Witnesses

Jesus responded to the Jews rejection of him as their Messiah by first letting them know that they would be jusged for their choice (John 5:22) and then, explained to them that there would come a day when everyone would be resurrected from the dead, but rather than entering into the presence of God and living with him for eternity, those who rejected Jesus would spend eternity in hell (John 5:29). Jesus intentionally made a point of declaring the truth about God’s judgment early in his ministry, and also talked about it often, so that no one could say, I didn’t know about that. Comparing God’s judgment to a legal case in which each person would be charged with some offence, Jesus said, “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom you trust” (John 5:45). Jesus said this because his “listeners prided themselves on their attachment to Moses, the great lawgiver. So it was an unexpected thrust for Jesus to say Moses himself would accuse them before God” (note on John 5:45).

Thinking about the evidence required to convict someone of a crime in a court of law, Jesus identified four witnesses that could testify that he was in fact the Jews’ Messiah. The first witness Jesus called to their minds was John the Baptist (John 5:33). The Jews were familiar with John’s message and many saw him baptize Jesus in the Jordan river (Matthew 3:16). During his first encounter with Jesus, John stated, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus told the Jews, “But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me” (John 5:36). Jesus was referring to his works of salvation. The Messiah’s mission was to save God’s people and Jesus intended to finish that assignment through his death and resurrection. Ultimately, there was no better way for Jesus to prove he was who he said was than to resurrect himself from the dead. If that wasn’t enough, Jesus added that God himself had testified to his identity (Matthew 3:17) and the Scriptures also testified of him (John 5:39).

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Life after death

Jesus’ special relationship with God infuriated the Jews because they didn’t understand how he could be equal with God when he was a human like them. Jesus referred to God as his Father (John 5:17). The idea that God could have conceived a child seemed ludicrous to the Jews who thought that God’s primary purpose was to regulate the behavior of men, not become one of them in order to deliver them from sin and death.

Jesus said, “My father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17). At the time when Jesus lived, fathers and sons usually had the same occupation. While they were living at home, young men learned their father’s trade and were expected to contribute to the family’s income. Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph was a carpenter (Matthew 13:55) and it is assumed that Jesus worked in that trade until he began his ministry at about the age of 30.

Rather than associating himself with his carpentry job, Jesus focused everyone’s attention on the joint spiritual activity that was going on between him and his heavenly Father. Jesus said, “For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and will shew him greater works than these that ye may marvel” (John 5:20). The greater works Jesus was referring to was resurrecting the dead.

In order to set the stage for an unprecedented revelation about his establishment of God’s kingdom on earth, Jesus talked about eternal life in the context of faith in God. He said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). Jesus wanted everyone to know that eternal life was a gift that could only be obtained through belief.

Following this statement, Jesus declared that the resurrection of the dead would take place at his command (John 5:25). It was only because he had been given authority to execute judgment on behalf of his father that Jesus could command the dead to come back to life. The shocking news was that everyone would be brought back to life, even those that didn’t believe in Jesus. He told the Jews:

Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and those that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. (John 5:28-29)

Paradigm shift

An important change that happened in the way Jesus’ disciples thought about their relationship with God compared to the rest of the Jews was their freedom from religious regulations. After sharing a meal with some of the outcasts of Jewish society, Jesus was asked, “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not?” (Mark 2:18). This question was intended as a criticism of Jesus’ leadership and showed that the freedom his disciples experienced was perceived to be sinful behavior. Taking it a step further, Mark said about Jesus, “And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?” (Mark 2:23-24). These two incidents captured the paradigm shift that began to take place almost immediately after Jesus’ ministry started. Jesus’ response to the criticism he received was his first attempt at explaining a key aspect of Christianity; the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the action by which God takes up permanent residence in the body of a believer in Jesus Christ. Jesus used two common staples of Jewish life to illustrate this concept. He said, “No man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filled it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles” (Mark 2:21-22). The old garment and old bottles could have represented the nation of Israel; and the new cloth and new wine, the gospel message Jesus brought to God’s people. Likewise, the old garment and old bottles could have represented individuals such as the scribes and Pharisees that were unable to receive salvation because they weren’t able to let go of their religious traditions. But, more than likely, Jesus was referring to the sinful human heart as the old garment and old bottles that would tear or burst if God were to try and take up residence there.

The prophet Jeremiah said of the sinful human heart, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). In the discourse in which he stated, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4), the LORD directed his people to “Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed: and make you a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezekiel 18:31). Later, in a prophecy to Israel, God said through the prophet Ezekiel, “A new heart also will I give you: and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Jesus’ presence on earth and constant fellowship with his disciples was only a foretaste of what would be possible after his death. Although it wasn’t until after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven that his followers were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4), all those who believed and were baptized were “born of the Spirit” (John 3:6); meaning they were given a new heart that enabled them to discern spiritual truth.

Forgiveness of sins

The link between sin and disease in the minds of the Jews made it necessary for Jesus to deal with the topic of sin while he was in the process of healing those that came to him for restoration of their health and well-being. One of these instances was when a man described as “sick of the palsy” (Mark 2:3) was brought to Jesus as he was teaching in a home in Capernaum. Mark said of this event, “And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee” (Mark 2:4-5).

Nothing is know about the condition of the man with the palsy except that he was unable to walk. The Greek word translated palsy, paralutikos means to loosen beside that is relax and is a term associated with being paralyzed or enfeebled (3885). Mark’s reference to the man being sick suggests that this man had an illness that caused his paralysis, perhaps something like what we know today as Lou Gehrig’s disease where the body’s muscles cease to function properly. An interesting aspect of Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) is that in around 90-95% of the cases, the cause for ALS in not known. In about 5-10% of the cases, the condition was passed on from parents. If the man sick of the palsy had ALS, the mysterious aspect of the onset of his disease might explain why it was associated with sinful behavior and assumed that he was being punished by God.

It says in Mark 2:5, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” The faith that Jesus saw was probably that of the four men that broke open the roof and let the man down on his bed so Jesus could heal him. The Greek word used here for faith, pistis refers to reliance upon Christ for salvation (4102). Most likely, the four men were known by Jesus and their belief in him is what caused him to deal with the issue of the sick man’s sins before or rather than just healing him. By forgiving the man’s sins, Jesus guaranteed that when he died, the man sick with the palsy would go to heaven and one day be reunited with his believing friends. Afterward, when he commanded the man to, “Arise, and take up thy bed and walk, and go thy way into thy house” (Mark 2:11), Jesus demonstrated his willingness to give this man a second chance at living his life according to God’s laws.

The Greek word translated sins, hamartia literally means “a missing of the mark” (266). Sin should be viewed as a principle or source of action. From God’s perspective, sin is seen as a governing principle or the power behind our actions. When we choose to go our own way rather than the way that God directs us to, we are sinning against God and will be punished for our disobedience. Forgiveness of sins is when God removes or takes away the effect of the wrong things we have done. An illustration that is used to explain forgiveness is that of a husband divorcing his wife. In that situation, there is no longer a legal claim to assets or an inheritance. The divorced person is freed from all legal obligations. Behind the concept of forgiveness is the idea of abandonment. Whereas sin once had a claim to our life and our possessions, forgiveness allows us to abandon sin and also takes away sin’s ability to claim anything from us in the future.

Living water

Jesus used an everyday experience to teach an important lesson to a woman that no one else would have dared to interact with. She is identified only as “a woman of Samaria” (John 4:7). Samaria became the capital of Israel after the nation was split into two separate kingdoms (Israel in the north and Judah in the south) following the death of king Solomon (1 Kings 16:29). Samaria was later destroyed when Shalmaneser king of Assyria defeated Israel and took its people into captivity (2 Kings 18:9-11). It says in 2 Kings 17:24, “the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof.” The animosity between the Jews and Samaritans was evident in the Samaritan woman’s response to Jesus’ request for a drink of water. She said, “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9).

Jesus’ open discussion with the woman of Samaria showed that he was willing to invite into his kingdom anyone that recognized him as Israel’s Messiah and the savior of the world. Pointing out her ignorance of God’s plan of salvation, Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have have given thee living water” (John 4:10). The Greek words translated living water, zao (dzah´ – o) and hudor hudatos (hoo´ – dor hoo´ – dat – os) literally mean to live (2198) and water (as if rainy) (5204). What Jesus was referring to was the spiritual birth or eternal life that he associated with water baptism. In essence, Jesus saw God’s gift of salvation as an opportunity for everyone to experience a spiritual birth or as he explained it to Nicodemus, to be born again. In the same way that Jesus clarified the difference between a physical and spiritual birth to Nicodemus, he told the woman at the well, “Whosoever drinketh this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13-14).

The concept of eternal or everlasting life was not new to the Israelites, but Jesus’ description of this kind of life as a well of water springing up inside the person was meant to convey eternal life as something that was a continual, ongoing gift from God that never ran out or dissipated. Rather than seeing salvation as a one-time transaction that merely entitled the recipient to entrance into heaven, Jesus wanted the woman of Samaria to understand that the gift that God wanted to give her was something that was available to her immediately and it could be replenished without limit. Jesus also revealed that the key that unlocked this everlasting fountain of life was worshipping God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Jesus’ reference to spiritual activity in the physical realm linked together the gift of eternal life and its source, the Holy Spirit. Although the Holy Spirit was not available to believers until after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus was preparing the way for his arrival and also letting his followers know that there was another person (Holy Spirit) involved in God’s plan of salvation.

Born again

The effect of Jesus’ teaching was evident from the start. In his first public appearance at the temple in Jerusalem, when he declared his intent to rise from the dead, John tells us of Jesus that “many believed in his name” (John 2:23). Although the religious leaders were probably already plotting to kill Jesus, one man had the courage and conviction to find out for himself what exactly the term basileia (bas – il – i’ – ah) ouranos (oo – ran os’) or “kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 3:2) meant. Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews, a member of the group that eventually condemned Jesus to death. He came to visit Jesus at night for one of two reasons, either Nicodemus didn’t want anyone to know he was there or he intended to have a lengthy discussion with Jesus and wanted to speak to him when he had more time available. Nicodemus stated plainly the reason for his visit. He said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him” (John 3:2).

Nicodemus wanted to know the truth. He believed that Jesus was a prophet, but was obviously still struggling with the possibility that God had actually kept his promise and had finally sent his Messiah, Jesus to save his chosen people. Jesus explained to Nicodemus that the reason he couldn’t make sense of what was happening was because he hadn’t been born again (John 3:3). Nicodemus’ response indicated that he was looking at things from a human or material perspective. He asked Jesus, “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John 3:4). Jesus then explained to Nicodemus that being born again had nothing to do with the physical realm. He wanted Nicodemus to understand that in order to see the spiritual realm or kingdom of heaven, one had experience a spiritual birth, a birth just like or similar to the birth that brought him into the physical world, but completely different in its effect upon his life.

Jesus’ lengthy conversation with Nicodemus centered around the fact that a requirement for entrance into God’s kingdom was belief in him. He told Nicodemus, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:14-17). Jesus’ repetition of the statement “whosoever believeth in him should not perish” placed the emphasis on everyone, both Jews and non-Jews, being able to be saved as long as they believed in him. This declaration made it clear to Nicodemus that God’s chosen people were those who would by their own volition make a conscious choice to receive salvation through Jesus Christ. The great truth that motivated God’s plan of salvation was that he wanted to save the world, and therefore, made it possible through a process of spiritual adoption for everyone to be born again (Ephesians 1:4-5).

Follow me

At the start of his ministry, Jesus chose several men to accompany him as he traveled preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God. It seems likely that the first two men that followed Jesus were Andrew and John. It is recorded in John 1:35-37 that these men were originally disciples of John the Baptist, but began to follow Jesus after John declared him to be the Messiah. After spending only one night with Jesus, Andrew was convinced that he was who he claimed to be and invited his brother to become Jesus’ disciple also. John 1:40-42 states, “One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found Messias, which is being interpreted, the Christ. And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: Thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.”

Matthew’s account of Andrew and Peter’s calling focused on the forsaking of their work as fisherman. He said, “And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he said unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him” (Matthew 4:18-20). The Greek word translated followed, akoloutheo is used as a particle of union and refers to a road. Akoloutheo is properly translated as “to be in the same way with” or to accompany on a road. In other words, Andrew and Peter went with Jesus on his road trip. Matthew went on to say that Jesus also called James and his brother John, “And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him” (Matthew 4:22). Matthew, who was a tax collector, later recorded his own calling by Jesus, and said of himself, “he arose, and followed him” (Matthew 9:9).

Jesus’ calling of Philip and Nathanael didn’t focus on the forsaking of their occupations, but merely showed that they were available and interested in God’s kingdom. The only thing John told us about Phillip was that he was from Bethsaida, the same city where Andrew and Peter lived (John 1:44). After Jesus said to him “Follow me” (John 1:43), it says in John 1:45-47, “Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Jesus comment was intended to show that Nathanael’s skepticism was appropriate and that his followers needed spiritual discernment in order to identify him as their Messiah. After this revelation, Nathanael proclaimed, “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel” (John 1:49).