When Adam and Eve fell from grace, before they were cast out of the Garden of Eden, God promised that a Redeemer would someday be born on earth. Centuries later, God chose for Himself a covenant people whom He prepared to receive this Redeemer. Throughout the history of Israel God renewed the promise of the Redeemer. God’s purpose throughout the centuries was to prepare the world for this Redeemer.
1. In the fulness of time, the Redeemer was born of a woman (Galatians 4:4).
The word fulness could be used of a cup filled to the brim. God, who works all things according to the counsel of His will, who alone governs the times and seasons of all events, sent forth His Son into the world at the hour in human history which perfectly fulfilled His purpose.
Born of a woman refers to Jesus’ human inheritance. All that it means to be human, apart from sin, He inherited from His mother. Humanly speaking, she was fully His mother and He was fully her Son. This was necessary because Jesus was born to be the holy Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In order to be the substitute for sinful humanity, that is, to bear human sin and the judgement of God against sin, Jesus had to be fully human.
It was necessary that the Redeemer be born of a woman so that He could share the same human nature as those whom He came to save. But it was equally necessary that He be perfectly God.
2. In the fulness of time, the Redeemer was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary.
Matthew, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, testifies that Joseph and Mary, though betrothed (engaged), had not yet come together in intimate union. Yet, “She was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit” (1:18).
Joseph was troubled when he learned this but an angel appeared to him and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).
The clear testimony of Scripture is that Jesus, pre-existent Second Person of the Trinity, was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary. He was therefore Son of Man and Son of God, perfectly human and perfectly divine — two natures, one Person.
It was necessary that the Redeemer be the Son of God, for only God can offer to God a perfectly holy sacrifice. As both God and Man, Jesus was able to offer Himself as the holy Lamb for sinners.
3. In the fulness of time, the Redeemer was born of a virgin.
Matthew then writes, “Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son’” (Matt. 1:23). Because Matthew was quoting from a Greek translation of Isaiah 7:14, he used the word parthenos, which means an unmarried daughter who has not had sexual relations — a virgin.
Luke, writing in Greek, testifies that the angel Gabriel came “to a virgin ... and the virgin’s name was Mary” (1:27). Luke also uses the word parthenos, which, as we have said, is normally translated virgin. The angel tells her that though she is a virgin, she will conceive and bear a son.
Mary then asks, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (1:34). Literally, Mary said, “How can this be, since I know not a man.” She is testifying of her virginity.
The angel replies, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). In other words, you will conceive, even though you are a virgin, because God the Holy Spirit will conceive this life in you.
It was necessary that Jesus be born of a virgin, without a human father. Because God was His Father, Jesus was God in human form. As Man, He could represent humanity as our Substitute and as God, He could be the perfectly holy Sacrifice for sin.
The Apostle Paul expressed this most succinctly when he said, referring to Jesus, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).
4. In the fullness of time, the Redeemer was born “in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7).
To restate what has already been said, Jesus was fully Man. The word likeness, homoioma, refers to something that not only appears to be like something but is of the same reality, the same essence. Jesus was truly, genuinely, human, having all the attributes of a man.
He had to be born in human form so that He could be a substitute for sinners in carrying our sin and bearing the judgment of God. He had to be the sinless Son of God in order to be the unblemished, spotless, innocent Lamb of God who bears our sins.
Why did God become a Man? Jesus was born to be our great High Priest who offered Himself to God as the holy sacrifice for our sins.
The angel explained this to Joseph: “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
Humanity is separated from God by sin and we cannot reconcile ourselves to God. We are slaves to corruption and death and cannot redeem ourselves out of our slavery.
Jesus was born to be the holy sacrifice for sin who redeems the slave and reconciles the separated ones to a holy God. Only a sinless Man could die for sinners. Only a perfectly holy God could offer a perfectly holy sacrifice by which sinners are redeemed.
Jesus, The God / Man, is the promised Redeemer.
1. Why was it necessary that Jesus was fully human?
2. Why was it necessary that He was fully God?
3. How does your understanding of the humanity of Jesus impact your prayers?
4. How does your understanding of the Deity of Jesus impact your worship of Him?
Jesus pre-existed His birth in human form. Before He was incarnate as the Son of Mary, He was the Son of God, second Person of the Trinity, sharing eternal fellowship with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. He shared in the work of creation and before there was a world to redeem, He committed Himself to be our Redeemer.
1. Jesus is eternally God.
In chapter one of John’s Gospel, Jesus is introduced as the Word of God: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:1-3).
John uses this term, the Word, to refer to the second Person of the Trinity, Jesus. In the beginning, the Word (Jesus) was. Jesus existed before creation; all of creation came into being through Him. Since time began with creation, anything that existed before time is, by definition, eternal. Jesus is eternal and He is eternally existent as God.
2. Jesus is the eternal Creator.
Jesus, as a member of the eternal Trinity, shared with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the work of creation. As we have seen, this truth is expressed in chapter one of John’s Gospel.
“All things came into being through Him and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3). All of creation — all physical and spiritual creation, the laws and forces that govern creation, all of time and eternity — all things came into being by God’s creative act through and with His Son.
“For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16,17).
Jesus shared in the work of creation. Nothing was created without His participation. As Creator, all things hold together or consist in Him (Colossians 1:17). “He upholds all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3). He continually sustains all that He created.
3. Jesus is the eternal Redeemer.
In Revelation 13:8 Jesus is spoken of as “ the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.” This does not mean that Jesus was slain before the worlds were created but that it was understood in the mind of God that His atoning sacrifice would be necessary. God understood that if He created morally free creatures, they would eventually use their freedom to sin against Him. They would then either perish in their sin or require a Redeemer. The members of the Trinity agreed that Jesus would be that Redeemer.
Long before there were any fallen sinners to redeem, Jesus understood that He would be our Redeemer. By divine inspiration, John the Baptist recognized Jesus as the Lamb of God who had existed from eternity:
“The next day he (John) saw Jesus coming to him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me’” (John 1:29, 30).
We know from the Christmas story that John was born several months before the birth of Christ (see Luke 1:24, 36, 39-41). Yet he testified that Jesus “existed before me” (John 1:30). This can only be taken as a reference to the pre-existence of Christ.
Jesus testified of His eternal being, saying, “Before Abraham was born (or came into being), I am” (John 8:58).
Following the last supper with His disciples, Jesus prayed what is known as the High Priestly prayer. Included in that prayer are these words, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5).
From eternity Jesus existed with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, our Creator and Redeemer. Yet in a miracle so wondrous it exceeds our understanding, this eternal God was born in human form.
1. How does your understanding of Colossians 1:16,17 impact your faith in Jesus? (refer to the notes)
2. What did Jesus mean when He said, ““Before Abraham was born (or came into being), I am”?
3. How does your understanding of the eternity of Jesus impact your worship of Him?
“Who, although He existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant and being made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6,7).
The Son of God existed in the form of God but did not consider equality with God something to be held onto. Rather, He emptied Himself of the glory of God to take the form of a servant. The word form, in both uses here, is the Greek word morphe. There are two Greek words that can be translated into the English word form: schema and morphe.
Schema refers to the outward form or appearance which may change from time to time. Morphe refers to the inner, unchanging substance of a person’s being. For example, you are a human being in your morphe and that will not be altered in this life. However, your schema, your outward appearance, has changed throughout your life from a baby to a child to young adult and so on through the years.
Jesus existed in the morphe of God, possessing the true essence and nature of God. He also took the morphe of a bond-servant, being made in the likeness (homoioma, which refers to the true reality of something) of a human being. Jesus did not empty Himself of His Deity but He did empty Himself of some of the rights and privileges of Deity, while veiling His glory, so that He could exist in human form.
Jesus’ conception in the womb of Mary was eternally purposed by God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He was and remained perfectly the Son of God while being conceived and born fully as Son of Mary: “For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).
Though incarnate in human flesh, Jesus still possessed His divine nature and attributes. Though He veiled the glory of His divinity and voluntarily limited the exercise of His attributes, He was still perfectly God while perfectly Man. How could God become Man and yet remain God?
Conceived by the Holy Spirit, Born of a Virgin
After John the Baptist’s mother became pregnant with John, in the sixth month of her pregnancy, the angel Gabriel came from the presence of God “to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary” (Luke 1:27).
Notice the emphasis on Mary’s virginity — Jesus was conceived by God, not man. Only in this way could He be God in human form.
The angel said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you,” (Luke 1:28). Mary was perplexed (greatly troubled, disturbed) at this greeting and the angel responded:
“Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:30-33).
Such revelation was far beyond anyone’s capacity to understand. Yet Mary’s humble response was simply, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). Mary was not expressing unbelief, rather, incredulity, perplexity. Her expectation is that she would be married to Joseph and have children through him. How could she have a child any other way?
The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God” (1:35).
The same Holy Spirit who, at creation, hovered over the unformed, dark expanse of the deep, who with God the Father and God the Son shared in the creation of light and life — this same Spirit will come upon Mary with the creative power of the Most High (El Elyon). El Elyon depicts the God who is Almighty in creating and upholding that which He creates.
El Elyon “will overshadow” Mary. The word overshadow may also be translated, encompass. That is the same word as is used in Matthew 17:5, when Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John and “a bright cloud overshadowed" them. That was the shekinah glory of God encompassing them on the mountain.
In a manner unexplained but merely stated as fact and truth, we are told that God Himself, the sovereign creator of the universe, acting through the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, overshadowed Mary’s being and caused her to conceive. The glory of God encompassed Mary with creative, life-generating power, conceiving in her the life of Jesus. “For that reason,” the angel adds, “the holy Child shall be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35).
To further build Mary’s confidence in God, the messenger reminds her that her relative, Elizabeth, “She who was called barren,” is now pregnant in her old age. He then testifies, “For nothing will be impossible with God,” (1:37). That verse may be translated, “For no word (rhema) of God is empty of power.”
God encompassed Mary in the womb of His glory, conceiving in her womb the life of Jesus.
Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary — Jesus Christ was perfectly God and perfectly Man.
The traditional, orthodox position on the nature of Christ, first formulated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D., states that Jesus was truly God and truly Man, possessing two natures, divine and human. As the Son of God, He existed with the Father and the Holy Spirit before time and as the Son of Man, He was conceived in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit. Both divine and human natures are distinct but united in one Person.
“And the Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Hebrews 1:1-3a).
Jesus is the “exact representation” of God. In the life and ministry of Jesus, God says, “This is who I am, this is what I am like.”
The pre-existent, eternal Son of God entered time. God the mighty Creator became a humble creature to reveal to us the heart of the Father. Jesus’ greatest act of revelation was His redeeming death on the cross. On that cross, Jesus, as our great High Priest offered Himself to God as the Lamb of God, the holy offering and sacrifice for our sins.
There the Father displayed His judgment of sin and His mercy to sinners. On the third day, the Father displayed His love for His Son by raising Him from the dead and seating Him at the right hand of the majesty on high.
1. What does it mean that Jesus existed in the morphe of God?
2. What does it mean that Jesus existed in the homoioma of a human being?
3. What happened when the Holy Spirit overshadowed or encompassed Mary?
4. How is your worship of God impacted by the knowledge that God was born in human form?
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant and being made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7).
From eternity Jesus existed in the form of God. It is His unchanging nature. He is and was and always will be God. As God, He is co-equal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. They share the same essence of being. But Jesus did not grasp at equality with God. There is a two fold sense to this:
1. He did not grasp at equality with God because it was His possession. He did not need to grasp at who He is.
2. He did not hold on to equality with God so as to deny humanity a Redeemer.
From eternity Jesus possessed the true essence and nature of God. When He was conceived in the womb of Mary, Jesus did not cease to be God but entered into another manner of existence, taking the form (morphe) of a bond-servant, being made in the likeness of a human being. The word likeness is homoioma, which refers to the true essence of something.
How could the Creator take on the form of a creature? How could the eternal God enter and live in time? How could the God who is infinite take on human limitations? How could Jesus be perfectly God and perfectly Man?
This is a holy mystery but as a matter of faith we confess that Jesus continued to be truly God while also becoming truly Man. Jesus continued to be the Creator of all, yet existing as a creature. He continued to be the everlasting, eternal, infinite God while entering the limitations of time and space.
Jesus became perfectly human without diminishing or relinquishing any aspect of His Deity. He remained perfectly God while becoming the perfect Man.
Then what does it mean that Jesus “emptied Himself”? It is crucial that we understand this because all cults have this in common — they either misunderstand the Deity of Jesus or His humanity — He was not perfectly God or He was not perfectly human.
The phrase “emptied Himself” surely cannot mean that He surrendered any of the qualities or attributes or essence of Deity because God cannot become less than God, more than God or other than God. In Malachi 3:6 God said, “For I, the Lord, do not change.” God cannot be diminished or extended. God cannot cease to be God.
Emptying Himself can mean:
1. Jesus emptied Himself of some of the privileges, rights and powers of Deity.
He left the riches of heaven to share the poverty of people (2 Corinthians 8:9). He was born into a humble home and lived with humble people. The Creator of trees worked with wood in a carpenter shop. The Creator of water became thirsty. He was subject to human infirmities — He became weary. He was subject to temptation.
2. He veiled His glory.
The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus did not empty Himself of the glory of God — God cannot cease to be glorious. But He certainly shielded or veiled His glory, for who could have looked upon Him in the fulness of His glorious God-likeness?
On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James and John beheld the unveiled glory of Christ. But it would have been impossible to exist in the womb of Mary, to grow as a child in a common Jewish home or to preach the Gospel and call people to repentance and faith if the fulness of the shekinah glory of God had emanated from the person of Jesus.
3. He limited the exercise of His attributes.
Though Jesus did not relinquish any attributes of Deity, He limited or restricted their exercise in order to identify with humanity.
For instance, when He ministered among the people, He did not exercise omnipresence but had to travel by foot or boat or donkey to His destination. Though on occasion it was the Father's good pleasure to grant supernatural conveyance, as when the boat He was in arrived on shore immediately (John 6:21), Jesus was still only present in one place at one time.
It does not appear that He healed people because He was the Son of God but because He was anointed to heal by the Holy Spirit, “And the power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing” (Luke 5:17).
It does not appear that He normally exercised omniscience but rather, He received wisdom and knowledge from His Father, “For I did not speak on my own initiative but the Father Himself who sent me has given me commandment, what to say and what to speak” (John 12:49).
It appears that Jesus was dependent on the anointing of the Holy Spirit for the performance of ministry. In that sense, though perfectly God, He had emptied Himself of the independent exercise of divine attributes in voluntary submission to God the Father. He did not cease to be God but rather, God became a servant.
This is a mystery — two natures, human and divine, united in one Person. The mighty Creator became a creature. The Ancient of Days was born into time. Son of God became Son of Mary.
The creeds of the church do not attempt to explain this sacred mystery but merely confess it as truth.
“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God ... of one Being with the Father.
Through Him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit He became incarnate from
the Virgin Mary and was made man.
For our sake He was crucified ... He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day He rose again.”
(Excerpts from the Nicene Creed, formulated in 325 A.D.)
1. When the Bible says that Jesus emptied Himself, what can this not mean?
2. What does it mean?
3. What does it mean that Jesus took on the morphe of a bond-servant, and was made in the likeness (homoioma) of a human being?
4. Why did He do that?
5. Are you part of His motivation?
6. How does this impact your worship of Him?
The chief priests sent officers to arrest Jesus but the men returned empty handed. The leaders then asked them, “Why did you not bring Him?” They answered, “Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks” (John 7:45).
The teaching ministry of Jesus flowed out of His perfect communion with the other members of the Trinity — God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Jesus said,
“For I did not speak on my own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent me has given me a commandment, as to what to say and what to speak” (John 12:49).
“And the word which you hear is not mine, but the Father's who sent me” (John 14:24).
The source of Jesus’ teaching is God the Father. Jesus clearly declared that His teaching was not His own. It did not originate in His own mind. It was the Word of God the Father speaking to Him and through Him.
The word of God contained in the Old Testament was equally inspired by every member of the Trinity. Jesus, in His pre-existence, cooperated with the other members of the Trinity to give the inspired writings to the writers. This is why He said,
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Jesus would never abolish that which He inspired.
However, during the many centuries between God’s gift of the Law to the Israelites and the ministry of Jesus, thousands of non-Biblical traditions had been added to God’s word. These traditions were so terribly burdensome and oppressive that they obscured the truth of God’s word and deadened the hearts of the people to God’s love for them.
When Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said ... but I say to you” (Matthew 5:27,28), He was not intending to nullify the Law but to abolish the non-Biblical traditions that had attached to the Law and to point people back to God’s original purpose in giving the Law.
Another focus of Jesus' teaching is the inner motive that produces our visible, outward actions. Whereas the Old Covenant condemned the outward acts of murder and adultery, Jesus condemned the hidden attitude of violence or lust which create the visible or outward action (see Matthew 5:21,22 and 5:27,28).
Whereas the Old Covenant established acceptable boundaries for revenge, Jesus taught that we should love our enemies.
The Old Covenant proscribed rituals and outwards acts of piety. Jesus focused on the inner motive that produces piety. It is good to fast and pray and worship God but what is my motive — to be seen by people or to love God and commune with Him? It is good to give to the poor but what is my motive — to be merciful and generous or to impress people? All that we do should be done unto God, for His glory and not our own. Doing the right thing for the wrong motive is to do no good thing at all.
What does God want from us? An intimate, love relationship. But in order to enjoy relationship with a holy God, we must be holy. The teaching of Jesus is intended to free us from non-Biblical religious traditions, open our hearts, expose our motives and produce true holiness and sincere love which lead to the blessed life of communion with God.
1. When Jesus said, ““You have heard that it was said ... but I say to you,” what did He mean?
2. According to Jesus, where do the sins of murder or adultery begin?
3. In fasting and praying or in works of mercy, what is Jesus most concerned with?
4. What does God most desire from us?
5. How does these truths impact your prayer life?
After Jesus had taught on the Sabbath in Capernaum, we read, “And they were amazed at His teaching, for His message was with authority" (Luke 4:32). Immediately following that statement, we read that a demon manifested in a man in the synagogue. Jesus cast the demon out in a marvelous display of divine authority.
“And amazement came upon them all and they began talking with one another, saying, ‘What is this message? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits and they come out’” (Luke 4:36).
What was the source of the amazing authority that echoed through the words of Jesus? Surely the infinite wisdom and knowledge of God resonated through His teaching. But there was something more. Notice the linkage of message and miracle. The mighty works of Jesus demonstrated the authority of His words.
His works authenticated His words. The miracles validate the message.
Matthew chapter seven closes with this statement:
“When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority and not as their scribes” (7:28,29).
Matthew chapter eight then records one miraculous demonstration of power after another. Jesus healed a leper (Matt. 8:2-4). He healed a paralyzed man (8:5-13). He healed Peter’s mother-in-law (8:14,15). Then we read:
“When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were ill” (Matthew 8:16).
We then read the account of two demon possessed men who were completely set free by the Lord (Matt. 8:28-34). Chapter nine continues the narrative of mighty works, including the resurrection of a dead child (9:23-25).
Jesus’ works authenticated His words. The linkage between miracle and message is a key to understanding Christ’s proclamation of the kingdom of God.
Jesus began His ministry proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The kingdom of God is where God is ruling by His grace and that kingdom is at hand now, pushing into history, entering hearts and lives. Jesus preached the good news of kingdom grace and showed what that looks like.
The mighty works of Jesus accompanied the message of the kingdom.
“And Jesus was going about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people," (Matthew 4:23 also 9:35).
Jesus proclaimed the presence of the kingdom and the message of the kingdom was authenticated in works of power and mercy. The inbreaking of the kingdom of God in powerful signs and wonders is what gives authority to the preaching of the kingdom.
The kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom message is demonstrated in kingdom works which show the mercy and power and kindness of God in the lives of lost, broken, hurting people.
The works of Jesus included authority over nature,
1. He calmed the storm (Matthew. 8:24-27).
2. He walked on water (Matthew 14:25)
3. He multiplied fish and loaves of bread (Matthew 14:13-21)
4. He caused a fig tree to wither (Matthew. 21:18,19)
The works of Jesus included authority over demons,
1. He delivered two demon possessed men (Matt. 8:28-34 Mark 5:1-20 Luke 8:26-37)
2. He set a child free (Mark 9:17-27)
3. He healed a woman bound by a demonic spirit (Luke 13:11-16)
The works of Jesus included authority over disease,
1. He went about healing every kind of disease (Matthew 4:23,24 9:35)
2. He healed them all (Matthew 12:15 15:29,30)
The works of Jesus included authority to forgive sin,
1. He forgave the paralytic (Luke 5:17-26)
2. He forgave the immoral woman (Luke 7:36-50)
The works of Jesus included authority over death,
1. He raised the ruler’s daughter (Mark 5:21-24,35-43)
2. He raised the widow’s son (Luke 7:11-17)
3. He raised Lazarus (John 11)
The works of Jesus included authority to give eternal life,
1. He gives eternal life to all who believe in Him ((John 5:21,24-26 17:1,2)
Jesus testified: “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own initiative but the Father abiding in me does His works” (John 14:10). God the Father authenticated the words of Jesus with works of power and mercy. When we study the parables and teachings of Jesus, remember those words were spoken in the context of amazing works — signs and wonders — which lent authority to His words.
The kingdom of God is at hand. This is a message of good news. The kingdom message is demonstrated in kingdom works.
The Lord Jesus is still validating the message of the kingdom with the works of the kingdom. We are called to be His voice speaking His truth but we are also called to be His hand touching with His mercy and power.
The study of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, holy Lamb for sinners slain and Risen Lord, can never be an intellectual exercise only. It must also be a process of allowing the Holy Spirit to transform our inner nature, our soul, in conformity to the heart of Jesus. He wants not merely to instruct us but also to conform us to Himself so He can perform His works through us.
He establishes His kingdom in us so He can extend His kingdom through us. The true disciple of Jesus not only proclaims Jesus’ words but also shares in His works.
1. How did God validate the words of Jesus?
2. As Jesus was proclaiming the message of the kingdom of God, what was He also doing?
3. What are some examples in the Bible of the mighty works of Jesus?
4. What are some examples of the mighty works of Jesus in your life?
5. How does this impact your worship of Him?
Why did humanity need a sacrificed Savior? Because we have separated ourselves from God by our sin. The result is the universal condition known as death: “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). God did not create death. Death is the result of our rebellious attempt to live apart from God, the Source of our life and being. Just as a branch, separated from the vine, withers and dies, so a human being, separated from God by sin, will die.
The problem on earth is not that God is cruel, uninvolved or unloving but that humanity fell from relationship with God. The disintegration and disaster in nature and in human society is the result of this fall. Furthermore, in our state of spiritual death (Ephesians 2:1), blind to our condition (2 Corinthians 4:4), we cannot save ourselves.
We cannot give enough offerings to pay for anyone’s sin; we cannot do enough righteous works to undo the consequences of our sin; we cannot perform enough religious rituals to cover our sin; we cannot save ourselves (Psalm 49:7-9). We need a Savior.
So God sent a Savior and “laid upon Him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6).
On the cross of Jesus Christ, God reconciled the world to Himself by placing our sin, and His judgment of sin, on Jesus.
“But now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself ... having been offered once to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:26,28).
“God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them ... He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:19, 21).
Our sins were placed on Jesus, who became a sin offering on our behalf. A holy God cannot ignore our sin and a merciful God does not desire that we perish forever under the weight of sin and judgment. So at the cross an incredible exchange took place, ordained by God. All the evil consequences due to humanity because of our sin came upon Jesus so that all the good due to Jesus through His sinless existence might come upon us.
When people ask, “Why doesn't God remove evil?”, they reveal that they don’t understand the root cause of evil. Evil is the result of free creatures using their freedom to disobey God, to do evil rather than good. God could eliminate evil by removing human freedom but then we would no longer be human. Rather than stand by passively and watch us mutilate our humanity through sin, and rather than remove our freedom, thereby extinguishing our humanity, God sent His Son to make an atoning sacrifice for our evil.
On the cross, Jesus, the holy Lamb of God, bore our sin and took upon Himself the Father’s wrath poured out against the sinner. Jesus became the holy sacrifice slain in the place of sinners. He is now able to offer us mercy instead of judgment, forgiveness instead of justice, eternal life instead of eternal death. He offers us salvation from sin.
What the Cross Reveals
1. The cross reveals the wrath of God.
“Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (Romans 5:9).
The cross does not cause an angry God to love us. Rather, it is the love of God which caused the atonement to take place. But God cannot deny His holy nature. He must be faithful to Himself. Therefore, in the moral order which God has established, sin evokes His wrath and must be judged. Wrath, judgment, is always God’s response to sin. Since all have sinned, then all stand under the wrath, the judgment of God.
2. The cross reveals the love of God.
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Love is an eternal, unchanging attribute of the being or character of God. There is a fundamental difference between the love of God and the anger or wrath of God. Anger is something which sin arouses in a holy God and which God expresses against sin. Love is part of the essence of God’s being. A loving God desires to deliver the objects of His love from the wrath that necessarily comes upon us because of our sin.
Atonement, then, is the loving response of a holy God to the impossible human dilemma. We cannot escape God’s judgment nor can we satisfy it. Only God can deliver us from His wrath. This deliverance is through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. On the cross, Jesus took our sin and the consequences for our sin — God’s wrath and the resulting separation from God which produced our death — upon Himself.
3. The cross reveals the justice of God.
A just God demands justice when His righteous law is broken. Jesus, on the cross, bore the full judgment demanded by divine justice. This enables God to demonstrate His justness while declaring sinners to be justified. That is, the cross shows God to be both “just and justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus," (Romans 3: 23,24).
Through the cross of Jesus, God maintains His just, holy nature while declaring sinners, who repent and place their faith in Christ, to be just. God is both “just and justifier” of the unjust.
Those who refuse to repent and trust in the sacrifice of Christ will bear their own judgment. But the one who trusts in the finished work of Christ on his or her behalf, “Does not come into judgment but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).
4. The cross reveals the wisdom and power of God.
“The word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18).
“We preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (I Corinthians 1:23-25).
The idea that God would appear in human form to die an atoning death for sinful humanity, the concept of a crucified Savior, was scandalous and offensive to the religious Jew and absurdly ridiculous to the wise Gentile. But this crucified Savior is nothing other than God’s wise, powerful, life-giving remedy for sin and the death that sin creates.
In the foolishness of a crucified Savior, God offers a means of reconciliation with Himself which human religion, in all of its professed wisdom, is unable to provide. In the weakness of a crucified Savior, God powerfully breaks the chains of condemnation and death which had bound humanity. The Savior of the world, crucified in weakness and foolishness, is the most perfect, majestic display of the wisdom and power of God.
The cross of Jesus Christ is the center point of history and provides the deepest revelation of the heart of God. It reveals the wrath of God requiring justice; the justice of God in judging sin; the love of God in bearing sin in our place; the wisdom of God in joining wrath, justice and love in this one instrument; and the power of God in saving those who believe.
5. The cross reveals the inadequacy of human religion.
All false religious systems are characterized by the deception that we can earn righteous standing before God through our religious works and rituals. But there is no human offering or ritual that can truly cleanse us of sin. We cannot do enough good works or recite enough prayers to atone for even one sin. God instituted the Jewish sacrificial system to cover sin, not to cleanse from sin. The faithful Old Testament worshipper awaited the blood of the true Lamb of God which reaches back in time and forward in time to cleanse the heart of the truly repentant sinner.
We are saved by the grace of God, not by our own religious efforts. Salvation is a gift from God.
To Whom Is This Salvation Given?
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
“For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
Faith is the gift of God. To whom does God give the gift of faith? To all who have come to the end of their own effort to save themselves and choose to trust in what God has done for us in Christ.
Salvation is God’s gift “to everyone who believes.”
The Death of Jesus Was:
Jesus is the Lamb of God whose sacrificial offering of Himself removes the sin barrier between humanity and a holy God (John 1:29 Ephesians 5:2 I Corinthians 5:7).
Vicarious means to serve in place of something or someone else. Jesus did not die for Himself but for us (Romans 5:8 2 Corinthians 5:21).
The death of Jesus was substitutionary. He bore our sin, took the wrath of God that was released against us, upon Himself. He died our death in our place as our Divine Substitute (I Peter 2:24).
To propitiate means to gain or regain the favor of someone. There is nothing that humanity, separated from God by sin, can do to regain God's favor. It is God who has provided the holy Lamb which removes the offending sin and now God can show mercy to the repentant, believing sinner. Jesus then is the propitiation for our sins (Romans 3:24,25 I John 2:2 4:10 Hebrews 2:17).
The holy, propitious sacrifice of Jesus does not change God’s heart toward the sinner, for God is unchanging in His mercy and His holiness. But the sin barrier is removed and now the grace and mercy of God can be poured out on the forgiven sinner.
Jesus said, “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). The word which we translate ransom is lutron which means the price of redemption. It is used of the money paid to ransom prisoners of war or to purchase the freedom of a slave. The price of our ransom or redemption is the life blood of Jesus (I Timothy 2:6 Ephesians 1:7 I Peter 1:18,19).
“For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). The sacrifice of Jesus stretches backward in time and forward into eternity.
The cross of Jesus is not a legend or a doctrine. It is a historical event performed by the eternal God in time. It happened at a particular place at a particular time for people alive in history.
“It is finished” (John 19:30). These words Jesus shouted from the cross before He died. They are actually one word: Tetelestai, which means perfectly complete. Once, for all time and for all people, Jesus offered Himself as the holy Sacrifice for sin. There does not need to ever be another sacrifice for sin because this one was perfect and complete.
God has, “Rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins” (Colossians 1:13,14). On the cross, Jesus triumphed over the powers of darkness on our behalf. He broke Satan’s power to enslave us through sin and death.
10. Eternally Purposed
Jesus, though publicly attested by wonders and signs, was delivered to death by godless men. But He was “delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:22-32). The crucifixion of Christ was not a surprise, a random event or unexpected defeat of Gods salvation purpose. It was the predetermined center of God’s purpose and the perpetrators were unwittingly fulfilling the eternal counsel of God.
1. How does the cross reveal the wrath of God?
2. How does the cross reveals the mercy of God?
3. How does the cross reveal the wisdom and power of God?
4. What do we mean when we say that the death of Jesus was substitutionary?
5. How do these truths impact your worship?
1. We are forgiven of sin and redeemed from its power.
“In Him (Christ) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished upon us,” (Ephesians 1:7,8a).
Jesus bore the sin that separated sinners from a holy God and He received the punishment due to sinners. Now, those who repent of sin and place their faith in the sacrifice of Jesus are forgiven of sin and redeemed from its power. Redemption means to buy back. Through the blood of Christ we have been purchased, bought back by God from sin's destruction and from satanic control over our lives.
God removes our sins “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalms 103:12). That is a way of saying that our sins, and the resulting condemnation and punishment, are removed an eternal distance from us. Sin, when forgiven by God, can no more come back upon us than east can meet west.
2. We are reconciled to God
“God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:17-19).
We are now reconciled to God because that which separated us from Him, our sin, has been removed by the sacrifice of Jesus, the unblemished Lamb of God.
In the temple, there was a thick veil separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. Only the High Priest could enter once a year. But when Jesus died, the veil of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51), signifying the access of forgiven, reconciled sinners into the presence of the Holy God.
3. We are brought into the kingdom of God.
“For He rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption the forgiveness of our sins” (Colossians 1:13,114).
Our sin not only separated us from God but also placed us within the realm of Satan’s rule. Now, forgiven of our sin and reconciled to God, we have been brought into the gracious dominion, the merciful rule of the kingdom of God. Satan no longer has rulership over our lives. Jesus does.
4. We are justified by God
To be justified is to be declared not guilty, acquitted of guilt and declared righteous or just. This is possible because on the cross, Jesus took our sin upon Himself and was made a sin offering.
None of us, neither Jew nor Gentile, by our own religious works or good deeds, can make ourselves righteous before God. A sinner cannot make himself just before a holy God. Only God can make us just. “Because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight ... for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:20, 23, 24)
God gave us the Law of Moses to show us that we could never fulfill the Law according to God’s standard of perfection, could never make ourselves just through Law keeping, since no one but Christ has lived a perfect life. The Law was given to show us our need for a Savior. Now we are justified, not by keeping the Law, which we could not do, but through faith in Christ: “Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ” (Galatians 2:16).
How can God declare a sinner to be just? Only because on the cross Jesus bore our sin and the penalty which that sin incurred. God, then, is able to be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
What an incredible transaction! God, the holy and righteous Judge, offers through the blood sacrifice of Christ to make covenant with the forgiven sinner, declares the sinner just and righteous, views the forgiven sinner as just and righteous.
5. We are spiritually regenerated.
“For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (I Peter 1:23).
Separated from God by sin, we are spiritually dead. But when the life giving word of the cross penetrates our hearts and causes us to turn from our sin and place our faith in the blood of Christ as the atoning sacrifice for our sin, the Lord regenerates our dead spirit. We are born anew by the power of God (see also John 3:3).
6. We become new creations in Christ.
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Spiritually regenerated in Christ, forgiven of sin, declared just before God, we are new creations progressively being transformed into the likeness of Christ.
7. We share the righteousness of Christ.
We are not only declared to be just / righteous — we also are gradually, progressively made righteous by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
“He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). On the cross, Jesus took our sin that we might share His righteousness. He was made sin with our sinfulness that we might be made righteous with His righteousness.
This exchange is pictured in Isa 61:10, “He has clothed me in the garments of salvation. He has covered me with the robe of righteousness.” God takes away the filthy garments of our sin and clothes us in salvation. He covers us with His righteousness, progressively transforming our inner being into the righteous, holy image of Christ:
This transformation will not be completed in this life but God has promised to perfectly fulfill that which He has begun in us (Philippians. 1:6). We share the righteousness of Christ and are being progressively transformed into His righteous image.
8. We have peace with God
Having been forgiven of sin and declared righteous, we have peace with God. God will not make peace with sin. Only when sin is dealt with — and it was on the cross in Jesus — then God can make peace with us.
“Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1 see also Colossians 1:19,20).
9. We share in the life of Christ.
Jesus died our death that we might share His life: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). What does Jesus mean by abundant life? He means that we share in His life: everlasting life, unending life, the life of God. This is a future hope and a present reality:
“Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears my word and believes Him who sent me, has eternal life and does not come into judgment but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).
“For the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
10. We are delivered from this present age.
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:3,4).
The Greek word translated age is aion which is not simply a period of time but the values and perspectives that define that time. Why do we need to be delivered from this age? Because it is
evil. It is evil because it is dominated by Satan, a counterfeit god (2 Corinthians 4:4). Therefore it is temporary, corrupt and dying.
God’s program is not merely to depose Satan but to terminate the age that is infected with and dominated by his corruption. As long as this age continues, Satan will be the ruler of this age. When the age terminates, Satan will no longer rule.
But even now we are sharing in another age that is incorruptible and everlasting. Though we have not been physically removed from this age, we have been rescued from its domination over our lives through the cross of Christ.
11. We are delivered from the world.
(Gal 6:14) “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by whom the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.”
The Greek word for world is kosmos, which refers to the world system ruled by Satan and the principalities of darkness. The kosmos is comprised of the governmental, economic, cultural and religious systems into which the powers of darkness have incarnated their perverse, anti-Christ values and purposes and which refuse and resist the righteous government of God in the person of Jesus Christ.
What does the Bible tell us about the world / kosmos?
a. “The whole world / kosmos lies in the power of the evil one” (I John 5:19).
b. The world is in violent rebellion against its Creator. Jesus told two parables in which He portrayed the hatred of this world for its Creator (Matthew 22:1-14 Luke 19:1-14).
c. “The world is passing away,” (I John. 2:17). This kosmos, this world system is impermanent, fading, temporary, corrupt and crumbling.
d. The world is under God’s judgment. In 2 Peter 2:5 (and 3:5-7) we read that the world which existed in Noah’s day perished under the judgment of God. The physical earth did not perish. What perished was a sociological order — a world that was not submitted to the rule of God. This world order will also perish under God’s judgment (see, for instance, Revelation chapters 15 through 19).
Though God has delivered us from the seducing power of this world, we must actively resist its influence. We are able to resist conformity to the world because, having surrendered to the Lordship of Christ, we have been crucified to the world. The world has not yet been put to death but in our identification with the cross of Christ, our affection for the world has been put to death.
Paul reminds us, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God,” (Col 3:3). The corollary to being dead to the world is that we are alive in Christ, living in union with our Lord.
The cross of Jesus stands between the world and the Christian. From that cross flows the grace that enables us to live in forgiven, reconciled, peace with God. Dead to this dying age and world, we are alive in Christ forevermore.
1. What does it mean to be justified?
2. What does it mean to be delivered from this present age?
3. How does the reality of God’s forgiveness impact your worship of Him?
After Jesus Jesus ate a final meal with His disciples, they moved from the upper room to the Mount of Olives. Along the way, Jesus prophesied that they would all fall away, would abandon Him before the night was over. Then He said, “But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee,” (26:32). In the hours before His death, Jesus had no doubt that the Father would raise Him from the dead.
In fact, it was impossible that Jesus, for whom, through and by whom all things were created, would be held captive by death. It was impossible that Jesus, in whom all things hold together (Colossians 1:17), who upholds the universe by His word of power (Hebrews 1:3), would be held captive by death.
It is impossible that death could contain the One of whom it is said, “All things came into being through Him and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life” (John 1:3,4).
How could the tomb hold Him? The stones of that tomb consisted, at their molecular level, by the sovereign expression of God’s purpose in Christ. It was impossible that mere stones would hold captive their Creator.
The resurrection took place in the context of humanity’s rejection and hatred of God in human flesh. “He came to His own and those who were His own did not receive Him,” (John 1:11). There were a few men and women who recognized their Messiah and believed. But many were too blinded by religious prejudice or by the cares of this world.
Then there were those who did recognize Him and rejected Him, not because they misunderstood or disbelieved the truth about His identity but because they loved darkness and hated the light. They knew who Jesus was and when He died and rose again, they did not doubt His resurrection. They did not believe in Him but they did not doubt the truth.
Note the criminal desperation of the power brokers — they used a traitor and a bribe to arrest Jesus, violated their own laws in trying Him, lied to and manipulated the Governor to obtain a death sentence and then bribed the guards to cover up the resurrection. How deeply they feared Jesus and the good news which He proclaimed. But they could not cover the truth any more than they could seal the tomb.
The tomb failed to imprison. The lie failed to convince. The truth prevailed in the heart of all to whom God granted salvation.
If the Easter stories are false, invented by early Christians, they would match in every detail. If a group of people are lying, they want to make sure their lies agree. But these stories do not agree in every detail. Instead, they provide the perspective of different witnesses, each Gospel writer including a rich variety of details based on his own information interpreted as the Holy Spirit inspired him. No one tries to fit it all together in a false or contrived way.
Furthermore, how could the early church have invented a resurrection story? It was beyond their comprehension. The disciples neither expected nor understood the death of Jesus. How much more did they neither expect nor understand the possibility of resurrection.
They could not invent what they could not imagine.
Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, David wrote, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol; nor will you allow your Holy One to undergo decay” (Psalm 16:10). Peter, preaching on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:26-30) and the Apostle Paul (in Acts 13:25) interpret this Scripture as prophetically referring to Jesus and literally, physically fulfilled.
Yet on the night Jesus was arrested, Peter had denied that he even knew the Lord. Broken by his failure of courage, crushed by the death of his Lord, how could he stand and preach with such boldness only a few weeks later? Paul, a violent persecutor of the followers of Jesus, attempting in his rage to destroy every trace of the church, became the great apostle of the gospel.
1. What accounts for the transformation of these two men?
Though Jesus had often spoken to His disciples about His death, they had neither believed nor understood Him. They could not equate death with what they knew to be true about Him. They correctly believed Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God. It was incomprehensible to them that He would die. While Jesus was setting His course to go to Jerusalem, preparing His soul for the cross, His disciples were competing for positions in what they assumed would be the soon appearance of the kingdom of God.
If they did not believe Jesus would die, they could not possibly have imagined that He would rise from the dead. They were crushed when Jesus died. They had fled for their lives and were entirely disillusioned, terrified, discouraged and grief-struck. All they had believed had been destroyed. The idea that the resurrection of Jesus was invented by the church is absurd. They were not capable of inventing something that was beyond the realm of their faith and imagination. Only a literal, physical resurrection could have broken through their depression, grief and unbelief.
The witnesses are many, the testimony is certain. Jesus rose from the dead.
According to Matthew
There are different accounts of the resurrection because different witnesses speaking to different writers provided different perspectives. This is further proof that the church did not invent the resurrection. If these stories were fabricated, the writers would eliminate any discrepancies, would insure that all accounts are in complete harmony. Instead, we have a rich variety of detail which, when they are combined, give a clear account of the resurrection of Jesus.
In Matthew 28:1-10 we read that Mary Magdalene and another Mary came to the tomb while it was still early. We know from Mark and Luke that there were other women present also. They were not coming to witness a resurrection but to honor the body of their Lord.
When they arrived, they found that the stone which had sealed the mouth of the tomb had been rolled away, the guards had fainted out of fear and an angel greeted the with the news that Jesus had risen. Luke and John record the presence of two angels. Matthew and Mark record only the angel who spoke. (From John’s account, it seems that Mary had left to tell the apostles as soon as she saw the stone rolled away but before the appearance of the angel).
The angel commanded the women to go and tell the disciples that Jesus has risen and on their way back to Jerusalem, Jesus met them. They recognize Him and fall down and worship Him. Now they know with certainty that the Lord has risen. They have heard the message of the angels. They have seen the empty tomb. But above all else, they have met and worshipped the Lord Himself. That which they could not imagine or believe is now a certainty and they are witnesses.
According to Mark
In the Gospel of Mark 16:1-11 we read that Mary Magdalen and another Mary set out for the tomb with spices to anoint the body of Jesus (we know from other accounts that there were other women with them.)
They were wondering, “Who will roll the stone away for us?” They had no idea that it had been sealed or that a guard had been posted but they were intent only on honoring Jesus. They were expecting only to minister to a body. There was no expectation of a resurrection.
They arrive at the tomb and find that the stone has been rolled away.
Entering the tomb, they encounter “a young man ... wearing a white robe” (16:5). From the other accounts, we know that this was an angel, though taking the form of a man. Mark notes only the angel who speaks, though other accounts say there were two.
The angel informs them that “Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified,” has risen (16:6). He then instructs them to “go, tell” the disciples and Peter.
According to Luke
In the Gospel of Luke 24:1-12 we read,“At early dawn, they came bringing spices” (24:1). Luke does not identify who “they” are until verse ten, at which point we are told that they are Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and other women.
Arriving at the tomb, they find the stone has been rolled away. When they enter, they do not find the body of Jesus. Instead, they encountered two men “in dazzling clothing.” Luke calls them men, but their brilliant appearance is similar to Matthew’s description (28:3) of the one angel. John also identifies them as angels (20:12). In other words, they are angels appearing in human form. Though there are two angels, only one spoke, which explains the emphasis of Matthew and Mark on the one angel.
As the women bow in terror, the angel asks, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here but He has risen” (24:5,6). The angel reminds them that it was necessary that Jesus “be crucified and the third day rise again” (24:7).
The women went and reported these things to the disciples. Where were the disciples? They were hiding, not outside the tomb nor in the Garden of Gethsemane awaiting the risen Jesus. They were not prepared to greet Him because they did not expect to meet Him.
Notice that the women had to be reminded of the teaching on resurrection. This could not have been a story anyone devised to add credibility to a struggling young church. No one had any expectation of resurrection nor did they even remember that Jesus had told them He would rise.
From Matthew’s account, we know that Jesus appeared to the women, except for Magdalene, as they returned to Jerusalem (28:8,9). When we factor in John’s account of these events, we know that Mary Magdalene had been with the women, had left when she saw the empty tomb, taking the news of the empty tomb. It is probable that at this moment she was returning to the tomb a second time, trailing Peter and John who were running.
According to John
In the Gospel of John 20:1-18 we read only of Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb. It may be that John omits the other women because he is telling the story through Mary’s experience. Or it may be that they were with Mary but became weary and stopped to rest, in which case Mary pushed on, arriving alone.
John says that “it was still dark” when Mary arrived. Luke says it was “early dawn” (24:1). Mark says “the sun had risen” (16:2). Matthew says “as it began to dawn” (28:1). Possibly the sun was rising over the eastern desert and you might be able to see its glow over the Mount of Olives; but west of the mount would have been shadows.
Different writers are telling the story from different perspectives, as the Holy Spirit inspires them. The details of lighting vary, depending on where one was standing.
Mary saw the stone was “already taken away from the tomb.” She ran to tell Peter and John and it must be that the other women stayed at the tomb, at which point they encountered the angelic messenger(s).
Notice Mary says to the apostles, “We do not know where they have laid Him,” (20:2). “We” tells us that the other women had been present with Mary at the tomb.
When Mary brings the news to Peter and John, she mentions only the empty tomb, supposing that someone had taken the body. Evidently, she had run back to Jerusalem as soon as she saw the stone removed from the tomb and before the angel spoke to the other women. Mary did not hear the angel say that Jesus had risen.
Having received the news from Mary, Peter and John ran to the tomb. John arrived first. He stooped and looked in, seeing only the linen wrappings. Peter arrived and entered the tomb, finding only the linen wrappings and the face cloth “rolled up in a place by itself.”
John then entered “and he saw and believed” that Jesus had risen. However, neither Peter nor John understood the Scripture, “That He must rise again from the dead.” They then returned to their homes.
Mary returns to the empty tomb but because she moved more slowly than Peter and John, and was surely weary, she arrived after they had departed. The other women had long since left. Mary is alone and weeping, heartbroken, exhausted, confused, despairing of all hope. She stooped to look inside the tomb and saw the two angels, though she does not recognize them as angels.
They asked, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
Her answer reveals her broken heart and her hopelessness, “Because they have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Notice again the complete absence of any hope or expectation that a resurrection would take place.
Something caused her to turn and she saw someone standing nearby but did not recognize Him nor even His voice. It could have been the early morning shadows and mist, or the rising sun in her eyes or her tears or her complete lack of expectancy. Or it may be that Jesus, in His glorified body, could only be recognized as He chose to reveal Himself).
The Stranger asks, “Woman why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” (20:15). She assumes that He is the gardener and replies, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him and I will take Him away.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary” (20:16). She recognized Him instantly, “Rabboni,” which means teacher. How did she know Jesus? She recognizes Him only as He calls her name. She knew Him by the way He spoke her name.
Mary fell at Jesus’ feet and worshipped Him, clinging to His feet so tightly that He had to command her to release Him, “For I have not yet ascended to my Father.” He then sends her to tell the others.
She returned to the disciples and announces with the absolute confidence and assurance of a witness to the truth, “I have seen the Lord.”
Other Resurrection Witnesses on Easter Day
After Jesus spoke with Mary, He appeared to others, later in the day. Following are brief descriptions of these encounters.
1. Jesus appear to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Easter afternoon and evening (Luke 24:13-32). They were journeying home from Jerusalem to their home village of Emmaus. As they walk, they are discussing the overwhelming events of Friday.
A stranger joins them; He is actually Jesus, “But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him,” (24:16). It does not say that He was unrecognizable but that their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him, evidently by an act of God. We are not told why the Lord did this but it may be that He did not want to reveal Himself to them until He had first opened their spiritual eyes to truth about Him in the word of God.
These two men are followers of Christ, had placed their hope in Him as Israel’s Redeemer and were crushed by the arrest and crucifixion of their Lord. When the Unknown Stranger asks them what they are talking about, one of them replies, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” (24:18). Ironically, Jesus is the only One who really does know what happened.
A few hours earlier, they had heard reports of the empty tomb and the angelic messengers saying Jesus had risen, but had evidently departed before anyone had reported an encounter with the risen Lord. It is not that these men did not believe; rather, they did not understand.
They believed that Jesus “was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people” (24:19). They were hoping that He would be the Redeemer who would fulfill the kingdom expectations of the righteous. But they could not reconcile Jesus’ death with the other truths that they believed about Him. A crucified Messiah was completely outside their theological framework. As a result, they were devastated by the events of Friday and unconvinced by the reports of Sunday morning.
As they walked, Jesus opened the Old Testament Scriptures to them, which clearly testified that Messiah would establish His kingdom on earth but that He must first suffer, that the cross was not a failure but the outworking of God's plan. The Scriptures available to these two men validated the events of the past few days. It was not that the Messiah failed to fulfill Scripture. It is that these men, and the people of Jerusalem, had failed to understand what Scripture said about the Messiah. Jesus therefore rebuked them, saying, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” (24:25,26).
The cross was necessary to the kingdom purpose of God. If the Lord had established His kingdom on earth without first redeeming sinners, then no man or woman could have entered the kingdom. So Jesus, always the Discipler, taught the two men: “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures,” (24:27). Can you imagine attending a Bible study taught by Jesus, the very Word of God in human form?
Arriving at Emmaus, Jesus “acted as though He were gong farther,” (24:28). He entered their home only when they invited Him and it is still that way. As they reclined at the table to eat, “He took the bread and blessed it and breaking it, he began giving it to them” (24:30).
In that moment, as Jesus blessed and broke the bread, their eyes were opened and they recognized the Risen Lord (24:31). In the moment of revelation, Jesus vanished from their sight.
2. Jesus appears to Simon Peter some time Easter Day (Luke 24:34).
We know nothing of this encounter, only that it happened. (The Apostle Paul validates this meeting between Jesus and Peter in I Corinthians 15:5). Having denied Jesus, fallen and ashamed, Peter needed reassurance that his unfaithfulness had not destroyed his relationship with the Lord, that he was still included in God’s kingdom purpose, that Christ still loved him. Jesus did this privately and no one has ever been privy to the details. No one else was there. As far as we know, there is no record of their conversation.
3. Jesus appeared to the disciples Easter evening (Luke 24:33-53 also John 20:19-23)
The two disciples from Emmaus returned to the meeting place in Jerusalem (possibly the Upper Room) and began to relate their encounter with Jesus. “While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst” (Luke 24:36).
Their initial response was fear. There is no record that Jesus was shining with the brightness of glory, as the angels had. So the cause of their fear must have been simply because He stood in their midst even though the doors were locked. They thought He was a spirit, a ghost. Again, notice the complete lack of expectation. They were not looking for a resurrected Christ.
Jesus proved the reality of His presence by inviting them to use their physical senses, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I; touch me,” (24:39). He then showed them His hands and His feet which were not only real but bore the marks of crucifixion.
They were still incredulous, not from fear but from joy and amazement. So Jesus asked for something to eat and they gave Him a piece of broiled fish, which He ate in front of them.
This was a real body, though a glorified, resurrection body, capable of interacting with the physical world and the spiritual world; capable of standing and talking yet able to pass through walls; able to sit at a table and hold bread in His hands and yet able to vanish; capable of standing in a garden with Magdalene and yet able to ascend to the Father in heaven. This resurrection body was capable of interaction with living people within the bounds of time and space, yet not limited by time or space. What a joy to know that followers of Christ will someday have a resurrection body like our Lord!
John’s description of this event, in 20:19-23 of his Gospel, adds two important details which Luke omits. First, John tells us that “the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews” (20:19). The word shut may be translated locked, as in Acts 5:23 (describing the prison in which the apostles were briefly incarcerated).
This gives us a glimpse into the mindset of the disciples. They were hiding, anticipating the possibility of their own arrest. No one was expecting a resurrection.
John also adds that the apostle Thomas was not present with the others (20:24). When they told him of their encounter with the risen Christ, Thomas replied, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails and put my finger into His side, I will not believe,” (John 20:25). This sets up the next recorded appearance of Christ in Jerusalem.
Resurrection Appearance to Thomas
Jesus appeared to the disciples again, with Thomas present (John 20:24-29). For whatever reason, Thomas was not with the other disciples on Easter evening. When they reported the encounter, he declared famously, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails and put my finger into the place of the nails and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
Again, this meeting probably took place in the Upper Room. John tells us that it happened “after eight days,” which, by his method of counting days, would be the following Sunday. Again, the doors are shut (locked) and Jesus is suddenly standing in their midst and greeting them.
Jesus invites Thomas to touch Him, to prove beyond any doubt the reality of His resurrection. There is no indication that Thomas actually did touch the Lord. It seems that the mere sight of Jesus moved him to confess, “My Lord and my God!” He confesses his faith in a truly risen Savior (20:28).
We should note that no one had ever before addressed Jesus as, “My God.” Thomas seems to understand intuitively that the risen Christ can only be God in human form. And Christ is now, to Thomas, “My Lord, my God.”
Jesus appeared to seven disciples at the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-25).
The disciples had left Jerusalem and returned to Galilee, as Jesus had instructed them. Seven of the disciples are together and Peter decides to go fishing. The others follow his lead. In spite of their professional experience, they caught nothing all night.
At daybreak, Jesus called from the shore (though they did not recognize Him). “Children, you do not have any fish, do you?” Jesus then directed them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat and they enclosed so great a catch that they could not haul it in.
The blessing of abundant fish opened John’s eyes to the identity of the man on the shore and he said to Simon, "It is the Lord.” Simon threw himself into the water and swam 100 yards. The others came in the boat, dragging the net.
Jesus, ever the Servant, had prepared breakfast for them and they ate with their risen Lord. Following the meal, Jesus publicly restored Simon Peter to his position of leadership. In their private meeting on Easter Day, Jesus no doubt had forgiven Peter and restored their personal fellowship. But now Jesus does this in front of the other disciples. It’s as if the Lord is saying, "Whatever sin may have separated us, that is forgiven, that's over now. I am calling you again to be a shepherd to my flock.”
Final Resurrection Witnesses
1. Jesus appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time (I Corinthians 15:7).
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul testifies that the Lord appeared to a large gathering of disciples, though he does not tell us where this took place or who comprised the multitude (I Corinthians 15:7). Paul does say that many are still alive at the time he is writing, some two decades later.
Many commentators suggest that this is the occasion referred to in Matthew 28:16-20, known as the Great Commission, when Jesus appeared to the eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee and authorized them to carry the gospel to the nations. Matthew does not mention the presence of others besides the apostles, but that does not mean they were not present.
2. Paul also records an appearance to James (I Corinthians 15:7).
The Scripture does not identify James but it is not likely that this was one of the apostles (two of whom were named James). They had already encountered the risen Lord. Probably this was James, the half-brother of Jesus, who later became a pillar of the Jerusalem church.
3. Jesus appeared to His disciples before returning to the Father (Luke. 24:44-53 Acts 1:1-12)
Luke, in 24:50,51 of his gospel and in Acts 1:6-11, describes the final resurrection appearance of Jesus. The Lord led His disciples near Bethany, a small village on the east side of the Mount of Olives, only two miles from Jerusalem. After commissioning them again (Acts 1:8), He then “lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven,” (Luke 24:50). In Luke’s parallel account in Acts, Jesus was lifted up in a cloud, no doubt the shekinah glory of God (Acts 1:9).
Evidently, the disciples continued to gaze into the sky, since it was necessary for two angels to reassure them, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven,” (Acts 1:11).
So it is that Jesus will return from heaven to the Mount of Olives. Until that time, we are commissioned with those first disciples to preach the gospel of the kingdom to every nation.
4. Jesus appeared to Paul (I Corinthians 15:8).
In addition to these recorded appearances of Jesus during the forty days after the Resurrection, He also appeared to Paul, though several years after He had ascended to the Father. This happened on the Damascus road and is recorded in Acts 9:1-8.
Paul’s encounter was “last of all” and therefore he referred to himself as “one untimely born” (15:8). The credibility of this resurrection appearance is demonstrated by the radical change in Paul’s life. He had been a violent, deadly persecutor of the church, yet became the great apostle to the nations. He had inflicted terrible suffering on believers yet later endured beatings and imprisonment for the sake of Christ.
Notice in the I Corinthian passage (15:5-8), Paul’s repeated use of the word appeared: “He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve ... He appeared to more than five hundred ... He appeared to James, then to all the apostles ... He appeared to me also.” These were not visions of Jesus. They were real, physical appearances to real people at particular times and places.
Since that time, our risen Savior has proven Himself through the lives of millions who, by grace, have turned from sin and death to life abundant and everlasting. Their transformed lives, faithful service and courageous deaths are the latest proof, living testimony, of our Lord’s rising.
Jesus, the Lamb for sinners slain, is also the risen Lord of glory. The tomb is empty. He is alive and His presence has filled and moved every generation since that first Easter morning.
1. According to Matthew 28:1-10, were the women coming to the tomb to witness a resurrection or honor a dead body? How do you know?
2. According to Mark 16:1-11, what were the women hoping to do?
3. According to Luke 24:1-12, why did the angel have to remind the women of Jesus’ teaching on resurrection?
4. According to John 20:2, what did Mary Magdalene believe had happened to the body of Jesus?
5. According to John 20:16, when did Mary recognize Jesus?
6. Why do you suppose the risen Lord Jesus appeared privately to Simon Peter (Luke 24:34)?
7. On Easter evening when Jesus appeared to the gathered disciples (Luke 24:33-53) also John 20:19-23), were they expecting Him?
8. How does this speak to the credibility of the resurrection?
9. In John 20:24-29, what convinced Thomas that this was the risen Lord Jesus?
10. How does the reality of the resurrection impact your worship life and your prayers?
Luke 24:44-53 Acts 1:1-11
Throughout the ages, the church has confessed that Jesus Christ died for our sins, rose from the dead, ascended to heaven and sat down at the right hand of God the Father, where He shares in the glory and dominion of the Father and the Holy Spirit.
For forty days after His resurrection, Jesus presented Himself alive to His disciples, “By many convincing proofs” (Acts 1:3). The result was that the disciples were persuaded beyond any doubt of the physical reality of Christ’s resurrection.
The Lord also renewed His teaching ministry with the disciples, “Speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).
Kingdom teaching centers on the necessity of the cross and resurrection of Jesus: “Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day’” (Luke 24:44-47).
The apostles, as with all Jews of that generation, were expecting the Messiah to usher in the kingdom of God but did not understand the nature of that kingdom. They were looking for a military solution — a deliverer who would defeat the hated Romans. But the true enemy was not the Roman army. The enemy was sin separating people from God and from His kingdom.
If Jesus had established the kingdom of God on earth without first reconciling sinners to a holy God, no one could have entered the kingdom. The solution was that Messiah would die an atoning death for the sins of the people and rise from the dead.
During this time, Jesus also established the primary mission of the church, “That repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations” (Luke 24:45-47). Christ’s church is involved in many important tasks but there is only one primary mission: we call people to repent of sin so that God’s forgiving grace may be poured out into hearts and lives.
The Lord commissioned the church, saying, “All authority has been give to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20 also Acts 1:8).
The commission to make disciples is based on the authority and presence of the Lord who has been raised, “Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:21). Having received all authority from the Father, Jesus now invests His church with wisdom, power, authority and anointing and sends the church out to continue His kingdom work.
In Jesus’ closing moments with His disciples, they still misunderstood the time, looking for the imminent, visible kingdom of God on earth: “Lord is it at this time that you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Jesus responded that it was not for them to know the time of the coming kingdom. Rather, they were to be empowered for witness (Acts 1:7,8).
There are two important points in these closing words of Jesus. First, that the disciples would receive an endowment of power from the Father, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” (Acts 1:8a). The word power is dunamis, from which we derive the English words dynamic, dynamo and dynamite.
Notice also the command, “You shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and even to the remotest part of the earth,” (Acts 1:8b).
The word witness is martus, one who testifies. So many Christians testified at the cost of their lives that the word martus came to mean one who pours out his or her life for the sake of the truth. The English word martyr then derived from martus.
The risen Lord convinced His disciples of the reality of His resurrection, taught them and commissioned them. He then ascended to the Father.
Jesus was lifted up from His disciples into the heavens (Acts 1:9). It was necessary that there be a physical, visible lifting up of Jesus from the company of the apostles as a way of emphasizing to them that their fellowship with Him from that day on would be different, not based on physical presence but on spiritual communion.
The Lord was lifted up in a cloud, which may have been the shekinah glory of God. The disciples must have been absolutely transfixed by the sight, for they stood there “gazing intently into the sky,” (Acts 1:10).
As this took place, two angelic messengers promised Christ’s return, “In just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:10,11). Jesus had said that the Son of Man will return, “Coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30). The Old Testament prophet Zechariah reveals that when the Messiah returns, “His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east” (Zechariah 14:4).
Jesus will return in a cloud of glory to the same Mount of Olives from which He ascended to heaven.
1. Before Jesus ascended to heaven, what did He do with His disciples?
2. As we await His return, what are we to be and do?
Having ascended to heaven, Jesus entered into His enthronement. This involves several principles which are essential to the Christian faith.
1. Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father.
“When He had made purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3).
Sitting down speaks of the completion of our High Priest's sacrificial duty. The Old Testament priests never sat down in the sanctuary, not only for the sake of reverence but because their sacrificial duties were never completed. There were no chairs in the temple because always, the work of sacrifice had to be repeated. However, when Jesus shouted from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30), He meant that His atoning sacrifice on behalf of sinners was complete, forever.
After He rose from the dead and ascended to the Father, He then sat down at the right hand of God. Though He ever lives to make intercession as our High Priest, He needs never again to offer a sacrifice for the sins of humanity. Once and for all, the blood of the spotless Lamb of God has been shed for the sins off the world. Now the sacrificed Lamb, risen from the dead and ascended to heaven, sits down, rests from His work.
Sitting down also speaks of the acceptance of the sacrifice. It is complete, not only because it is perfect but because it is accepted by God the Father. The Lamb sits on the throne because His work is complete and accepted.
Sitting down also speaks of the return of the Son of God to shared authority and shared glory with the other members of the Trinity. On the night that He gave Himself for us, Jesus prayed, “Now, Father, glorify me together with yourself, with the glory which I had with you before the world was” (John 17:5). Jesus proceeded from the Father and returned to Him and now shares again the glory and power of God.
2. Jesus is seated above all other powers (Ephesians 1:18-23).
Paul prayed for the church that we would understand, “The surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:19,20).
The greatest expression of the power of God is revealed “in Christ,” in His resurrection, ascension, dominion over creation and Headship over all things. God revealed the greatness of His power in raising Jesus from the dead and in seating Christ at His right hand, the position of authority.
Jesus has been seated, “Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named” (Ephesians 1:21). The authority of Jesus transcends all governmental power on earth and in heaven, in the visible or spiritual planes, all human and angelic government.
The authority of Jesus transcends all bounds of time — past, present and future, “Not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:21). His dominion is like a river overflowing the banks of time into eternity past and eternity future.
“And He put all things in subjection under His feet” (Ephesians 1:22).
Now all things are under Christ's feet, that is, subject to His dominion. The Son of God who humbled Himself in taking human form, who as a baby was laid in a feeding trough, who was crucified on the cross of a common criminal, this Christ is also King of kings, Lord of lords and Ruler of the universe. This risen, exalted Christ has been given the name above every name in this world and in the world to come so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow and every tongue confess Him as Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10,11).
3. In His triumphant exaltation Jesus is, “Head over all things” (Ephesians 1:22).
Headship denotes rulership. Though His authority is not yet visible over all things, it is still true authority. Though many in the world are in rebellion against the royal Headship of Christ, He is still Head over all.
4. Jesus is, “Crowned with glory and honor” (Hebrews 2:9)
It certainly follows that if Jesus has been seated at the right hand of the Father, seated above all rule and power and dominion, then He is crowned with glory and honor. But the writer to the Hebrews links the cross of Jesus with His exaltation, “Because of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor” (2:9). Christ's suffering was the pathway to His glory.
The glory of Jesus filled the preaching of the early church, “The God of our fathers has glorified His servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and disowned” (Acts 3:13).
The glory of Jesus was the confession of the early church, “He who was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit, beheld by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (I Timothy 3:16)
The glory of Jesus was the goal of the early church, “That you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:14). Jesus prayed that His followers would be with Him in glory that we might behold His glory (John 17:24) and that we might share His glory (17:22). Indeed, He is glorified in His church (17:10) as we reflect His life, share His works and proclaim His gospel.
The church worships and proclaims the glorified Christ, crucified for the sins of the world, risen from the dead, ascended to the Father, enthroned at the right hand of majesty and ruling in glory.
This glorified Christ is:
1. Heir of all things (Hebrews 1:2)
The inheritance of Jesus is more than just the kingdoms of this world. He is heir of all things, all of the universe, all of time and space, things seen and unseen, that which is and that which is yet to be, all is His.
Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). Firstborn refers not to birth; Jesus pre-existed His birth as Son of Mary. He is eternal, with no beginning. Firstborn refers to His position of preeminence, rank, honor and therefore, inheritance. Not only were all things created “by Him” but also, “All things have been created through Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16). Creation exists not just because of Jesus but for Him.
As Heir of all things, Jesus entered our human condition and bore our sins, our sorrows, griefs and afflictions, our death. Because He humbled Himself unto death on the cross, God highly exalted Him and this exalted Christ has been seated above all power and dominion. Someday there will be a great shout in heaven, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ and He will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
2. Upholder of the universe (Hebrews 1:3)
The glorified Christ, “Upholds all things by the word of His power,” that is, by His enabling word (Hebrews 1:3). The same divine Word which called the universe into being also sustains and maintains all that He created. The farthest spinning galaxies and the smallest particles of the atom are upheld and held together in Christ.
Jesus is not only the Creator of the universe with the Father and the Holy Spirit but also the preserver and goal of all creation. All space, matter, time and being flow from Him and to Him. He maintains, keeps, preserves and sustains all that He created. He does this through the continued word of His power, that same dynamic word by which He created all things.
History is not a random series of events recycling endlessly nor spinning violently and mindlessly out of control. Neither is the universe flying apart in chaos. The same Lord who creates also upholds and moves creation, time and history by the force of His will, the power of His word, toward the fulfillment which He purposed from eternity.
3. Preeminent, in Whom all things hold together (Colossians 1:16,17)
Preeminent means that Jesus Christ is before all things, that He holds the place of Lordship, primacy, before and over all creation. All things hold together in the glorified Christ, from the smallest subatomic particle to the enormous spinning galaxies, all things consist or hold together in Him.
John said in opening his gospel:
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being" (John 1:1-3)
The glorified Christ is Heir of all things, Creator of all things, in Whom all things consist.
After His resurrection from the dead, Jesus visibly ascended to heaven and was enthroned in glory at the right hand of God the Father. The church worships this Savior: crucified, risen, ascended, glorified. He will someday return for His faithful and we who behold His glory shall be transformed in glory.
1. What does it mean that Jesus is seated at the “right hand of the majesty on high”?
2. What does it mean that Jesus is “seated above all other powers”?
3. What does it mean that Jesus is the “upholder of the universe”?
4. How does this impact your prayers and your worship, that all things consist or hold together in Christ Jesus?
The ministry of Jesus did not cease after He ascended to heaven. He continues to minister as our High Priest, as Head of the church and as sovereign Lord of history.
A. Jesus Is Our Great High Priest
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God …” (Hebrews 4:14-16)
1. Jesus is a perfect High Priest (Hebrews 5:9)
As opposed to the Jewish high priests under the Old Covenant who needed to continually offer up sacrifices for their own sin, our High Priest is perfect in character, sinless. The former high priests needed to continually offer up sacrifices for the sins of the people but the redeeming work of our High Priest was perfect and does not need to be repeated.
Jesus also enjoys perfect communion with the other members of the Trinity. Under the former covenant, the high priest had access to the presence of God once a year (in the Holy of Holies); but our High Priest abides in perfect communion with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. The former high priests eventually died, their priesthood was temporary but our High Priest lives forever. He is a perfect High Priest.
2. Jesus is the Source of eternal salvation (Hebrews 5:9, 7:25)
When anyone obeys the Lord’s command to repent of sin and believe in Christ our Savior, God grants them eternal salvation. It is an eternal salvation because our Savior lives forever, His priesthood is forever and therefore, His saving work is eternal.
3. His is an everlasting priesthood (Hebrews 7:23, 24)
As we have said, Jesus, “Holds His priesthood permanently” (Hebrews 7:24). Because Jesus is eternal, His priesthood is eternal.
The word permanent can also be translated unchangeable or inviolable (aparabatos). It is a legal word. A judge hands down a decision and it is aparabatos, unchangeable. The priesthood of Jesus, by which He is able to reconcile repentant sinners to God, is permanent, inviolable, cannot be canceled. When Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6), He was speaking of a truth, a reality which is as permanent as the existence of God.
4. Jesus is holy, innocent, undefiled (Hebrews 7:25-27)
Our High Priest is “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens” (7:26). Because Jesus is our sinless High Priest, He did not need to make sacrifices for Himself nor does He need to make endless sacrifices on behalf of His people, having made one sacrifice for all time.
5. Our High Priest is seated at the right hand of majesty (Hebrews 8:1,2)
This speaks of the completion of Christ's sacrificial work, the acceptance of His sacrifice by the Father and His return to shared glory and authority with the Father. He is therefore able to carry out all that He purposes and prays.
Function of our High Priest: Intercessor and Advocate
1. He lives to make intercession for the saints (Hebrews 7:23-25 9:24)
A priest intercedes, prays for his flock. So Jesus, our eternal High Priest, is able to save forever (or completely) those who draw near to God through Him (through faith in Him), because He lives always and forever to intercede (plead for) His people. It is true that “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16). How much more is accomplished through the prayer of the Righteous One, who prays with perfect wisdom and knowledge of all truth, with perfect motive and perfect love, who always fulfills His purpose with perfect power.
2. He intercedes for us in the hour of temptation (Luke 22:31,32)
We are kept by an enduring faith that is sustained to the end of time by the prayers of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Now that Jesus has ascended to heaven and is seated at the Father’s right hand, His intercession is an expression of His continuous, perfect communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
3. He advocates for His people when we sin (I John 2:1,2)
When we sin, “We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the satisfaction for our sins.” The word advocate (paracletos) can be translated helper, intercessor, one who is called alongside to help.
4. He prays for His church (John 17:15-23)
In John 17, Jesus prayed for His church, that the church would be kept from the evil one, sanctified in the truth and perfected in unity. As our great High Priest, He still intercedes, not only for believers as individuals but for His church.
The result of our High Priest’s ministry is that we cannot be condemned, we cannot be separated from Christ and we are more than conquerors in Him (Romans 8:26,27,31-39).
B. Jesus is Head of the Church
“He is also head of the body, the church,” (Colossians 1:18 also Ephesians 5:23).
1. Jesus exercises Headship over the church as the Good Shepherd who guides and guards His flock. He is the High Priest who prays over His flock. He is our Bread and our Provider, nourishing His flock. Just as the universe is held together in Christ (Col 1:17), so is the church.
2. Christ’s headship of the church denotes not only rulership but also union.
We are growing up, “Into Him who is the Head, even Christ, from whom the whole body (is) being fitted and held together” (Ephesians 4:15,16). The church is not an organization but a living organism, the body of Christ on earth and Jesus is the Head of His body.
Christ is joined to His church in spiritual union and it is His life that gives life to the church. It is His wisdom that gives light to His church. He invests His authority in His church. He flows His mercy, grace and truth through His church.
3. Jesus is “Head over all things to (for) the church” (Ephesians 1:22).
Jesus is Lord of lords and King of kings, upholding the universe by the word of His power, seated, “Above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:21). He rules over all things, is Head over all things to (or for) the church, that is, for the sake of His church. The church is joined in union with the Head of all things. The church that is joined in union with Him is also “raised up with Him and seated” in heavenly places with Him (Eph. 2:6).
4. Jesus expresses His fullness through His church, “Which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:23).
Just as the fulness of God dwells in Christ (Col. 2:9), so the fulness of Christ fills His church. He imparts and overflows the fulness of His life into and through His church. He expresses, displays the fulness of His glory through His church.
The church is the fulness of Christ in filling out the ministry of Jesus on earth. As Jesus, the Head, provides spiritual life, strength, wisdom, direction and gifts to His church, the church then goes forth and carries out the will of Christ on earth.
5. Jesus is continually guiding and guarding His church:
He knows each church intimately. He presents Himself in the Revelation as the One who stands in the midst of the lampstands (which represent the churches, Rev. 1:13,20). That is a way of saying that He is present in His church.
He sent individual letters to seven of the churches (see Rev. 2 and 3). To those churches, Jesus said, “I know your deeds ... I know your tribulation ... I know where you dwell ... “ (Rev. 2:2,9,13). He knows His church.
He also knows each saint personally: “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27,28). It is His promise that we will be able to hear Him, enabling us to follow Him. Therefore He sent the Holy Spirit to guide us into all the truth (John 14:13).
He has provided the church with apostles, pastors, teachers, prophets and evangelists for the upbuilding and guidance of the church (Ephesians 4:11). His promise to all who love and follow Him in faith is that, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you” (Psalm 32:8).
Though He warns, rebukes and disciplines His church, He does so out of holy passion for His beloved bride. He calls and corrects, that we might turn and be restored to His purpose: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent” (Rev. 3:19)
He guards His church and though the saints are persecuted even unto death, nothing can take us out of His hand or rob us of the eternal life which is His gift: I give eternal life to them and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27,28)
6. Jesus preserves unity and holiness in His church.
This was His prayer the night before He died for us: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Jesus continually sanctifies His church because there can be no unity without holiness. “That they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me and I in you ... I in them and you in me, that they may be perfected in unity” (John 17:21a, 23a).
7. Jesus perfects the members of His church.
The church is composed of individual members whom Paul reassures with these words: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians1:6).
The goal of this “good work” which the Lord is performing in us is that we would “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature (perfect / teleios) man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).
8. Jesus gifts His church
Jesus has promised to gift His church with all necessary spiritual gifts necessary to fulfill His commission to the church. Therefore, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives and He gave gifts to men” (Eph. 4:8).
Even as a body has a variety of members performing a diversity of functions, so Christ has gifted the various members of His body on earth so that His ministry can be extended throughout the nations. The Apostle Paul wrote,
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (I Corinthians 12:4-7).
9. Jesus empowers His church.
Before He ascended on high, Jesus promised to endow His church with supernatural power through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:6-8). The Apostle Paul prayed, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Ephesians 3:20).
It is by the power of God that we were redeemed from death to life, from the darkness of the dominion of Satan to the light of God's kingdom. It is this power that keeps us, consecrates us, enables us to serve and is on display in us and through us as we live to God’s glory.
10. Through the church, Jesus offers to a lost world the precious gift of salvation, the opportunity to enter into reconciled relationship with God. This is Christ’s commission to the church,
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:19,20a).
Jesus continually guides, preserves, perfects and gifts His church. Through the church, the body of Christ on earth, Christ offers a lost world the wonderful gift of forgiveness of sin and eternal life with God.
C. Jesus Is the Sovereign Lord of History
1. Sovereign Lord Over the Nations
Jesus expresses His Lordship over the nations as “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Revelation 1:5). This refers to Christ's position of sovereignty as King of kings and Lord of lords, supreme over every nation, every empire and every ruler. He sets the boundaries of the nations and their appointed times (Acts 17:26). He ordains governments for His purposes (Rom. 13:1) but nullifies their plans when they violate His purpose (Psalm 33:10,11).
The Lord allows rulers to exercise free will yet providentially uses their decisions to establish His decrees. Indeed, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Proverbs 21:1). The Lord “stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia” to send Israel back to their land to rebuild the temple, though Cyrus did not know the Lord at that time (Ezra 1:1-4). Many years later the Lord turned the heart of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, to send Nehemiah back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city, though Artaxerxes did not know the Lord (Nehemiah 2:1-8).
Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea and Caiaphas, the high priest, exercised their governmental authority in condemning Jesus to death, yet they delivered Him to death “by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). The sinful exercise of their free will served only to establish God’s salvation purpose. They were still morally accountable for their sin but their sin in no way nullified the purpose of God.
Jesus exercises sovereignty over the nations because, as He said, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). Jesus’ authority is absolute and universal. There is no power or authority in the heavenlies or on earth that impinges on, restricts or limits Christ’s exercise of authority. His dominion transcends all bounds of time. His kingdom is everlasting.
Though His authority is not yet visible over all things, it is still true authority. Though the powers of this world do not recognize the sovereign Lordship of Jesus, are in violent rebellion against their true King, even so, Jesus is enthroned as sovereign over the nations.
Almighty God said to His Son, “Ask of me and I will surely give the nations as your inheritance and the very ends of the earth as your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, you shall shatter them like earthenware. Now therefore O kings, show discernment; take warning, O judges (leaders) of the earth,” (Psalm 2:8-10).
Someday, every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus as Lord and an angel will shout, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15). Though that day is not today, John, writing in the first century, introduces Jesus as “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5).
2. Jesus is the Anointed Judge
As Lord over the nations, Jesus is also the Anointed Judge. The rulers of the earth devise strategies against the Lord and His Anointed (Messiah) to cast off the rule of God (Psalm 2:1-3). But humanistic liberation movements only create greater slavery, greater suffering and God judges counterfeit liberty and counterfeit kings (Psalm 2:4,5).
Jesus, speaking of His return and the coming judgment, said, “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him” (Matthew 25:31,32).
God has offered grace to this rebellious world but also warns of judgment to those who refuse to humble themselves before Him. In the Revelation we see the final outworking of human rebellion and divine judgment as Jesus shares with His Father in judging the nations. In Revelation 11:17,18, the elders sing this song of praise,
“We give you thanks O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. And the nations were enraged and your wrath came and the time came for the dead to be judged and the time to reward your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear your name” (Rev. 11:17,18).
Jesus is the Anointed Judge who will someday conclude history and exercise final judgment in His timing and for His glory. But even now the Just One exercises His sovereign decrees within history. Against the proud kings of this age the Psalmist warns, “But God is the Judge; He puts down one and exalts another” (Psalm 75:7).
Even now, Jesus, Lord of History and Anointed Judge, is moving history to His conclusion.
1. Jesus will return to set up His kingdom on earth:
As Jesus was lifted up from His disciples, two angelic messengers promised His return (Acts 1:9-11). Jesus described that return in Matthew 24, following a time of tribulation on earth and the shaking of the heavens, “And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30). Be assured that the day is coming when Jesus Christ will establish His kingdom on earth.
2. Creation will be redeemed:
“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Romans 8:22).
All of creation suffers because of human sin: “Cursed is the ground because of you” God said to Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:17). It was humanity’s sin that plunged creation into futility and chaos. The earth groans, as if crying out to God, “How long will you let them trample upon us, defile us, pollute us with this curse?”
Creation will rejoice at the coming of the Lord:
“Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy before the Lord for He is coming to judge the earth” (Psalm 98:7-9).
When Jesus returns, the lion and the lamb will lie down together, visible proof of the redemption of creation (Isaiah 11:6-9). As we await that day, the Holy Spirit intercedes for creation, for lost humanity and for the completion of God’s purpose in us, the redemption of our bodies in resurrection (Romans 8:26,27).
3. The unrighteous will be raised from the dead and judged:
Scripture clearly reveals that Jesus will return, not only to establish His kingdom but to judge those who have rejected His rule on earth (Jude 14,15). The dead will be raised and will stand before the great white throne. They will be judged and if their names are not found in the book of life, they will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10-15).
4. The righteous will be raised and rewarded.
In the resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus revealed that He is the resurrection for all who believe in Him (John 11:21-26). “In Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 42-58). Those who live by faith in Christ will share in His resurrection.
We will also be rewarded according to our works (I Corinthians 3:6-8, 12-15, 4:5). There is reward for even the smallest good deed — a cup of cold water shared in His name (Matthew 10:41,42). The greatest reward will be living forever in the presence of the Lord, “and thus we shall always be with the Lord” (I Thessalonians 4:17 Rev. 21:1-4)
We do not know when the Lord will return. But we do know that as we await that day, He continues to exercise His High Priesthood in our lives, interceding, guiding and guarding His saints and His church.
As we await that day, we know that God is providentially moving all of time and history toward the fulfilling of His kingdom purpose. Paul speaks of the “summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). Though we are sometimes tempted to see only chaos and hopelessness in world events, we know by revelation that God is at work in time to bring about the fulfillment of His eternal plan.
We also know that each of us has an appointment to meet Him, either through death or at His return. “Behold, I am coming quickly and my reward is with me to render to every man according to what he has done” (Revelation 22:12). Let us then be found faithful, whether in great works or small, that we may someday hear those words which will mean more to us than any others, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21).
1. In what ways is Jesus our great High Priest?
2. What does it mean that Jesus is Head of the church?
3. In what ways is Jesus the sovereign Lord of history?
4. When we consider the High Priesthood of Jesus, His Headship over the church and His Lordship over history, how does this impact your prayers and your worship?