–12:13), sins that could not be forgiven under the law of Moses (Ex. 21:14; Lev. 20:10; Acts 13:39). The experience made David a stranger to his fellow Israelites and was one cause of the civil war that followed, pitting Israelites who loved David against those who did not. Job was another example. God crushed that “perfect and upright man”, forcing Job into such lowliness of heart that he was able to sense a different kind of righteousness, the righteousness of God that was beyond all earthly perfection. And God hid Moses in the cleft of a rock until He passed by, and then He released Moses so that he could catch a glimpse of His glory from behind. Just that momentary glimpse of God’s eternal brightness made Moses’ face shine so that no one on earth could bear to look at Moses, and for the rest of his life, Moses had to cover his face with a veil to protect the eyes of his fellow Israelites. And lastly Solomon, with just a touch of divine wisdom, was driven to the brink of insanity by the profound thoughts he began to have. None of these Old Testament holy men could have survived more than the tiny bits of God’s kind of life they tasted, and they were all permanently changed by the bits of eternal life they experienced.
In stark contrast to these ancient brushes with God’s kind of life, Jesus’ disciples were filled with God’s life on the day of Pentecost, not just touched by it. God’s love, righteousness, glory, power, and wisdom – God’s kind of life – became theirs. Before Pentecost, God had only one Son with His kind of life, whereas after Pentecost, He had many (Rom. 8:29), none of them as great as the Son, but all of them greater than anyone who had ever lived before (Mt. 11:11). It took time for the apostles to comprehend the magnitude of this amazing grace from God, but they felt it the moment the Spirit came, and they rejoiced in it.
To receive God’s kind of life is an astonishing grace. It is God’s best gift, purchased for us by the sacrifice of His Son. God’s life makes those who are chosen to receive it children of God (Rom. 8:14), citizens of a heavenly country (Heb. 11:16), and “foreigners and pilgrims” in this world (Heb. 11:13). Misunderstood, just as Jesus was, God’s faithful children are routinely slandered and persecuted by ungodly people (1Pet. 3:16; 2Tim. 3:12). Yet, in Paul’s judgment, the benefits of possessing God’s kind of life far outweigh the pain of being hated in this world for it (Rom. 8:18). In the midst of great persecutions, Paul could still write, “Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!” (2Cor. 9:15).
Filled with His Fullness
When the life of God enters a man, he becomes a partaker of God’s nature (2Pet. 1:4). He is no longer sinful by nature but holy, as God is holy. From the moment God’s nature enters into a man, it becomes as natural for him to do good and to know the truth as it is for the Son of God.
The beginning of the New Testament was when God’s life was given to about 120 souls who loved Jesus, and humans were at last “delivered from the domain of darkness and translated into the kingdom of [God’s] beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). Because of that new kinship with God, odd as it may sound, Jesus’ followers had more fellowship with him after he left and the Spirit came than they did while he walked with them in the flesh. Being Israelites, they had belonged to God since their first birth, but having fellowship with God became a reality for them only when they received God’s kind of life and were born again.
Those of the Oneness and Trinitarian faiths misinterpret Paul’s statement that in Jesus “dwells all the fullness of God’s nature, bodily” (Col. 2:9; 1:19). They quote such verses as proof-texts for their competing doctrines, both of which, in their own way, hold that the Father and the Son are co-equal in all respects. Paul never taught such a doctrine, nor did he intend such phrases as this one from Colossians to be interpreted to mean that the Son is equal with the Father.
None of God’s children, including the Son, could possibly be as great or as good as their heavenly Father. Thus, the Son could say to his disciples, “My Father is greater than I am” (Jn. 14:28), and to the rich young ruler, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except One, that is, God” (Mt. 19:17). When Jesus’ followers received God’s kind of life in Acts 2, they received some of God’s Spirit, not all of it (Acts 2:17). So it was with the Son. In creating the Son with His kind of life, the Father did not give the Son everything that was in Him. Moreover, if the fact that God’s fullness was in Jesus is to be interpreted as meaning that the Son is equal with the Father, then what are we to make of Paul’s exhortation for believers to be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19)? Was Paul teaching that all who receive God’s Spirit are equal with God? Of course not. For God’s children to be “filled with His fullness” does not mean that they are equal with God any more than the Son being “filled with His fullness” means that he was equal with God. To be “filled with His fullness” means only to be filled with His Spirit, so that our words and our deeds reflect His holy nature.
“The Prince of Life”
The Father created the Son as such a perfect reflection of Himself that the Son also has power to create. The Son holds all power in heaven and on earth (Mt. 28:18), and by his word the universe was not only created, but is still being held together (Heb. 1:2; Col. 1:17). He mirrors the Father in everything:
19.Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly, truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but only what he sees the Father do, for whatever things He does, these things the Son also does, in the same way.
20.For the Father delights in the Son, and He is showing him everything that He is doing, and greater works than these will He show him, so that you will marvel.
21.For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.”
Peter walked and talked with the Son for several years, but only after being born of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost did Peter refer to Jesus as “the Prince of life” (Acts 3:15). Before God’s kind of life entered into Peter and began creating within him the knowledge of the Son, Peter would not have dared to refer to anyone but God as the “Prince of life”. The revelation of the Son that God’s life brought to the disciples taught them that someone was sitting beside God in heaven who was also to be praised, and before whom they must also bow, and after Pentecost, they began to preach that astonishing message without fear of displeasing God! With the revelation of that other divine being, righteous men began to honor as God both the Father and the Son, proclaiming that the revealed Son was the Prince of life, but never forgetting that the Father remained the King of it.
Even before the Son came, whenever God spoke to men and women, the voice of God changed them; it elevated them above the ordinary course of human life. They were different from the people to whom God had not spoken, and they could not go back to what they were before, for it was the work of God. Because of the great difference God’s voice made in the lives of those who heard it, God called them “gods”. Among these gods were Moses (Ex. 7:1), Israel’s judges and elders (Ex. 22:28; Ps. 82:1, 6), and the prophets. When certain rulers of the Jews condemned Jesus for referring to himself as God’s Son, Jesus quoted what his Father had spoken to Israel a thousand years before:
John 10 (cp. Ps. 82:6)
34.Jesus answered them, “Isn’t it written in your law, ‘I said you are gods’?
35.If He called them ‘gods’ to whom the word of God came – and the Scripture cannot be contradicted –
36.are you telling the one whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?”
If “gods” was an adequate term for those under the law to whom the word of God came, then how much more appropriate is the title, “gods” for those who possess God’s kind of life? As I have said, it is a simple, unalterable principle of creation that children are whatever their parents are, even if on a smaller scale. All parents pass on to their offspring their kind of life. Animals receive animal life from their parents, plants receive plant life from their parents, and God’s children receive God life when they are born of Him.
God’s is the most extraordinary kind of life that exists, and when He created the Son with His kind of life, the Son was made the same kind of being the Father is, which made it possible for John to say the Son was both with God and was God (Jn. 1:1). The Son, in turn, loved us so much that he was willing to die to make his Father’s kind of life available to us so that we would no longer be sinful. And as with the Son, when we received that life, we became the same kind of being the Father is, so that John could say, “As He is, so are we in this world” (1Jn. 4:17).
How Did He Do It?
We will never escape mystery when we are dealing with the things of God because His kind of life is far above ours. Even when He chooses to reveal one of His mysteries to a man, that man is hard-pressed to adequately convey the revelation to others. When John attempted to explain the mystery of the Son coming from heaven, even he, an uneducated fisherman, began to sound like a philosopher:
1.That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we beheld, and our hands touched: the Word of life.
2.And the life was revealed, and we saw it, and we are bearing witness and showing you the eternal life which was with the Father and was revealed to us.
What mysterious language! John’s “eternal life” that was with the Father in 1John 1:2, above, is “the Word” which John said was “with God, and was God” in John 1:1. And at the end of the first verse, John combines these two terms, “Word” and “life”, to refer to the Son as “the Word of life”. The Spirit that entered the son of Mary as he came up from the Jordan River was this “Word of life”, who from the beginning “was with God, and was God.” And even though in 1John 1:1, John says that eternal life is the Son, he stated in the opening of his gospel that God’s life is in the Son (Jn. 1:4). John was laboring in both verses to describe a reality that is beyond all human experience and understanding.
What the Father did in sending His Son to become one of us demonstrates the supreme superiority of His kind of life over ours. We humans have no power to take upon ourselves the form of a lower kind of life, such as plant-life or animal-life, and to live as one of them. We can, for example, love horses, own horses, and train and ride horses. We could even move into the barn and sleep with horses. Still, we have no power to actually become horses and share horse-life with them. However, such limitations do not apply to God. And the Son, having been created as the exact reflection of God, had the power to take upon himself of our lower kind of life and to become one of us! The Son “emptied himself ” of his heavenly glory (Phip. 2:7), came to earth, and blended himself with Mary’s son. “With men,” as Jesus would say, “it is impossible, but not with God, for all things are possible with God” (Mk. 10:27).
No human explanation is adequate for what took place at the Jordan River when the Son of God descended upon the Son of Mary, forever becoming one person with him. But God does the same thing every time that He and the Son, by the Spirit, come take their abode within a believer (cp. Jn. 14:23). It is a new kind of birth into a new kind of life that is beyond the power of man either to perform or to comprehend. The blending of two spirits within one body is not in the realm of ordinary human experience. God just does it, and God alone knows how.
“In the Spirit” or “In the Flesh”
Paul is credited for coining the phrase, “in Christ”. He certainly used it often, and effectively. Another well-known phrase associated with Paul is, “in the flesh”. Paul used “the flesh” in two ways. First, he used it as a reference to the human body, but secondly, and more importantly, Paul used it to refer to the nature of the human body. In the following verses, every time Paul used a phrase like “the flesh” or “after the flesh”, it is replaced with “human nature” or “according to human nature”. And wherever he mentioned “the Spirit” or “after the Spirit”, it is replaced with “God’s nature” or “according to God’s nature”. You will see how much clearer these verses become when we do that:
1.There is now, therefore, no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus who do not live according to human nature but according to God’s nature.
5.Those who live according to human nature mind the things of the flesh, but those who live according to God’s nature mind the things of the Spirit.
7.Human nature is hostile to God. It is not subject to God’s law; nor, indeed, can it be.
8.Those who live according to human nature cannot please God.
13.If you live according to human nature, you will die, but if by God’s nature you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
16.Live according to God’s nature, and you will not carry out the desire of human nature.
17.For human nature desires what is contrary to God’s nature, and God’s nature desires what is contrary to human nature. These are opposed to one another, so that things you may desire, you do not do.
18.But if you are led by God’s nature, you are not under the law.
19.Now, the works of human nature are obvious, which are: adultery, immorality, uncleanness, licentiousness,
20.idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, emulation, angry outbursts, rivalries, disputes, divisions,
21.envy, murder, bouts of drunkenness, revelings, and things like these, concerning which things, I forewarn you, as I also warned you previously, that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
22.But the fruit of God’s nature is love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, faith,
23.meekness, self-control. Against such, there is no law.
3.We are the circumcision who serve God according to God’s nature, and boast in Christ Jesus, and do not trust in human nature.
The saints’ kind of warfare, the warfare of the flesh against the kind of life that is now within it, was first fought by Jesus, and he won the battle in just forty days. Jesus the Son of God, who was from both Nazareth and heaven, went into the wilderness, overcame the nature of the flesh, and returned from the wilderness “in the power of the Spirit” (Lk. 4:14). My father once told me that it took him forty years, not forty days like Jesus, to completely subdue his fleshly nature, and then he told me, “It needn’t take you that long.” It need not take any of us that long. Whether forty days or forty years, however, it must be done. Paul’s warning in Romans 8:13 was for the children of God, not for sinners: “If you live after the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
Everyone with God’s Spirit within them, like Jesus in the wilderness, does battle with the flesh because inwardly they are new creatures, born not “of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:13b). The saints’ flesh no longer defines them; yet, as long as the flesh has life, it will try to. The Son’s greatest challenge was not to overcome Satan; it was simply to be who God created him to be in the face of opposition from the nature of his fleshly body. This is the greatest challenge of all who are born of God, even if they do not realize it, or perhaps especially when they do not realize it. Decades after receiving God’s kind of life, Paul was still wrestling his flesh into submission to the Spirit:
26.So, thus do I run, not aimlessly, and thus do I box, not punching the air.
27.On the contrary, I discipline my body and make it obey, lest after I have preached to others, I myself should not stand the test.
God’s life makes us foreigners to our own earthly bodies, and as new creatures in Christ, the warfare of God’s children on earth is a warfare against who they used to be and who the flesh thinks they still are. It is a warfare to be who they truly are in Christ.
A New Creation for New Creatures
In the end, this entire universe will be destroyed and replaced by a new one suited to the new creatures that God has created in Christ Jesus (2Pet. 3:7–14). Jesus told his disciples that the present “heaven and earth shall pass away” (Mt. 24:35), and later, John was allowed to see the new heaven and earth that God has prepared for His new people (Rev. 21:1). Peter exhorted the saints to live according to their new nature so that they would be found worthy to live on the new earth that is coming:
10.The day of the Lord shall come like a thief in the night, in which the heavens shall pass away with a roar, and the elements, consumed with burning heat, shall be destroyed, and earth and the works that are in it shall be burned up.
11.So then, seeing that all these things are to be destroyed, what kind of people ought you to be in all holy conduct and godliness,
12.looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, in which the heavens, being on fire, shall be destroyed, and the elements, consumed with heat, shall be dissolved?
13.But we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
14.Wherefore, beloved, seeing that you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot, and blameless.
To obtain this promised reward, Paul was willing to endure any amount of suffering:
18.I consider the sufferings of this present time to be unworthy of comparison with the glory that shall be revealed in us.
8.I consider everything but loss for the surpassing value of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have suffered the loss of everything, but I consider it all garbage, that I might gain Christ,
10.that I might know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings – changed by his death to be with him –
11.if by any means I may attain to the resurrection of the dead.
If God’s children belonged in this cursed creation, God would not replace it, but such a polluted universe is unworthy of either His Son or His other children. When the resurrected Son ascended to the Father, he did more than ascend into the heavens. He was exalted by the Father “far above all heavens” (Eph. 4:10; Heb. 7:26) because the Father considered His Son to be worthy of greater glory than is found anywhere in this heaven or earth. “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered the heart of man the things God has prepared for those who love Him” because the glory waiting for those who are holy as God is holy is nowhere to be found in this doomed creation.
The disciples loved Jesus, but they were mystified whenever Jesus tried to explain what God was doing in him. Because they only had their kind of life, they could not understand the things of God, no matter how plainly Jesus spoke to them:
44.“Let these words sink down into your ears! The Son of man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men!”
45a.But they did not understand this saying, and it was hidden from them so that they should not comprehend it.
31.Then, taking the twelve aside, he told them, “Behold, we’re going up to Jerusalem, and everything written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished.
32.For he will be turned over to the Gentiles, and he will be mocked and shamefully treated and spat on.
33.And after they scourge him, they will kill him, and on the third day, he will rise again.”
34.And they understood none of these things, and this saying was hidden from them; neither did they comprehend the things that were spoken.
But Jesus loved them, although he was sometimes exasperated by their ignorance (e.g., Mt. 16:8–11; Mk. 8:21), and he promised them that God’s life was coming to them and that when it did, they would understand the things he was telling them:
25.I have spoken these things to you, being with you,
26.but the comforter, the holy Spirit which the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will bring to your remembrance everything that I’ve told you.
Jesus also promised his disciples that the life they were soon to receive would teach them everything they needed to know:
13a.When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he’ll guide you into all truth.
But it was not merely the coming of the Spirit that led the disciples into all truth; it was the coming of the Spirit into them. Those who did not love Jesus were not given the Spirit and were not led into all truth. To them, the Spirit’s coming was a non-event. God’s life had come, but it had not come for them.
Jesus explained that loving him is what leads to receiving God’s kind of life:
21b.He who loves me shall be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.
23.If anyone loves me, he’ll obey my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
Even in their state of spiritual blindness, the disciples loved Jesus, and Jesus said that others would also love him before they received the Spirit. The reality is that everyone who has ever loved Jesus before receiving God’s Spirit has loved him ignorantly because, as with the disciples, no one can truly know him before receiving the Spirit. Everything recorded in the four gospels demonstrates this.
For one example, Peter’s human love for Jesus led him to rebuke Jesus for prophesying of his approaching death (Mt. 16:21–22). And later, in the garden of Gethsemane, Peter opposed the work of God by attacking Malchus, one of the men who came to arrest Jesus (Jn. 18:10–11). Both times, Jesus reproved Peter for loving him the wrong way! Peter rebuked Jesus and attacked Malchus because he loved Jesus and did not want him to be hurt, which is a feeling we cannot condemn. However, his actions were contrary to the will of God because they were motivated by love that sprang from Peter’s human kind of life. Jesus’ approaching death was God’s will, but Peter did not understand God or His will. He did not have God’s kind of life; therefore, he did not have God’s kind of love. He and everyone else on earth at the time had only a mind for “the things of men” (Mt. 16:23).
A similar case is that of the multitude who became so enamored of Jesus that they decided to make him king, even though he refused the honor (Jn. 6:15). But they wanted to make him king without understanding what kind of king he already was. To say it another way, they wanted the kind of king that Jesus was not. Without God’s kind of life, they were ignorant of God’s kind of kingdom, and their earthly concept of a king and their human love of Jesus worked against Jesus, not for him. The day after that adoring multitude would have made Jesus king, his doctrine so displeased them that instead of demanding Jesus be king, many of them turned away “and walked with him no longer” (Jn. 6:66).
If Jesus had yielded to those who wanted to make him king, or if he had accepted Peter’s offer to rescue him from the cross, all mankind would have perished. Their human kind of love was as vain in trying to exalt the Son before God’s appointed time as was the human hatred of others in trying to kill the Son before God’s appointed time. The kind of death that men dealt to Christ could not hold him (Acts 2:24), and the kind of honor that men offered to Christ could not please him (Jn. 2:23–25).
While Jesus labored among us, the disciples did not know how to love him in a way that would promote God’s purpose because no one possessed the Father’s kind of love. That would happen only after they received the Father’s kind of life, “for the love of God is poured out within our hearts by the holy Spirit which is given to us” (Rom. 5:5b). Paul, the man who wrote that verse, knew by his own past behavior how much damage a devout but misguided man can do when he attempts to love and serve God without God’s kind of life. Paul’s bitter memory of loving God so zealously with his own kind of love that he participated in putting innocent souls to death inspired him to stress man’s desperate need of God’s Spirit. He wrote to the saints in Rome,
13.If you live after the flesh [as I once did], you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body [as I am now doing], you will live.
14.For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.
Jesus bluntly warned his disciples that the time would come when men would persecute and even kill them, “thinking to do God service” (Jn. 16:2), and before the life of God was given to Paul and changed Paul’s nature, he was one whose life proved that Jesus spoke the truth.
Jesus’ disciples were not the only ones who did not know what was happening. Those who despised Jesus did not know, either. The revelation of the existence of the Son of God should have been the happiest moment for the human race since creation, for the existence of the Son revealed truth about God that could have been a great comfort to a world plagued with sin and suffering. Instead, the revelation of the Son provoked outrage from many, especially the leaders of God’s own people. Consider this example of how such misguided wrath was stirred up by Jesus’ humble confession at his trial:
61b.The high priest questioned him, and told him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed?”
62.Then Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Son of man seated on the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
63.Then the high priest, after tearing his garments, said, “What further need have we of witnesses?
64.You heard his blasphemy! How does it appear to you?” And they all judged him to be worthy of death.
The high priest was wrong. It was not blasphemy for the Son of God to testify that he was the Son of God. However, all that the judges of Israel could see standing before them was the thin, bloodied, and weary son of Mary.
But venomous hatred arose at other times, not only at Jesus’ trial, when men were confronted with the revelation of the Son. Here is a scene from early in Jesus’ ministry:
56.[Jesus answered,] “Your father Abraham was overjoyed that he might see my day, and he saw it, and rejoiced.”
57.Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham?”
58.Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I tell you, before Abraham came to be, I was.”
59a.At this, they took up stones to throw at him.
Such a violent reaction to the revelation of the Son of God seems inexplicable until we remember that everyone then was without God’s life, and no one could understand what God was doing in Jesus. But the worst of all reactions came from Israel’s leaders, for they, like Satan, were proud of their knowledge of and fellowship with God when they really did not have any! Little hope remains for those without God’s life who are absolutely confident that they know Him. What need for repentance can such people feel?
Jesus understood fallen man’s awful predicament; the very reason he came was to help us to escape it. In the face of great cruelty, he loved us and refused to become bitter. Unjustly condemned by his kinsmen and crucified by foreigners, Jesus prayed for them all as he suffered on the cross, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34). And when fearful Peter was transformed by God’s life on Pentecost morning, he boldly stood before the Jewish multitude and rebuked them for betraying and killing their Messiah, and yet he judiciously added, “Now, brothers, I know that you did it ignorantly” (Acts 3:17).
Lest we judge those who were guilty of Jesus’ death too harshly, we should keep in mind that until the Spirit came, they were still living in Old Testament time. We have the advantage of reading their story from a perspective that only God had then, knowing who it was that was among them. If we had been in their place and time, what would we have thought or done?
Believing and Confessing Ignorantly
39.Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who don’t see might see, and those who do see might be made blind.”
40.Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard these things, and they said to him, “We are not blind, too, are we?”
41.Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you’d have no sin, but now you say, ‘We see’; therefore, your sin remains.”
It is foolhardy to claim to know God, or even to claim to belong to Him, without possessing His kind of life (Rom. 8:9b). Anybody who thinks he knows God without having the life that the Son gives has more in common with Satan than he knows. Satan had nothing but his own cherub-life with which he was created and knew nothing about the Son; still, he was absolutely confident that he knew God. That kind of confidence is the worst kind of blindness.
When put on trial, the Son of God confessed who he was before the judges of Israel, but still, they did not know him. Seeing only the son of Mary before them, they judged Jesus’ confession to be blasphemous because it was contrary to what they thought they knew. But they were blind to God’s Truth, who was standing right before them, because they claimed to already know the truth. “Claiming to be wise,” Paul would later say, “they became fools” (Rom. 1:22). Whoever hungers for God’s kind of righteousness is blessed because only those who feel their need of God’s kind of righteousness will receive it (Mt. 5:6). On the other hand, whoever thinks he is good and wise enough without God’s life will remain spiritually blind (Jn. 9:41).
Men’s ignorance of God led to misunderstanding the Son, and misunderstanding the Son led to hatred of him. That was one reason Jesus commanded demons to keep silent about him:
34.[The demon said,] “Agh! What have we to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know you, who you are – the holy one of God!”
35a.But Jesus rebuked it, saying, “Shut up, and come out of him!”
And later in the same chapter …
41.And demons also came out of many, crying out, and saying, “You are the Messiah, the Son of God!” But rebuking them, he would not allow them to speak because they knew him to be the Messiah.
These two scenes seem to suggest that demons knew the Son, but the fact that demons cried out that Jesus was “the holy one”, “the Messiah”, or even “the Son of God” does not in the least mean that they knew the hidden Son. Everyone in heaven knew that God had caused Mary to conceive a child and that her son was to be the Messiah. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, God’s angel proclaimed to some shepherds that the Messiah had been born (Lk. 2:8–11). But the angel did not know the Son; nor did he understand what the word “Messiah” meant in God’s mind. As for demons, whenever Jesus drew near them, the power of God that was in him moved them to declare things beyond their understanding, just as the power of God had moved Balaam’s donkey and Israel’s prophets to speak things beyond theirs. The Son of God said very plainly that no one knew him except the Father (Mt. 11:27), and we should hold on to that truth regardless of how things appear. Otherwise, we may become confused when we see that certain men or demons of that time spoke as if they did know him. Jesus was never confused:
68.Simon Peter answered him, “Master, who will we go to? You have words of eternal life.
69.And we have believed and have come to know that you the are Messiah, the Son of the living God!”
70.Jesus answered them, “Didn’t I choose you twelve, and one of you is a slanderer?”
It also appears that Peter understood what he was saying at Caesarea Philippi when he exclaimed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” (Mt. 16:16). However, just moments later, Jesus rebuked Peter sharply, saying, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Mt. 16:23). Peter did not know about the hidden Son of God when he called Jesus the Son of God. He called Jesus the Son of God only because, as Jesus said, God had touched Peter (Mt. 16:17). Peter was giving expression to something he felt, not to something he understood.
If we, on this side of Pentecost, impose on the pre-Pentecost disciples or demons a knowledge they did not possess, we miss so much of the story! We know the truth about such terms as “Messiah” and “the Son of God”, but what did those terms mean to Jesus’ disciples? Even after the resurrection, they were expecting the Messiah to reign as an earthly king and to restore Israel’s former glory (Acts 1:6). Many in Israel believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but when they professed faith in Jesus, “he did not trust himself to them because … he knew what was in man” (Jn. 2:24–25). More to the point, he knew what was not in man – God’s kind of life. Jesus did not trust even his disciples when they claimed to believe in him:
29.His disciples said to him, “Behold! Now you’re talking plainly and using no figure of speech.
30.We know now that you know everything, and you have no need for anyone to question you; by this, we believe that you came from God.”
31.Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe?
32a.Behold, an hour is coming, and has now come, when you’ll be scattered, each to his own house, and you’ll leave me to be alone.”
While he walked on earth, the Son of God had to deal with people who hated him with human hatred, some of whom even said that he was demon-possessed (Jn. 8:52). He also dealt with people who loved him with human love, some of whom even tried to force him to be their king (Jn. 6:15). He dealt with angels who called him Messiah and ministered to him (Lk. 2:11; Mk. 1:13), and he dealt with demons who called him the “Holy One of God” and trembled at his presence (Lk. 4:34). But neither humans, angels, nor demons knew that, from the beginning, there had been a Son of God in heaven who alone possessed God’s kind of life and who had been God’s agent in the creation of all things. While the Son walked on earth, regardless of what anyone said or thought about him, pro or con, nobody really knew what they were talking about because nobody had God’s kind of life.
A perceptive brother, Damien Callaghan, summarized this thought so well that I felt it would be better to quote him than to paraphrase his comments. We must understand, he said, that the universal spiritual ignorance which existed before the day of Pentecost “allows the seemingly endless contradictions and impossibilities to be true. Every pre-Pentecost event or story that we read about occurred with zero knowledge of what God was doing. To truly understand those stories, there cannot be an ounce of human pride that allows us the thought, ‘Well, they understood something.’ No, they didn’t. Everybody was profoundly ignorant of God as this all worked out. It is breathtaking.” Yes, it is, brother.
When Jesus commanded his disciples not to talk about who he was, he did so because he knew that when they saw him perform miracles, they were likely to say too much in their excitement, especially concerning who they thought he might be (e.g., Mt. 16:15–20; 17:1–9). The Son of God had come to rescue fallen man, and he did not want anyone, whether disciples or demons, to talk much about him, for nobody really knew what to say. Whether they loved him or hated him, they were only loving or hating who they thought he was.
Comparing his Father’s kind of life to man’s life, Jesus described all humans as “dead” (Mt. 8:22; Lk. 9:60), for everybody on earth was completely ignorant of and, so, “dead” to the things of God. On the day of Pentecost, however, the Spirit made new and living creatures out of the “dead” followers of Jesus, and as they grew in grace, the disciples began to sound like Jesus, proclaiming truth which, before Pentecost, had come only from the Master’s lips:
18.No one has ever understood God; the unique Son who is next to the Father has made Him known.
Until the Son was revealed, no one even knew that God was a Father, except in a rhetorical sense (Dt. 32:6; Pss. 68:5; 103:13; Mal. 1:6; Jn. 8:41b, etc.), and without knowing that God was a real Father, with a real Son, it was impossible to truly know Him. The Son alone could reveal the Father’s hidden thoughts and ways because the Son was the only one who knew Him. Jesus said, “No one really knows the Son except the Father, nor does anyone really know the Father except the Son and he to whom the Son may choose to reveal Him” (Mt. 11:27), and when attacked for confessing that truth, the meek Son of God replied to his adversaries, “If I say that I do not know Him, I will be a liar like you!” (Jn. 8:55).
This means that Abraham, “God’s friend” (Jas. 2:23; 2Chron. 20:7), did not really know his Friend and that David, “a man after God’s own heart” (1Sam. 13:14), did not know the God whose heart his was like. Moses often conversed with God as friend would speak with friend (Ex. 33:11), but Moses did not know the One who spoke to him. Daniel, “greatly loved” by God (Dan. 9:23), did not know the God by whom he was loved, and Isaiah, who saw the Lord in His temple, “high and lifted up”, did not know the God he saw. They were all dead to the God they served.
Truth Jesus Could Not Tell
The night before he died, Jesus gathered with his beloved disciples for his final Passover meal and spoke with them of many things, but there were some truths so foreign to humans that Jesus could not speak of them, not even to his disciples who had been with him for so long. God’s ways and God’s thoughts are so foreign to humans that they can frighten people and trouble their spirits, and Jesus loved his disciples too much to put that burden on them. He told them, “I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t bear them now” (Jn. 16:12).
Jesus tried to comfort his disciples by telling them that when the Spirit came, it would bring to their remembrance everything he had told them and would guide them “into all truth” (Jn. 14:26; 16:13), but they could not understand that, either. Paul, loving God’s people as Jesus did, likewise held truth back from saints who were spiritually immature (1Cor. 3:1–2). Moreover, he told them that with the ordinary human mind, people cannot comprehend the things of God and often judge holy things to be foolishness (1Cor. 2:12–14). Paul’s point was this: only by receiving God’s kind of life and developing what Paul called “the mind of Christ” (1Cor. 2:16) can anyone understand the things of God.
God is not human, and there is nothing human about Him. The Son, created as “the exact representation of God’s being”, was also as fully divine and was not the least bit human, either – until he came to earth and blended with Mary’s fully human son. That blending of God’s Son with Mary’s son resulted in the creation of a second Adam (1Cor. 15:45), the first of new kind of man, and those who receive God’s life become the new creatures of which Jesus was the first. Having been “born of God”, they are no longer mere humans, for they are now children of God, partakers of His divine nature (2Pet. 1:4). In Christ, and by the Spirit, God has created a family for Himself, and His family is like Him in at least this respect: it is not human! This was John’s meaning when he wrote, “as He is, so are we in this world” (1Jn. 4:17). Before receiving God’s kind of life, John would have considered such a statement to be blasphemous. After Pentecost, John himself wrote it!
Referring to the coming of the Spirit, Jesus told his wondering disciples that “on that day, you’ll know for yourselves” (Jn. 14:20). Until then, however, Jesus could only tell them that something glorious was coming, and he labored constantly to persuade them of it so that they would be present when God sent it. It was impossible for the disciples to comprehend the kind of life they were about to receive or how much it would change them. Here are some of the things Jesus could not tell his disciples at that time:
As I said previously, the spiritual condition of Jesus’ disciples until the day of Pentecost was that they loved the Father and the Son but did not really know either of them. The same is true of sincere followers of Jesus today who have not yet experienced their own Pentecost.
Growing in Knowledge
Even with God’s kind of life, Jesus’ disciples were greatly challenged by the truth into which the Spirit wanted to lead them, for it led them into places they never dreamed they would be asked to go. Peter would never have gone to Cornelius’ house if the Spirit had not made him go (Acts 10:9–20). Nor would Paul ever have gone to the Gentiles with a Gospel different from Peter’s if the Spirit had not taken him into the third heaven and revealed truth to him that was “unlawful for a man to speak” (2Cor. 12:2–4). When Paul said, “I know … that nothing of itself is unclean” (Rom. 14:14), he was teaching a doctrine that he previously would have condemned as heresy. God’s life has the power to lead us into truth which we would otherwise condemn. God’s thoughts really are not our thoughts, and His ways really are not our ways, and it is only as we humble ourselves to His thoughts and His ways that we will grow in grace and knowledge after we receive His kind of life.
Even with God’s kind of life, we must grow in the knowledge of our Father (2Pet. 3:18; Col. 1:10). My father taught us that receiving the Spirit of God is like being in the first day of school in God’s kingdom and that the day we are born of God, we know our heavenly Father no better than we knew our earthly fathers the day we were born on earth. If we do not grow in the knowledge of God after receiving His Spirit, we end up among those in the family of God whom Paul called feebleminded (1Thess. 5:14).
As children of God whom the Son has set free, we are, of course, free to refuse to grow in the knowledge that God’s life offers us, but it is foolish to do so. Jesus said that everyone who seeks the kingdom of God would find it, but he did not say that everyone who finds it would like what they find – and if after we receive God’s life, we do not fully disentangle ourselves from former ways, we may very well come to not like our new life. Peter could have clung to his respect for the “traditions of the elders” and refused to go to Cornelius’ house, but he knew the word of God that came to him trumped everything else, and he was humble enough to obey the Voice.
Paul could have argued that the Gospel revealed to him was contrary to the law, clung to the law instead, and refused to face the danger of preaching his new Gospel for the Gentiles. However, Paul valued his revelation too much to do that, and he considered all that he had previously believed to be nothing but garbage in comparison (Phip. 3:7–8). It would have been unwise for Peter or Paul not to obey the word of God that came to them, but they were free to refuse it, and both of them could have come up with biblical reasons not to follow the Spirit into the truth to which it was leading them. It was not God’s grace alone that made them what they became; it was their courageous response of faith to God’s grace that enabled them to grow into the mighty men of God that they became. Grace alone does not save us. There must be a response of faith. That is why Paul taught that we are “saved by grace, through faith” (Eph. 2:8), not by either grace or faith alone. It takes both.
“The Thoughts of Many Hearts”
Some people hated the revelation of the Son so much that they chose to kill the servants of God who proclaimed that message rather than to receive it. Others loved that revelation so much that they chose to suffer and die rather than to deny it. What was it that provoked some to kill in order to silence those who believed in the Son, while others considered it an honor to die for believing in him? The answer lies hidden in men’s hearts, and only God can either see or expose it. None of us can know ourselves or what is in our hearts until we meet the real Son of God. It is only his light that enables us to rightly see ourselves or anything else.
When the infant Jesus was brought by his parents to the temple to be circumcised, an old prophet named Simeon was waiting for them. The Spirit had sent him that day to see the child whom God had ordained to be the Messiah, and when the godly old man took the infant from the arms of its mother, what he told her about her child and herself must have given her pause:
34b.Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign spoken against –
35.[then, to Mary] a sword shall pierce even your soul! – so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
Whenever God’s servants bring the light of God’s Son into the arena of human society, those who sincerely desire truth and goodness rejoice at the light, and they honor God’s messengers. Those who do not sincerely desire truth and goodness do not embrace the light, and they persecute God’s messengers. As the following verses from the Last Supper show, Jesus labored to prepare his beloved disciples for the cruelty and hatred they would face after they began to live as sons of God in this wicked world:
18.If the world hate you, know that it hated me before it hated you.
19.If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but since you’re not of the world – on the contrary, I’ve chosen you out of the world – the world does hate you.
20.Remember the statement that I made to you: “A servant isn’t greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they’ll also persecute you. If they obeyed my word, they’ll also obey yours.
Being like his Father, the Son was in danger on earth, for his sinless presence exposed hearts, and wicked people do not like that. A thousand years before he came, the Son foretold of this danger when he spoke to his Father through David, saying, “The insults of those who would insult you fell on me” (Ps. 69:9). But the opposite was also true. The love of those who truly loved God also fell on the Son when he came to earth. The light that the Son brought “shed light on all men” (Jn. 1:9) so that their true feelings and thoughts about God were exposed, even if they tried to hide them. It was impossible for those who hated God to hide their hatred of the Son, for he was the perfect reflection of God’s being (Heb. 1:3). Likewise, it was impossible for those who loved God to hide their love for the Son, even if they did not understand him and even if sometimes they inadvertently got in his way.
The same holds true now. Anyone who now walks in God’s life reflects His nature among men, and when God’s nature is manifested among men, it brings out what is really in their hearts, whether it be good or bad. That is an inescapable fact of spiritual life. When the light of God’s life shines in us, we know by people’s reaction to us whether they love God or not.
Even though righteous people who lived before Pentecost knew nothing of the Son, the love they demonstrated for the law and the prophets was an expression of love for the Son, for the law and prophets spoke of him. Jesus told the rulers of the Jews,
46.If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.
47.And if you don’t believe his writings, how will you believe my words?
Moses was reared in the sumptuousness of Pharaoh’s palace, but he chose to associate himself with the downtrodden people of God rather than to enjoy the advantages of his status as an Egyptian prince. Moses’ high regard for God’s people is described in the New Testament as Moses “esteeming the reproach of Christ to be greater riches than the treasures of Egypt” (Heb. 11:26). But Moses knew nothing of Christ! He truly loved God and His people; therefore, he loved the Son, although he knew nothing of him.
One cannot love either the Father or the Son without loving the other; they are too much alike for it to be any other way. The unveiling of the Son brought all things to light, even the secret thoughts of men’s hearts, and there is nowhere for anyone to hide. Because the Son is a perfect Son, just as God is a perfect Father, a person’s response to the Son reveals his heart’s real attitude toward God. And the Son is so great that people cannot refuse to respond, even if they do not want to. This is true at all times and places, whenever and wherever the light of the Son shines.
There is a God in heaven who reveals secrets.
The secret things belong to the Lord our God,
but things that are revealed belong to us
and to our children forever.
Solomon said, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing” (Prov. 25:2), but it is also true that it is the glory of God to reveal a thing. God has covered Himself with both the glory of hidden truth and the glory of revelation. Hardly a chapter can be found in the Bible that does not in some way demonstrate that, from the beginning, God’s way has been to conceal and to reveal all things in His time. God hides things from every creature, even from His Son (e.g., Mk. 13:32). At this very moment, He is hiding a multitude of things from each of us, and He is doing it for our good as well as for His glory.
Here are just a few of the many scriptures that declare God to be a God who conceals and reveals:
14.The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He will show them His covenant.
15.O God of Israel, Savior, you truly are a God who hides Himself.
3.Call upon me, and I will answer you, and I will show you great, inaccessible things that you do not know.
27.Daniel answered in the presence of the king and said, “The wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, and the soothsayers cannot reveal to the king the secret which the king has demanded,
29b.and He who reveals secrets is making known to you what shall come to pass.”
47.The king answered Daniel and said, “Truly, your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing you could reveal this secret.”
Sometimes, when Jesus thought on the suffering that lay in store for those whose hearts were blinded by the Father, he wept over them (Lk. 19:41–44). At other times, when he thought about how his Father had blinded the proud, Jesus could hardly contain his joy:
Luke 10 (cp. Mt. 11:25–26)
21.In that same hour, Jesus rejoiced in spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the learned and intelligent, and revealed them to babes. Yes, Father, for such was pleasing in your sight!”
God is good to condescend to reveal Himself to whomever He chooses, but He is just as good when He hides Himself. Jesus rejoiced in all of it because he trusted his Father’s choices.
When men hide things, they put them out of sight, but when God hides things, He lays them out in full view and then does not allow those looking on to understand what they see. We all have experienced this, whether we realize it or not. We all have been among those who “seeing, do not see, and hearing, do not hear” (Mt. 13:13). Even Jesus’ disciples, after seeing him feed a multitude with a few loaves and fish, worried about having enough food:
17a.When Jesus knew this, he told them, “Why are you arguing because you have no bread? Do you not yet know, nor understand?
18.Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And don’t you remember?”
The heavens are seen around the world (Ps. 19:3–4); they cannot be hidden. Or can they? One man looks at the stars and says, “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1), while another looks at them and “says in his heart, ‘There is no God’ ” (Ps. 14:1). What makes the difference? The Bible is consistent with its answer: God has opened the eyes of the first, but He has blinded the eyes of the second. It cannot be a matter of intelligence, for, as a rule, the ungodly in this world are more intelligent than God’s children, as both Jesus and Paul admitted (Lk. 16:8; 1Cor. 1:26–27). Saints and sinners alike see the heavens, but only those whose hearts are touched by God have the kind of wisdom that enables them to really see what they are looking at.
Jesus often spoke to the multitudes in parables that contained hidden lessons concerning God’s kind of life, thus fulfilling what the Son promised through the prophet that he would do:
Psalm 78 (cp. Mt. 13:34–35)
2.I will open my mouth with a parable; I will pour out dark sayings of old.
Jesus’ disciples, seeing that no one was understanding his parables, asked him why he spoke in parables to the people. His answer was both terrifying and glorious:
11.He answered and said to them, “To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to those, it is not given.
14.In them is Isaiah’s prophecy fulfilled, which says, ‘You shall hear, but you shall not understand, and you shall see, but you shall not perceive.’ ”
That is a terrifying answer for those to whom “it is not given”, but it is a glorious answer for those to whom “it is given”. It is God’s choice alone whether to shine His light into our hearts or to leave us in our darkness. Human willpower, ability, and effort cannot make it happen. This truth gives us reason to both love and fear God, as Jesus did (Heb. 5:7; Jn. 14:31). God alone decides who will see and who will not see; then, who can demand an account from Him for His choices? He is advised by no one, and He answers to no one. In creation, He did only what it pleased Him to do (Ps. 135:6), and in each of our lives, He does the same. It is the nature of man to question the justice of that, but Paul responded to such worthless human wisdom:
14.What shall we say, then? Is there injustice with God? Absolutely not!
15.For He said to Moses, “I will show mercy to whomever I show mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I have compassion.”
16.So then, it is not of him who wants it, nor of him who strives for it, but of God, who shows mercy.
17.For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “This is the very reason I raised you up, so that in you, I might show my power, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
18.So then, to whom He will, He shows mercy, and whom He will, He hardens.
19.You will say to me, then, “Why does He yet find fault? For who has resisted His will?”
20.Hold on there, O man. Who are you who talks back at God? Will the thing shaped say to Him who shaped it, “Why did you make me like this?”
21.Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
Paul said his mission was to proclaim to the Gentiles the once-hidden mystery of the Son and to lead them to him (Eph. 3:8–9). Though many rejected his message, Paul remained encouraged because he knew that everyone who hungers and thirsts for God’s righteousness would be filled with it (cp. Mt. 5:6), because the hungering and thirsting itself, not just the righteousness, comes from God. This is the critical point: the desire to come to Christ is itself a gift from God, as Jesus plainly taught:
44a.No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.
The earliest believers understood this. For example, when the Gentiles first received the life of God, the elders in the Jewish community of faith said, “God has granted repentance unto life to the Gentiles” (Acts 11:18). They understood that if God had given His Spirit to the Gentiles, then He must have also granted them the repentance required to receive it.
Paul concluded that “if our Gospel is veiled, it is veiled by those who are being lost” (2Cor. 4:3). In other words, if people reject the Gospel, it can only be that God, for whatever reason, has rejected them and hidden the Gospel from them. And in such cases, believers can do nothing but pray that the Father will have mercy on those who are lost in sin, and then continue to live so as to show them the way.
Concealing and Revealing Himself
Isaiah was right to say that God hides Himself (Isa. 45:15). But when God hides Himself, He does not crouch behind a rock or crawl under a bed, the way we humans hide ourselves. When God hides Himself, it is only that He refuses to allow men to find Him, “although He is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:27). Job was one who understood that God does not go anywhere when He is hidden. Job desperately searched for God but could not find Him; still, he knew that God was close by, watching everything that was happening:
8.I go forward, but He is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive Him;
9.on the left hand where He is working, but I cannot behold Him; He is hiding Himself on the right hand so that I cannot see Him.
10a.Still, He knows how it is with me.
In the Old Testament, whenever God did not bless or protect someone, it was said that God had “hidden His face” from him, and Job felt the helplessness of having God hide His face:
29.When He orders peace, who can make trouble? And when He hides His face, who can see Him, whether it be done to a nation or a single man?
On the other hand, when God blessed and protected a person, it was said that God’s face was shining on him. This is why the high priest’s blessing of Israel concerned itself mostly with God’s face being turned toward Israel:
24.The Lord bless you and keep you.
25.The Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you.
26.The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.
The greatest expression of God’s countenance shining on man was when He sent His Son to rescue us from sin and death. This is why Paul spoke of the revelation of the Son as he did:
6.The God who commanded light to shine out of darkness has shone in our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Regardless of how brightly God’s face shined on anyone before the Son brought God’s life to men, God’s true character remained unknown to them. If those who now have God’s life within them only “know in part” (1Cor. 13:12), then those who lived before the Spirit came did not know at all – but not only they, for until the Son of God was revealed, angels also had no knowledge of God. Indeed, even now, after the Son has been revealed, angels still do not possess the knowledge of God that believers possess because they still do not have God’s kind of life. “The light of the knowledge of the glory of God” has not shone in their hearts, and it never will because God chose to bless humans, not angels, with His kind of life.
Concealing and Revealing the Son
It is astonishing enough to learn that from the foundation of the world, God had kept men, even the wisest and holiest of them, from knowing about His Son. However, the additional revelation that heavenly beings were also kept from knowing about the Son challenges some common perceptions about life in heaven. The revelation of the Son included the unexpected information that no creature anywhere knew about the Son until God’s appointed time came:
3.By revelation, the mystery was made known to me, even as I briefly wrote before,
4.concerning which you are able, as you read, to perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ,
5.which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men as it is now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.
8.To me, the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach among the Gentiles the incomprehensible richness of Christ
9.and to enlighten all men as to what is the plan of the mystery that has been hidden from the Aeons by the God who created all things through Jesus Christ.
The Greek word aeon can refer to a long period of time, but in this passage from Ephesians, it clearly refers to spiritual beings. Paul’s thought concerning these Aeons is continued in the next verse from Ephesians 3, and it reveals that they learn of God’s wisdom by watching the people who possess God’s kind of life:
10.So that through the Assembly of God, the multi-faceted wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities among heavenly beings,
11.according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Notice that in verse 10, Paul made the stunning statement that the Aeons actually learn of the mystery of Christ through God’s chosen people. This is in harmony with what Peter said concerning angels, to wit, that the angels, being ignorant of our life in Christ, are very curious about it:
12b.[The prophets prophesied of] which things have now been reported to you by those who preach the Gospel to you by the holy Spirit sent from heaven, into which things angels long to look.
It is a remarkable concept, that those who walk in the life of God are living revelations of the Son to heavenly beings as well as to people on earth! Nevertheless, it is a doctrine that Paul was sure of, and he repeated it in his letter to the saints at Colossae:
25.I was made a minister by the commission of God, which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God,
26.the mystery that was hidden from the Aeons and from generations of man, but now is revealed to His saints,
27.by whom God has willed to make known among the Gentiles what is the richness of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
So, even the creatures of heaven were kept in the dark about the Son until “the fullness of time”, when the Father shared His life with men and revealed His Son. This must be why Paul made the arresting statement that the Son (here called “God”) was seen by angels only when humans saw him, that is, when the Son took on a visible, earthly body:
16.Undeniably, the mystery of godliness is great: God was made manifest in the flesh, was justified by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the Gentiles, was believed on in the world, and was taken up into glory.
If the angels had seen and known the Son in heaven since creation, Paul would not have told Timothy that the Son “was seen by angels” after he was “manifest in the flesh”. But if the Son was revealed when he took on a fleshly body, then what Paul said makes sense. And beyond that, when men and angels were allowed to see the Son, they were also being allowed, for the first time ever, to see the Father as He really is (Jn. 14:9).
Where the Son Was First Revealed
When “the fullness of time” came, the Father did not summon the multitudes of heavenly beings and somberly announce, “It is now time for me to tell you all something important that I have kept hidden from you from the beginning.” Instead, in His great wisdom, He chose to reveal the existence of His Son on earth, to men.
John the Baptist was chosen to introduce the Son, and that alone made John so great that no other in human history was greater than he (Mt. 11:11; Lk. 7:28). But being ignorant of the Son, John did not know whom to introduce. God had to give him a sign to look for – a dove that would descend from heaven and light upon the one chosen to be the Messiah. Later, Jesus came to John to be baptized, and when the meek son of Mary came up out of the Jordan, John saw the sign that God had given him. When he heard God’s voice speak from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” John cried out,
32.I saw the Spirit descending from heaven in the form of a dove, and it remained on him.
33.And I did not know him, but the One who sent me to baptize with water told me, “Upon whomever you see the Spirit descend and remain on him, he is the one who baptizes with holy Spirit.”
34.And I have seen, and I have testified that this is the Son of God!
John’s baptism was not an introduction to baptism; it was an introduction to Christ, the Baptizer who would follow John (Jn. 1:30–31). Likewise, the Father’s voice that came out of heaven at Jesus’ baptism was not an introduction to Jesus. Jesus had already been introduced to men by angels singing and praising God in the night sky above Bethlehem as they announced the birth of Mary’s son. The Father’s voice at the Jordan River was an introduction to His Son, not Mary’s, and He was speaking to man, not angels.
The Hidden Son in Heaven
The controlling factor in all of life, whether in heaven or on earth, or anywhere else, is that God hides everything until He determines to reveal it. Only with that knowledge can we perceive how it could have been that from the beginning, the Son dwelt with the Father in heaven without angels knowing who the Son was. But then, being in the presence of God’s Son and not knowing him is exactly what a couple of Jesus’ disciples experienced after Jesus rose from the dead:
15.And it came to pass that while they talked and reasoned together, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them.
16.But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
It is difficult for us on this side of Pentecost to imagine the Son of God being anywhere without being known because we picture him as the glorified Lord of heaven whom John saw:
13.In the midst of the seven lampstands was one like a son of man, wearing a robe extending to his feet and girded about the chest with a golden sash.
14.His head and his hair were white as wool, like snow, and his eyes were like a flame of fire,
15.and his feet were like fine brass glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters.
Whether or not the Son shone in heaven from the foundation of the world the way John saw him shine in Revelation is completely irrelevant. God’s will was all that mattered, and until He sent His Son to earth to accomplish His purpose, it was not His will that anyone should know him. The Son may have dwelt among heaven’s inhabitants as a gloriously beautiful creature, but then, he may have dwelt among them as a rather ordinary-looking being. That is certainly how it was for the Son on earth, for the human body that the Father prepared for him was both unattractive and awkward (Isa. 53:2–3). Whether he dwelt among the angels in unmatched majesty or he was not seen by them at all, the reason the Son was unknown to them, and the only reason, is that the Father did not allow them to know him. The Son was hidden whether he was seen or not seen. God had determined to keep His Son a secret, and the Son’s visibility in heaven was, therefore, of no consequence whatsoever. The Father’s Son was the Father’s secret, and until He revealed His secret, that is all there was to the matter.
God hides His angels. God is hiding angels (and other spiritual beings, good and evil) from our eyes this very moment. His angels are always near, watching over us, but we see them only when He allows us to see them. Jesus taught that those who are newly born of God have angels that are especially attentive to the Father for their sakes:
10.Beware that you don’t despise one of these little ones, for I tell you that in heaven, their angels are always watching the face of my Father who is in heaven.
David said that unseen angels from God are stationed around all who fear Him, to protect and deliver them (Ps. 34:7). If our heavenly Father were a “publicity hound”, He would let us know about all the trouble from which His protecting angels save us. But our Father, as Jesus demonstrated, is “meek and lowly”. He hides from us not only His protecting angels but also most of what those angels protect us from. I suspect that what we are saved from daily would overwhelm us if we knew about it. Besides, we know of plenty for which to praise God without knowing everything He is doing for us.
It may be that God keeps certain angels, or information about them, hidden from other angels as well as from men. After all, Jesus told John in Revelation that those who are saved in the end will be given a stone with a secret name on it, a name that no one will know except the one to whom the stone is given (Rev. 2:17). Both Michael and Gabriel were allowed to reveal their names (Dan. 10:13, 21; Lk. 1:19, 26), and the angel named Abaddon is mentioned in Revelation 9:11. But of the myriads of angels that exist, they are the only three whose names have been revealed. The rest, as far as we are told, are like the angel who visited Manoah, who refused to divulge his name:
17.And Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “What is your name, so that when your sayings come to pass, we may do you honor?”
18.And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why do you ask for my name, seeing it is secret?”
Even if God opens our eyes to see an angel, He must still reveal to us that it is an angel that we see. Angels do not have wings. They look human and are generally the size of humans (Rev. 21:17). Because God does not always reveal to us that angels are in our presence, “some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Heb. 13:2), and I suspect this happens more than any of us know.
Concealing the Saints
God hides His people. He can hide them physically, as when He physically carried the young priest Ezekiel from Babylon to Jerusalem to let him observe the wickedness of his fellow Jews. God did not allow anyone in Jerusalem to see Ezekiel standing in their midst, watching their idolatrous activities (Ezek. 8–11). God also hid Jeremiah and his scribe, Baruch, when wicked King Jehoiakim wanted to arrest them (Jer. 36:26). And several times, God hid Jesus from outraged mobs who were determined to kill him before the appointed time. The first instance took place after Jesus’ first and only sermon in his hometown of Nazareth:
28.When they heard these things, everybody in the synagogue was filled with rage,
29.and they rose up and threw him out of the city, and they led him to the brow of the mountain on which their city was built, to throw him off the cliff.
30.But he passed through their midst, and went away.
Beyond this, God hides His children spiritually. They are now kings and priests in the kingdom of God (Rev. 1:6), but the world does not and cannot recognize them as such. Paul longed for the day when the identity of God’s children would finally be revealed to the world (Rom. 8:19), and that will happen when they take their place in God’s order and reign with the Son over the earth. The apostle John also spoke of God’s children being hidden from the world and of the coming revelation of who they really are:
2.We are now children of God, but what we shall be is not yet made manifest. But we know that when it is made manifest, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
The world does not know the children of God because the world does not know God (1Jn. 3:1). The saints are God’s “hidden ones” (Ps. 83:3), and their lives are “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). Anyone not hidden with God’s saints in the “secret place of the Most High” (Ps. 91:1) cannot find them, for under God’s wing, they are kept safe from the hateful designs of the world:
20.You will hide them in the secret of your presence from the schemes of man; you will keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.
David called God “my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer! My God, my mountain in whom I take refuge! My buckler, and horn of my salvation! My high tower!” (Ps. 18:2), “my strong habitation, to which I continually resort” (Ps. 71:3), “my defense and refuge” (Ps. 59:16), and “my hiding place and my shield” (Ps. 119:114). The world, including most of God’s own people, did not understand David’s relationship with God, especially as it existed after God forgave David of adultery and murder. Nevertheless, to know where to go to be hidden from sin and death is great wisdom, and David had it.
Concealing our Fellowship in the Spirit
The things of God are a mystery to men who do not possess God’s kind of life, for their hearts are covered with the blinding veil of the flesh and its nature (Heb. 10:20), which is removed only when men turn to Christ (2Cor. 3:14–16). Our heavenly Father has so completely hidden the fellowship which He enjoys with His children that its very existence is denied by the world; nevertheless, it is real, and it is sweet. Everything about the life God shares with those who love His Son is a mystery to creatures who do not have His kind of life, whether they be plants, animals, angels, or men.
The term “mystery” is repeatedly used in the New Testament in reference to the life that God shares with those who love His Son. Jesus spoke of “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 13:11), John wrote of “the mystery of God” (Rev. 10:7), and Paul mentioned “the mystery of God’s will” (Eph. 1:9), “the mystery of the Gospel” (Eph. 6:19), “the mystery of Christ” (Col. 4:3), “the mystery of the faith” (1Tim. 3:9), and “the mystery of godliness” (1Tim. 3:16).
The very thought of God excluding us from the fellowship of His life is terrifying, but it is a daily reality for millions on earth as they plod along, knowing nothing of the holy life they are missing. Men without God are “like the beasts that perish” (Ps. 49:12, 20), completely ignorant of God’s kind of life and devoid of desire for it. But fellowship with the Father and the Son holds so much promise and provides so many benefits that the dearest hope of the apostles was that the saints would enjoy that holy, spiritual harmony to the fullest extent:
1.If, then, there be any comfort in Christ, if any solace of love, if any fellowship in spirit, if any tender affections and mercies,
2.make my joy complete, that you think the same thing, having the same love, as united souls, thinking one thing.
10.I urge you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there not be divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in the same mind and in the same judgment.
3.That which we have seen and heard, we are showing you so that you may also have fellowship with us, and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
Fellowship with the Father and the Son means to feel their feelings and to think their thoughts. It means to understand God because your spirit has been made like His. This unbelieving world is scornful of the notion that such harmony is possible, but the heart of God is that His children show the world by their deeds that such love and unity is real. This perfect harmony in God’s family is the very thing for which Jesus prayed after his last meal with his disciples (Jn. 17:20–23), and it is a fundamental purpose for God giving us His Spirit (cp. Zeph. 3:9), for it makes for a powerful testimony to His Son. The fact that the children of God are divided and, therefore, cannot serve Him together as one is something the world must see as a testimony against Jesus. It certainly is a great reproach on his name.
The disunity of God’s New Testament family on earth may be the greatest tragedy in history, even surpassing the tragedy of the original fall in the garden of Eden. In that first case of sin, Adam and Eve did not have God’s kind of life within them to teach and guide them. What excuse can we who have God’s life offer for our divisions? Moreover, we are all less than we could be in Christ because of division, and only God knows how much less. If we are wise, we will do as the Spirit advised and mingle our worship with fear (Ps. 2:11), lest on the Day of Judgment, God find us responsible for the divisions that exist among His children.
We should note that even though Jesus said that unity among believers would help the world to believe in him (Jn. 17:23), that truth does not deny the Father’s determining role in souls coming to believe in the Son (Jn. 6:44). The Father will use the unity of His people to convict sinners of their need of Him, but He still must create the desire within those sinners for fellowship with Him, no matter what they see. Even if all God’s children walk perfectly together in the Spirit, sinners cannot desire the saints’ sweet, mysterious fellowship with the Father and the Son unless the Father touches their hearts.
Their minds were blinded, and even until this very day,
in the reading of the Old Testament, the same veil remains,
not taken away – which thing is removed in Christ.
Yes, to this day, whenever Moses is read,
a veil lies over their heart.
But if their heart ever turns to the Lord,
the veil will be lifted off.
“Since the World Began”
The ten chapters of Isaiah 40–49 are filled with pleas to God’s chosen people to forsake the worship of heathen gods and to understand the difference between them and the true God. In those chapters, Isaiah emphasizes God as Creator, and one of the most distinctive differences between the Creator and the gods of the Gentiles was that the Creator told of things to come, far in advance. God pleaded with Israel to consider this great difference between Him and the other gods they were worshipping:
9b.I am God, and there are no other gods. There is none like me,
10a.making the end known from the beginning, and from ancient time what has not yet happened.
3.I declared the former things before they happened. Out of my mouth, they came, and I made them hear it. I acted suddenly, and those things happened.
4.Knowing that you are stubborn, and that your neck is sinew of iron, and that your brow is brass,
5.I told you ahead of time. Before it took place, I made you hear of it, lest you should say, “My idol did those things,” or “My graven image and my molten image ordained them.”
Isaiah mocked the gods that most of his fellow Israelites were worshipping, and he challenged those gods to tell what would happen in the future, the way the true God did:
23a.Tell what is coming in the future, and let us know that you are gods!
But even in Isaiah’s day, God was not finished telling His people of things to come. As He pointed out the many events He had previously foretold and that had already taken place, He let Israel know that He was still telling them of things to come:
6b.Even now, I am causing you to hear new things, even hidden things that you do not know!
Even in this seemingly simple verse (as the Reader will later see), God was speaking a mystery concerning His Son that was impossible to understand before the Son was revealed. Thankfully, God now is willing for us to know how completely He described His Son before His Son came, and when our eyes are opened to all that the ancient prophets said about the Son, we stand in awe of our heavenly Father’s wisdom and power.
Solomon made the observation that “a wise man’s eyes are in his head” (Eccl. 2:14), and to that observation one might respond, “Well, of course they are.” But Solomon was speaking spiritually, his point being that a wise man is one who really sees what he sees, that is, God has given him the ability to understand what he is looking at. This is true wisdom, and the coming of the Spirit is what put the disciples’ eyes in their heads concerning the Father and the Son. Their “veil” of ignorance began to be removed from their hearts when they received God’s life at Pentecost.
The same day Jesus rose from the dead, he approached two of his disciples walking along the road from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus, but they did not recognize him, even when he asked them why they were sad. They told him they were sad because they had thought Jesus was the Messiah, but the Romans had executed him. Then they told him that certain women they knew were now claiming to have seen Jesus alive again. They were confused and troubled; however, the Lord showed them no sympathy:
25.He said to them, “You fools, and slow in heart to believe all things that were spoken by the prophets!
26.Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
27.And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he began explaining to them things concerning himself in all the scriptures.
Not long afterward, in one of Peter’s first sermons as a born-again man, he also referred to the prophets’ ancient testimonies when speaking of the risen Messiah:
21.[Jesus] whom heaven must receive until the time for the restoration of all things, of which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets from time immemorial.
Even in the years just before the Son came to earth, the Spirit was speaking of him through holy men such as John the Baptist’s father, the elderly priest, Zacharias. He, too, testified that God’s prophets had been prophesying of the coming Messiah for a very long time:
68.Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for He has visited and brought redemption to His people!
69.And He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant,
70.as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old.
Those holy prophets spoke of the Son of God in such detail that when one is reading their prophecies, it is easy to forget that they had no knowledge of the Son, not even that he existed. The only thing that God allowed the ancient prophets to understand was that their prophecies would not be fulfilled in their day:
10.Prophets who prophesied of the grace that has come to you earnestly sought and diligently inquired about this salvation,
11.trying to determine who or what time the Spirit of Christ that was in them was indicating when it testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that would follow.
12a.To them it was revealed that they were not ministering those things to themselves, but to you.
So, the only knowledge the ancient prophets were given concerning their prophecies of the coming Messiah was that the prophecies were not for their own time. God’s prophets had to resign themselves to life within an enigma in which they could feel the Son, be moved upon by the Son, and even have the Son speak through them, without even suspecting that there was a Son.
The following are some remarkable instances of the hidden Son of God speaking of himself through Old Testament prophets, along with instances of the Father speaking to and about the Son through the same prophets.
“A Master Workman”
As we will show, examples abound of the Spirit moving on the ancient prophets to declare the Son’s coming in the future, but Proverbs 8 looks in the opposite direction. It reveals something of his past. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he refers to Christ as “the wisdom of God” (1Cor. 1:24). In Proverbs 8, the Son of God also refers to himself as “Wisdom”, and then he goes on to describe his happy life with the Father before the creation of the world and afterward:
22.The Lord created me the beginning of His way, the first of His works.
23.I was anointed from eternity, before the beginning, before earth existed.
24.I was brought forth when there were no depths of the sea, when there were no springs abounding with water.
25.Before the mountains were settled, before the hills, I was brought forth.
26.When He had not made the earth, and the open fields, and the first elements of the world,
27.when He prepared the heavens, I was there. When He decreed a circle on the face of the deep,
28.when He established the thin clouds above, when He made strong the fountains of the sea,
29.when He made His decree for the sea, that the waters should not disobey His word, when He decreed the foundations of the earth,
30.I was at His side, like a master workman, daily His great delight, always laughing in His presence,
31.rejoicing in the world, His earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.
It is because the Son was the one through whom God created all things that he described himself as a “master workman” (verse 30, above). Still, every creature, including the Son, owes all glory to the Father for creation, and it should cause us no theological problem that the Son spoke here as if the Father is the Creator. The Son always gave the Father credit for creation (e.g., Mk. 10:6). Although he was the Father’s agent for creating everything, he knew that creation was accomplished only through his Father’s will and wisdom and power. The Son of God freely and humbly admitted that he could do nothing without his Father’s guidance and aid (Jn. 5:30).
A “fellow” is one who shares a certain kind of life or experience with another. Before the Spirit was given to man on the day of Pentecost, only the Son shared God’s kind of life, and no one knew that God had such a fellow. For God to be unique, it would seem that such a thing was impossible. How could the Almighty have a fellow, a companion who shared His thoughts and His feelings? Nobody in heaven or earth could have answered that question before the Son was revealed. Or, more probably, everyone would have confidently given the wrong answer, namely, that God had no fellow and that there could never be anyone enough like Him to be considered His fellow – even though God Himself, through Zechariah the prophet, said He had one!
Jesus was quoting Zechariah at the Last Supper when he told his disciples they would all desert him. And he made it clear to them that Zechariah’s words were a prophecy of what was about to take place that very night:
31.Tonight, all of you shall be offended in me, for it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered.”
The disciples did not believe what Jesus said, and they all insisted that they would never desert him (Mt. 26:33–35), even though within hours, they all did just that. But there is more to Zechariah’s prophecy than what Jesus quoted that night, and it was good that he did not quote it all. Doing so would have given his disciples even more problems, for in the other half of Zechariah’s prophecy, God referred to the smitten Shepherd as His fellow!
7a.“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, even against the mighty one who is my fellow,” says the Lord of hosts. “Strike the shepherd, and the flock will be scattered.”
If God said He had a fellow, then what are we to believe but that He had one?
The Son’s Fellows
A verse from Psalm 45, referred to previously for a different purpose, contains an astonishing but little recognized element. For in that verse, the Father promises His hidden Son that he, too, would have fellows:
7.You love righteousness, and you hate wickedness; therefore, God, even your God, has anointed you with the oil of joy more than your fellows.
What makes this such an astonishing prophecy is the greatness of the hidden Son. Being the perfect reflection of God’s person, it was impossible for the Son to have fellows, just as it was impossible for the Father to have any. The only way God could ever have had a fellow was for Him to create one. And He created a fellow for Himself when He created a Son with His kind of life. Likewise, the only way for the Son to ever have fellows was for his Father to create some fellows for him, which He did on the day of Pentecost when He poured out on Jesus’ followers the same life He had given to the Son in the beginning. But the Father’s promise to His Son was not just kept on the day of Pentecost, for since that wonderful day, God has continued to keep His promise, again and again. Every time the Father fills another repentant soul with His kind of life, the Spirit, He creates for His Son yet another fellow, hidden from the world just as His Son was. The apostles marveled at this grace:
1.Behold, what great love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! The reason the world does not know you is that it did not know Him.
29.For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Partaking of God’s life creates within us fellowship with Him and Christ. It was a matter of the greatest joy to John to be able to say, “Truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1Jn. 1:3). Paul also expressed profound gratitude for the fellowship that the saints had in Christ: “I thank my God always for you, for the grace of God which is given to you in Christ Jesus, … by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1Cor. 1:4, 9b).
Had people in the psalmist’s time known about the Son, they would have been astonished at Psalm 45:7 for saying that the Son of God would have fellows. However, since no one at that time knew that the Father had a Son as His fellow, no one could have understood the Father’s promise that the Son would have fellows, too. It was all hidden until men experienced for themselves the sacred fellowship of the Father and the Son.
It must be noted that the Son’s coming to earth did not make humans his fellows; his physical presence here did not create fellowship between God and man. If that were so, the disciples would have understood what the Son was doing while he was here. The Son becoming human gave him fellowship with humanity, but it did not do the reverse. Humans had no fellowship with him or his Father while he was here. That is why humans killed him (1Cor. 2:7–9). The Son had to suffer and die, and then ascend and offer himself to God, in order for the opportunity to exist for man to enjoy the fellowship of eternal life with God.
The Old Testament nation of saints was called Israel because that was the name God gave to Jacob, the father of that nation (Gen. 32:28). The New Testament nation of saints is also called Israel (Gal. 6:16) because that is the name God gave His Son, the father of the New Testament nation of saints. The Son spoke through Isaiah of the Father calling him Israel:
1.Hear me, O isles! Listen, people from afar! The Lord [the Father] called me from the womb. From my mother’s belly, He made mention of my name.
2.He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of His hand, He hid me. He made me a polished arrow; in His quiver, He has hidden me.
3.He said to me, “You are my servant Israel, for in you, I will glorify myself.”
Two Holy Ones
In Isaiah 49, two “holy ones” are mentioned. One is the Father, and the other is the Son, whom the Father again calls “Israel”:
7.Thus said the Lord [the Father], the redeemer of His holy one, Israel [the Son], to the one despised by man, the one abhorred by the nation, a servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise, and princes shall bow down because of the Lord who is faithful, Israel’s [the Son’s] Holy One, who has chosen you.”
The Father, then, has a holy one, His Son, whom men hated. And the Son, too, has a Holy One, his Father, whom he loved.
Which God Did It?
In the case of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Father (“Lord”) consistently declares that the Son (“God”) is the one who destroyed those cities. Speaking to the rebellious earthly nation of Israel, the Father said,
11.“I have overthrown some of you, as God [the Son] overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah… . Still, you did not return to me,” says Jehovah.
40a.“God [the Son] overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighbors,” says the Lord.
In Isaiah 13:17, God declares that He will “stir up” the Medes against Babylon. But then, in verse 19, the same speaker refers to “God” as if “God” is somebody else! And it is someone else. It is the Son.
17a.I [the Lord] will stir up the Medes against them [the Babylonians].
19.And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty and the pride of the Chaldeans, shall be as when God [the Son] overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.
In the prophets, the Father did not hesitate to refer to His hidden Son as God, and neither should we. After their eyes were opened to see the Son for who he was, and who he had always been, the apostles also referred to the Son as God (e.g., Heb. 1:8–9), for the Spirit reminded them that Jesus said that God wants men to “honor the Son just as they honor the Father” (Jn. 5:23).
“I Will Shake the Heavens”
While here among us, the Son of God said that heaven and earth will be destroyed (Mt. 24:35), but through Isaiah, the hidden Son had already foretold of that cataclysmic event. When he spoke through Isaiah, however, he added some mystery to the prophecy, for the one speaking said that he would destroy heaven and earth “in the wrath of the Lord”:
Isaiah 13 (cp. Heb. 12:26–27)
13.Therefore, I [the Son] will shake the heavens, and the earth will move out of its place in the wrath of the Lord of hosts and in the day of His fierce anger.
Isaiah must have been puzzled by his prophecy. Who but the Lord could shake heaven and earth? And yet, the voice that spoke through him, saying that he would shake heaven and earth, said that he would shake heaven and earth in the wrath of the Lord and in His fierce anger. Whose voice was this, Isaiah must have asked, that would one day shake heaven and earth in the Lord’s power instead of his own?
Through the Same Prophet, at the Same Time
Most amazing of all, perhaps, are the prophecies in which the Father and the Son speak to or of one another. Nothing demonstrates the astonishing power and unity of the Father and the Son quite like these prophecies in which the Father speaks – and then the Son speaks through the same prophet, during the same prophecy! That sounds strange to us humans because it is foreign to human experience, but it is not strange to God. As we have said, God’s kind of life is different from and superior to ours, and He can do things that humans cannot even think to do. Coming across such extraordinary prophecies as these makes reading the Old Testament prophets an exciting adventure.
Example #1: Isaiah
In the following scriptures, the Father speaks of ordaining His Son and of sending him and His Spirit to rescue fallen man, and then the Son speaks of his existence from the beginning of creation, and his mission to earth:
15.I, even I, have spoken! Yes, I ordained him; I sent him, and he made his way successful.
16.Draw near to me! Hear this! From the beginning, I have not spoken in secret. From the beginning of time, I was there. And now, my Master, the Lord, has sent me and His Spirit.
Example #2: Malachi
In Malachi’s prophecy of the Son’s entrance into the world, it is clear when the Son speaks to Israel because the Son uses the word “I”, as opposed to the Father, who refers to the Son as “he”:
The Son (to Israel):
1a.I will send my messenger [John the Baptist], and he shall prepare the way before me.
The Father (to Israel):
1b.“The Lord whom you seek shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. Behold, he is coming!” says the Lord of hosts.
Whenever the Father spoke through the prophets in the first person (“I”), it was because the Father Himself existed, a fully alive and thinking being. That is never disputed. But as Malachi 3:1 shows us, the Son also spoke through the prophets using the pronoun “I”. Why, then, should we not think that when the Son spoke, he also existed as a fully alive and thinking being? Everyone will agree that when the Father spoke through the prophets, it really was the Father. Why, then, should we think that when the Son spoke through the prophets, it was not really the Son? Why should we think, as some teach, it was only the Father speaking as if He were the Son because the Son didn’t really exist yet, except as an idea in God’s mind? Or why should we think, as Trinitarian believers would have it, that in the prophets, there were two co-equal and co-eternal hypostases of a triune Being talking through the prophets, first as one person and then as another, back and forth? Or again, why should we think that the Father and the Son are the same person altogether, as those of the Oneness faith teach, so that God was speaking through the prophets in a way that made it seem as if two people were speaking instead of one?
Nothing in the writings of the prophets and apostles would lead an impartial seeker of truth to any of the three conclusions described above. No scriptural basis exists for thinking that the Son’s “I” means something different from the “I” of the Father. Therefore, I have concluded that in the matter of whether or not the Son existed as a separate person with the Father, the “I’s” have it!
Because He Wanted a Child
Many ancient prophecies had a dual meaning, one which applied to that time, and another which would only come to light in the future. For example, Isaiah prophesied that a foreign army, speaking a foreign language, would invade the land and bring relief to the upright from the oppression of their wicked rulers:
11.He will speak to this people with stammering lips and another tongue,
12.to whom He said, “This is the rest with which you will cause the weary one to rest,” and, “This is the refreshing.” Yet, they would not listen.
No doubt, Paul had read that prophecy many times as a young Pharisee, but after receiving God’s kind of life, he read with enlightened eyes that familiar prophecy of people speaking a language that could not be understood, and he realized that God had something more than foreign soldiers in mind when He spoke those words through Isaiah. To the saints in Corinth, Paul explained that Isaiah was prophesying of the miraculous New Testament experience of speaking in tongues:
21.In the law, it is written, “With strange tongues and other lips will I speak to this people, and even at that, they will not listen to me, says the Lord.”
22a.This means that tongues are for a sign… .
The prophet Malachi provides us with another prophecy with a double meaning. It is a mysterious verse, difficult to translate, as a survey of Old Testament translations will show, but its purpose in Malachi’s time was to provide God’s reason for insisting that Israelite men be faithful to their Israelite wives:
15a.But did He not make one? And the rest of the spirit was His. And why one? He was seeking a godly seed.
But this verse also contained a hidden revelation concerning God’s reason for creating the Son, for it is just as easily translated thus:
15a.But did He not create one in whom is the fullness of the Spirit? And why him? Because He wanted a divine child.
God created whatever He created only because He wanted to create it (Ps. 135:6). That being true, it is only reasonable for us to conclude, as Malachi said here, that God created the Son because He wanted a divine child for Himself.
Until the Spirit Came
Even before the Spirit came, Jesus opened the minds of some of his followers so that they could see him in the Old Testament (Lk. 24:25–27, 32, 45). They must have been amazed at what they could then see in the law and the prophets. They must have wondered, as many of us have wondered who knew the Bible before our eyes were opened by Christ, “Have these things been in the Bible the whole time?” How thrilling an experience it must have been for believing Jews to read their old, familiar scriptures and to have them transformed into a new and refreshing message from their God, the message of His Son. And then, when the Father sent His kind of life to Jesus’ followers on the day of Pentecost, they began to truly know the God that their scriptures had told them about, and to truly know the Son who had just been to earth and walked among them.
But even after God shared His life with man, the angels remained without it, and therefore, they remained without the knowledge of God. They knew that God existed, of course; they had beheld His face in heaven for ages. But they did not truly know Him, and they never will because the Son did not die for them to have God’s life. He died for us. They also know – now – that the Son exists, but they will never know him as those with God’s life know him. God’s fellowship with His children is a complete mystery to them.
Knowing about God is not the same as knowing God. Satan and all the other heavenly creatures knew about God, having lived in His very presence and spoken with Him face to face, but they did not, and they still do not, know Him. Israel’s religious leaders strove to become experts in the Bible, but without God’s life, they, too, could only know about their God. They, too, would never come to know Him without receiving His life. Indeed, they would never rightly understand the scriptures to which they were devoted without receiving the Spirit, for it takes the same kind of life to understand the Bible that it took to write it.
Paul said that “whatever was written before was written for our learning” (Rom. 15:4); however, “what had been written before” could only tell men about the Son; it took the life of God to truly reveal him. The Son walked among men in plain sight, and John plainly said that they saw him with their eyes and touched him with their hands (1Jn. 1:1). He performed thousands of miracles and sometimes plainly stated who he was; still, everyone, including John, had to wait until the Spirit came to be able to truly understand what their eyes had seen and their hands had handled. Neither the Son’s physical presence nor the scriptures that spoke of him gave them the knowledge of God.
Now, since the “light of life” has come into the world and “enlightened all men”, people can see references to the Son in the Old Testament without actually having God’s life within them. Apollos, for example, before receiving the Spirit, “powerfully and publicly confuted the Jews, showing by the scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 18:28). Not long afterward, Apollos did receive the life of God, and he eventually became one of Paul’s trusted helpers (1Cor. 3:6; 16:12). Of course, many very religious people hear about the Son or read about him in the Bible, but do not humble themselves to him and receive God’s kind of life as Apollos did. To such people, Jesus once said, and still is saying,
39.You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, but those scriptures are they which testify of me,
40.but you don’t want to come to me, that you might have life!
Apollos was a good example for all who have been enlightened to the fact of the existence of God’s Son. When he was told that the Messiah would give him a baptism of life, he was wise enough and humble enough to repent and come to the Son in order to receive it (Acts 18:26). He did not trust his prodigious knowledge of the scriptures to save him. Instead, he put his trust in the Son of whom the scriptures spoke.
When the Messiah Would Come
The angel Gabriel revealed to Daniel the precise year when God would send the Messiah, using the term “week” to represent seven years instead of seven days:
22.And Gabriel caused me to understand, and he talked with me and said, “O Daniel, I have come forth now to give you insight and understanding.
25a.Know, therefore, and understand that from the going forth of the commandment to return and to rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and sixty and two weeks.”
Sixty-nine weeks of years (69x7) gives us 483 years. Precisely when to start counting those 483 years is unclear because of a lack of adequate historical sources; however, all available historical evidence points unmistakably to Jesus’ time.
The Jews knew of Gabriel’s amazing prophecy of when their Messiah would come, and many, no doubt, were expecting the Messiah to come in the days Jesus walked among them. King Herod’s information certainly led him to think it was time for the Messiah, and he murdered every male child of Jesus’ age in and around Bethlehem in an attempt to get rid of him (Mt. 2:13–18).
Where the Messiah Would Be Born
Through Micah, in about 700 BC, the Father revealed the name of the town where Jesus would be born:
2.But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, though you be small among the families of Judah, yet out of you, he shall come forth to me who is to be ruler in Israel. His origin is from ancient times, from the days of eternity.
Hebrews 7:3 tells us that Melchizedek was a figure of the Son of God in that there is no record of the beginning of either of them. But there is a record of the beginning of Mary’s son; his birth is recorded in both Matthew and Luke. If the birth of Mary’s son in Bethlehem was the beginning of the Son of God, then the author of Hebrews completely missed the mark by comparing the Son with Melchizedek. But he did not miss the mark. The Son of God did not begin in Bethlehem or anywhere else on earth; the Son existed before the earth did and was God’s agent in creating it.
Micah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah was well-known to the Jewish elders. When the “wise men from the East” came to Jerusalem and asked King Herod where to find the child who was “born King of the Jews” (Mt. 2:2), the paranoid King then asked Israel’s elders where their Messiah would be born. They knew immediately to quote Micah’s prophecy:
5.They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet,
6.‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, you are by no means least among the rulers in Judah, for out of you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”
The Messiah Would Be a Virgin’s Son
Perhaps the best known prophecy about the Messiah is the one concerning a virgin miraculously giving birth to a son who would be called Immanuel, a word that means “God with us”.
14.The Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son, and you shall call his name Immanuel.
18.This is how the birth of Jesus came about. After his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be with child by the holy Spirit.
26.In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee called Nazareth,
27.to a virgin who was betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.
29.And when she saw him, she was perplexed by his speech, wondering what kind of greeting this might be.
30.Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God.
31.Behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and you shall call his name, ‘Jesus’.”
Where the Messiah Would Grow Up
Double meanings for words are common in the Old Testament because God was hiding His Son and yet speaking of him at the same time. The word “Nazareth” can be used to show this. In Isaiah 48:6, God said, “I am causing you to hear new things, even hidden things that you do not know!” In Hebrew, the word for “hidden things” is also the word for “Nazareth”. God knew, of course, that “hidden things” was identical with “Nazareth”, and He knew that Jesus would grow up in a village by that name. He artfully chose the word for Nazareth as an example of the “hidden things” that He was causing Israel to hear, and He knew that after His Son was revealed, some would see “Nazareth” in Isaiah 48:6 because they would then know that Jesus grew up there.
Perhaps the most amazing prophetic use of the Hebrew word for “hidden things” came when Jesus was crucified. With grim wit, Pilate provoked the rulers of the Jews by ordering his soldiers to nail this title above Jesus’ head on the cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (Jn. 19:19–22). With that sardonic title, Pilate was showing his deep disdain for the Jews who had demanded Jesus’ death. But God, by moving Pilate to add that title to Jesus’ cross, was once again cryptically declaring who His dying Son really was: “Jesus the Hidden One, King of the Jews”.
What the Messiah Would Look Like
Through Isaiah, God also said that the body which His Son would come to earth and take on would be very unattractive:
2b.He shall have no form or majesty, and when we see him, there shall be no beauty that we should desire him.
The Messiah’s Name
It seems that almost everything about the Son is revealed in the Old Testament except his name. However, if we read the story of Moses and Joshua as God intended for it to be read – in the light of God’s life – we may even find the Son’s name in those ancient scriptures.
Moses’ failure to bring God’s people into the land of promise was a figure of the law’s inability to give God’s people God’s kind of life. God commanded Moses to anoint a young man named Joshua to finish the work. This was prophetic of the Son, for Jesus’ name in Hebrew is Joshua, and in order for the saints to attain to the eternal place of rest that God has promised them, Moses (the law) had to be replaced by the “Joshua” of the New Testament: Jesus Christ.
Where the Messiah Would Preach
When we study the geography mentioned in the four gospels, we learn that Jesus spent most of his time ministering in and around Galilee. This is what Isaiah said Jesus would do (Isa. 9:1–2), a prophecy that Matthew quoted when he told Jesus’ story:
12.When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he departed into Galilee,
13.and leaving Nazareth, he went and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali,
14.so that what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled:
15.“O land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles!
16.The people who sit in darkness saw a great light, and for those sitting in the region and shadow of death, a light has dawned.”
The Messiah’s Persecutions
In this prophecy, the Son told of some of the cruel abuse he would suffer when he came to earth:
6.I gave my back to the strikers, and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard. I did not hide my face from shame or spit.
Jesus’ face was spat upon and beaten by the Jews who arrested him (Mt. 26:67–68; Mk. 14:65). Hours later, the Roman soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, placed it on Jesus’ head, and then drove the thorns into his head with blows from a rod (Mk. 15:17–19). His beard was torn out of his face, and the flesh was ripped off his back with a lash that was probably tipped with bits of metal and glass. By the time the Jews and the Roman soldiers finished their cruel abuse, Jesus’ eyes were so swollen and his face and body so torn and bloody that he did not even look human. The Father foretold this, too, first speaking to His Son and then about him:
14.Many shall be aghast at you. So great shall be the disfigurement of his visage that it will be beyond human, and his form, beyond the sons of men.
The Father continued in the next verse to proclaim that the torture and killing of His Son would accomplish the purpose for which He sent him to earth, to wit, the sins of many people would be washed away and the true knowledge of God would be granted to them:
15.By this, he shall sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths at him, for that which had not been told them, they shall see, and that which they had not heard, they shall understand.
In Psalm 69, the Son described the cruel persecutions he would suffer at the hands of God’s people. He told of how his beloved Israel would hate him for no reason (v. 4) and how all the people, including Mary’s other children, would treat him like a foreigner (v. 8). He said through the prophet that the pain of his reproach would send him to God with weeping and fasting but that his fellow Israelites would mock him even for that (vv. 3, 10). He also spoke of how he would be a public joke among the people (vv. 11–12). Finally, he foretold how their cruelty would continue even after he was nailed to the cross:
21.They gave me gall for my food, and in my thirst, they gave me vinegar to drink.
Luke 23 (cp. Mt. 27:33–34)
36.The soldiers were also mocking him, coming up and offering him vinegar,
37.saying, “Since you are the King of the Jews, save yourself !”
The Father Would Encourage the Son
The Son even foretold of the day when he, as a servant of God on earth, would experience the human feeling of despair, fearing that he would fail in his mission to convince the Jews of the light of God’s love and salvation. But then he went on to say that the Father would encourage him with a promise, the incredible promise that even if the Jews rejected him, he would still be God’s chosen one, to bring the light of salvation to the whole world:
4.As for me [the Son], I said, “I have labored for nothing; I have spent my strength in vain. For nothing! Yet, my judgment is surely with the Lord, and my reward with my God.”
5.And then the Lord, the One who formed me from the womb as His servant to bring Jacob back to Him, said that even if Israel is not brought in, I will yet be honored in the Lord’s eyes. My God is my strength!
6.Then He said to me, “It is too small a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, to bring back those of Israel who are preserved. I have appointed you to be a light for the nations, to be my salvation to the end of the earth.”
One of the most undervalued prophecies about the Son in the Old Testament is the following prophecy from Isaiah 42. In it, one can sense the Father’s great love for His Son:
4.He shall not fail, nor be discouraged, until he has established justice on the earth, and the isles shall wait for his law.
5.Thus says the Lord God, Creator of the heavens, and He who stretched them out, He who shaped the earth and that which comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it, and breath to those who live in it:
6.“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness, and I will hold your hand and keep you hidden. And then, I will give you for a covenant for the people, for a light of the nations.”
The Reason the Messiah Would Die
Isaiah foretold that the Messiah would be tortured and killed for the sake of others:
4.He has taken our sicknesses and borne our sufferings, yet we considered him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
5.But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; chastisement for our peace was laid upon him; and by his wounds, we are healed.
6.We all, like sheep, have gone astray; every one of us has turned to his own way, and the Lord has laid upon him the iniquity of us all.
The angel Gabriel told Daniel the same thing:
26a.The Messiah will be cut off, but not for himself.
Isaiah 53 also revealed the reason he suffered (vv. 8b, 11b), and it rivaled the Psalms in giving details about the Messiah. It spoke of his unjust trial (v. 8a), his innocence (v. 9b), and his humility (v. 7). It also revealed that the Messiah would be buried in a rich man’s tomb (v. 9a) and that God would accept the Son’s sacrifice (vv. 10–11a) and reward him (v. 12a).
3.He [the Son] was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and he knew sickness. He was like one hiding his face from us. He was despised, and we did not value him.
7.He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.
(Fulfilled in Mk. 15:3–5)
8.He was taken from prison and from justice, and who shall declare his generation? He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
9.He made his grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death, although he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
(Fulfilled in Mt. 27:57–60)
10.Yet it pleased the Lord [the Father] to crush him; He has put him to grief. When you [the Father] make his soul an offering for sin, he [the Son] shall see his seed. He [the Father] shall prolong his [the Son’s] days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11a.He [the Father] will see the travail of his soul, and be satisfied.
The Father then speaks:
11b.By knowledge, my righteous servant shall justify many, for he will bear their iniquities.
12.Therefore will I [the Father] divide to him [the Son] a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong because he exposed his soul to death and was numbered with transgressors. Yet, he bore the sins of many and interceded for transgressors.
Thirty Pieces of Silver
The priests and elders of Israel paid Judas thirty pieces of silver to betray Jesus. At an opportune moment, away from the crowds of ordinary people who loved to hear Jesus (Mk. 12:37), Judas led the priests and elders to the garden where Jesus had gone to pray. Afterward, the repentant Judas returned to the same elders, confessing that he had done evil to an innocent man. Those revered leaders of God’s people then gave Judas what was, considering the circumstances, possibly the coldest response ever given to a confession of sin. They mockingly replied to Judas’ terror and tears, “What is that to us? You see to that” (Mt. 27:4). Judas then threw the bag of silver pieces to the floor of the house of God, and ran out and killed himself. The priests, not wanting to pollute their temple with blood money, decided to use the thirty pieces of silver to buy “the field of the potter” as a place to bury non-Jews (Mt. 27:7). The prophet Zechariah was moved by the hidden Son of God to foretell this:
12.And I [the Son] said to them [the chief priests], “If it seems good in your eyes, give me my price, and if not, don’t.” So, as my price, they weighed thirty pieces of silver.
13.And then the Lord [the Father] said to me [the Son], “Throw it down (the very high price at which I was appraised by them) for the potter.” So, I took the thirty pieces of silver, and I threw them down for the potter in the house of the Lord.
This prophecy tells us that the Son was not a victim. He and his Father were in complete control of what was taking place, even to the point of determining how much money the priests would pay Judas and what would eventually be done with that blood money. Jesus told his disciples in John 10:17–18, “The Father loves me because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No one takes it from me; I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I received this commandment from my Father.” The Son’s sacrifice was altogether the plan of God, and no man, nor Satan, nor any other creature possessed either the wisdom or the love sufficient to be given any credit for it. And to help us understand that, God and His Son told us through the prophets all that would happen, centuries before it did.
Conditions on the Day He Died
The Son revealed through David that his Father would bring darkness over the land and bend the heavens low to be near him as he suffered on the cross:
9.He bowed the heavens also, and came down, and a thick cloud was under His feet.
The Son also foretold the earthquake that attended his death:
6.In my distress, I will call on Jehovah, and I will cry to my God for help! He will hear my voice from His temple, and my plea will come to Him, even into His ears.
7.Then the earth shook and trembled, and the foundations of the mountains moved; they were shaken because He burned with anger.
A thousand years later, these things happened, just as the Son said they would:
45.Now, from the sixth hour, darkness came over all the land until the ninth hour.
50.Then Jesus, again crying out with a loud voice, let go the spirit,
51b.and the earth shook, and the rocks were split apart.
The Son Would Ride into Jerusalem on a Donkey
Before Jesus made his last entry into Jerusalem, he sent two of his disciples ahead of him to “find a colt” (Lk. 19:30b) and bring it to him. “So, the disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them” (Mt. 21:6). Then they brought the young donkey to Jesus, “and they threw their own garments on the colt, and then put Jesus on him” (Lk 19:35). This fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah who said, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold! Your King will come to you, righteous and victorious! He will be meek, riding on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of an ass” (Zech. 9:9).
Details of His Crucifixion
In Psalm 22, below, the Son revealed the cruel manner in which he would die (v. 16) and described his desperate thirst while struggling on the cross (v. 15). He foretold some of the very words he would speak while in agony (v. 1), as well as what his adversaries would say to him as they gloated over his death struggle (vv. 7–8). He also spoke of the Roman soldiers who crucified him and of their casting lots for his clothing (v. 18). He even revealed details about himself and his crucifixion that are not found in the New Testament, such as the fact that his joints separated as he struggled on the cross (v. 14) and that by the time of his crucifixion, his body would be so emaciated by fasting and labor that his bones would show enough to be counted (v. 17).
1.My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from delivering me and from the words of my anguished cry?
(Fulfilled in Mt. 27:46)
6.But I am a worm, and not a man, a reproach to men, and despised by people.
7.Everyone who sees me ridicules me. They smirk; they shake the head, saying,
8.“He trusted in the Lord, that He would deliver him; let Him rescue him, seeing He delighted in him.”
(Fulfilled in Mt. 27:41–43)
9.You are the One who took me out of the womb. You made me secure when I was on my mother’s breasts.
10.I was cast upon you from the womb. From my mother’s belly, you are my God.
11.Do not be far from me, for trouble is near; for there is no one to help.
14.I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax; it is melted within me.
15.My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue is stuck to my palate, and you have brought me to the dust of death.
(Fulfilled in Jn. 19:28)
16.Dogs encompass me; the Assembly of the wicked encircle me. They pierced my hands and my feet.
(Fulfilled in Mt. 27:35a)
17.I can count all my bones. They gaze and stare at me.
18.They divide my clothes among them, and they cast lots on my garment.
(Fulfilled in Jn. 19:23–24)
19.But you, O Lord, do not be far off! My Strength! Hurry to help me!
The Son Did Not Want To Come
Everyone knows that the Son of God did not look forward to the horrific death his Father had determined he would suffer, for his agonizing prayers in the garden of Gethsemane are recorded in all four gospels. He begged his Father to find some other way so desperately that “his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Lk. 22:44). Hardly anyone knows, however, that before coming to earth, the Son pleaded with the Father not to send him into the body of a mortal. He said, “Oh, do not put the life of your turtle dove into a creature, a creature among your afflicted people!” (Ps. 74:19a). But as the author of Hebrews says, “He had to be made like his brothers in every way” (Heb. 2:17a), “so that by means of death, he might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the Accuser, and set free those who through fear of death, their whole lives were subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14b–15).
Even though he would have preferred otherwise, the Son, as always, chose his Father’s will over his own. In Gethsemane, he repeatedly said, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Lk. 22:42), and in heaven before he came to earth, he said, “I am here to do your will, O God! I delight to do your will, for your law is in my heart. I will declare your name to my brothers. In the midst of the congregation will I sing you praise” (Heb. 10:7; Ps. 40:8; Heb. 2:12).
The Messiah’s Descent into Hell
After he came to earth, the Son said that Jonah’s three days in the belly of the whale was a figure of the time he would spend in the heart of the earth (Mt. 12:40). And a thousand years before he came, the Son spoke through David about his future descent into the heart of the earth to preach to the souls in prison (1Pet. 3:19), confessing his trust in his Father, that He would not leave him in that awful place:
9.Therefore, my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices. My flesh also shall rest in hope.
10.For you [the Father] will not leave my soul in Sheol; nor will you allow your holy one to see corruption.
Not only was the Son confident that his Father would deliver him from Sheol, but he was also confident that He would restore him again to his heavenly glory, and even increase it:
20.You who have shown me many and grievous troubles will bring me back to life and cause me to rise again from the depths of the earth.
21.You will increase my greatness and comfort me again.
The Messiah’s Ascension into Heaven
In Ephesians 4:8, Paul quotes another prophecy from Psalms to show that when Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, he received from the Father gifts of the Spirit for men:
18.You have ascended on high! You have taken captivity captive, to procure gifts for men, even the rebellious, so that the Lord God might dwell with them.
The Restoration of the Messiah’s Glory
The Father promised by the prophet Amos that He would raise the Son from the dead and restore to him the glory he had with the Father before the world began:
11.In that day, I will raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and I will wall up its breaches, and I will raise up its ruins, and I will build it as in days of old.
The apostle James confirmed for us that these wonderful promises in Amos were made by the Father to His Son (Acts 15:16).
The Messiah’s Coronation and Blessing
The previously mentioned Old Testament distinction between the Father and the Son (“Lord” for the Father, and “Lord” for the Son) is something Jesus himself referred to in Matthew 22:41–45. There, Jesus used that distinction to great effect, quoting David’s famous line (Ps. 110:1), “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool,’ ” to show that the Son is greater than David, though not as great as God.
In Psalm 2, an awareness of that distinction is equally instructive. In this psalm, the Son (the Lord) tells of what happened to him after his ascension into heaven. He says that he and the Father (the Lord) will laugh to scorn the men on earth who tried to destroy him (v. 4), and he also tells of the Father placing him on a heavenly throne and giving him great promises:
1.Why do the Gentiles rage, and the people [the Israelites] imagine a vain thing?
2.The kings of earth set themselves, and the rulers [of Israel] assembled themselves together against the Lord and against His Messiah, saying,
3.“Let us tear off their bands, and cast off their cords from us!”
4.He who dwells in heaven [the Father] will laugh. The Lord [the Son] will mock them.
5.Then, He [the Father] will speak to them in His wrath, and in His furious indignation will He discomfit them:
6.“In spite of you, I have enthroned my king upon Zion, my holy mountain.”
7.Let me tell of the ordinance of the Lord! He said to me, “You are my Son. Today, I have begotten you!
8.Ask of me, and I will give you nations for your inheritance, even the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession.
9.You shall break them in pieces with a rod of iron; like a potter’s vessel shall you smash them.”
10.Now then, O kings, be wise. Be instructed, O judges of earth.
11.Serve the Lord [the Father] with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
12.Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish from the way when his anger is kindled but a little. Blessed are all who seek refuge in him.
What David thought when the Spirit said through him, “Kiss the Son,” we can only imagine. All we know for sure is that the Son was still hidden and that David did not know that the Son of God was there to kiss, even though the Son spoke through him.
The Authority of the Risen Messiah
The glory that the Father gave the Son includes the authority, the “key”, to admit souls into the kingdom of God or to refuse them. Through Isaiah, the Father spoke mysteriously of this great authority which He would give to His Son:
20.And it shall come to pass in that day that I will call for my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah.
21b.I will commit your government into his hand, and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.
22.And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder. He will open, and no one will shut; and he will shut, and no one will open.
Jesus mentioned this authority in his message to the pastor of the congregation of Philadelphia:
7b.These things says the one who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, he who opens, and no one closes, and closes, and no one opens.
In the Old Testament, the key of the house of David was the key to the king’s palace. The man to whom it was entrusted was the man of highest authority in the kingdom, next to the king himself. The management of all the king’s property and treasure was the responsibility of the man who held that key. He was in complete charge of the king’s household (2Kgs. 18:18). When Paul said of Christ Jesus, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3), he was speaking of Jesus’ power not only to admit men into God’s kingdom, but also to open or shut to them the riches of God’s wisdom and knowledge once they are in it.
Isaiah’s prophecy goes further still, foretelling of the Son’s unshakable authority, of his being killed, and finally, of God’s rejection of Israel:
23.I will fasten him like a peg in a sure place, and a glorious throne over his father’s house shall be his.
24.And they shall hang on him all the glory of his father’s house, the progeny and the products – every little vessel, from all the bowls to all the pitchers.
25.In that day, says the Lord of hosts, the peg that was fastened in a sure place shall be removed, and be cut down, and fall. Then, the burden that was on him shall be cut off, for the Lord has spoken.
When wicked men killed Jesus, “the peg that was fastened in a sure place” was “removed and cut down.” However, in Isaiah’s prophecy, God called His Son “Eliakim”, a name that means “God will raise up”. And after God raised up Jesus from the dead and the Jews refused to hear the Gospel, the burden for Israel that was on Jesus’ shoulders was cut off. Instead, God gave His Son the Gentiles who believed the Gospel (Acts 13:46; 18:6). While here ministering to the Jews, Jesus warned Israel’s leaders that God would cut Israel off and turn to the Gentiles if they rejected him (Mt. 21:33–43), but they rejected him anyway, not fearing the consequences. Jesus’ love for Israel was so strong that, at times, he broke down and wept for them (e.g., Lk. 19:41), and he still loves them. But when everyone in Israel who would believe had done so, Isaiah’s awful prophecy came to pass, and the burden of the Jews was removed from Jesus’ shoulders.
Near the end of his life, Paul warned the Jews that this was about to happen and that God was even then closing their door and turning to the Gentiles:
23.And when they [the Jews] had appointed him [Paul] a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he expounded upon and testified about the kingdom of God, persuading them from morning until evening of things concerning Jesus, from both the law of Moses and the prophets.
24.And there were some who believed the things Paul said, but some did not believe.
25.And being in disagreement among themselves, they began to leave after Paul made one statement: “The holy Spirit spoke rightly to our fathers by Isaiah the prophet
26.when it said, ‘Go to this people and say, “You will certainly hear, but you shall not understand, and you will certainly see, but you shall not perceive.
27.For the heart of this people has become dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and repent, and I heal them.” ’
28.Let it be known to you, therefore, that the salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles and that they will hear it!”
Isaiah’s prophecy about God’s Son having the key of David was concealed within a real situation (Isa. 22:15–25). That is not unusual. In the Old Testament, God frequently brought about historical situations and then used them to provide clues about His Son. Of course, the ancient people who lived out those prophetic events did not see the events of their lives as prophecies of the Son. They were like Abraham, who never dreamed that two thousand years after he died, the apostle Paul would see in Abraham’s two wives, Sarah and Hagar, figures of the two covenants that God would make with His people (Gal. 4:21–31). But then, Paul had the great advantage of having received the life of God, and with that life, Paul’s eyes were opened to see Israel’s history the way God designed it, that is, as a testimony to His beloved Son.
The Messiah Would Have Children after He Died!
In Isaiah 53:8, the prophet was moved by the Spirit to cry out against the unjust execution of the coming Messiah. Part of the reason for his lamentation was that the Messiah would be killed before he fathered any children. Isaiah rhetorically asked, “Who shall declare his generation?” That is, who would be able to record the names of the Messiah’s children since he would “generate” none? And yet, Isaiah’s question had already been answered, hundreds of years before it was even asked! God had provided the answer through King David:
30.A seed shall serve Him [the Father], and it shall be accounted to the Lord [the Son] for a generation.
31.They shall come and declare His righteousness to a people that shall be born, that He has done this.
The followers of Christ who gathered in an upper room on the day of Pentecost became this “people that shall be born” when they were born again on that day. They became the children whom the Son wanted Israel to notice and to consider (Isa. 8:18). Born of the Spirit of God, they were counted as the Son’s children, and they became the ones who declared the righteousness of God to others who were also born not “of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:12–13).
So, Isaiah said the Messiah would have no children, although centuries before, David had said they would be born! And for Isaiah, the mystery was magnified when, immediately after saying that the Messiah would have no children, the Spirit spoke through Isaiah again and said that the Messiah would have children after God made him an offering for sin:
10b.When you make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his generation.
It is easy to see why the “prophets earnestly sought and diligently inquired about this salvation” (1Pet. 1:10). Isaiah must have wondered how it could be that the Messiah would die without children but that after he died, he would have some. But that is exactly what happened. Jesus died so that those who believed in him could be born again in spirit. The disciples did not understand Jesus when he told them that they were like a woman about to come to the hour of birth (Jn. 16:20–22), but not long afterward, as Isaiah said would happen, the Messiah saw his children, for the disciples were born of God when the Spirit came with its baptism of regeneration (Acts 2:1–4; Tit. 3:5). What an amazing family! It is no wonder that the Son of God exclaimed, “I and the children the Lord has given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel!” (Isa. 8:18).
The Son and those who believe in him are the love of God’s life, and since the Son is “most blessed forever”, believers are most blessed with him. We are blessed that we have the Son as both a father and a God (Isa. 9:6) and that we have him as our brother (Rom. 8:29), our High Priest (Heb. 2:17; 4:14), our counsellor (Rev. 3:18), our life (Jn. 6:57), our friend (Jn. 15:13–15), and our Savior (Acts 5:31; Eph. 5:23). The Son of God is all things to us who believe, just as the Father is all things to the Son.
God’s “Strong and Mighty One”
It was revealed to Paul (1Cor. 14:21–22) that the following from Isaiah was a prophecy of the day of Pentecost, when the holy Spirit was poured out on the followers of Jesus and they began to speak in tongues:
11.He will speak to this people with stammering lips and another tongue,
12.to whom He said, “This is the rest with which you will cause the weary one to rest,” and, “This is the refreshing.” Yet, they would not listen.
But just prior to pouring out that blessing, the Son cast Satan and his angels out of heaven. Correspondingly, Isaiah’s prophecy of Satan’s expulsion came earlier in the same chapter:
2. Behold, my Lord has a strong and mighty one! Like a hailstorm, a destructive tempest, like a mighty, overwhelming flood will he cast down to the earth with his hand.
Of course, God did not reveal at that time who the Son would cast down from heaven to earth.
Daniel Saw the Messiah
As we have now seen, the Father painted a perfect picture of His Son in the law and the prophets to provide for Israel a thousand clues concerning their Messiah. Nothing, however, quite compares with the experiences of Daniel, a young Jew taken captive into Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar and made a eunuch for the king’s service. God loved Daniel very much (Dan. 9:23) and allowed him to see the hidden Son – twice!
Daniel’s First Vision: “The Stone”
In Daniel 2:1–5, King Nebuchadnezzar dreamed a dream which troubled him. He commanded his most trusted counsellors, including astrologers and sorcerers, to tell him what the dream meant. The only problem was that he could not remember the dream that he wanted them to interpret. When they humbly asked the king to tell them the dream so they could interpret it, he was enraged and said to them,
5.The thing is completely gone from me! Now, if you do not tell me the dream, with its meaning, you shall be cut in pieces, and your houses shall be made a dunghill!
Of course, the king’s counsellors could not tell him what he had dreamed, and so, Nebuchadnezzar gave the order to execute every “wise man” in his kingdom. Unfortunately, Daniel and his three Jewish friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, fell into that category. When the king’s executioner appeared at Daniel’s door, Daniel managed to persuade him to allow him to go ask the king for a little time to seek God for the answer. The king agreed, and Daniel went home to seek God.
19a.Then the secret was revealed to Daniel in a night vision.
In the morning, Daniel returned to the king. What God had revealed to Daniel, and what Daniel now told Nebuchadnezzar, was that the king had gone to bed the previous night wondering about the future (Dan. 2:29) and that the dream was God’s response to the king’s desire to know what would come to pass after he died.
Daniel told the amazed king that in his dream, he had seen a giant image made, from the head downward, of gold, silver, brass, and then iron mixed with clay. This represented, said Daniel, the four kingdoms that would hold sway in the earth, one after the other, until God at last establishes an eternal kingdom that will be ruled by a mighty figure called “the Stone”:
34.You watched until a Stone was cut out, without hands, which struck the image on its feet which were of iron and clay, and broke them to pieces.
35.Then the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold were crushed together and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors, and the wind carried them away so that no place was found for them. And the Stone which struck the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.
45b.The great God has made known to the king what will take place after this time, and the dream is certain, and its interpretation sure.
God revealed to Daniel the King’s dream and its interpretation, but the identity of the main character, the one called “the Stone”, remained a secret. Daniel saw the Stone, and he was told that the Stone would destroy the kingdoms of man and replace them with an eternal kingdom of his own (Dan. 2:44). And even though this great figure, the Stone, was the most intriguing person in the dream, nothing about him personally was revealed to Daniel. But even more remarkably, Daniel did not ask for more information about him. But then, the astonishing vision that the King and Daniel saw did not belong to them. It belongs to us, the children of the dead man who rose from the dead to give us a new birth with God’s kind of life. God gave Daniel the vision, but He kept its ultimate meaning secret until He created the people for whom Daniel was writing. Daniel was one of those holy and wise men of whom Jesus spoke when he told his disciples, “Many prophets and righteous men longed to see the things you’re seeing and didn’t see them, and to hear the things you’re hearing, and didn’t hear them.” What Jesus could have said about Daniel is that “he saw, but he did not see, and he heard, but he did not hear.”
The young prophet Zechariah, too, saw the Stone, and like Daniel, he did not understand what he was seeing. The Stone in Zechariah’s vision had seven eyes (Zech. 3:9a), just as the Lamb of God in John’s vision of heaven had seven eyes (Rev. 5:6). And when God told Zechariah that He would engrave the Stone and then take away man’s sins (Zech. 3:9b), the prophet could not have understood that God would use the Romans to engrave that Stone, using whips and spikes, and that that “engraving” would lead to man’s sins being forgiven.
Daniel’s Second Vision: “One Like the Son of Man”
In the next vision of the future that God gave to Daniel, the same four kingdoms of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream were represented by four beasts, rising from the sea:
1.In the first year of Belshazzar, the king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream while on his bed, and he saw visions in his head. And he wrote down the dream, relating the sum of the events.
2.And when Daniel began, he said, “In my vision during the night, I was there, watching, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the Great Sea.
3.And four great creatures came up from the sea, different from one another.”
Daniel described in detail these four beasts, which represented the four great world powers of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Then Daniel went on to tell of seeing “one like the son of man” approach God and receive a kingdom that will never pass away:
13.In the visions of the night, I was there, watching, and behold, one like a son of man was coming with the clouds of heaven, and he approached the Ancient of Days [the Father], and they ushered him in before Him.
14.And dominion was given to him, and majesty, and a kingdom. And all peoples, nations, and languages shall serve him. His dominion shall be an eternal dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingdom shall not be destroyed.
But the mysterious nature of the vision left Daniel troubled.
15.As for me, Daniel, my spirit was shattered within its sheath, and the visions of my head terrified me.
16.I approached one of those who stood by, and I asked of him the meaning of all this. And he told me, and made known to me the meaning of these things.
Not quite. The angel made known to Daniel the meaning of everything except the most important part! His explanation omitted the identity of the “one like a son of man” who “came with the clouds of heaven” and approached “the Ancient of Days” to “receive an eternal kingdom”. That omission is astonishing. But then, we must remember that the angel did not reveal the identity of that mysterious figure because he could not. The angel did not know who it was that received an eternal kingdom from God any more than Daniel did. It seems as if the angel altogether forgot about that person when he explained the vision to Daniel. But even more remarkably, Daniel did not even ask the angel about him! It is as if God blocked both their minds from pursuing the matter. It was obvious that the “one like a son of man” was not God, for God was “the Ancient of Days” to whom that mysterious figure came. So, who was this “son of man”? Perhaps Daniel was too overwhelmed by the experience to even think to ask:
28b.As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly troubled me, and my color changed, but I kept the matter in my heart.
It was at least in part because Daniel felt that something was incomplete about his understanding of the vision that he was left with such troubled thoughts. Daniel had been allowed to actually see the hidden Son of God, but then, God did not allow Daniel to think to ask who he was. As I said before, when God hides a thing, He hides it in plain view.
The Messiah’s Return to Reign on Earth
The last few chapters of young Zechariah’s prophecies concern events that transpire at the end of this age when the Son will return to earth and reign. Zechariah foretold of the time that is coming when the whole world, in a final effort to eradicate the Jews, will unite behind an evil ruler whom John called “the Beast” (e.g., Rev. 13:1). The armies of the Beast will seem unstoppable, but the desperate prayers of the Jews will touch God’s heart, and He will send His Son from heaven to rescue the beleaguered nation of Israel (Zech. 14:3–4; cp. Rev. 19:11–21).
The Son declared through Zechariah that on that day, he will grant repentance to the Jews:
10a.I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and of supplications. And they shall look on me whom they pierced.
Someone among the Jews will notice that the hands of their heavenly Rescuer are badly scarred and will ask him about it. The tenderness in Jesus’ answer is overwhelming:
6.And one shall say to him, “What are these wounds in your hands?” And he will answer, “Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.”
Zechariah then describes the brokenness of the Jews when they realize that their Deliverer is Jesus, that he still loves them dearly, and that when their fathers killed him, they killed a merciful Savior who had come to redeem them from sin. And now, in their day, he has come to them again:
10b.And they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son, weeping bitterly over him as one bitterly weeps over the firstborn.
11a.The wailing in Jerusalem on that day will be great,
12a.and the land shall cry aloud in sorrow.
His Fathers Will Be His Sons
The saints who return to earth to reign with Jesus will not be just the saints from New Testament times; they will be all the righteous from the beginning of the world. The righteous men who were revered in Israel as “the fathers”, men such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be among the ones who reign with Christ, but will be subject to him along with everyone else. The Spirit spoke of these “fathers” being subject to Christ and yet reigning with him over the earth, when it said through David, “Instead of your fathers, they shall be your sons. You shall set them as princes over all the earth” (Ps. 45:16).
“The Earth” Will Never Hunger or Thirst Again
It will help to understand the next prophecy of the Son if one is aware that “the earth” is sometimes used prophetically as a reference to the people of God, just as “the sea” is sometimes used as a reference to people of the world. We find instances of God’s people being referred to as “the earth” in Psalm 2:10, Isaiah 66:8, and Revelation 12:16, while in Revelation 17:15, “the sea” represents the world’s “peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and languages.” Here in Isaiah 49, the Son reveals that the Father will answer his prayers for us and will give him power to raise “the earth” from the dead and to give them an eternal inheritance, never again to suffer hunger or thirst, or any such thing:
8.This is what the Lord [the Father] said: “In an acceptable time I will answer you, and in the day of salvation, I will help you. And I will watch over you and give you for a covenant of the people, to cause the earth [God’s people] to rise to inherit desolate inheritances,
9.saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out!’ And to those in darkness, ‘Show yourselves!’ They shall feed along the roads, and their pastures shall be in all the high places.
10.And they shall neither hunger nor thirst, and heat and sun shall not beat upon them. For He who pities them shall guide them, and by springs of water shall He refresh them.”
The Son Is the Point
It is certainly true, as I have previously stated, that “when God hides things, He lays them out in full view and then does not allow those looking on to understand what they see.” In the Old Testament, it is as if God hid the Son in such plain sight that it blinded us. When we read the Old Testament books in the light of God’s life, they become, in their entirety, books about His Son. In their teachings, the New Testament men of God referred constantly to the writings of Old Testament men of God because with minds enlightened by the Spirit, they saw the Son in everything those men wrote. Even though they had only those ancient scriptures, God’s New Testament ministers fully preached the Gospel of Christ because the Spirit had revealed to them what God had hidden in the Old Testament. Those ministers were neither foolish nor gullible. They were filled with holy life and were anointed to understand the mysteries of God. It was revealed to them that God ordered Old Testament events so that they bore witness to His Son, even as He withheld all understanding of those events until the appointed time. How wonderful is the grace that we have received, to see and to understand what was hidden from so many righteous and wise saints of old!
The Father was thinking of His hidden Son when He told the Serpent that Eve would produce a “seed” that would crush his head (Gen. 3:15). He had His Son in mind when He commanded Moses to lift up the brass serpent in the wilderness so that those who were suffering could look upon it and be healed (Num. 21:8–9; Jn. 3:14–15). He had His Son in mind when He commanded Israel to make certain that not a bone of the Passover lamb was broken (Ex. 12:46; Jn. 19:36). He was thinking of the day that He would send the Spirit to earth to find a bride for His Son when He put it in Abraham’s heart to send his steward to the city of Nahor to find a bride for Isaac (Gen. 24:1–10). When God commanded Israel’s high priest to take the blood of animals into the room in the temple called “the Most Holy” to offer it for the sins of the people, He was thinking of His Son, whom He would command to do the same with his own blood in “the Most Holy” in heaven for the sins of the whole world (Lev. 16:14–15; Heb. 9:11–12). The Father was thinking of His Son when He sent to Israel the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of a cloud by day to lead them to the Promised Land (Num. 9:15–23), for He would later send His Son to guide His people through the wilderness of this world (1Pet. 2:21). God had His Son in mind when He put it in Pharaoh’s heart to exalt Joseph to the highest place in Egypt. Pharaoh handed over all his power to Joseph, saying to him, “Only in the throne will I be greater than you” (Gen. 41:40), and God has likewise given “all authority in heaven and on earth” to the Son (Mt. 28:18) while sitting, as Pharaoh did, on a higher throne. God was thinking of His Son when He promised that a “righteous Branch” would come to execute righteous judgment among God’s people (Isa. 11:1; Jer. 23:5; Zech. 6:12).
The Father was thinking of His hidden Son when He created a wife for Adam. He could have instantaneously created the entire human race from dirt, just as He created Adam, but that would not have prepared us for the revelation of the Son. God wanted us to procreate so that we might experience the deep love of a parent for a child so that when His Son was revealed, we might be able to comprehend His love for the child He created for Himself before the world began. If all human beings had been created from dirt, the concept of having children and the powerful emotions that parents feel would be unknown to us. What, then, would God have called His Son so that we could understand who His Son was and what His Son meant to Him?
The Father was thinking of His Son when He gave Moses this warning for Israel:
18.I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren, and I will put my words into his mouth, and he shall tell them all that I command him.
19.And it shall be, that whoever will not listen to my words, which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.
Peter tells us that God was thinking of how His Son would bring us life when He said through the prophet Joel, “It shall come to pass afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17a; Joel 2:28a). Matthew tells us that God was thinking of His Son when He moved on Zechariah to proclaim, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold! Your King is coming to you!” (Zech. 9:9a; cp. Mt. 21:2–5). Likewise, Jude tells us that God was thinking of His Son’s return to earth to reign with his saints when He said through Enoch, “The Lord is coming with ten thousands of his saints!” (Jude 1:14). Isaiah tells us that God was thinking of His Son when the Spirit prompted him to cry out, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights. I have put my Spirit upon him, and he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles” (Isa. 42:1). Paul tells us that God was thinking of His Son when He parted the Red Sea (1Cor. 10:1–2), when He made Abraham a father (Gal. 4:22–28), and when He cursed whoever was nailed to a tree (Gal. 3:13). And finally, God was thinking of His Son when He promised that the upright, in a land very far away, would one day see “the King in his beauty” (Isa. 33:17).
Jesus said that his Father was thinking of him when He moved David to say, “The Stone that the builders rejected, the same has become the head of the corner” (Ps. 118:22; Mt. 21:42a). And when he told the leaders of Israel that their scriptures testified of him (Jn. 5:39–40), he was warning them that he was the point of the scriptures that they claimed to love.
The entire Bible – indeed life itself – is pointless without the Son. The Son is the one who gives meaning to Abraham’s circumcision, and Moses’ law, and Joshua’s possession of Canaan’s land, and the labors and sufferings of the saints. The Son is the wisdom in Solomon’s proverbs and the music in David’s songs. He is the reason Job waited, and Daniel prayed, and Jeremiah wept, and Abraham left his homeland and kindred to find a city “whose Architect and Builder is God” (Heb. 11:8–10). The Son is the reason for every element of the Old Testament. God designed it all to proclaim His Son, but in shadows and figures that men could not then understand.
But we know him! He is our rainbow set in the heavens, a living promise that we will never be destroyed. He is our Passover Lamb, whose blood is spread on the doorposts of our hearts. He is our Melchizedek, meeting us with bread and wine to bless us. He is our David, sitting on the throne in heaven. He is our Joshua, giving us our eternal possession. He is our Jonah, back from three days in hell. He is our Noah, preparing a way to escape the coming wrath of God. He is our Adam, the first of a new race and of the nation “born in one day.” He is our Star who came from Jacob (Num. 24:17), guiding us through the darkness of this world. He is our Sun, who rose from the grave “with healing in his wings” (Mal. 4:2). By the grace of God, we see the Son everywhere that God placed a sign of him, and that is in every utterance of the prophets, every ceremony of the law, and every ancient story of faith.
… being ignorant of God’s righteousness,
and striving to maintain their own righteousness,
they have not submitted to the righteousness of God.
… not having my own righteousness, which is of the law,
but that which is by the faith of Christ,
the righteousness of God that is based on faith.
Kinds of Righteousness
Everyone who truly believes that all wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ will believe whatever Christ says. We have all thought there are truths about God that are fully knowable without the Son, but that confidence is the product of human pride, and it is a rejection of the true God because it is a denial of the necessity of the Son who alone reveals Him. The mind of Christ says that to break one of God’s commandments is to be guilty of breaking them all (Jas. 2:10). That same mind likewise says that if we think we can understand one thing about God without His Son, we are guilty of thinking we can know everything about God without him. The world has always imagined God as a big one of us, and so, the world imagines that our kind of life can comprehend Him at least in part. It cannot.
To make us free from our darkness, Jesus first must make us willing to be free. He must help us to sense our bondage to the flesh and our need of a new life. Only when that is done do we become willing to trust Jesus instead of our own opinions, and only then are we made free by the truth he speaks (Jn. 8:32). And it is not that we are liberated by abandoning our own thoughts and ways; to say that is to suggest that we can be liberated by our own effort. On our own, we cannot escape our sinful ways because on our own, we cannot stop being who we are. But with the sword of truth about God, Jesus comes and releases us from bondage to our own thoughts and ways, and he is the only one who can do it.
Before the Son was revealed, animals, men, and angels had their own God-given kinds of wisdom and knowledge. God had given men, for example, knowledge of how to sow and harvest crops (Isa. 28:24–29). But Paul was referring to God’s kind of wisdom and knowledge when he said that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in the Son (Col. 2:3). Paul’s statement means that before the Son was revealed, nobody possessed any of God’s kind of wisdom and knowledge, and even now, without the Son, nobody possesses any. Extreme as it may sound, that statement is a fundamental element of the Gospel.
Both my congregation and I had questions on this point. We wondered how there could have been no knowledge of God until the Son was revealed, since God spoke to people in ancient time and told them what was good and what was evil. But what we learned as we studied these things is that there is a vast difference between being told what is good and evil and having a nature that senses what is good and evil without being told. The former produces the righteousness of man; the latter is the righteousness of God. The former can prick someone’s conscience if he acts contrary to what he is told, but the latter empowers people to live according to the will of God to begin with. These are the two kinds of righteousness found in the Bible: man’s and God’s.
We saw in Chapter 2 that there are various kinds of life and that God’s kind of life is different from and superior to all others. The same is true of all that pertains to God’s life. There is no goodness like God’s kind of goodness, no wisdom like His wisdom, no power like His power, and no righteousness like His righteousness. Everything about God is unique because His kind of life is unique.
In the Old Testament, people were righteous if they did what the law said was good and refrained from what the law said was evil. That is man’s righteousness. But in this covenant, people are considered righteous only if their nature is changed to be like God’s so that they have in their hearts the kind of righteousness that God has in His heart. Jesus compared his Father’s righteousness to man’s in the Sermon on the Mount:
21.You have heard that it was said to those of ancient time, “You shall not murder,” and “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the Judgment.”
22a.But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother without cause shall be liable to the Judgment.
27.You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery,”
28.but I say to you that every man who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Many in Israel considered Jesus to be cursed by God (Isa. 53:4), but only because they did not have God’s kind of wisdom and righteousness. They also judged him to be unfit to live (Mt. 26:65–66), as they later did to those who followed him into God’s righteousness (Acts 7:57–60; 22:22). Their judgment of what was unrighteous was itself unrighteous in God’s eyes, for God’s kind of righteousness was part of the “wisdom and knowledge” hidden within God’s heart until it was revealed by the Son.
“Holy, Just, and Good”
Nothing was wrong with the law that God gave Moses. Men were far better off with it than without it. As Paul said, the law was “holy, just, and good” (Rom. 7:12). No matter how holy, just, or good the law was, however, it could not make the people to whom God gave it holy, just, and good because the law was not a part of their corrupt nature and had no power to change it; it simply told them what to do. What the law told people to do was right, but the fact that it had to tell them what to do was the problem. When Jesus came, he told his followers to “be perfect, just as your Father who is in heaven is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). But people could not live God’s kind of life without having God’s kind of life. People without God’s life can believe that God exists; they can speculate on God’s nature, admire His works, and behave according to a set of rules. But obedience to a set of rules, even if they are divinely revealed rules, is our kind of righteousness. Moses plainly told Israel that obedience to the law’s rites and rules would only produce their own kind of righteousness:
25.It will be our righteousness if we are careful to do all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He commanded us.
God’s kind of righteousness has nothing to do with obeying rules, and only after God shared His kind of life with people could they go beyond acting holy to being holy as God is holy. The best that Moses could do was to command Israel to be holy because God was holy (Lev. 11:44–45; 20:7) and to be perfect with God (Dt. 18:13), that is, to keep His rules perfectly. But the Son of God commanded men to be perfect the same way God is perfect (Mt. 5:48), and by walking in the kind of life that he brought them, they could do it! It was only after receiving God’s kind of life that John could have made this arresting statement: “As He is, so are we in this world” (1Jn. 4:17).
Jesus promised that he and the Father would come and dwell within us who believe on him (Jn. 14:23), and when, in Spirit, they come in, they bring their clean desires into our hearts, along with their pure, wise thoughts. Moreover, they give us the power to put those holy desires and thoughts into action. That is God’s righteousness. How good God is! He knew that we could not, with our kind of life, be holy as He is holy, and so He sent His Son to make a way for us to partake of His perfect, holy life!
Paul summed up the matter when he said that if we “walk in the Spirit”, we will not live as our corrupt human nature would make us live (Gal. 5:16). In other words, when we receive and live in God’s kind of life, we do what is right because His life senses what is good and empowers us to do it. In the life of God is “love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, faith, meekness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23). God’s life is the law of His kingdom. It is better than any written law, even a “holy, just, and good” one. It is the “perfect law of liberty”, and it is “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” which liberates us from the bondage of sin (Jas. 1:25; 2:12; Rom. 8:2).
While here on earth, the Son of God was as helpless as Moses’ law was in imparting to people the nature and knowledge of God because he, like the law, was on the outside of them. Even though the disciples were obeying the commandments of the law and the commandments of the Lord Jesus, they were still living in their own righteousness because they were still being told what to do. No matter how many years Jesus might have stayed among them, as long as they did not have the kind of life that he had, they would have remained ignorant of God, and Jesus would have remained a mystery to them. Jesus had to return to the Father to offer himself to Him as a sacrifice for man’s sin in order to procure for man God’s kind of life. “It is necessary that I go away,” Jesus explained to his disciples, “for if I do not go away, the comforter will not come” (Jn. 16:7):
25.I have spoken these things to you, being with you,
26.but the comforter, the holy Spirit which the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things, and it will bring to your remembrance everything that I have told you.
Later that same night, Jesus also said that when the Spirit came, it would “guide you into all truth” (Jn. 16:13a). Jesus said “all truth” because everything true about God is communicated only by the Spirit of God. Without the Spirit, God’s life, no one can either know or please God (1Cor. 2:11–12; Rom. 8:7–9a). And because the entrance of the Spirit re-creates people to be able to know God and to please Him, Jesus’ promise of the Spirit is the most precious promise ever made to mankind. With the guidance of that holy life, one can distinguish truth from error and sense what is good and evil without being told, just like our heavenly Father! John spoke of the wonder of such a life when he wrote, “The anointing that you received from him remains in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you, but the anointing itself teaches you concerning all things, and it is true; it is not a lie” (1Jn. 2:27a).
God could have given a million rules through Moses, and sent a million prophets, and His Son could have stayed here among us a million years, but without God sharing His kind of life with us, we would never have known Him. People under the law could do what God told them to do, and thus, be “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and judgments of the Lord blamelessly” (Lk. 1:6). Still, under a “law of commandments contained in ordinances” (Eph. 2:15), the fear of making oneself a sinner by breaking one of His rules was an inescapable fact of life (Heb. 2:14–15), and a soul in that state is not walking in God’s kind of righteousness.
God’s Righteousness: No Rites or Rules
It was only to prepare men to receive His kind of righteousness that God gave them the rites and rules of Moses’ law. That law enabled people to attain to the height of their own kind of righteousness; it revealed to them a better way of living than they could ever have devised for themselves. Paul said that if there ever was a law that could have made men truly righteous, Moses’ law would have done it (Gal. 3:21), and every soul that walked humbly before God under Moses’ law was prepared to receive His Spirit when the Son was revealed.
By receiving God’s kind of life, humans partook of God’s nature (2Pet. 1:4), and it is God’s nature to live righteously without ceremonial rites and without rules. God needs no rites or rules to guide Him because God is naturally holy, and those who receive His kind of life and walk in it do not need rites and rules, either. God’s righteousness is rite-lessness, and in His kingdom, an unruly person is someone who demands his rites and lives according to rules.
Paul told the saints, “Walk in the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). He did not say, “Keep the rules, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” because he knew that he himself carried out the desires of his flesh while he was keeping the rules (Rom. 7:5–23). He spent his entire life in Christ trying to persuade believers to honor God by living and worshipping “in spirit and in truth”, without rites or rules. In the end, Paul failed in that mission; or rather, God’s people failed to grasp what Paul was trying so hard to tell them. The “new and living way” of the Spirit, the way of living holy without performing ceremonies or following a set of instructions, was the essence of Paul’s Gospel for the Gentiles. Those who “walk in the Spirit” live in fellowship with God’s feelings and thoughts.
The Father wrought an astonishing change in the hearts of men when He gave them His kind of life on the day of Pentecost. Nobody but God could have done it. Nobody but God even knew it needed to be done. Not one Old Testament prophet or wise man ever spoke of entering “the kingdom of God” or tried to explain “the righteousness of God”. They did not understand the uniqueness of God’s kind of life or the kind of kingdom or righteousness, or the kind of grace, or love, or mercy involved in that life. Standing in Pontius Pilate’s court, Jesus testified, “My kingdom is not of this world,” but Pilate did not believe that Jesus was a king. Jesus certainly didn’t look like a king or act like any king Pilate had ever known. Ancient people honored God as a king (Ps. 5:2), even as a great king (Ps. 47:2); still, to their minds, He was the kind of king they already understood, just greater. They knew that God was righteous (Ps. 119:137), even that He was the most righteous of all (Pss. 36:6; 111:3), but they thought He was most righteous with the kind of righteousness they already knew about. Everything of God, His grace, His kingdom, His righteousness, His love, His wisdom, etc., was completely unknown in heaven and earth until the Son of God came and revealed it.
Human Righteousness: Rites and Rules
Adam and Eve were not made sinful by eating the forbidden fruit and obtaining “the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:16–17; 3:6–7, 22). They ate the fruit and obtained that knowledge because they had already become sinful. Sin is a matter of the heart, and their choice to disobey God was the sin. The knowledge that entered into Adam and Eve when they ate the forbidden fruit was indeed knowledge, but it did nothing to deliver them from the sinfulness into which they had fallen. Their hearts remained the same. Similarly, the knowledge of good and evil that Israel obtained by the law was real knowledge, but it also did nothing to deliver them from their sinful nature. Neither the kind of knowledge that Adam and Eve received from the fruit nor the kind of knowledge Israel received from the law was evil. After all, God Himself possessed all that knowledge. In both cases, it was human sinfulness, not the source or the kind of knowledge that was the problem.
7.What, then, shall we say? “The law is sin”? Absolutely not! On the contrary, I would not have understood sin, were it not for the law. For example, I would not have known covetousness, had the law not said, “You shall not covet.”
12.Therefore, the law is indeed holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
14b.But I am carnal, sold under sin.
Children, in their innocence, are in some measure clean before God. Jesus even said that we must become like innocent children if we hope to ever see God’s kingdom (Mt. 18:1–3). But when young children in Israel came of age and learned from the law what sin was, they realized their guiltiness before God and “died” to their innocence. Paul described how this happened to him:
9.I was alive without the law once, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.
10.And then, the very commandment that was ordained for life was found by me to be for death.
The holy commandments of the law were contrary to man’s sinful nature; therefore, regardless of how precisely anyone kept the law’s rules, that kind of righteousness was man’s righteousness, a righteousness based on proper form. God’s righteousness, on the other hand, is a righteousness by nature. Moses and the prophets longed for the day when the inward parts of man would be circumcised instead of just the outside (Dt. 10:16; Jer. 4:4), but for that, the Son would have to come to earth, take on flesh, suffer and die, and then ascend to offer himself to the Father for us.
The law of Moses, being outside of man, could not sanctify human nature. Even if someone kept the commandments perfectly, that obedient soul could not escape another danger – the danger of becoming proud of being good. Nobody walking in God’s kind of life ever becomes proud of being good, however, for pride is not in God’s kind of righteousness.
God’s people who had the law of Moses sometimes became so proud of knowing the law that they lost sight of the need to actually keep it:
17.Behold! You call yourself a Jew, and you rest in the law, and boast in God,
18.and you know the divine will, and being instructed by the law, you approve excellent things,
19.and you have convinced yourself that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those in darkness,
20.an instructor of the ignorant, a teacher of little children, possessing the form of the knowledge and the truth that is in the law.
21.Now then, O teacher of others, do you not teach yourself ? O man who preaches not to steal, do you steal?
22.O man who says not to commit adultery, do you commit adultery? O man who abhors idols, do you rob the temple?
23.O man who boasts in the law, do you dishonor God by transgressing the law?
24.For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” as it is written.
Religious pride is the most difficult kind of pride for men to see because it is based on doing good, not evil, and upon obeying what God has commanded, not rejecting it. The reason Jesus told the devout leaders of Israel that “harlots will go into the kingdom of God before you” (Mt. 21:31) is that harlots know they are sinners and, so, are much more likely to repent when called upon by God to do so. The Son of God said he came into this world to bring sight to the blind, but the Pharisees claimed not to be blind to the things of God, and so, Jesus let them know that he did not come for them. He told them, “You say, ‘We see’; therefore, your sin remains” (Jn. 9:41). And Jesus told some Pharisees on another occasion, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but those who are sick” (Lk. 5:31).
Israel’s leaders had no means of overcoming religious pride once it took root in their hearts because it grew greater the more they performed the law’s ceremonies and the more they glorified God for giving the law to them instead of to any other nation. But for those without God’s life, obedience to the law made for a deadly trap of pride, and as a young man, Paul fell into it. Before Jesus met him on the road to Damascus, Paul zealously observed the precepts of the law, and he despised those who did not. Every time young Paul obeyed God’s commandment not to steal, he became prouder for not being a thief. Each Sabbath day Paul observed made him prouder of being an observer of the Sabbath and more contemptuous of those who were not observers of it. Afterward, as an apostle, Paul described what had happened to him:
8a.Sin, taking advantage of the commandment, produced in me every evil passion.
11.Sin, taking advantage of the commandment, deceived me, and with it, killed me.
An Example of Religious Pride
This is the story of two women from my hometown, both of them about five years older than I. One of them, Victoria, I knew from my earliest years, and the other, Sadie, I met only after I had married and moved to another city.
It was a pleasure getting to know Sadie. She believed in Jesus and was a happy person with a good understanding of spiritual things. Although her husband was not a believer, they had been happily married since before they graduated from high school, and they had successfully reared two children. Sadie had been filled with the Spirit years before I met her, and not long after we met, she began attending our home prayer meetings and eventually became a part of our family in Christ. One day as Sadie and I talked, she told me that she remembered Victoria from high school. They had not been close friends, but they were in the same graduating class.
Upon learning that, I looked forward to seeing Victoria again. Only occasionally did I see her after she moved from our hometown, but I wanted to be the first to tell her the good news, that I had met her former classmate Sadie and that Sadie was filled with the Spirit and serving Christ.
Victoria had always been a morally upright person. She was filled with the Spirit while in college, and in her spiritual journey, she had become an exemplary Christian, an outstanding member of a large church in her community. She and her husband were nearing retirement, both having enjoyed successful careers. Their only child was now grown, as were Sadie’s two children.
Months passed before I finally saw Victoria again, at a function in my hometown. I was excited for the chance to tell her the good news about Sadie. After some small talk, I told Victoria that I had met a lady named Sadie with whom she had graduated from high school and that she was now serving Christ and – I had hardly gotten those words out of my mouth when Victoria shot back a cold response that floored me. Actually, she replied so quickly that it was as if she had been waiting for decades for someone to mention Sadie’s name. She turned her head and said, “She got pregnant in high school.” That was all. And her expression made it clear that she did not want to hear anything else about that sinner. I was left speechless. Victoria exhibited no joy or thankfulness that her former schoolmate had been born again and was happy in Jesus. Her demeanor did not suggest the slightest interest in Sadie’s wonderful story, whom she obviously still thought of as a “bad girl”. I stood there, wondering what to do or say next. Victoria turned and continued mingling pleasantly with others, as if nothing had even happened.
Jesus revealed that the angels in heaven rejoice greatly when a sinner repents (Lk. 15:10); however, in a heart filled with self-righteous pride, no such joy is ever felt. It is a wonderful thing that Victoria had kept herself pure as a young woman. I encourage all young people to be morally upright. But it would have been better for her to have committed fornication a thousand times than for her to be so proud of never committing fornication that she would sneer at a soul that Jesus loved and had made pure by his blood.
We are not righteous in God’s sight because of sins we do not commit. That is our kind of righteousness, the kind we can achieve with our own kind of life, provided that we have the willpower to obey the accepted rules for conduct and worship. If righteousness is based on not committing sins and not transgressing the commandments, then very old trees and buildings are more righteous than any living person, for they have been here longer and have never transgressed any commandment of God. It is exactly as Paul said – no flesh can boast before God (1Cor. 1:29). We are righteous in God’s sight only as we live in His kind of life, doing as His holy Spirit leads us to do. According to the apostle Paul, those who live like that are the only children God acknowledges as His (Rom. 8:14).
If you have done a good deed today, or have thought a good thought, or have felt a right attitude, be thankful for it and give God the praise. He is the giver of every good and perfect gift (Jas. 1:17), and every time He imparts a holy desire to us so that we do what is good in His sight, He deserves our praise. Without Him, we cannot do, say, or think anything that is holy, just, and good. Jesus said so:
4.Stay in me, as I will in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it stays on the vine, so neither can you, unless you stay in me.
5.I am the vine; you, the branches. He who stays in me, and I in him, bears much fruit. Without me, you can do nothing.
A Filthy Garment
By the time of Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees in Israel were, like Victoria, extremely proud of their faithfulness in following the rules. No people on earth were more attentive to rules, or trusted more in ceremonial correctness. It was obvious to ordinary Jews that they would never be as righteous as the strict scribes and Pharisees, and Jesus’ disciples must have been stunned when he told them, “Unless your righteousness far exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:20). They must have wondered how they could possibly be more fastidious than the scribes and Pharisees in keeping the rites and rules of the law. The answer was that they could not, and in their hearts they knew it. Jesus knew it, too, but he also knew that another kind of righteousness was coming which would so far exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees that it would expose their kind of righteousness to be as worthless as “a filthy garment” (Isa. 64:6).
On the day of Pentecost, when the disciples received the baptism of God’s life, they were re-created with power to keep God’s law the way God had always wanted His people to keep it – “in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:24). From that day on, Jesus’ disciples walked in God’s kind of righteousness, and that kind of righteousness most certainly did “far exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees.” That is why men like young Paul persecuted those who received God’s life. They saw in those believers a kind of life that was contrary to the law, as they understood it. But it was not contrary to the law, it only exceeded the law, and when Paul received that life, he started living in God’s righteousness and became, himself, a saint who was persecuted.
24.Five times I received forty lashes, minus one, at the hands of the Jews;
25.three times, I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a day and a night I have spent in the deep;
26.on frequent journeys, in dangers on rivers, in dangers from bandits, in dangers from my own race, in dangers from the Gentiles, in dangers in the city, in dangers in the wilderness, in dangers on the sea, in dangers among false brothers,
27.through toil and hardship, through frequent sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and nakedness.
Paul’s claim to have been caught up into heaven to hear directly from God “things which are unlawful for a man to speak” (2Cor. 12:2–4) impressed few people in Paul’s day. Nor did his experience shield his converts from the powerful influence of Jewish believers who demanded that Gentiles add the rites and rules of Moses’ law to their faith. They demanded that Gentile believers live under the law as the Jews did, as Jesus had done, and as all of his original disciples were still doing. Paul contended with those Judaizers, believers though they were, and was unwavering in his insistence on the liberty of Gentiles from the rites and rules of the law (cp. Acts 15:1–2), adamantly refusing to compromise “even for a moment” the revelation given to him (Gal. 2:4–5). He himself had given up all confidence in his own righteousness and in the law that promoted it, placing all his hope in Christ:
7.What things were gain to me, these I have counted as loss for Christ.
8.More than that, I consider all things but loss for the surpassing value of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have accepted the loss of everything; and I consider it all garbage, that I might gain Christ,
9.and be found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is by the faith of Christ, the righteousness of God that is based on faith.
Paul described the law as “our guardian, until Christ” (Gal. 3:24). Naturally, the Jews, as God’s children, had to obey that guardian (Gal. 5:3), but the gift of the Spirit was God’s testimony that one had matured to the point that the guardian’s work was no longer needed (Gal. 3:25). Jesus did not come to undermine or destroy the law, but to fulfill it (Mt. 5:17), for he was the very point of the law’s instruction. As Paul would say it, when those who were under that guardian’s care believed in Jesus and received God’s life, they “died to” the guardian:
4a.My brothers, you are dead to the law through the body of Christ.
19.Through the law, I died to the law, that I might live in God.
The Jews in Paul’s time feared that they would face eternal damnation if they attempted to live without that dear old guardian. After all, had not God commanded them to obey the law, on penalty of death? They could not imagine God considering them righteous if they did not keep the law’s rules for conduct and worship. Everyone in Israel, to that point in history, who had disobeyed the law had been condemned and cursed by God, while all who had kept it had been blessed. Who, then, except a fool or a madman, thought that someone could be righteous without observing the law’s rites and rules?
Jesus once told his disciples, “I have food to eat that you do not know about” (Jn. 4:32), and then he explained, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me” (Jn. 4:34). Knowing God’s will and having the power to do it is a kind of righteousness about which the whole world, including the disciples, knew nothing. And on the day of Pentecost, when Jesus’ disciples were filled with “the Spirit of life”, they began to live in a kind of righteousness that so far exceeded that of the law that Israel’s elders did not recognize it as righteousness at all. On the contrary, they condemned it.
“The Strength of Sin”
The law not only made the greatest human righteousness possible, but it also made possible the greatest human wickedness. The law was given for man’s good, but it was designed by God so that “sin might become exceedingly sinful” (Rom. 7:13), and when the law was given, both human righteousness and human wickedness increased in strength, as Paul suggested when he said, “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law” (1Cor. 15:56).
How could God’s holy, just, and good law be “the strength of sin”? The answer is that although the law itself was not sinful, man was, and the cunning sinfulness embedded in man’s nature craftily used the law to please itself, even taking advantage of some men’s desire to do good.
21.I find, then, this law, that evil is present in me even when I desire to do good.
22.With the inner man, I joyfully consent to the law of God,
23.but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind and taking me captive to the law of sin that is in my members.
After the Spirit came, believers could at last see what God had seen all along, to wit, sin is so much a part of human nature that even when people followed the law, they could still find themselves opposing God and hating those who were like Him. Paul is the prime example of this, and as an apostle, he confessed his former self-righteousness and explained what that self-righteousness had been based upon:
4b.If anyone else thinks he has cause to trust in the flesh, I have more:
5.circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel; of the tribe of Benjamin; a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee;
6.concerning zeal, persecuting the Assembly of God, being blameless according to the righteousness that is in the law.
Note especially that Paul said that even when he was persecuting God’s people, he was blameless according to the righteousness of the law! One of Paul’s major themes throughout his letters is that in spite of how superior to the Gentiles he once felt he was, he and his fellow Jews were by nature no better than they. Sometimes, in fact, Israel was worse than the Gentiles (2Chron. 33:9; Ezek. 16:27). Paul also insisted that no one, Jew or Gentile, can justly boast of being good (1Cor. 1:29) and that God had “locked up everyone together in disobedience so that He might have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32). In Romans 3:19, Paul pointed out that the Spirit was speaking of God’s own people, not the Gentiles, when it said through David,
2.The Lord looked down from heaven upon the sons of man to see if there were any who understood and were seeking God.
3.They all are turned aside; they are all, alike, become filthy; there is no one doing good, not even one!
When Christ revealed himself to Paul, it utterly astounded the zealous young Pharisee to learn that even though he had loved and kept the law from childhood (Acts 26:4–5), he was a wretched sinner in God’s sight, worthy of damnation and in desperate need of mercy. Blameless as he had been in the righteousness of the law, Paul had become a fierce enemy of those who were blameless in the righteousness of God:
13.You have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, that I ruthlessly and relentlessly persecuted the Assembly of God, and was destroying it,
14a.but I was advancing in Judaism beyond many my own age in my nation.
Young Paul’s respectable kind of wickedness, his self-righteousness, was the same kind of wickedness that motivated the elders of Israel to persecute and kill Jesus. The sin of Israel’s self-righteous elders was greater than any sin that the Gentiles, who did not have God’s law, could commit, and it was greater than the sins of fellow Jews who did not keep the commandments. Those self-righteous elders condemned others who did not know and keep the law (Jn. 7:49), but drunkards, harlots, and other outcasts in Israel were not the ones who pursued God’s servants to destroy them. Only Jewish elders who meticulously kept the law and were proud of it had the strength to commit that degree of wickedness. Those powerful men (Jn. 8:44) were earthly figures of the “evil spirits among heavenly beings” of which Paul spoke (Eph. 6:12).
Paul, as a young man, and the many others who were like him, were trapped in a sinfulness they did not recognize as sin. And their enormous pride in ceremonial and moral correctness brought them more fully under sin’s power every time they obeyed one of God’s commandments. The sin that was embedded in their human kind of life shamelessly used the holiest thing on earth, Moses’ law, to make them more and more sin’s slave. Before Jesus rescued Paul, he and others wanted to do good, but “the passions of the sins which were working through the law in our members bore fruit leading to death” (Rom. 7:5).
The seventh chapter of Romans contains Paul’s description of his miserable spiritual condition when he had nothing but rites and rules to live by. Before he received God’s life, he said, no matter how much good he wanted to do or how much good he did, his fleshly nature kept him in bondage under an inescapable “law of sin and death”. He concluded by saying, “Wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24). But then he rejoiced at the answer: “I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:25). Paul went on from there to give his brilliant and thrilling description of the kind of life and liberty from sin that Christ had brought him:
2.The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death!
3a.You see, what was impossible for the law, in that it was weak through the flesh, God did when He sent His own Son in the form of sinful flesh.
The law was “weak”, not because it was wrong but because it had no power to change human nature. Paul’s great joy and excitement in Romans 8 was the result of the Spirit of God coming into his heart and re-creating him and setting him free from the power of his fleshly nature, which had held him captive for so long.
When the followers of Christ received God’s kind of life on the day of Pentecost, they not only received power to “far exceed” the scribes and Pharisees in righteousness, but they also received the power to outdo the Pharisees in wickedness if they walked contrary to the life God had given them. Just as the law of Moses empowered men to be more righteous or more wicked than the Gentiles, depending on how they used the law, so the Spirit empowers God’s children now to “far exceed” all human righteousness and wickedness. Paul was right to say that God’s holy law was the strength of sin. We may also say that under this covenant, God’s Spirit increases strength to sin in those who have the Spirit but walk contrary to it, and theirs is worse sin than what was possible under the law. The sin of a believer who is unfaithful to Christ is far greater than the sin of an Israelite who was unfaithful to the law, and such a person is worthy of a far greater damnation because he is being unfaithful to a far holier thing:
28.Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy, by two or three witnesses.
29.Of how much worse punishment, do you think, will he be worthy who has trampled under foot the Son of God, has esteemed the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and has done outrage to the Spirit of grace?
The Lost Gospel of Paul
God used Paul’s personal experience with the deceitfulness of sin to teach him that everyone without God’s kind of life is helplessly trapped. Even obedience to the holy law that God gave to Israel provided man with no escape from his sinful nature; he was still “sold under sin” (Rom. 7:14). Man was hopeless unless God Himself did something to change him. When God changed Paul, he saw what sin had done to him and what Jesus had rescued him from, and he declared, “We are released from the law … so that we might serve God in the newness of the Spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (Rom. 7:6). By “the letter”, Paul meant the law’s rules, written out by hand.
When Paul’s Gentile converts added the law’s ceremonies to their faith, Paul was indignant. He even called on God to damn the men who had taught them to do that (Gal. 5:12). It made no sense for God’s Gentile children to perform ceremonies after receiving God’s life. Ceremony is imitation of life, and the holy ceremonies of the law were merely imitations of God’s life. God’s life is beyond all ceremony. Neither He nor His Son has ever conducted a ceremony, and Paul warned those dear Gentile believers that they had denied the work of Christ in their souls and had “fallen from grace” when they began adding ceremonies to their faith (Gal. 5:4). What was the point of Gentiles with God’s life serving God the way the Jews had always done, argued Paul, if observing the law’s rites and rules had not delivered the Jews themselves from the dominion of sin?
Paul’s warnings, in the main, fell on deaf ears. Most Gentile believers were persuaded by Jewish teachers to follow the law-keeping example of Jesus and his first apostles. Paul could not convince them that simply walking in God’s righteousness was all they had to do to please God and obtain eternal life. Nor could he convince them that to add ceremonial works to their faith was to deny Christ. Eventually, judging by comments Paul made in his old age (2Tim. 1:15), almost everyone Paul ever led to Christ rejected his Gospel of liberty from rites and rules. With tears, he reproved his beloved Galatians for abandoning the simple way of the Spirit:
1a.O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth?
2.This only would I learn of you: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?
3.Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now perfected by the flesh?
Paul insisted that the law was intended only for the nation of Israel (Rom. 3:19), and he condemned as “false brothers” those Jewish teachers who pressured Gentile believers to submit to circumcision (Gal. 2:4). Those teachers were, in Paul’s view, leading God’s children backward into human righteousness, the kind of righteousness promoted by the law. Once, he even had to rebuke Peter for acting as though Gentile believers were less holy than their physically circumcised brothers:
11.And when Peter came to Antioch, I withstood him to the face because he stood condemned.
12.For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he ate with the Gentiles, but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those of the circumcision.
13.And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with Peter, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.
14.But when I saw that they did not walk uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, why do you put pressure on the Gentiles to live like Jews?
15.We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,
16.knowing that a man is not justified by works of the law apart from faith in Jesus Christ, even we have trusted in Christ Jesus that we might be justified by the faith of Christ and not by works of the law, for by works of law shall no flesh be justified!”
Since everyone who is born of God is a new creature, and the old creature he used to be is dead (Rom. 6:6), Paul made the seemingly unnecessary point that when anyone who lived under the law died, he was no longer required to keep the law. When he wrote, “Do you not know, brothers, that the law has dominion over a man as long as he is alive?” (Rom. 7:1), he was reminding them that Moses’ law was only for living people. No dead man was ever forbidden by God to eat pork or touch holy things, nor was any dead man ever commanded to be circumcised, make sacrifices, or keep the Sabbath and the other holy days. So, when Paul’s Gentile converts were persuaded to add the law’s rites and rules to their faith, Paul asked them a penetrating question:
20.If you are dead with Christ to the elements of the world, why then, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to ordinances, such as
21.“Do not touch! Do not taste! Do not handle!”,
22b.according to the commandments and doctrines of men?
Paul insisted that those who had been baptized by God’s life into Christ were “complete in him” (Col. 2:10). His Gospel for the Gentiles could not have been simpler: “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law” (Gal. 5:18). Simple as it is, this foundation of Paul’s Gospel has proved to be extremely difficult for God’s children to grasp, even (as we have seen) for those whom Paul personally taught. Human nature, with its addiction to ceremonial form, resists the revelation that walking in the Spirit is all that man needs to do, or can do to please God. The fleshly nature of man will never cease to demand its rites, and that fleshly demand is contrary to everything in the life of God.
With an ever-growing number of false teachers making Paul’s doctrine seem wrong, it was very difficult for Paul to establish believers in his Gospel of liberty from rites and rules. He could tell them, “I have had a new revelation from Christ” (cp. Gal. 1:11–12), but when he taught the Gentiles that God’s kind of circumcision was now circumcision of the heart by the Spirit (Rom. 2:28–29), false teachers could remind the Gentiles that Christ himself was circumcised (Lk. 2:21). Or when Paul taught that the only baptism that counted in God’s kingdom was the baptism of God’s life (Eph. 4:5; 1Cor. 12:13), false teachers could remind the Gentiles that Christ himself was baptized with water (Mk. 1:9), as were his disciples. Or when Paul said that it was by the power of the Spirit, not by performing ceremonies of the law, that God’s servants healed the sick (Gal. 3:5), false teachers could point out that Jesus commanded those he healed to go to the priests and make the sacrifices that Moses commanded (Lk. 5:12–14). And when Paul taught that holy days were just a shadow of Christ (Col. 2:16–17), false teachers could point out that Christ himself kept the feasts (Jn. 7:1, 10, 37). Moreover, Jesus’ original disciples, most of whom were still alive when Paul was sent to preach his Gospel, were still keeping the law, along with all other Jewish believers. During Paul’s last visit to Jerusalem, decades after Pentecost, James told him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews who believe, and they are all zealous for the law” (Acts 21:20). When some leaders argued that all believers had to keep the law as Jesus did and that Paul was out of his mind to teach otherwise, Paul was prepared:
13.If we be out of our minds, it is to God, or if we be in our right minds, it is to you.
14.The love of Christ compels us, once we conclude this, that inasmuch as one man died for all, all were dead.
16.Therefore, from now on, we know no one after the flesh. Though we have known even Christ after the flesh, yet now, we no longer know him that way.
17.Therefore, if anyone be in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things are gone; behold, all things are new.
Paul’s revelation was that all mankind was now required by God to reverence His Son as Lord of heaven and earth, not just as the Jewish Messiah. His revelation was that the resurrected Jesus, sitting now at God’s right hand, ministers to mankind through the Spirit, not through the law and the elements of the world. It is true that Jesus submitted to the ceremonial rites of the law while he was here in the flesh, but as Paul insisted, “we no longer know him that way.” Paul’s Gospel tasted bitter to those who would not humble themselves to the invisible righteousness of God because they could not make an impressive show of that kind of righteousness (cp. Gal. 6:12). But for souls who were hungering and thirsting for true life, Paul’s Gospel was incomparably simple and sweet. Here are a few of its basic elements:
God’s Love for the Jews
When James told Paul that “many thousands” of Jews with God’s life were still keeping the law, he was not describing rebellious believers. It was God’s will at that time for Jewish believers to continue in Moses’ law, and God had a loving purpose for the law to remain in effect for the Jews after giving them His life. He wanted the Jews who had received His life to be effective witnesses for the Jews who had not yet received it, and He knew that if those with His life ceased from the law, the other Jews would not listen to their testimonies. So, God’s love for the unbelieving Jews compelled those who believed to continue keeping the law. That is, in fact, the very reason Jesus kept the law. If he had not kept it, his own disciples would not have followed him. Jesus had no need of the law’s rites and rules because he had God’s kind of life within him. At the same time, the love for others that is in God’s kind of life compelled him to live in a way that they could respect, to bind himself with them under the law, and then to make a way for them to be free from it.
However, even though Jesus kept the law for the sake of his beloved fellow Jews, many of them cursed him, thought him insane (Mk. 3:21), and accused him of being demon-possessed (Jn. 8:48). How much worse would it have been for Jesus if, in addition to what he was already teaching and doing, Jesus had preached (as Paul later did) that the Spirit, not the law, is what makes souls truly righteous (Rom. 14:17; Gal. 2:21; 3:21–22)? This was part of what Jesus had in mind when he told his disciples, “I have many things to tell you, but you are not able to bear them now” (Jn. 16:12). That the Spirit alone makes souls righteous was almost too much truth for the disciples to bear even years after Pentecost, when Jesus sent Paul with his Gospel. Paul’s Gospel declared that God’s kind of life sets souls free from all rites and rules, even the rites and rules that God Himself commanded in the law of Moses. And he exhorted his converts to “stand fast in the liberty with which Christ has made us free, and do not submit again to a yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1), that is, the bondage of the law.
To preach that Gospel of liberty from works, God needed a man who had not walked with Jesus. Walking with Jesus and observing the law with him had made the disciples doubly sure that God required those who believed in His Son to keep the law, just as Jesus did. Paul’s doctrine of liberty from the rites and rules of the law was clearly contrary to the way that the Son of God lived while he was on earth; at the same time, Paul knew that to provide us with that liberty was the Son’s very purpose for coming.
Pride and Fear
The Jews’ pride in their own kind of righteousness, the righteousness which was by the law, was matched by their fear of being without it. But such pride and fear are not unique to the Jews; it is the common lot of man. Religious leaders of all cultures have always instilled pride in people for being righteous, and have terrorized them with threats of damnation if they were not. This explains why so few have ever answered God’s call to forsake their righteousness. The standard of righteousness given to the Jews was unique among the nations because it came from the true God; even so, keeping the law was their righteousness, not God’s (Deut. 6:25), and the Jews shared all of mankind’s pride in having righteousness, and fear of damnation if they did not.
A few days before his crucifixion, Jesus stood within the gates of Jerusalem and grieved because the Jews were so addicted to their own kind of righteousness that they would not embrace the kind of righteousness that God had sent him to show them (Mt. 23:37). The apostle Paul had once been a prime example of Jewish resistance to God’s righteousness, but when he received God’s kind of righteousness and was delivered from his pride and fear, he grieved for his fellow Jews, just as Jesus did. He wrote, “I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart … for my brothers, my kinsmen in the flesh, who are the Israelites” because “being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and striving to maintain their own righteousness, they have not submitted to the righteousness of God” (Rom. 9:2–4; 10:3).
Jesus’ disciples were already righteous by the law’s standard when Jesus told them that they must seek “the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Mt. 6:33). Seeking is all they could do at the time, however. Neither God’s kingdom nor His righteousness was available. “The kingdom of God is … righteousness, and peace, and joy in the holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17), and the awful price for the Spirit to come was not paid until Jesus paid it.
Moses’ law provided great benefits to Israel (Rom. 9:4–5), and tragic events always befell the nation when its leaders led the people away from the law’s righteousness. In forsaking the law before the time appointed by the Father, Israel and its leaders became even more confused about good and evil than they, by nature, were. Paul’s testimony of being misled as a youth by his elders is not a rare one in Israel’s history. The Bible is replete with stories of God’s children trusting spiritually blind leaders and then doing evil, sometimes great evil, thinking that they were doing good. God was furious with those “blind guides”: “The leaders of this people make them err, and those who are led by them are ruined” (Isa. 9:16).
As holy and good as the law was, however, Israel’s prophets foretold of a day when the law’s kind of righteousness would end (e.g., Isa. 64:6; 66:1–3), but they did not know that it would be God’s kind of righteousness that would end it. Paul explained:
21.The righteousness of God without the law has been revealed, being borne witness by the law and the prophets,
22a.even the righteousness of God which is by faith in Jesus Christ, to all and upon all who believe.
27.Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? [i.e., of rites and rules?] No! But by the law of faith!
28.Therefore, we conclude that a man is made righteous by faith without the works of the law.
To partake of God’s kind of righteousness was beyond the wildest dreams of man. The rites and rules of the law were intended to lead Israel to receive that righteousness, but they didn’t know it, and in the end, the law that God Himself gave Israel to lead them to that blessing became their prison. The law became their idol, and that dead idol would not allow them to receive the Messiah of whom it spoke. They loved the law more than they loved the Son, and so, their temple and their holy days, their priesthood and sacrifices, their lovely candlestick and golden table became their prison, their curse. The persecuted Son is the one who asked the Father for this justice:
19.You know my reproach, and my shame, and my disgrace. All those who torment me are before you.
20.Reproach has broken my heart, and I am in despair. I longed for someone to pity me, but there was no one, and for comforters, but I found none.
21.They gave me gall for my food, and in my thirst, they made me drink vinegar.
22.Let their table become a snare for them, and their peace offerings, a trap.
The liberty that Paul preached was the liberty from ignorance and weakness. It was the gift of the knowledge of God’s will and the strength to do it. In a powerful sermon in the 1970s, Preacher Clark summarized Paul’s message this way: “God can’t use you as long as you are going by a set of rules. I don’t care whose rules they are. God is going to give you His law now, today, and His law will be in your heart. It will make you free from the law of sin and death, and you will be willing and able to do whatever God wants you to do, without a set of rules to go by.” The liberty that God’s life brings is an incomparably glorious liberty, as joyous to the souls who enter into it as it is strange and frightening to the souls who will not.
The Son of God came to set us free from our fear of breaking a rule and being damned (Heb. 2:15). He did this by recreating us as people to whom rules and rites do not apply, as holy people who live under “a perfect law of liberty”, “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus”. All we have to do to keep this law is to walk in the kind of life we have received, the life that knows no rules, and fears nothing but the God who gave it, our heavenly Father who loves us so much that He sent His Son to die in our stead.
… the mystery of God, even of the Father and Christ,
in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
“Both Good and Evil”
The truth that the Son reveals makes people free (Jn. 8:31–32), but the truth he reveals is the knowledge of both good and evil, and we must see them both as God sees them in order to see either of them rightly. Even when they were giving close heed to the law and the prophets, it was impossible for the Israelites always to know if a particular deed was good or evil because no deed is either always good or always evil. Sometimes, prayer is good (Prov. 15:8), but prayer can also be evil (Prov. 28:9). Sometimes, killing is evil (Ex. 20:13), but killing can also be good (1Sam. 15:32–33). Mercy is good, but one of Israel’s kings sinned by showing mercy at the wrong time (1Kgs. 20:30–43), just as Israel’s foolish king Saul also had done (1Sam. 15:2–3, 8). Then again, Joab, King David’s general, sinned by not showing mercy when he should have (2Sam. 3:27–28; 20:9–10). Worshipping God can be good, but sometimes, the worship men offer disgusts Him (Amos 5:21–24; Isa. 1:11–17). Cruelty is usually evil, but God Himself can be cruel (Isa. 13:9; Jer. 30:14). So, who knows when praying or showing mercy is evil? And who knows when killing and cruelty are good? We must have God’s kind of life as an internal gauge to let us know what is good and what is evil in any given situation.
Appearances can deceive, as the old saying goes, and humans without the spiritual discernment of God’s kind of life are routinely deceived by appearances; to be deceived is, after all, the normal course of human life (cp. Rev. 12:9). Jesus warned us that the final test of God’s people on earth will be the appearance of a very great evil that seems to be so good that if it were possible, it would deceive even the very elect of God (Mt. 24:24). The “elect” are those believers who have learned to rely on the Spirit’s judgment instead of their own. Otherwise, they would be as helpless in discernment as anyone else and would not be “the elect”. Jesus’ warning is for all of humanity, and it is clear. The only two options anyone has are (1) learn to rely on the Spirit of God for judging matters or (2) be deceived by something evil that appears to be good.
The process of maturing in the life of God is not complicated; it is simply the process of learning to trust the feelings and thoughts that dwell in our hearts after we receive God’s kind of life. Doing that is how we “walk in the Spirit”. God’s feelings and thoughts purge us of wrong ideas we have absorbed from our elders or culture. Paul prayed that God’s children would persevere in the faith to “attain to … the knowledge of the Son of God, to perfect manhood, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). Paul knew that only those who grow in grace after receiving the Spirit will come to the knowledge of God. The author of Hebrews said it this way: “Everyone who lives on milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for those fully grown, who by experience have their senses trained to discern both good and evil.” (Heb. 5:13–14).
The Wheat and the Tares
Usually, good and evil are associated only with life on earth, but with the revelation of the Son came the knowledge that until Satan and his angels were cast out, good and evil were in heaven, too. In God’s very presence was hypocrisy as well as sincerity, lies as well as truth, and pride as well as humility. In short, both true and false religion were in heaven. Nothing but goodness exists in heaven now, but as long as the Son remained hidden, evil was in God’s presence continually, in the hearts of Satan and myriads of angels. Moreover, as long as both good and evil were in heaven, the hearts of heavenly creatures were being tried, as the hearts of God’s people on earth are being tried now.
With his parable of the Wheat and the Tares, Jesus was not merely telling his disciples that they would have to deal with good and evil here on earth. He was teaching them how the Father had been dealing with good and evil in heaven for a very long time.
24.Another parable he put before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.
25.But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares in among the wheat, and then went away.
26.And when the crop sprouted and produced fruit, the tares also appeared.
27.Then the landowner’s slaves came to him and said, ‘Master, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then, where did the tares come from?’
28.He said to them, ‘An enemy did this.’ Then the slaves said to him, ‘So, do you want us to go out and pull them up?’
29.But he replied, ‘No, lest in gathering up the tares, you uproot the wheat with them.
30.Let both grow together until the harvest, and in the time of harvest, I will tell the reapers, “Gather up the tares first and bind them into bundles to burn them up; then gather the wheat into my storehouse.” ’ ”
In this parable, the owner of the wheat field (God) would not allow his slaves (His ministers) to pull up the bad plants (the ungodly) until the time of harvest. Throughout the growing season, the owner’s protection and care of the wheat in his field was also a blessing for the tares. Rains fell and the sun shone on wheat and tares alike, and the owner patiently watched over them all, “waiting for the precious fruit of the earth.” Before the harvest, an unknowing observer might have thought that the owner of the field valued the tares as much as he did the wheat. But at the time of harvest, the owner at last showed that he hated the tares and loved the wheat, for he commanded his slaves to pull up the tares and burn them, but to gather his wheat into his storehouse.
God has not changed since the time Jesus told this parable. With Him, “there is no variation, nor shadow of change” (Jas. 1:17). He is still patiently tolerating many wayward souls, but this time, they are among His earthly sons. The “tares” are still being blessed along with the wheat. That is why an unknowing observer might think that God values the ungodly among His people as much as He does the godly, for they all, at present, are being blessed together. But at “the time of harvest” (the return of the Lord Jesus), God will again show that He hates the tares and loves His wheat. Ungodly believers will be removed from among His people and thrown into the fire, while the upright will be gathered into the safety of the Father’s presence (Mt. 13:40–43).
Jesus’ parable of the Wheat and the Tares reveals a most terrifying aspect of God’s nature, namely, His extraordinary patience. God’s patience is terrifying because when God is silent in the face of wickedness, His patience can be mistaken for approval. When God does not give immediate vent to His wrath against sin, the foolish assume there is no wrath to fear.
Solomon noted the human tendency to increase in sinfulness when punishment for sin was not swiftly administered. He said, “Because sentence against evildoing is not carried out quickly, the heart of the children of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Eccl. 8:11). The goodness of God, which includes His patience, creates a testing ground for the heart. God “makes His sun to rise upon the evil and the good, and sends rain upon the just and the unjust” (Mt. 5:45b) so that they both may grow according to what they are. The wise are motivated by God’s goodness to fear Him and to grow in grace until the harvest (Rom. 2:4). The foolish, on the other hand, misinterpreting God’s goodness, continue in their own ways until the harvest comes and they are destroyed. This is why God’s patience is so terrifying; it is easy to misinterpret it, as Satan and his angels did in heaven. Speaking of such tares in the body of Christ on earth, Peter said this:
13b.They are spots and blemishes … reveling in their deceits while they feast with you,
14.having eyes that are full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, seducing unstable souls, having a heart trained in covetousness. They are cursed children.
15a.They have forsaken the right way and gone astray.
These “cursed children” of God go astray, but they do not go away. They still feast on the things of God with His faithful children. They are the third kind of soil in Jesus’ parable of the Four Kinds of Soil (Mt. 13:3–9, 18–23), and in another parable, they are the “foolish virgins” (Mt. 25:1–13). They have too much love for the world to completely depart from it, and too much love for God to completely depart from Him. Imperfect in holiness, they never develop the mind of Christ, and yet they will not return whole-heartedly to the world because they know better. At the same time, God does not allow His ministers to remove them from the congregation because He has not finished using them. Their spiritual condition is the most dreadful of all. It is the spiritual condition pioneered by Satan and his angels in heaven.
As many chastened souls have learned, the Father’s chastisement may sting for a while, but it is a precious gift.
12.Blessed is the man whom you chasten, O Lord, and teach from your law,
13.to make quietness for him during evil times until the pit is dug for the wicked.
For us to refuse God’s correction when He offers it leads only to destruction, as Israel’s sad story proves.
6a.In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria took Samaria and carried Israel away into exile in Assyria.
13.Yet, the Lord had testified through every prophet and every seer in Israel and in Judah, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to the whole law that I commanded your fathers and that I sent to you by the hand of my servants the prophets!”
14.But they would not listen, and they stiffened their necks like the necks of their fathers who did not trust in the Lord their God.
15.They rejected His statutes, and His covenant that He made with their fathers, and His testimonies that He testified against them, and they went after vanity and became vain themselves, and followed after the nations that were around them, concerning whom the Lord had commanded them not to do like them.
What happened to the Israelites “happened to them as examples, and they are written for our admonition” (1Cor. 10:11). And what happened to them happened because they refused correction:
3.O Lord, are not your eyes upon the truth? You have stricken them, but they have not grieved; you have consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction. They have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to repent.
28.This is a nation that does not obey the voice of the Lord their God, nor receives correction. Truth has perished, and it is cut off from their mouth.
The northern Kingdom of Israel never stopped worshipping God, even to the very end; they just added other gods to their worship schedule. They did not adhere to the rites and rules of God’s law. So, there never was a lack of worship in Israel; there was only a lack of worship according to the will of God.
Seldom, if ever, has a lack of worship existed in heaven or on earth; still, the only worship that God accepts is worship from those who receive His correction and order their lives according to His commandments. Those who continue to worship God after refusing His correction are “bastards”, not sons:
7.If you endure chastisement, God deals with you as with sons, for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?
8.But if you are without chastisement, of which all have been partakers, then you are bastards, and not sons.
The kingdom of God still has within it many bastards. The only difference between our time and the time before Pentecost is that now, none of those bastards are in heaven.
Tares in Heaven
Satan was created “full of wisdom and perfect in beauty”, but he became proud of his gifts (Ezek. 28:12–19) and began to consider himself worthy to share in God’s glory. He even became confident that God would at some point elevate him to reign with God over creation. We know this is true because the Son has come and has given us the knowledge of who “light-bringer” is. Before the Son was revealed, no one knew. The following prophecy from Isaiah is the only reference in Scripture to the creature called “light-bringer”, and those who heard Isaiah speak these words could only have guessed who God was talking about:
12.Oh, how you have fallen from heaven, O light-bringer, son of the dawn! How you are cut down to the earth, O weakener of the nations!
13.You have said in your heart, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the Mountain of Assembly, on the far north side.
14.I will ascend above the heights of the clouds. I will be like the Most High.”
One popular strand of Christian mythology holds that Satan tried to overthrow God, but that is silly, schoolyard theology. Only humans are so ignorant as to think that the Creator could be overthrown. Satan never thought so. He is “full of wisdom” (Ezek. 28:12), and he knew better. Isaiah’s prophecy, above, reveals that it wasn’t God’s throne that Satan wanted; it was to sit on a throne beside God, as the one chosen to reign with God. He wanted God’s creatures to honor him as they honored God.
Jesus warned his disciples not to covet positions higher than the one appointed to them, concluding with the famous line, “Every one who exalts himself shall be humbled, and the one who humbles himself shall be exalted” (Lk. 14:7–11). Satan did not think the way Jesus did, though, and he strove for a position which was, for him, impossibly high. But “in the fullness of time”, God cast Satan out of heaven, and He plucked up the tares in heaven’s wheat field – a third of the angels – and cast them out of heaven with him (Rev. 12:3–4, 9) because they didn’t think the way Jesus did, either.
But how could so many heavenly beings have erred? The answer has already been mentioned many times, to wit, no one knew God. Therefore, no one knew what was truly holy and truly good, for God alone is holy (Rev. 15:4), and God alone is good (Mt. 19:17). There must have been times before the Son was revealed when faithful heavenly creatures such as Michael and Gabriel felt uneasy around Satan and the angels who were like him, but without the knowledge of God, they could not have understood why. Michael and Gabriel would have noticed that God’s demeanor never changed when those other heavenly beings were present, and He certainly had not cast them out. So, on what basis would they have judged those other heavenly beings to be evil?
Had Satan perceived how God felt about him, he could not have entertained any hope of being exalted to reign with God. With perfect patience, God kept everyone in the dark, for without them realizing it, He was using them all to fulfill His secret purpose, which was to create the situation in which the Son would be magnified, not Himself. The Father determined that only through His Son would anyone come to the true knowledge of God – the knowledge of His power, wisdom, and goodness, or the knowledge of the very great love which the Father and the Son shared and which they both felt for mankind. There is no such love on earth; it is not a part of our kind of life.
The fact that God had given Satan authority over some of His angels is truth that we know now because the Son of God came and revealed it (Mt. 25:41). Not a shred of historical or biblical evidence suggests that men possessed such knowledge before Jesus came. Men knew from Old Testament scriptures that Satan had authority in God’s kingdom but not that he ruled over some of God’s angels. Except for about fifteen Old Testament scriptures, Satan is not mentioned in any extant literature from before Jesus’ time.
Moses wrote in Genesis of a serpent in the garden of Eden; David and others referred to a powerful heavenly being named Satan; God described to Job a creature called Leviathan, whose heart was “as hard as a millstone”; Isaiah spoke of a “light-bringer” who wanted to be “like the Most High”; and the Spirit spoke through Ezekiel about an anointed cherub who had been in the garden of Eden, but was no longer upright. However, none of God’s prophets or wise men made the connection between all those characters. Only after men received the life of God did they begin to realize that Satan was the apostate cherub, the Serpent, light-bringer, and Leviathan. It was only after Pentecost that the apostles began to speak with knowledge about the Accuser and to teach, as Jesus had done, about “the Accuser and his angels” (Rev. 12:9), “the angels that sinned” (2Pet. 2:4), and “the angels who did not keep to their own domain” (Jude 1:6). Before then, people did believe that maleficent spiritual beings existed, but they often devised elaborate myths about them because they did not know the truth of the matter, that Satan and the angels that ruled the world under him were those evil spirits.
To understand the following Old Testament stories rightly, one must keep in mind how complete the spiritual darkness was before the Son of God was revealed. To read these stories from the perspective of people living at that time, we must lay aside the knowledge of God that the Son brought. Otherwise, we will impose upon these ancient characters motives and thoughts that were impossible for them, and more importantly, we will miss the greatest lesson these stories teach – the value of the Son!
Tares in Heaven: Satan and Job
Of the forty-two chapters in the book of Job, Satan figures in only the first two. In them, as throughout the Old Testament, Satan is depicted as an obedient agent of God. If we think of Satan as wicked when we read Job’s story, we are right; at the same time, if we think that Job or anyone else at that time saw Satan that way, we are mistaken. The Son was still hidden, and hidden with him was the knowledge of God, that is, the true knowledge of good and evil.
Nothing in Job’s story suggests that Satan was obsessed with Job, or even that he was much interested in him. God brought up the subject of Job, then sent Satan to earth to afflict him, and Satan did as God commanded. As far as the Bible is concerned, that is the extent of Satan’s involvement in Job’s story. As I said, after the first two chapters, Satan is not mentioned again. God was finished with him after that, and this story of Job is a story about Job and God, not Job and Satan.
If we read Job’s story with this in mind, we will see that nothing in Satan’s words or deeds would have revealed to anyone at that time that he was evil. Here is the opening scene of Job’s story:
6.There was a day when the sons of God came in to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them.
7.And the Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” And Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.”
8.And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and upright man, one who fears God and eschews evil?”
9.Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing?
10.Have you not made a hedge around him, and around his house, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land.
11.But stretch out your hand now and strike all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”
12.Then the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not put your hand on him.” So, Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord.
Let us revise verse 6 to read like this:
6.There was a day when the sons of God came in to present themselves before the Lord, and Gabriel came also among them.
Nothing in that revised verse suggests that Gabriel is evil. Just so, nothing in the original verse 6 suggests that Satan is evil. It is only because the Son of God has come and has revealed that Satan is evil that we have a sense of his wickedness when we read that verse.
By all indications, this gathering of the sons of God was not a special or unusual event. When God asked Satan where he had been, Satan calmly replied before the whole assembly that he had come “from going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.” Such a conversation was probably routine. God was known to send heavenly beings to “travel about on the earth” (Zech. 1:10–11), and presumably, He would afterward ask them questions about their earthly visits, just as He asked Satan here. Satan had responsibilities on earth that would have demanded his attention, for it was his duty, as “god of this world” (2Cor. 4:4), to know what was going on among the nations. The sons of God probably would have expected Him to ask Satan about his visit to earth, and in essence, Satan’s reply was, “I have going to and fro in the earth, carrying out my regular duty.”
The next thing that happened in this opening scene of Job is that God drew Satan into a conversation in which God, not Satan, brought up the subject of Job. God asked Satan if he had considered Job, describing him as “a perfect and upright man”. Satan did not ask who God was talking about. He obviously knew who Job was, and he stated his opinion that Job would not continue in his perfect uprightness if God took Job’s blessings away.
Because we know that Satan is evil, it is easy to read into this heavenly conversation things that are not there. First, Satan did not disagree with God’s judgment of Job’s character. Everyone in heaven knew that God’s judgments are perfect, and Satan would not have been so foolish as to dispute what God said. If God judged Job to be perfect and upright, then Satan knew that much was true. What Satan meant by his reply to God was that Job would turn from his righteousness if God stopped blessing him. And it should be noted that none of God’s other sons spoke up to express a contrary opinion, even though, as another heavenly scene shows, they were all free to do so (1Kgs. 22:20). Second, not only did Satan not disagree with God, but God did not disagree with Satan, either! Nothing God said to Satan would have made Satan seem evil to the other heavenly beings at that meeting. Consequently, it must have appeared to them that God was handing Job over to Satan in order to see what Job would do. But God initiated this conversation with Satan because He already knew what Job would do. He had a wonderful blessing in mind for Job, and He had chosen Satan to be His agent in bringing it about.
Also, because we know Satan is evil, it is easy for us to overlook the reverential deference that Satan showed God. He was not hasty to say anything, but remained silent until he was spoken to, respectfully waiting for God to choose whether or not to speak to him, and if He spoke, to choose the subject of the conversation. We also tend to assume that Satan wanted to hurt Job, but nothing Satan said or did indicates he considered Job to be important enough to want to hurt him. Besides, it was obvious to everyone that God was pleased with Job, and since Satan desired and expected a promotion from God, he would not have put that promotion in jeopardy by harming someone with whom God was pleased. It was God’s plan, not Satan’s, that Job should suffer. Satan expressed his opinion about Job, but after expressing it, he respectfully waited for God’s response, if any, to his opinion. He may even have been surprised that God’s response was to send him to earth to afflict Job.
God’s Work Not Satan’s
Here again is the opening scene from the book of Job, this time with some clarifying commentary:
8.And the Lord said to Satan, “[Since you have been on earth, doing your work, tell us,] have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and upright man, one who fears God and eschews evil?”
9.Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “[Yes, O Master, but we all know how men are.] Does Job fear God for nothing?
10.Have you not made a hedge around him, and around his house, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land.
11.But stretch out your hand now and strike all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”
12.Then the Lord said to Satan [Note that God does not rebuke Satan, nor express any disagreement with him.], “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not put your hand on him.” So, Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord [to do what God had commanded him to do].
Satan swiftly accomplished his cruel mission. But what else would any of God’s heavenly servants have done? If God had sent Gabriel to afflict Job, would Gabriel have refused to carry out God’s command? Satan carrying out the mission God gave him, then, would not have revealed to anyone that God saw Satan as wicked. Satan, no doubt, was considered a fearsome instrument of God, but nothing indicates that he was seen as an evil one.
Moreover, neither Job nor his three friends who came to comfort him during his suffering ever blamed Satan for Job’s afflictions. Job and his three “miserable comforters” did not agree on much, but they always agreed that it was God who had afflicted Job (Job 19:21). It was clearly irrelevant to them which agent, if any, God had used in the process; they blamed Satan no more than they blamed the storm that killed Job’s children or the Sabeans and Chaldeans who killed Job’s servants and stole his herds. It isn’t clear that Job and his friends even knew that Satan existed, but even if they knew of him, they were wise enough to know that God alone is responsible for whatever happens to His servants.
The Second Gathering of the Sons of God
After God had taken from Job all that he possessed, including his children, there was another gathering of His heavenly sons. Satan, as usual, was among them. Job had, no doubt, earned some respect in heaven, and Satan himself must have been impressed. Job had not cursed God, and he clung tenaciously to his righteousness. Just as before, Satan respectfully waited for God to initiate any conversation, which God did, again asking Satan where he had been. And again, God, not Satan, brought up the subject of Job. With a few clarifying comments, here is the scene:
2.And the Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” And Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.”
3.And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and upright man, one who fears God and eschews evil? And still, he holds fast his integrity, even though you moved me against him to destroy him without cause.”
4.And Satan answered the Lord and said, “[Yes, Job is holding fast his integrity. Still, we all know how men are. They love themselves and will do anything to save their lives.] Skin for skin, yes, all that a man has, he will give for his life.
5.Stretch out your hand now and strike his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.”
6.And the Lord said to Satan [As before, God neither rebukes nor expresses disagreement with Satan.], “Behold, he is in your hand. But save his life.”
7.So, Satan went out from the presence of the Lord [to do as God had commanded him], and he struck Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the top of his head.
What Satan did to Job was undeniably cruel, but God had openly commanded it to be done in an assembly of His sons. Who in heaven, then, would have seen Satan as evil for his cruelty to Job when he was only carrying out God’s command to be cruel? If the sons of God had judged Satan to be evil for his cruel treatment of righteous Job, then they would have had to judge God to be evil, too, and that was unthinkable.
Job’s ordeal continued for months, and heavenly observers were no doubt impressed with Job’s determination to maintain his righteousness:
11.My foot has held fast to His steps. I have kept His way. I have not turned aside.
12a.Nor have I turned away from the commandment of His lips.
5b.Until I die, I will not forsake my integrity!
6a.I will hold fast to my righteousness, and I will not let it go!
So Job thought. But God’s secret purpose for Job’s terrible suffering was to compel him to let go of his own righteousness so that he might taste of God’s kind of righteousness. Because of Job’s strong determination to stay right with God (as Job understood what “being right with God” meant), that purpose was not easily accomplished. But who can blame Job for resisting what God was trying to do for him? He was terrified at the thought of life without the righteousness he had always known, and he clung to it as his most precious possession.
Years ago, I had a dream from the Lord related to this. In my dream, I was in a trench on the front lines of a fierce, dark battle. Smoke thickened the darkness, and gunfire and bursting shells provided flashes of a devastated landscape. Suddenly, I found myself engaged in bitter hand-to-hand combat with a strong enemy soldier. He got me on my back in the dusty trench and gripped my throat with his powerful hands. Desperately, I struggled to twist away from his death grip, flailing with my fists, kicking, grabbing for his face or hair – doing anything I could to get him off me. In the midst of my struggle, I looked up into his face, and to my utter surprise, I saw that it was Jesus. His face showed no sign of the hatred that I expected to see. His look was solemn and determined but not angry. Then, I understood. I was fighting against the blessing of dying to self and living to God, and realizing that, my struggle then turned into an internal one. It became a struggle not to struggle against what the Lord was trying to do for me. Everything in my flesh wanted to fight against Jesus and stay alive, but everything in my spirit wanted Jesus to win. At the end of my dream, I was there in the trench, struggling to make my flesh cooperate with Jesus and let him kill me.
This was Job’s struggle, but he did not have the knowledge of the Son of God that we have, on this side of Pentecost. For me, it was a choice between my righteousness and the righteousness of God that Jesus wanted me to have. For Job, it was a choice between his righteousness and nothing, and Job trembled at the thought of standing before God with nothing.
Satan would not have been the only one in heaven who expected Job to turn from righteousness and curse God; all the sons of God had good reason to feel as Satan did, for by Job’s time, they would have seen human integrity crumble many times under the weight of sufferings far lighter than Job’s. The unusually steadfast patience and faith of Job may have caused some of the sons of God to wonder if they had been wrong about him; still, Job’s patience would not have made Satan appear to be wicked. Satan’s holding of an opinion was not sin, even if the opinion was wrong. If ignorance were sin, then every creature in heaven and on earth would be sinning merely by not being God, for only God knows everything. When Satan and his angels were cast out of heaven after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, even the faithful angels who were allowed to stay there remained ignorant of some things, as Paul and Peter both plainly taught (Eph. 3:9–10; 1Pet. 1:12). Moreover, if ignorance were sin, then the Son himself would be a sinner because even he does not know all that the Father knows (Mk. 13:32). Satan’s opinion of Job, shared with others in heaven, was completely understandable, and they were not condemned by God for holding it. God knew from the beginning what Satan thought Job would do if He took away his blessings, and rather than become indignant at what Satan thought, He cunningly used Satan’s mindset to accomplish His inscrutable purpose.
The two heavenly scenes in the opening chapters of Job are also remarkable for their relaxed atmosphere. God was pleasant and courteous with Satan, as Satan also was with God; He even invited Satan to express his thoughts. God’s sons witnessed no conflict between God and Satan, no debate, no contradiction, and no discernible difference in judgment concerning Job’s character. Instead of exposing Satan’s wickedness, his apparent respect for God and his unquestioning obedience to God’s commands would have commended him to the other sons of God as a dutiful servant of God. If you think something in those scenes did reveal that Satan was evil, then you should reread the first two chapters of Job and, this time, try not to carry back into Job’s time the knowledge that the Son brought to earth much later.
God has no opinions, only knowledge, and Satan understood that. If God had rebuked Satan and told him, “You are wrong, Satan. Job will stand firm, no matter what happens,” Satan would have believed God. That would have been the end of it, and the story of suffering Job would not be in the Bible. But God never told what He knew! He had something wonderful in mind for Job, and God used His ignorant creatures to accomplish His good purpose. This is how God always worked before the Son was revealed because before the Son was revealed, ignorant creatures were the only kind of creatures available for God to use. And throughout the process, God rested on His throne, satisfied to let everyone assume whatever they wanted to assume about what He was doing.
God’s patience is terrifying.
Job’s Judgment Day
The most trying part of Job’s suffering was not the afflictions of his body and mind that God sent upon him, but the refusal of God to communicate with him. The God whom Job had grown to love and to trust ceased speaking to him, and Job did not know why. His tears and desperate cries for help from God were met with stone-cold silence. If anything could have pushed Job over the edge to follow his wife’s counsel to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9), his sense of being forsaken by God was it. But Job was determined to hold on to his righteousness, even to death, and even if it felt as if God was no longer holding on to him:
8.Behold, I go forward, but He is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive Him;
9.on the left hand where He is working, but I cannot behold Him; He is hiding Himself on the right hand so that I cannot see Him.
10.Still, He knows how it is with me, and when He has tried me, I will come forth like gold.
Throughout his terrible ordeal, Job begged for God to come to him, and in the end, He did. However, one of the mystifying elements of Job’s story, until we understand it, is that when God finally did come to Job, His tone was harsh. Job had been a stellar example of steadfast righteousness in the midst of great suffering, and so, we would have expected God to come to Job with words of comfort, even praise. Why, then, did God add to Job’s awful burden by seemingly attacking him with pitiless verbal abuse? Even in the middle of God’s thunderous, final speech, when Job surrendered all claims of purity and cried out, “I am vile!” (Job 40:4), God rebuked Job, apparently for contradicting God’s judgment that Job was a “perfect and upright” man (Job 1:1). Who was Job to say that he was not what God said he was? Satan never did that. How dare Job do such a thing? God was referring to Job, not Satan, when He demanded, “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:1–2). And then, God further complicated the matter by threatening Job’s friends with this assessment of Job’s words: “My wrath is kindled against you, for you have not spoken what is right about me, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7).
Who could have figured this out? How could God say that Job had “spoken of me what is right”, and at the same time had spoken “words without knowledge”? And even further complicating the matter is the fact that while God seemed warm and courteous with Satan, He seemed cold and harsh toward Job! Anyone looking on would have thought that God and Satan were in harmony and that Job was the evil one. God’s stern response to Job’s humble confession threw everyone off track, including poor Job. Job had just spent months defending himself as pure. Then God showed up and seemed to be very displeased with Job for doing that. So, Job humbly confessed what he thought God wanted to hear, namely, that he was vile. But then, God rebuked Job for that, too! God intentionally made it impossible for Job to know what to do, or say, or even think. If both “Yes, I am” and “No, I’m not” are wrong, what is left?
It was an utterly terrifying, Judgment Day kind of moment for Job, with his soul seemingly hanging in the balance. He had said that if God would come to him, he would fill his mouth with arguments (Job 23:4), but here Job was, face to face with the Almighty, and Job was left completely at a loss for words. Through long months of unrelenting agony, Job had begged for God to come to him because he expected God to affirm and comfort him when He came. Instead, God came fiercely, condemning whatever came out of Job’s mouth, demanding a multitude of impossible answers from Job, and saying nothing good about him. Job simply collapsed in utter confusion, not even sure of who he was anymore:
1.Then Job answered the Lord and said,
2.“I know that you can do anything; not even an intent can be kept from you.
3.Who am I?  Perverting counsel with ignorance, I went on, making declarations, but I have no understanding. It is not in me to comprehend things beyond my power.
4.Hear, I beg you, and I will speak! I am asking you, for you make me know.
5.I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.
6.It makes me despise myself, and I repent in dirt and ashes.”
Forced into a Blessing
God’s terrifying speech spanned four chapters in the book of Job (38–41). In it, every time He demanded of Job, “Were you there when I created—?”, He was revealing more of Himself to Job, for His real point was, “I was there.” Every time He demanded, “Do you know—?”, He was proclaiming to Job, “I do know.” God had finally come to Job, and when He came, He glorified Himself so powerfully that within Job’s spirit, a sense of another, infinitely higher kind of righteousness was created. The result was that Job began to feel what Isaiah would later proclaim, namely, that even perfect human righteousness is “like a filthy garment” in God’s sight (Isa. 64:6), and this awareness of God’s kind of righteousness was a gift to Job. With that gift, God was exalting Job’s spirit to the threshold of the sacred place where His Son was hidden, a place which no creature even knew existed and, so, had never even hoped to experience. Job was not made a “new creature in Christ”, for God’s kind of life was not yet available, but he was touched by that life, and that single touch of New Testament grace made Job different from everyone else on earth.
But God had to crush Job to make him willing to go there. God pressed Job so far down that Job experienced the humility found only in God’s kind of life. In the light of that life, Job saw everything of earth, its yes and its no, its good and its evil, the best and the worst of it, as unclean. When Job felt God’s kind of life, he sensed that he knew nothing, indeed, that he was nothing, and Job gave in to a new kind of surrender, the surrender of all self-esteem. The touch of God’s life created within Job a realization that nothing he could do or say would justify him before God, no matter how perfect he was in his own kind of righteousness. He felt the absolute hopelessness of all mankind. His spirit trembled at a double terror: first, he knew now that no degree of human righteousness would enable him to stand before God, and second, he knew that there was no earthly way of obtaining such a righteousness. This new kind of righteousness had to be freely granted by God, or it could never be possessed.
Job’s newfound awareness that human righteousness is unclean in God’s sight is what made him willing to let it go. If human righteousness is unclean before God, why hold on to it? And what option remained for Job, or any man, but to surrender all claims of righteousness and to put all his hope in the mercy of God? In the end, and no doubt to his great surprise, what Job learned by doing that was that God takes pleasure in those that hope in His mercy (cp. Ps. 147:11).
With the Son still hidden, Job could not understand what he was feeling, but he did feel it. He did not understand God’s ways. He did not understand God’s thoughts. It is doubtful that Job ever fully understood, as long as he lived on earth, what God had done to him, but Job had been rewarded for his great devotion to God with a taste of God’s kind of life.
Satan predicted that if God afflicted Job enough, then Job would “curse God to His face”, and in that regard, Satan was proved wrong. But to Satan, and to the rest of God’s sons, Job’s confession of self-abhorrence and his repentance (Job 42:6) made his previous claims of purity before God seem false. So, even though Job did not curse God as Satan thought he would, the confession which God at last forced out of Job exposed Job as weak and ignoble in Satan’s eyes, which was Satan’s larger point. To God’s heavenly sons as well as to men, righteousness was righteousness, no matter whose righteousness it was, and they would have seen Job’s confession of a lack of righteousness as proof of Satan’s power of discernment. What they did not understand was that Job was confessing his lack of God’s righteousness; he still had his own, but to Job, that wasn’t worth mentioning any longer.
Job stubbornly insisted, until God showed up, that he was pure because he knew that it is as ungodly for the righteous to say they are sinful as it is for the sinful to say they are righteous (cp. Isa. 5:20). Job felt compelled to confess his purity because he knew that he had been perfectly righteous according to the standard of righteousness that he knew. God was right when He testified of Job, that no one on earth was like him, but there were few if any like Job in heaven, either. But then, even heavenly purity is unclean compared to the righteousness of God. God is so holy that it is beneath Him even to behold what is in heaven, much less what is on earth:
4.The Lord is high above all nations. His glory is above the heavens!
5.Who is like the Lord our God, who has made His home on high,
6.who abases Himself to look at what is in heaven as well as on earth?
The only way that a perfect man like Job could have possibly become more like God was for God to interrupt the normal course of human life and make Job more than perfect. That is what God did. He came to Job, and to a few other souls before the Son was revealed, and He carried each one to the door of that most sacred place. However, not one of them willingly took the journey. They were all afraid to go because they sensed that it was a place where their righteousness could not save them. Nevertheless, God took them there because He knew what they were yearning for, even if they did not, and every person He took there was forever changed by the experience. Each of them became a mystery figure, somewhat like the hidden Son, but in their cases, they were a mystery even to themselves.
When God unlawfully forgave King David of adultery and murder (2Sam. 12:13), that taste of New Testament mercy made David an alien to this world, even in Israel. Moses saw God’s glory on Mount Sinai (Ex. 34:5–8), and no one ever could bear to look at Moses’ shining face again (Ex. 34:29–35). Solomon was driven to the brink of insanity after God imparted to him a touch of His kind of wisdom. After years of observing earthly life through the prism of such wisdom, Solomon cried out in utter frustration, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!” (Eccl. 1:2), and he insisted that the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth because death provides an escape from the kind of life that humans possess (Eccl. 7:1b; 2:17). David, Moses, and Solomon survived their experiences, but they were transformed by them into something beyond the ordinary state of man. So it was for Job. He really had been “perfect and upright”, but God’s kind of life transported him beyond such uncleanness.
The principal reason Job did not curse God in his heart or with his tongue when he stopped depending on his righteousness is that God beat Job so far down that he could not even think to do it. A man must have some vestige of self-esteem left in him to be able to feel wronged and to complain about it. He must think enough of himself to think his curse is worth uttering and his righteousness is worth defending. Job did not. He had been driven too close to the supreme humility of Christ to think that he was worthy to judge anything God did to him.
Job’s sense of utter uncleanness before God, though knowing he was perfectly righteous, was an impossible conviction for his time. It was a New Testament kind of conviction for God’s righteousness, created within men by the Spirit, but withheld from men until the Son came and paid the price for it. So, Job was not only left more confused than humanly possible but was also left more humble than humanly possible, and so, more like God than humanly possible – and more in love than humanly possible with the God he still did not truly know. Thousands of years after Job died, God was still praising him (Ezek. 14:14, 20); even so, no one understood what God had really done to Job because no one yet had God’s kind of life. People of the time may have thought that God esteemed Job highly because Job did not verbally curse Him in the midst of horrible sufferings, but God had known from the beginning that Job would not do that.
When Jesus took on our unrighteousness and became a curse for us (2Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13), he knew what he was doing, but Job had to become willing to be cursed without knowing what was happening to him. Only God could have made Job confess to being wrong when everything he had ever known about God was telling him he was right. Nevertheless, when God did so, Job found, to his very great surprise, that he was not damned, but blessed with an extraordinary, new kind of peace, and a closeness to God that surpassed all human understanding, even Job’s.
So, in spite of how it appeared, God did come to Job with comfort and peace, and even praise, but that kind of comfort and peace, and that kind of praise, is so foreign to this creation that creatures within it perceive it as a curse (cp. Isa. 53:4). This is the truth undergirding Jesus’ words to his disciples, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (Jn. 6:44), and, “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” (Jn. 15:16). None of us who have God’s kind of life have it because we, within ourselves, wanted it. We sought God only because He put it into our hearts to seek Him, many times by sending affliction or trouble into our lives, waking us up to our need of His righteousness (cp. 1Cor. 15:34). God had to create in us a hunger for His kind of life, and when He did that, we fell on our knees and sought Him for the sweet relief from ourselves that His Spirit brings – the relief that most people on earth fear, choosing to cling to their own kind of life and righteousness instead.
How far from God’s thoughts we all are! None of us, in ourselves, can desire God as He really is because what He really is, is contrary to our fleshly nature. God has to make us willing to come to the real Him, and sometimes, it takes quite a while for us to be made willing. But God is patient because He is determined to bless us. His terrifying patience is, in fact, our salvation (2Pet. 3:15). It took months of horrific pain and sorrow for Job to become willing to let God take him beyond perfection. God patiently watched and waited, and when Job at last became willing, but could go no further by himself, when bleeding Job had to be picked up and carried to the threshold of the “secret place of the Most High”, God came to him, and picked him up, and took him there.
I have used the phrase, “poor Job”, but that is an assessment of Job from the standpoint of this world. From a human perspective, suffering Job was pathetic, and even the basest of men despised him:
1.Those younger than I mock me, whose fathers I would have refused to put among the dogs of my flock.
8.They are fools, worthless people, the kind driven out of the land with whips.
9.But now, I have become their song. I am a byword to them.
10.They loathe me; they keep far from me, and do not hesitate to spit in my face.
From Job’s wise friends to the basest of men in Job’s community, everyone was absolutely certain that Job deserved to be condemned. That is what ordinary humans, even at their best state, have always thought of those whom God takes into “the secret place of the Almighty”.
God has determined that the pathway into His kingdom must be fraught with suffering (Acts 14:22), and we must consider as blessed those whom God calls to walk that path. Joseph saw this truth so clearly that he told his brothers that God sold him into slavery in Egypt, not them, for God was positioning him to become de facto ruler of Egypt. We could also say that God sent Paul to Rome in chains so that he could testify to Caesar about Jesus. If Paul had traveled to Rome on his own as a free man, he would never have gained a hearing before the emperor. And if the man that God chastens is blessed, as David said (Ps. 94:12–13), was not David being blessed by God when Shimei stood on the hill cursing him and throwing dirt and stones down on him and his men? David humbled himself to see it that way, and told his companions that God had sent Shimei to do those cruel things to him (2Sam. 16:5–10).
Men and women of genuine faith understand that only those who suffer for righteousness will be saved, and so they humbly submit to the suffering they must face in this world, knowing that it has a good purpose. “If we suffer with Christ,” wrote Paul, “we shall reign with him” (2Tim. 2:12); therefore, he concludes that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy of comparison with the glory that shall be revealed” (Rom. 8:18). If the men who despised Job had known God, they would have preferred Job’s miserable lot to their own, for with each new sorrow, Job was being forced closer to God’s greatest blessing before His Spirit was given: a taste of God’s kind of life.
Jesus equated eternal life with the knowledge of God (Jn. 17:3), and no price can be too high for us to pay to obtain that knowledge. God certainly thought that no price was too high for Him to pay for us to have it, for to that end, He gave up His beloved Son. After Jesus cast the young Paul down from his exalted Pharisaic perch into the valley of humility, Paul valued more than he valued his own life the knowledge of God which the Son had compelled him to find. At the end of his suffering, Job would have agreed with Paul, that the glory into which God pressed him was worth all he had suffered, and worth anything else he could have suffered besides (Rom. 8:18). God loved Job as much as He could without revealing His Son. For more love than that, Job (and all people) would have to wait until the Son’s unveiling.
The wisdom of men is foolishness to God, and the wisdom of God is foolishness to men (1Cor. 2:14). That is why people sometimes feel attacked and become angry when they come face to face with God’s kind of life. The wisdom in God’s life exposes even the wisest of men to be foolish in comparison. It exposes our need; it reveals what Job’s heart learned, to wit, “every man, in his best state, is altogether vanity” and “every man walks about in a vain show” (Ps. 39:5b–6a). Those who feel that their own kind of life is sufficient (that is, the proud) reject that self-evident truth.
Nothing but God’s righteousness can reveal the worthlessness of man “in his best state”, that is, in his most perfect state of human righteousness, like Job. Neither Job nor his three friends were fools. Job would not have had fools for friends. They, like Job, were shining examples of man in his best state, and their unjust condemnation of Job was the best judgment that man in his best state had to offer. Also, as we have seen, Job agreed with his friends that his suffering was the work of God; however, Job was the only one wise enough or humble enough to admit that he did not know why God was doing it. They assumed, based on their own knowledge and experience, that God was afflicting Job because Job had sinned, and they challenged Job to find one righteous person in all of history whom God had afflicted as He was afflicting him (Job 5:1, 27). But Job, with the same kind of knowledge and experience his three friends possessed, argued passionately that he was pure – until God appeared with His kind of righteousness, making Job’s argument seem as foolish as theirs.
Man’s view of God is in a direction different from the direction to which Jesus pointed them. That is why men always look the wrong way when they search for greatness. God had to beat Job down in order to get him to look in the right direction. This is why man “in his best state” is in such poor spiritual condition. What God sees as up, men see as down, and they avoid it, and what God sees as down, men see as up, and they pursue it. My father said in a sermon many years ago, “The way up is down, and the way down is up.” With that, he was echoing the hidden wisdom of the Son of God, who said, “Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and the one who humbles himself shall be exalted” (Lk. 14:11).
When Jesus said, “I am meek and lowly” (Mt. 11:29), no one understood his kind of meekness. Nevertheless, Jesus continued to demonstrate it and tell about it (e.g., Lk. 14:7–10). Once, when his disciples were quarreling over which of them would be the greatest, Jesus took a little child, stood him before them, and warned them that if they did not become like that child, they would never even enter his Father’s kingdom, much less be the greatest in it (Mt. 18:1–3). They did not receive the admonition, and even at the Last Supper, they were still quarreling over who would be greatest (Lk. 22:24). Jesus patiently explained to them again that God’s kind of greatness is different from man’s, saying, “He who is greatest among you must be as the youngest, and the ruler, like one who serves… . I am in your midst as one who serves” (Lk. 22:26–27). Then Jesus wrapped a towel about him and bowed down, like a slave, to wash the disciples’ feet (Jn. 13:2–5). None of them believed, or could have believed, that in doing this, Jesus was showing them the heart of God.
From the end of Job’s suffering until the end of his earthly life, Job could never again be impressed with human righteousness, only God’s – even if he did not understand that righteousness. As much as God loved Job, He was determined that His Son would have the honor of revealing His righteousness, and until that time came, God would not allow such understanding into any man’s heart (1Cor. 2:9).
Satan Was Pleased
God knew Job’s confession of vileness would make some in heaven, especially Satan, believe they had been right to think Job would forsake his righteousness if enough pressure was applied to him. Job did not forsake his righteousness, but he did stop trusting it; indeed, he came to despise it. Seeing that, many in heaven and earth must have thought Job was despising righteousness altogether, for they did not know about God’s kind of righteousness. They did not know that God’s thunderous condemnation of Job’s righteousness came from a spiritual place that was beyond perfection, the place known only to God and His Son. By that condemnation, God was opening the door to “beyond perfection” and inviting Job in for a visit, to breathe in the aroma of His secret place and to feel its power and glory.
We are not told what took place at the next gathering of the sons of God, but Satan must have walked into the meeting with some satisfaction. It did not matter to Satan that after Job’s suffering was over, Job resumed living a righteous life. In his view, God’s rebuke of Job, and then Job’s repentance and confession of wretchedness, had proved him substantially right. Satan had failed to compel Job to surrender his hold on righteousness and curse God, but now he was sure he understood God’s point namely, Job was such a strong personality that only God’s power could bring him down. That would not have embarrassed Satan in the least; everyone in heaven knew that God was greater than all, and if He wanted to use a strong-willed man on earth to remind them of that fact, then so be it. Instead of hanging his head in shame, Satan would have basked in the glory of having been right about Job, even though it took God’s personal intervention to prove it.
Satan must have felt gratified, and no doubt praised God more than ever in the heavenly Assembly. When all was said and done, the only conclusion Satan could have reached was that God had known from the beginning that nothing Satan did would make Job forsake his righteousness and that God had planned all along to be the one to do it, thus demonstrating to all of heaven, again, that He was still the greatest. Satan was sure that God was just like him, proud of His glory and willing to hurt even innocent souls like Job to demonstrate His superiority.
Satan was pleased. God was patient.
In the last part of God’s fierce address to Job, He spoke of a creature He called “Leviathan”. No one knew that God was referring to Satan. Not even Satan himself would have guessed it as he smugly watched God pummel Job with unanswerable questions about that mysterious creature:
1.Can you draw out Leviathan with a hook, or his tongue with a cord which you let down? [a reference to the way God had drawn Satan into a conversation about Job]
2.Can you put a hook into his nose, or bore his jaw through with a thorn? [as God had hooked Satan and manipulated him to accomplish His will for Job – cp. 2Kgs. 19:28]
3.Will he make many supplications to you? Will he speak soft words to you? [as Satan always spoke to God]
4.Will he make a covenant with you? Will you take him for a servant forever?
5.Will you play with him as with a bird? [as God was toying with Satan that very moment]
It is easy to imagine Satan listening in the background, pleased to see God beating Job down with these questions, totally blind to the meaning of God’s words. But then, no one in heaven or earth understood it because what God was doing for Job was entirely a matter of the heart, and God alone knows the heart (Acts 15:8).
The Third Option
God’s eventual restoration of Job’s health and possessions would have been seen by Satan as no more than a meaningless consolation prize for the loser, given to Job only after he broke down and admitted his worthlessness. And if the Son had not come and given us an understanding, Job’s repentance and restoration could only have appeared the same way to us. Without the Son, we might even have thought that God sent Satan to afflict Job because He agreed with Satan about Job. We might have concluded, like Satan, that God’s plan all along had been to glorify Himself by making the best man on earth confess his worthlessness after the wise and powerful Satan had tried and failed. Finally, we might also have thought, as many still think, that God sent Satan to test Job. Even Job thought he was being tested (Job 23:10), as did the wise young man, Elihu (Job 34:36). But Job’s ordeal was not a test. It was a reward.
Job was, in reality, driven by God to repent, as it were, for being human, even though before the Son came, there was no cure for that disease. God’s powerful presence made Job feel the vanity of his human kind of life, but righteous men such as Job would have to wait until the coming of the Spirit, purchased by the sacrifice of the Son, to be delivered from bondage to their own kind of life, with both its sinfulness and its righteousness.
Brother Gary Savelli once remarked that one of the beautiful things about the truth is that it liberates us from taking sides in the controversies of this world. The truth is a heavenly, third option, for it is neither the way that good people of the world see it nor the way that evil people see it; the truth is “a new and living way” that no one of this world sees. We all know that God is neither male nor female, neither young nor old, and so forth. But God is also neither wise nor foolish in the way that the world knows wisdom and foolishness. Nor is He right or wrong, or good or evil in the way that the world knows right and wrong, and good and evil. God is completely other than everything we know in our own kind of life! When God said, “My ways are not your ways” (Isa. 55:8), He meant all of our ways, whether they be ways that we think are good, or ways that we think are evil.
The glory of the place to which God took Job left Job more than speechless; it left him thoughtless. What can one think when confronted with a completely unknown kind of life? In the presence of that life, Job was forced to be still and to experience true spiritual rest, that is, the absence of all human ways and thoughts. In the blinding beauty of God’s kind of life, Job could sense the utter worthlessness of his own, and Job abhorred himself because he, like Solomon, felt the absolute vanity of man’s kind of life. Job and Solomon’s hatred of earthly life (Eccl. 2:17) was exactly what Jesus later said every person must feel before they can become his disciple:
26.If any man comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, and his wife and children, and his brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
This kind of hatred is possible only in hearts in which God creates a desire for His kind of life. This is why Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (Jn. 6:44).
Satan may have rejoiced that God, as he saw it, brought Job down to the dust where he really belonged, but in bringing Job down to the dust, God had in fact raised Job up so high that Satan couldn’t see him. Job had repented for things beyond his understanding, such as for not having the knowledge of God, for being merely “perfect and upright”, and for not seeing beyond his perfect righteousness. Job’s mind was useless to help him understand what he was repenting for, but his broken heart knew that he must, and so, he humbled himself in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord – not works of righteousness that Job had done – lifted Job up (cp. Jas. 4:10). Job never confessed to any specific sins because he had not committed any. He repented and abhorred himself only because he had been ushered into a place of such holiness that it made all known righteousness feel unclean.
“Wash Me, Not the Animals!”
Long after Job’s ordeal, King David, broken in spirit, pleaded for the same relief from human nature for which Job had pleaded:
2.Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
3.For I admit to my transgressions, and my sin is continually before me.
7.Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
10.Create within me a clean heart, O God, and re-create in me a steadfast spirit!
David’s cry for God to wash him was not a cry for another ceremony but for a washing of his soul. Under the law, priests could wash themselves (Ex. 30:18–21) and wash the sacrificial meat (Lev. 1:9, 13, etc.), but the law did not allow anyone to ceremonially wash another person. God ordained no one but Moses to wash another person, and Moses did it only once, when he consecrated Aaron and his sons to begin their Levitical priesthood (Lev. 8:1–6). Later, when Moses prophesied of the coming Messiah, he told Israel to look for a prophet like him (Dt. 18:15), that is, someone who would wash people, not things.
That washing of others – this time, a washing of their souls – was exactly what David and Job were crying out for and what John the Baptist declared that the Messiah would do (Mt. 3:11). In other words, the washing of the spirits of men, the answer to the prayers of both Job and David, would be the Messiah’s credentials, the proof that he had come. On the day of Pentecost, when the resurrected Jesus began washing souls from sin (Tit. 3:5–6; Rev. 1:5b–6a), conclusive proof was given to Israel that Jesus was their Messiah.
Others besides Job and David longed for the grace that God would give after His Son came and paid the price for it. Nevertheless, “these all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them far off, they welcomed them and confessed that they were foreigners and pilgrims on the earth… . And these all, though receiving a good testimony by their faith, did not receive the promise” (Heb. 11:13, 39). “The promise” was the relief that Job and David prayed for. But until the Son came, no one who longed for it either understood their longing or knew such a relief existed.
Tares in Heaven: Satan and David
Man does not need Satan’s influence either to be or to do evil. If God were to destroy Satan today, humans would still be sinful and do sinful deeds. Many assume that this truth is contradicted by the scriptures which tell us that Satan once rose up against Israel and provoked David to number them and that God was displeased that David did so (1Chron. 21:1, 7). Many also assume that Satan is revealed to be wicked in those verses, before the Son came. Neither of those assumptions holds up to scrutiny.
David’s numbering of Israel was, indeed, a transgression, and it did provoke God to great wrath. However, 1Chronicles 21:1 does not tell the whole story, for the same event is related in another book of the Bible, and there we are told:
1.The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and He provoked David against them, to say, “Go! Number Israel and Judah.”
The above verse, taken together with 1Chronicles 21:1, clearly show that Satan was working with God, not against Him, just as in the story of Job. Those two stories even use the same Hebrew verb to describe what God and Satan did, namely, that they both “provoked” David to sin. Therefore, what God did to David in 2Samuel 24 is exactly what Satan did to David in 1Chronicles 21. No one in heaven or earth would have concluded that what Satan did in 1Chronicles revealed him to be evil, when in 2Samuel, God did it, too. If both did the same deed at the same time to the same person, who would have thought that Satan was evil for doing it but that God was not?
So, David did only what David wanted to do; God just used Satan to open the door for him to do it, the same way God was always encouraging Satan and the rest of heaven’s creatures to do what they really wanted to do. What David did was David’s sin. It was not Satan’s – or God’s.
In this story, as in Job, Satan acted as God’s agent, entrusted with some of God’s most important missions, those which dealt with God’s most valued earthly servants, such as Job and David, and Israel’s high priest, as the following story shows.
Tares in Heaven: Satan and the High Priest
The young prophet Zechariah was given a vision of an important trial as it took place in heaven. On trial was Joshua, Israel’s high priest, who had in some unstated way transgressed the law. Although his life, maybe even his soul, hung in the balance, the high priest himself, down on earth, may not even have known that this heavenly trial was taking place.
1.Then the angel showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.
2.And the Lord [speaking through His angel] said to Satan, “The Lord rebukes you, O Satan! Even the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebukes you! Is not this man a brand [a scorched stick of wood] plucked out of the fire?”
3.Now, Joshua was clothed with a filthy garment, and he stood before the angel.
4.And the angel of the Lord answered and spoke to those who stood before him, saying, “Take the filthy garments away from him!” And to Joshua he said, “Behold, I have made your iniquity to pass from you, and I am clothing you with stately robes.”
A careful analysis of these verses reveals much about Satan’s status in heaven before the Son was revealed.
Verse 1: Satan’s Office
Here, Satan is functioning as Prosecutor, or Accuser, in God’s court for crimes committed on earth. Satan being“the god of this world” means that he has authority to prosecute transgressors of worldly law. John described Satan as having carried out this responsibility with diligence, prosecuting cases day and night in God’s presence (Rev. 12:10b). Here in Zechariah’s vision, Satan is performing his appointed task in the expected manner, standing at the right hand of the accused, bringing charges against him. Neither Moses or David, nor anyone else under the law had any grounds on which they might accuse Satan. He was their Accuser, not vice-versa, watching the Israelites to make certain they obeyed the law of God.
When the New Testament was initiated, the Son became Satan’s Accuser, and Satan was cast out of heaven. Speaking of when the Son of God ascended into heaven and Satan was exposed and cast out, John said he heard a loud voice in heaven cry out, “The Accuser of our brethren is cast down!” (Rev. 12:10a). The title, Accuser, may strike some readers as a title applicable only to someone wicked, but that opinion has no biblical basis. Jesus told the Jews that in the Final Judgment, Moses would be their Accuser (Jn. 5:45), and when he said that, no one took him to mean that Moses was wicked. On the contrary, everyone understood Jesus to be emphasizing Moses’ great authority. Just so, serving as heaven’s Accuser only showed Satan’s great authority. Of course, an Accuser can be evil, but Moses being Israel’s Accuser proves that the title, in itself, does not reveal anything about the Accuser’s character.
Verse 2: The Verdict
The presiding angel’s rebuke of Satan was stern, but it did not reveal to anyone that Satan was wicked. Hundreds of years before this, Michael used the same phrase to rebuke Satan (Jude 1:9), yet, in this vision, Satan still occupied his very high position in God’s court. Besides, with which of God’s servants has God not been stern, even severe, including Job, whom God loved? Jesus had no qualms about calling his disciples “fools” (Lk. 24:25), and his frustration with their unbelief once grew to the point that he cried out against them, “O faithless and perverse generation! How long shall I be with you and put up with you!” (Lk. 9:41). Jesus reproved Peter with withering harshness (Mt. 16:23) and hotly rebuked James and John (Lk. 9:52–56) – and they were the three disciples closest to him! Eliphaz, one of Job’s friends, observed that in God’s sight, even angels are foolish (Job 4:18) – and Eliphaz knew nothing about fallen angels; he was talking about all of them!
So, the presiding angel’s harsh rebuke of Satan in Zechariah’s vision could not have revealed to anyone that God saw Satan as wicked. That knowledge was still hidden in the Son. To the heavenly court, the angel’s rebuke would only have meant that God had ruled against Satan in his case against Joshua. Moreover, it was well known, even before Zechariah’s time, that God corrects whom He loves (Prov. 3:12) and that “open rebuke is better than secret love” (Prov. 27:5). Therefore, an open, harsh rebuke from God could have been taken as evidence that God loved Satan.
Verses 3–4: Merciful Judgment
Nowhere in the Old Testament is Satan found making a false accusation against anyone. To do so would have been an evil too obvious for anyone to miss. Satan himself would have condemned anyone in Israel who made a false accusation, for the law of Moses forbade it (Ex. 20:16). Satan certainly misjudged the strength of Job’s character, but misjudging someone is different from bringing phony charges against him. That, Satan did not do. In Zechariah’s vision, Satan was not behaving like a transgressor; he was prosecuting one. And being “full of wisdom” (Ezek. 28:12), he would not have come into God’s court with anything but an airtight case. Satan was much too wise to risk his reputation by accusing someone in heaven’s court without provable, damning facts. He certainly had them in this case, and according to the law, Satan should not have lost the case. The presiding angel’s rebuke of Satan was not supported by the law of Moses; however, Satan and everyone else present knew that the presiding angel’s judgment came from God and that God’s judgment was final.
Satan did not bring charges against Joshua for doing good deeds. Not in God’s court. That would have made no sense at all. Nor did he accuse Joshua for transgressing the laws of heathen countries. God did not require Joshua to live by foreign laws; as an Israelite, Joshua could only be judged by the law God gave to Israel. So, the charges that Satan brought against Joshua would have been for transgressions of Moses’ law. The fact that Joshua was guilty is indicated by the “filthy garments” Joshua was wearing. In Scripture, dirty clothing symbolizes sin (Rev. 3:4; Jas. 5:2), just as clean clothing symbolizes righteousness (Rev. 19:8), and when the presiding angel commanded the other angels to take away Joshua’s filthy garments, he announced that by doing so, he had taken away Joshua’s iniquity.
It was fortunate for Joshua the high priest (not to mention for the rest of us) that God is above law, including the law He gave to Israel, and that God will forgive even when the law condemns. God loves mercy, and He was grieved when some of the Israelites chose to die in sin rather than to repent and live:
11.As I live, says the Master, the Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! For why will you die, O house of Israel?
In judging Joshua, God took into account the fact that Joshua and his fellow Jews had recently returned from a seventy-year captivity in Babylon. He saw that they were few in number, poor, and struggling against powerful heathen opposition, and He knew their hearts, that they were willing to observe every ordinance of the law, just as it was written, but time was needed for them to prepare. When Zechariah saw this vision, the Jews did not yet even have a temple where they could perform the required rites. The presiding angel’s comment to Satan, “Is not this man a brand plucked out of the fire?” reflects the fact that God understood how difficult Joshua’s task was. God could have agreed with Satan and condemned Joshua on some technical points of the law, but He is not quick to do that. God is patient.
A similar instance of God’s preference for mercy over judgment took place in the reign of King Hezekiah, when the young king invited the Israelites who lived in northern Canaan to come celebrate the Passover at Jerusalem. While many of them scoffed at Hezekiah’s messengers (2Chron. 30:6–10), a few humbled themselves and took advantage of the king’s invitation (2Chron. 30:11), but having lived without God’s law for centuries by that time, the few northern Israelites who came were ignorant of the law and showed up ritually unprepared. Satan would have prosecuted them in heaven’s court, but down on earth, good King Hezekiah was pleading with God to show them mercy (2Chron. 30:18–19). In response, God not only forgave their failure to keep His law precisely but even blessed them with healing because they had humbled themselves to come to Jerusalem to try to honor Him (2Chron. 30:20–21).
Satan would have judged them by appearances, that is, by how precisely they observed the rules governing the Passover feast. But God judged their hearts, knowing that the poor Israelites who responded to King Hezekiah’s call and made the journey to Jerusalem were trying, though ignorantly, to do the right thing. Their ceremonial conduct was undeniably improper, and Satan’s case against them, if there was one, was as airtight as was his case against Joshua, the high priest. Nobody could have successfully argued against the case that Satan could have brought into God’s court, and as far as we know, he might have done so. But God is merciful and “waits patiently for us, not willing for anyone to perish, but that all come to repentance” (2Pet. 3:9b). God’s first choice, always, is to forgive.
There were other such examples of divine forbearance of deeds that would have normally been strictly forbidden. In one case, after God healed the Syrian general Naaman, God gave Naaman permission to bow in the temple of Rimmon, an Assyrian god, when he returned to his duties in Syria (2Kgs. 5:1–19). And another time, when David was fleeing for his life from an increasingly mad King Saul, God helped the hungry fugitive by giving him holy bread (1Sam. 21:1–6), which only God’s priests were allowed to eat (Lev. 24:5–9). God knew the hearts of those two righteous men, and He graciously suspended the rules for them when they were in situations beyond their control.
Satan, a merciless law-and-order prosecutor, could not take into account God’s compassion for Joshua the high priest, and for others like him who were willing to do what was right but were in situations that kept them from doing so. Satan, unlike God, took pleasure in the death of the wicked (cp. Ezek. 33:11), as do men who are like him (e.g., Jn. 8:1–11). Satan thought he would be “like the Most High” if his throne were exalted to be next to God’s throne on the mountain where the congregation of heaven met (Isa. 14:14). He did not understand that being like God is a matter of the heart, not a matter of geography, and he was blind to the fact that there was no similarity between his heart and God’s. That truth was revealed only when the meek and merciful Son of God came and showed us what being “like the Most High” really means.
One can only imagine how much Satan wanted to prosecute David when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her righteous husband Uriah, a foreigner who had become one of God’s most devoted and capable soldiers (2Sam. 11; 1Chron. 11:10–11, 41). If Satan ever had an open-and-shut case against anyone, this was it. David committed adultery with and impregnated Bathsheba, and then, to cover up the crime, David had Uriah murdered. God’s law strictly forbade mercy to be shown to either a murderer or an adulterer (Ex. 21:14; Lev. 20:10), and everyone who knew Moses’ law knew that, including Satan.
After David committed those two great sins, God sent the prophet Nathan to David’s court to publicly confront the king. The humiliated, distraught king knew there was no sacrifice he could make to atone for the sins he had committed. To add to David’s consternation, he remembered what God had done to Israel’s previous king when he had sinned. Now, David found himself in an even worse position, according to the law, and he cried out in hopelessness, “I have sinned against the Lord!” But then Nathan pronounced an impossible judgment: “The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2Sam. 12:13). It was unlawful mercy, and many in Israel did not believe it. How could David be allowed to escape execution, as God’s law demanded?
Nathan’s declaration of God’s unlawful mercy on David for adultery and murder ranks with Job’s experience as one of the greatest demonstrations of grace shown to man before the Son was revealed. Such grace was blatantly unlawful, and when it was shown to David, it must have surprised and confused the inhabitants of heaven as much as it did the Israelites on earth. So many in Israel doubted that Nathan had been sent by God that most of the nation revolted against David (2Sam. 20:1–2), and the rebellion was led by one of David’s own sons (2Sam. 15:1–12). David and his kingdom survived the challenge, but he was forever changed by the touch of New Testament grace that he received.
One of the reasons David received the incredible mercy he received from God is that he was so willing to show mercy to others. When God first chose young David to replace King Saul, He told Samuel that He had sought out a man with a heart like His (1Sam. 13:14). David’s willingness to forgive the way God forgives was demonstrated on several occasions when, according to the law, David had justifiable reasons to kill, but chose to show mercy instead. He spared Shimei, he spared mad King Saul twice, Joab three times, Amnon and Absalom, his ungodly sons, and probably many others.
Sons of the Accuser
It is dangerous to presume to act on God’s behalf without having a heart like God’s. Jesus warned his disciples that they would suffer at the hands of such men, religious leaders who would claim to be acting on God’s behalf but were not like God in their hearts:
2.They will put you out of the synagogues. In fact, the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is doing God service.
3.And they will do these things because they have not known either the Father or me.
Such men are the Satans of this world, so to speak, religious leaders completely devoted to God as they mistakenly think God is. During the two millennia of this New Testament era, men of this sort have plundered, brutalized, and executed many an innocent saint, “thinking to do God service.” The plaintiff cry of murdered saints rises continually in heaven, saying, “How long, O Master, holy and true, will you not judge and avenge our blood upon those who dwell on earth?” (Rev. 6:10), but for now, they are being told to “wait for a while” (Rev. 6:11). In other words, they are being told to be patient, like God.
The tares still worship with God’s wheat, but now they worship together only on earth; heaven has been purged. And when those tares are in earthly positions of authority over God’s children, they often reflect the spirit of Satan, heaven’s stern Accuser:
2.Early in the morning, Jesus returned to the temple, and all the people came; and when he had sat down, he taught them.
3.Then the scribes and Pharisees led to him a woman caught in adultery, and when they had stood her in the midst,
4.they said to him (testing him), “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery!
5.In the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now then, what do you say?”
These religious leaders were acting exactly as Satan did in Zechariah’s vision. They made their living by enforcing the righteousness of Moses’ law, and when they caught a woman “in the very act of adultery”, they hoped to kill, literally, “two birds with one stone” – the unfortunate woman and Jesus. They stood, as it were, at the woman’s right hand, accusing her. She was undeniably guilty of transgressing God’s law, and their case against the poor woman was as airtight as were Satan’s cases against Joshua and David. It is little wonder that Jesus called such men sons of the Accuser (Jn. 8:44).
At the end of the story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus’ pure love for his Father’s law put the woman’s accusers to shame, and they turned and went away, leaving her alone with the Lord (Jn. 8:9). But that does not mean that the people looking on learned from this episode that those scribes and Pharisees were ungodly, much less that they were sons of the Accuser. In fact, they obviously did not learn that lesson. Otherwise, those men would not have continued to enjoy a wide following in Israel. Those sons of the Accuser retained their high standing despite their hearts being like Satan’s because no one yet had God’s kind of life to enable them to discern that Satan and his sons were evil. Israel’s religious leaders were doing on earth precisely what Satan did in heaven, and, like Satan, they appeared to be working with God, not against Him, for in their enforcement of righteousness, they used the same thing that Satan used, the holy law of Moses. However, along with the law’s rites, those leaders were using rules which were called “the tradition of the elders”, traditions which they had added to the law and believed were as authoritative as the law itself.
Even among his own followers, Jesus had to deal with sons of the Accuser. Some of them were Pharisees who followed Jesus, and they once condemned other disciples when they saw them plucking and eating grain as they all passed through a grainfield on a Sabbath. The law of Moses allowed it (Dt. 23:24), but the tradition of the elders did not. This is how Jesus responded to their accusations:
3.He said to them, “Haven’t you read what David did when he was hungry, he and those with him,
4.how he went into the house of God and ate the bread that was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those with him, but for the priests alone?
7.If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’, you would not have condemned the innocent.”
Jesus’ point was that the law God gave to Moses was made for man, not man for the law. But in the view of Satan and his sons, man was made for the law, to observe it precisely, and they despised anyone who did not. Pride in one’s own righteousness blinds one to the love of God, and those who are righteous and proud of it feel contempt for those whom they deem less righteous than themselves. God referred to such a smug attitude as being “at ease”:
5.The one who is ready to slip with his feet is as a lamp despised in the thought of him that is at ease.
God hates such an attitude, and He sent prophets to warn His people against it:
1.Woe to those who are at ease in Zion!
The self-righteous are skillful at maintaining an appearance of righteousness. Satan did it first, he did it in heaven, and he did it confidently for a very long time in the presence of a very patient God. In God’s time, however, the Son was revealed, and the truth about good and evil came to light. God’s faithful servants in heaven were relieved of the burden of Satan’s presence when the resurrected Son returned to heaven and cleansed it, and God’s faithful servants on earth will likewise be relieved of the burden of Satan’s presence when the Son returns to earth to reign a thousand years.
Tares in Heaven: Satan and the Hidden Son
Psalm 109 contains the Son’s terrifying, prophetic prayer for vengeance against Judas. When this psalm was first sung, the Son was still hidden, and no one could have known it was the voice of the Son. But we know this was the Son crying out through David for vengeance against Judas because Peter said as much when he quoted from this psalm in Acts 1:20, saying, “This scripture must be fulfilled, which the holy Spirit foretold through the mouth of David concerning Judas” (Acts 1:16).
Verse 6 of that psalm is remarkable because it reveals something that the hidden Son thought about Satan while they were both residents of heaven. It seemed to be the bitter cry for a prosecutor from God was simply the cry of an unnamed, maltreated, righteous man:
6.Set a wicked man over him, and let Satan stand at his right hand!
Zechariah was given his vision of Satan standing at the high priest’s right hand several centuries after Psalm 109 was written, and Job’s story took place centuries before Psalm 109 was written. So, the picture of Satan presented to us in the Old Testament is consistent. He is presented only as a fearsome instrument of God, a mighty cherub anointed with authority to enforce righteousness and to avenge unrighteousness. Even if someone in those times had dared to think that there might be some “tares” in heaven, he would never have guessed that Satan was one of them.
The Reader should know that the Hebrew word translated “Satan” may also be translated “adversary”, as in the following story of Balaam. Had we used “adversary” instead of “Satan” in Psalm 109:6 (above), it would have suggested that the Son was only asking his Father to send a prosecutor, not that he was asking for Satan by name. After much consideration, I opted for the translation I have. Likewise, in translating Balaam’s story (Num. 22–24), “Satan” is clearly a better choice than “adversary”.
Tares in Heaven: The Angel and Balaam
The prophet Balaam was one of the great men of his time. He was a genuine prophet of God, though not an Israelite, famed for his prophetic gift far beyond the borders of his Mesopotamian homeland. However, Balaam succumbed to the lure of the riches and high honor offered to him by Moab’s King Balak, and when he left Mesopotamia to go to Moab, “the anger of God was kindled because he went.”
God’s anger against foolish, covetous, Balaam came in the form of an angel who was sent to kill him (Num. 22:33). We are told that the angel “positioned himself in the road against him, for Satan” (Num. 22:22). And later the angel made this remarkable statement: “Behold! I have come forth for Satan because your way is perverse before me” (Num. 22:32b).
That an angel would have come “for Satan” makes perfect biblical sense. Since Satan is god of this world, and ruled over certain angels, he had authority to send them to earth to carry out the commands of God issued to him. In this case, God had given the command to slay Balaam, who was using his gift from God to gain wealth and fame.
Before moving on, I should point out that there is another possible, though less likely, translation of the word for Satan in Numbers 22:32b. If the angel who met Balaam had a boastful spirit, the Hebrew preposition in this verse allows for him to have said, “I have come forth like Satan.” It is interesting to imagine this angel proudly comparing himself to the great one, Satan, and that is a possible translation. Whether for Satan or like Satan, however, the angel was clearly functioning as Satan functioned in those days, that is, as an adversary from those who erred from the right path.
Tares in Heaven: Satan and the Sons of Zeruiah
In this story, most translations use “adversary” instead of the word “Satan”. However, when Satan’s exalted, heavenly position is understood, it becomes clear that the word “Satan” fits much better in David’s rebuke of his nephew, Abishai.
The three sons of David’s sister, Zeruiah, were renowned, high-ranking officers in David’s army who used an appearance of devotion to David as an excuse to exercise merciless hatred toward David’s enemies. When David was fleeing Jerusalem, just ahead of his son Absalom’s attacking army, a wicked man named Shimei watched from the top of a hill as the weeping king walked through the valley. He angrily mocked, cursed, and pelted with stones the king and those with him as they passed below (2Sam. 16:5–13). Abishai, one of Zeruiah’s sons, grew indignant at this insult to the king and asked permission from David to go “take that dead dog’s head off,” but David refused to allow him to do it, and walked on.
Later, after David’s army defeated Absalom’s army and David returned to Jerusalem, the fearful Shimei came meekly to the king and knelt before him, begging for mercy,
21.but Abishai the son of Zeruiah answered and said, “Should not Shimei be put to death for this? He abused the Lord’s anointed!”
22a.Then David said, “What is there between you sons of Zeruiah and me, that you should act like Satan on my behalf today?” 
No doubt, Abishai was disappointed that David refused him permission to kill Shimei; at the same time, he very likely felt flattered by being compared with Satan. It was not every day that a man was compared with that fearsome servant of God. But the comparison was just.
Joab, the highest ranking of Zeruiah’s three sons, consistently demonstrated Satan’s merciless zeal against transgressors, even after those transgressors had repented. He killed both Abner and Amasa after those two generals ceased fighting against David and offered to join forces with him (2Sam. 3:12–39; 20:9–10). But Joab’s unwillingness to forgive transgressions matches God’s description of His angel to Moses (Ex. 23:20–21). And if God’s angel did not forgive transgressions, then who in David’s time would have seen Joab as evil for not forgiving transgressors, even after those transgressors had stopped transgressing? The answer is no one. Moreover, although David condemned some of Joab’s actions, he allowed him to remain as general of his army and did not punish Joab for his satanic zeal against those who had transgressed against David. David had a heart like God’s. He was patient. And in the end, he commanded his son Solomon to execute righteous judgment against Joab and kill him (1Kgs. 2:5–6), just as God would later command His Son to execute righteous judgment against Satan and cast him out of heaven.
Tares in Heaven: Satan and the Avenging Angels
Satan was by no means the only heavenly being God sent to bring about His judgments. In Psalm 35, for one example, the Son prayed for the Father to send an avenging angel against the men who were scheming to have him killed:
4.Let them be ashamed, and let them be confounded who are seeking my life! Let them be turned back and put to shame who devise my harm!
5.Let them be as chaff before the wind, and let the angel of the Lord cast them down!
6.Let their way be dark and slippery, and let the angel of the Lord harass them!
Notice the vengeful nature of the acts that the Son prayed for God’s angel to carry out, namely, to cast evildoers down into darkness and harass them. If we compare what this angel was called upon to do with what Satan was called upon to do in Psalm 109, the angel comes across as more destructive than Satan. In Psalm 109, the Son asked only that God send Satan to prosecute a transgressor, but here, he asks that God send His angel to inflict actual suffering.
When God described the angel that He was sending before Israel into Canaan’s land, Moses must have trembled:
20.Behold, I am sending an angel before you to protect you along the way and to bring you into the place that I have prepared.
21.Beware of him, and obey his voice. Provoke him not, for he will not pardon your transgressions, for my name is in him.
The similarities between this angel and Satan are striking. Both were used by God in matters concerning His chosen people, both had great power, and both were utterly merciless. Most of us consider this merciless angel to be holy; at the same time, we consider Satan to be wicked, although nothing in the Old Testament indicates wickedness in either of those heavenly beings. The only reason we think that way about Satan is that “the Son of God has come and has given us understanding” (1Jn. 5:20). We had no other way to come to the knowledge that one of those two servants of God was evil.
The awe which God’s avenging angels inspired among ancient people, and perhaps even among some heavenly beings, may have surpassed the awe that Satan inspired. As far as the biblical record is concerned, those angels afflicted far more people, far more often, and far more cruelly than Satan ever did. The cruelest of Satan’s activities recorded in the Old Testament are those we have already discussed. They are:
None of those activities were evil. Moreover, Satan is never said to have inflicted the massive damage and destruction attributed to God’s angels:
If the deeds of these angels did not cause others to think of them as evil, then what basis existed for anyone to think of Satan as evil? It was only when the Son of God came that Satan was exposed as the liar and murderer that he is (Jn. 8:44). Before then, no one associated Satan with either lies or murder because, as far as anyone except God knew, Satan had never been guilty of those crimes.
But God did not limit Himself to the use of Satan and angels to bring about His righteous judgments. He also used nature (Ezek. 13:10–14), animals (2Kgs. 2:23–24; Joel 2:25), and both righteous and unrighteous men (Samuel in 1Sam. 15:32–33 and Baasha in 1Kgs. 15:25–27). He also used nations to destroy other nations, as when he sent the Israelites to brutally conquer the very sinful Canaanites (Dt. 9:4–5; Josh. 10:40) and as when he sent the Babylonians to conquer the Israelites after they had become very sinful. If wickedness is to be determined on the basis of the degree of pain and death inflicted, then when we compare what humans and angels did in the Old Testament to what Satan did, we must conclude that humans and angels are more wicked than Satan!
But let’s take this concept even further. In many instances, we are told that God Himself brought about terrible suffering and death without the use of agents, either heavenly or earthly. In the first book of the Bible, God Himself is said to have covered the earth with a flood, all but wiping out the human race (Gen. 7:21–22). In the book of Numbers, God is said to have created a new way to kill men by opening up the earth beneath the tents of Dathan and Abiram and carrying those wicked men and their families alive down into the abyss (Num. 16:28–33). Hundreds of verses in the books of the prophets tell us that God sent or threatened to send all sorts of miseries on mankind, Jew and Gentile alike. God may have used agents in all those events, but even if He did, the fact remains that God is responsible for the sufferings that His agents bring about. So then, if causing greater damage equals greater wickedness, what are we to think about what the Old Testament tells us about God in comparison to what the Old Testament tells us about Satan? Who, God or Satan, is said to have inflicted the greater amount of suffering upon men?
Again, my point is not that Satan is good. He most certainly is not. My point is only that until the Son came and paid the price for men to receive God’s kind of life, no one could see that Satan was evil.
Tares in Heaven: The Lying Spirit
In hiding the Son, God was hiding the truth about everything, most of all, the truth about Himself, His inner thoughts and feelings. He was hiding Michael and Gabriel, for no one knew that God saw them as good. He was hiding Satan, for no one knew that God saw him as evil. In the book of Job, as we saw, Satan was introduced only as one of the sons of God, perfectly relaxed as he conversed with God. The following story shows that Satan was not the only evil spirit that felt at home in heaven.
During the reign of wicked King Ahab, God gave the prophet Micaiah a vision of a gathering of the sons of God in which God patiently conversed with a lying spirit. That spirit volunteered to come to earth and speak through the false prophets of Jezebel and Ahab.
19.Micaiah said, “I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing about Him, to His right and to His left.
20.And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab to go up and die at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one answered this way, and another answered that way.
21.Then a spirit there came forth and stood before the Lord, and said, ‘I will persuade him.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘How?’
22.And he said, ‘I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And He said, ‘You will entice him, and will surely succeed. Go on and do so!’ ”
A superficial reading of this scene might lead one to think that God was asking for advice. He has never done that. Everything He does, He does “according to the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11). What God was doing in this meeting of the sons of God was creating another situation that would bring into the open what was hidden in the hearts of the spirits that were before Him in heaven. His humility and patience made those spirits feel relaxed and free to express what they truly felt. It is important that we see this scene rightly, for what it tells us is that the angels that sinned were not coerced; they freely chose the wrong path, the same way Satan did. Satan did not force them to do evil; on the contrary, God liberated them with His patience and humility to be who they really wanted to be. Michael and Gabriel did not force faithful angels to make their choice, either; God liberated the faithful angels, too, to be who they really wanted to be.
At the heavenly meeting that Micaiah saw in his vision, each spirit’s suggestion, whether good or bad, exposed what was in that spirit’s heart, for “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Mt. 12:34). What each one said became a matter of record so that when the Son finally made known the mind of God, all of heaven’s creatures would understand why some were cast out and others were allowed to stay.
The crafty spirit that volunteered to deceive Ahab’s prophets had no idea how contemptible he was in God’s sight. No doubt, he congratulated himself all the way from heaven to earth because God had chosen him over all others in heaven to do this deed. And after he succeeded in deceiving Ahab by lying to him through his prophets (a case of what we now see as demonic possession of those prophets), there was nothing to prevent that lying spirit from joyfully returning to heaven to bask in the glory of his success. How could he possibly have known that God saw him as doing evil? God did not tell him. The Son remained hidden. And that lying spirit assumed, as Satan did, that God was just like him.
To confirm that this sort of thing took place in heaven before the Son was revealed, we need only to read Ezekiel 14:1–11. There, when some hypocritical elders came to Ezekiel, making a show of wanting to hear the word of the Lord, God was indignant. He told Ezekiel that when the disobedient came to hear from Him, He would not answer. Instead, He would send a lying spirit to deceive their false prophets and then destroy both them and their prophets for their hypocrisy.
Satan, being full of pride and assuming too much, misjudged everything badly, but his worst error was in assuming that God was like him. Psalm 50 mentions a similar wrong assumption made by an unnamed, wicked man. After the psalmist lists the man’s evil deeds, God spoke through the psalmist to expose that man’s secret thought:
21.These things you have done, and I remained silent. You thought that I was altogether such a one as yourself.
The only way Satan could possibly have hoped, as he did, to be elevated to reign with God was for him to think that God was “altogether such a one” as himself. Of course, Satan was more like God, as he thought God was, than any other creature. After all, he would have reasoned, had not God chosen him over all others to prove the faith of Job, the most perfect man on earth? And had not God chosen him to provoke King David to number Israel? And was he not the one appointed to stand up for God’s law when Joshua, Israel’s high priest, failed to keep the law? And in Psalm 109, was he not the one called for when an Accuser against a wicked man was needed? In addition, there must have been many other times when God used Satan to carry out His designs and many other court cases in heaven that Satan did not lose, all of which would only have made Satan think more highly of himself.
Satan was created with sufficient wisdom to understand that God knew what was in his heart. It is impossible to believe that Satan thought his desire for the highest of honors was hidden from his Maker. Therefore, Satan’s error could only have been in assuming that God approved of what he was thinking. But Satan’s dream of sharing in God’s glory was the ultimate self-delusion. He was nothing like God, in heart. God did seem to have a close relationship with Satan, but that was only because God was not yet letting anyone know what He really thought about anything. He had ordained a specific time for His Son to be revealed, and with him, the truth.
God’s patience is terrifying.
Tares on Earth: Judas
Jesus knew all along that Judas would betray him (Jn. 6:71), but the other disciples never saw Jesus treat Judas any different from the way he treated them. They never suspected that Jesus was demonstrating, the whole time, the Father’s terrifying patience with wickedness. Judas was taught as they were, anointed as they were, and sent out with them to work miracles (Mt. 10:1–4). No doubt, Judas did many good deeds during the years he traveled with Jesus. If anything, the disciples held Judas in special regard because Jesus seemed to. After all, Jesus had chosen Judas over Matthew, a professional money-handler, to carry the moneybag and to distribute the funds that were in it (Jn. 12:4–6). So, it must have appeared to the other disciples that Judas held a special place in Jesus’ heart, and judging by what the hidden Son of God said through David about Judas, such may have been the case:
12.It was not an enemy that reproached me; then, I could have borne it. Neither was it one who hated me that puffed himself up against me; in that case, I would have hidden myself from him.
13.But it was you, a man my own equal, my guide, and my acquaintance.
14.We took sweet counsel together, and walked to the house of God in company.
The parable of the Wheat and the Tares was intended by Jesus to alert his disciples to God’s fearful patience with evil, a patience that the Father had quietly exhibited in heaven for thousands of years. Now, in his dealing with Judas, the Son provided his disciples with a similar example on earth.
At the Last Supper, just moments after Jesus told his disciples that one of them would betray him, Jesus looked at Judas and said, “What you do, do quickly” (Jn. 13:21–27). Knowing what we know now, on this side of Pentecost, we see Jesus’ statement to Judas as a clear indication that Judas was the betrayer, but at that time, to Jesus’ disciples, Judas was above suspicion, and they did not put it all together. Instead, they all assumed that Jesus had sent his friend Judas on an errand (Jn. 13:27–29), just as the angels in heaven had often watched God send Satan to earth on errands.
The author of Hebrews described the Son as the exact representation of the Father’s being (Heb. 1:3), and in no way did the Son more perfectly reflect the Father than in his handling of his Satan-like disciple, Judas. Jesus’ patience is also terrifying.
When God Is Quiet
Like tares growing in the midst of heaven’s wheat, creatures whose hearts had turned from goodness were allowed to continue in heaven for a very long time before the Son was revealed. God quietly watched them live, labor, and worship with heavenly creatures whose hearts were upright. The quiet patience of God determined everything by providing all His heavenly creatures with time and liberty to be who they really wanted to be. God’s demeanor created the situation in which the heart of every creature in heaven was tried without them even knowing they were being tried. His creatures felt completely free, and yet, God was always in complete control.
33.Oh, the depth of the riches of both the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and inscrutable His ways!
34.Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counsellor?
God’s withholding of correction, His silence when sin is committed, is a most fearful form of divine wrath. David was right when he said that whoever is corrected by God is blessed (Ps. 94:12). And by whatever name God’s correction is called – whether discipline, chastisement, instruction, or anything else – to be given it is to be loved, and it is a precious gift that all wise men pray for. It is impossible to know whom God loves by seeing whom He blesses; it is only by seeing whom God chastens that we know whom He loves.
11.My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of His correction,
12.for whom the Lord loves, He corrects, even as a father the son in whom he delights.
19.As many as I hold dear, I rebuke and chasten. Be zealous, therefore, and repent!
It is also true that we cannot know who loves God, based upon who worships Him. Everyone in heaven worshipped God, but God did nothing until the Son was revealed to indicate that the worship of some of His heavenly sons was unacceptable. They all knew that God hated and was angry with the wicked every day (Pss. 5:5; 7:11), but they did not know that God saw some of them as wicked. So, evil spirits and good spirits rejoiced and worshipped as one congregation in God’s presence. God did hate the wicked; He hated them with perfect hatred (Ps. 139:22). But perfect hatred can wait, the way Absalom waited two years to kill Amnon (2Sam. 13:22–29). It is perfect love that rebukes and chastens (Prov. 3:11–12; Heb. 12:6; Rev. 3:19).
To this day, evil spirits, including Satan, worship God. Paul said as much when he said (1) Satan is now “disguising himself as a messenger of light” (2Cor. 11:14) and (2) demons devise doctrines about God and His Son that appeal to many of God’s own children (1Tim. 4:1). Heaven’s creatures were created deeply religious, and they cannot alter that work of God (Eccl. 3:14). Satan and his angels were cast out of heaven, but they cannot cease from doing what they were created to do, even if the way they do it is unacceptable to their Creator. It may help the Reader to understand this if it is remembered that Jesus never called harlots and drunkards sons of the Accuser. He gave that title only to those considered to be good people. Satan and his sons despise the irreligious and thrive in a religious environment. Satan encourages men to perform solemn religious rites and to enforce rules of good conduct. After all, while he was in heaven, that is what he did.
Jesus criticized Satan’s sons for doing the will of their father (Jn. 8:44). But what were they doing? According to Jesus, they fasted twice a week (Lk. 18:12), made long prayers (Mt. 23:14), spent great sums on missionary work (Mt. 23:15), gave tithes of everything that came into their possession (Mt. 23:23), and insisted that transgressors such as the woman caught in adultery be punished to the full extent of Moses’ law (Jn. 8:1–11). Satan’s sons were pillars of the Jewish community; they would not have gotten drunk or committed adultery for any amount of money. Their righteousness was seen and known by all. (They made sure of that.) They strictly observed the law’s rites and rules, as well as the traditions of their elders. However, their maintenance of proper form only provided a cover for the wickedness that was in their hearts – just like their father, Satan. That was God’s judgment of them, and it was revealed by the Son when he told those men, “You are they who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts! That which is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Lk. 16:15).
Nothing is more highly esteemed in this world than man’s religious creeds and ceremonies. But without the life of God, the more eloquent and lovely a religion is, the more of an abomination it is because the greater number of souls it will attract and deceive. Israel’s scribes, Pharisees, and priests seemed to be good men doing what was right, but then, so did Satan and evil angels in heaven. Solomon said that there are ways that seem right to men but that lead to death (Prov. 14:12; 16:25). Nevertheless, ignoring that godly warning, most people prefer the righteousness that seems good over the righteousness that is good, for it is human nature to “love the honor of men more than the honor of God” (Jn. 12:43).
Paul acknowledged that God’s patient use of the wicked while allowing them to continue in sin seems unfair to some people (Rom. 9:19), but then he bluntly pointed out that God’s purpose for being patient with the wicked is no one’s business but God’s (Rom. 9:20–21). The sum of Paul’s argument was this: “So what, if God, desiring to demonstrate His wrath and to make known His power, endured with great patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction?” (Rom. 9:22). Who is man, Paul would have asked, to grumble about what the Creator does with His creatures? The inescapable reality is that God is using all of us all the time, even the proudest and most rebellious among us. May we all find grace to be used as “vessels of honor” rather than of dishonor (2Tim. 2:20–21), for vessels of dishonor, after a lifetime of wrong-headed service to God, will be rejected and cast away (cp. 1Cor. 9:27).
When God is quiet, what do we think of ourselves or of others? If we dare even to think that we know what to think when God has revealed nothing, we are foolish. When God has revealed nothing, nothing is known.
Because of the Son, we all know now that Satan and some of the angels are wicked. But our knowledge of their wickedness is not the point. The point of this chapter is to show that God patiently allowed those “tares” to grow in His heavenly wheat field and that no one in heaven or on earth knew what He was doing. His wisdom and knowledge were hidden in the Son, and until God revealed him, no one anywhere knew God. So great was the blindness in heaven concerning God’s perspective on good and evil that the relationship God appeared to have with Satan and his angels secured their reputation among the sons of God; it did not ruin it. All the sons of God heard God say, for instance, that Satan moved Him to afflict righteous Job (Job 2:3), and who, they would have wondered, could move the Almighty to do anything but an exceptionally wise and powerful being? God knew they were thinking wrongly about Satan, but God was waiting for His Son to reveal that truth, and God is very patient.
On this side of Pentecost, the tares in God’s kingdom are His uncorrected children on earth. Often, their wickedness, like Satan’s, is not apparent, and that is why they often escape notice. They have some knowledge and experience in the things of God, as well as gifts and testimonies that win hearts. And they are confident, as Satan once was, that God approves of them. In no Old Testament story do we see Satan doing anything but what God wanted done; and yet, unknown to anyone, God saw him as wicked. Likewise, the tares in the body of Christ on earth may prophesy, cast out demons, perform miracles, hear things from Jesus, and feast in the Spirit with fellow believers (Mt. 7:22; Lk. 13:26). But when they feast with the saints, they are eating and drinking damnation upon themselves because they are feasting “unworthily” (1Cor. 11:27–29). The apostle Paul gave us blunt exhortations concerning this:
22.Behold the goodness and severity of God; on those who fell, severity, but toward you, goodness – if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise, you, too, will be cut off.
And to this sober warning, Paul added one of the most famous exhortations to faithfulness found in the New Testament:
11.All these things happened to them as examples, and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have met.
12.Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
Before entering into this challenging chapter, I must remind my Reader, because it bears repeating, that New Testament men of God plainly taught that the existence of the Son of God was hidden from all creatures from the beginning of the world. In each chapter, we have been building upon that revelation, bit by bit, as the prophet once said, “Whom shall He teach knowledge? And whom shall He make to understand doctrine? Those weaned from milk; those taken from breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, there a little” (Isa. 28:9–10).
Dread of adverse reactions from others can make us afraid to build upon revealed truth; that is to say, fear of man can make us afraid to think the next thought God offers us. Nevertheless, we are called to be fearless and to let Jesus think the next thought in us.
In this chapter, we will continue on to think the next thought. We will consider the earthly life of Jesus as it is recorded in the gospels, asking the question, “Being without the knowledge of God, what did the characters in these stories think was happening?” For example, we are told that Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. At that time, however, all truth was still hidden in the Son, and nobody, not even Satan, knew what God was really doing, that is, what was really taking place. So, what did Satan think was happening in the wilderness? What did Satan think God’s purpose was for sending him from heaven to say the things he said to Jesus? And if the truth about the Messiah and about the Son was still hidden, what did Peter think he was saying when he confessed that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God? The answers to such questions are revealed in the next thought, and we must dare to think it.
The apostles had to dare to think the next thought in order to receive revelation knowledge; let us be the same way. Jesus said that the truth would make us free (Jn. 8:32), but the truth does not make us free unless we receive and follow it, wherever it leads. Let the truth think the next thought for you now, as we read the story of the Son of God on earth.
Inasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood,
he likewise partook of flesh with them.
Put on the new man, who in God’s likeness is created
in righteousness and true holiness.
“A Man in Appearance”
From the moment God’s Son came from heaven and took on the fleshly body that his Father had prepared for him, there was never again a Son of God/son of Mary difference. God’s Son was blended with Mary’s son “so that he might make of those two, in himself, one new man.”  Jesus of Nazareth became forever the Son of God from heaven, and the Son of God from heaven became forever Jesus of Nazareth. Paul was right to say that God’s Son was “born of a woman, born under the law” (Gal. 4:4), and the author of Hebrews was right to say that when the Son came from heaven, a man’s body had already been prepared for him (Heb. 10:5). Moreover, Jesus was right to tell Pilate both that he had been born and that he had come into the world (Jn. 18:37). Paul said that the hidden Son of God became “a man in appearance” (Phip. 2:8), which is to say that he became a man; however, the man he became looked the same as he looked before the Son of God became him. Nothing about Jesus’ appearance was altered by his new birth experience to show that he had been re-created. His extraordinary experience signaled the dawning of a new and eternal age; however, no one could see the signal, for the Son was invisible and unknown. Men could only see the body that the Son had taken on, and that body was still human.
All four of the gospels tell of the epochal moment when the Son of God descended from heaven in the form of a dove to enter into the body prepared for him:
Matthew 3 (cp. Mk. 1:10–11; Lk. 3:21–22; Jn. 1:32)
16.After he had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water, and suddenly, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending in the form of a dove, and coming upon him.
17.And, behold, there came a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
So, when the Son of God began his life on earth, it was as a man, not as an infant in a manger, and certainly not as an embryo in Mary’s womb. Nor did God’s Son possess Mary’s body when he came; rather, he took on himself the body of her grown-up son. Mary was not the mother of the hidden Son of God who created the universe; she was the mother of the child that God created in her womb. And when God sent His Son from heaven to become one with Mary’s son, a new kind of creature was created, a creature with a corruptible human body that was filled with God’s incorruptible kind of life.
When that eternal life was given to Jesus’ followers on the day of Pentecost, a new nation was instantly “created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:24). These new men were re-created by the life of God to be like the Son after he came to earth, with fully-grown earthly bodies filled with God’s kind of life. When those 120 men and women were born again, they were not born again as little babies any more than Jesus was. They, too, were born “as men in appearance”, though they were newborns to God.
“Son of God”
By the time of Jesus, the title “son of God” or “sons of God” had long been in use as a reference to heavenly beings; it was just a figure of speech used to express God’s fatherhood over His creation. God Himself employed the phrase in Malachi 1:6. No righteous person in Israel would have believed that God really had a Son. Such a thing, they would have thought, was beneath God’s dignity, even blasphemous. Only the heathen believed that gods and goddesses really had sons and daughters by mortals, and they were prone to think that a person was a child of one of the gods if he was involved when something extraordinary in nature happened, as in the case of the Roman centurion watching Jesus die (Mt. 27:54). Moreover, if a man performed miracles, Gentiles were apt to proclaim him a god come down among men, as they said of the apostle Paul on at least two occasions (Acts 14:11; 28:3–6).
When the Gentile king of ancient Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, saw a fourth man walking about in the blazing furnace with the three young Hebrew men whom he had cast in there, he had no reason to say that the fourth man in the fiery furnace looked like the Son of God, as Christian translators usually have it. It is much more in keeping with the times for the king to have said what any other Gentile at that time would have said, to wit, the fourth man looked “like a son of God” (Dan. 3:25), and that is exactly what we find in the original language.
Occasionally, it is necessary to add the to a phrase when one is translating, but by adding the to “son of God” at the wrong time, Christian translators of the New Testament miss the opportunity to communicate the ancient, universal ignorance of the Son. An example of this is the famous comment of the centurion who oversaw the crucifixion of Jesus. Awestruck at the unnatural darkness and the earthquake that attended Jesus’ death, that Roman soldier responded exactly as Nebuchadnezzar did, and exactly as one would expect of Gentiles who lived before the Son of God was revealed:
54.When the centurion and those who were guarding Jesus with him saw the earthquake and the other things that happened, they were very afraid and said, “This man really was a son of a god!”
Christian translators know about the Son of God, and when they add the to what this Roman said, it leaves the impression that ancient Romans knew about the Son of God, too. They most certainly did not. No one did. Paul pointed out the obvious fact that if men had known the Son of God, they would not have crucified him (1Cor. 2:7–8). In his gospel, Luke describes this event in a way that communicates much better what the polytheistic centurion was actually thinking:
47.When the centurion saw that happen, he honored God, saying, “Surely this was a righteous man.”
It is remarkable that those in Israel who looked for the Messiah felt that “Son of God” was an appropriate title for him. Peter himself did:
16.Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”
As did Israel’s high priest:
Matthew 26 (cp. Lk. 22:66–70)
63b.The high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God that you tell us whether you are the Messiah, the Son of God!”
Neither Peter, the high priest, nor anyone else used the phrase “Son of God” as a reference to the Son of God who had been hidden in heaven from the beginning of creation and “through whom God made the worlds”. Nobody knew about that Son.
Just as we do not know how the Jews came to believe that no one would know where the Messiah came from (Jn. 7:27), neither do we know how the Jews came to believe that the Messiah would be so special that the title “Son of God” should apply to him. No Old Testament scripture calls him that. No man in biblical history was ever called “Son of God”, and for the Jews to be willing to attribute that title to a man reveals that they expected their Messiah to be extraordinarily great.
When Jesus came up on the bank of the Jordan after he was baptized, John the Baptist must have been deeply impressed when he heard the voice from heaven say, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And yet, John could only have thought that God was speaking of Mary’s son, for it was not merely the coming of God’s Son to earth that revealed him. Even while he walked on earth in a human body, the pre-existent Son was hidden, for people without God’s kind of life do not know the Son, no matter where he is. The Son came into this world, but “his own people did not receive him” (Jn. 1:11) because they did not know who he was. The Son was revealed only after he returned to heaven and sent back the kind of life, the holy Spirit, that would enable people to know him and his Father.
Mary’s son is all that Satan saw, too. When Satan heard God express pleasure in His Son on the day the Son entered into his temple, Satan may have been impressed, as John the Baptist was, but seeing only Mary’s son, he would not have been intimidated in the least. Satan himself was a son of God, and he was certain that God was better pleased with him than He was with any of His sons, including this Messiah from Nazareth. Besides, he knew that he existed before this man Jesus did, and like John the Baptist, he understood that the one who existed first was greater.
As miraculous as Jesus’ birth was, nobody had seen anything miraculous about Jesus since then. The pre-baptism Jesus was entirely human, living as a human in a world of other humans. Nothing about him stood out, just as Isaiah foretold (Isa. 53:2). No halo encircled his head. His hometown was insignificant. His parents were nobodies, and contrary to Christian mythology, the pre-baptism Jesus performed no miracles and had no special knowledge of God, although even as a child, he certainly loved Him. Jesus’ comment at the age of twelve, “I must be about my Father’s business” (Lk. 2:49), was a sweet statement, but it was not earth-shattering. Young children who are taught about God often feel a deep, innocent love for Him, and when they feel those feelings, they can make some arresting statements. But it was only after God’s Son came from heaven and became one with Mary’s son on the bank of the Jordan that Jesus began saying and doing earth-shattering things.
In sum, the fact that God had a Son was revealed neither by the birth of Mary’s son in Bethlehem nor by the arrival of God’s Son at Jesus’ baptism. Even after the Son had lived and labored on earth for years, men did not know him (Jn. 14:9), for the revelation of the Son came to men only after they received God’s kind of life. In other words, men began to truly know and understand the Son only after he went away and sent them the Spirit.
The Virgin Birth
We began this chapter at the Jordan River instead of the city of Bethlehem because the Son of God made his advent into the world at the Jordan River in the form of a dove, not in Bethlehem in the form of an infant. The virgin birth had to take place (Isa. 7:14), but it took place only as part of God’s preparation of an earthly temple for His Son, who came to earth about thirty years after the birth of Mary’s son (Lk. 3:23). Jesus’ birth was a glorious event, but the coming of God’s Son to earth was more glorious. Jesus’ birth was essential to our salvation. However, it is unwise to esteem that holy physical event more highly than the much holier spiritual event of the coming of God’s hidden Son.
It will help put the birth of Jesus into perspective if we remember that Gabriel’s appearance to Mary was not the first time God had sent an angel to earth to tell a woman that she would bare a son. Long before Mary’s visitation, God sent an angel to Manoah’s barren wife to tell her that she would bear an especially anointed son, Samson, who would deliver Israel (Judg. 13:2–5). Even before then, however, God was known as a God who miraculously gives children to women, as in the cases of the elderly Sarah and barren Rebekah (Gen. 21:1–2; 25:21). And later, He did the same for both Hannah and the Shunammite woman who helped Elisha (1Sam. 1:1–2, 19–20; 2Kgs. 4:14–17). Lastly, about six months before Gabriel was sent to Mary, God sent him to the old priest Zacharias to tell him he would have a son (Lk. 1:5–13). So, God was known in Israel for His power to give children to those who could not have them:
5.Who is like the Lord our God, who has made His home on high?
9.He makes the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Hallelujah!
Much of what humans think is impossible is the norm in the spiritual realm. The words impossible and miracle probably do not even exist in the vocabulary of angels. The only thing at which angels have ever marveled is the life of God that believers receive (1Pet. 1:12). When the heavenly host rejoiced in the night sky at the birth of Jesus (Lk. 2:13–14), they were not rejoicing because God had somehow managed to make a virgin have a baby; they were rejoicing because they knew that the child was God’s chosen one, the Messiah. The angel who spoke with the shepherds that night said so:
8.And there were shepherds in the same country, staying in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.
9.And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were very afraid.
10.But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. Behold, I bring you good news of great joy, which shall be for all the people!
11.For today, in the city of David, a Savior is born unto you, who is Messiah and Lord!”
Mary’s virginity presented God with no more an obstacle than did Sarah’s age or Hannah’s infertility. After all, John the Baptist declared that God was able to raise up children even from stones (Mt. 3:9). Of course, the angels knew this before John said it, for they had witnessed what God did in the valley of dry bones (Ezek. 37:1–10). So, to them, Mary being both a virgin and a mother was only a sign, the special sign that God had told Israel to look for (Isa. 7:14).
What the angels thought the Messiah was going to do is unknown, but they certainly were not rejoicing because they knew what God had in mind; that was a secret He kept from everyone. They may have been thinking what both Satan and Jesus’ disciples would later think, namely, that Jesus was anointed to rule the world and to “re-establish the kingdom of Israel” (Acts 1:6). They had no idea that God had a Son before Mary did; nothing about Jesus’ miraculous birth made that obvious. The birth of Jesus, miraculous as it was, was only that – miraculous. It revealed nothing about the existence of God’s Son. In the eyes of Satan and all others in heaven, Jesus’ birth was only one of a number of miraculous births they had seen, this one with the added element of the mother’s virginity, which served only as a sign that this child was the Messiah.
God’s Lamb, Not Joseph’s
God had to be the actual Father of the one He would sacrifice for the sins of the world because it would have been unjust for Him to sacrifice someone else’s son. According to the law that God gave to Israel, whatever was offered in sacrifice had to belong to the person who was offering it. If you took your neighbor’s lamb to make a sacrifice for sin, you were not forgiven; you were even more guilty than before because you had stolen the lamb. In creating a son for Himself in Mary’s womb, God was showing love to every father on earth by leaving their sons alone. The virgin birth assured that Jesus was God’s sacrifice for sin, not Joseph’s. And that is why the Spirit moved John the Baptist to exclaim, “Behold! The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29).
King David understood this principle. That is why he refused Araunah’s generous offer when the desperate king needed animals for sacrifice in order to stop a plague:
21.Araunah said, “Why has my master the king come to his servant?” And David said, “To buy this threshing floor from you, to build an altar unto the Lord so that the plague may be stayed from the people.”
22.And Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up whatever he wants. Look, here are the oxen for a burnt offering. And for the wood, here are threshing sledges and the instruments for the oxen.
23.All these, O king, does Araunah give to the king.” And then Araunah said to the king, “May the Lord your God accept you!”
24.But the king said to Araunah, “No. I must buy it from you for a price. I will not offer to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” So, David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.
David knew that if he did not own those oxen when he offered them, then God would refuse the sacrifice, and the plague would continue.
Another requirement of the law was that the owner of the sacrificial animal was the one who had to slay it. God knew man. He knew that if a man fell on hard times, he might well regret the sacrifices and offerings he had brought to God in the past. And if the priest had been the one who killed a man’s animals, that man could become bitter against the priest. God’s law protected the priests by requiring each man to kill his own animal. Only after that did the priests’ work begin, the priests being the only ones anointed to lay the slaughtered animals upon God’s altar for sacrifice.
4.He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted for him to make atonement for him.
5a.And he shall kill the bullock before the Lord. Then the sons of Aaron, the priests, will bring the blood near.
Those who crucified Jesus were not struck dead by God because God was the One killing His Lamb (Isa. 53:10). Satan and wicked men were only doing what the Lamb’s owner had determined should be done (Acts 4:28). It was because Jesus knew who was really killing him that he did not plead with the Roman soldiers to spare him the agony of crucifixion. Instead, he pleaded with his Father:
32.And they came to a parcel of land which was called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go pray.”
33.But he took Peter, James, and John with him, and he began to feel overwhelmed and distressed.
34.And he said to them, “My soul is grieved to death. Stay here and watch.”
35.Then, going on a little farther, he fell to the ground and began praying that, if it were possible, the hour would pass from him.
36.And he said, “Abba (that is, Father), all things are possible with you. Take this cup away from me! Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will.”
When Jesus ended his prayer that night, he told his disciples that what he was about to suffer was the cup his Father had given him to drink (Jn. 18:11). Even on the cross, Jesus remembered that the ones torturing him were ignorant of what God was doing, and therefore, they were also ignorant of what they were doing (Lk. 23:34). According to the pattern prescribed by the law, then, God voluntarily “gave His only begotten Son so that all who believe in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
The Owner, Willingly
Another of the law’s basic requirements for sacrifices, to make them acceptable to God, is that they had to be willingly offered.
Leviticus 1 (cp. Lev. 19:5; 22:29)
3.If his offering be a burnt sacrifice from the herd, … he shall bring it to the door of the tent of meeting, and of his own will, he shall offer it before the Lord.
If Jesus had belonged to Joseph, it is very unlikely that Joseph would have willingly offered him up as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. Besides the fact that no man on earth would even have believed such a thing possible, anyone in Israel familiar with the law, as Joseph no doubt was, knew that God abhorred human sacrifice. Not only did God strictly forbid that cruel practice, but He even threatened with damnation anyone who failed to kill a man found sacrificing a human (Lev. 20:2–5). God hid much in Old Testament time, but He did not hide His profound grief and indignation when Israel began sacrificing their children to bloodthirsty Gentile gods:
Jeremiah 19 (cp. Jer. 32:33–35)
4.They have forsaken me, and have estranged this place from me. They have burned incense in it to other gods, whom neither they, nor their fathers, nor the kings of Judah have known, and they have filled this place with the blood of innocents.
5.They have also built the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire as burnt offerings for Baal, which I did not command, and did not speak, nor did it come into my mind!
Who in Israel could have believed that anybody’s son could be an acceptable sacrifice for sin when the prophets had made it clear that human sacrifice was an abomination to God? Certainly not a good man like Joseph. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, but only at God’s command, and even at that, it was not a sacrifice for sin. In the end, God would not allow even that kind of human sacrifice. It was only a test of Abraham’s faith. God alone had a Son worthy to be sacrificed for man’s sin.
No sane father on earth would have believed that he could sacrifice his son to atone for the sins of everyone on earth, including all “sins that are past” (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 9:15). Paul said that it was all but impossible to find someone willing to die even for good people (Rom. 5:7), much less an entire world of sinners. But even if a father were found who believed that he could offer his son as a sacrifice for the world’s sins, he certainly would not have voluntarily offered up his only son, especially a dutiful and wise son like Jesus (Lk. 2:40), especially if that son trusted him completely and was devoted to him.
The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness,
and he was there in the wilderness, tempted forty days by Satan.
Nothing Had Changed
To say, as Paul did, that Jesus was born under the law (Gal. 4:4) is to say that when Jesus was born, the law of Moses was still in effect. And decades later, at the time of Jesus’ baptism, nothing about the law had changed. Nothing about Satan had changed, either. He was still one of the sons of God who stood in God’s presence (all of them without knowledge of the Son), he was still the fierce Prosecutor of Moses’ law, and he still did not know that God saw him as evil. Nor did he know that God, through Jesus, would soon redeem mankind from sin.
In the Temptation, Satan was on a mission from God, and he did his duty in the wilderness with Jesus as diligently as he had always done his duty. God could have chosen any of His heavenly servants to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, but as always, He chose the one with the qualifications and disposition fitted to the task, and Satan was perfectly equipped for this one. He had the wisdom, the power, and the ambition fitting to the assignment.
All that Satan and the angels could have known was that God had sent him to earth on another important mission, this one dealing with the long-awaited Messiah. No human knew even that much. While Jesus was being tempted, everyone on earth went about life as usual in fields and in towns, unaware of the extraordinary event taking place in the Judean wilderness. Yet, the Temptation was a monumental event in salvation history, one deserving close examination, not only to show its importance, but also to dispel wrong ideas about it.
The Bible offers no evidence that anyone on earth knew that the wilderness Temptation took place until after the life of God was shared with men on the day of Pentecost. More significantly, however, not an iota of scriptural evidence suggests that anyone in heaven, including Satan, knew that God’s purpose for sending Satan to earth was to tempt Jesus. God did not reveal His purposes to Satan. He revealed them to those He blessed with His kind of life. It is a tribute to God’s fathomless wisdom that Satan thought he was tempting Job when he was not and that he did not know he was tempting Jesus when he did.
When God sent Satan from heaven to the Judean wilderness, Satan could only have known what God told him about his mission. And God would not have explained to Satan that he was sending him to earth to meet with a new kind of man or that through that man, a new and eternal covenant would be established. To explain those things, God would have had to reveal the existence of His Son, and it was not time for that yet. Satan and the angels knew more about spiritual things than humans knew because humans were created “a little lower” than they (Ps. 8:5; Heb. 2:7), but they did not know the Son of God, who was created a little lower than no one except the Father who created him. Only if we keep in mind the universal spiritual darkness of the time can we see Jesus’ Temptation as the astonishing event that it was. Otherwise, the Temptation is reduced in our minds to nothing but an attack on the good guy, Jesus, by the bad guy, Satan. But it was not an attack at all.
Designed by God
Satan did not trick God’s Son into going into the wilderness. Nor did he ambush him once he was there. Instead, “Jesus was led up into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tested by the Accuser” (Mt. 4:1; cp. Lk. 4:1–2). Or as Mark, in typically blunt fashion, said it, “The Spirit drove him out into the wilderness” (Mk. 1:12). So, God sent His Son out into the wilderness to meet Satan, and at the same time, He sent Satan to the wilderness to meet His Son. God was in command of them both. They both were servants of God who had come down from heaven, and both were sent into that wilderness. Each one was obeying the command of God, but only one of them was good. The other was cursed and did not know it, and he could not know it because he did not have God’s kind of life.
God determined everything about the Temptation, including when it would take place. When Mary’s son came to the Jordan to be baptized by John, he was about thirty years old (Lk. 3:23), and at no time during those thirty years had God sent Jesus anywhere to meet with Satan, and with good reason. If Mary’s son had gone out to meet Satan in the wilderness before God’s Son came into his temple, he would have been overcome, for human nature is powerless to resist such mighty temptations, and a human nature is all that Mary’s son had. The Temptation took place when it did because the Temptation was for God’s Son, not Mary’s, and God’s Son had just arrived on earth. Moreover, the Temptation took place immediately after God’s Son came to earth because the first order of business for the Son, once he was here, was to “bring into subjection” the body of flesh in which he now dwelt. With the Temptation, the Father was providing the Son the perfect opportunity to become absolute master over his newly acquired body of flesh.
Nothing bad was happening to God’s Son in the Temptation! God is good, and His purposes are “holy, and just, and good”, regardless of whom He uses to accomplish them. As Preacher Clark often pointed out, God used both righteous Moses and wicked Pharaoh to get the Israelites out of Egypt, one to pull and the other to push. God chose that particular Pharaoh and raised him up to accomplish His good purpose (Ex. 9:16), and Pharaoh’s wickedness did not make God’s purpose bad. Likewise, the fact that God used wicked Satan to tempt holy Jesus does not mean that something evil was taking place. When did God ever use Satan for an evil purpose? On the contrary, Jesus’ Temptation was a holy event designed by God for His Son, who at that time was the only creature in a fleshly body who had the kind of life that could overcome it.
Again, I am not saying that Satan was not evil. He most certainly was, and still is. I am merely saying that at that time, Satan had not yet been exposed as evil, that he was still doing God service, and that he did not understand God’s hidden purpose for sending him to meet Jesus in the wilderness. When Satan saw Jesus walking out into the wilderness, all he saw was the man who had come from Nazareth to be baptized by John. Satan met him in the wilderness. He spoke with him. He even picked Jesus up and carried him places (to the pinnacle of the temple and onto a high mountain), but Satan did not know this new man because, first of all, he was ignorant of the Son of God, and secondly, he could not see past the flesh, where the Son now dwelt. When Satan looked into Jesus’ eyes in the wilderness, he had no idea who was now looking back at him. Seeing nobody but Mary’s son, he thought he was dealing with nobody but Mary’s son. Satan was confident he knew God and His truth, but he was never farther from the truth than that day in the wilderness when he was looking at Truth himself, in the face of Jesus Christ.
“All That Is in the World”
If Satan had known the Son, he could not possibly have said and done what he did to him in the wilderness, for had he known the Son, he would have known that the Son was the one through whom God “made the worlds” (Heb. 1:2). And if Satan had known that, he would not have been so foolish as to make any suggestions to the Son, much less offer to make him ruler over one of the worlds that he had created. That would have been like trying to bribe the owner of a lumberyard by offering him a toothpick. And it is most certain that if Satan had known that he was talking to the one through whom God created everything, “things in the heavens and things on earth, things visible and things invisible” (Col. 1:16), then Satan could not have tried to get him to bow at his feet. The Temptation would not have taken place if Satan had known with whom he was dealing. Satan was being used by God, as God had used him throughout history. He was still God’s servant, speaking only what God had given him to speak, and what God gave Satan to say during the Temptation was supremely wise. It could only have come from God.
Matthew and Luke give us details of the Temptation, and they agree that Satan suggested two things to Jesus and that he made one unheard-of offer. Here is Matthew’s version:
Matthew 4 (Lk. 4:3–13)
3.When the Tempter came to him, he said, “Since you are a son of God, command these stones to be turned into bread.”
4.But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
5.Then the Accuser carried him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple,
6.and he said to him, “Since you are a son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you, and they will bear you up with their hands, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ”
7.Jesus said to him, “It is also written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ ”
8.Again, the Accuser carried him up onto a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory,
9.and he said to him, “All these things will I give you if you fall down and worship me.”
10.Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.’ ”
11.Then the Accuser left him, and immediately, angels came and ministered to him.
If any trial could have overwhelmed God’s Son, the wilderness Temptation would have, for it appealed in an unprecedented manner to the three basic components of human nature, the nature of the flesh which now covered – but did not control – the Son. John told us what these three components are:
16.All that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world.
This is every man’s “world”, and every sin that man has ever committed falls into one of these three categories. If the Son of God, now the man Jesus Christ, would subdue the nature of his flesh – even though God had sent a heavenly messenger to suggest that he yield to it – then the Son would have overcome “the world”. But at the time of the Temptation, Satan certainly did not understand this. Only God did.
In the garden of Eden, Eve gave in to the same three elements of human nature with which Satan confronted Jesus:
6.And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food [desire of the flesh], and that it was a delight to the eyes [desire of the eyes], and a tree to be desired to make one wise [pride of life], she took some of its fruit, and ate it. Then, she also gave some to her husband with her, and he ate.
The Serpent deceived Eve in the garden of Eden, but in the wilderness, Satan was not dealing with Eve. He was dealing with the Son of God.
The World that Jesus Conquered, Part 1
“The Desire of the Flesh”
In the Temptation, the righteousness of God that had been hidden since the foundation of the world was given visible expression by the Son. That new kind of righteousness was strange to Satan, and after Jesus left the wilderness and began preaching, that kind of righteousness seemed so strange to people that many of them concluded that Jesus was cursed by God (Isa. 53:4).
On the other hand, in spite of how obvious it may be to us on this side of Pentecost, no one in heaven or on earth would have seen any unrighteousness in what Satan said or did during the Temptation. After all, the Almighty sent Satan to do what he did; so, how could anyone have thought that Satan was doing evil? On the contrary, under the circumstances, Satan and everyone else would have considered it sinful for him not to do it! But even without knowing that God sent him, no one would have seen evil in what Satan said and did.
Firstly, where was the evil in encouraging Jesus to eat if he was hungry? In a deserted place, with a man who had the power to do so, even righteous people would have thought it was a good idea for Jesus to make himself some food from the material at hand: stones. Both Satan and Jesus knew that God told the Israelites that they were free to eat what they wanted to eat when they were hungry (Dt. 12:15). Besides that, anyone might have thought, What kind of God would want the Messiah to starve?
What Satan did not know was that the Son was humbly waiting for his Father’s “still, small voice” to let him know it was time to eat. It is God’s kind of righteousness to be led by the Spirit. That is why the Son refused to be led by his flesh’s craving for food or by Satan’s suggestion that he do so. And in choosing his Father’s will concerning food, even after weeks without eating, the Son overcame the part of the Temptation dealing with “the desire of the flesh”.
The World that Jesus Conquered, Part 2
“The Pride of Life”
Those at that time who loved God and Jesus would have thought Satan’s next suggestion was an especially good one. Only those who hated Jesus would have disapproved of it, for Satan told Jesus how he might prove to Israel that he was the Messiah. Satan suggested that Jesus hurl himself from the pinnacle of the temple so that God’s people would see him miraculously escape harm, and believe in him. Satan reminded Jesus of God’s promise to appoint angels to watch over him and to hold him up if he so much as tripped (Ps. 91:12), and if the angels would catch Jesus if he tripped, they would certainly catch him if he was falling from a tall building. Such a public, miraculous escape from death would convince the Jews that Jesus was their Messiah, Satan thought, and that would be a good thing – would it not? But the Spirit within Jesus would not yield to his flesh’s desire for recognition, nor yield to Satan’s suggestion that he seek it. Jesus chose again to wait for his Father’s direction, this time concerning when and how to make himself known. That is the righteousness of God. It chooses the will of God over all things of earth, even those that are most desirable to the flesh.
The third element of the world that Jesus conquered during the Temptation, “the desire of the eyes”, will be examined in detail shortly. Before that, we must consider what was happening inside Jesus during his Temptation.
A New Kind of Warfare
Satan was no challenge for Jesus; but then, Satan did not come to the wilderness to be a challenge to Jesus. Contrary to how the Temptation is usually depicted, there was no contest, no battle in the wilderness between Jesus and Satan, and neither of them looked at their meeting that way. By God’s design, and unknown to Satan, the battle was entirely within Jesus himself. It was the battle Paul described as the flesh desiring what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit desiring what is contrary to the flesh (Gal. 5:17). According to Jesus, all of man’s sins come from the human heart (Mk. 7:18–23). James agreed, saying that if anyone goes astray, it is only that he has been drawn away by his own lust (Jas. 1:14). A man can sit in his chair at home and overcome the world, or he can sit in his chair and commit every sin that exists. Both righteousness and wickedness are altogether matters of the heart, and Jesus labored to communicate that truth:
27.You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery,”
28.but I say to you that every man who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
God’s purpose for His Son was not that he overcome Satan or anything else outside his body, but that he overcome the “world” of his sinful human nature. Nothing outside the Son’s fleshly body was ever a challenge for him. Nor is anything outside our bodies a challenge for us. As with Jesus, if we choose the way of God’s righteousness, then we have won the battle with our flesh and have overcome our world. A man who brings himself to perfect submission to the will of God is master of his entire world. Jesus did this first, and he did it in the wilderness by choosing to be led by the Spirit instead of by his flesh. This can hardly be overemphasized: Jesus was our example because he overcame the world by the same means that he made available to us – the power of the life of God.
If Jesus overcame the world because he had access to power which is not available to us, that is, if Jesus overcame the world by virtue of who he was rather than by the power of the life God gave him, then he is no example for anybody. But if he overcame the world because he was filled with God’s kind of life and walked in that life, then when Jesus made God’s life available to us, he gave us the same power to overcome the world that his Father had given him. Paul strongly emphasized the need and the benefit of walking in the strength of God’s kind of life:
16.Now I say, walk in the Spirit and you will not carry out fleshly desire.
2.The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.
When Jesus overcame his flesh, he had overcome “all that is in the world” – the desire of his flesh, the desire of his eyes, and the pride that dwelt in his newly acquired human body. Several years later, when Jesus told his disciples that he had overcome the world (Jn. 16:33b), this was the world he was talking about. Moreover, in Revelation, he warned all seven of the pastors to whom he spoke that God’s promises will be given only to those who overcome the world as he did (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26–28; 3:5, 12, 21).
In his wilderness trial, the Son of God was “tempted in every way that we are,” and yet, he did not sin (Heb. 4:15). He exited the wilderness as conqueror of the whole world because he had mastered himself. He had won the battle between his holy nature and the nature of the body in which he now lived. Jesus Christ was the first person ever to engage in this new kind of warfare, the warfare of the flesh against the Spirit within it, and he won the battle by following the Spirit. Once he had done that, he “returned in the power of the Spirit” to begin his work of redeeming mankind (Lk. 4:14).
Paul called the nature of our flesh the “old man” (Rom. 6:6; Eph. 4:22), and he warned us that our “old man” cannot please God (Rom. 8:7–8). He also exhorted us to “put on the new man, who in God’s likeness is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:24). Only death completely ends this warfare between the old man and the new man, for the flesh can never be other than what it is, but we can win the daily battle. One old preacher told me that the problem with most of God’s people is that they don’t kill the old man; they just drink enough of the Spirit to make him sick. Those who are established in the faith, however, obey Paul’s exhortation to crucify the old man and then let him die, every day (1Cor. 15:31; Gal. 2:19–20). And Paul explained why it is essential that we do that:
13.If you [believers] live after the flesh, you shall die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you shall live.
We cannot escape the dominion of our sinful nature except by partaking of God’s nature and walking in His righteousness. The Son of God came from heaven to make that possible for us. What a precious opportunity is ours in Christ, to overcome the world as he did, that is, to have within us the power to subdue our nature and to walk with God and His Son in the newness of God’s kind of life (Rom. 6:4).
The World that Jesus Conquered, Part 3
“The Desire of the Eyes”
To complete the mission on which God had sent him, Satan made an offer to Jesus that appealed powerfully to this last of the three components of human nature. He took Jesus to a very high mountain, showed him the spectacular glories of the world’s kingdoms, and then offered it all to him. And again, we should ask, where was the evil in offering to make Jesus ruler of the world? Had not the prophets repeatedly proclaimed that God would give the Messiah rule over the nations (Ps. 72:11; Isa. 2:2; Jer. 3:17)?  At one point during Jesus’ ministry, a multitude in Galilee decided to take Jesus by force and make him king (Jn. 6:14–15). And after the resurrection, but before Jesus’ ascension back to heaven, the disciples were expecting him to lead a rebellion against their Roman overlords and restore Israel’s past glory (Acts 1:6). They all, disciples and multitude, would have deemed Satan’s offer to be an exceptionally good one, sent from God. They would not have been able to conceive of a reason for Jesus to refuse Satan’s amazing offer. But Jesus did, for he was being led by his Father’s Spirit, and the Spirit was not leading him that way.
An important but little considered factor in the Temptation is that if what Jesus was tempted with was not real, then there was no real Temptation. Jesus really could have turned stones into food, the angels really would have rescued him if he had thrown himself off the pinnacle of the temple, and Satan really could have given Jesus authority over all the kingdoms of earth. An understanding of Satan’s offer to make Jesus King of the world, and Jesus’ refusal of that offer, is critical to a right perspective of Jesus’ ministry, suffering, and resurrection, for this element of the Temptation set the stage for almost everything that followed in the Gospel story.
Princes over the Nations
Once, Daniel prayed and sought God three weeks before he received his answer. When his answer came, it came by the hand of a resplendent heavenly being. This messenger told Daniel that when Daniel had first begun praying, his prayer had been heard. Then he said that a spirit, which he identified as “the prince of the kingdom of Persia”, had delayed his arrival, adding that he was able to complete his journey only because the archangel Michael had come to his aid. This is the Bible’s first mention of Michael, and it revealed to Daniel, and to us, that Michael is “one of the chief princes” among the angels. Here is the story:
2.In those days, I, Daniel, was mourning for three full weeks.
3.I ate no delicacies, nor did flesh or wine come into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all until three full weeks were completed.
4.And on the twenty-fourth day of the first month, I was on the bank of the great river, that is, the Hiddekel.
5.And I lifted up my eyes and looked, and behold, a man clothed in linen, and whose waist was girded with gold of Uphaz.
6.His body was like jasper, and his face looked like lightning, and his eyes, like flaming torches, and his arms and feet were like the gleam of polished bronze, and the sound of his words was like the sound of a multitude.
12.Then he said to me, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. From the first day you set your heart to understand and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard. And I have come because of your words.
13.The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia.” 
We all know that the nations of earth have governments, but the government of nations includes more than meets the eye, for there are invisible powers over them as well as powers that we can see, as this episode from the book of Daniel shows. No human prince could have delayed a divine messenger from coming to Daniel as did the “prince of the kingdom of Persia”. That prince was a spiritual being who had authority over the Persian Empire, including the authority, which he obviously used in the case of Daniel’s visitor, to refuse admission into his realm, where Daniel was. Later in Daniel 10, the messenger informed Daniel that he was leaving to do battle again with the prince of Persia, perhaps in an effort to escape that prince’s territory and return to his place. He also informed Daniel that when he was gone, “the prince of Greece” would come (Dan. 10:20b), and lastly, he revealed to Daniel that the invisible prince over the Jewish nation was named Michael (Dan. 10:21).
Levels of Authority
In the Temptation, Jesus did not dispute Satan’s claim to have authority over the nations because he knew that Satan is the god of this world. Three times, Jesus referred to Satan as ruler of the world, not merely the prince of one nation (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). He also said that Satan has angels under him (Mt. 25:41), which would make those angels “the authorities, the powers, and the dark world-rulers” Paul mentioned in Ephesians 6:12. Under Satan, those angels would, in turn, have lesser angels under them, ruling over smaller areas, such as regions, states, counties, and towns. Jesus described this invisible government under Satan as well-organized (Mt. 12:25–26).
There are levels of authority among both angels and men, and even among animal groups. Among men, for example, there are dukes and bishops, and then there are archdukes and archbishops who rule over them. Similarly, there are angels, and then there are archangels. Moreover, rulers among a higher group of beings have the power to rule over those in a lower group. Archangels, for example, rule over humans as well as other angels, and humans rule over animals as well as other humans. It is never the other way around. Even the highest of animals do not rule over the lowest of men, and even the highest of humans do not rule over the lowest of angels.
Through the influence of their spirits, angels “govern” human kingdoms, as well as sub-groups such as cities (Ezek. 9:1). Influence is a reality in every sphere of existence, and the influence of a powerful spiritual being who has been given authority over a certain region of the earth is significant and pervasive in that region. We all know by experience that our behavior is influenced, either for good and for evil, by the spirits around us. Those spirits may be human or otherwise. That is one reason Solomon warned his son that, “He who walks with wise men becomes wise, but a companion of fools shall suffer harm” (Prov. 13:20). It is the same with nations. The character of a particular ruling angel influences the portion of earth over which he rules.
Michael Stands Alone in Satan’s Realm
The heavenly visitor’s comment to Daniel that none of the spiritual princes of the nations were standing for the truth except Michael, the prince of Israel, makes biblical sense. Israel has always stood alone in a world of Gentiles, and Michael stands alone in a realm of “dark world-rulers of this age, and with the evil spirits among heavenly beings” (Eph. 6:12). At the close of this age, all the spiritual princes of earth will unite their nations behind Satan’s greatest servant in history in order to destroy Michael’s nation (Zech. 14:2; Rev. 16:13–16). An angel also told Daniel that in those last-day events, Michael will play a major role, acting as “the great prince who stands up for the children of your people” (Dan. 12:1).
Michael was at constant odds with Satan, the god of this world under whom Michael served. Every other spiritual prince followed Satan’s lead, many of them princes over nations far larger and more powerful than Michael’s tiny Israel. Nevertheless, Michael stood firm, and still stands for what is right, alone among all the world’s spiritual princes. No doubt, Satan hated him for it, and all the more so after God gave Michael and his angels a key role in casting Satan and his angels out of heaven after the Son ascended:
7.And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels warring against the dragon, and the dragon waging war, and his angels.
8.But the dragon did not prevail, neither was there place found for him in heaven any longer.
9.And the great dragon was also cast out, the ancient serpent, who is called the Accuser, and Satan, who deceives the entire world. He was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
In this covenant, Michael still occupies his position as Israel’s prince, just as Satan still occupies his position as god of this world. The fact that Michael is one of the archangels ruling the nations under Satan should not cause us a theological problem. For Michael to operate within Satan’s realm does not pollute Michael any more than it pollutes God’s children to submit to human rulers, as the apostles exhorted them to do, and they are holier creatures than Michael. Peter gave the following exhortation to the saints, who, being God’s own sons and daughters, are far superior to those who rule over them in this world:
13.Be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king, as supreme,
14.or to governors, as those sent by him for the punishment of those who do evil and for the praise of those who do good.
17.Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
18.Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the unjust.
Every righteous man and woman in history has submitted to the authorities that were over them in this world. Daniel and his three friends refused to obey the king only on the rare occasions when the king’s commandment contradicted God’s. They always obeyed the “higher power”, and God was highest of all. The stories about those occasions when they could not obey the king make for wonderful Bible stories, but we must understand that Daniel and his friends did not live as rebels against the king; at all other times, they willingly bowed before him and obeyed his every command. Even Jesus, while in the flesh, acknowledged and submitted to wicked Pilate’s God-given authority over him on this earth:
9.[Pilate] returned into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus did not give him an answer.
10.Therefore, Pilate said to him, “You do not speak to me? Do you not understand that I have authority to crucify you, and I have authority to release you?”
11.Jesus answered, “You have no authority over me at all, other than what has been given to you from above. This is why the man who turned me over to you has the greater sin.”
While on earth, Jesus submitted to earthly powers, such as Pilate, because he understood that those powers were under Satan and that Satan had been given authority over this world by God. Paul was adamant that believers should follow Jesus’ example and submit to earthly rulers, and he warned them that rebellion against earthly authorities could cost them their souls:
1.Let every soul be subject to the higher powers, for there is no power but of God; the powers that exist are ordained by God.
2.Therefore, he who opposes the power is resisting the ordinance of God, and they who resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
4.For he is the minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is a minister of God, an avenger to execute wrath upon the one who does evil.
5.Wherefore, it is necessary to be subject, not just because of wrath, but also for conscience sake.
Please notice what Paul tells the saints about earthly political powers:
Being a ruler of this earth does not make one holy, nor does it mean that the ruler belongs to God in the sense of belonging to His family. But it does mean that he is God’s minister, God’s servant, to fulfill God’s will on earth, for Paul clearly says no ruling power exists except that which God has raised up. The fact that earthly rulers are sometimes very wicked does not mean that God did not ordain them to be rulers, as is seen in His words to Pharaoh, the wicked ruler of Egypt: “For this purpose have I raised you up, to make you see my power, and so that my name is declared in all the earth” (Ex. 9:16).
As long as we are in this world, and as long as Satan is the god of it, we are to submit to his legitimate authority. Satan and the world-rulers under him are in their place because God put them there, and rebellion against God’s order is sin. Paul plainly warned us that “for conscience sake”, we must submit to the authorities who rule the earth because God has ordained them to be in those positions. It is impossible to have fellowship with God and Christ if we do not acknowledge Satan’s God-given authority and submit to it as long as (1) we live in this world, over which Satan reigns, and (2) those who rule the earth under him do not command us to disobey God. For example, when the Sanhedrin commanded the apostles to preach no more in Jesus’ name, Peter humbly and boldly replied, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29; 4:18–19).
Saints in this covenant are not to meddle in Satan’s business. They are not to “entangle” themselves in earthly political affairs or military conflicts. All such worldly matters are in Satan’s hands, and they were put into his hands by God. To make this perfectly clear, we need only to add the name of the god of this world to the previously read scriptures from Romans:
1.Let every soul [on earth] be subject to the higher powers [under Satan], for there is no power but of God; the powers [under Satan] that exist are ordained by God.
2.Therefore, he who opposes the [earthly] power [of Satan] is resisting the ordinance of God, and they who resist will receive to themselves damnation.
4.For he [Satan] is the minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is a minister of God, an avenger to execute wrath upon the one who does evil.
5.Wherefore, it is necessary to be subject [to the earthly authority of Satan], not just because of wrath, but also for conscience sake.
Neither Jesus nor the apostles gave instructions to believers on how to exercise political power because the body of Christ is not an earthly nation. Wise believers’ refusal to involve themselves in social movements or to become embroiled in political and military conflicts is one reason they have always been misunderstood and persecuted. All such activity is carnal; it is “in the flesh”, and it belongs not to the kingdom of God but to the world over which Satan is god.
Paul exhorted the saints to pray for the earthly authorities (1Tim. 2:1–2) because he knew that those authorities were ordained of God. Likewise, Michael knew, and still knows, that God ordained Satan to be the god of this world and to rule over the spiritual princes of the nations. And because God has not changed that order, Michael still conducts his business for Israel under Satan’s authority, just as wise saints conduct their worldly business under the authorities that God has established over them, obedient to them in all things – up to the point that their commands contradict the expressed will of God.
The World that Jesus Will Conquer
It is the privilege of the nation of God’s saints to be out from under the rule of any of Satan’s angels. Those who are born of God are born as citizens of a heavenly country and are free to live according to “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus”, not according to the spirit that controls their part of the earth. Jesus said that the children of God are free even from the obligation to pay taxes to earthly governments, although for the sake of others, it is good for them to do so:
25.When Peter came into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, “Simon, what do you think? From whom do kings of the earth take customs or poll-tax? From their children or from strangers?”
26.Peter said to him, “From strangers.” Jesus said to him, “Well then, the children are free.
27.But lest we be a stumbling block to them, go to the sea, cast a hook, and take the first fish that comes up, and when you have opened its mouth, you will find a stater; take that and give it to them for me and you.”
We who are God’s children, being citizens of a heavenly country, are not subject to earthly laws. However, we are subject to the law of God, who loves mankind and does not want us to be a stumbling block to them. Ours is a dangerous liberty. It is true that we are to “stand fast” in the extraordinary liberty we have in Christ (Gal. 5:1), but within that liberty, we must live in a way that causes others to speak well of our God (Mt. 5:16). If we do not walk uprightly or use our liberty for good, we can provoke people to speak evil of God (Rom. 2:24; 2Sam. 12:14). Paul gave this exhortation to the Galatian saints:
13.You were called to liberty, brothers, only do not use that liberty as a pretext for the flesh; instead, through love, live as slaves to one another.
14.For the entire law is summed up in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Paul cared nothing for liberty if by misusing it, he damaged souls. He saw himself as liberated from sin so that he might humble himself to love others as Christ did. He warned the saints in Corinth,
9.Beware, lest this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to the weak.
10.For if someone should see you who has knowledge eating in the temple of an idol, will not the conscience of that weak one be emboldened to eat things offered to idols?
11.Then, will not the weak brother, for whom Christ died, be destroyed by your knowledge?
12.In sinning thus against the brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.
For God’s children, “the man, Jesus Christ” is the only mediator between them and God (1Tim. 2:5), but the world is still under the power of Satan and his angels, and people of this earth have no option, short of starting a revolution, but to obey them. However, God “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). God’s children are already “kings and priests” of God (Rev. 5:10), but the world does not recognize them as such. Only when Jesus returns will the children of God be made manifest as kings and priests because they will openly reign over the earth with Jesus (Rev. 20:4). Paul told the saints in Corinth that when Christ returns, the saints of God will be given authority, each according to his ability (Lk. 19:12–26), to judge both the world and angels (1Cor. 6:2–3). I suppose that men like Paul, Daniel, and Job will be given king-like authority over large portions of the earth. But all of God’s children are “heirs together with Christ” (Rom. 8:17), and the angels are their servants (Heb. 1:14).
After the thousand-year reign, God will destroy this heaven and earth (Isa. 65:17; Rev. 21:1), and He will provide for His children “new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2Pet. 3:13). On that happy new earth, there will be a government of saints reigning over other saints (Rev. 21:24), just as some saints rule over other saints now in the body of Christ (Heb. 13:7, 17, 24). May God grant us the grace to grow in the knowledge of God so that we might be found worthy to reign with Christ when that day comes!
But for now, let’s go back to the Temptation.
Satan’s Big Chance
What Satan offered Jesus was his position as god of this world, but that offer would have been made only at the command of God. Satan would never have done such a thing on his own. But what could Satan have thought God’s purpose was for having him do that? To Satan’s mind, the only reasonable explanation was that the time had at last come when God would promote him to the position he had desired for so long:
13.You have said in your heart, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the Mountain of Assembly, on the far north side.
14.I will ascend above the heights of the clouds. I will be like the Most High.”
What other reason could there be, Satan must have thought, for God to send him to offer Jesus his position as god of this world except that Jesus, the Messiah, was to fill a position that would soon be vacant? Far from coming to earth to attack Jesus, Satan had come to elevate Jesus to the exalted position of god of this world in his stead, and he would have been pleased to do so if Jesus’ promotion meant an even greater promotion for him. Satan was happy for God to exalt Jesus to take his place, so long as God exalted him to reign with God over all creation. In that case, even if Satan had been antagonistic toward Jesus before the Temptation, thoughts of Jesus’ promotion would have given him pleasure.
Blind to the Father’s purpose, how proud Satan must have been to be playing a role in fulfilling the prophecies about the Messiah! How eager he must have been to see Jesus use his power to turn stones into bread and to leap to what men would think was certain death, but be miraculously rescued! Satan must have been excited to show Jesus the kingdoms of earth that he was about to turn over to him. And oh, the anticipation Satan must have felt as the moment drew near for Jesus to signify his acceptance of the position by kneeling before his new master! Satan had worked and waited a long time for this moment, and now, at last (he thought), the Dispensation of Satan was at hand!
Both God and Satan were eager to set in motion the events that were about to transpire, but for very different reasons – God, because He was about to reveal His beloved Son and to bestow upon him great glory, and Satan, because of the glory he thought God was about to bestow upon him. Satan was thrilled. God was patient.
The Act of Bowing
Biblical examples abound of both righteous and unrighteous people bowing before creatures other than God. Bowing as a sign of respect to rulers and others was a common cultural practice, acceptable to both God and men. So, the act of bowing before someone other than God was not in itself sinful. On the contrary, in many cases it was sinful not to bow.
Satan came to the wilderness as God’s representative, not as a rebel. In suggesting that Jesus bow to him, Satan was not expecting Jesus to bow to him instead of God but to bow to him under God as an acknowledgment of Satan’s new position in God’s kingdom. In Satan’s mind, the Messiah’s stepping into the role of god of this world was the only thing lacking in God’s plan to elevate Satan to reign with Him in glory, directly under God in the universal chain of command. If Jesus bowed, it would have meant that he accepted the position and acknowledged Satan as the higher authority.
Paul taught that the ancient scriptures were “written for our learning” (Rom. 15:4). The Old Testament, he said, provided “shadows” of New Testament events (Col. 2:16–17). One Old Testament shadow of Jesus’ refusal to bow to Satan is found in the book of Esther. Esther’s cousin and guardian, Mordecai, refused to bow before Haman, who was second only to the Persian King Ahasuerus (Esth. 3:1–5). Mordecai’s reason for refusing to bow to Haman is not given in the book of Esther, but it was a good one. Mordecai refused to bow to Haman because he knew what God thought about Haman, and since Mordecai knew what God thought about Haman, Mordecai knew Haman better than Haman knew himself. Haman was an Amalekite (in the book of Esther, called an Agagite), and Mordecai knew that God hated the Amalekites and had sworn that He would fight against them in every generation until He destroyed them (Ex. 17:14–16).
It so provoked Haman that Mordecai would not bow to him that he determined not just to kill Mordecai, but to rid the earth of Mordecai’s whole race, the Jews:
5.And when Haman saw that Mordecai was not bowing or doing him obeisance, Haman was filled with wrath.
6.But it was not enough in his eyes to lay hands on Mordecai alone, for they had denounced Mordecai’s people to him, and Haman set about to exterminate all the Jews, Mordecai’s people, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.
For lowly Mordecai, living as a captive in far away Persia, it required great faith to believe God’s thousand-year-old promise that He would make perpetual war against the Amalekites. Yet, Mordecai had that kind of faith, and out of his faith sprang a righteous disregard for Haman that made Mordecai unwilling to bow to that very powerful, very wicked man.
The reason for the meek Son of God refusal to bow before Satan is not given either, but it is the same reason Mordecai refused to bow before Haman, that is, the Son knew what God thought about Satan. The Son, like Mordecai, was far from his homeland, yet, also like Mordecai, he continued to have great faith in God. On the other hand, Satan, like Haman, was extremely provoked by Jesus not bowing to him, and he also, like Haman, determined to exterminate all the Jews.
It was not a rebellious spirit that kept Jesus from bowing to Satan. Twice during the Temptation, the Son of God humbled himself to allow Satan to transport him out of the wilderness to other places, just as he would later humbly allow wicked men to abuse and crucify him. Every moment, in every situation, the Son’s full attention was given to doing the will of God. Jesus refused to bow before Satan for the same reason he allowed Satan to carry him places; it was what God wanted him to do. The responses of Jesus to Satan in the Temptation calls to mind the faith of Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego, who bowed before the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, in recognition of his God-given authority, but then refused to obey his command to bow to an idol that Nebuchadnezzar had erected (Dan. 3). Both in bowing to Nebuchadnezzar and then in refusing to bow to the image, those three young men were doing the will of God.
God used humble, righteous people in the Old Testament as figures of His Son, without one of them understanding the holy nature of God that the Son would reveal. Jesus was the first to actually demonstrate God’s humble, holy nature among men. He knew and obeyed God; therefore, he knew and obeyed the powers that God had ordained to be over him on this earth. Pilate, Satan, and Israel’s priests and elders all had authority from God that Jesus recognized. Still, they should have been the ones bowing before God’s Son, but none of them knew who it was who was standing before them.
When Did the Son Know?
Everything the Son is, the Father was first. Everything he knows, the Father knew first. The Son freely admitted that he could do nothing without the Father (Jn. 5:19), and the concomitant to that is that the Son can know nothing without the Father. Everything the Son taught to men was first taught to him by God (Jn. 8:28; 12:49), and even before the Son came to earth, he confessed as much through the prophet: “My Master, the Lord, has given me the tongue of the learned, that I might know how to help the weary with a word” (Isa. 50:4a).
The Father’s education of His Son was an ongoing process while the Son was here on earth; Jesus said so: “The Father delights in the Son, and He is showing him everything that He is doing” (Jn. 5:20). The author of Hebrews agreed that the Son was learning while he was among us (Heb. 5:8), and of course, it would have been the One greater than the Son, the only One greater than the Son, who was teaching him.
The Son truly knew God, Pilate, Satan, and everyone else, and that was true the entire time he walked among us. But we have seen that the Father conceals and reveals all truth and that until He reveals a thing, it remains unknown to everyone. So, the question is this: When did the Father reveal to the Son that the once perfect and upright Satan had become wicked? We know that the Son created Satan (Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:16) and that when he created Satan, he created him perfectly upright (Ezek. 28:15). But did the Father, the Son’s sole source of knowledge, let the Son know about the change in Satan’s heart when it first happened, or did He do so at some other point before He sent the Son down to earth? Could there have been a real temptation if the Son knew that Satan was wicked when he first met with him in the wilderness? Would the Son have cried out through David for Satan to avenge him of Judas (Ps. 109:6) if the Son had known in David’s time that Satan was the one who would inspire Judas to betray him (Lk. 22:3–4)?
Admittedly, it is difficult to imagine the Son of God not knowing that Satan was wicked before he came to earth, but if the story of the Father and the Son teaches us anything, it teaches us that (1) our assumptions are often clouded by wrong ideas and that (2) no one in heaven or earth, including God’s Son, knows anything until God reveals it.
It could certainly be that the Father revealed to the Son that Satan was wicked before He sent the Son to earth, and if He did, then in the Temptation, Jesus was following his Father’s example of not letting Satan know how He saw him. Be that as it may, it is obvious from the preaching Jesus did after the Temptation that at that point he knew very well how wicked Satan was. Perhaps the Father revealed it to him during the Temptation itself, when Satan asked Jesus to bow before him. The Son would have known that no messenger sent from God to earth had ever asked those to whom he was sent to fall down and worship him. Men had fallen down, of course, when angels visited them (Num. 22:31; Josh. 5:14; Judg. 13:20). Ezekiel became so weak that he fell and could not stand back up, even when God told him to (Ezek. 1:28–2:2), and Daniel passed out completely when Gabriel started talking to him (Dan. 8:16–18). In none of these cases, however, did the angel ask men to bow. Those men fell down because they were overcome with fear at the angels’ powerful presence. Even Balaam’s donkey fell down when he saw an angel from the Lord (Num. 22:27). By way of contrast, the Son of God felt no fear at all in Satan’s imposing presence. Terror would have seized any normal human being, but the Son of God was not merely human, and he has never feared or bowed to anyone except the Father, and never will.
Jesus used scriptures when he refused two of Satan’s suggestions. However, when Satan asked him to bow down and worship him in addition to the Father, Jesus shot back a barbed, non-scriptural arrow from the quiver of the Spirit: “Get behind me, Satan!” (Lk. 4:8). Satan must have marveled at the sternness in the voice of Mary’s son. As far as we know, no human had ever spoken to Satan at all, but even if someone had spoken to him, it was not like that.
Satan knew the scriptures well, and knowing that mankind had been created “a little lower than the angels” (Ps. 8:5), he saw the offer for Mary’s son to be made king over the whole earth as generous and appropriate, since he was the Messiah. But the Son of God was not created “a little lower than the angels”. On the contrary, he created the angels … and Satan. He was hidden now within a fleshly body instead of where he had been hidden before, but he was still the Son of God, and Satan still had no power over him whatsoever.
Immediately after the Temptation, Satan departed from Jesus “for a while” (Lk. 4:13). When he left Jesus, he returned to heaven at some point, just as he returned to heaven after being sent to earth on other missions, and when he returned from the wilderness to report to God, he must have felt the way the officers of the chief priests felt after they returned from their failed assignment to arrest Jesus. The priests who had sent the officers asked why they returned empty-handed, and the embarrassed officers could only respond, “Never has a man spoken like this man” (Jn. 7:46). Satan may have even reported to God, “This Messiah is more hardheaded than Job!” We can only imagine what the conversation in heaven was like. Supremely confident of God’s favor, Satan would have had no reason to hide his displeasure at Jesus not bowing to him. God, as usual, would have kept His thoughts to Himself. Satan, as usual, would have assumed that God felt as he did. Perhaps, Satan’s report before the heavenly council contained the statement, “Jesus did not bow to me!” God’s secret thought would have been, You did not bow to my Son!
But God was patient.
God and Satan Agree: Jesus Must Die
Again in the story of Esther, the Persian king asked wicked Haman, “What shall be done for the man whom the king delights to honor?” (Esth. 6:6). Haman, assuming that he was the one in whom the king delighted, suggested several rare honors, which the king gladly and quickly bestowed – upon Mordecai! whom Haman hated because Mordecai refused to bow to him. On occasion, as we saw in Chapter 6 (1Kgs. 22:17–23), God would put forth such a question to His heavenly council, and it is easy to imagine God doing so to Satan. “What should be done to him who refuses to bow before the one I have chosen to reign with me?” Stern creature that he is, and assuming that he was the chosen one, Satan might have suggested great suffering for that person and an eternal death of relentless, excruciating pain. If he did, God would have agreed to it, which would have filled Satan with greater pride than ever. He would not have known that God had determined before the world began that all who refused to bow to His Son would be eternally damned in a “Lake of Fire” (Rev. 20:10, 14–15).
In whatever way Satan’s report played out, at its end, all of heaven knew that God’s will was for Jesus to die. If anything, God would have been more insistent than Satan that Jesus must die, and afterward, Satan would have congratulated himself that, once again, his thoughts and God’s were alike! Was there anyone else in all of creation so much like God as he, and so worthy to sit at God’s right hand? Since God had never explained what He had really done to Job, Satan still thought that God had proved him right about Job. And as blessed as Job was by his painful experience, he himself died without understanding what God had really done with him. So, it was still a widely held belief that God would never afflict the righteous with cruel suffering. Even John the Baptist, as great a man of God as he was, began to doubt, after he was thrown into prison, that Jesus was the Messiah (Mt. 11:2–3).
When God sent Satan back to earth to make sure Jesus died, Satan left heaven confident that it would please God for him to carry out the mission of killing the Messiah. God had, of course, planned from the beginning for His Son to die (Acts 4:27–28), but no one even knew that He had a Son, much less that God would send him to earth to suffer and die for sinners.
The prophets had spoken mysteriously about a righteous man who would suffer and die, and after God agreed that Jesus must die, Satan probably realized that those prophecies had been about Jesus. But he would have seen that truth through the prism of his own delusion, and he would have admired God again for having seen centuries ahead that the Messiah would have to die. Moreover, when God made it known to the heavenly council that the Messiah must die, would it not have seemed obvious to them that God did not love Jesus as much as He had loved Job? After all, God strictly commanded Satan not to kill Job.
God had it all under control. The Son’s death was not Satan’s plan. Satan would not have smitten God’s Messiah on his own initiative because he still entertained hopes of being exalted to God’s right hand. And God putting Satan in charge of killing the Messiah would have been seen by the angels as more evidence of the high regard in which the Almighty held that “anointed cherub”. It certainly would not have indicated to anyone in heaven that Satan was evil.
God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with holy Spirit and power,
who went about doing good
and healing all who were oppressed by the Accuser,
for God was with him.
When Satan returned to earth after reporting to God on the Temptation, he found among God’s people many willing accomplices for his mission to get rid of Jesus. Satan knew that Jesus was the Messiah, but many in Israel did not believe it, and their ignorance made them useful to him. Here are a few examples of what Satan found:
Israel’s high priest was even moved by the holy Spirit to speak of the necessity of Jesus’ death:
47.The chief priests and Pharisees, therefore, convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we to do? This man is working many miracles.
48.If we allow him such liberty, everyone will believe on him, and the Romans will come and carry away both our place and our nation.”
49.Then one of them, Caiaphas, the high priest at that time, said to them, “You know nothing at all;
50.neither do you understand that it is better for us that one man should die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
51.But this he did not say of himself, but being high priest at that time, he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation.
Satan and the elders of Israel thought that the Spirit of God was decreeing through the high priest that Jesus must die in order to rescue the nation from destruction by the Romans. What God was actually decreeing was that Jesus had to die in order to rescue Israel and the rest of humanity from sin.
On the last night of Jesus’ life on earth, it appeared that even the most devoted of Jesus’ disciples gave up on him, for “they all forsook him, and fled” (Mk. 14:50). When the last of Jesus’ friends forsook him, it must have seemed to Satan that virtually everybody in Israel had now come to agree with God and with him that Jesus must die. Over the course of Jesus’ ministry, in Satan’s view, Jesus had certainly given everyone ample reason to come to that conclusion, as we will show.
If Satan suspected that Jesus turned down his offer to be King of the world because Jesus coveted the high office that Satan expected to receive, then his suspicion would have been confirmed by statements Jesus made after he left the wilderness and began preaching. To begin with, Jesus openly condemned Satan as a murderer and the father of lies (Jn. 8:44). Such statements had never been made about Satan, and he considered what Jesus was saying about him to be slander. Satan could not have thought anything else. He did not even know that he was evil. How, then, could he think Jesus was right in speaking evil of him?
Jesus also declared these new things about Satan:
All those statements were true, but they were all new revelations, and Satan would not have believed any of them. After all, God, whom Satan had been serving for thousands of years, had never so much as hinted that He felt as Jesus did about him. But that was only because – and Satan did not know this – all wisdom and knowledge of God were hidden in the Son.
The Old Testament provides a shadow of Satan’s misguided suspicion of Jesus, in King Saul’s unfounded suspicion of innocent David:
6.And so it was that when David returned from slaying Goliath the Philistine, as they were coming, the women joyfully came out of all the cities of Israel to meet King Saul with tambourines and three-stringed instruments, singing and dancing.
7.And the women answered one another as they played, and they said, “Saul has slain his thousands, but David, his ten thousands.”
8.And Saul became very angry, for this saying displeased him. And he said, “They ascribed ten thousands to David, but to me, they ascribed thousands! What more can he have but the kingdom?”
9.So, Saul eyed David from that day forward.
Before this, Saul had loved David and had promoted him to high office, but afterward, he came to hate David so much that he attempted to kill him several times (1Sam. 18:10–11; 19:9–10). This is how it appears to have been with Satan toward Jesus. At the time of the Temptation, he was eager to promote Jesus (because of what it would mean for himself), but when Jesus refused Satan’s offer to be god of this world, it would have been natural for Satan to think something like King Saul thought about David. Does this man think that rule over the whole world is not enough honor for him? What more could he want but to sit in my seat beside God and rule with Him? He acts as if he’s the only son God has!
So, from the moment Jesus turned down Satan’s offer to be god of this world, Satan eyed Jesus with the same kind of burning suspicion that King Saul felt toward David. And certain claims Jesus later made only added fuel to the fire. Jesus was innocent of any ungodly ambition, of course. Unlike Satan, who coveted glory, the Son of God “emptied himself ” (Phip. 2:7). But the supremely proud Satan had no knowledge of Jesus’ kind of humility and could not understand that when Jesus spoke of his coming glory, his statements came from a humble, thankful heart. Here are a few provocative statements that Jesus humbly made:
From the beginning of the world, men and angels had been moved by the Spirit of God to declare truth, but this was the first time in history that anyone had spoken the truth who understood what he was saying. What a wonderful feeling it must have been for the Son, after being hidden for millennia, to be permitted to tell others of the Father he loved so much! How liberated he must have felt as he labored to liberate us from our spiritual darkness! And yet, regardless of how plainly Jesus spoke the truth, as long as he walked among men in the flesh, he could not liberate anyone from spiritual darkness. Those who followed Jesus believed him as much as they could, but without God’s kind of life, they could not fully understand anything Jesus told them. Until the Spirit came, the only hope Jesus’ followers had was to keep trusting that whatever Jesus said was true. Some did that; many did not.
Once, a large group of disciples were so offended by Jesus’ teaching that they walked away, never to return. Jesus, undeterred, asked his remaining twelve disciples if they wanted to go with them (Jn. 6:66–67). Peter’s reply to Jesus, “To whom shall we go?” reveals something important about Peter and the other eleven. Peter was as much in the dark about what Jesus had said as were those who walked away, but Peter’s reply reveals that he felt there was no one like Jesus and that he loved what he felt so much that he could not leave the Lord. In other words, Peter was doing what many Christian ministers now tell people never to do. He was “going by his feelings”. And what else could he have done? He was certainly not “going by the Bible”; the disciples who forsook Jesus were doing that, for the Bible forbade Israel to do what Jesus appeared to be telling them they must do to receive eternal life – drink blood (Lev. 7:26–27; 17:10–12)! Here is part of what they heard Jesus say:
53.Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life within you.
54.He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up in the last day.”
“What sane man would teach such a doctrine?” the offended disciples would have asked. But they were not judging God’s truth. God’s truth was judging them. They could no longer stay with Jesus because their spirits were not clean enough to feel the goodness in Jesus’ words. It was not a test of the head but of the heart, and they failed the test. Consequently, on that day, the number of Satan’s accomplices increased.
Jesus and Satan Agreed on Some Things
In spite of the many things Jesus said and did that provoked Satan, there was some common ground between them. They agreed that there was but one God and that He was omniscient, omnipotent, immortal, and good. They also agreed that mankind was pathetically weak and ignorant. As we have seen, Jesus trusted no human confessions of faith (Jn. 2:23–25), not even those of his own disciples (Jn. 6:69–70; 16:29–32). And Satan’s utter contempt for even the best of men was shown in his very low opinion of the “perfect and upright” Job. The significant difference between Jesus and Satan in regards to human beings was that Jesus loved them as he knew God did, while Satan held them in contempt as he thought God did.
Jesus and Satan clearly agreed that Satan was ruler of this world. They also agreed that Israel was God’s chosen people, that through Israel the Messiah would come who was destined to rule the world (though their timelines differed for that event, obviously). They would also have agreed that Moses’ law was holy and must be observed, though Jesus refused to hold in equal esteem the traditions of the elders that Satan’s sons had developed during the preceding few centuries. They clearly agreed that the scriptures were true and that they foretold much about Jesus. When Satan quoted Psalm 91:11–12 during the Temptation and said they applied to Jesus, Jesus did not doubt that at all, but he, in turn, quoted a different scripture, one that was more in line with God’s will for him at that moment (Mt. 4:7, quoting Dt. 6:16).
Satan would also have agreed with much that Jesus said about himself. Here are a few examples:
In Chapter 2, referring to the multitude that wanted to force Jesus to be their king, I made this statement: “If Jesus had yielded to those who wanted to make him king, or if he had accepted Peter’s offer to rescue him from the cross, all mankind would have perished.” The same may be said of what Satan offered Jesus in the Temptation. If Jesus had accepted Satan’s offer and settled for earthly power and glory, he could never have been the sacrifice for our sins, and we all would have perished. The reason that Jesus once spoke to Peter as if Peter himself were Satan (Mt. 16:23) is that Peter wanted the same thing for Jesus that Satan wanted, that is, for Jesus to become ruler of this world. In fact, all of Jesus’ disciples felt the way Peter, the multitude, and Satan felt. But if Jesus had gone along with any of them, none of us would have any hope of salvation from the wrath of God. If the will of Satan and the people who loved Jesus had been done, they would have done as much damage to God’s plan as would have Satan and the people who hated Jesus – had they been able to kill Jesus and keep him dead.
Who Was “Light-Bringer”?
The whole Roman world considered it honorable for a man to seek his own glory and to aspire to high position. Satan thought the same way. Life without self-aggrandizement made no sense to either the Classical world or to Satan, and so, Satan could not have seen Jesus’ refusal of the honor of being god of this world as an act of humility. Quite the contrary, Satan would have deduced from that refusal that Jesus desired greater glory than that, namely, to reign over the universe with God. Of course, it would have seemed preposterous to Satan that any mortal, even the Messiah, would hope to sit at the right hand of Almighty God. But seeing that as Jesus’ objective, if Satan did not hold Jesus in contempt before the Temptation, he surely did so afterward – not because he saw Jesus as a threat but because he saw him as mad with pride and wicked ambition, and unappreciative of the very great honor that he and God had offered him. Satan, blind to his own pride, ambition, and ingratitude, would have seen Jesus as coveting the holy place in God’s kingdom which Satan had long assumed was meant for him.
Ordinary folk in Israel heard Jesus gladly (Mk. 12:37), but Israel’s leaders – the men Jesus called Satan’s sons – hated Jesus because they, like Satan, thought Jesus was competing with them for a high position (Jn. 12:19). Even Pontius Pilate saw that Jesus was innocent and that Israel’s elders hated Jesus and wanted him killed only because they envied him (Jn. 18:38; Mt. 27:18).
We have already pointed out that we know Satan’s expectation was to be exalted to reign with God over all creation, since the Son has given us the knowledge of who Isaiah’s “light-bringer” was. But try to imagine how Satan must have read those scriptures after Jesus began preaching about bringing the light of God to mankind.
12.Oh, how you have fallen from heaven, O light-bringer, son of the dawn! How you are cut down to the earth, O weakener of the nations!
13.You have said in your heart, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the Mountain of Assembly, on the far north side.
14.I will ascend above the heights of the clouds. I will be like the Most High.”
15.Oh, but you shall be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
From the tone of Isaiah’s prophecy, it was clear that the haughty boast of this “light-bringer” displeased God. Satan would have been eager to be sent after this light-bringer fellow who dared to aspire to a throne beside God. And after Satan’s disappointing encounter with Jesus in the Temptation, and especially after hearing some of Jesus’ preaching, Satan would have seen Jesus as the light-bringer of those verses from Isaiah. The bringer of light, after all, is who Jesus claimed to be:
12.Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world! He who follows me will never walk in darkness, but he will have the light of life.”
5.As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world!
Satan knew the scriptures well enough to remember God’s condemnation of false teachers who ignited sparks of zeal in others and then basked in the light of their fiery followers. He also remembered God’s promise to those false teachers:
11.All of you [false teachers] who kindle a fire, surrounding yourselves with sparks [followers]! Walk by the flame of your fire, and with the sparks you ignite. This you will have from my hand: You will lie down in a place of torment.
Jesus not only said that he was the light of the world; he also told his followers that they were lights in the world (Mt. 5:14). Satan would have considered those who followed Jesus to be nothing but sparks ignited by the misguided light-bringer, and condemned by God with him. He would have felt honored to be used by God to lay Jesus down in a place of torment and to extinguish the sparks that followed him. As for Jesus, even as the time for his death drew near, he encouraged those sparks to continue in the light they had been given.
35.The light is with you just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light so that the darkness does not overtake you, for the one who walks in darkness does not know where he is going.
36.While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may be sons of light.
Satan heard these statements, and it all seemed to fit. But Jesus was bringing light to all mankind, the light of God’s kind of life, and his doing so altered the course of human history. After John received the light of God’s life, he rejoiced that God sent His Son to bring that life to men:
4.In him was life, and the life was the light of men,
5.and the light is shining in the darkness, but the darkness did not grasp it.
6.There was a man sent from God whose name was John.
7.He came as a witness, to bear witness of the light, so that through him all men might believe.
8.He was not the light; rather, he came to bear witness of the light.
9.This was the true light, which sheds light on all men when it comes into the world.
The light that the Son of God brought was the holy life, the holy Spirit, which the Father had given him (Jn. 5:26), and which the Father gave Jesus’ followers on the day of Pentecost, and which He still gives to all who believe and obey His Son (Jn. 7:37–39; Acts 5:32; 1Jn. 5:10).
The light-bringer of Isaiah’s prophecy was not Jesus. It was Satan. Satan’s kind of light is a delusion. It is darkness that calls itself light. But Satan was so cursed by God that he believed that the darkness he carried within himself was light. Satan’s “light” persuades men to believe, as Satan believed, that God thinks what He does not think, and to believe, as Satan believed, that they are what they are not, and to feel confident, as Satan felt, that God will someday give them what He will never give them. Satan and his sons are the ones who will “lie down in a place of torment”, not Jesus and those who love him.
Satan’s “knowledge” is not knowledge at all. His knowledge is worse than ignorance, for those who are confident in a lie have no more hunger for the true knowledge of God. That kind of “knowledge” about God is the kind of “light” that is spread by Satan and his sons, and with it, they persuade those who do not know God that they do know Him. Thus, they take unsuspecting souls further away from God than ever, telling them that they are drawing closer.
15.Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You compass land and sea to make one convert, and when it is done, you make him twice as sure of damnation as you are.
Misguided teachers are the blind who lead the blind (Mt. 15:14; Lk. 6:39), and they all live together in a pit that they call a mountain. They believe that God is a kind of God that He is not, and so, they look forward to being judged (as Satan did), expecting that it will bring them blessing. The prophet Amos warned the sparks whom false teachers of his day had ignited:
18.Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why should you want the day of the Lord? It will be darkness and not light.
Paul described the real light-bringer and his sons:
13.Such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ.
14.And no wonder, for Satan is disguising himself as a messenger of light.
15.Therefore, it is no great thing if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness, whose end shall be according to their works.
Those who claim to represent Christ without being anointed and sent by God to do so are the light-bringer’s offspring, and the light they bring is the worst kind of darkness (Mt. 6:23).
Satan was wrong to think Jesus was the boastful light-bringer about whom Isaiah prophesied. But then, he was wrong about everything. He was wrong in heaven when he thought God would promote him. He was wrong in the wilderness when he thought he was meeting only Mary’s son. He was wrong about the reason he was there in the wilderness in the first place. He was wrong about who he was, and who God was, and who we are who walk in the light of the Son. And he continues to be wrong as he walks about on earth “seeking whom he may devour” (1Pet. 5:8). He is just wrong, and God will never allow him to repent and be made right.
Everything about Satan, who he is now and where he will spend eternity, is based on his relationship with the Son. Satan has no relationship with God’s Son; therefore, he has no hope, and his future is hopelessly dismal. The same is true about every one of us; everything about us, our present spiritual condition and our eternal judgment, is determined by our relationship with God’s Son. Moreover, everything revealed about God is revealed in relation to the Son, and that is why without the Son, there is no knowledge of God.
Satan knew that the prophets predicted that the Messiah would experience both great honor and great suffering, but he was wrong in assuming that honor and suffering would happen to the Messiah in that order. He saw Jesus as honored by being offered the position of god of this world, but then having to suffer because he refused that position. That was backward. The right order is given by Peter:
10.The prophets who prophesied of the grace that has come to you earnestly sought and diligently inquired about this salvation,
11.trying to determine who or what time the Spirit of Christ that was in them was indicating when it testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.
Jesus’ suffering came first, in this world, and Jesus’ glory came afterward, with his resurrection and subsequent glorification. Satan was wrong about that, too.
When Jesus ascended, he was not promoted to sit at God’s right hand. That is how Satan saw it, but nothing could be farther from the truth. I will explain by pointing out that plants are never promoted to act as animals; animals are never promoted to act as humans; humans are never promoted to act as angels; angels are never promoted to act as cherubs; and cherubs, such as Satan, are never promoted to act as the Son of God, sitting at God’s right hand. Only plants can be plants, and only the Son of God can sit at the Father’s right hand.
As an earthly example, if God has ordained for a child to one day become a pastor, and then that child grows up and becomes a pastor, it is not that he has been promoted; it is only that he has become who he was ordained by God to be. That child can grow in wisdom and strength, and he can receive spiritual gifts to enable him to fulfill his appointed destiny, but he can never become more than what God ordained him to be from the beginning. It is possible for him to fail to become what God ordained him to be, or even to be removed by God from his office the way Satan was cast out of his office in heaven, but he can never become more than what God has ordained him to be.
When the Son of God returned to heaven and sat down at God’s right hand, he was only doing what he had been created to do. His glorification to sit at the Father’s right hand was not a promotion for him. It had been his appointed place before the world began, and it is his unshakable place forever. In spite of the fact that Satan had never seen a promotion given to any creature in God’s kingdom, he somehow came to expect one. But to reign in glory with the Father was far beyond what cherubs were created to do. One can grow in knowledge and strength only within the boundaries of his own kind of life, and one can function only within those same boundaries.
Hoping to be promoted to sit at God’s right hand, Satan labored to be counted worthy of that supremely high office, and God used Satan’s self-willed blindness to accomplish His holy purposes. Ministers on earth who are like Satan also labor to be counted worthy of promotions, and they envy one another and compete with one another for them. But religions that offer the promotions those men seek cannot make them anything in God’s kingdom. It is foolish to strive for a promotion from God. God does not promote; He creates. It is also foolish to envy someone ordained to a higher calling in God’s kingdom. If one has been ordained by God to a position, no one can take it from him, and if one has not been ordained to a position, no one can give it to him. Satan’s sons, like their father, are always looking for a promotion, and within man-made religious institutions, they are often given one. But such a system has no part with God’s kind of life, and the titles and offices granted by those institutions are a lie.
Moses’ cousin Korah is a perfect example of how a son of Satan thinks and behaves. Though greatly blessed to work among the most holy things in the tabernacle, Korah envied Aaron and his priesthood. To obtain the priesthood in Israel, Korah persuaded most of Israel to rebel against Moses and Aaron, telling them that Moses had promoted himself and Aaron to the offices they held. Moses’ humble response to this attempted coup d'état was that they should all meet before the tabernacle and let God declare who was ordained to the priesthood and who was not.
1.Now, Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took
2.men of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen men of the Assembly, men of reputation, and they rose up before Moses.
3.And they assembled against Moses and against Aaron, and they said to them, “You take too much on yourselves! For the whole congregation is holy – all of them – and Jehovah is in their midst! Why then do you exalt yourselves above the Assembly of Jehovah?”
4.And when Moses heard this, he fell on his face.
5.Then he spoke to Korah and to all his congregation, saying, “In the morning, Jehovah will show who is His, and who is holy, and He will cause him to draw near to Him. And He will cause the one He has chosen for Himself to draw near Him.
6.Do this. Take censers for yourselves, Korah and all his congregation,
7.and put fire in them, and lay incense on them before Jehovah tomorrow. And it will be that the one whom Jehovah chooses, he is holy. You take too much on yourselves, you sons of Levi!”
8.And Moses said to Korah, “Hear me now, you sons of Levi!
9.Is it a small thing to you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel to bring you near to Him to do the work of the tabernacle of Jehovah and to stand before the congregation to serve them?
10.He has brought you, Korah, near, and all your brothers, the sons of Levi, with you, and you are after the priesthood as well?
11.That is why you and your congregation have assembled yourselves against Jehovah! As for Aaron, what is he, that you murmur against him?”
Only Moses could be Moses. Only Aaron could be Aaron. And only Korah and his fellow Kohathites could do the work of the tabernacle appointed for them. Everyone who was thankful for his place occupied it with joy, and everyone who was not thankful grew discontent with the ordination of God. To envy someone in a higher position is to condemn God for making the mistake of giving that position to a less deserving creature. It is, in truth, to consider oneself to be wiser than God, who places “the members, each one, in the body as He pleases” (1Cor. 12:18).
As heaven’s Accuser, or Prosecutor of transgressors of the law, Satan was very attentive to everything Jesus did and said, in hope of catching him in some infraction of the law and then using that crime as further justification for destroying him. His earthly “sons” followed his lead. We often find them watching Jesus carefully, like a hungry hawk circling high over a henhouse (Mk. 3:1–2; Lk. 14:1; 20:20). But knowing that he was being watched like a hawk did not deter Jesus at all. Jesus boldly followed the counsel he gave to me, many years ago now: “When you’re being watched like a hawk, don’t act like a chicken.”
Jesus was a good Jew who studiously observed the law. Unfortunately, he is often depicted as a rebel against the law of Moses, as if the law was a bad thing, but that was never the case. Jesus was a “meek and lowly” servant of God who kept God’s commandments (Mt. 11:29; Jn. 15:10), and he warned others to do the same if they wanted eternal life (Mk. 10:17–19). Moreover, whenever the Jews’ tradition of the elders did not contradict Moses’ law, Jesus observed those traditions, (Jn. 10:22–23), and he commanded his disciples and others to follow his example (Mt. 23:1–3).
But Jesus’ faithful observance of the law of Moses and Jewish tradition did not prevent his enemies from accusing him of transgressing them. Certain Pharisees among his disciples grumbled because, in their view, Jesus allowed other disciples to transgress the law of the Sabbath when they plucked some heads of grain to eat as they walked through a field on a Sabbath day (Mt. 12:1–2). But the law from Jesus’ Father specifically allowed hungry travelers to do such “work”, with no restrictions concerning the day (Dt. 23:24–25). It was the tradition of the elders that forbade it, and Jesus refused to acknowledge the authority of any tradition that restricted the liberty God had granted to His people.
God ordained the weekly Sabbath as a day of rest for His people (Ex. 20:8–11). It was Satan’s sons who turned it into a day set aside for worship. To assure that the people worshipped on that day, Jewish leaders developed a host of Sabbath rules that made it illegal for them to do much of anything but worship. In Acts 1:12, we learn that the elders had invented a rule restricting the distance a Jew could walk on the Sabbath, which means that if someone got his rest by taking a stroll and he wanted to go on a long walk on the Sabbath, he was out of luck. He’d have to get his rest some other day.
What infuriated Jesus and what surely still infuriates him is that in a religion of rites and rules, religious leaders always end up elevating things above people. They make people slaves to such things as holy days, relics, holy sites, and special religious clothing, instead of ministering to people’s needs by the Spirit. Once, when some scribes and Pharisees criticized Jesus for transgressing their Sabbath day rules, he straitly answered them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath!” (Mk. 2:27). In the grainfield just mentioned, Jesus paused and tried to help his upset disciples understand that God cares more about people than about ceremonial correctness:
3.He said to them, “Haven’t you read what David did when he was hungry, he and those with him,
4.how he went into the house of God and ate the sacred bread that was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those with him, but for the priests alone?
5.Or haven’t you read in the law that on the Sabbath day, the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath [by making sacrifices, lighting the candles,