The Eternal Sacrifice

Now was His incarnation from spirit into flesh only temporary? Was the sacrifice and suffering confined to six hours on a cross of crucifixion? We will venture into things about which we have only glimpses of revelation.

When we speak of future things, we invariably reach into a realm of speculation where we consider things that are sometimes outside the realm of revelation. We are encouraged to walk through doors of little revelation, but our speculations must be guided by our conclusions that we reap from what is clearly revealed on the subject in the Bible. For this reason, we must not make dogmatic conclusions beyond what the Scriptures would indicate on any subject of which there is only brief statements of revelation. Our speculations must not contradict clear statements of Scripture.

Neither should our speculations of future things be conclusions that would contradict that against which we have struggled to overcome or control in this present life as disciples of Jesus. We must not conclude that we will enjoy a carnal future when all our Christian life we have sought to live beyond that which is carnal.   Too many speculators of the future have assumed they would receive carnal power or possessions in the future, when in the Christian life, our aspirations have always been to think and behave with a spiritual mind that is above the carnal. God will not bring into existence in our future that which is contrary to that from which He has asked to refrain in this life.


With these thoughts in mind, the Holy Spirit would have us think of things in the future in reference to what is coming.   It is for this reason that the Scriptures speak of the things to come. After concluding revelation concerning things in reference to the final appearance of Jesus with the souls of those beloved saints who have passed on before us, the Spirit encouraged, “Therefore, comfort one another with these words” (1 Th 4:18). The words that He used to convey the future coming of Jesus were comforting in the fact that Jesus was actually coming again. However, what will transpire when He appears, or His presence when He is revealed, is left to our imagination.

After the resurrection, and when the disciples saw Jesus for the last time outside Jerusalem, He had for the previous six weeks shown Himself alive in His resurrected body (At 1:3). The incarnate body that had become flesh (Jn 1:17), and was previously crucified on a cross, buried in a tomb, and then resurrected on the third day, was in their presence (Mk 16:6,7). He appeared to the disciples with a body that was “flesh and bones” (Lk 24:39). The same incarnate body that had gone into the tomb sat there in their presence and ate food with them after the tomb.

In view of Paul’s statements concerning our own “new habitation” that is yet to come, we would conclude that the resurrected body of Jesus was the same body after the resurrection, but evidently changed.   We do not know all the details.   Now in reference to our future resurrected body, the Holy Spirit revealed through Paul a mystery that “we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed (1 Co 15:51). “The trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed(1 Co 15:52). This perishable body in which we now dwell will be changed into a body that will not perish (1 Co 15:53). “We know that if our earthly house [body] of this tent is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands that is eternal in the heavens (2 Co 5:1).

It is not our primary desire, therefore, to die and be without a body before the Lord. “For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, so that mortality may be swallowed up by life” (2 Co 5:4). It is not our final desire to be disembodied, and thus without presence.   We seek to be embodied, and in our new spiritual body in which we will be with the Lord, who Himself is in some way possibly embodied in a spiritual at this very time. We are not sure.

We yearn to understand the nature of the heavenly body that is to come in order to better understand the resurrected body of Jesus. We wonder concerning our new habitation because of one statement that the Holy Spirit made in 1 John 3:2:

Beloved, now we are the children of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we will be. But we know that when He appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is.

It is important to notice that when Jesus comes again, “we will be like Him.” We will “see” Him when He comes, and thus the coming will not be in spirit, for spirits cannot be seen with human eyes. Therefore, we must not forget that John revealed that we will see Him “as He is.” John was writing at least two decades after the ascension of Jesus. He used the present tense to explain the present existence of Jesus at the time He wrote. As Jesus is now, then in the same bodily form we will see Him in His coming.

Since we will be like Jesus when He comes, then according to what Paul revealed in 1 Corinthians 15 and 2 Corinthians 5, we conclude that in some way He is like us as we will be in our new habitation. The only means by which we can in some way speculate concerning the nature of the resurrected body of Jesus in which He now is, and with which He will be when He comes again, is to understand how Paul explained we will be when we are resurrected. As we will be, so Jesus came forth from the grave changed, but still in some way as we will be according to the explanations that the Spirit has given concerning our future “spiritual body.” Now the Spirit goes into detail in 1 Corinthians 15:

All flesh is not the same flesh.   But there is one flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fish, another of birds. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. But the glory of the heavenly is one and the glory of the earthly is another (1 Co 15:39,40).

 The Spirit continues to help us understand that we will be bodily changed into something different at the resurrection: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown perishable. It is raised imperishable (1 Co 15:42). Our natural body in which we now dwell “is sown a natural body.   It is raised a spiritual body.   There is a natural body and there is a spiritual body” (1 Co 15:44). Here is the point of the Spirit in reference to the necessity of the changing of our present body: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Co 15:50).   And so we would conclude the same concerning the resurrected body of Jesus.

However, our speculations here must be cautioned by what Jesus said of His own body immediately after the resurrection. He stated that He was still in a body of flesh and bones (Lk 24:39). It was this body that ascended out of their sight. Therefore, when we consider His presence as to what form He now has, and the form by which He will be revealed when He comes again, we must conclude that somewhere between the ascension and the final coming He will be as we will be in our spiritual body that is to come. We would not conclude that He must remain in the bodily form in which He was at the time of the ascension. That is really not our business to know. But we do know what John stated, that He will come in a bodily form that we can recognize.

John said that at His coming we will see Him as He presently is (1 Jn 3:2). Jesus will not appear from heaven as a spirit, the form in which He was with the Father in eternity before the incarnation. He gave up being in spirit as the Father when He was made in the flesh of man (Ph 2:6,7). He gave up the form of God in order to take on the incarnate nature of our earthly body.   Jesus reassured His disciples that His body could sit in their presence before a plate of food (Lk 24:42). He was resurrected with a body to which Mary could lovingly cling (Jn 20:17). But in the final resurrection we will be made into the spiritual body in which He will be revealed.

In order to reassure His disciples of His resurrection, Jesus “showed them His hands and His feet” (Lk 24:40). The body that appeared in their presence was the same body that they had laid in the tomb three days before. The resurrection of His incarnate body was proven true by the flesh and bones that stood before them on that memorial occasion.   John later wrote of the encounter that he and the other apostles had with the resurrected Jesus who ministered the word to them between the resurrection and ascension:

That which was from the beginning, that we have heard, that we have seen with our eyes, that we have looked [Gr., gazed] upon and our hands have handled, we proclaim concerning the Word of Life (1 Jn 1:1).

This was the same body that six weeks after the resurrection “was taken up and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (At 1:9). His was a bodily resurrection, and thus, we suppose that His was a bodily ascension. And since we will see Him as He presently is when He comes again, we assume it will be a bodily coming in a spiritual body, for we will actually see Him (1 Jn 3:2). He will not come as a spirit in the clouds. The Holy Spirit says that we will actually be able to behold Him with the physical eyes of this body in which we now dwell.

In what body form Jesus now dwells is certainly left to our speculation. We do know that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven. We do know that this physical body will be changed when that kingdom comes. We do know that we will be changed to be like He presently is. And thus, we conclude that at His ascension, Jesus did not return to be in the form of God as He was before the incarnation.   It is with this conclusion that we conclude that the incarnational sacrifice was forever. Jesus too will reside in a bodily presence with which He is now clothed, and with which we will be clothed in our resurrection.

And why would all this speculation be so important to consider? It is important because of what John wrote in 2 John 7: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess that Jesus Christ is coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.” We know that the Greek word for “coming” in the text can also be translated “presence.”   If we would use this translation, the statement of John would be speaking of the existing presence of Jesus.   Because it is translated with the word “coming,” we assume that John is speaking of the final coming of Jesus as he did in 1 John 3:2. But if we keep the bodily ascension in mind when we consider the statement of 2 John 7, then we would conclude that Jesus is presently in the body with which He ascended, and with which He will come again. There would be no change in bodily presence from resurrection to final coming, and then, into eternity. At least we are not told that when Jesus ascended out of the sight of the disciples that He reverted to a spiritual form. It could be that He did, but it seems that the Holy Spirit was revealing through the pen of John, who witnessed the ascension, that in some way Jesus continues in the bodily form that He had at the ascension, and with which He will come again in the future.

John also mentioned that Jesus “is coming in the flesh.” We must consider that since flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God to come, then John was actually using the present tense to refer to the incarnation.   In other words, he was emphasizing the “presence” of Jesus in His incarnate body of His earthly ministry.

At the time John wrote, there was the beginning of a Gnostic heresy that denied the incarnation. The Gnostics assumed that Jesus was only an apparition of the disciples’ minds, or a spirit that indwelt a human body of the man Jesus for the duration of the ministry. At the cross, this “spirit” (the Christ), went back to be with the Father when Jesus made the statement, “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit!” (Lk 23:46). The man Jesus subsequently died and was buried, and is still somewhere in a tomb in Palestine.

What John argues is that Jesus the Son of God did come in the flesh of man. The incarnation was true and real. And to deny the incarnation is to deny the sufficiency of the sacrifice of the cross.   The Gnostics, therefore, were cutting the heart out of the gospel.

Whether John was at the time of His writing referring to the incarnation of the past, or to the final coming of the future, his use of the present tense remains valid in reference to the Son of God initially giving up and leaving the form of God when He was incarnate in the womb of Mary (Ph 2:5-8). Jesus was incarnate into the flesh and blood of man. His flesh and blood were resurrected. His flesh and blood ascended in a cloud out of the sight of the disciples. And with a changed bodily form, the same into which we will be changed, He is coming again. From the ascension to the final coming there was a change to His incarnate body, for we will be like Him, and He like us. But in the resurrection we will all have been changed into our spiritual body.   We must conclude, therefore, that Jesus will come in a bodily form that we can see with our eyes. Paul referred to this spiritual body as a mystery, and thus it indeed is.

If the incarnate body of Jesus came from the grave, stood with the disciples from the time of the resurrection until the time of the ascension, and then was received up into heaven bodily, the emphasis of John in 2 John 7 in some way indicates an incarnation that was forever. And when we speak of the total sacrifice that the Son of God made for us, the sacrifice was far beyond the cross. It was forever! This may reveal a more profound meaning to the Hebrews 2 text. Jesus was incarnate to be lower than angels, but was incarnate in the flesh of man in order to dwell among His sanctified brethren forever. “For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Hb 2:11).

We are overwhelmed by these conclusions.   His eternal sacrifice is incomprehensible to finite minds. It is a sobering conclusion that brings an eternal meaning to His promise that He would build His ekklesia (assembly), die for the redeemed with incarnate blood, and then deliver this sanctified body of justified believers into eternal dwelling in the presence of God. With these conclusions, we are beginning to comprehend the sublime heart of God that was not only revealed on the cross, but also in the incarnation. The incarnation was not temporary, and the sacrifice on the cross was not for only six hours outside Jerusalem on Calvary.   The incarnation extended deeper and longer. The Hebrew writer continued,

Therefore, since the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise partook of the same, so that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage (Hb 2:14,15).

Our fear of death will only be terminated with the death of our last enemy, which is death (1 Co 15:26). This will be realized only at the sound of the last trumpet when Jesus is announced from heaven. It will be then that death is swallowed up in the victory of the saints over death (1 Co 15:54-57). When we speak of the church (assembly – ekklesia) of Christ, we must think beyond this world.   We must think into eternity where Jesus will dwell among His people who will reside in their spiritual bodies.   It is then that we will have a truly personal relationship with Jesus in the bodily form in which He presently dwells.

This was the eternal heart of God that was revealed through the sacrifice of the eternal incarnation. The offering of the incarnate body sanctified the ekklesia. The resurrection of the incarnate body gave hope to the ekklesia. The final return of the incarnate body will call the ekklesia into eternal dwelling in the presence of God. In this sacrifice we are eternally justified and sanctified, and made fit for eternal dwelling.

[Next lecture in series: September 1]

Eternal Incarnation

The window through which we can understand the heart of God is in the sacrifice that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit offered through the incarnate Son of God. It is easy to quote a scripture that states, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). But to understand the full essence of this loving heart in reference to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is often difficult for finite beings as ourselves to comprehend. After speaking of these things, Paul was overwhelmed with the reality of the heart of God that was revealed through His grace: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out” (Rm 11:33).

When we consider things that pertain to God, it would be right to conclude that it is impossible to understand fully the love of God that defines His heart for us. After we have loved to our extremity, God’s love carries on. And when it comes to the sacrifice of the incarnation itself, we find it quite humbling, but specifically, most incomprehensible. Being handicapped with our emotional limitations, we seek to understand, to the best of our ability, the heart of God that was nailed on a wooden cross over two thousand years ago.   Regardless of our limitations to understand fully the depths of the heart of God, what we understand through the incarnation, cross and resurrection is exceedingly moving.

The necessity of the incarnation of the message of the gospel was based on the fact that animal blood, which is finite and terminal, could not possibly cancel sin between the Infinite and the finite (See Hb 10:1-4). If animal sacrifices could atone for sins against God, then it would be God creating a finite sacrifice for our sins against an eternal being. But that type of sacrifice would be cheap, and thus cost God nothing.   David, a man after God’s heart, realized the significance of this principle when he would not use free animals that were given to him in order to offer any sacrifice to God (See 2 Sm 24:24).   That which cost him nothing would have no value as an offering on behalf of himself. The same was true of God. God could not create a sacrificial animal that was sufficient for the reconciliation of His created people to Himself for eternity. No love of God for us could ever have been revealed through an animal sacrifice. In order to offer a sufficient sacrifice, God had to give of Himself.

We must consider another principle in reference to sacrifices for sin. When the burnt offering required by the Sinai law was offered for the sins of the people, it was consumed completely upon the altar (Lv 1:1-9; 6:8-13). It was not to be consumed by those who offered it, as were other sacrifices that the people brought to eat with the Levites.   The burnt offering for sin had to be irreparably consumed on the altar, and thus, never restored to what it was before the sacrifice. And so it was with the offering that God provided for our sanctification.

Since the burnt offering of the Sinai law was establish in many ways to illustrate that which was to come, then we are beginning to understand the use of the word “sacrifice” in reference to the incarnational sacrifice of the Son of God. Jesus indeed existed in the form of God before the incarnation (Ph 2:5-9). He existed in the form of God as spirit (Jn 4:24). We are assured of this because of what John wrote: “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:11). Jesus was not “in the flesh” in eternity, and then, continued as flesh. The text says that He was made flesh. The form of spirit in which Jesus was as God the Son, was brought into the flesh of a body that would be perishable as all men.

To what extent was the incarnation? It had to be complete in order to be a sufficient sacrifice for our sins. There were no peculiarities about the body of Jesus that made him different from any other man. His body, as Isaiah prophesied, could be “wounded,” “bruised,” and “stripes” laid upon it (Is 53:5).   It was a body that had no unique beauty (Is 53:2). And when we consider His emotional incarnation, the Son of God was incarnate into emotions and feelings that could sorrow and grieve from being rejected and despised (Is 53:3). The incarnation was truly complete in the sense that God the Son came into our world in the fullness of who we are in body. He did so because of His love for us whom He had created (Cl 1:16).

So God the Holy Spirit revealed through the pen of Paul that “He [the Son] made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant and being made in the likeness of men” (Ph 2:7 – IKJV). Other translations say He emptied Himself (American Standard Version). Still others read that He “made himself nothing” (New International Version). We suppose the translators assumed the He “made Himself nothing” in comparison to what He formerly was in the spirit with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. From what the Spirit revealed, we understand what incarnation actually is. And since the Son was the “only begotten” Son from the Father, we must conclude that “incarnation” finds its definition in the reality of the Son of God being made in all ways as we are as finite men (Ph 2:7).   Once the Holy Spirit fertilized the egg of Mary’s womb, the Son of God “was made in the likeness of men,” and the revelation of the heart of God was set in motion (Ph 2:7).

Though we have a difficult time understanding what actually took place when God the Son became flesh in the incarnation, we must not question the fact that such happened. We have many times asked the following question during seminars with young Bible students who have a good heart, but are sometimes challenged in reference to basic biblical interpretation: “Does God have eyes, a nose and ears?” Invariably, some will affirm that He does. But if this were true, then Jesus was only a parallel transfer from His existence as one with the Trinity in eternity to what He was in the flesh during His ministry. If He had eyes, a nose and ears as God before the incarnation, then there would have been no incarnation. We would actually cut the heart out of the gospel. There would have been no giving up being in the form of God and emptying Himself of His being as spirit as God. If there was no incarnation, then there was no sufficient sacrifice for our sins. We would be a people of a simple religion that must be pitied by the unbelieving world.

The more fleshly we might view the Son before His birth into the flesh of a man, the less we consider the incarnation to be a divine function on the part of God on behalf of our sins. If there were no complete incarnation, then there would have been no adequate sacrifice that was qualified for the cross of justification.

[Next lecture in series: August 29]

The Heart of God (Introduction)

At the time God said to Israel, “You will have no other gods before Me,” the people of Israel resided in a world of innumerable religions (Ex 20:3; Dt 5:7). If they sought for a god who would conform to their own desires, then there was an assortment of gods throughout the world from which they could choose.

We live in the same world. Because we have been created after the image of the one true and living God, we have been blessed with a very creative mind. And herein lies our problem. If we allow our minds and emotions to be governed by our own ingenuity, then we give birth to religion. When we set aside any direction from the true God of heaven, then our minds and emotions take control of our religiosity. Since God created us to be religiously minded, we cannot help ourselves. When we seek to go our own way we create gods in our minds and set them before us to be reverenced and worshiped. In doing so, we soothe our consciences while we allow ourselves to be led away by ourselves.

We rightly assume that any god we would create in our minds must demand laws by which to live in order that we be justified before him by keeping these laws. There must be law to obey and works to do in order to please this god we have embedded in our minds to please. These are things that the gods of idolatry require, and thus we create laws and religious traditions for ourselves in order to validate and identify our particular faith. We know that our god must have a heart, so we project the limitations of our own heart into the behavior of our god. His heart is defined by our emotionality and confined to the limits of our character.

Herein is the beginning of religion. This is the foundation upon which we create a distorted view of the heart of our imagined god, which heart never functions beyond what we can imagine. We would define “religion” as the man-made spiritual expressions of men in an effort to release their God-created instinct of reverence and worship. The function of religion is always governed by either man’s laws or emotions, or both.

Whether willfully, or ignorantly, our spirit of worship of what we perceive to be beyond ourselves, must be shown expressions of worship. If there are no expressions of worship, either through obedience to law or devised meritorious works, then our conscience gives us hassles in our relationship with God. If we seek, as Israel, to set aside the law of God (Hs 4:6), then we are free to create our own laws by which we meritoriously justify ourselves before a god we have created after our own imagination. If we rebelliously seek to live without law, but soothe our guilt through good works, then we will develop a catalog of good deeds that must be performed in order to defray the wrath of this god we have created in our minds.   In either case, whether through meritorious law-keeping or good works, our spirit of idolatry has created a religion wherein we seek to justify ourselves through our own behavior.

In our efforts to justify ourselves, we become the focus of our own worship. We do so by honoring our systematic theology of self-justification, or our catalog of good works, whichever satisfies our conscience before the god we have created after our own imagination. We have laid on our consciences our own self-righteousness, and thus, find it very difficult to discover the heart of God. When one obsesses about his own heart, or his own self-righteousness, he or she can never discover the true heart of God. And herein is the curse of religion.

Now we bring this into the historical context of the first century. It was in this century that the God of love invaded the religiosity of man with the revelation of His heart. Both the religious adherents of those who had gone astray from a true faith that was originally established at Mount Sinai (Jews), and the adherents of those who did not have the Sinai law of the covenant (the Gentiles), were invaded by the gospel of the incarnate Son of God. The results of the invasion were overwhelming, so overwhelming that the world has never been the same since.

Into this religious world came the good news of God’s heart that was radically different from the foundation upon which apostate Jewish religion, and the “pagan” idolatry of the Gentiles, rested.   The message was radically different because what was revealed was the heart of the one true God who exists beyond and above the creative imagination of all men.

The events of the gospel started in a manger and will be concluded in a cloud. In between is the revelation of the heart of God in the flesh. The ministry of the incarnate Son of God was a mortal confrontation between the gospel of God’s heart and the heartless religions of men.   In the midst of the conflict, a great company of religious people discovered the difference between their efforts to justify themselves through law-keeping, and the good works of their religion, and the justification that appeared through the grace of God at the cross.

When the vast company of those who were obedient to the gospel eventually made their way from Jerusalem into the far corners of the ancient world, the heart of God that was emulated through their character and behavior was in direct conflict with the idolatrous religions of men.   The fact that the gospel message was so different and effective answers the question as to why the early messengers turned the world upside down (At 17:6). Their preaching of the heart of God that was revealed on the cross and in the resurrection, changed the world because it was so different from the guilt-producing righteousness of men.

It is imperative, therefore, since we are removed over two thousand years after the conflicts of that first century, that we renew our knowledge of what led to those heated conflicts that raged across the first century world when the gospel of God’s heart undermined the very foundation upon which the religions of men were based. In fact, we will better understand why the conflicts were often unto the death of the gospel messengers when we understand that the message they bore was so different from the religions of the day.

Once we make this discovery, we can find peace in the fact that the conflicts between the true gospel and the religions of men continue to rage unto this day. We conclude, therefore, that if the conflict between the gospel and religion does not exist, then religion has won the battle and the gospel message has been watered down by some to be just another religious belief that could be catalogued with all the other religions of the world. This very thing happened about two decades after that first Pentecost Sunday, and it continues to happen today (See Gl 1:6-9).

It is simply the nature of the gospel to stir conflict with the religions of men. This is true because the faith of God’s righteousness, and the religions of man’s righteousness, are always in conflict. God’s imputed righteousness through faith has been conquered by religion if there is no conflict. And if there is no conflict, then the gospel is gone. The gospel of the heart of God cannot reside in the heart of one who has given his heart over to the religious inventions of man. Sacrificial submission to the gospel by faith and narcissistic religiosity cannot reside in the same heart. This is exactly what Jesus meant when He forewarned His disciples, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Mt 10:34). When God invaded the world of religion through the gospel of Jesus, spiritual war began. It will not conclude until the end of all religion at the end of the world.

In order that we get our facts straight, one of the writers of the gospel message (Luke) wrote specifically in order that we understand this point.

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of those things that have been believed among us [Christians], just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having an accurate understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account …” (Lk 1:1-3).

This chronicler wrote these words in order that we “might know the certainty of those things” we have been taught (Lk 1:4). Luke introduced the above purpose for his writing about twenty years after the ministry and revelation of the gospel. In this short time—the time from the revelation of the events of the gospel to the time of Luke’s writing—the message of the gospel was being distorted.   In some regions, religion was winning.   Christianity was being transformed into just another religion.

The point is that we must continually remind ourselves of the truth of the wonderful gospel that invaded the world through Jesus Christ. If we do not, we will succumb to the onslaught of the creative minds of men who craft religion and gods after their own desires. Therefore, we will be as Peter who wrote many years after his readers had heard and obeyed the gospel: “I will not be negligent to always remind you of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth” (2 Pt 1:12).

So we begin.

[Next lecture in series: August 27]

Spiritual Conquests

We can become no greater than those things in our lives over which we do not discipline ourselves to conquer.   The control of our destiny is always limited by our lack of control over those obstacles that limit our dreams.   We can thus better understand why the Holy Spirit exhorted that we give all diligence in order to add to our “faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge self-control …” (2 Pt 1:5,6). Fasting energizes our self-control, and when self-control is energized, we are able to do great things for God.

The apostle Paul realized that any lack of self-control in his spirit or behavior could disqualify him from receiving the crown for which he so diligently struggled: “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified(1 Co 9:27).

This is the reason for which we fast. We seek to discipline our bodies and minds in order that we bring under control those areas of our lives that may be out of control. This was Paul’s admonition and example for those who would be disciples of Jesus. He admonished the Achaian disciples, “And every man who strives exercises self-control in all things (1 Co 9:25). If one would strive to receive the crown of life, then he or she must exercise self-control in all areas of life (1 Co 9:25).   For this reason, we are exhorted to “continue in faith and love and holiness with self-control (1 Tm 2:15). Fasting trains our minds in self-control.

Children who are undisciplined will often lead undisciplined lives in their adulthood. Undisciplined children who do not learn the emotional skills of self-control through discipling are often out of control as adults. The lack of discipline in our childhood results in a life that has little direction and determination. Nevertheless, the lack of discipline in our childhood is no excuse for not disciplining ourselves when we are adults. Paul wrote, “When I was a child I spoke as a child. I understood as a child. I thought as a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things (1 Co 13:11). Christian maturity comes through self-realization. For this reason, no saint can use his or her childhood as an excuse for undisciplined behavior as an adult.

We must take ownership of our minds and bodies by putting away childish things. This is specifically true in reference to our spiritual behavior.   Through fasting and prayer we seek to put away our lack of discipline in order to train our minds to be in control of our being, and thus, our future. In this context of behavior, Paul exhorted the Achaians, “Brethren, do not be children in thinking. … but in thinking be mature (1 Co 14:20). Fasting is a means by which we seek to put away all childish behavior in order to be spiritually mature in Christ. Spiritually mature Christians have taken ownership of their destiny.

If there are areas in our behavior where we lack discipline, then these areas of personal dysfunction hinder our function as disciples of Jesus. God seeks to help us in these areas of personal dysfunction. In order to mature in Christ, therefore, God works with our spiritual dysfunctions. “My son,” the Hebrew writer reminded his readers, “do not despise the disciplining of the Lord, nor faint when you are rebuked by Him. For whom the Lord loves He disciplines …” (Hb 12:5,6). Because we understand that God disciplines us through trials, we can rejoice in our trials (See Js 1:2).

Discipline should be associated with God’s love for us, because in discipline God is working with us in order that we become the best we can be as His children. We do not despise the discipline of the Lord, for through discipline the Lord is trying to spiritually mature our being for a better future. The Lord seeks through discipline to help us “put away” childish behavior that holds up spiritual development.   Through His discipline we learn to think and behave as mature saints in Christ.

Though the preceding statement of the Hebrew writer was stated in the context of outward discipline that God would allow to come into our lives in order to build our character, through fasting we can help ourselves in this spiritual transformation of our character by working on the inside. God allows of outward disciplining to aid our personal inward disciplining. All disciplining, both from God and from ourselves, therefore, is for the purpose of building a better future, as well as making us better candidates for eternal dwelling.

It is interesting to see the reaction of those who have committed themselves to the world to satisfy the lusts of the flesh.   When they encounter the self-control that is revealed through the behavior of the children of God, they fear, or at least, they are intimidated by an example of self-control and godly behavior. Paul once spoke of these things to a worldly leader in government. When Paul “reasoned about righteousness, self-control and judgment to come, Felix became frightened …” (At 24:25).   Felix evidently saw in Paul’s behavior a man who was in control of his entire emotional being, and thus, one who was prepared for the judgment of God. Paul was not like other prisoners who had stood before him with fear and trembling.

Fasting itself certainly frightens a great number of people. Just the thought of going without food for any period of time in order to grow in self-control is not a pleasant thought to some. Hunger pains will strain one’s lack of self-control. But once the hunger pains are gone in a prolonged fast, the “muscles” of the soul can be strengthened by the nourishment of the Spirit.

Nevertheless, we must continually keep in mind Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 9:27. As a disciple, and as a Christ-sent apostle, Paul said that if he did not discipline himself and bring his body into control in all aspects of life, then he could be disqualified for eternal dwelling.

Our deepest secrets that are out of control must be brought under control. We fast in reference to all aspects of our life in order that our total being be brought under the control of the Spirit of God. That which is outside the body that has control over the body must be brought under control. That which is within the body that has control over the body, must also be brought under control. In reference to married couples, Paul even speaks of bringing under control the sexual drives of individuals:

Do not deprive one another [of sexual intercourse] except by agreement for a time so that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer. And come together again so that Satan not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Co 7:5).

All those emotions within the body that war against the Spirit must be brought into control in order that we lead the disciplined life as a child of God. Fasting in all aspects of our lives is the means by which we gain confidence that we are not out of control.

The reason we must seek to bring under control all physical and emotional characteristics of our being is that Satan is looking for areas in our lives that are not under control. Therefore, we must be sober and vigilant in reference to our spiritual self-discipline. Our “adversary the devil walks about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Pt 5:8). Satan is seeking to devour us in our weakest areas. When he sees a weak point in our character, it is there that he attacks.   It is in these areas where we are weakest, therefore, that we fast in order to conquer, lest we be conquered by him who wars against us (See Ep 6:12).

Those who are specifically designated to be leaders among us must be self-disciplined and sober-minded (1 Tm 3:2).   God expects the same character of every disciple of Jesus who is led by those who are sober-minded and disciplined in their lives. These two characteristics of Christian living are strengthened through prayer and fasting.   The early Christians realized that they must bring under control through prayer and fasting, the totality of their physical and spiritual being.

It may be significant to conclude this book with a variant reading in the text of the book of Mark that indirectly reveals that fasting was commonly practiced among the Christians of the second and third centuries. The variant reading is in Mark 9:29. The event in the context was in reference to the disciples’ not being able to cast out a particular evil spirit. “Now when He [Jesus] came into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out’” (Mk 9:28). Some manuscripts give the reading that Jesus replied with the words, “This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting (Mk 9:29 – King James Version).

All recent renditions of this text leave out the reading, “and fasting.” Because the manuscript evidence is weak for this reading, and because those manuscripts that have the reading are late in reference to the original autograph, the reading was possibly deemed by many translators to be an addition by a later scribe.

The manuscript evidence is indeed weak to include “with fasting,” but there is an important point why the reading does show up in later manuscripts, if indeed the reading was not in the original autograph.   We would conclude that prayer “and fasting” were so commonly practiced among the early Christians in the second and third centuries that the reading may have been added. The practice of prayer with fasting was so common that some scribe may have thought that the reading “with fasting” was possibly forgotten by some earlier scribe in copying the text. Or maybe a particular scribe at the time thought that fasting was so important in the lives of the disciples of Jesus, that he added the reading. We will never know why the reading is in the text of some manuscripts.

Our point is that fasting was very common among Christians in the centuries that followed the first Christians. It was so common that some scribe concluded that fasting was should be linked with all prayer, and through fasting, prayer was empowered to accomplish the most difficult tasks in our lives.

Fasting certainly accomplishes some great things physically in our bodies. However, this is not the primary purpose for the fasting of the Christian. The Christian seeks those great things that originate spiritually from fasting. These benefits would be in reference to our behavior as the children of God. In reference to our spiritual health, we would conclude that fasting empowers our prayers in reference to calling on God to be attentive to our pleas for His help.

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Book 72

Biblical Research Library



Life-Style Fasting

The context of the fasting that is mentioned in Acts 13 emphasizes the ministry of fasting as a normal part of the behavior of the disciples. At least this was the case among the disciples in Antioch. Since the disciples in Antioch were Gentiles, and not Jews, then we must assume that the fasting that was common among them was taught to them by those who first preached the gospel in the city. We might assume, therefore, that when evangelists go into new areas to preach the gospel, fasting and prayer is something that should be discussed among the new Christians. We wonder, therefore, how many of our “schools on missions” are teaching their students the subject of fasting in preparation to teach others also on this subject?

Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Separate for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away (At 13:1-3).

Antioch of Syria was the third largest city of the Roman Empire. It was the ideal location from which the gospel could go forth to the unbelieving Gentile world. Therefore, the Holy Spirit chose this predominantly Gentile church to accomplish a major evangelistic outreach.

The Spirit’s choice of the disciples of this city was based on who was there at the time He called Saul, who was later called Paul, and Barnabas. These were a very dedicated group of disciples who could identify with the culture to whom the evangelists would be sent. The very fact that these were a group of disciples who were in constant ministry, with prayers and fasting, qualified them to produce evangelists who could go forth into all the world.

What is significant in reference to those who are dedicated disciples is that they minister, fast and pray on a continual basis. In their ministry to the Lord, these disciples fasted. Their fasting was thus a part of their local ministry. We would compare their ministry of fasting with what transpired a few years later among the disciples in Derbe. Luke recorded,

 And when they [Paul and Barnabas] had designated elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord on whom they believed (At 14:23).

It is not stated in the preceding text that the disciples fasted with prayer. The text actually says that they prayed with fasting. Fasting was the foundation upon which the prayers were offered.   The fasting was a continual practice in their behavior as disciples who offered prayers for specific things. We might conclude that their prayers were validated by their fasting. We would not assume that the fasting here was a prolonged fast during which they prayed.   We would simply conclude that as those in Antioch, fasting was a part of the discipleship of those in Derbe.   They carried on with a life-style of fasting periodically, and thus prayed on the foundation of their fasting.

In both Antioch and Derbe, the fact that the prayers of the disciples were coupled with fasting manifested that they were serious about God working in their lives as they ministered. They were serious about depending on God. Their prayers and fasting manifested that they were serious about world evangelism, and thus, the Holy Spirit gave them a serious evangelistic task.

In the case of Antioch, the local Christians were evidently praying and fasting about sending evangelists out to preach the gospel to other regions. We would not assume that it was the idea of the Holy Spirit to send someone out.   The local Christians already knew what their responsibility was in order to be obedient to the command of Jesus that the gospel be preached to all the world (See Mt 28:19,20; Mk 16:15,16).   The Holy Spirit called Paul and Barnabas on this particular occasion as a specific answer to the prayers and fasting of the Antioch disciples. We wonder how many other times He did the same in answer to prayer and fasting by the early disciples that are not recorded in the New Testament (See At 8:4).

Someone came to Antioch and preached the gospel, and thus, the disciples in Antioch took ownership of the mission to do likewise in reference to other areas. The Antioch disciples were praying and fasting that something be done in reference to missions, not to be motivated to do missions. All the Holy Spirit did in this case was to make the selection of who would go. We would assume, therefore, that their praying and fasting was to make a decision as to who would go, as well as where they should go.

When Christians are in ministry, they pray with fasting in order that their local ministry may extend to other areas.   When this behavior and aspirations characterize the life-style of the disciples today, then the Holy Spirit is going to show up in order to move someone into all the world. In the case of the Antioch church, the mission was to move some of the local teachers into the rest of the world. Because this is what happened in Antioch of Syria may explain why many today do not pray and fast that someone be sent out to preach the gospel to other regions of the world. In the case of Paul and Barnabas, they too were involved in the prayers and fasting. Little did they know that it would be them that the Spirit would chose to send out.   Be careful concerning that for which you pray.

During one of their fasts, the Holy Spirit called through them as a group the two teachers, Paul and Barnabas. These two teachers had special talents for ministering the word of God among the Gentiles, and thus, the Spirit called them to go on a specific cross-cultural work of evangelism among the Gentiles to whom they would be sent (See Gl 1:15; 2:9).

Through their active local ministry, the two men had qualified themselves to be sent out. Since neither Paul nor Barnabas were native residents of Antioch, it seemed only logical that they be the two who would go back to their homelands.   Barnabas was from Cyprus and Paul from Cilicia. These were the two regions to which they would go on their first missionary journey.   Once the Spirit had tapped them on the shoulder, fasting and prayer was a means by which they continued to prepare themselves for the mission that was before them.

Now in Acts 13:3 a significant statement is made in reference to their prayers and fasting. After the Spirit made known to Paul and Barnabas their mission, the entire group of disciples fasted and prayed for the two evangelists for the special mission to which they had been called. Since these two evangelists were to be sent on an extensive journey, it was time, through fasting and prayer, to focus their minds and bodies on what lay before them. Fasting clarified their thinking and changed their focus from local ministry to international ministry. It also prepared their bodies physically to tackle the challenging journey that was before them.

It was the Holy Spirit who made the selection of the evangelists. But it was the local disciples who sent them on their journey. Whenever there is a challenge set before those who are going forth, it is a time for fasting and prayer. In fact, this text uses the passive tense. Before the evangelists stepped one foot out of Antioch, the disciples fasted and prayed. The statement, “Then when they had fasted and prayed,” indicates that this was more than one prayer and fast. Once the mission was determined, the Christians in and around Antioch carried on with a behavior of fasting and prayer in order that God lead the way of the evangelists.

We are not told how long it was between the time the Spirit separated Paul and Barnabas, and when they actually left on their journey. But between the call and the departure we can assume that the focus of the disciples’ customary fasting and prayer simply changed from their local ministry to the foreign ministry in which Paul and Barnabas were to be involved.   If the example of the disciples in Antioch teach us anything on discipleship, it is that disciples fast and pray on a regular basis, and also for specific missions to which some of the local teachers are called to go into all the world.

[Next lecture in series:  August 4]

Fasting In Anticipation

Then the disciples of John came to Him [Jesus], saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the attendants of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and then they will fast (Mt 9:14,15; see Mk 2:18-22; Lk 5:33-39).

This is the second time Jesus dealt with the subject of fasting. In this context He deals with the subject only because it is brought up by others.   This occasion, and His answer to the question, are recorded both in Mark and Luke. According to the record of Mark and Luke, the question that generated Jesus’ teaching on the subject came from the disciples of John, the scribes and Pharisees (Mk 2:18; Lk 5:30). Luke records, “And they said to Him, ‘The disciples of John fast often and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees. But You eat and drink” (Lk 5:33).

When all three accounts are considered together, it seems that scribes and Pharisees were the root of the complaint, particularly the scribes. In Luke’s account, it was the scribes who actually posed the question to Jesus, presumably on behalf of the Pharisees. The scribes were the “they” in Luke’s account.

If the above was the case, then the complaint was sharp. The Pharisees and scribes had a long history of tradition on their side in this matter. And then along came the disciples of John. They fasted in expectation of the Messiah, who was actually standing their midst. They had conformed to the purpose for which Anna had fasted. They just had not yet realized that Anna’s prayers and fasting had already been answered. The Messiah was there. Nevertheless, the scribes sought to intimidate Jesus into teaching His disciples to conform to the religious codes of the day on fasting.

So the religious leaders asked Jesus why He had not taught His disciples to fast (Mk 2:18). Since their question was a complaint, then we might assume that it was an accusation against Jesus concerning His supposed lack of responsibility to carrying on with the accepted culture of fasting that conformed to Jewish religious traditions (See Mk 7:1-9). They presumed to be spiritually minded in their fasting, and thus set themselves up as judges concerning all fasting. If Jesus were a spiritual leader, then according to their thinking, He would certainly teach His disciples to fast. Evidently, the scribes and Pharisees in this conversation were not previously present in the multitudes when Jesus earlier gave instructions on fasting in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6.

In order to understand what Jesus taught on fasting in the context of this complaint, we must understand what He said immediately after He made these statements on fasting. He spoke to them a parable that “no one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old” (Lk 5:36). “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins” (Lk 5:37).   Jesus emphasized that something new was coming. Therefore, on this occasion His accusers could not compare the requirements of the past with that which was to come. Regardless of their traditional manner of fasting, there were changes coming.   If they tried to “patch” the new onto the old, or “pour” the old into the new, the new would be “torn” or “burst.”   For this reason, the old had to be taken away in order that the new be established (Hb 10:9). In other words, change was coming.

It is interesting to note that the question they posed did not focus on whether the disciples of Jesus fasted, but when they fasted. Of course they asked in reference to fasting, but Jesus’ answer was in reference to when His disciples would fast.

Fasting by the Jews was a part of the religious culture of the first century. It was practiced by the Jews, and it was taught also by John the Baptist. This discussion on fasting took place at a time when the disciples of both the Pharisees and John were fasting and praying (Mk 2:18; Lk 5:33). But the purpose for which each fasted was different. The Pharisees had their various reasons for fasting as a religious order, but the disciples of John were fasting in reference to the coming Messiah.

Jesus’ answer seems to be in the context of changing the fasting behavior of the disciples of John the Baptist, which thing happened when John was imprisoned and beheaded. Jesus answered the disciples of John by stating that it was not the time to fast when the bridegroom was in their presence. Mark records, “As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast” (Mk 2:19). However, there would be a time when the bridegroom was taken away.   It would be at that time that His disciples would fast.

The attendants of the bridegroom need not fast while the bridegroom was still in their presence. In this context Jesus described Himself as the bridegroom.   The time to fast would be when He was taken from their presence. In Jesus’ situation, He was taken away from them and crucified. He was then taken away from them when He ascended to heaven.   Since Jesus, as the bridegroom, has been taken away, then it is now the time for the disciples of Jesus to fast.   The disciples of John fasted in order that the Messiah come. At the time these disciples lived, the Messiah had already come, but would soon be taken away. For Christians today, therefore, it is now a time to fast in order that He come again.

Jesus assumed that after His death and ascension, His disciples would fast. Those who are disciples of Jesus in this present age are fasting. This text makes it very clear that the disciples of Jesus in this time are to be fasting. We would conclude from Jesus’ statement that His disciples would be identified by those who would be fasting in His absence.

[Next lecture in series: August 3]