Warring Tendencies and Spiritual Airs

Rebecca Van Noord

2 Kings 3:1–4:17; Mark 14:22–50; Proverbs 6:6–11

“I will do this!” I declare as I resolve to get in shape, eat better, save money, study and meditate on the Word more, journal more, read more. My plans escalate, growing grander in scale and depth. Although I succeed in them for a while, I easily become overwhelmed when I can’t live up to the inflated vision I’ve projected for myself.

It’s especially easy to do this spiritually. It’s simple to hand out godly advice with a spiritual air, to speak wise words about past failings (read subtext: “Look how far I’ve come!”), and to talk about personal growth. But when we mess up on a colossal scale, it’s humiliating and surprising to all—especially ourselves. “What happened?” we might ask. “I was doing so well!”

Simon Peter had a tendency to make grand plans: “Even if they all fall away, certainly I will not!” he declared, proclaiming his loyalty to the Savior (Mark 14:29). They’re words to fall flat on your face by. When Jesus found the disciples sleeping, He knew who needed the reprimand and the warning: “And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you sleeping? Were you not able to stay awake one hour? Stay awake and pray that you will not enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak!’ ” (Mark 14:37–38).

Jesus’ reprimand should have exposed Simon Peter’s pride, which was parading as loyalty. For all his exuberant claims, Simon Peter lacked true understanding of his nature. When he considered his spiritual state, he was optimistic about his own efforts. No one was more humiliated and more surprised than he when he later betrayed Jesus around a charcoal fire to curious strangers.

Our desire to follow Jesus is not the problem. Instead, it is our competitive nature, our pride, that needs to be repeatedly humbled. We need real understanding of our spiritual state—a picture we shouldn’t try to project in any other way—coupled with a total dependency on Him. A war is being waged inside of us. We can only win because of what Christ has done and because of the Spirit’s work in us. To God belongs all the glory.

Are you spinning your sin, making it seem less dire than it really is?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.

Shelf Life Book Review: The Common English Bible Study Bible

Ben Espinoza

The Common English Bible Study Bible
Abingdon Press, 2013

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More than 700 Bible scholars, pastors and laypeople from varying denominations came together to create The CEB Study Bible—a readable and relevant resource that illuminates Scripture while it speaks into our contemporary contexts.

The study notes are clear and concise, allowing readers to understand the flow of Scripture and the historical context of each book. The notes reflect broadly held Christian beliefs, unencumbered by explorations of divisive issues. This study Bible includes 21 full-color maps, a complete concordance, numerous graphs and illustrations, and a brief introduction to each biblical book that summarizes its main plot, themes and context. It also contains several engaging essays, written by scholars such as Joel Green and Brian Russell.

The CEB Study Bible is a worthwhile purchase for anyone seeking to better understand the Bible. Its intent is not to persuade readers to a particular theological viewpoint, but rather to inspire them to apply scriptural teachings to their daily lives.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 4

4 Gospels, 4 Perspectives

Rebecca Van Noord

United in intent, but unique in perspective, each Gospel writer presents a different picture of the life and work of Jesus. Here is how the four Evangelists announce the good news of Jesus and call people to believe in Him.

Who is Jesus?

Matthew presents Jesus as the heir of David and the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham (1:1–17). He is the true King and the new Moses. He has come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets and usher in God’s kingdom.

Mark shows Jesus as the Son of God, come with authority to teach, heal and cast out demons. He is also the Son of Man, the true representation of what it means to be human. Jesus’ rejection and suffering are raw and pronounced in Mark.


Luke presents Jesus as the prophet who has come to suffer for His people (7:16; 13:33). He is a healer and a friend to tax collectors. He has come to save the lost and the outcast. He is the Servant from Isaiah, who brings comfort to the suffering and oppressed.

For John, Jesus is the Word made flesh—God present since the beginning of time. He is the Son of God and the one who reveals the Father. Jesus makes bold claims about Himself that require bold faith from His listeners.

How do the Gospel writers tell their stories?

Matthew intersperses five major blocks of Jesus’ teaching throughout his narrative, emphasizing that Jesus is the true teacher of the Torah.

Mark intentionally groups events and teachings according to theme. He sandwiches these events so they lend meaning to one another. For example, he places Jesus’ commissioning of the Twelve near John the Baptist’s death, emphasizing the cost of discipleship (6:7–30).

Luke emphasizes Jesus’ ministry to the outcast. His travel narrative—Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem—is often called the “Gospel for the Outcast” (9:51–19:27). Jesus tells parables like the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan as He travels to fulfill His messianic role.

Jesus’ miracles or “signs,” many of which are not recorded in the other Gospels, feature prominently in John’s narrative and bring attention to His identity as the Son of God (1:19–12:50).

What literary techniques does each writer use?

Matthew draws on Old Testament passages to show how Jesus’ life fulfilled ancient prophecies (e.g., Matt 1:22–23 and Isa 7:14; Matt 2:15 and Hos 11:1). He also begins with a genealogy to emphasize that Jesus is the heir of David and the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham (1:1–17).

Mark relies on the secrecy motif to build suspense and highlight Jesus’ mission. Numerous times Jesus commands demons, the people He heals, and even His disciples to keep quiet about His identity.

Luke has the largest vocabulary and uses fine literary Greek. His extended preface is modeled after prologues of Hellenistic Greek histories and Graeco-Roman literature and displays great artistic skill (1:1–4).

John’s simple prose is infused with symbolism and profound theological significance. Jesus is the Word (1:1), the Bread of Life (6:35), the Light of the World (8:12), and the Good Shepherd (10:11). John also wields dramatic irony. Nathanael asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (1:46).

What are the themes of each Gospel?

The kingdom; the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets (5:17)

The kingdom of God, which has arrived but has not fully manifested itself (1:15; 4:30–32; 14:25)

The kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven; condemnation of wealth used inappropriately (16:1–31; 19:8)

Belief in Jesus for eternal life (5:21–25)

Why do the Gospel writers tell their stories?

Matthew presents Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel’s expectation of a coming messianic king (e.g., 1:22–23; 2:5–6; 3:3).

Mark proclaims that Jesus is the Son of God and that the kingdom of God is here: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (1:15).

Luke writes, “It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (1:3–4).

John says, “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31).

As you closely read each Gospel, consider how individual events fit within each Gospel narrative. When you compare events across the Gospels, consider how each telling highlights different concerns about Jesus’ life and ministry

Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 4

Resources used:
Edward Adams, Parallel Lives of Jesus: A Guide to the Four Gospels (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011).
Nicholas Perrin, “The Synoptic Gospels,” Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012). FaithlifeBible.com
Mark Strauss, Four Portraits, One Jesus: A Survey of Jesus and the Gospels (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007). Logos.com/FourPortraits

Kingdom Here, Kingdom Come

Aubry Smith

When I was 13 my mom had a seizure in the middle of the night. After multiple tests and exploratory surgeries, the neurologists diagnosed her with terminal brain cancer. She had four months to live. As my siblings and I prepared our goodbyes, nearly every church in the county was praying for my mom’s healing.

A year later, the same team of doctors declared my mom in remission. Many people in our small community, convinced of God’s power and His hand in this miracle, came to faith. I was one of them.


It seemed too good, and then it wasn’t. A few years later she began forgetting things. She began telling cashiers at the grocery store personal information and bought the same vacuum cleaner every week. Her surgical scars suddenly opened, and an infection spread through her skull, nearly killing her. After a year in the hospital and countless surgeries, one-third of her skull was permanently removed. Now in her 50s, she lives in an assisted living residence, remembers very little about her life, and cannot function on her own.

Rather than undergoing the quick death of brain cancer, she now suffers the slow death of dementia. The miracle that brought me to faith years ago now brings me to a spiritual crisis. Why would God provide a miracle only to allow even more suffering later on? In John 11, Jesus attends the funeral of His friend Lazarus. Although Jesus was aware that Lazarus lay dying, He intentionally delayed His arrival so that God would be glorified (11:4). Lazarus’ sisters and their fellow mourners all assert that Jesus could have healed Lazarus and spared them their suffering (11:21, 32, 37). In response, Jesus calls Lazarus—rotting and wrapped in burial linen—out of the tomb. Many believe, and God is indeed glorified.

What we are not told is when or how Lazarus died again. There’s no account of him being whisked up to heaven like Enoch or Elijah, so we must assume he died later on. We’re also not told the fate of the others Jesus healed. Did they ever get sick again? They surely died too.

Jesus preached that the kingdom of God is near. He showed us what that kingdom is like: the dead are resurrected, the sick are healed, demons are powerless, creation is restored, and God is worshiped. In his resurrection, Lazarus bore witness to God’s kingdom and power. Was God any less present or powerful when Lazarus died the second time?

We see glimpses of the coming kingdom, but it is not fully here yet. Death has not yet died; sin and brokenness still abound. Sometimes miracles—signs of the coming glory—break into our world and show us that the kingdom of God has come to us in Jesus. But when suffering remains, we wait for complete restoration upon Jesus’ return.

Jesus’ response to Lazarus’ mourners is one of hope. They desire resurrection and life for their brother. Jesus draws them to Himself, saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die” (11:25, emphasis mine). Jesus, the Suffering Servant, is the God who suffers alongside His people. Although He knows that this is not the end for Lazarus, He is “deeply moved” by Mary’s anguish and the sight of His beloved friend’s tomb (11:33, 35, 38).

My mom’s miracle showed my community that God is near and that His kingdom—one without disease or mental illness—is coming in fullness one day. But her dementia reminds me that it is not yet fully here, pushing me to lean into Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, who weeps with me as I wait.

Scripture quotations are from the New Living Translation (NLT).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 4

Recovering Pharisee

Jessi Strong

I asked Jesus to come into my heart when I was four years old. Growing up in a Christian home, I heard Bible stories, attended Sunday school, and learned to pray before meals and bedtime. I should have become more convinced of my need for a savior as I read more of God’s Word. Instead, I began to see myself as a pretty good person—especially compared to the tax collectors and prostitutes with whom Jesus surrounded Himself.

Things came to a head when, as a teenager, I took my youth pastor’s challenge to read through the New Testament once a month. I found, with every trip I took through the Gospels, that Jesus confused me more. It seemed like He was intentionally driving away good people. Rather than praising the rich young man of Mark 10:17–31 for his goodness, Jesus gave him another task. Each time I read the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32), I sympathized more with the older brother than with the younger one, who truly deserved to wallow with the pigs for intentionally messing up his life. One verse in the Gospel of Mark was particular troubling:


And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are healthy do not have need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).

I watched my peers experiment with drugs and alcohol, lie to their parents and sleep with their boyfriends. They were obviously the sinners that Jesus talked about, so I thought that made me the righteous one. But I knew from Sunday school stories that the righteous Pharisees were the bad guys of the Gospel narratives. I was worried to align myself with them: If I was a Pharisee, did that mean heaven was out of my grasp?

I took my problem to my youth group mentor. She first had me read the Ten Commandments and then pointed me to Jesus’ commentary on them in His Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said to the people of old, “Do not commit murder,” and “whoever commits murder will be subject to judgment.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry at his brother will be subject to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, “Stupid fool!” will be subject to the council, and whoever says, “Obstinate fool!” will be subject to fiery hell (Matt 5:21–22).

I had made the dangerous mistake of comparing my behavior with the people around me rather than measuring my life against God’s standard. I had formed a false dichotomy between the healthy and the sick—I had thought all humans were spiritually one or the other, but we are all sick and in need of Christ to save us.

The gospel message made sense to me when I understood my place in Scripture. It also helped me view others with the grace God has extended to me. These days I take comfort in being the prodigal son—in being sick and rescued instead of healthy and self-reliant—and in knowing that my salvation is not dependent on my own good behavior.

Scripture quotations are from the Lexham English Bible (LEB).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 4

The Case for Jesus

Eli T. Evans

There is a throne in Jerusalem to which there are many pretenders but only one rightful king. Who may occupy it? Herod? Caesar? The scribes and Pharisees?

In his Gospel, Matthew builds his case that a carpenter from Nazareth is the only one with a legal right to rule the “kingdom of God.” Matthew bookends his argument for Christ’s authority by affirming His deity—opening with the infancy narrative that highlights Jesus’ royal pedigree against the backdrop of Herod’s treachery (Matt 1–4) and closing with Jesus claiming “all authority in heaven and earth” for Himself (28:16–20). Jesus’ kingdom extends beyond Israel to encompass the whole world, meaning He is not only a teacher, prophet, and the long-expected Davidic monarch, but Immanuel, “God with us” (1:23).


Matthew covers the same ground as Mark, but he adds two key themes: authority and forgiveness. Just before His crucifixion, Jesus tells the high priest that he “will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power” (26:64). But unlike the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus uses His power to grant forgiveness to others, and He teaches His followers to do the same. Only Matthew preserves the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (18:21–35), and only in Matthew’s telling of the Last Supper does Jesus say that He is about to pour Himself out “for many for the forgiveness of sins” (26:28).

Jesus Fulfills the Law

Matthew’s argument depends on Jesus’ special relationship to the Law and the Prophets. He bolsters his case with more references to the Old Testament than any other Gospel writer. More than a dozen times Matthew says that Jesus “fulfills” (plēroō, πληρόω), meaning “to fill” or “to complete,” an Old Testament prophecy (e.g., 1:22–23; 12:17–21; 26:54, 56). For Matthew, Jesus is Messiah and king because Scripture declares it so.

Indeed, Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount that His purpose in coming is to “fulfill” the “Law and the Prophets” (Matt 5:17–20). This statement is unique to Matthew, as are the “you have heard it said ... but I say” statements of the rest of the chapter (Matt 5:21–48). The “I” in the repeated phrase “but I say” provokes the question, “By what authority does He say these things?” (see Matt 21:23–27; Mark 11:27–33; Luke 20:1–8; John 5:19–47).

Jesus Understands the Law

Jesus introduces these statements by proposing a standard of righteousness that “exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees”—one that extends beyond even the strictest contemporary interpretations of the law. He concludes with a command to “be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:20–48; see Lev 19:2). Here Jesus lays bare the intent of the law: to define and demand perfect holiness. Nevertheless, Jesus claims that His “yoke is easy” and His “burden is light,” while He calls the teaching of the religious elite a “heavy burden, hard to bear” (Matt 11:28–30; 23:4).

So Matthew defines the central conflict: Jesus radiates perfect holiness from the inside out and expects others to do the same, while the contemporary spiritual leaders “wash the outside of the cup,” but not their hearts, and “outwardly appear righteous to others, but within [they] are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (23:1–36).

People must have thought it absurd for Jesus to call the scribes and Pharisees “lawless.” Yet with this one word, He contrasts His transcendent viewpoint of the law (Matt 5–7) with the nearsighted legalism of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt 23), undermining their authority and bolstering His own. This divide between legalism and legitimacy is further illustrated by Matthew’s version of the parable of the Two Sons (21:28–32), as well as his observation that, while the religious leaders may be fastidious in tithing their spices, they have completely missed the point of the law (23:23). Twice Jesus accuses the leaders of not understanding the statement “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (9:13; 12:7; cited from Hos 6:6).

Jesus Transcends the Law

There are two voices within the Old Testament: one demanding perfect obedience and another offering perfect forgiveness. Both voices are unequivocally One—the God of Israel (Exod 34:6–8). For Matthew, only Jesus speaks authentically with both voices. As the Son of Man, He is perfectly submitted to the law, and as the Son of God, He has absolute prerogative over it. Jesus alone keeps the law in every detail, and then bears its penalty on behalf of His people—securing both forgiveness and righteousness at once (Matt 20:28; see Isa 53:10–12).

Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Want to dig deeper into the Word? Faithlife Study Bible provides you with study notes, in-depth articles, infographics and more. Download the app free of charge for a limited time. Go to FaithlifeBible.com to learn more.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 4

Economics, Currency, and Caesar

John D. Barry

1 Kings 20:26–21:29; Mark 12:1–34; Proverbs 5:1–10

Jesus’ command to pay taxes is one of the trickier passages in the NT. The actual line isn’t tricky—“Give to Caesar the things of Caesar, and to God the things of God” (Mark 12:17)—but its origins and Jesus’ exact reasoning aren’t as clear.

People have taken this passage to suggest that Jesus was in favor of government or taxes. But this interpretation misses the point. We’re meant to learn from Jesus here, not take away some regulation. Certainly Jesus condones paying taxes and charity work, but those points touch only on the basics of His statement.

First, Jesus is annoyed. The Pharisees and Herodians are testing Him with this question, and He doesn’t approve. His reaction suggests that simply taking away a “law” here would sadden Him, for that’s all the Pharisees and Herodians cared about (Mark 12:15). The “law” would address only the political question.

Jesus goes on to ask for a denarius, signaling that He doesn’t have one—He is poor (Mark 12:15–16). This coin had Caesar’s image on it and claimed divinity for Caesar. Jesus’ remark acknowledges the claim: “Give to Caesar the currency of his kingdom’s economy.” He also addresses the larger issue of the “image of God” (Gen 1:27): “Give to God the things of God” (Mark 12:17). What belongs to God? The entire world and everything in it—our very selves. We are meant, as members of God’s work, to act as people who operate within His currency of sacrificial living.

The Pharisees and Herodians’ question and Jesus’ answer are political, but the politics are eternal. The economics have ramifications for all people, for all time. They change the way we as Christians act and operate. They change what we value. The economic shift is an “image-bearing” shift.

Whom do you serve? Give to God what He deserves. Give to the kingdoms of this world what they have created (their currency). Give to God what is God’s—your very life. Operate under God’s currency as one who bears His image.

What is God asking you to give?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.

John D. Barry is the CEO and founder of Jesus’ Economy, a nonprofit dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. To empower the extreme poor, Jesus’ Economy also has an online fair trade shop. John is also the general editor of Faithlife Study Bible and the former editor-in-chief of Bible Study Magazine. Learn more about John’s work with Jesus’ Economy at www.jesuseconomy.org.

Shelf Life Book Review: Paul and the Faithfulness of God

Derek R. Brown

Paul and the Faithfulness of God
Fortress Press, 2013

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This book is N.T. Wright’s fourth volume in the Christian Origins and the Question of God series, which began in 1992 with the publication of The New Testament and the People of God. The previous volumes in the series looked at the theological and historical background to the New Testament, the life and aims of Jesus, and the resurrection of Christ. This volume examines the Apostle Paul’s theology and worldview across two books totaling 1,700 pages.

Wright breaks up his argument into four sections: Paul and his world, the mindset of the apostle, Paul’s theology and Paul’s gospel in his world. Wright uses categories and terminology established in the previous volumes to argue that Paul “reworked” the Jewish theological framework of monotheism, election and eschatology around the Messiah (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit. The book also touches on issues related to justification, God’s faithfulness and the church as the key symbol of Paul’s worldview.

In Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Wright combines in-depth historical and theological exegesis and his knowledge of biblical scholarship to make his tcase about Paul and his theology. The book will be useful for those interested in the academic study of the Apostle Paul.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 3

John, Gospel of the Incarnation

Karen H. Jobes

There is more than one way to tell a story—even the most important story of all. The Gospel writers crafted their individual stories of Jesus using genealogies, prophecies or narratives of historical events to convey His identity and mission. While Matthew demonstrates that Jesus is the heir of the covenant promises of David and Abraham and the fulfiller of ancient messianic prophecies, Mark emphasizes that Jesus is the Messiah of a kingdom even greater than Rome. In his Gospel and Acts, Luke shows that Jesus is the Christ of all nations, whose gospel breaks down barriers between Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, and male and female.

While the Synoptic Gospel writers—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—tell the story of Jesus from within the perspective of human history, John takes a different approach. He writes from a viewpoint that transcends human history and time.


John establishes Jesus’ divine nature and His eternal significance before he records any of His words or actions. The opening words of John’s Gospel echo Genesis 1:1, taking us back before creation, before the fall or the first prophecy, and before the star of Bethlehem appeared: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). John proclaims that this Word “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (1:14). The narrative then swoops down into first-century Palestine and places the incarnation within human history.

Signs of Glory

When telling the events of Jesus’ life, John selects those that reveal His divine identity and the purpose of His incarnation. He records only seven miracles, six of which are not told in the Synoptic Gospels. John describes Jesus’ acts not as “miracles” (dynamis, δύναμις) but as “signs” (sēmeion, σημεῖον), inviting us to see what Jesus’ actions reveal about Him.

John’s descriptions of the signs connect Jesus to the fulfillment of Old Testament promises and point to the significance of His crucifixion. He records Jesus’ first miracle—changing water into wine at a wedding in Cana (2:1–11)—as a symbolic act that reveals His divine nature and the purpose of His incarnate life (2:11). In the Old Testament, a wedding banquet and the abundance of wine symbolize the joy of the messianic age, when death itself dies and God rights all wrongs (Isa 54:5; 61:10; Jer 33:10; 31:12–14; Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13). John shows that this promised age dawned with the coming of Jesus (2:11). He reports that this miracle revealed Jesus’ “glory,” pushing His disciples to believe in Him (2:11). He also invites us to believe this revelation, become a disciple of Jesus, and cross over into eternal life (20:31).

Jesus as the Son of God

All of the Gospels demonstrate Jesus’ identity as Son of God by showing His power and wisdom. Yet such an identification can be difficult to reconcile with the concept of monotheism: How can God the Father and God the Son be one? John identifies Jesus as God by explaining that not only did the Word—Jesus—exist “in the beginning,” but the Word was God, through whom all things were created (1:1).

John further demonstrates Jesus’ identity by showing His involvement in the covenants that God made with the Israelites. While Jesus was in Jerusalem speaking with Abraham’s biological descendants, He exclaimed, “Very truly I tell you before Abraham was born, I am!” (8:58). In addition to reasserting Jesus’ pre-existence, this statement alludes to two Old Testament covenants. The first is the Abrahamic covenant established with Abraham and Sarah as the parents of a great nation through whom all others would be blessed (Gen 12:1–3; 17:1–22). Jesus also refers to Himself as “I Am,” the name by which God revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush and set into motion the redemptive plan that led to the exodus and Sinai covenant (Exod 3:14).

Tragic Irony

Those who heard Jesus’ statement in John 8:58 understood Him as claiming to be God, and they picked up stones to kill Him (John 8:59). This scene is repeated in John 10 after Jesus declares, “I and the Father are one” (10:30–31). When Jesus questioned why He deserved such punishment, they answered, “We are not stoning you for any good work, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (10:33).

And that is the power of John’s perspective on Jesus. For if Jesus truly were a mere man claiming to be God, He would have been a liar or a lunatic. The tragic irony of John’s message is that Jesus was executed for being exactly who He claimed to be: the eternally pre-existent Son of God who stepped into human history to bring God’s saving love to us. John’s hope is that you would read his account, believe this report of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and have new life in Him (20:31).

Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 4

Why Is Jesus the Word?

Michael S. Heiser

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1 is, by far, one of the most familiar verses in the Bible. We know “the Word” speaks of Jesus (John 1:14), but where did John get the idea that “the Word” could refer to God as a person?

Part of the answer concerns the translation John used. While John used the Greek word logos (λόγος) when referring to “the Word,” he himself was drawing on Aramaic translations of the Old Testament. In Jesus’ day, Aramaic was the native language of the Jewish people.


While the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek, the language of the wider Gentile world, it was also translated into Aramaic. These Aramaic translations are called Targums. One specific Targum of the Torah, Targum Onkelos, was sanctioned by Jewish religious authorities for use in the synagogue.

The Targums telegraph the idea of God as “Word” in many places—in vivid, sometimes startling ways. Many Jews of John’s day would have been familiar with the idea. The Aramaic term for “word,” memra, was often used as another way to refer to God. Consider Numbers 14:11, noting the underlined and bold portions:

And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?”

The Targum (Neofiti) renders part of this Old Testament verse as follows:

“How long will they not believe in the name of my Word in spite of all the signs of my miracles which I have performed?”

In the Targum rendering, the Lord refers to Himself as “my Word,” using the Aramaic term memra.

John calls Jesus “the Word made flesh” in John 1:14, referring to Numbers 14:11. He does this because the translations he had heard so many times in the synagogue had taught him that God was the Word—the memra—and he believed Jesus was God. John even echoes the Targum rendering of Numbers 1:14 later on:

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him (John 12:36–37).

Memra is used more than 600 times in the Aramaic Targums to describe God, often in passages where the language presumes God is present in physical, human form:

And they heard the sound of the memra of the Lord God walking in the garden … (Gen 3:8).

Because of the Targums, Jews in the days of Jesus and John would have understood the notion that God could come to them in human form. John believed that was exactly what he and the disciples had witnessed in Jesus, so it was natural for him to refer to Jesus as the Word. John wrote his Gospel in Greek, but his theology was Jewish, conveyed to him through Aramaic. Therefore, both Jews and non-Jewish people got the point in unmistakable terms: The Word of the Old Testament had been made flesh (John 1:14) and walked among us.

Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Targum quotations were translated by the author.

Dig into the Word with a library of Bible study resources. Learn more about Logos’ Platinum base package at Logos.com/Platinum

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 4