The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Jesus Must


“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” - John 3:14


Jesus once met with a very religious man named Nicodemus. He was a representative sent by a group identified as the most religious of the day. This religious man was wealthy and influential. There’s evidence his life was changed as a result of his meeting with Jesus. Nicodemus went beyond his religion to a relationship with God in Christ. Jesus told Nicodemus he “must be born again.” It’s very possible Nicodemus heeded Jesus’ words and experienced the second birth of spiritual life.


But in order for Nicodemus and anyone else to experience spiritual life there was something Jesus must do. Our salvation is freely offered to us as a gift of God’s grace. Salvation is free, but it’s not cheap. It cost Father God, His only Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit something. Jesus must do something if the must of being born again is to be made available to us.


After Jesus told Nicodemus he must be born again He turned  to an Old Testament event that illustrated a truth about His mission. Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness” (John 3:14a). In Numbers 21 the children of Israel complained against the Lord resulting in a plague of pain-producing biting serpents. The people were dying. They cried out to the Lord. The Lord told Moses to make a bronze serpent, put it on a pole and lift it up before the people. Then if they looked at the bronze serpent on the pole they would be healed and live. Jesus referred to this Old Testament incident because it was a prophetic picture of what He must do.

The Old Testament is filled with what are called shadows; eternal truths from historical accounting but that transcend and speak to greater application and revelation. These shadow revelations are mentioned in the New Testament. The Feasts and Old Testament worship system “are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Col. 2:17). In Hebrews it states the Law and sacrificial system are a “copy and shadow of heavenly things” (Heb. 8:5). The Law had a “shadow of the good things to come” (Heb. 10:1). Whenever and wherever we study the Old or New Testament, we should always be asking the basic question, “What does this tell me about Jesus?”

These shadows point to truths about Jesus. In Hebrews it states the volume of the Old Testament speaks of Jesus in this way – “Behold, I have come – in the volume of the book it is written of Me – to do Your will, O God” (Psalm 40:6-8; Heb. 10:7). The Old Testament system of sacrifice speaks to us about Jesus’ substitutionary atonement. The fulfillment of this system is found in Christ. We need only look to Jesus in faith and receive His substitutionary sacrifice for our sin in order to be saved from our sins and have eternal life.

Sin incurs a just death penalty. Jesus died on the cross for our sin. When we turn from our sin and trust Jesus and His atoning death on the cross as our substitute, our sacrifice Lamb, God applies the just transfer of our sin to Jesus and Jesus’ righteousness to us. When we do that Jesus becomes, “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Jeremiah 23:6; 33:16). This is the gospel.

Jesus went on to say, “even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14b). The snake of Numbers 21 was a type or shadowy symbol of sin. It was cast in bronze because bronze is a metal that speaks of judgment. When the people looked in faith at the lifted up serpent, they were healed. What did this correspond to in the New Testament? To the cross. Jesus became a snake of sin for us so that our sin could be judged and put away and we could be healed. Sin has painful venom. There is always a painful consequence to sin; death. Jesus is the antidote for those snake-bitten by sin. Look to Jesus in faith and live!

The Son of Man Jesus must be lifted up. This is the gospel of salvation as depicted by Jesus from an Old Testament type, Moses lifting up the bronze serpent in the wilderness. A bronze likeness of a serpent was made by Moses, put on a pole, and lifted up before God’s people to see. The people had strayed once again from the Lord. The consequence was a plague of serpents from the Lord that bit the people with a painful venomous bite. To bring relief to God’s people from a painful poisonous bite of the serpent all the people were told to do was look at the serpent that had been lifted up by Moses.

Jesus went on to make connection between the Old Testament shadow and the purpose it illustrated crystal clear saying, “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:15). These are words packed with meaning. Here Jesus speaks to the availability, avenue of appropriation, Agent, antidote, and aim of the Gospel. The gospel is available to all; “whoever.” The avenue through which we appropriate salvation is faith; “believes.” The Agent who performs the work of the gospel upon who we need to believe is Jesus’; “in Him.” Jesus is the antidote to the sin problem and penalty of  perishing eternally; “should not perish.” And the aim of the gospel; the desired purpose and outcome is to avoid perishing and instead find “eternal life.” These are the five foundational aspects of the gospel as stated by Jesus:

  1. Available to all.
  2. Avenue of appropriation is by faith.
  3. Agent who does the work of salvation is Jesus.
  4. Antidote to the sin problem that keeps us from perishing is Jesus.
  5. Aim of the gospel is eternal life.

The Apostle Paul wrote the Corinthians of this clear holy transaction saying, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus is the antidote for sin because He became sin for us. When we look at Jesus on the cross, understand He became sin for us. That is why salvation can be in no other. That is why faith in Jesus is essential and a must for salvation; the forgiveness of sin. Jesus is our substitute sacrificial Lamb of God. Look at Jesus in faith and be delivered from your sin. Look and live!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Everyone Must

“Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” – John 3:7


If you’re an atheist death is a big black hole of unknowing; you believe death is the end of existence. Atheists are in the minority. If you’re an agnostic death is a mystery; you believe there is someone, a higher authority beyond this existence but you deny it or he or she can be known. Some people are pantheists; they believe “God” is in everything. Others are polytheists; they believe there are many “gods.” Others are monotheists; they believe God is one. But most people are religious. There are religious Christians, religious Buddhists, religious Muslims, religious Hindus, and a myriad of other religious groups. Maybe you’ve opted to be B’hai who eclectically absorb a little bit of every religion so as to cover all the bases. No matter who you are Jesus has a word for you. Jesus spoke of a Kingdom of God and instructed those that follow Him to pray for this Kingdom to come.

Jesus spoke of heaven as a place of eternal blessing in the presence of the Lord. Heaven is heaven because we are in the presence of our Lord. He spoke of hell as a place of eternal suffering and regret. Hell is a place of regret because the opportunity to experience eternal blessing in the presence of the Lord is lost due to sinful rebellion against God. Those in rebellion against God willfully stand aloof to Him. They live as though He weren’t important or necessary. They deny the design of reality and claim “God” is a fantasy and His revelation a myth of men. They slap away the outstretched hand of a loving God. If they persist one day soon they will die to regret their stubbornness and willful insubordination.

No matter who we are Jesus says, “You must be born again.” Everyone will bow to this must do. Does that cause you to wonder, maybe rebel, to yearn, or question? One night a very religious man came to Jesus to inquire. The conversation that ensued led to a statement of absolute necessity for every person. Jesus said, “You must be born again.” Why?

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.


What do we know about Nicodemus? The name “Nicodemus” means ruler, conqueror or conqueror of the people. The Exhaustive Dictionary of Bible Names adds Nicodemus’ name as meaning, Innocent blood; victor over the people, Conqueror of the populace.[1]


He was aptly named as he grew up to be a ruler of the people. As a “ruler of the Jews” he was a member of the Sanhedrin, an elite ruling body of religious leaders who oversaw the life of the people. The “Pharisees,” or separated ones, were a sect or brotherhood of about six thousand.[2] To be a Pharisee meant Nicodemus was very religious. Actually, you couldn’t get more religious than being a Pharisee. Scribes were in charge of interpreting the 613 Old Testament laws. Pharisees were committed to applying and enforcing the Old Testament Law and that in minutest detail. But keeping the Law degenerated to a form of godliness that lacked God’s power (2 Tim. 3:5). Pharisees were often lax in their moral conduct (Matt. 5:20; 15:4, 8; 23:3, 14, 23, 25; John 8:7). Jesus referred to them as “vipers,” or snakes (Matt. 3:7), like the serpent in the Garden. They were self-righteous and proud (Matt. 9:11; Luke 7:39; 18:11, 12). Jesus came with rebuke for these representatives of God (Matt. 12:39; 16:1–4). The Pharisees didn’t repent at the truth of Jesus but responded with resentment.  [3] They led the plot to eliminate Jesus.


Nicodemus doesn’t appear to have followed the mold of his sect. He appears to have been more open to the things of God than his brethren were. Nicodemus supports Jesus in discussions with his fellow religious leaders. He advocates that Jesus should at least be heard out (John 7:50-52). The conversation Nicodemus had with Jesus changed his heart. How’s your heart toward Jesus?


Nicodemus was a wealthy man. He brought very costly burial lotions to anoint Jesus’ body after His death on the cross. Nicodemus accompanied Joseph of Arimathea who was described as “a disciple of Jesus.” The two of them requested the body of Jesus from Pilate after Jesus’ death (John 19:38-42). The evidence points to Nicodemus having become a disciple of Jesus. I believe Nicodemus was born again. Are you?  

2 This man came to Jesus


Nicodemus was religious, wealthy and as a ruler had a position of power. He had it all. And yet there was something missing. And he was going to Jesus to see if he could find that missing part. How about you? Are you religious? Are you wealthy, even rich? Are you in a position of authority, a ruler? But do you feel there’s something missing? Will you go to Jesus like Nicodemus did?

by night

Why did Nicodemus come to see Jesus at night? There are a couple of possibilities. Nicodemus may have come “by night” because he was concerned about being seen with Jesus. During the day other Jewish rulers would be on watch to see what Jesus was doing and who was being impressed by what He was doing. Nicodemus may have been concerned about appearances; how it would look to others if he, a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews was meeting with Jesus. We know that if this was the case now, that later by John 7 Nicodemus steps out in defense of Jesus.

Nicodemus probably came at night in order to have a private face to face meeting with Jesus. During the day Jesus was surrounded by crowds. He had personal questions to pose to Jesus. He was seeking answers to life’s questions.  He needed privacy to concentrate and hear clearly what Jesus would say. Here was an extraordinary Man that Nicodemus had to talk to. What was He all about? What was He saying?

and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”

Nicodemus was a representative of others (“we”) who were of similar spirit and inquiry toward Jesus. He respectfully refers to Jesus as “Rabbi.” Nicodemus acknowledges Jesus as being “from God.” He substantiates this by noting the miraculous signs Jesus had done. “No one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” The miraculous signs done by Jesus had their desired impact and influence on Nicodemus. This was true not only of Nicodemus, but apparently of other leaders too. The Spirit was stirring the spirit of the religious community.

3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”


To this Jewish leader versed in the scriptures Jesus clearly and unequivocally states, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” There are no shades of gray about what Jesus is saying. This is an essential, a must if someone desires to see the kingdom of God. Everyone must be born again!


What is the “kingdom of God” Jesus refers to here? “Kingdom” conveys the idea of a rule. “Kingdom of God” conveys the idea of God’s rule. Jews equated the kingdom of God with a political governmental rule of God on earth. The apostles questioned Jesus about establishing the kingdom of God after the resurrection (Acts 1:9-11). There will be a literal kingdom of God on earth during the Millennium (cf. Rev. 20). But there is also a sense in which the kingdom of God is established in the heart of a person. This is lordship.


Salvation involves Jesus as Lord in our heart (cf. Rom. 10:9). We are saved by Gods’ grace through faith in Christ alone (Eph. 2:1-9). We aren’t saved by our works or efforts (e.g. Titus 3:5). But any genuine, authentic, and actual salvation results in a change of heart and life. In salvation we receive a new heart (Ezekiel 18:31; 36:26). The unsaved are a lord to themselves. The saved have surrendered their self-rule to God in Christ and now follow Jesus as Lord (Rom. 10:9-10). That is the fruit of genuine salvation (Rom. 14:9; 1 Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11).


When Jesus came at the incarnation He brought the Kingdom of God into the present saying, “The kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). This speaks to us about the internal aspect of God’s Kingdom, His rule in the heart – “The Kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21b). Therefore, the Kingdom of God is received through repentance and believing the gospel (Mark 1:15; cf. also Mat. 3:2).


The kingdom of God involves a spiritual dimension of life lived “in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). In John 3 Jesus elaborates on this in His conversation with Nicodemus by saying, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. . . . You must be born again. . . So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:5, 6, 8). This is why there is no equivocation or exception here; everyone must be born again!


The Kingdom of God is “everlasting” (2 Peter 1:5-11). It’s something we should anticipate and look forward to; yearn for. Therefore Jesus taught His disciples to pray for God’s kingdom to come (Mat. 6:10). He taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The Kingdom of God involves God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. This is should be our life priority (cf. Mat. 6:33). The New Testament example is that God’s people work together in fellowship for the Kingdom of God (Col. 4:11). One way we do this is through unity in prayer.


The message of the Kingdom of God is to be preached and proclaimed everywhere (Mat. 24:14). We see the beginning of this in Acts (Acts 8:12). The Kingdom of God is linked to “the name of Jesus Christ.” That “both men and women were baptized” indicates believing and receiving the Kingdom of God results in life change and an outward acknowledgement of that change.


Entering the Kingdom of God entails that “we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21-22). This “must” happen. The Kingdom involves discipleship; “strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith.”


Entering the Kingdom of Christ and God requires sin be dealt with in our lives (Eph. 5:5). Not everyone will enter this Kingdom. Some will prefer to choose sin over holiness, self instead of God. Jesus taught that few would enter His kingdom and many would not (cf. also Mat. 7:13-14). That’s what we see in the world today. Entering God’s kingdom involves being delivered from the power of darkness into a Kingdom described as ruled by “the Son of His love” (Col. 1:13).  Entering God’s Kingdom involves a “walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” It involves a holy life (1 Thess. 2:12). Not everyone is willing to accept that. They are self-deceived (1 John 1:8). They call God a liar (1 John 1:10).  They choose to remain in darkness and shut out God’s light. They love their dark lives (John 3:19-21). They welcome the blindness of the evil one (2 Cor. 4:4). There is a consequence for that. Everyone must be born again.


Not everyone will understand the message of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is opposed by “the wicked one” (Matthew 13:19). This wicked one will try to snatch away information and revelation about the Kingdom (Mark 4:10-12). He will work to thwart God’s offer of the Kingdom to people. When God provides opportunity to turn to Him and it is refused, He gives people over to the consequence of their decision (2 Thess. 2:10-11).


4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”


Nicodemus doesn’t ask “why” a man must be born again. Nicodemus asked, “how” a person can be born again. Nicodemus wasn’t looking at this conversation in a merely philosophical, intellectual or academic way. Nicodemus was seeking. He saw something in Jesus that he didn’t have. He saw something different. He wanted what Jesus was talking about. He wanted to be “born again.”


5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.


Jesus makes a distinction between physical and spiritual birth; of two births: physical “of water” and spiritual “the Spirit.” A person can be physically alive but spiritually dead. Spiritual life requires a spiritual birth. Unless a person experiences a second birth, a spiritual birth, they will not enter the kingdom of God. Jesus is very clear here: “flesh is flesh, and . . . Spirit is spirit.”


It may also be that “water” is referring to God’s word. Elsewhere “water” is used as a type for scripture (e.g. Eph. 5:26). Indeed later in John’s gospel Jesus tells His disciples, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). Peter speaks of being “
born again, . . . through the word of God which lives and abides forever” in his first epistle (1 Peter 1:23). There can be little to no doubt that the word of God is an integral instrument in the spiritual birth of the sinner. The Spirit uses the word of God to convict the sinner of sin and to reveal the gospel of Jesus Christ as the solution to their sin problem.


If you try to live God’s Kingdom life without being spiritually born it results in the frustrating and futile and ultimately failing way of legalism. We need the spiritual life provided by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. We need the spiritual fruit produced by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-24) as well as the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to do all God calls us to do (Acts 1:8; 2:1ff.).


7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’


Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). George Whitefield, mighty preacher of the 18th century revivals in England and America (i.e. The Great Awakening - in America) was frequently asked why he always preached that man must be born again. “Why do I preach you must be born again?” said Whitefield? “Because you must be born again!”

In this passage of scripture Jesus is speaking about spiritual regeneration. In this material world we look at each other and see life. When someone dies or some form of life dies it is evident to us, e.g. it stops breathing; it’s heart stops beating; it decomposes, etc. But there is another dimension we don’t readily consider, the realm of the spirit. This realm is unseen. The Bible tells us that we are not born with spiritual life but must be born again or experience a second birth, a spiritual birth. If we do not, we are dead spiritually.

What causes this spiritual death? Sin causes death physically, mentally, and spiritually (Rom. 6:23). Sin is living in disobedience to God. It is settling for physical material life while neglecting or not experiencing spiritual life. If we die physically without being “born again” we will go into an eternal existence separate from God in a place of torment called hell where God’s just penalty for sin and spiritual death will be properly imposed for eternity. But if we are “born again” we will live eternally with God in a place called heaven which is a place of endless blessing in the wonderful presence of the Lord. For this to happen, you must experience spiritual birth, be born of the Holy Spirit, “You must be born again.”

How can we be born again? In the opening verses of John’s gospel he is inspired to write, But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). Being born again is turning from your sin, giving up your sinful ways, and turning to God to receive by faith His gracious gift of salvation provided through Jesus. Being born again is a work of God not humanity (cf. also John 6:29). It is a work of the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin (John 16:8-11). The Spirit draws the sinner to the Father (John 6:44). This spiritual birth can perplex us at times. But that is because it is an incredible work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:7-8).

Our church has an annual baptism at a public beach on the north shore of Long Island. During this service on the shore I give an evangelistic open air message. To illustrate what it means to be born of the Spirit I once scoured the shore of the beach for a horseshoe crab shell. I used the shell to show that we can easily observe that the horseshoe crab is dead. It isn’t breathing. It isn’t moving. Its innards are empty leaving only a shell of what it used to be. In this material world of ours  it’s easy for us to see that life has left this shell. But there’s more to existence than what we can see in the material world. There is a spiritual dimension.

From the material dimension it’s not always easy to determine if one is alive or dead. We can sometimes mistake religious or altruistic activity for spiritual life when in fact a person is spiritually dead. Sometimes we are mere empty shells. Jesus said some people are tares amongst wheat (Mat. 13:24-30). That is, some people look good on the outside but are empty or lifeless on the inside. Jesus has so much more than that for us. Jesus said just like we were born into the material world we also need to be born again; born a second time spiritually. This second birth happens in the heart as the Holy Spirit indwells us and makes Christ’s presence known.

How can we identify spiritual life? Here are some evidences that show spiritual life:

  1. Spiritual birth – John 3:6
  2. Hears Jesus words and believes in Him – John 5:24
  3. Abide in Jesus word as disciples – John 8:31-32, 47
  4. Knows the Jesus as Shepherd – John 10:14, 27-28
  5. Obedience – John 14:21
  6. Understanding of God’s word – John 14:26
  7. Personal saving relationship with Jesus – John 15:26
  8. Guided into God’s truth – John 16:13
  9. Holy Life – As the Holy  Spirit lives in them – John 20:22
  10. Assurance of salvation – 1 John 3:24; 4:13
  11. Love of the Spirit – Rom. 5:5
  12. Fruit – Gal. 5:22-24


Read these scriptures references. Do you have these in your life? Have you been born of the Spirit? If not you are spiritually dead and risk spending an eternity separate from God.

Sin is disobeying the laws of the Holy God of love. He has created us and given a manual (the Bible) for people to live by to experience His best in life. Those who disregard and disobey this manual are in rebellion against God and His enemies. Their rebellious behavior is sin and that sin causes pain, suffering, and opposes the will of God. God who is just imposes a penalty for such sin – eternal death. The sinner is not annihilated nor do they cease to exist if they die in their sin. No, the consequence of sin is a dark eternal deathly aloneness filled with regret, discomfort, torment and pain.

The only way the death penalty for sin to be justly and righteously paid is for a death to occur. But not just any death; since sin stains people it disqualifies them for paying the proper death penalty. Only a perfect sinless atoning death would suffice. Jesus, as a gift of God’s grace, went to the cross and paid that death penalty for humankind. Jesus was made sin for us. He took our place in His death on the cross. He is our substitute so that when we trust Him as our Savior God accounts His death penalty paid on the cross to our account and transfers His righteousness to us (2 Cor. 5:21). To be born again all a person therefore has to do is turn from their sins (repent) and by faith in Christ receive God’s gift of forgiveness based on the death penalty Jesus paid for us.

8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”


With these words Jesus says there is an operation of the Spirit that we may not be able to identify outwardly. We may hear the sound of the wind but we can’t identify where it comes from or where it goes. The work of a person being “born of the Spirit” can be confounding. It can be perplexing. God is the One who works salvation and we can’t always explain how He does it (Mark 4:26-29). Salvation is a gift of His grace and a product of His hand at work. Like the breath of God giving life to dry dead bones in Death Valley the Spirit can give us life (cf. Ezekiel 37).


The Holy Spirit can go places we can’t. He can go right down into a person’s heart. He can enter their thoughts. He knows their thoughts. He can therefore reason with them in ways we can’t. He is unlimited. We are very limited. That is the point Jesus is making here. What is impossible with people is very possible with the Spirit.


Jesus directs us to depend on the Holy Spirit. Jesus ascended to heaven that the Spirit might be poured out (Acts 2:33).  Jesus is “He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33). We need the Spirit’s teaching. A disciple is a learner. We can’t learn without the Spirit (cf. John 14-16). We need the baptism with the Holy Spirit for power to witness and serve Jesus (Acts 1:4-5, 8). The Spirit purifies our heart. The Spirit empowers us to serve (Acts 15:8-9). We need to fully surrender to Jesus and let the Spirit control us. This is called a baptism because involves a total immersion of self in the Holy Spirit. We abandon our will to the Spirit (Rom. 8). We need the power of the Spirit to be powerfully used by God.


Have you been born again? Jesus said if you want to spend eternity with Him “You must be born again.” No matter who you are, whether you believe in God or not, you must be born again. It’s a work the Holy Spirit will do in you. All you need do is turn from your life of sin to God through faith in Jesus Christ. Ask God to forgive your sin based on Jesus atoning death on the cross. Receive His gift of forgiveness. Receive the new eternal life of the Holy Spirit who will indwell you. But whatever you do, be born again. Everyone must do this.

[1]Smith, Stelman ; Cornwall, Judson: The Exhaustive Dictionary of Bible Names. North Brunswick, NJ : Bridge-Logos, 1998, S. 185
[2]Courson, Jon: Jon Courson's Application Commentary. Nashville, TN : Thomas Nelson, 2003, S. 457
[3]Easton, M.G.: Easton's Bible Dictionary. Oak Harbor, WA : Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996, c1897

Monday, February 3, 2014

Tola the Worm

“After Abimelech there arose to save Israel Tola. . . .” – Judges 10:1a


There is an obscure judge mentioned in the book of Judges with only a couple of verses. His name is Tola. We might be tempted to glance over this fellow. But if we do, we will miss an incredibly magnificent picture of Jesus. Let’s look at the account of Tola.

“After Abimelech there arose to save Israel Tola the son of Puah, the son of Dodo, a man of Issachar; and he dwelt in Shamir in the mountains of Ephraim. 2 He judged Israel twenty-three years; and he died and was buried in Shamir” (Judges 10:1-2).  

Tola is particularly described as one who arose “to save” Israel. The word “save” (Hebrew yasa) means to defend, to deliver, to rescue, and to bring salvation. And as we look a little deeper at this obscure judge and his name we will see a great insight about the Lord our Defender.

Tola was the son of Puah. “Puah” means splendid. Puah’s father was “Dodo.” When we hear “Dodo” today we probably think of dodo bird, a not so smart species of bird. Most of us therefore associate “dodo” with someone that isn’t smart. But the original meaning of the name Dodo means beloved one. That’s beautiful but I don’t think we have to worry about a rush of parents choosing “Dodo” as a name for their children. The same might be said of “Tola” when we see what the equivalent meaning of it is.

Surely with a father’s name that means splendid and a grandfather’s name that means beloved one Tola’s name would mean something beautiful, right? What does Tola’s name mean? “Worm,” Tola’s name means worm. How would you like to be named “Worm”? Would you name your child “Worm”? Don’t answer that yet. Let me explain a bit more.

Tola’s name has an interesting twist to it. The name Tola, worm, in Hebrew has a parallel interpretive definition of scarlet or red dye. You might ask, “How could one name have two meanings like that?” With a name like “Worm” Tola would probably jump at option two. With a name like that, he was probably not a prominent figure in his community. It’s more likely he was obscure.  But in his name there is a beautiful picture of redemption and Christ as our Defender.

In Biblical times when people wanted to have red colored cloth they would crush “tola” or worms to make a scarlet or blood red dye. There are some very interesting connections with Jesus as we look a little closer at Tola. Tola is really a type of Christ.  

Psalm 22 is Messianic psalm. Jesus quotes the first verse of this psalm while on the cross (Mat. 27:46; Mark 15:34), a common practice of reciting the first verse of a passage to refer to and bring to mind the whole context. What is interesting is when we go to Psalm 22 and look at some of the words attributed to Messiah. We have already mentioned that Jesus recited verbatim the first verse of this psalm. As you read Psalm 22 and hold it up next to the accounts of the crucifixion in the gospels (Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 19) you can see that it describes much of what took place on that fateful day. Keep in mind that when this psalm was written crucifixion had not even been invented yet as a means of execution. Psalm 22 was inspired a thousand (1,000!) years before the crucifixion. God’s word is inspired by God and superlatively unique.

Looking at Psalm 22 we see mention of the Messiah being ridiculed like in the gospels (22:7 and Mat. 27:39). We see mention of those caustically questioning how Messiah could save others but not Himself (22:8 and Mat. 27:43). “Bulls of Bashan surrounded Messiah just as the Roman soldiers surrounded Jesus (22:12, 16 and Mat. 27:35-36). Mention is made of onlookers gaping at Messiah which is what we see in the crucifixion account (22:13 and Mat. 27:39-43). Messiah is described as having His strength “poured out like water” which is what we see on the cross with Jesus (22:14-15 and Mat. 27:32-34). Messiah being pierced in His hands and feet describes what happened to Jesus (22:16-17 and Mat. 27:35; Luke 23:27 and 35). Messiah’s garments were divided among onlookers like Jesus (22:18 and Mat. 27:35). But the psalm crescendos in victory! Never forget that! Just as Jesus rose from the dead, Psalm 22 speaks of the Father answering the prayers of Messiah. But there is even more.

In verse 6 of Psalm 22 it attributes to Messiah the words, “But I am a worm and no man.” In what sense would Messiah be a worm? To answer that we have to look a little closer at the tola or worm. The tola reproduces by slithering up a tree and attaching to a tree limb. The worm lays its larva and then covers the eggs with its body. The worm attaches itself to the tree and remains fixed as though nailed to the tree and covering the larva. Even after the larva hatch the tola remains in place. The larva then actually eats the host worm. The tola gives its life for its young. Once the larva is finished consuming the host they depart and the shell of the worm drops off. But left behind is a red mark of blood on the tree limb. About three days later the red blood mark turns to a flaky white powder that falls to the ground like snow. Sound familiar?

Those of you who know your Bible can see the significance of what is going on here. Isaiah said, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). Jesus, prophetically in this psalm, said He was a worm. Like a worm he attached Himself to a tree, the cross. He stayed there to provide the means of a spiritual second birth for sinners. We feed off of Him for our spiritual nourishment. At the Lord’s Table He instructed us to eat His flesh and drink His blood (Mat. 26:26-27; Mark 14:22-24). The Messiah as a tola or worm is an incredible illustration of Jesus redemptive, regenerative, and sin cleansing work.

It doesn’t end there. Just as the judge Tola was a defender who came to save, Jesus is our Defender who saves us from our sin. Jesus is our Advocate (1 John 2:1). When Satan the Accuser of the Brethren brings his regular accusations against us Jesus our defending Advocate stands on our behalf to announce we are cleansed by His blood. The Father Judge then proclaims our cased dismissed for lack of evidence” and all we can say is “Glory!”  [1]

Now don’t miss the magnificence and incredible work of redemption here. Jesus is the image of the invisible God, ruler of all creation. Jesus created all things; all things were created through Him and for Him. In Jesus everything, from the smallest particle to the most expansive mass of this vast universe, every atom of this colossal universe, is held together. That Jesus – became a worm (Col. 1:15-18). That Jesus was crushed like a worm to shed His red blood, a redemptive dye to give us spiritual life so we would not have to die. Those who have been reborn through Him are marked forever by His blood. He did this for you and He did this for me. Incredible. . . . incredible. . . incredible. All we can say is “Thank You Jesus.”

This is a wonderful truth from the name of a judge named Tola, a man who we probably never heard of before, whose brief story we’ve passed by countless times before. We may not want to change our name to “Tola.” We probably still won’t name our children “Tola.” But maybe in the future we will pay a little bit closer attention to those people and names in scripture that seem obscure and inconsequential. Maybe this is a lesson to encourage us to pay closer attention to the word of God. And maybe we’ll take heart in who we are and the prospect of how God might use us. We may be obscure and unknown, but God is still able to bring a beautiful picture of Jesus’ redemption from our life. He can use us to remind others of the blood of Jesus and its life changing power.

Are you washed in the blood of Jesus? Are your sins whiter than snow? Jesus paid a tremendous price to offer eternal life to you; a complete cleansing from sin. Why not bow before Him in full repentant surrender? Why not ask Him to become your Savior and Defender? He will, if you only believe and ask Him to.


[1]Courson, Jon: Jon Courson's Application Commentary : Volume One : Genesis-Job. Nashville, TN : Thomas Nelson, 2005, S. 768