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By Jess Holland and Matthew Boffey
On Saturday, they rested. But early Sunday morning, the women leaped into action. Motivated by love, they gathered spices and perfumes to honor the body of Jesus. Little did they know that Sunday morning marked a new day in human history.
God chose a small group of women to share the greatest news of all time. Why? [Read more…]
What is the proper response to violence? In an increasingly violent culture, this is a question we must all ask ourselves. And as Christians, we must answer this question in a way that is not only practical but also faithful. It isn’t just a question of what “works” to reduce violent crime; it’s also a question of how God has called his people to live. In what follows, I will offer my own convictions, though I readily admit that fellow Christians will differ in their responses to this sensitive subject.
I can think of no better place to start—for this or any other issue—than with Jesus. So let’s begin by considering what he has to say on the subject.
How to be sons of your heavenly Father
When asked about the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40).
Jesus does something radical here. He doesn’t simply list the most important commands—he reframes the entire Law in the light of one basic mandate: love. Love is the reason for every command God has given.
This concept is so important that all three Synoptic Gospels include a similar account (see Mark 12:28ff and Luke 10:25ff), and in the Gospel of John, Jesus narrows it down to just the second half. “This is my commandment: that you love one another just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this: that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12–13).
Jesus essentially says that love of neighbor (or “one another” or “friends”) is how you show love to God, and he defines that love as sacrificing yourself for the sake of others. This echoes what he said in the parable of the sheep and goats, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). And such love of God via love of neighbor fulfils the Law, as Paul and James would later confirm (see Romans 13:8–10, Galatians 5:14, and James 2:8).
But “who is my neighbor?” This question was posed to Jesus in Luke’s account cited above. Jesus responded with a parable. And in this parable—we call it “the good Samaritan”—Jesus cast the most unlikely of characters for the role of neighbor. Jews hated Samaritans. They viewed them as the lowest of the low. Yet this is who Jesus said to love.
But that’s not all Jesus taught. He didn’t merely say, “Love the neighbors you don’t really like.” He also said, “Love your enemies.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48)
Jesus taught that love of enemies is so important, it defines us as sons of our heavenly Father. God loves his enemies, and so must we. But who is my enemy? And what does it look like to love them? Let’s jump back a few verses to give context to Jesus’ words:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38–42)
When Jesus spoke of those who force you to go a mile, he was referring to the Roman soldiers occupying Israel. These violent men were known for executing Jews at random, just to show off their power and keep their subjects in line. Yet these are the kinds of people Jesus said we must love—evil people intent on harming us.
In Luke’s parallel account, Jesus further explains how to love our enemies, “. . . do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27–28). And when we do this, “. . . you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35–36).
Having seen the importance of Jesus’ mandate to love everyone—including those who would do us harm—we’ll now look at how Jesus lived this principle in his own life. John tells us that “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6). So we must consider how Jesus responded to violence, for we ought to respond in the same way.
To that end, let’s examine the most violent episode in Jesus’ life—his arrest and crucifixion.
Buy a sword . . . but don’t use it
Shortly before his arrest, Jesus told his disciples, “Let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36). Why did Jesus say this? Was he preparing them to defend themselves? Not quite. Jesus explained, “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment” (Luke 22:37).
The disciples said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords,” to which Jesus responded, “It is enough” (Luke 22:38). Enough for what? Two swords would hardly have provided sufficient defense against “a great crowd with swords and clubs” (Matthew 26:47), but they were enough to fulfil the Scripture. Alternatively, many translations (CEB, CEV, HCSB, ISV, etc.) suggest that Jesus’ response is better rendered, “Enough of that!”—indicating that the disciples had misunderstood his intent.
When an armed band of soldiers came to arrest Jesus, his disciples asked, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” (Luke 22:49). Then Peter, failing to wait for Jesus’ response, drew his sword and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear (John 18:10).
Jesus said, “No more of this!” (Luke 22:51). “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:52–54). And he healed the servant’s ear.
To the crowd he said, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled” (Matthew 26:55–56).
Jesus then allowed himself to be arrested, endured a mock trial by the Sanhedrin, and ultimately came before Pilate, who said, “Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” (John 18:35). Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36).
Jesus endured scourging, mocking, humiliation, beating, spitting—all with no attempt at retaliation. He then went to Golgotha, where he allowed himself to be crucified between two criminals. While dying on the cross at the hands of his enemies, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
In summary, Jesus prohibited his disciples from using a sword, even in self-defense. He instead entrusted himself to the Father, enduring the suffering that followed. He made it clear that his kingdom does not follow the pattern of this world—his followers do not fight. And as his ultimate response to the violence he had suffered, Jesus forgave those responsible for his persecution.
At this point, an observation should be made. Jesus had a very specific mission to accomplish. He was in the process of fulfilling Scripture and atoning for the sins of mankind. Though we may face violence, we will not do so under these same circumstances. Does this negate the idea that we should follow Jesus’ example, at least in this instance?
Peter—having walked in the Spirit for some time since his incident with the sword—provides us with a definitive answer to this question:
For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:20–23, emphasis added)
Having now examined both Jesus’ instructions and his example, let’s consider how we can practically live this out.
The first thing to clarify is that Jesus never told us to adopt a position of passivity. He did not mean that we should simply let evil have its way and do nothing to stop it. For this reason, I tend to like the term “nonviolent resistance” better than “pacifism.”
But didn’t Jesus say, “Do not resist the one who is evil”? That is one possible translation, but it isn’t without its difficulties.
Here’s what Preston Sprinkle has to say in his book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence:
The Greek word for “resist” is anthistemi, and it often (though not always) refers specifically to violent resistance. Throughout the Old Testament, for instance, anthistemi refers to military action: Israel resists its enemy in battle, and the Canaanites weren’t able to resist Israel in the conquest. In the New Testament, other words related to anthistemi refer to violent revolts, insurrections, and war. Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, almost always used anthistemi in ways that convey some sort of violent action. So when Jesus tells His followers not to resist evil people, He uses a word that suggests a violent resistance.
N.T. Wright, in Matthew for Everyone, Part 1, translates this phrase as “don’t use violence to resist evil!” Rather than prohibiting resistance, Jesus prescribed a very different kind of resistance. No longer should we respond in kind—“an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” We should instead respond by turning the tables on our aggressors. N.T. Wright explains further:
Jesus offers a new sort of justice, a creative, healing, restorative justice. The old justice found in the Bible was designed to prevent revenge running away with itself. Better an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth than an escalating feud with each side going one worse than the other. But Jesus goes one better still. Better to have no vengeance at all, but rather a creative way forward, reflecting the astonishingly patient love of God himself, who wants Israel to shine his light into the world so that all people will see that he is the one true God, and that his deepest nature is overflowing love. No other god encourages people to behave in a way like this!
So Jesus gives three hints of the sort of thing he has in mind. To be struck on the right cheek, in that world, almost certainly meant being hit with the back of the right hand. That’s not just violence, but an insult: it implies that you’re an inferior, perhaps a slave, a child, or (in that world, and sometimes even today) a woman. What’s the answer? Hitting back only keeps the evil in circulation. Offering the other cheek implies: hit me again if you like, but now as an equal, not an inferior.
Or suppose you’re in a lawcourt where a powerful enemy is suing you (perhaps for non-payment of some huge debt) and wants the shirt off your back. You can’t win; but you can show him what he’s really doing. Give him your cloak as well; and, in a world where most people only wore those two garments, shame him with your impoverished nakedness. This is what the rich, powerful and careless are doing. They are reducing the poor to a state of shame.
The third example clearly reflects the Roman military occupation. Roman soldiers had the right to force civilians to carry their equipment for one mile. But the law was quite strict; it forbade them to make someone go more than that. Turn the tables on them, advises Jesus. Don’t fret and fume and plot revenge. Copy your generous God! Go a second mile, and astonish the soldier (and perhaps alarm him—what if his commanding officer found out?) with the news that there is a different way to be human, a way which doesn’t plot revenge, which doesn’t join the armed resistance movement (that’s what verse 39 means), but which wins God’s kind of victory over violence and injustice.
Such nonviolent resistance is risky. It makes us vulnerable. But it also exposes our aggressors’ sins for what they are. And if we believe what Jesus said—that “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52)—then our nonviolent response is actually much safer than carrying a weapon. Wouldn’t you rather entrust yourself to the God who rules the universe than to a piece of steel?
For more specific suggestions on how to respond nonviolently, along with real-life examples, check out Nonviolent Action: What Christian Ethics Demands but Most Christians Have Never Really Tried by Ron Sider.
But in this violent world, there are no foolproof methods of preventing violence. When we choose to live in nonviolent love, we accept the possibility that we will “share Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 4:13). When that happens, we have one further response—one more way in which we follow the example Jesus left for us.
It would be easy for me to speak of forgiveness when I have had no major offenses to forgive. So I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to close this post by pointing you to Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof joined them for an evening Bible study. After initially participating with their study, he pulled out a gun, and he murdered nine people. If there was ever a case for retaliation—for responding to violence with violence—surely this would be it? But that’s not what happened.
This is how the survivors and relatives responded:
“No matter how much hate there is in the world, it’s no match for love” Chis Singleton, son of slain Sharonda Singleton, said. “Love is always stronger than hate.”
And the daughter of Ethel Lance, addressing the killer directly in court, said, “I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her ever again. But I forgive you.”
She added: “You hurt me, you hurt a lot of people. May God forgive you.”
Anthony Thompson, husband of the slain Myra Thompson, echoed Lance’s daughter’s words. “I forgive you, my family forgives you,” he said.
Felecia Sanders, the grandmother who shielded her 5-year-old granddaughter from the gunfire, but lost her son in process, told the killer that the parishioners “welcomed you Wednesday night at our Bible study with open arms.”
She continued, fighting tears: “You have killed some of the most beautiful people that I know . . . And it will never be the same. But as we said in Bible study, we enjoyed you. May God have mercy on you.”
Alana Simmons, granddaughter of victim Daniel Simmons, said: “Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate . . . everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived and loved and their legacies will live on.”
“Hate won’t win,” she concluded firmly.
A relative added, “I am a work in progress and I acknowledge that I am very angry. But we are the family that love built. We have no room for hate so we have to forgive.”
In Matthew 4:1–11, Jesus is led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Whether you see this passage as a formula for resisting temptation, a glimpse into Jesus’ true character, or something else, there’s a lot we can learn by taking a closer look at this passage.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. —Matthew 4:1
The Faithlife Study Bible says, “God led his people through the desert for 40 years due to their unfaithfulness. The Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness for 40 days so that his fidelity might be set in contrast to the nation’s infidelity.”
In the third layer of FSB notes, you’ll find a link to an article on “The Temptations of Christ” by John McKinley.
McKinley says, “Though sinless, Jesus experienced the moral struggle between the desire to do right and the desire to sin. This internal temptation is a basic experience all people encounter. For his mission of salvation, Jesus stood in the place of sinful people, suffered the onslaught of temptation, and triumphed by never giving into sin. . . . His empathy and willingness to help those undergoing temptation originate in his personal experience of enduring the struggle between desires for right and wrong. Hebrews 4:16 urges Christians to seek Jesus’ help as one who both understands and possesses the ability to provide aid to surmount temptation.”
If you’ve joined the Community Study Bible group, your FSB experience of Matthew 4 includes insights from other believers—academics and laypeople alike.
These notes expose you to insights from a range of people and perspectives, like these notes attached to Matthew 4:1:
David Taylor Jr. explains that in this passage, Christ models how we should prepare for and face temptation in our own lives:
Dale A. Brueggemann shares a related quote from another resource—Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture:
And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. —Matthew 4:2
When I first encountered this passage years ago, I thought the 40 days of fasting suggested Jesus was sustained by the Spirit, because that’s a long time to go without food. The FSB points out that this is not what the text is implying or emphasizing:
“Fasting during this time period meant eating nothing at all; people can safely go without food for a long period of time. The text does not seem to imply that Jesus was sustained supernaturally during his fast—instead, it emphasizes that he experienced hunger. His 40-day fast recalls the 40 years in the desert, Moses’ 40 days on the mountain, and Elijah’s 40 days in the wilderness at Mount Horeb.”
And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ —Matthew 4:3
The FSB notes highlight three key pieces of this verse:
1. The tempter came and said to him
The text does not say whether the devil is in human form.
2. “If you are the Son of God”
The devil uses this challenge for all three temptations. He turns the words of Matthew 3:17 into a taunt.
3. “Command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
This parallels the Israelites’ failure in the desert. They complained that God did not provide enough food for them (Exodus 16:3). The devil preys upon Jesus’ hunger in an attempt to get him to misuse his power.
Dale A. Brueggemann adds a quote from Cyril of Alexandria, examining the devil’s motives for his request of Jesus:
Food for thought: If Jesus was sustained supernaturally in the desert, then the devil’s request for a sign from God in the form of food would actually undermine the very miracle that was already taking place. While as the FSB points out, that isn’t necessarily what the passage is emphasizing or implying, the devil does consistently attempt to pit the Son against the Father, since the Father has already publicly affirmed his Son (Matthew 3:17).
But he answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”‘ —Matthew 4:4
The FSB says, “Jesus’ reply comes from Deuteronomy 8:3. In his temptation, he chooses to quote Scripture.”
Brueggemann adds two notes—a quote from Maximus of Turin and a reflection of his own:
Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple . . . —Matthew 4:5
When you read this verse in the FSB, you’ll find a video of Jerusalem’s Southern Steps, helping you imagine what the scene may have looked like:
The FSB notes say that the highest point “likely refers to a high point on the front of the temple, rather than a point overlooking the Kidron Valley. If the devil is encouraging Christ to make a public display, the city side is likely.”
This public setting would parallel the public baptism, during which God already publicly revealed that Jesus was the Son (Matthew 3:17). By making this test public (and probably more prominent), it is as if the devil is saying that God’s voice was not enough to verify Jesus’ divinity.
Satan is trying to steal God’s thunder.
. . . and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ —Matthew 4:6
The FSB says, “This test of God’s providence is far more extreme than any test Israel underwent in the desert. No biblical precedent exists for God’s choosing to save someone from falling in this way. Nonetheless, the principle mirrors Exodus 17—the people tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us, or not?’ (Exodus 17:2).”
When he says, “It is written,” Satan cites Scripture, “perhaps mocking Jesus’ quotation. Both lines come from Psalm 91, but are taken out of context. The original sense is that the Lord’s protection is so near and careful that his angels will not even let people hurt their feet while walking. It does not speak of the angels protecting those who make a show of jumping off buildings” (FSB).
The notes go on to say, “Psalm 91 had probably acquired a messianic interpretation in Jesus’ day. The devil is likely saying, ‘If you are the son of God, then these verses about the Messiah apply to you.’ Alternatively, the devil may only mean, ‘If this is the promise to ordinary humans, how much more should it apply to you as God’s Son?'”
In the Community Study Bible, Brueggemann shares a quote from St. Jerome:
Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”‘ —Matthew 4:7
Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16, “which refers to the Israelites’ testing the Lord in Exodus 17:2–7. The devil tempts Jesus to doubt the Lord’s providence like the Israelites had” (FSB).
But the devil is persistent.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. —Matthew 4:8
There is some ambiguity surrounding the word we translate as “showed.” The FSB notes highlight this term:
“It is uncertain what the evangelist means to describe. The word deiknymi means ‘to show or point out.’ The devil probably simply points out the general direction of the kingdoms of the earth, naming them as he does so. Visions or physical movement may be involved, but this text does not mention such phenomena.”
Brueggemann shares his own insight into verses 8 and 9:
And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ —Matthew 4:9
Despite the truth of Psalm 24:1, the devil is preying on Jewish perceptions in Matthew 4:9.
“By Jesus’ time, Jewish people commonly regarded the nations surrounding them as the domain of the evil one. They recognized that the earth was the Lord’s, but they believed the kingdoms of wicked rulers were in the service of the devil” (FSB).
The FSB also provides clarity about the phrase “worship me”:
“The word proskynēsēs does not necessarily refer to religious worship; it can also be used to describe the honor due to an earthly king in antiquity.”
The second layer of notes goes into more detail:
“Here, the devil tempts Jesus to trust in worldly power rather than the power of God. The Israelites were also tempted this way in the desert (and afterward, in the land of Israel). In Numbers 13, the scouts gave reports that the inhabitants of the promised land were too strong. The Israelites despaired because of their lack of faith. Here, the devil implies that God’s chosen one would need help in coming to rule all things—as the Messiah was expected to do. But Jesus’ kingdom is of a different sort—it is the kingdom of God.”
Brueggemann shares a thought inspired by the devil’s promises:
Finally, Jesus has had enough.
Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”‘
“Jesus later says something similar to Peter (Matthew 16:23), who had been speaking against Jesus’ death and crucifixion. Peter probably hoped for the sort of worldly power the devil had offered” (FSB).
Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. —Matthew 4:11
“In contrast, Luke mentions that the devil departs only until a more opportune time. . . . Jesus could have simply driven the devil away; instead, he chooses to undergo the temptations. As a result, the author of the book of Hebrews writes that Jesus was tempted in all things as we are, yet is without sin (Hebrews 4:15)” (FSB).
Jesus could have dismissed the devil the moment he appeared, but because he didn’t, we have a Messiah who knows what it means to be weak, tempted, and human (Hebrews 2:18).
* * *
Get the free Faithlife Study Bible today, and start exploring God’s Word with three layers of study notes.
Jesus taught in front of thousands of people throughout his lifetime. Wherever he went, huge crowds followed him (Mark 5:24, Mark 10:1, Matthew 4:25, Matthew 8:1, Matthew 14:13).
But not everyone that Jesus taught continued to follow him. Not everyone that followed him became his disciple. And even within his disciples, Jesus had an inner circle—the ones he invested in the most (Mark 9:2–3).
In The Master Plan of Evangelism, Robert E. Coleman examines Jesus’ strategy:
Jesus was not trying to impress the crowd, but to usher in a kingdom. This meant that he needed people who could lead the multitudes. What good would it have been for his ultimate objective to arouse the masses to follow him if these people had no subsequent supervision or instruction in the Way? It had been demonstrated on numerous occasions that the crowd was an easy prey to false gods when left without proper care. . . .Thus, before the world could ever be permanently helped, people would have to be raised up who could lead the multitudes in the things of God.
As humans, we can’t invest the same amount of energy into our entire church that we invest into our small groups, families, mentors, or disciples. That doesn’t mean we neglect our church, it just means that the way we pour into the 100, 1,000, or 10,000 people that we learn and grow alongside looks very different than the way we pour into those who are closest to us.
Our lives naturally imitate Jesus’ circles of intimacy, because we are physical beings bound by physical constraints—we don’t have all the time in the world, and we can’t be everywhere at once.
We choose who to spend the most time with and who we invest most of our lives into.
Your virtual inner circle
Faithlife Groups are designed to imitate our real-life church structure. Within your church’s group, you can add subgroups, like your small group, your ministry team, or your accountability partners.
In each of these groups, the things you share and the ways you pray for and support each other look completely different. The larger your church, the more important these intimacy circles become.
With the ability to nest Faithlife Groups within larger groups, they’re kind of like Matryoshka dolls:
Within a single church, there could be dozens of smaller groups of people that meet and share life together. Faithlife Groups lets you keep all of those groups under the umbrella of your church.
Small groups and ministry teams can share prayer lists, curriculum, discussions, and announcements in privacy, while your church as a whole can share entirely separate prayer lists, discussions, newsletters, Community Notes, and more.
Faithlife Groups are just one more way you can keep church from feeling like a building and extend your relationships beyond weekly handshakes.
Talk to your church about using Faithlife Groups—the free church communication tool.
If you’ve downloaded your copy of the free Faithlife Study Bible, you already have a great start on deeper Bible study. But did you know the FSB connects directly to other Logos resources in your library, too? If you have another book that focuses on a particular passage, you can read the FSB notes right alongside it.
A great example is The Expanded Bible: New Testament—it’s the perfect supplement to your FSB. In each line, The Expanded Bible: New Testament incorporates the information you’d find in significant Bible reference works, so you can read the Bible and see alternate interpretations of words, phrases, or idioms right in the text.
John Ortberg says, “This project makes the best of biblical scholarship more available to any interested reader of the Bible.”
Christian Monthly Standard calls it “A very useful resource. The Expanded Bible gives its readers quick access to the nuances and deeper meanings in the Scriptures.”
You’ve probably heard about Logos, but if you’re the kind of person who prefers to test the water first, adding The Expanded Bible: New Testament to your Faithlife Study Bible is like dipping your toe in—it shows you how incredible the pool is. For just two more days, The Expanded Bible: New Testament can be yours for just $11.95.
Ready to jump in?
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In the information age, education is always at our finger tips. When we don’t know something, we can find multiple answers in an instant. We live in a constant state of education—we’re always learning something.
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In the Bible, Jesus performed a lot of miracles. He healed people. He had power over nature. He even overcame death. But what about the miracles he didn’t do? Here are three instances in the Bible where Jesus chose not to do the miraculous wonders he was known for:
1. A miracle without faith
In Mark 6 (and Matthew 13), Jesus returns to Nazareth, his hometown. These people knew Jesus before he started his ministry.
And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him (Mark 6:2–3).
Two verses later: “And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them” (Mark 6:5). The NLT says, “And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them.”
While the NIV says Jesus couldn’t do miracles in Nazareth, this isn’t suggesting that faith is some sort of fuel for miracles, and Jesus was running on empty. Most likely, the lack of faith meant that people didn’t ask Jesus to help them—or else, because of their lack of faith, Jesus chose not to. The bottom line is, there was no faith, so in this instance, he didn’t.
2. A “sign from heaven”
After Jesus feeds the 4,000 in Decapolis, he and his disciples get into a boat and head to Dalmanutha.
The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side (Mark 8:11–13).
Miracles are not for our entertainment. They are not a prerequisite for faith. If all of creation testifies about its creator (Romans 1:20, Psalm 19:1), why should he have to give us a personal sign from heaven on top of that? If you ask God for a sign from heaven like the Pharisees, chances are you’ll be disappointed like the Pharisees.
3. A miracle that contradicted God’s plan
As Jesus hung on the Cross, his divinity was mocked. Again, people wanted to see a sign from heaven, and their requests for a miracle emerged from a severe lack of faith—they did not believe Jesus was who he said he was, and they would not believe him unless the God of the universe did what they asked, right then and there. As he hung there dying, Jesus, who was fully God, could have come down from that cross. Fully man, Jesus may have even been tempted by the prospect (Hebrews 2:18). But he didn’t come down.
And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe” (Mark 15:29–32).
Jesus didn’t come down because the Cross had a purpose. The miracle of his survival would have undermined the greater miracle of his resurrection.
It’s easy to think about the miracles that Jesus did do. In brief interactions, he radically altered people’s lives. But his ways are higher (Isaiah 55:8–9), and because of that, the miracles Jesus didn’t do are equally important in helping us understand the inexplicable.
The last week of Jesus’ ministry, often called Passion Week, was packed with action—powerful teaching, bold confrontation, intrigue, and prophecy both fulfilled and made anew. Explore it all with the free Faithlife Study Bible app.
Passion Week begins when Jesus rides into the Jerusalem on a donkey to the adulation and cries of, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” The account is recorded in several different places in Scripture, but the most detailed is found in Matthew 21:1–11. The study notes accompanying that passage include an detailed and visually interesting infographic:
In this one event, Jesus fulfilled a number of Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah, something he did no less than 68 times in his life. This chart details each of them:
Jesus found many opportunities to preach throughout Passion Week. The Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28–32), Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33–45), Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1–14), The Great Commandment (Matthew 22:34–40), and the Seven Woes to the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:1–36). And whenever Jesus taught, the religious leaders were close by to challenge him. One of their Passion Week challenges came in the form of a trick question about taxes, intended to trap Jesus. The Pharisees asked him if it was lawful to pay Roman taxes—a clever question because whether Jesus answered yes or no, the answer could be used against him. Jesus managed to answer without giving them the ammunition they anticipated. The Faithlife Study Bible notes explain: “Jesus both settles the matter and avoids incriminating Himself. The coin had Caesar’s image and title on it, and therefore by extension, belonged to Caesar—it was his currency. However, if Caesar got his due, God should likewise receive His due—the whole earth is His and everything in it (Psalm 24:1). What they were required to give God was of far greater worth than a coin—their entire lives. The currency of the kingdom of God is based on following Christ.” The Faithlife Study Bible also includes this great image so we can visualize the coin in question:
After this, the religious leaders in Israel began making plans to kill Jesus. Scripture uses a unique word to describe their actions—dolos. It means deceitful, underhanded, or treacherous. The FSB’s study notes point it out and suggest that Matthew used it to contrast Jesus’ innocence and righteousness. I also see a link to A Greek–English Lexicon of the New Testament, since I have that book in my Logos library (don’t forget that books you get on Logos.com network automatically with your other resources to make them more powerful). The last night of Jesus’ ministry was spent with his disciples celebrating the Jewish holiday of Passover. He instituted our New Testament observance of communion in the midst of the Passover celebration. Afterward, Jesus and his disciples walked from the city to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he would be arrested later that evening. We sent a video-production team to Israel to capture images and video of important locations like this. You can take a virtual stroll through the garden in the study notes on Matthew 26:36:
Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ disciples, led his enemies to the garden where they could arrest him in secret. Ten of the disciples fled, but Peter jumped to his defense, wounding a servant of the High Priest. Jesus intervened, reminding him that the armies of heaven stood ready to defend them all, but he chose not to call on them. The religious leaders of Israel bribed witnesses to accuse him in a secret trial held in the council chamber. The Faithlife Study Bible includes this image, helping you imagine the setting:
They found him guilty, but lacked the authority to carry out the death sentence they sought, so they brought Jesus to appear before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Prefect in Jerusalem. For years, Scripture was the only record of Pilate. Many skeptics denied his existence until an inscription was uncovered by Robert Bull in 1982. With this archaeological discovery, the details of the biblical narrative were once again confirmed accurate:
Though Pilate did not want to order Jesus’ execution at first, eventually he succumbed to the public pressure whipped up by the religious leaders. Jesus was crucified outside the city walls at a place called Golgotha, which means “place of the skull.” Protestant archaeologists in the nineteenth century identified this hill as the most likely spot because its location fits the biblical description and the rock formation does resemble a skull. The Faithlife Study Bible includes this image:
If the story ended there, we probably would not know it today. But of course, Jesus did not stay dead. Three days after his execution, two women traveled to his tomb to pay their respects and felt an earthquake beneath them. When they arrived at the tomb, they found it empty. An angel told them not to fear, because Jesus had risen from the dead. The account is recorded in Matthew 28, and the Faithlife Study Bible puts it this way:
This chapter contains the most important event in human history: the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah from the dead. In fulfillment of his prediction, He conquers the grave and rises again to life.
So we celebrate, once a week on Sunday and once a year on Easter, the victory that Jesus won over death, hell, and the grave. He is risen. He is risen indeed.
To explore Passion Week and the rest of Scripture in a new way, download the free Faithlife Study Bible on your smartphone or tablet today.
It probably felt funny standing on the Galilean hillside that spring after everything that had happened. The people were all familiar, but not quite the same. I imagine Peter looking over Jesus’ shoulder, expecting the Roman cavalry to crest the ridge any moment and break up their little gathering. John was just happy to be with Jesus once again, and he was determined to savor every moment. There were a few skeptics, even among the 11 remaining disciples, but everyone waited, anxious to hear what Jesus would say this time. He stretched out his arms, raised his voice, and issued a command:
“Go therefore and make disciples . . .” (Matthew 28:19)
After following Jesus for three years, hearing his teaching, and witnessing his miracles, the disciples were told to go recruit.
Were they surprised? Were they scared? These are the questions I wish Scripture answered more often. We don’t really know how those 11 men felt, but we do know how they acted. They obeyed. Their actions in the months and years that followed are recorded for us in another book of the Bible—”Acts” is short for “the Acts of the Apostles.”
While I may never get an answer to how it felt, if I read the passage in my Faithlife Study Bible app, I get extra details not otherwise available, like this picture of Mount Tabor, where Jesus probably spoke these last words of his earthly ministry.
These were the last words Jesus spoke to his followers on earth, and the Faithlife Study Bible helps us understand the context in which they were spoken. Download it free from your favorite app store, and you can start enjoying the extra details in this and many other passages.