What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
The clear implication of Leviticus 13:47-59 is that some, though not all, leprous garments became clean. Peter's vision of "all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air" (Acts 10:12) speaks to this point. God made it clear that He was capable of cleansing the Gentiles, but never said He had cleansed all of them at this time. Notice His admonition to Peter: "What God has cleansed you must not call common" (verse 15). Peter got the picture when he met Cornelius shortly after, telling the Roman centurion: "In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him" (verses 34, 35). While God calls from "every nation," only some, those who fear and obey, are acceptable to Him.
In verse 36, Peter interjects a vital idea: Christ "is Lord of all." Verse 45 records that the "Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also." The "apostles and brethren who were in Judea" (Acts 11:1) came to understand that "God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life" (verse 18).
The Mixed Multitude
This preamble to the instructions for the ritual on the Day of Atonement reflects on the failure of the priesthood, represented by Aaron's sons. The event in question took place in Leviticus 10, but God uses it as a starting point for the annual cleansing and removal of sin. Thus, God's instructions begin with a reminder of how the priests had incurred His wrath due to their careless approach.
Recall that God instituted the sacrificial system because of Israel's failure in general; it was added to the Abrahamic covenant “because of transgressions” (Galatians 3:19). God says something similar in Jeremiah 7:22-23:
For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, “Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.”
His original marching orders for Israel were simple: Obey His voice, walk in the ways He commanded—just as Abraham did—and the Creator Himself would be their God (Deuteronomy 27:9-10). Israel failed in this, so He added the Levitical priesthood and the sacrifices as a tutor (Galatians 3:24-25), to give Israel a disciplined, practical system of worship—as well as a reminder of sin (Hebrews 10:3)—until the Promised Seed arrived.
David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Four)
In the depths of his godly sorrow over his sins, David understood that it was the washing of His Creator that was needed for him to be cleansed of his transgressions of God's way of life.
In the book of Psalms, David expresses profound details of his relationship with his Creator. He looked forward to his Savior coming to fulfill the purposes of cleansing and restoration. David understood that His God was working to open the gates to everlasting life for human beings who would be cleansed and made whole, perfected as children of the great God.
Recall in Psalm 23 that David concludes his description of his relationship with his Shepherd, his Creator, by declaring that he would "dwell in the house of the LORD forever" (Psalm 23:6). David looked forward to eternal life, understanding that it would take God washing him and cleansing him of his sins to allow him to come into this inheritance.
Purge Me With Hyssop
Woven into the fabric of the Psalms are many of the very words that Jesus Christ used Himself during His life on earth, including some of the final words He uttered before His death. The understanding that David possessed, a gift and blessing that the Eternal gave to him, is further evidenced in Psalm 51:7: "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."
Here, David refers to the spiritual washing required for his cleansing. He makes a deliberate request of God to wash Him, knowing that only the cleansing power of Almighty God can make a man clean and pure. Though his sins have covered him in filth and stained him to the very roots of his being, the washing power of God makes a man whiter than snow.
In our understanding of the symbolism of colors, "snow-white" is considered the ultimate in white, the whitest of white, as pure and unsullied a white as possible. David's expectation was that God's cleansing power would exceed even that ultimate white - "I shall be whiter than snow." We can only relate this to absolute spiritual, moral perfection, the very state in which Almighty God exists. The wording expresses that the scrubbing God could give him would permit him to exist in that absolute, ultimate state of perfection.
At the beginning of verse 7, David makes the deliberate request of God to purge him with hyssop. Hyssop is an interesting choice as a cleansing agent. It is an herb, a species of marjoram and member of the mint family, and some Bible versions actually refer to it as "marjoram." It has long been considered an aromatic and medicinal herb, anciently indigenous to western Asia and northern Africa, including regions of the Middle East. The hyssop plant grows just under three feet in height, producing clusters of variously colored flowers. In ancient times, it grew naturally in rocky crevices, and people cultivated it on terraced walls.
The short, cut stems of the plant can be gathered into bunches, and in the Old Testament, these bunches were used for ritual purposes. The most spiritually significant of these uses is recorded in Exodus 12:22. Moses has just given the instructions for the killing of the Passover lamb, and he continues with some further instructions that must have been rather startling for those participating Israelites:
And you shall take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood [of the Passover lamb] that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning.
It is important that we consider all the aspects of this event. During repeated requests by Moses for Pharaoh to allow Israel to leave Egypt, Pharaoh had continually refused to let God's people go, and the nation had endured nine plagues of cataclysmic consequences. The economy of the nation was largely a shambles. Crops were ruined, and disease had run rampant.
Since the third plague, God had also made readily visible a clear distinction between the captive nation of Israel and the Egyptians, in that the Israelites in Goshen had been spared much of the devastation that had ruined the rest of Egypt. By the use of the blood of the sacrificial lamb, God was about to make a final, absolute distinction between these two nations that would never be forgotten.
We must recognize that Egypt suffered the devastation at the hand of God because though it was a sophisticated, dazzling, world-dominating empire, it was also a wicked, idolatrous nation. The Egyptians were a people who openly flouted the natural evidence of a supreme Creator by worshipping a pantheon of idols and gods dedicated to their own passions and lusts. Egyptians regularly engaged in a frenzy of immoral and idolatrous celebrations, sporting events, fashions, and music all dedicated to gods of materialism and human gratification.
The plagues God meted upon the land of Egypt and its people were just as much attacks on her idols and lifestyle as they were punishments for the sins of her people. As just one example, the Egyptians worshipped the Nile River as a god, and when God turned its waters to blood, the life-giving nature of the river was destroyed, along with the power that the Nile River god supposedly possessed.
Thus, in this solemn Passover event of Exodus 12, God used blood of a different nature to represent the saving, life-giving power that only He, the almighty, eternal God, possessed. The sacrificial lamb of Passover symbolized the future Son of God, who would take upon Himself the role of the sacrificial Lamb of God (John 1:29). The shed blood of the Passover lamb symbolized the blood to be shed by the coming Messiah.
The bunch of hyssop was dipped into the blood, and per God's instructions, that blood was sprinkled or brushed on the doorposts and lintel of each home. The Israelites were then told to stay within those homes, separated from the Egyptian people and their normal routines. That night, there was to be no interaction or communication with any aspect of the Egyptian civilization. Their very lives depended on their following this command to the letter.
The sacrificial blood, sprinkled or smeared by the bunch of hyssop, graphically represented a separation and a protection of Israel against the deadly havoc that God wrought upon Egypt that night. The blood ceremonially cleansed and protected the people inside those homes against the plague of death that struck a people who practiced the filthy abominations of godlessness.
Later, in the books of Leviticus and Numbers, hyssop was used as part of sacrificial ceremonies. The hyssop was always tied into bunches for use in sprinkling the blood of the sacrificed animal. In some sacrifices, the priest sprinkled the blood onto the person making the sacrifice.
In Numbers 19, Moses gives instructions for one who is unclean due to touching a dead body. These instructions include taking a bunch of hyssop, dipping it into clean, running water, and sprinkling the unclean individual, his tent, and possessions. This example clearly connects the use of hyssop and clean water for cleansing.
Over the years, some have suggested that hyssop contains valuable antiseptic or cleansing properties that would "disinfect" the contaminated person or his possessions. This cannot be the point because such an idea contradicts the fact that God is the only Source of true purification. The biblical use of hyssop in the Passover, the sacrifices, and the ceremonial cleansing rituals was a constant reminder, painting a detailed picture of the washing, cleansing, saving, purification, and salvation from death itself that come only from the eternal God.
This is the kind of cleansing that David requested of God when he asked to be purged with hyssop.
Purge Me With Hyssop
The heart is central to this because in the Bible the heart stands for the seat, source, reservoir, and instigator of our thoughts, attitudes, desires, character, and motivation. It is synonymous with our modern use of "mind," since the mind is where we hold knowledge, attitudes, motivations, affections, desires, likes, and dislikes.
Jesus says in Matthew 5:8, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Obviously, the quality of the heart is the issue in this beatitude. Proverbs 4:23 reads, "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life." Our Father directly addresses the book of Proverbs to His sons (Proverbs 1:7). It assumes our hearts have been purified by His initial cleansing, that we have received His Spirit, and are in the process of sanctification and going on to perfection. Ezekiel explains this process:
Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. (Ezekiel 36:25-27)
This does not all take place in an instant. It is a process, and as we have all discovered from Scripture and our own experience since baptism, human nature is still very much alive within us (Romans 7:13-25). Paul confirms this in Galatians 5:17, "For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you cannot do the things that you wish."
Human nature, the law of sin within us, is always seeking to pull us again into the defilement of sin, seeking to destroy our hope of sharing life with the holy God. That is why God counsels us in Proverbs 4:23 to keep—that is, guard, preserve, and maintain—our heart. It is very easy to become defiled by lapsing back to old habits. In stark reality, Romans 8:7 and Jeremiah 17:9 show why: "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be." "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" The normal human mind deceitfully convinces each person that they are good and love God, men, and law. But the reality is just the opposite: It is at war with God and men, and hates God's holy, righteous, and spiritual law. It loves itself and its desires far more than anything else. It is this deceitful, self-centered enmity that exerts constant influence, pulling us into the defilement of sin.
Jesus preaches on this in Matthew 15:16-20:
So Jesus said, "Are you also still without understanding? Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man."
It is sin that defiles holiness. In terms of character, of being in the image of God, sin defiles, pollutes, contaminates, or blurs the reflection of God in us. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (I John 1:8).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 6: The Pure in Heart
Purity of heart is a work in progress in which both God and man share responsibility. Many scriptures show that God will cleanse by pardoning sin. But our responsibility in cleansing is very important and frequently mentioned along with what we must do to be cleansed. Notice how clearly James shows purifying is our responsibility: "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:8).
How is this purifying done? I Peter 1:22 makes a summary statement: "Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart." Obedience to the truth through the Spirit purifies our character by inculcating right habits within it.
After commanding us to clean ourselves up, Isaiah adds, "Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1:16-17). Likewise, after admonishing us to guard our heart, our Father says:
Put away from you a deceitful mouth, and put perverse lips far from you. Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you. Ponder the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established. Do not turn to the right or the left; remove your foot from evil. (Proverbs 4:24-27)
Jeremiah 4:14 adds, "O Jerusalem, wash your heart from wickedness, that you may be saved. How long shall your evil thoughts lodge within you?"
Psalm 24:3-4 asks a searching question and gives a clear and important answer to all of us: "Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully." These two brief verses broadly cover conduct, motivation, attitude, and prioritizing one's life.
To meet these qualifications requires "truth in the inward parts" (Psalm 51:6). A deceitful heart will never meet the standards because it does not operate from a foundation of godly integrity. David says in verse 5 that, humanly, he was shaped in iniquity. God, with our cooperation through faith, is ultimately the Creator of a pure heart in us, but it is a protracted process achieved by imparting a holy nature by His Spirit. This unites us with a holy Christ, with whom we fellowship, washing us in the blood of the Lamb so that with His aid we can mortify the flesh and live toward God, giving Him first priority in everything.
We will never be pure as God is pure in this life. Our purity is at best only in part. We are partly purified from our former darkness; our will is partly purified from its rebellion; our desires are partly purified from desires, avarice and pride. But the work of cleansing has begun, and God is faithful to finish what He starts (Philippians 1:6).
Interestingly, when Peter refers to God's calling of Gentiles in Acts 15:9, he says God "made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith." He uses "purifying" in the sense of a continuous experience. In Titus 3:5, Paul also uses "renewing of the Holy Spirit" in the same ongoing sense. We must see purity of heart in this sense because as James 3:2, 8 states, "For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. . . . But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison." By daily denying the self, sincerely confessing and wholehearted obedience, we work toward purity.
However, it is not enough to be pure in words and outward conduct. Purity of desires, motives, and intents should characterize the child of God. We need to examine ourselves, searching diligently whether we have freed ourselves from the dominion of hypocrisy. Are our affections set on things above? Has the fear of the Lord grown strong enough that we love what He loves and hate what He hates? Are we conscious of and do we deeply grieve over the filth we yet find within ourselves? Are we conscious of our foul thoughts, vile imaginations, evil desires? Do we mourn over our pride? Perhaps the heaviest burden of a pure heart is seeing the ocean of unclean things still in him, casting its filth into his life and fouling what he does.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 6: The Pure in Heart
This beatitude, like all the others, has both a present and future fulfillment. Paul says in I Corinthians 13:12, "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known." To "see" God is to be brought close to Him. In this instance the sense is that what we are far from cannot be clearly distinguished. That, as sinners, we are far from God is proclaimed in Isaiah 59:2: "But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He will not hear." Thus James 4:8 admonishes us, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you."
The pure in heart are those who with all their being seek to remain free of every form of the defilement of sin. The fruit of this is the blessing of spiritual discernment. With spiritual understanding, they have clear views of God's character, will, and attributes. A pure heart is synonymous with what Jesus calls a "single" (KJV) or "clear" (NKJV margin) eye in Matthew 6:22. When a person has this mind, the whole body is full of light. Where there is light, one can see clearly.
The sense of this beatitude's promise to see God carries over into the Kingdom of God. In one sense, all will see God, as Revelation 1:7 prophesies: "Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they also who pierced Him. And all the tribes of earth will mourn because of Him." They will see Him as Judge.
Jesus' promise, though, is stated as a blessing, a favor. Revelation 22:4 says of those who will inherit God's Kingdom, "They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads." I John 3:2 reads, "We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." To see someone's face is to be so near as to be in his presence. In this case, the term indicated the highest of honors: to stand in the presence of the King of kings. Certainly David understood the greatness of this: "As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness" (Psalm 17:15).
God places great value on being clean, especially in terms of purity of heart. Also, we can easily become defiled, whereas remaining clean requires constant vigilance, a determined discipline, and a clear vision of what lies before us to serve as a prod to keep us on track. Since it is sin that defiles, this beatitude demands from us the most exacting self-examination. Are our work and service done from selfless motives or from a desire for self-display? Is our church-going a sincere attempt to meet God or merely fulfilling a respectable habit? Are our prayers and Bible study a heartfelt desire to commune with God, or do we pursue them because they make us feel pleasantly superior? Is our life lived with a conscious need of God, or are we merely seeking comfort in our piety?
To examine our motives honestly can be a daunting and shaming but very necessary discipline, but considering Christ's promise in this beatitude, it is well worth whatever effort and humbling of self it takes. It is good for us to keep Paul's admonishment found in II Corinthians 7:1 fresh in mind: "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 6: The Pure in Heart
The three accounts tell us that a leper "came and worshipped Him" (Matthew 8:2), "imploring Him, kneeling down to Him" (Mark 1:40), and "fell on his face and implored Him" (Luke 5:12). That the leper "came" and "implored" shows his sincerity in seeking and pleading with Christ. He earnestly determined to reach Him, despite the obstacle of the crowd and the spectacle of his horrid disease. Coming before Christ was the great challenge of his life, so he did what was necessary to overcome his disadvantages.
"Implored" suggests the leper's sincerity in pleading with Him, implying that he pled earnestly, desperate for a resolution to his condition. Sadly, few of us can see the true devastation that sin has caused in our lives and how much we need spiritual healing.
All three Gospels record the leper's reverence for Christ, though each reports it a bit differently: Matthew says that the leper "worshipped Him" (Matthew 8:2); Mark, that he came "kneeling down to Him" (Mark 1:40); and Luke, that he "fell on his face" (Luke 5:12) before Him. Each account describes him bowing down before Him—even Matthew's worshipped means "prostrated before." The leper's humble approach conspicuously honored Him, for, unlike many today, the leper did not hide his respect for Christ out of fear of other's opinions.
In contrast, the arrogant will not gain His favor. This society dishonors Christ at every turn with its repeated profanity, its banning of God from public venues, and its rejection of truth and acceptance of the flawed reasonings of men. Such dishonoring of Christ is bringing on our nations an avalanche of curses rather than blessings, and it will not stop until the people repent.
The leper says, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean" (Matthew 8:2), indicating confidence and trust in Christ. True faith always honors both Christ's power and person. Never doubting His power to heal, the leper submits himself to His will. Some prayers we know God will answer positively, as when we ask in faith for forgiveness. However, when we ask for healing or other physical needs, we must faithfully respect God's decision, whatever it may be. By faith, we must acknowledge His superior wisdom in granting our request or not. The leper, in his humility and faith, would never demand God's healing, as though God owed him. It is not our right to be healed, and truly, we deserve death as the penalty for our sins (Romans 6:23). Yet, God heals us according to His mercy and will. A faithful person realizes that reverence should not stop him from asking God for blessings, but he submits to the wise will of God.
The leper does not downplay his condition, making it sound less offensive or serious than it was. He is truthful about his case, confessing his uncleanness, as the Bible considers leprosy (Leviticus 13:45). Interestingly, the leper asks to be cleansed, not to be healed. Of course, the cleansing is a healing, but "cleansing" is the more proper term. Christ makes the distinction between cleansing and healing when commissioning the apostles: "Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers" (Matthew 10:8).
The filthiness of sin can be removed only by the cleansing blood of Christ (I John 1:7). Isaiah writes, "We are all as an unclean thing" (Isaiah 64:6), and David, recognizing that his immorality and murder had polluted him, prays, "Create in me a clean heart, O God" (Psalm 51:10). We all must be cleansed of sin. Even so, until we are truthful about our sinfulness, shown in sincere repentance, we will not be cleansed.
Mark 1:40 refers to Christ six times: "Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, 'If You are willing, You can make me clean.'" The leper wisely chose the right Person to go to for help, for Christ was the only One who could cleanse him. Proverbs 1:5 says, "A wise man will hear and increase learning," and the leper, hearing what Jesus taught and learning what He could do, made a wise choice.
Similarly, Christ is the only One who can cleanse us from sin and lead us to salvation. Peter says in Acts 4:12, "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." Paul writes, "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 3:11). If anyone comes to Christ for salvation, he is acting wisely. Seeking it from anyone or anything else is foolish because no one else can truly deliver us.
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing a Leper (Part Two)
Knowing the gruesome details of leprosy, one can easily imagine the crowd hastily parting as this man worked his way toward Jesus. Yet, He, in contrast, reaches out to touch the leper, signaling His willingness and power to heal. In Exodus 15:25-26, God reveals Himself as Yahweh Ropheka, or "the Eternal-Who-Heals," at the incident at Marah. Nathan Stone writes in his book, Names of God,that this name means "to restore, to heal, to cure . . . not only in the physical sense but in the moral and spiritual sense also" (p. 72). Dying to sin and living for righteousness are a kind of healing through Jesus Christ.
Ordinarily, uncleanness is transferred among men, but holiness is not (Haggai 2:10-14). This scene of the leper coming to Christ pictures divine reconciliation, since what is holy and what is profane usually do not mix. This is overcome through the work of our Savior. Jesus stretches out His hand and commands the leper to be cleansed, showing God in action as the Eternal-Who-Heals. This is why the leper's uncleanness does not transfer to Jesus - at first.
Later, however, the death penalty for sin was transferred to Jesus. A price had to be paid for the leper's cleansing. "Clean" has a sense of purity and holiness, so to be cleansed was to be made pure. Proverbs 20:9 says, "Who can say, 'I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin'?" The leper could no more pronounce himself clean than we can pronounce ourselves sinless (I John 1:10). Proverbs 20:30 adds, "Blows that hurt cleanse away evil, as do stripes the inner depths of the heart." Comparing these two verses from Proverbs suggests that a certain chastening is required for cleansing.
Isaiah 53:4-5 adds another piece to the picture:
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.
These verses place the emphasis of our cleansing from spiritual impurity on Christ: He paid the price to heal us and restore us to fellowship with God.
Thus, when Jesus Christ became sin for us, on Him was transferred all uncleanness. For those who have repented and accepted His sacrifice, there is increasingly more responsibility to continue this cleansing process in cooperation with and submission to Him. Peter summarizes this idea in I Peter 2:24, "[He] Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we having died to sins, might live for righteousness - by whose stripes you were healed."
The Gift of a Leper
God's Word is obvious in this miracle. If something requires cleansing, "the washing of water by the word" must be actively present (Ephesians 5:26). God does not work apart from His Word. From the creation of the world to the present, the place of God's Word in His work has been essential: "In the beginning was the Word [the One who became Jesus Christ], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made" (John 1:1-3). In addition, the phrase "God said" is found ten times in the creation account (Genesis 1).
The Bible is God's written Word, as the Father had the Word (Jesus Christ, the Spokesman) inspire and reveal it. Many professing Christian churches have pushed Scripture to the back burner, into irrelevance, taking an a la carte spiritual meal from it as if they have the authority to choose which doctrines to swallow and which to refuse. If the true church is to do a work for God, it must be established and built on God's Word rather than on tradition.
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing a Leper (Part Three)
Mark 7:14-23 (and its parallel account in Matthew 15:1-20) is another set of scriptures that some believe state that nothing entering into a man can defile him, therefore eating whatever one wishes is perfectly all right. Can this be correct?
Those who believe this fail to understand the subject of the chapter, which is Jesus' denunciation of the Pharisees for their rejection of God's commandments in favor of their own traditions (verse 8). Verse 2 introduces the context: "Now when [the Pharisees] saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault." The dispute was over ceremonial cleanliness - eating without first washing one's hands - which is not even an Old Testament law but a "tradition of the elders" (verse 5), which the Pharisees had themselves proclaimed authoritative.
In addition, beyond this fact, note that the kind of food the apostles were eating is "bread," not meat. Jesus' later comments speak generally of "foods" and "whatever enters the mouth," not specifically meat. Mark 7 is not about clean and unclean meats at all!
Verse 19 contains the phrase "thus purifying all foods," and many have jumped to the conclusion that Jesus declared all foods clean (as many marginal references state). The context, again - the very sentence in which it appears - proves this false: "Do you [disciples] not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, thus purifying all foods?"
First, "thus" is not in the Greek text but has been supplied by the translators. Without it, the sentence plainly states that the stomach "purifies" any kind of food put in it, not that Jesus had somehow declared all foods to be purified. Second, purified is the Greek word katharízoon, which means "to cleanse," "to purify," "to free from filth." In relation to the stomach's or the digestive tract's ability to "purify" food, the sense of katharízoon in this verse is "to purge of waste." This is brought out clearly in the parallel statement in Matthew 15:17: "Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated?"
Do these scriptures do away with the law concerning clean and unclean meats? Not at all!
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Did God Change the Law of Clean and Unclean Meats?
The sinner who is largely ignorant of himself and passive in the hands of those with whom he associates is symbolized in the lost coin. People can be lost not only in dens of iniquity but also in good homes and churches (Revelation 3:14-17). The Garden of Eden was the most conducive of environments, but it did not guarantee that man would live God's way of life. This does not negate the value of a godly home (Proverbs 3:33). Such a home obviously gives a person a far greater advantage in learning how to live God's way of life compared with an ungodly one. This illustration teaches that, even in a good environment, a person may still be lost.
Unlike the lost sheep that wandered away and became lost (verses 4-7), the coin's lost condition is due to the carelessness of another. The coin is lost because it had fallen from its intended place, just as sin always lowers a person and never lifts up (Proverbs 14:34). This negligence of another reminds us that the sin of one person can bring tragic, spiritual consequences upon another. As an example, the backsliding dissenter almost always takes others with him, because it is sin's nature to take others down with it (II Peter 2:1-2, I Timothy 6:3-5, 20-21). False teachers and church dissidents put many coins on the floor spiritually.
The coin becomes useless and unclean, just as a person does through sin. While lost, the coin is essentially worthless. Likewise, an unrepentant sinner is useless to God and of no benefit to others. The apostle Paul was a lost coin, as it were, until he met Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-6). Sin destroys our value in service to both God and man; we become useless.
If the coin fell on the floor, it fell onto one of the dirtiest places in the house, making it unclean. The woman's sweeping of the floor indicates it was dirty. This defilement of the coin shows what sin does to a person: It pollutes, thereby defiling him (Titus 1:15-16). The only spiritual cleansing agent that will cleanse away the filth is the blood of Jesus Christ (I John 1:7-9).
Several things are involved in the woman's searching for and eventually finding the coin. Her motivation to find the coin is due to the value she placed upon it. She also suffers from the loss of the coin, while the coin, of course, feels nothing. The woman represents the church through which God works.
In the eyes of God, the sinner, represented by the coin, is not only a suffering being, like the sheep on whom He takes pity, but he is also precious, created in God's image and assigned a part in the accomplishment of His plans. In the illustration of the sheep, the lost person is viewed from man's perspective—he is one who suffers and therefore needs salvation. In the illustration of the coin, the lost person is seen from God's perspective—he is one who has great value, the loss of which God feels. In considering this, we should realize the great effect of sin upon God's glory and interests.
The lamp represents both the Word and the Spirit of God (Psalm 119:105). Both shed light on the plight of sinners and give solutions to their problems. Spiritual illumination enables the church to see how to help sinners who cannot see their fruitless condition. Just as the woman has to sweep the floor of debris, the church must make its surroundings clean and pure by sweeping away the filth from its domain (Isaiah 52:11). Doctrinal corruption makes it hard to see through the debris of false teachings. Today, doctrines have been so corrupted in mainstream Christianity that it is impossible to find spiritually pure teachings within it.
That the woman seeks the coin diligently shows a dedication to looking cautiously and continuously (Ecclesiastes 7:25). She is not haphazard in looking for the coin but organized and systematic, and she persists in the job until it is completed. Sadly, there are always those who attend God's church who work vigorously and earnestly for a short time then quit.
Finally, the whole illustration depicts her as enthusiastic, hopeful, and joyful in her responsibilities. This is the attitude we must have as we do God's work in preparation for His coming.
Martin G. Collins
Parables of Luke 15 (Part Two)
Kenneth N. Taylor, in his Living Gospels: The Paraphrased Gospels, puts it this way: "Master, You shouldn't be washing our feet like this!" Christ responds, "What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this" (verse 7).
Peter, still not convinced, flatly states, "You shall never wash my feet" (verse 8). Christ's next words, however, finally cause him to give in: "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me." Jesus' response—whatever His tone of voice—struck the disciple squarely between the eyes: Peter's eternal life was on the line! This time, his response is quite different: "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!" (verse 9). This sounds a little like Psalm 51:2, where David prays, "Wash me thoroughly. . . ."
Our Savior's answer to this request is not what some would expect: "He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean" (John 13:10). The New International Version's translation of this verse makes His thought clear: "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean." Obviously, the disciples had bathed before coming to eat the Passover meal. But having to walk along dusty roads in sandals, they collected a small amount of dirt on their feet. Thus, Christ explains that to be perfectly clean again, all He needed to do was to wash their feet.
Upon repentance, baptism, and receiving God's Holy Spirit, we are at that point perfectly clean in God's eyes. The blood of Jesus Christ has symbolically washed away all our past sins, and we stand before Him completely sinless. We have been buried in the waters of baptism and resurrected to a new life. However, as we all know, our human nature has certainly not departed from us, and it is not very long until the fact that we have sinned again stares us in the face. The old self has not really gone away; our lives are much as they were—with some important exceptions: We now have the Holy Spirit and have been given God's grace.
Having been regenerated by God through His Spirit that He has given us, we have entered a unique relationship with God the Father. The veil that once separated us from having access to Him has been torn away by the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ (Matthew 27:51; Hebrews 6:19-20; 10:19-22). Through Him, we can communicate with the Father to seek mercy and forgiveness for our sins and weaknesses. Upon repentance, God applies again the sacrifice of Christ to us and forgives us by His grace.
Now we can see that, even though we were once washed completely clean at baptism, we will occasionally sin as we walk through this life. We will spiritually get our feet dirty, and we will need Christ to wash our feet to make us completely clean again. Thus, He tells Peter, if He did not wash his feet, he would have no part with Him. None of us can carry unforgiven sins and still remain part of the body of Christ. This points out why it is so imperative that we seek His mercy and help to repent each day. When we do this, He can symbolically wash our feet and make us clean again. Each year at the Passover service, we reenact this to remind us how important it is.
Bill Keesee (1935-2010)
Another Look at Footwashing
The footwashing is simply a ritual, a ceremony, a symbolic act that outwardly manifests an inward attitude and conviction. In the example of Judas Iscariot, we see that though he went through the ritual, he was not really clean. The ritual could not remove the terrible sin that he was about to commit against his Creator. Because he had not repented of his sin, footwashing was meaningless to Judas.
Paul writes, "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Prove yourselves" (II Corinthians 13:5). Isaiah urges, "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings" (Isaiah 1:16). In his psalm of repentance, on the other hand, David beseeches God, "Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin" (Psalm 51:2). Thus, we see that this rededication to God at Passover is a shared effort between us and God. We renew our faith in Christ's sacrifice, redevote ourselves to the New Covenant, repent of our spiritual failings, and seek forgiveness, and He forgives us and cleanses us of our sins.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
These verses are often touted as "proof" that God's law concerning clean and unclean animals have been abolished. However, in the final analysis, this passage is not even about clean and unclean meats!
In Peter's vision, a huge sheet full of unclean animals is lowered from heaven, and a voice says, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat." However, without hesitation Peter replies, "Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean" (verse 14). The Voice then responds, "What God has cleansed you must not call common" (verse 15).
First, what is the subject of Acts 10? It is evident from a thorough reading of the chapter that it is entirely devoted to the conversion of Cornelius, a Roman centurion (verse 1), the first Gentile baptized into God's church. Peter's vision must be understood against this background to be understood correctly.
Second, it is apparent that Peter himself does not at first understand what his vision meant (verse 17); he certainly does not jump to the conclusion that all meats are now clean. While he is pondering it, a delegation from Cornelius arrives and requests that he travel with them to Caesarea to speak to the centurion. God tells the apostle directly to go with the men, "for I have sent them" (verse 20). Obviously, God was orchestrating the whole affair.
Third, if unclean meats had been approved, would Peter have not understood this from what he had learned from Jesus? He lived with his Savior for over three years. If anyone knew that the law of clean and unclean meats had been abolished by Christ's sacrificial death, it would have been Peter, but at this point, a decade later, he is operating under no such notion.
Fourth, his reply to the Voice, which Peter identifies as the Lord's, is quite confident, even vehement: "Not so, Lord!" In our colloquial English, this is equivalent to "No way!" This was a command that the apostle knew went against everything he knew about God's law. Even though the Voice repeats the command twice more (verse 16), Peter never changes his mind!
Fifth, within the context, Peter himself reveals what the vision meant. To those assembled in Cornelius' house, he says, "You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean" (verse 28). The vision of unclean animals was merely an illustration God used to help Peter understand that salvation was open to those previously held at arm's length (see Acts 11:18). This is further evidenced by the Holy Spirit being poured out visibly on these Gentiles (Acts 10:44-47). Neither Peter nor Luke, the author of Acts, makes any further commentary regarding clean or unclean foods, as the vision had served a greater purpose.
Lastly, nowhere in the context is it ever said that God had cleansed unclean meats—this is something assumed by readers with a predisposition against this statute regulating what we should eat. As Paul says, "The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be" (Romans 8:7). Acts 10:1—11:18 confirms that "what God has cleansed" is the Gentiles, not unclean foods.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Did God Change the Law of Clean and Unclean Meats?
2 Corinthians 7:1
"Let us cleanse ourselves" includes two aspects. First, the negative side involves putting off the carnal characteristics of the kind mentioned in Galatians 5:19-21, the works of the flesh. Second, there is the positive side of putting on godly characteristics, such as judgment, mercy, and faith (which, out of our Savior's own mouth in Matthew 23:23, are weighty matters of law).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 16)
2 Corinthians 13:5
[Do you not know] that Jesus Christ is in you? - Paul exhorts these same Corinthians:
And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people." Therefore "Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you." "I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (II Corinthians 6:16—7:1)
Because we are God's children, we are special, but nothing of our own makes us special. It is only God dwelling in us by His Spirit that separates us from others. But what a difference that makes!
Jesus says in John 14:23, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him." This should make us think, "What kind of home am I providing for the Sovereign God and His glorified Son?" Our desire to give God nothing to judge as unworthy of His presence should run the gamut from our physical health to our most secret thoughts.
Clearly, every one of us falls short. But this is why Paul exhorts us to cleanse ourselves, continually maturing in holiness in the fear of God. We are to scrub deeply out of deep reverence for Him who dwells in us.
What Does 'Examine Yourselves' Mean?
Christians are clearly identified as saints in Scripture. A saint is a "holy one," separated from the unconverted, who do not have God's Spirit. We must not confuse righteousness and holiness. Though they function together in the salvation process, they are specifically not the same qualities. Righteousness is the practical and consistent application, the right doing, of God's way of life. At its foundation, holiness is being cleaned, purified, and set apart, distinguished from others, for God's uses. Holiness is notable by a life as free from the defiling acts of sin as the convert can achieve as he overcomes and grows. Holiness is godliness.
So essential is holiness that the author of Hebrews declares, "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14). Holiness must be pursued. Thus, God's legal declaration of holiness, which we receive through Christ's righteousness as we begin converted life, is not the end of our pursuit of glorifying God. I Peter 1:13-16 charges us with this responsibility:
Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy."
Holiness reflects the attitude and way that God conducts His life. Peter's charge to us is not to add to the righteousness conferred on us by receiving Christ's righteousness. Never in our human lives will we ever be more righteous than at that moment. The purpose of the pursuit of holiness through living God's way in our daily lives is to engrain His way into our pattern of living so thoroughly that it becomes habitual, or as we might say, first nature. This effort as a living sacrifice is our contribution that helps transform us into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 12:1).
II Corinthians 5:17 describes what we presently are in God's purpose: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: old things have passed away; behold all things have become new." II Corinthians 3:17-18 more specifically defines where God's creative process is headed:
Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
J.C. Ryle, the author of Holiness, writes:
Sanctification is the same with regeneration, the same with the renovation of the whole man. Sanctification is the forming and the framing of the new creature; it is the implanting and engraving of the image of Christ upon the poor soul. It is what the apostle [Paul] breathed after. (p. 317)
In Galatians 4:19, Paul writes, "My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you. . . ." He also says in I Corinthians 15:49, "And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly man."
Just as surely as Christ's sacrifice is absolutely vital to our justification before God, so His labor in support of our sanctification forms the reflected image of Him within our very beings, our "hearts," in preparation for life in the Kingdom of God. There would be no salvation, no entrance into that Kingdom, without His efforts because we would be unprepared to live in that sinless environment.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is God's True Church Today?
Justification and sanctification are both essential to God's purposes regarding salvation. However, most are far more familiar with justification.
Some believe that justification preserves one's salvation through to the resurrection. This cannot possibly be so, though, because that would mean that justification is salvation. In Hebrews 6:1, this same author writes, "Let us go on to perfection." At the time one is justified, the perfection or maturity of which he writes is still future.
Sanctification is the inward spiritual transformation that Jesus Christ, as our High Priest, works in a convert by His Holy Spirit following justification. I Corinthians 1:30 informs us that Christ is not only our righteousness but also our sanctification. Hebrews 2:11 names Him as "He who sanctifies," and in the same verse, His brethren are called "those who are being sanctified." During Jesus' prayer in John 17:19, He says, "And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also [the converts] may be sanctified by the truth." Ephesians 5:26-27 adds, ". . . that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish."
If words mean anything, these verses—and there are many more—teach us that Jesus Christ undertakes the sanctification of His brothers and sisters no less than He does their justification.
Hebrews 10:14 is apt to be misunderstood. Perhaps this illustration may help: Imagine an observer, who, looking to his left, sees a perfect work—Christ's sacrificial offering for our justification—already completed in the past. On his right, he sees an ongoing continuous process—our sanctification—stretching off into the future. The author of Hebrews is showing that Christ's one offering is so efficacious that nothing can be added to it. It will provide a solid foundation for the continuing process of godly character growth to holiness for all mankind for all time.
In the Old Testament, the words translated as "sanctify" and "holy" are derived from the same Hebrew root, and in the New Testament, they come from the same Greek root. In both languages, they are used in essentially the same way, meaning "to be made or declared clean or purified." Because of the sense of cleanliness, both imply being different from others of their kind that are not holy, and thus they are separated or set apart from what is common. One author suggests that the cleanliness of something holy makes it "a cut above."
Justification is essentially a legal operation on God's part by accounting Christ's righteousness to us because of faith on our part. Romans 4:1-5 confirms this:
What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something of which to boast, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.
No works on our part are acceptable for justification. There is no way a sinner can "make up" for his sins. By contrast, we are deeply involved in the sanctification process, where works are very important. Ephesians 2:10 from the Amplified Bible clearly states our responsibility following conversion:
For we are God's [own] handiwork (His workmanship), recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live].
After being justified, we are required to live obediently, to submit to God in faith, glorifying God by overcoming Satan, the world, and human nature. Sanctification is normally the longest and most difficult aspect of salvation. Real challenges, sometimes very difficult ones, abound within it if we are to remain faithful to God, the New Covenant, and His purpose.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is God's True Church Today?
The 144,000 are called "virgins." Some have seriously thought these are people who never had sexual intercourse! II Corinthians 11:2, however, supplies a more satisfying answer. The Corinthians had come out of as sexually active and perverted a culture as any in history, but Paul says that his goal was to present them "as a chaste virgin to Christ." Ephesians 5:24-26 shows the people of the church, defiled by sin, becoming unspotted, unwrinkled, holy, and without blemish. Similarly, using Israel as a type, Ezekiel 16:9 shows Christ cleaning up His bride. Cleansed sinners comprise the 144,000, and they are designated as "virgin."
Who Are the 144,000?
Find more Bible verses about Cleansing:
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