“And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said
to Him, ‘They have no wine.’” John 2:3
There is no such thing as a perfect wedding. There are
always going to be problems – some of them small and some of them large. In
John 2:1-11, Jesus and His disciples were attending “a wedding in Cana of
Galilee” where Jesus’ mother, Mary, seemed to be the wedding coordinator
(John 2:2). A big problem took place at this wedding celebration. “They ran
out of wine.” (John 2:3a).
To the Jewish people, wine symbolized joy. Running
out of wine at a wedding banquet in the first century was so serious that
lawsuits could be brought against you by the offended guests. The presence of
wine stated that this was a special day and that all the guests were special
I can imagine that the bride was getting pretty anxious
about this time! I can hear her saying to her mother, “My wedding day is not
supposed to be like this! I’m supposed to be filled with joy. But instead, I’m
worried about what everyone is going to say or do when they discover that we
have run out of wine.”
Maybe you have had similar thoughts. “My marriage is not
supposed to be the mess that it is. Parenting isn’t supposed to be filled with
so much stress. Christianity is not supposed to be like this. I’m supposed to
be overflowing with joy – or so I’ve heard – but nothing seems to be going
right. My joy is gone.”You may not know where your joy went. You
just woke up one morning, and the supply had been completely drained. Some
things have come along that you didn’t anticipate that have stolen your joy.
Maybe some people have come into your life, and by their attitudes or actions,
they have depleted your joy. Perhaps you have overbooked your schedule and lost
your joy as a result. Sometimes we can lose our joy because of sin in our
Mary, the mother of Jesus, may have been the one responsible
for coordinating this wedding feast. It would have been embarrassing for her to
admit that she had not planned on enough wine. Embarrassing or not, she was
willing to admit that there was a need. She said to Jesus, “They have no
wine” (John 2:3b). That’s what we have to do too. We have to admit that
there is a need – that we are running out of joy. It may be because of our own
choices or the choices of others, it does not matter. What matters is that we admit that
there is a problem because then we can do something about it.
That’s what Mary did. When she realized that there was a problem,
she took the problem to Jesus. She said to Him, “They have no wine.” (John
2:3b). She didn’t try to solve it in her own strength. The fact that Mary
came to Jesus indicates she believed He could resolve the problem. This tells us
that Jesus is concerned with the everyday things in life that we face. This
family may not have exhibited a lot of wisdom in how they planned for the
wedding celebration, but the wisest thing that they could have ever done was to
invite Jesus. The very presence of Jesus at this wedding opened the possibility to a miracle.
And you know something? Jesus is also here with us today. The Bible tells us that He died for our sins…was buried… and on the third day He rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6). He is alive today and His power is available to everyone who believes in Him. With Jesus’ presence in our lives, there is enough power to resolve whatever problem you may be facing and build a life that is filled with joy.
When Mary came to Jesus and communicated the problem to Him, His
response toward her may seem a little cold and harsh to us in the twenty-first
century. “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does your concern have to do with
Me? My hour has not yet come.’ ” (John 2:4). Literally, Jesus says, “What
to Me and to you, woman?” This may seem disrespectful to our modern
ears to address one’s mother as “woman,” but this was an acceptable term in that day (cf. John 19:26;
There may be times when we bring our requests to God for what we
think would bring joy into our lives – but God’s response seems cold and
harsh. It seems like the windows of heaven are closed. But the response
that Jesus gave to Mary was to let her know that she was no longer in control.
He was no longer under obligation to do what she wanted when she wanted it. He
was now obligated to fully obey His heavenly Father not His earthly mother.
When it comes to asking God to do certain things in our lives, God
is under no obligation to do things our way or in our time. He commands us;
we do not command Him. God knows better than we ever could what will bring
us the most joy and when is the most beneficial time for Him to answer our
requests. God does miracles and He answers prayers, but He does it in His time
and in His way.
There is one prayer that Jesus will always answer with a “yes”
as soon as that prayer is offered up to Him. That is the prayer for
forgiveness. After King David had sinned against God, he prayed to Him, “Have mercy upon
me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly
from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my
sin.” (Psalm 51:1-2).
that David did not ask God to forgive him according to David’s goodness or righteousness,
but according to God’s “lovingkindness” and “the multitude of”
His “tender mercies.” That is called grace – receiving what we do not deserve.
As believers in Jesus, we still sin after we are saved from hell
(I John 1:8, 10), but all God asks us to do when we do sin is “confess our
sins” to Him “and He
is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse
us from all unrighteousness.”
(I John 1:9). Confessing our
sins restores our fellowship or closeness with God after we have sinned against
If you do not
have Jesus in your life, the Bible invites you to believe or trust in Him alone
for His unlimited forgiveness of all your sins – past, present, and future. “All
the prophets say it is true that all who believe in Jesus will be forgiven of
their sins through Jesus’ name.” (Acts 10:43; cf. Colossians 2:13-14). He
will then come to live inside of you and fill you with His joy (Romans 8:11;
15:13; Galatians 2:20).
If your joy is gone, or if you have never found joy because you
are living a life that is contrary to what God says, then come to Jesus as you are. He will work the
miracle of forgiveness. He will fill you with His joy.
Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I come to You now as a broken
cistern that is deplete of any joy. I have stubbornly insisted on living my
life my way instead of Yours. Instead of turning to You to restore my joy, I
have continued down a path that dishonors and hurts You. Most of my problems I
have brought on myself through my foolish and selfish decisions. I am deeply sorry
for all the pain I have caused to You and to those close to me. Please forgive
me my Lord and my God. Thank You for washing away my sin and restoring Your joy
in my life. I release my problems to You. I give everyone one and everything to
You, my Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
said to Him, ‘How do You know me?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw
you.’” John 1:48
The next day, Jesus “found Philip” who then “found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ ” (John 1:43-45). Nathanael is a little more skeptical than the other men who came to Jesus (cf. John 1:37-44). He does not respond in immediate faith. Nathanael said to Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46a).
So what does
Philip do? Does he give up or argue? “Philip
said to him, ‘Come and see.’ ” (John 1:46b). Philip does not give up or argue with Nathanael, he does the only
thing he knows to do. He says, “Come and see” for
yourself. I don’t have all the answers, but come and meet Jesus. Then you will
see what I’m talking about.
approaches, Jesus builds him up: “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of
him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!’ ” (John 1:47).Jesus
is saying,“I know you Nathanael for who you are and you are a man of integrity.” Nathanael is surprised that Jesus
would say this, so he says to Him, “How do You know me?” (John 1:48a). Nathanael
is amazed because he has never met Jesus before and knows of no reason why
Jesus would know his character so well.
Jesus draws Nathanael
in when He says to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the
fig tree, I saw you.” (John 1:48b). Jesus saw Nathanael’s heart as well as
his presence under the tree. Perhaps Nathanael was praying or reading the Bible
under that fig tree. Jesus is saying, “Nathanael, I know who you are. I know
everything there is to know about you. I know what you think and where you go
and what you do. And I want to have a relationship with you.”
How do you
think Nathanael responds? “Nathanael answered and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, You
are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ ” (John 1:49). Nathanael
places his faith in Jesus. “Only the Son of God could know this. You must be
Him!” And to believe that Jesus is the Son of God results in eternal life. John
20:31 says, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is
the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
to Nathanael, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you
believe? You will see greater things than these.’ And He said to him, ‘Most
assuredly, I say to you, hereafteryou shall see
heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of
Man.” (John 1:50-51). Jesus is saying,
“I am glad you believed,
but you believed because I gave you a miraculous sign. But Nathanael, you have
seen nothing yet. You are going to see greater signs than these.” Verse 51 refers to Jesus’ Second Coming
to earth as King. Jesus has already shown His supernatural knowledge, but when
He comes the second time He will show His supernatural power. When Christ comes
back as King, the Bible says, “Let all the angels of God worship Him.
And of the angels He says: ‘Who makes His angels spirits and His ministers a
flame of fire.’ ” (Hebrews 1:6-7).
No matter how
skeptical a person may be about Christianity, just introduce them to Jesus and
let Him do the rest. You and I cannot change people, but we can introduce
them to the One who can. Jesus takes Simon and makes him Peter, a rock or
leader of leaders. Jesus takes the doubter and transforms him into a devoted
follower. He takes the sinner and makes him a saint. Jesus takes the drunkard
and makes him sober. Jesus takes the prostitute and makes her pure. Jesus takes
the worrier and gives him peace. He takes the spiritually blind and makes her
see. Jesus takes the dirty and makes him clean. Jesus changes lives.
God wants to
use ordinary people like you and me all around the world to introduce people to Jesus. You may
think you do not have what it takes to do that. All Jesus asks of you is to
tell people the truth about Him. He will do the rest.
If you are reading
this article and you can identify with Nathanael’s skepticism, please know that
Jesus loves you and He will meet you where you are at. He will provide
answers to your questions if you are willing to listen. He may come to you in
unexpected ways such as through a dream or a vision or even through a child. He
knows everything about you – your likes and dislikes. Your sorrows and your
joys. Your thoughts, actions, and words. He knows the hidden wounds of your
heart. He knows the dark secrets in the depths of your soul, and He still loves
you and He longs to be in a personal relationship with you.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for pursuing me when I was lost in the darkness of my own sin and shame. Thank You for providing answers to the deep questions of my soul. Lord I am very concerned about those who are like Nathanael. They are skeptical about You. They need evidence for their skeptical minds. They need answers for their hurting hearts and they need a relationship with You for their fragmented souls. As You did with me, please meet them where they are at. Reveal Yourself and Your power to them in a way that leaves no room for doubt about Your identity. Show them Lord Jesus, that You are the Son of God, the King of Israel, Who will give them everlasting life the moment they believe in You. Thank You my Lord and my God for hearing my prayer. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, ‘You
are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas’ (which is translated, A
Stone).” John 1:42
“One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated, the Christ)” (John 1:40-41). As a result of spending part of a day with Christ (John 1:39), Andrew realizes that he must share his good news with his brother, Simon. “Andrew” means “manly” or “to be brave.” It takes courage to bring others to Christ, especially family. Can you picture Andrew? “I have to tell Peter my news right now.” What is his news? “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41). Andrew already has eternal life because he believed Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah-God. According to I John 5:1, that is all anyone one must do to be saved: “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.”
does Andrew do? “And he brought him to
Jesus” (John 1:42a). That says it all. He simply brought his brother, Simon,
to Jesus. That is all Andrew knew to do. Just get him to Jesus. “Come and
see.” He pointed his brother to the One who could change him and satisfy
all his needs.
The more time
we spend with Jesus, the more His heart will become ours. So the closer we get
to the heart of Christ, the closer we get to the people for whom He died.
Jesus’ heart bleeds for the lost. Luke
19:10 explains: “For the Son of Man
has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” The heart of our
Lord is a seeking heart. Aren’t you thankful for that? We would still be lost
in our sins if Jesus did not seek us out.
Look at God’s
heart. First Timothy 2:3-4 say, “For
this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men
to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Is there any
human being God does not want to be saved? No. God created hell for the devil
and his angels (Matthew 25:41), not for people. God desires that all people go
to heaven and He wants to use you and me to introduce people to the Savior who
can get them there. He may use you at work, school, the market place or He may
use you in your backyard talking across the fence with your neighbor. The key
is to open your heart to Him, so He can use you.
Those who live close to Christ capture His heart for the lost. For example, during my
engagement to Pat before our wedding years ago, I had no difficulty introducing
her to my family, friends, and co-workers. Why? Because I had a personal
relationship with her and I was thrilled to be with her! And I wanted others to
meet her because she was so awesome! How much more should this be true of our
relationship with Jesus Christ? The church needs some Andrews who will be
committed to bringing others to Jesus. We need older and younger Andrews.
Being an Andrew does not involve fancy evangelism methods and memorizing lots of Scripture so you never make a mistake. Being an Andrew means getting them to Jesus. “Come and see.” Allow Jesus to make the transformation. You just be faithful to bring them to Jesus. We cannot change people, but Jesus can. We cannot make unfaithful spouses quit cheating, but Jesus can. We cannot make alcoholics quit drinking, but Jesus can. We cannot make drug addicts quit using, but Jesus can. We cannot make worriers stop worrying, but Jesus can. We cannot make abusive parents quit violating their children, but Jesus can. Our job is to get them to Jesus. Come and See! Don’t tell them to clean up their lives. Just ask them to come as they are and see Jesus for who He really is. Then Christ will do the rest. Invite them to church online or to video chat so they can hear the clear and simple gospel.
his brother to meet Jesus, no man did the church a greater service than
Andrew! “Now when Jesus looked at
him, He said, ‘You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas’
(which is translated, A Stone)” (John 1:42b). And indeed, Jesus takes one
look at Simon and sees more than a rugged fisherman. He identifies him as “Cephas,”
which means “a rock or stone.” “You are now Simon, but you will become
Peter.” Jesus saw beyond the impulsive, head-strong, unreliable fisherman.
He saw a solid rock. Jesus saw him for what he would become by His grace (even
when it takes a while). Eventually God would use Peter to lead three thousand
people to Christ through the preaching of one sermon on the day of Pentecost
(cf. Acts 2:47).
Jesus sees the potential in each of us. You may think God cannot use you
because of your background or weaknesses. Look to Christ to do through you what
you could never do on your own!
Prayer: Lord Jesus it is impossible to spend time with You without being changed.
Thank You for sharing Your heart for the lost with me. Please give me the courage
to share Your gospel message with everyone who will listen. It is so freeing to
know that my responsibility is to introduce people to You, Lord Jesus. It is
Your job to change them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The Bible clearly tells us that every human being is comprised of three parts: spirit, soul, and body. The apostle Paul is writing to Christians, and he says, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thessalonians 5:23). The spirit and soul are the immaterial or invisible part of human beings and the body, of course, is the physical part of us. God wants to “sanctify” or transform our spirit, soul, and body into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18). But this transformation starts with our “spirit,” not our soul or body. Our spirit is the inner most part of us.
THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN SPIRIT AND SOUL
The Bible makes a distinction between the spirit and soul. “For
the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than
any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit…”
(Hebrew 4:12). What is the difference between our spirit and soul? Our
spirit is the inner most part of our being. This is why the spirit is mentioned
first in I Thessalonians 5:23. Our spirit connects with God Who is Spirit (John
4:23-24; cf. Romans 1:9; I Corinthians 6:17, 20; 14:14-15; Galatians 6:18;
Ephesians 4:23; 2 Timothy 4:22; Philemon 1:25). God, who is Spirit, transforms
our spirit. Our spirit is what animates our physical body. “For as the body
without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26).
When our spirit leaves our physical body, our body dies (cf. Matthew 27:50;
Luke 23:45; John 19:30; Acts 7:59-60). Our soul also departs from our body at
death (cf. Genesis 35:18; I Kings 17:21-22).
According to I Thessalonians 5:23, our spirit
has been implanted in our soul, and our soul has been implanted
in our physical body. The Greek word for “soul” in the New
Testament is psychḗ which is where we get our English words “psyche”
or “psychology.” It has to do with a person’s distinct identity or life.
The soul is actually one’s self. Your soul is conscious of self. As God’s
Spirit communicates with our spirit, our spirit then communicates
what God’s Spirit said to our soul or self. Then our soul
communicates this to our body. Then our body communicates this to
our environment and the people who are aound us.
WHERE DO OUR SPIRIT AND SOUL GO AFTER DEATH?
When physical death occurs, the spirit and soul are separated
from the physical body. According to the Old Testament the spirit of
believers returns to the Lord at death. “Then the dust will return to the
earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes
12:7). The physical body is buried in the ground (“the dust will
return to the earth”), but the spirit of the believer “returns to God
who gave it.” When Rachel died, the Bible says, “And so it was, as her
soul was departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-Oni” (Genesis
35:18). Based on other verses in the Bible, the departing of Rachel’s soul
implies her soul (and spirit) departed to go be with the Lord in Abraham’s
bosom or Paradise (Luke 16:22; 23:43).
Just before Jesus died on the cross, He cried out with a loud
voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Then “He
breathed His last’ (Luke 23:46). John writes, “bowing His head, He gave
up His spirit” (John 19:30). Jesus’ spirit went to His Father in heaven when
He died, and so does a believer’s spirit after the death and resurrection of
Jesus Christ. For example, while he was being stoned in Acts 7, Stephen prayed,
“ ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’Then he knelt down
and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’
And when he had said this, he fell asleep. Now Saul was consenting to his
death.” (Acts 7:59-8:1). It is clear that when Stephen died, he
understood that his spirit would go to be with the Lord.
When the Bible says Stephen “fell asleep” (Acts 7:60), it is referring to Stephen’s “death” (Acts 8:1). The words “asleep” or “sleep” are common metaphors for death of the physical body in distinction from the spirit or soul (Acts 7:60; cf. John 11:11-13; I Thess. 4:14-16). John 11:11-13 makes this very clear. Jesus tells His disciples, “ ‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.’ Then His disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.’ However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.” John 11:11-13. Death is not a state of unconsciousness as some teach. A dead body appears to look like a person who is sleeping.
Similarly, in I Thessalonians 4:13-17, the apostle Paul
writes about the sudden removal of the church from the earth called the Rapture
which could take place at any moment. “13 But I do not want you
to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you
sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus
died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 15
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and
remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are
asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a
shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the
dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain
shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the
air.” (I Thessalonians 4:13-17). When Paul speaks of “those who have
fallen asleep” he is referring to Christians who have died. Their physical
bodies are asleep in the grave (cf. John 11:11-14), but their spirit and soul
have gone to be with the Lord Jesus in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians
1:21-24; Revelation 6:9; 20:4; cf. Matthew 27:50; Luke 23:46; John 19:30).
This is why Paul writes, “6 So we are always
confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the
Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are
confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be
present with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:6-8. Paul refers to death as his
spirit and soul being “absent from the body” and “present with the
Lord” in heaven (5:8). There is no intermediate existence. We are either “at
home in the body” (5:6) or “present with the Lord” (5:8). There is
no mention of some other kind of existence in between being at home in the body
or present with the Lord.
In Philippians 1:21-24, Paul writes, “21
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live
on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I
cannot tell. 23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a
desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24
Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” For Paul,
death “is gain” because he (his spirit/soul) will “depart and be with
Christ, which is far better” than living “on in the flesh.” Where is
Christ right now? He is in heaven at the right hand of God the Father (Acts
5:31; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrew 1:3, 13; 8:1;
10:12; 12:2; I Peter 3:22).
We also see that the souls of believers also go to heaven. “When
He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been
slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.” Revelation
6:9. When Jesus opened the fifth seal judgment, the apostle John says he
saw under the altar in heaven the “souls” of believers who were martyred
during the Tribulation on earth.
At the beginning of the Millennium, the thousand year reign
of Christ on earth, the apostle John writes, “And I saw thrones, and they
sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those
who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who
had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on
their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a
thousand years.” Revelation 20:4. The “souls” of martyred believers
from the Tribulation are seen reigning with Christ during His Millennial
Kingdom on earth.
A DETAILED ACCOUNT OF WHAT HAPPENS AFTER DEATH IN LUKE
We are going to look at a factual account that Jesus shared
in Luke 16:19-31 to discover more details about what happens when we die.
Some people believe this is a parable – (a made up story to illustrate
spiritual truth) because they do not like what it teaches about the afterlife. But
here are some compelling reasons why Luke 16:19-31 is not a parable:
1. It would be the only parable in the Bible that describes
certain things that are outside of the realm of human experience. All the other
parables talk about things that we are familiar with such as birds, seed,
fields, pearls, wheat, barns, leaven, fish, etc. (see Matthew 13, etc.). This
passage is different because it talks about what happens to two men after
death, and this is a realm where none of us have had any personal experience. A
parable is an earthly story with a heavenly or spiritual significance, but Luke
16 transcends the realm of the earthly.
2. It would be the only parable in the Bible that uses a
proper name (“Lazarus”).
3. It would be the only parable in the Bible that makes
mention repeatedly of an historical person – “Abraham.” Moreover, this
historical person actually carries on a dialogue with the rich man! Indeed,
mention is also made in this parable of “Moses,” another historical
character. What other parable speaks of
real, historical persons?
4. It would be the only parable in the Bible that describes
the places where the dead go (“Torments in Hades,” and “Abraham’s bosom”).
5. It would be the only parable in the Bible that makes
mention of angels. Compare Matthew 13 verses 24-30, 36-43, 47-49 where angels
are mentioned in the explanation of the parable but not in the parable itself.
6. If Hades is not really a place of torment then this would
be the only parable in the Bible where the Lord Jesus taught error instead of
truth. This is not possible because Jesus is “the truth”
(John 14:6). This passage is factual, not fictional.
Before we go any further, I want to clarify one more thing.
This passage is not talking about the final destination of people. The place of
unbelievers we will consider in Luke 16 is not the Lake of Fire (Revelation 14:10;
20:10-15) or the everlasting fire of Hell (Matthew 10:28; 23:33; 25:41, 46b; Mark
9:42-48; Luke 12:5; Revelation 14:10; 20:10, 15). The Lake of Fire or
Hell is where people who don’t believe in Jesus will go for eternity after the
Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:10-15). The place in
Luke 16:22b-26 is “Torments in Hades” where lost people go when they
die. It is a temporary holding area of torment and suffering for the Old and
New Testament unbeliever. But it is not purgatory.
Before Jesus died on the cross, believers in Jesus went to a place called “Paradise” or “Abraham’s bosom”(Luke 16:22; 23:43) and unbelievers went to a place called “Torments” in Hades (Luke 16:23). When Jesus died on the cross, He released the souls and spirits of believers in Abraham’s bosom (Ephesians 4:8-10) to go to God’s home in the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2-4; cf. John 14:2).
Prior to Jesus’ death on the cross, Old Testament believers could not go to the third heaven because Jesus’ blood had not removed all their sins yet. The Old Testament sacrifices had only covered their sins, not removed their sins (cf. Hebrews 9:9-10; 10:1-4, 11). Only the blood of the Lamb of God could take away their sins forever (John 1:29; Ephesians 1:7; 2:13-18; Hebrews 9:11-15; 10:10-22). After Christ’s death and resurrection, when a believer in Jesus dies, his spirit and soul go to the third heaven to be with Jesus while his physical body sleeps in the grave (cf. John 11:11-13; I Thessalonians 4:14, 16).
But when an unbeliever dies, his or her spirit and
soul go straight to Torments in Hades where they stay until they are called out
to face God at the Great White Throne Judgment where they are judged
according to their works to determine their degree of punishment in the Lake of
Fire (Revelation 20:11-14). Then they will be confined to the Lake of Fire or
Hell forever with Satan and his fallen angels (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10,
Back to Luke 16. There are two main characters in Jesus’
factual account. The “rich man” (Luke 16:19) who represents unbelievers and
a poor man named “Lazarus” (Luke 16:20) who represents believers. Let’s
look at what happened to them when they died.
How was Lazarus greeted at death? Even though Lazarus had
been alone much of his life, he “was carried by the angels to Abraham’s
bosom” or “Paradise” (Luke 16:22a; cf. Luke 23:43) where he would
enjoy fellowship with Old Testament believers such as “Abraham” who were
there. So God’s angels received Lazarus and took him to dwell in Paradise with
the Lord. Lazarus did not die alone. He died in the presence of God. Lazarus’
spirit and soul did not linger on earth for a period of days or weeks. His
spirit and soul were taken immediately to Paradise to be with the Lord. There
was no unconscious sleep as some religious groups teach.
Lazarus’ experience after death was the opposite of his
experience on earth. In Abraham’s bosom or Paradise, Lazarus experienced
intimate fellowship with Abraham – “Lazarus” was “in his bosom”
or close to him (Luke 16:23). But on earth Lazarus was all alone (Luke
16:20-21). On earth he received “evil things,” but in Paradise he was “comforted”
How was the rich man greeted at death? “The rich man also
died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and
saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:22b-23). The rich
man was alone at death – no family or friends. When he died, his spirit and
soul went immediately to “torments in Hades.” Let’s look at his
experiences there after death.
1. He experiences sensation. “And being in torments in Hades,
he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:23). The
rich man is not unconscious. He can see
(“he lifted up his eyes and saw…”), he can hear as shown in his
conversation with Abraham, he can speak (“he cried and said…” – Luke
16:24a), he can feel (“I am tormented in this flame” – Luke 16:24b). The
rich man still has desires, he still has needs, and he still has the ability to
think and express himself. He was able to see into Paradise and realize what he
was missing out on. Did he feel pain? “Then he cried and said, ‘Father
Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his
finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame’” (Luke
16:24). Yes, he begged for relief from the torment of the flames. People
will not party in torments, they will cry out for relief from their pain. Even
though his body is in the grave in which it was buried, this man has some sort
of a spiritual form that allows him to continue to live in this place called torments
2. He experiences separation. We also notice
that the rich man found himself separated from Lazarus and Abraham by a great
gulf. Abraham said to the rich man, “between us and you there is a great
gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can
those from there pass to us” (Luke 16:26). The Bible says that this gulf is
“fixed.” That is, it will never be taken away. This separation
from God and unbelievers is eternal! The rich man found himself separated from
everything that Lazarus enjoyed. Could he cross over this gulf or could anyone
come visit him? No. Once you go to torments, no one can get you out. There is
no second chance after death. The Bible makes this clear. “Everyone must die
once, and after that be judged by God.” Hebrews 9:27 [GNT]. So there is no
halfway house between heaven and torments. There is no intermediate state.
There is no limbo. There is no purgatory. Purgatory is a theory that was
created during the Middle Ages. It is not found in the Bible.
In torments you will be all alone without family, friends, and
worst of all – you will be without God. Torments
or Hell is total separation from God. If you go through all of life saying, “I
don’t want God in my life” He will give you that wish forever in torments
and the Lake of Fire. Second Thessalonians 1:9 says, “These shall be
punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from
the glory of His power.” Torments and the Lake of Fire are the exact
opposite of everything God is.
Since “God is love” (I John 4:8b), without God, Hell
is a terrifying and lonely place. You are all alone! So there’s no love there. The Bible says, “There is
no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves
torment” (I John 4:18). The opposite of love is fear. You know what it
means to live without love in your life? It means you are scared to death all
the time. That is hell. It means you are lonely all the time. That is hell. One
of the big myths about hell is that in hell it is just going to be a big party
for all the people who like to party. Friends, no one will see anybody else in
hell. It is total separation from God and everybody else. There are no
relationships in hell. There are no friends in hell. It is total aloneness.
Since God is light (I John 1:5), hell is complete darkness (2 Peter
2:17; Jude 1:13). Since God is good (Psalm 34:8), there will be absolutely
nothing good in hell. Since God is eternal life (John 1:1, 4, 14; 14:6; I John
5:20), that means hell will be eternal death. Since God is gracious
(Psalm 145:8), that means there is no place for grace in Hell.
3. He experiencesintensesuffering. The noun “torments“
(basanos) means to be tested or examined by means of torture (Luke 16:23). The rich
man is in a place of extreme pain and torture. The verb “tormented”
(odynáō)is in the
present tense (Luke 16:24) and means to cause intense pain. This teaches us
that the intense pain and suffering in this dreadful place do not cease. People
do not simply burn up and no longer exist as some false religions teach, but
they endure this intense pain and torture forever. The rich man wants to die or
at least lose consciousness, but he cannot.
Of all the agonies of torments, perhaps the worst one of all is described
in verse 25. “But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in
your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things;
but now he is comforted and you are tormented’ ” (Luke 16:25). The word “remember” tells us that people
in torments have the capacity to remember the events of this life and that they
are forced to deal with those memories eternally. They will remember every
gospel message they heard and rejected. They will remember how God manifested
Himself in thousands of ways to draw them to Himself. They will remember and
they will know that they have no one to blame for their situation but
If you have never trusted in Jesus as your Savior to give you
everlasting life, I wonder what you will remember when you arrive
in torments? Will you remember this message? Will you remember all the
Christians who witnessed to you and prayed for you? Will you remember how you
wasted your life on temporary things and condemned your own spirit and soul to
the torment and torture of hell forever? Will you remember how good and
gracious God was to you and how you rejected His great love for you?
The rich man said to Abraham, “I beg you
therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify
to them, lest they also come to this place of torment (Luke 16:27-28). The rich man wanted
Lazarus to be sent back to his family to warn them of the terrible suffering of
torments. Nobody in torments wants their family and friends to join them there
because the suffering and pain is so great. In fact, those in torments want to
do all they can to warn those they care about not to join them there. Yet there
is nothing they can do about it! This, too, is a form of suffering in torments.
4. He experiences stubbornness. Amazingly torments is filled with
stubborn people. Abraham said to the rich man regarding his family, “29
They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And
he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will
repent.’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the
prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ”
(Luke 16:29-31). Jesus us is
teaching us that people have all the truth they need in the Bible (“Moses
and the prophets”) to avoid going to hell, so sending someone back from the
dead would be useless. Even in torments, the rich man still hasn’t figured out
what it takes to keep a man from that awful place. He stubbornly begs for the
salvation of his family, and won’t hear the truth that they must hear God’s
word and “repent” which means to change their mind about whatever is
keeping them from trusting in Christ, and then trust in Him to take them to
heaven. Even in torments, the rich man is totally unchanged. There is still no
willingness to do things necessary to leave – the rich man does not even ask to
get out. These verses tell us that even when people find themselves in the pain
and suffering of hell, they are still lost and they still have no room for God
in their lives.
SPIRIT AND SOUL REUNITED WITH THE BODY AT THE RESURRECTION
Old and New Testament unbelievers’ souls and spirits will re-enter
their resurrected bodies at the end of the thousand years reign of Christ on
earth to stand before the Great White Throne Judgment. “11 Then I saw a
great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the
heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. 12 And
I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books
were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of
Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things
which were written in the books. 13 The sea gave up the
dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in
them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 14 Then Death
and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And
anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of
fire.” Revelation 20:11-15.
The apostle John “saw the [unbelieving] dead [of all
ages], small and great, standing before God [in their resurrection
bodies which are eternal], and the books [containing all their works] were
opened” so they could be “judged according to their works” to
determined their degree of punishment in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:12;
cf. Matt. 11:20-24; 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47). Those like the Devil, the
Beast of Revelation, the False Prophet, and other false teachers will no doubt
experience greater punishment for misleading people away from God (Revelation
20:10; cf. Matthew 11:20-24; 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47; 2 Peter 2:1-17;
“The sea … Death and Hades [temporary holding place of the spirits and souls of dead unbelievers until the great white throne judgment] delivered up [resurrected] fromthe dead [unbelievers] who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works” before the great white throne (20:13). Notice that whether their bodies are decomposed in the sea or in the ground or cremated or vaporized, God will raise up their bodies to stand before His Great White Throne.
As a result of this Great White Throne judgment, all the unsaved dead [“Death”] and “Hades” will be “cast into the lake of fire” which “is the second death” (20:14). Everyone who dies without believing in Christ alone for everlasting life is “not found written in the Book of Life” and will “be cast into the lake of fire” where they will be tormented forever along with Satan and all his fallen angels (Revelation 20:15; cf. 20:10; Matthew 25:41).
The resurrection of Old and New Testament believers in Jesus Christ
will take place at different times. The first time, will be at the Rapture or
sudden removal of the church at any moment when the spirits and souls of
Christians who have died will return with Jesus from heaven in the air to
re-enter their resurrected bodies permanently. The apostle Paul writes, “14
For if we believe that
Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those
who sleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the
Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the
Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the
Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an
archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will
rise first.” I Thessalonians 4:14-16.
Christians who are alive at the
time of the Rapture will receive their glorified bodies as the are reunited in
the air with Jesus. “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up
together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall
always be with the Lord.” I Thessalonians 4:17. Paul alludes to this in I
Corinthians 15. “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the
last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised
incorruptible, and we shall be changed.For this corruptible
must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on
immortality.” I Corinthians 15:52-53. The phrase “we will be changed” refers to
living Christians at the time of the Rapture who will receive their glorified
The next time
when believers’ spirits and souls are reunited with their resurrection bodies
will be at the beginning of the Millennium, the thousand year reign of
Christ on the earth after the Tribulation period (Revelation 20:4-6). At
the beginning of Christ’s Millennial Kingdom, all who
possess eternal life through faith in Christ are all resurrected by this time including
Old Testament believers (Daniel 11:45-12:2)
and Tribulation believers who died (Revelation 20:4). In Matthew
25:31-46 we are told that when Christ returns to earth at the end of the
Tribulation period, He will judge the Gentile nations. In this judgment, those believers who survived the Tribulation,
will enter the Christ’s Millennial Kingdom in their mortal bodies (Matthew
Where will you live after you die? The Bible
tells us that all people will live forever after death in one of two places: either in Heaven with Jesus Christ (John
14:2-3) or in the Lake of Fire (Hell) separated from Jesus forever (Matthew
25:41; Revelation 20:15). Do you want to live forever in Heaven with Jesus?
If so, you need to realize the Bible says you have a problem called sin (Romans
3:23). The penalty for sin is death or separation from God forever in a
terrible place of agonizing suffering called the Lake of Fire or Hell (Matthew 10:28;
23:33; 25:41, 46b; Mark 9:42-48; Luke 12:5; Revelation 14:10; 20:10, 15).
Please understand that God loves you and He does not want you
to suffer forever in Hell (John 3:16; I Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Peter 3:9). This
is why He sent His only perfect Son, Jesus Christ, to die in your place on a
cross and rise from the dead, proving that He is God (Romans 1:3-4; I
Corinthians 15:3-8). Jesus is alive today and He offers you everlasting life as
a free gift (Romans 6:23b). Christ invites you to “believe in Him” to “have
everlasting life” both now and forever (John 3:16; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26).
Jesus promises that the moment you “hear” and “believe”
His promise of everlasting life, you now have “everlasting life” and “shall
not come into judgement” for your sins because you have “passed from
death into life” (John 5:24). Christ also guarantees that when you die, your
soul and spirit will go immediately to heaven to live with Him forever (John 14:2-3;
2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21, 23) and eventually be reunited with your
resurrection body when Jesus returns for His Church (I Corinthians 15:35-57; I
The person who never believes in Jesus “is condemned already,
because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John
3:18). God’s wrath abides on him now and forever. “He who does not
believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John
3:36). When the unbeliever dies, his soul and spirit go to torments in
Hades (Luke 16:23) until he is resurrected to stand before the Great White
Throne Judgment where he will be judged according to his works to determine the
degree of his punishment in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:11-15). And then he
(spirit, soul, and body) will be confined to the Lake of Fire where he will be
tormented forever (Matthew 10:28; 23:33; 25:41, 46b; Mark 9:42-48; Luke 12:5; Revelation
14:10; 20:10, 15).
Some people believe that a Christian who rejects Christ’s sacrifice or falls away from the Lord, loses his salvation or was never saved in the first place. Is this true? A common Bible passage they refer to is in Hebrews 10:26-31. Let’s take a look at this.
The author of the book of Hebrews is writing to Christians
who are being pressured to return to Judaism and give up on their Christian
faith. These Christians were in danger of returning to animal sacrifices for
the forgiveness of their sins instead of holding fast to the all sufficient
sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Heb. 2:1-18; 3:12; 7:11-28; 10:1-18).
After focusing on the sufficient sacrifice of Jesus on
the Cross to perfect them and give them total acceptance before God (10:1-18),
the writer of Hebrews admonishes his readers to boldly “draw near” to
God in a “new and living way” without unbelief or consciousness of sin
or guilt (10:19-22). They are to persevere in the faith (10:23) and Christian
fellowship till Christ’s return (10:24-25), when the promise of the eternal
inheritance will be awarded to those who persevere (cf. Heb. 9:15; 10:35-37).
The warning in Hebrews 10:26-31 applies to genuine
Christians as do all the other warnings in the book of Hebrews. If one honestly
looks at all the times “we” is used in this book (2:1, 3; 3:6; 4:3, 13;
7:26; 10:10, 19, 39; 12:1, 25; 13:6; et al), he would conclude that the author
of Hebrews is including himself and is therefore addressing Christians. Let’s
look at verse 26: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the
knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins. ” The
author’s use of “we” (hēmōn) in verse 26, also means he does not
exclude himself from potential apostasy. The word “For” (gar) connects
this section with the previous one (10:19-25) which is explicitly addressed to
Christians. They are to hold fast to their Christian confession and not forsake
assembling together (10:24-25). So this connective gar introduces the danger
of “willfully” (10:26) not holding fast to their Christian confession
and forsaking their assembling together. This danger in Hebrews 10:26-31 is the
reason why they should not apostatize i.e. reject Christ’s sacrifice (10:1-18)
and forsake assembling together (10:24-25).
Nothing in the transition from the encouragement section
(10:19-25) to the warning section (10:26-31) suggests a change in audience.
Both sections are to genuine Christians. Notice the phrase “the
knowledge of the truth” (tēn epignōsin tēn alētheias) in verse 26 does
not mean mere information here in light of the context, but a genuine and
personal knowledge which only a believer in Jesus can possess. The only other
usages of this phrase in the New Testament refer to believers (cf. I Tim. 2:4;
2 Tim. 2:25; 3:7; Titus 1:1). Also, the phrase in Hebrews 10:30, “His people”
(ton laon autou) alludes to the fact that those who are to be judged are
God’s people. They have been redeemed by Him.
To substantiate the genuineness of their Christian faith further, the author of Hebrews has already described his readers as having been “enlightened” by the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 6:4a; cf. 10:32), which leads to “tasting” or receiving the gift of eternal life (Hebrews 6:4b; cf. John 4:10; Rom. 6:23; cf. Heb. 2:9), which makes possible partnership (Hebrews 6:4c; cf. 1:9; 3:1, 14) with the Holy Spirit, under Whom they feed on the Word and taste God’s power (Hebrews 6:5). Only a believer can “fall away” from the Lord. One cannot fall away from the Lord unless he HAS the Lord. These Christians were in danger of returning to animal sacrifices for the forgiveness of their sins instead of holding fast to the all sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Heb. 2:1-18; 3:12; 7:11-28; 10:1-18).
Since these are genuine Christians, we know that they have everlasting life which can never be lost (John 10:28-29). Jesus promises that those who hear and believe His promise of everlasting life “shall not come into judgment” for their sins (John 5:24), including the sin of apostasy or turning away from Christ’s sacrifice. Christ guarantees that those who believe in Him will “never be cast out” of God’s family (John 6:37) nor will they ever die spiritually (John 11:25-26). No one and nothing can separate them from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). Believers in Jesus are sealed by the Holy Spirit after hearing and believing the gospel, so that they will be safely and securely delivered to heaven in the future (Ephesians 1:13-14). God’s Word does not contradict itself. So it is important to interpret Hebrews 10:26-31 in a way that harmonizes with the clear teaching of salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone (John 3:15-16;Romans 4:5; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9; Galatians 2:16; I John 5:1, 13).
In the background of this willful sin of apostasy (10:26),
is the “presumptuous” sin in which no sacrifice was provided for (Numbers
15:29-31). So when a believer apostatizes, there is no place to turn to, to secure
sacrificial protection against God’s temporal wrath and retribution. To turn
one’s back on the only sacrifice that God accepts, is to fall under God’s
temporal judgment. An apostate changes sides so to speak, and puts himself on
the side of God’s enemies (James 4:4), and can therefore experience God’s fiery
wrath (cf. Hebrews 6:4-8).
When Hebrews 10:27 says, “but a certain fearful
expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the
adversaries,” it means that whereas no sacrifice for sins remains, there
does remain a certain fearful expectation of judgment from God. Since fear is
punishment (cf. I John 4:18), the fearful expectation is itself a part of God’s
judgment on the Christian who departs from the Christian faith.
A more severe punishment is also in the mind of the author
of Hebrews. “Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the
testimony of two or three witnesses.” (Hebrews 10:28). A quick, sure death
accompanied a severe infraction of the Old Covenant (e.g. blasphemy, Lev.
24:11-16; murder, Lev. 24:17; Numbers 35:30; false prophecy, Deut. 18:20;
etc.). But especially in mind here is idolatry and the rejection of the
decision of a priest or judge (cf. Deut. 17:2-13), since Hebrews 10:28 alludes
to Deuteronomy 17:6.
Please keep in mind that Solomon died while steeped in
idolatry (I Kings 11:1-43) and yet he was a believer in the coming Messiah. God
declared that Solomon would be His son and He, God, will be Solomon’s Father (I
Chronicles 28:6). Hence, Solomon is a believer in the coming Messiah because he
is a child of God (cf. John 1:12). Also, God used Solomon to author three books
of the Bible: Proverbs (Solomon was the principal author), Song of Solomon, and
Ecclesiastes. The Bible says that the human authors of the Bible were “holy
men of God” who “spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2
Peter 1:21). Even though Solomon was an idolater, the Bible says he was a “holy”
man of God. How can this be? He is “holy” in God’s eyes because he has
been set apart from his sin and shame by virtue of his faith in the coming
Messiah who would die for all of his sins – including the sin of idolatry (cf.
Isaiah 53; Colossians 2:13-14).
But a worse punishment awaits a New Covenant believer who apostatizes. By using the form of a question, the writer raises the level of fear with the uncertainty involved in Hebrews 10:29: “Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” This more severe punishment is not spelled out. But it is conceivable that there are worse punishments than a sure, quick death in the Old Testament.
For example, King Saul suffered a worse punishment
than death as he went though prolonged manic-depression and paranoia. He also
was consumed by fear and hatred (I Samuel 13:8-28:25), yet he was genuinely saved
since Samuel said he would be with him after death in Paradise (I Samuel 28:19;
cf. Luke 16:22; 23:43). That Saul was a genuine believer is also substantiated
by the following:
We must first understand that “by the deeds
of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the
knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). Under the law of the Old
Testament, good works have nothing to do with salvation from hell. Salvation is
always (in Old and New Testaments) based on the sufficient sacrifice of
Christ’s death on the Cross and is by grace through faith alone in Christ alone
(cf. Gen. 3:15; 4:3-5; 15:6; John 3:14-18; Rom. 3:21-5:1; Gal. 2:16; Ephes.
2:8-9; Heb. 9:11-10:18; 11:4).
the prophet Samuel anointed Saul to be king over Israel, he informs Saul about
various signs that will take place after he leaves Samuel’s presence (I Sam.
10:1-4). Samuel tells Saul that when he comes to the hill of God where the
Philistine garrison is, he “will meet a procession of prophets coming down
from the high place with lyres, timbrels, pipes and harps being played before
them, and they will be prophesying. The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully
upon you, and you will prophesy with them; andyou will be changed into a different person.” (I Sam.
events that Samuel predicted came to pass as he said (I Sam. 10:9-11). A
summary statement of these events is given in verse 9: “As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all
these signs were fulfilled that day.” (I Sam. 10:9). Verses
6 and 9 clearly refer to Saul’s conversion because how else can a person be “changed into a different person” and God
change their hearts?
is also significant that during this encounter a group of prophets were
prophesying (I Sam. 10:5, 10). It is likely that they were prophesying about
the coming Messiah of Israel. After all, the apostle Peter said, “To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever
believes in Him will receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). When
Saul joined in with the prophesying of the prophets, he did so as a result of
believing what they were saying about the coming Messiah. The Holy Spirit’s
saving work in Saul’s life is manifested by Saul joining their prophetic
testimony. Even if Saul had not prophesied, he would still be a new man with a
new heart because salvation is
always based upon faith alone in Jesus the Messiah.
Messianic hope was also understood by Moses as revealed by the writer of
Hebrews “By faith
Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s
daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to
enjoy the passing pleasure of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ [literally,
“the Christ” or the Messiah] greater
riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he looked to the reward” (Heb.
11:24-26). So Moses believed in Jesus as the Christ, the
Messiah, but he also pursued Christ for eternal rewards just as Saul should
have pursued them. But Saul did not pursue Christ as he should have, and
therefore, he would forfeit eternal rewards that could have been his.
Consider King David. He should have been killed for his
sins of adultery and murder (cf. Deut. 22:22; Exodus 21:12-14), but instead he
went through the prolonged agony of God’s discipline for almost a year (Psalm
32:3-5; 51:8). That included physical weakening and inward grief. His vitality
was dried up and he was weighed down with guilt.
This more severe judgment may also have come upon the Corinthian
believers who were “weak” and “sick” and eventually died because of
their mistreatment of one another at the Lord’s Supper (I Cor. 11:29-32; cf.
10:1-13). The wrath of God is not limited to unbelievers, as believers can also
experience God’s present-day wrath in which He gives the disobedient
believer over to the consequences of his sin resulting in self-destruction (Romans
1:18-32; 5:9-10; 13:4-5). Believers can be saved from God’s present-day wrath
through the life of Christ living through them (Romans 6-8). One might also
think of prolonged illness, insanity, loss of loved ones or other things in
regard to a more severe punishment than physical death.
The reasons for such a punishment are found in Hebrews 10:29: “Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” He has “trampled the Son of God underfoot.” His apostasy is an unruly trampling on the dignity and claims of Christ (cf. Heb. 6:6). He regards the sanctifying blood of the New Covenant, which “sanctified” him, as impure or unholy. Notice the apostate has been “sanctified,” which in the author’s mind is the same as justification – it is a completed action (cf. Hebrews 2:11; 10:10, 14).
The phrase “by which he was sanctified” (en hō hēgiasthē) contains a masculine or less likely neuter relative pronoun (hō) which cannot refer back to the word “covenant” (diathēkēs) because that word is feminine and a relative pronoun must agree with its antecedent in gender and number (see Dana and Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, 1955, pp. 125-126; and see Goetchius, The Language of the New Testament, 1965, p. 336, #308). Neither can this pronoun refer back to the “Son of God” because the logical sequence of words clearly refers the subject back to the one who has “counted the blood of the covenant a common thing.” Also in the book of Hebrews Christ is the Sanctifier, not the Sanctified (Heb. 2:11; 10, 14). So the most likely antecedent is the “blood” (haima), since it agrees with the pronoun in number (singular) and gender (neuter). The “by” (en) indicates that it is by means of the blood that the apostate is sanctified. Hence, it is the apostate who is sanctified by the blood of Christ. The apostate also outraged or “insulted the Spirit of grace” by rejecting Christ’s sacrifice for all his sins.
In Hebrews 10:30, the author
quotes from Deuteronomy 32:35-36. “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is
Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.And again, ‘The Lord will judge His
people.’ ” Deuteronomy 32:35-43 refers to God’s severe chastisement of “His
people,” not His “professing” or “ungenuine” people, and to
their restoration. The author’s selection of Deuteronomy 32 is most
appropriate. The description of His wrath against His unfaithful people sounds
much worse than execution by stoning (Deut. 32:19-27; cf. Lamentations 4:6, 9).
Deuteronomy 32:38-33 describes Israel’s lack of wisdom and the bitter effects
of their idolatrous practices. Notice Deut. 32:31, “For their rock [pagan
gods] is not like our Rock [Israel’s God], even our enemies
themselves being judges.” Israel acknowledges the difference between their
idolatrous gods and the true God they had turned from. Deuteronomy 32:34-39
then speaks of God’s judgment upon His people, after which He will restore
them. Verse 40-43 in Deuteronomy 32 speak of God’s judgment upon His enemies. After
judging His people (Deut. 32:35-36a), He will have compassion on them and ask
them about the pagan gods they had turned to (Deut. 32:36b-37). This assumes
that they survive the judgment.
Therefore, in Hebrews 10:30, the writer of Hebrews is referring to God’s temporal judgment on those who abandon their Christian confession of Him (i.e. apostate Christians). He then concludes that it is terrible to come under God’s temporal judgment. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). If any of His Christian readers were tempted to abandon their Christian faith and some were, these words of temporal judgment would have been sobering. No doubt they would be more inhibited to think about doing such a heinous thing!
Conclusion: Rather than teach that a Christian who turns away from the sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ and goes back to his old religion loses his salvation or was never saved in the first place, Hebrews 10:26-31 affirms that a person who believes in Jesus Christ for everlasting life is secure forever, but it also warns of the dangers of departing from our Savior.
“38 Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them,
‘What do you seek?’ They said to Him, ‘Rabbi’ (which is to say, when
translated, Teacher), where are You staying?’ 39 He said to them, ‘Come
and see.’ They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that
day (now it was about the tenth hour).” John 1:38-39
There is a
transfer of focus now in Chapter 1 of John from John the Baptist to Jesus. In
the preceding verses (John 1:24-34), John the Baptist was the first witness of
who Jesus is. John pointed others to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes
away the sin of the world; the Pre-existent One; the One who baptizes with the
Holy Spirit; and as the Son of God. John identified himself as a voice to
prepare the way for Jesus.
Baptist humbly points “two of his disciples” to Jesus, “the Lamb of
God” (John 1:35-36). So John’s two disciples “followed Jesus” or go along
with Him (John 1:37). This means nothing more than they are accompanying the Lord.
“Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, ‘What do you
seek?’ ” (John 1:38a).
Jesus may be
asking us right now, “What do you seek” in life? Attention…fulfillment…love… recognition… safety… security… soothing… relationships… money… a job…
fame… healing? What is it you are seeking at this time? Are you seeking
Jesus? Only Jesus can meet our deepest needs. Only Jesus can give us the acceptance…
attention… fulfillment… love… safety… security… soothing… healing… and
forgiveness that we crave.
Jesus was who John’s disciples were seeking. “38 They said to Him, ‘Rabbi’ (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), ‘where are You staying?’ 39 He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour)” (John 1:38b-39). Christ invited these seekers to “Come and see.” And He does the same with us.
The words “staying”
and “remained” come from the Greek word menō, which John uses
forty times in his gospel to describe close fellowship with Christ. It means “to
stay, remain, abide” or literally “to make one’s home at.” We need
to constantly make our home in Jesus’ presence. Where we make our home is where
we spend our time. We must make the effort to reside in the truth of the Bible
about Jesus and His love for us.
How at home with Jesus are we? Are there certain areas of our lives where
Jesus is not welcome? Or are we cultivating a closer relationship with Him by
spending time with Him in prayer, the study of His Word, and hanging out with
other Christians? Are we inviting Jesus into the secret areas of our hearts
where no one else is allowed? Areas of darkness and wounds? Areas of fear and
shame? Jesus is gracious and merciful. He wants to bring healing and hope to these
forbidden compartments in our lives.
COVID-19 has greatly simplified our lifestyles. Perhaps now is the time
to carve out an hour or two to be alone with the Lord. When we spend time with
Jesus, our lives will never be the same. He can cleanse us of the shameful
secrets that we have hidden for decades. He can restore hope to our lives as He
brings healing to the areas of our brokenness and wounds.
When we grow closer to Jesus, His heart for the lost will become
ours. We will begin to see those who need to hear the gospel the same way that
Jesus does – as someone worth dying for.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are my greatest need. I seek You, Lord, in
the midst of these changing times. You are the same yesterday, today, and
tomorrow. What would You say to me now? I am listening. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with
water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on
Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’” John 1:33
If God is going to greatly use us, we must recognize who we are not (John 1:19-21), who we are (John 1:22-23), and point others to Jesus Christ (John 1:24-29). This is what John the Baptist continues to do.
He pointed others to Jesus by telling them about Jesus’ Pre-existence.“This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’” (John 1:30). John returns to a statement he made earlier in John 1:15 regarding the pre-existence of the Son of God. He wants his audience to understand that the Lamb of God is more than a man laying down His life for a good cause. The One who died to take away the sin of the world was none other than the eternal Word who has always existed (John 1:1-2). Even though John the Baptist was born six months prior to Jesus (Luke 1:26, 36), John says, “He was before me.” Jesus was always before John in His Pre-existent state as God. Christ is God without beginning or end (I John 5:20; Revelation 1:17; 22:13).
If we are going to be greatly used by God, we need to be
able to tell others of Jesus’ Pre-existence as God. We must recognize how great
Jesus is! We are not worthy to be mentioned in the same sentence with Him. Because
Jesus is eternal, He can give life that never ends to those who believe in Him
The next way John pointed others to Jesus was to tell
them of Christ’s deity. The Baptist refers back to that moment at Jesus’
baptism when it was revealed that Jesus was the chosen Messiah. “‘31
I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came
baptizing with water. 32 And John bore witness, saying, ‘I saw the
Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. 33
I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon
whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who
baptizes with the Holy Spirit’” (John 1:31-33).
Do you remember what happened at Jesus’ baptism? The Spirit
descended in the form of a dove upon Jesus to confirm Him as the Messiah and the
Father testified from Heaven, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well
pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17). God approved the ministry of Jesus. Thus, while
John baptizes with water, Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit. He is the
Giver of the Spirit. Jesus came that people might be brought into contact with
the Holy Spirit.
Since the fall of man in Genesis 3, people have longed to
be free from the struggle with evil. Some of us today wish we could
eliminate our struggle with sin, selfishness, and self-centeredness. There have
been times when I wished I could have had a surgical operation to remove my
tendency to be stubborn, critical, and selfish. When I saw the hurt I caused, I
wished somehow to be able to stop doing those kinds of things.
The Bible tells us that it takes God Himself to do that. The
work of the Spirit is to do that very thing. What John is saying is, “I
deal with the external…that is as far as I can go. But, when I baptized Jesus,
I saw the Spirit coming down like a dove and lighting on His shoulder. The One
who sent me to baptize had said to me, ‘When you see that happening, that is
the One who will not only change men outside, but will change them on the
inside, by the baptism of the Holy Spirit.’ When that happened, I knew who He
was. My own cousin, Jesus of Nazareth, was the one who would baptize with the
When we believe in Jesus, God the Holy Spirit places us in
the body of Christ, the Church (John 7:39; I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:26-27).
That is Spirit Baptism. He comes to live inside of us and wash us clean.
He gives us the power to overcome sin in our lives as we depend upon Him. Water
baptism, however, does not cleanse you spiritually. When we baptize believers,
we do it by immersion because Jesus was baptized that way. Why was Jesus baptized?
Did He need to be saved? No. He was perfect. He was baptized because it pleased
His Father in heaven and provided an example for us to follow. Christ was also
baptized with water to begin His public ministry. So every time a believer
is baptized with water, it puts a smile on God’s face and it initiates that
believer into the discipleship process whereby he or she begins to minister to
others (Matthew 28:19-20).
In the Old Testament, the animals sacrificed by the Israelite
worshiper had to be “without blemish” (Leviticus 1:3, 10; 3:1, 6; 4:3,
23, 28, 32; 5:15, 18; 6:6; 9:2-3; 14:10; 22:19; 23:12, 18) which was a
foreshadowing of the perfect sacrifice of the Lamb of God. In order for the
Lamb of God to be a perfect sacrifice, He had to be sinless. The only way this
could be possible, was for the Lamb of God to be fully God and fully Man.
Is it any wonder then that John’s public testimony climaxes
in his identification of Jesus as the Son of God. “And I have seen and
testified that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34). John wants his audience
to know that the Lamb of God is more than a man laying down his life for someone.
The Lamb of God is God in human flesh. He is fully human and fully God. He is
the One who was with God and who was God (John 1:1-2). This is the only way He
could be the perfect sacrifice for the sin of the world (John 1:29).
What a testimony this was from John the Baptist! What a
witness! What a voice! John points people to Jesus. He recognizes that it is
not about him. He understands both who he is not (the Christ) and who he is (a
voice). He understands his role: point people to Jesus.
Understand who Jesus is, so that you might believe on
Him, and believing you might have life in His name (John 20:31). Recognize
who you are not. This takes humility. Also recognize who you are. This
takes confidence. You are a voice, a highway builder. Tell others of Jesus. Do
not be ashamed. We are to be like bird dogs. As they point to a group of
birds, we are to point people to Jesus, who is the eternal and perfect Lamb of
A father and his small son strolled down the street in
Chicago past the place where a skyscraper was being constructed. Glancing up,
they saw men at work on a high story of the building. “Father,”
said the little boy, “What are those little boys doing up there?”
“Those are not little boys, son. They’re grown men.” “But why do
they look so small?” “Because they’re so high,” his father
answered. After a pause the boy asked, “Then, Father, when they get to
heaven there won’t be anything left of them, will there?” It’s so
true, the closer we get to Christ, the less others see of us and the more
they see of Him. Point them to Jesus.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me not to lose sight of who You
are in the midst of this crazy world.My heart was deeply touched by the
contrast between John’s baptism with water and Your baptism with the Holy
Spirit. You are far more concerned with my heart than you are my appearance. You
are in the business of changing lives from the inside out. When the Father said
to You at Your baptism, “This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well
pleased,” I think this is something every boy longs to hear from his
own earthly father, but they often don’t. Jesus, please help me to hear the
Father’s voice saying to me, “I love you and I am very proud of you.” That
is the cry of my heart, Lord. In fact, I believe it is the cry of many hearts
belonging to men. I want to grow closer to You, Jesus, so others will see more
of You and less of me. I love You, Lamb of God. Thank You for always having
time for me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The
Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” John 1:29
If God is going to greatly use us, we must not only recognize who we are not (John 1:19-21) and who we are (John 1:22-23), but we must also point others to Jesus Christ (John 1:24-29). This is what John the Baptist does next.
examiners basically ask him what gives him the right to baptize (John 1:24-25),
John points them to Jesus. “I baptize with water, but there stands One among
you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before
me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” (John 1:26-27). John is
saying,“This is not about me. It
is not about the rite of baptism. It is not about by whose authority I baptize.
It is all about Jesus.” John’s interest is in Christ and Christ alone. In
accordance with the gospel of John’s purpose (John 20:31), John the Baptist’s
testimony tells us who Jesus is.
So first, John tells us about Jesus’ greatness (John 1:26-27). John informs these religious leaders that there is one who stands in their midst, who they do not know, whose sandals he is not worthy to unlace (John 1:26-27). Loosing another’s sandal was the most menial of tasks. Only the lowest slaves would loosen sandals. Even disciples were not asked to loosen the sandals of their teachers. Yet John says, “I am unworthy to do the single most humbling task—loosen His sandals.” Why? Because of His greatness.
this passage we see John’s humility. As the introducer to Jesus, John possessed
a tremendous privilege. God trusts the humble with great privileges because
He knows they will not receive any glory for themselves. They will give God the
glory. If you want God to use you greatly, you must get out of His way and
humbly follow Him.
Second, John tells us of Jesus’ sacrifice (John 1:29). John’s public testimony continues the following day. As the Baptizer ministers, he sees Jesus coming toward him and makes one of the great statements of the New Testament. “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). What is John saying here? If you read through the Old Testament, you will find it is filled with many blood sacrifices. Abel, the son of Adam, offered a lamb to God and God smiled upon that sacrifice (Genesis 4:4). Later Abraham made offerings to God (Genesis 15:9-21). Then the children of Israel were instructed to sacrifice a lamb and sprinkle its blood on their doorposts, so the angel of death would pass over their family without killing the firstborn (Exodus 12:1-28). Israelites were also taught at the foot of Mount Sinai to bring certain animals to slay and to offer the blood and meat of those animals to God (Exodus 20:24).
offended by the fact that the Old Testament is replete with animal
sacrifices, of actual blood being
spilled. Every morning and every evening there were animals slain in the temple
in Jerusalem. On the great feast days of Israel thousands of animals were
sacrificed. A stream of blood runs all through the Old Testament.
Every sacrifice was a testimony that Someone was coming who would supply that explanation. Now, at last, there is an answer to the cry of Isaac, as Abraham his father was taking him upon the mountain to offer him, “Where is the lamb?” and Abraham replied, “God will provide for Himself the lamb”(Genesis 22:7-8). Centuries later, as John sees Jesus coming toward him, knowing who He was, having baptized Him six weeks earlier, he says to the crowd, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Here is the One who will satisfy God’s demand to punish our sins.
that the sacrifice of this Lamb “takes away” the sin of the
world. The verb used here (airōn) symbolizes more than just “covering” (to cover something means it
is still there). When John says the Lamb of God takes away the sin of the
world, it means that He removes it.
When I shared this message in a church in South Des Moines, Iowa, we had an individual wearing a T-shirt with the word “SIN” taped on it. They tried praying and reading their Bible, but the “SIN” label was still there. The person tried to wear a jacket to cover the sin. Others may not see his sin, but God still sees it. Another person came representing Jesus. The “SIN” label was then placed on him. This was the only way his sin could be removed.
blood can remove the stain of sin in our lives. No amount of good living on our part
can remove the stain. “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our
righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). When God looks at the good
things we think, say, and do, He sees that they are all stained with sin. Only
Jesus can remove the stain of our sin through His shed blood. This is why John
the Baptist pointed people to Jesus, the Lamb of God. And so must we.
Furthermore, Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient for “the sin of the world” (John 1:29b). It is comprehensive in its nature. In other words, when Jesus died, His sacrifice was completely adequate for the needs of all people. It was sufficient for all. Listen to what the Bible says about Jesus’ sufficient sacrifice:
“We have an
Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself
is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the
whole world.” I John 2:1-2. The word “propitiation” refers to God’s
satisfaction with Jesus’ death being the full payment for all of our sins.
“11 But Christ came as High
Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect
tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. 12 Not with
the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most
Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For
if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling
the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, 14 how
much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered
Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead
works to serve the living God?” Hebrews 9:11-14
“He [Jesus] has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of
Himself.” Hebrews 9:26
“ But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God… For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” Hebrews 10:12, 14
My wife shared something with me today at lunch that really touched me. You can see her insights in the picture above. The horizontal cross beam reminds us of what Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” The cross of Jesus provides the basis for removing our sins as far as the east is from the west, far out of our reach. The vertical post of the cross points to Micah 7:19 which says, “You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” The cross provides the basis of casting our our sins out of our sight into the depths of the sea.
To receive the
benefits of Jesus’ sufficient sacrifice, you
must believe or trust in Him as your Savior from sin. No further sacrifice is required. Christ’s
sacrifice was all that is needed. We are told that His sacrifice is
substitutionary (Romans 5:8; I Corinthians 15:3-4) and sufficient (Hebrews
9:11-10:14; I John 2:2).
Have you believed in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, to take away your sins? If not, why not believe or trust in Him now for His unlimited forgiveness (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13-14)? The apostle Peter invited a religious man named Cornelius to believe in Christ for forgiveness: “All the prophets say it is true that all who believe in Jesus will be forgiven of their sins through Jesus’ name.” (Acts 10:43). Does the word “all” include you? Yes. It includes everyone from every nation, tribe, and language group. Jesus loves everyone and He died for everyone (John 3:16; I Timothy 2:3-6) so that everyone may be forgiven of all their sin if they will come to Him on His terms. What are His terms? Jesus said to “believe in Him” (John 3:15-18; cf. John 6:40; 11:25-26; Acts 10:43). Stop trusting in yourself or your good life and trust in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, to take away your sins forever!
If you just believed in Jesus for His forgiveness of all your sins, the Bible says your sins are forgiven – past, present, and future (Acts 10:43; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13-14; Revelation 1:5). All your sins are removed beyond your reach as far as the east is from the west (Psalms 103:12). They are cast out of your sight into the deepest part of the sea (Micah 7:19). Nothing, including your guilt and shame, can separate you from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39)! God is now your Father and you are His child forever (John 1:12; 6:37). God wants to use you now to share this good news with others. Learn to follow Jesus and He will teach you how to fish for men and women, boys and girls with His gospel message (Matthew 4:19).
Being used greatly by God involves knowing who we are not (John 1:19-21), who we are (John 1:22-23), and pointing others to Jesus (John 1:24-29). Lord willing, we will talk more tomorrow about pointing others to Jesus. Until then, may Jesus richly bless you.
Prayer: Precious Lamb of God, thank You for taking my place on the
cross to pay the full penalty for my sins. Your sacrifice was sufficient not
only for all of my sins, but for the sin of the world. The moment I believed in
You and Your sufficient sacrifice for my sins, all of the wrong things I have
done, said, and thought were all forgiven and removed from my sight and out of
my reach forever! Please use me, Lamb of God, to point others to You by
focusing on Your greatness as a Person and Your sufficient sacrifice for the
sin of the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“22 Then they said to him, ‘Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?’ 23 He said: ‘I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the Lord,” ’as the prophet Isaiah said.” John 1:22-23
We will look
at a second way to be used greatly by God based on John the Baptist’s response
to the religious delegation’s inquiry. This religious delegation was not
content with John’s previous denials (John 1:20-21). They must have some
response to take back to their leaders, so they questioned John further. “Who
are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about
yourself?” (John 1:22). “Give us a
break! Tell us something we can take back to Jerusalem. If you are not any of
these people, then who are you? What do you have to say about yourself? Show us
your resume.” They turn the matter over to John.
Wow! What an
opportunity for John the Baptist! At this point, he could have said anything.
He could have said, “I am the great
forerunner or prophet or preacher! Look at how many baptisms I have performed.
Look at how many people I have attracted. Wow! I must be awesome. I need to be
leading church growth seminars or teaching preaching classes. I need to be
invited to preach at evangelism conferences.”
But John did
not flash his credentials. He did not flatter himself or build his own name. He
did not attempt to make himself great. When asked, “Who are you?” to
what did John turn to determine his identity? He turned to Isaiah 40:3 in the
Bible. The only reliable and accurate source of information about our identity
is the Bible.
“He said: ‘I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight
the way of the Lord,”’ as the prophet Isaiah said” (John 1:23). John says, “If you want to know who I am read the
prophet Isaiah. It’s written there for you.” This indicates that John
himself had learned about who he was and what he was to do by reading and
studying God’s Word. Most likely when John asked himself, as he must have as a
young boy, “What does God want me to
do?” he found the answer in the Word of God: “I am to be a highway builder. I am to prepare a highway in the
desert for our God.” Not for men to get to God, but for God to get to
how highways are built: “Every
valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked
places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth” (Isaiah 40:4). Check with a modern road builder and
he will tell you that is exactly how a highway is built: the low spots are
filled in, the high spots are leveled, the crooked ones are straightened out,
and the rough ones are made smooth.
beautiful description of John’s ministry to people is still the way repentance
works in the human heart today. If you feel low and worthless, depressed,
insignificant, your life is meaningless, you are in a valley — then transfer
your trust to Christ and He will lift you up: “Every valley shall be
exalted.” That is where Jesus will meet you.
If you feel
proud and self-sufficient, able to handle your own affairs, then come down: “Every
hill brought low.” That is where Christ will meet you, and nowhere else.
If you are handling things in a crooked manner, if you are devious in your business dealings and untrustworthy in your relationships with others, then realize there is only One who can forgive your crooked ways – Jesus. “The crooked places shall be made straight.” That is what John the Baptist preached: “Repent”(Matthew 3:2, Mark 1:4; Luke 3:4).
The verb “repent” ( metanoeō) is a compound made up of two Greek words. The first is meta, “after,” and the second is noeō, “to perceive, understand or think.” The two together mean “after perceiving, understanding, thinking” or “to change one’s mind.” The noun “repentance” (metanoia) is also a compound word made up of meta, “after,” and noēma,“thought.” Together the two mean an “afterthought” or “a change of mind.” Hence, repentance in an evangelistic context is simply changing your mind about whatever is keeping you from believing in Christ and then believing in Him alone for eternal life (cf. Mark 1:15; John 3:36; Acts 19:4). Christ will meet you right there.
If you are given to riding roughshod over people, your life is filled with a lot of rough, tough situations, repent, change your mind and trust Christ to save you; decide to smooth out those places, deal with those things, and Jesus will meet you right there. “And the rough places smooth.” That is a highway for God to come to you. That was John’s ministry all through his life.
the apostle John never uses the words “repent” or “repentance” in
his gospel. Why did God inspire the apostle John to leave these two words out
of the only book of the Bible whose primary purpose is to tell non-Christians
how to obtain eternal life (John 20:31)? One reason is because when one
changes from unbelief to belief, he HAS changed his mind or repented to possess
reason is because the words “repent” and “repentance” are easily
misunderstood to mean something like “turning from sins” or “penance”
which involve works. If a non-Christian is told to turn from his sins, he is
going to ask, “How often must I do this and from what sins must I turn?”
The word “believe,” however, communicates such simplicity that it is
less likely to be misconstrued to include a works-oriented response. Believe
means believe or trust.
Baptist knew that he was merely a voice. He is not an important person, like a
prophet or the Messiah. He is a voice. Unlike the eternal Word of 1:1, a voice
is temporary. A voice is fleeting. A voice is fading. And that is John’s view
of himself. I am merely a fading voice that is crying in the wilderness.
message is one of preparation: “Make
straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:23b). John summons the people
to be ready for the coming Messiah. He is the one preparing the way for the
coming King (an important role in ancient times involved leveling the land and
clearing the road). He saw his role as the voice preparing the way.
When I played
football, some teams ran the single wing offense. One of the positions in the
backfield was the blocking back. He never carried the ball, but just blocked
for the ball carrier. He never received any glory, but he did it because he was
a team player. That’s what John was. John was like the old-time telephone
operator – when they connected you to your party, they just got out of the way.
If we are to
be greatly used by God like John the Baptist, we must know who we are.
We are called to be God’s voices. We are the temporary voice chosen to prepare
the way in our generation. Each generation has a voice, and we are the voice
for this time and this place. Our role is temporary, but it is essential.
Without the voice, the people will not hear. And if they do not hear, they
won’t be able to believe in Jesus for eternal life (cf. Romans 10:14).
We are to
speak and live the message of Jesus before a watching world. If God is going to
greatly use us, we must recognize who we are not (John 1:19-21) and who we
are (John 1:22-23). We are not Jesus. Nor are we victims. We are voices. God
wants to use our voices to prepare people to believe in Christ for His gift of
everlasting life (cf. Acts 19:4). Will you let Him?
Prayer: Father God, thank You for reminding me that the Bible is
where I want to turn to determine my identity. Your Word contains the most
accurate and reliable information about who I am in Christ. Unfortunately, I have
spent much of my life looking for my identity in things that change – my achievements,
my appearance, my education, my family, my friends, my failures, and even my
pain. Your Word never changes nor does Your view of me. I am so humbled that
You want to use my voice to prepare people to come to faith in Jesus for His
gift of salvation. Please give me the boldness, clarity, wisdom, and opportunities
to proclaim Christ crucified to those who are perishing without Him. I pray
Your Holy Spirit will use Your Word to persuade people of their need for Jesus
so they will believe in Him for eternal life before it is too late for them
(John 16:7-11). I am so grateful that the power to transform lives comes from Your
gospel message (Romans 1:16), not from my personality or my persuasiveness. Thank
You, Jesus, for Your grace which sustains me. In Your name. Amen.
this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from
Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I
am not the Christ.’” John 1:19-20
Pastor Ray Stedman wrote, “A remarkable religious phenomenon
broke out in the United States in the year 1948. It started in a tent near the
Hollywood area of Los Angeles, under the preaching of a young evangelist by the
name of Billy Graham. The crowds were a little sparse in that tent at first,
but as the preaching went on they began to grow. Finally, certain rather
prominent Hollywood celebrities came to the meetings and were converted. At
first, as often happens with gatherings of that sort, the press totally ignored
them. But when some of the well-known names of Hollywood became involved, the
media began to take an interest in what was happening. Eventually reporters were
sent to investigate and to interview this rather strange young preacher, who
dressed in pistachio-colored suits, wore flaming red ties, spoke with a
pronounced Southern accent, and yet had incredible appeal to the masses. It was
evident that God was doing something there. That was the beginning of Billy
Graham’s career. As news of those meetings spread across the country, other
cities invited him to come and preach. He went on to Boston, where all of New
England seemed to turn out to hear him. Thus began the great Crusades that
swept across America in the latter part of the ’40’s and ’50’s under Billy
“As it was with Billy the Baptist in
1948, so it was with John the Baptist in the late ’20’s of the first century.
He, too, was a young man, in his early ’30’s, six months older than Jesus. He,
too, dressed rather strangely, even for that day. He did not wear green suits;
he wore animal skins, and ate a strange diet of grasshoppers and wild honey.
This young man had a very powerful message, which seemed to have great
attraction to people. At first, they came out by dozens, then by scores. and
finally, hundreds and thousands forsook the cities of Judah and Galilee to hear
this remarkable preacher out in desert places. Finally, the response was so
tremendous. and this man became so popular, that even the religious
establishment of Jerusalem had to take note. They sent a delegation to
investigate this remarkable preacher.” (https://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/john/call-the-first-witness).
John records the event for us in his gospel. From this event, we will
discover how we too, like John the Baptist, can be used greatly by God.
a large following, John the Baptist naturally attracted the attention of the
religious leaders of Jerusalem, who sent a delegation to question this desert
preacher. They could not ignore someone who attracted such a large gathering.
John was an enigma. He did not conform, so they wanted to know more about him. Whenever
God begins to use someone greatly for Him, it gets the attention of the
religious establishment. They are suspicious and want to control what is going
on. They are also threatened.
“Now this is the testimony of
John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’” (John
1:19). John responds
by vigorously telling him who he is not. “He
confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’” (John
1:20). In John’s
day, everyone was looking for the promised Messiah-God, so naturally John’s
actions and message created a lot of speculation as to who he was. “Might he
be the promised Messiah-God?” John denounces any speculation regarding
these messianic expectations. “I am not the Christ,” he asserts.
Whatever John was, he was certainly not the Christ. There was a Christ, but he
was not him.
The religious delegation then asked John the Baptist, “What then? Are you Elijah?” (John 1:21a). These men may have thought, “Perhaps John is the reincarnated Elijah. After all, his appearance is similar. His message is similar. Elijah did not die. Was this the great Elijah?” People who believe in reincarnation say here is an example of it. They hold that here is a man who once lived on the earth appearing again as another man — Elijah reincarnated. But if you look closely at this text you will see there is no substance to that claim. John says very plainly, “I am not”(John 1:21b). His was not a reincarnate appearance. The Bible tells us that people die once and then they face God. “As it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27). This is the only chance you have on earth to get right with God. While John did fulfill the preliminary ministry of which the prophets spoke (in the form of Elijah, he was not the actual prophet himself).
to give up, the religious delegation ask, “Are you the Prophet?”(John
1:21c). In the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 18:15-19 speaks of a great
prophet like Moses who would come and restore Israel. This promise was taken to
refer to a special end-times figure who would fulfill the role of the great
Prophet. “Surely John is the great prophet” these men thought. Again,
with an emphatic, “No!”(John 1:21d), John denounces this title. As a
proper witness, John recognized who he was not. His three-fold denial
makes his witness clear. The increasing shortness of John’s successive answers
cannot be missed here:
“I am not the Christ.”
John the Baptist seems to have a dislike for answering questions about himself. He had come to bear witness about another. He recognized who he was not. He was not the Messiah. He was not Elijah. He was not the great Prophet.
If we are
going to be greatly used by God, we must recognize who we are not. We
are not the Messiah-God. We are not the great prophet. We are not Elijah. We
cannot think of ourselves as more than what we are. It is not our glory, but
His, we are to seek. We need to remember that we are not Jesus. We are not God.
Nor can we meet needs that only God can meet. We are only witnesses. God did
not call us to be someone else. He called us to be the person He made us to be.
Hence, to be greatly used by God we must recognize who we are not. John knew
who he was not. Do we?
Like John the Baptist we will discover that the closer we grow to Jesus Christ, the more we will want to talk about Him with others and the less we will want to talk about ourselves. Remember what we learned about Jesus’ relationship to God the Father in John 1:18? Christ had a very intimate relationship with the Father. This is why He was so qualified to explain to us what God the Father is like. Likewise, the more we get to know the Lord Jesus Christ, the more effective we will be at bearing witness to Him in a lost world. Intimacy with Christ leads to making Him known to others. Instead of keeping the gospel to ourselves, we will want to make Jesus known to others who are perishing without Him.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, my pride often
overestimates my own abilities and importance to compensate for my deep
feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. So often I am obsessed with myself instead of with You. I find myself
talking more about me when visiting with others instead of talking about my
relationship with You. Thank You for being so gracious and patient with me when
I am this way. I can hear You saying, “Jeff, I love you and I am so proud of
you for being you.” Yet, in my heart I do not believe what You are saying.
So much of my life I have believed the lie that says, “I am what I do.”
By Your grace, Lord Jesus, please replace that lie with the truth that says, “I
am what God says.” I am Your forever child, my Lord (John 1:12; I John
3:1-2). Your love and tender mercies assure me that I am loved and cared
for apart from any merit of my own, which makes it easier for me to trust You (Psalm
40:11). I am also Your ambassador
or representative here on earth (2 Corinthians 5:20). Please help me to see
myself as You do so I am freed up to think less of myself and focus more on
You. You are worthy of my very best. I want to give you everything I have right
now. It is all Yours. Use me, I pray, for Your glory and purposes. In Jesus’