Bible Word Study on Harpazo

Last Updated: October 27, 2022

Introduction

One of the many ongoing theological debates in the early part of the 21st century is the rapture. Is it biblical? When will it happen? Does it carry the sense of meeting a dignitary? The goal of this word study is to analyze the occurrences of harpazo (ἁρπάζω), the Greek term behind the Latin rapio (“rapture”), in the New Testament as a starting point for further study on the rapture.

Basic Meaning of Harpazo

The basic meaning of harpazo is “to seize, carry off by force.”[1] Strong traces its meaning to haireomai (αἱρέομαι), meaning “to choose.”[2] The Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek agrees, suggesting the meanings “to snatch, wrench, carry off (by force).”[3] Danker concurs, offering the meanings “to make off w. someone’s property … to grab or seize suddenly.”[4] The basic sense of harpazo, then, is a quick and forceful taking, esp. of physical persons or property.

Occurrences of Harpazo in the New Testament

The word harpazo occurs at least 13 times in 13 verses in the New Testament. There is a 14th occurrence in Matthew 12:29 in some manuscripts. These occurrences are as follows:

VerseTextNotes
Matt 11:12And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.The “violent” do … to the “kingdom of heaven.” Whether “violence” should be taken in physical or symbolic terms and whether it is opposing or advancing the Kingdom (c.f., Luke 16:16) is debated.
Matt 12:29Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.Debatable occurrence, διαρπάζω in some MSS. The “one” does … to the strong man, physically taking away the goods.
Matt 13:19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside.The “wicked one” (Satan) does … to the seed that was sown in the heart of the person who “hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it” (v. 18), taking the seed away from their hearts.
John 6:15Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.Jesus knew that “those men” (v. 14) intended to do … to Him, taking Him with the purpose of crowning Him their king.
John 10:12But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them.The “wolf” does … to the Christ’s sheep (believers, c.f. 10:28), taking them from Him and causing them to be scattered away from Christ’s watchful protection.
John 10:28And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.Jesus prohibits “anyone” from doing … to His sheep (believers) and taking them away from Him by granting them eternal life with Him.
John 10:29My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.Jesus protects His sheep (believers) whom the Father has given to Him, with the result that “no one” does … to His sheep, taking them away from Him.
Acts 8:39Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.The “Spirit of the Lord” does … to Philip, taking him away from the eunuch he had just baptized to Azotus and he continued preaching the gospel in all the cities on his way to Caesarea (v. 40).
Acts 23:10Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks.The “soldiers” do … to Paul, taking him from among the chaos of the council to the safety of the barracks.
2 Cor 12:2I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven.God (divine passive) does … to Paul (writing in the 3rd person), taking him (whether bodily or in spirit only is unknown, v. 3) from earth into “the third heaven.”
2 Cor 12:4how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.As before, where God does … to Paul, taking him from earth into “Paradise” where Paul hears words he says people ought not to utter.
1 Thess 4:17Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.God (divine passive) does … to “we who are alive,” taking them from earth to “the clouds” where they meet Christ and they will from this time forward remain with Him.
Jude 23but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.Jude commands that his readers do … to others (who have followed after the false teachers), taking them “out of the fire” (final judgment) that they may receive salvation.
Rev 12:5She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne.God (divine passive) does … to the Child of the pregnant woman, taking the Child from earth (v. 4) to heaven, referring to the ascension of Christ.

Themes of Harpazo in the New Testament

The New Testament occurrences of harpazo are grouped into five major themes below based on the nature of the subject, the action, and the object.

Twice, harpazo is performed on ideas: the kingdom of heaven (Matt 11:12) and the word of the kingdom (Matt 13:19).

Twice, harpazo is performed on non-human things: goods (Matt 12:29) and sheep (John 10:12).

Twice, harpazo is performed by humans physically toward other humans: when the crowds sought to make Jesus king (John 6:15) and when Paul was taken from the council (Acts 23:10).

Three times, harpazo is performed spiritually by persons who are not God toward humans: Jesus twice says no one can take believers from him (John 10:28, 29; including Satan and spiritual beings) and Jude tells believers to save others by pulling them from the fire (Jude 23).

Five times, harpazo is performed by God toward humans: once by the Spirit on Philip (Acts 8:39), twice when God took Paul into the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2, 4), once when believers meet Christ in the air (1 Thess 4:17), and once describing the ascension of Christ (Rev 12:5).

Six occurrences involve attempted or actual physical relocation (Matt 12:29; John 6:15; 10:12; Acts 8:39; 23:10; Rev 12:5). Three occurrences are spiritual, referring to either losing or gaining salvation (John 10:28, 29; Jude 23). The physical/spiritual nature of three occurrences is unclear—Paul’s experience (2 Cor 12:2, 4) and the rapture (1 Thess 4:17).

Occurrences of Harpazo in the Septuagint (LXX)

The word harpazo occurs 39 times in 38 verses in the Septuagint (LXX).[5] All but two involve physical relocation. One of the two exceptions is Psalm 7:3, a symbolic depiction of death as a snatching of the soul: 

lest he snatch my soul as a lion 
            while there is no one to redeem nor to save.

The second exception is Judith 16:9, a symbolic depiction of the fall of Assyria (16:3):

Her sandal ravished his eye,
            and her beauty captured his soul;
            the sword went through his neck.

Regarding the themes of harpazo previously mentioned, the LXX supports the generally physical sense of harpazo, which may be used in a plain-sense fashion or metaphorically.

Select References on Harpazo

New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis

In 1 Thess 4:13–17 Paul deals with the final rapture into the fellowship of the redeemed at the last day. It was not the sufferings of the church that caused Paul to make the statement, but the concern of some of its members about the fate of Christians who had already died. This concern is removed by the certainty of resurrection. When the Lord comes, those Christians who have died will rise first, and those who are still alive will not die but will be taken up directly into the fellowship of those who have already been raised, “as they leave the gates of the world to meet in the air the Christ acclaimed as Lord” (E. Petersen, Heis Theos [1926], 380).[6]

Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament

A special area in which the vb. is used is that of experiences of being carried off supernaturally (5 occurrences in the NT). Ἁρπάζω and its compounds (corresponding to Lat. rapio, rapior) are the Greek terms used earliest for such experiences, including such experiences within the earthly realm (Lohfink 42 provides examples). The latter is meant in Acts 8:39 when Philip is caught up by the Spirit of the Lord following his baptism of the eunuch. Paul speaks of an ecstatic experience of being “caught up to the third heaven,” “into Paradise” (2 Cor 12:2, 4; RSV vv. 2, 3) in the traditional formulas of the rapture and ascension texts of ancient and Jewish literature (cf. esp. 2 Enoch 8; further examples in H. Windisch, Der zweite Korintherbrief [KEK] 369–80; Lohfink 32–73). According to 1 Thess 4:17a those “who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with [those who have already died] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” with the goal of unending union “with (σύν) the Lord.”[7]

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

“To take something forcefully” (firmly, quickly or rapaciously). Thus a. “to steal” (Jos. Ant., 20, 214 of robbers), b. “To capture in war.” In the NT the word is used in parables which speak of the conflict between the kingdom of God and that of Satan: ἁ λύκος ἁρπάζει (steals) τὰ πρόβατα, Jn. 10:12; οὐχ ἁρπάσει (forcefully snatch) τις αὐτὰ ἐκ τῆς χειρός μου, Jn. 10:28, 29; Mt. 12:29 (the battle between the strong man and the stronger): τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ ἁρπάσαι. c. With the thought of speed: Jos. Ant., 6, 238: ἁρπάσας τὸ δόρυἀνεπήδησεν (Saul); also Jd. 23: to “snatch” out of the fire. d. “To take rapaciously”: Epict. Diss., IV, 7, 22: ἰσχαδοκάρυά τις διαρριπτεῖ· τὰ παιδία ἁρπάζει. e. “To take a man by force”: Chrys. Beat. Philog., VI, 2 (MPG, 48, 751): ἐκ μέσης τῆς ἀγορᾶς ἁρπασθείς, Jn. 6:15; Ac. 23:10. Similarly in Mt. 13:19: “to take away.” f. To denote the rapture of visions. In this sense it does not occur in the LXX, which instead uses αἴρειν at 3 Βασ‌. 18:12; Ez. 3:14 and ἀναλαμβάνειν at Ez. 3:12. It is found, however, in the pseudepigr.: Apc. Mos. 37; Apc. Esr. 5:7; Gr. Bar. passim. In the NT it occurs at 2 C. 12:2, 4 (vision); 1 Th. 4:17; Rev. 12:5 (“to catch up or away”); Ac. 8:39—always expressing the mighty operation of God.[8]

Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible

The “catching up” (from Lat. rapti.) of the saints to meet the Lord in the air, mentioned by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:17. Paul’s comments in 1 Thess. 4:14–18 are prompted by the expressions of excessive grief by some in the young congregation at the loss of loved ones. He comforts them by deepening their hope of resurrection, which he assures them will not disadvantage the deceased at all, but will mark the reunion of all believers and their permanent abiding with the Lord in resurrected glory.[9]

Conclusion

The basic meaning of harpazo (ἁρπάζω), the Greek term behind the Latin rapio (“rapture”), is a is a quick and forceful taking. Biblically, it is performed by God. living things, and ideas, to living things, objects, and ideas. It covers a variety of events, including plundering goods, relocating people, taking ideas, and altering a person’s eternal destiny.

As to God’s harpazo of humans, it involves relocating them, as in the cases of Philip (Acts 8:39), Paul (2 Cor 12:2–4), believers (1 Thess 4:17) and the ascension of Christ (Rev 12:5). It can certainly be physical, as in the cases of Philip and Christ’s ascension. Whether it may be purely spiritual is unclear (2 Cor 12:3).

Regarding whether the Rapture is biblical and who participates, it is a real event involving believers at the time when Christ descends from heaven into the air (1 Thess 4:17). It is primarily physical in the Bible, suggesting that the rapture involves the physical relocation of the human body of its participants.

Regarding the timing of the Rapture, where the participants go afterward, and its purpose, the word harpazo does notcarry a sense of timeframe, direction, or purpose. The timing of the rapture and the idea of meeting a dignitary require further study.


[1] James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1995), s.v. “ἁρπάζω.” Logos Bible Software.

[2] Ibid., s.v. “αἱρέομαι.”

[3] Franco Montanari, “ἁρπάζω,” in The Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek, ed. Madeleine Goh and Chad Schroeder (Boston: Brill, 2015). Italics his. Logos Bible Software.

[4] Frederick William Danker, ed., “ἁρπάζω,” in A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rded. (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000), 134. Logos Bible Software.

[5] Ken M. Penner, et al. The Lexham English Septuagint, 2nd Ed. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2019. Logos Bible Software.

[6] Moisés Silva, ed., “ἁρπάζω,” in New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 1:402–403. Logos Bible Software.

[7] Wolfgang Trilling, “ἁρπάζω,” in Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), 1:157. Logos Bible Software.

[8] Werner Foerster, “Ἁρπάζω,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 1:472. Logos Bible Software.

[9] Charles E. Hill, “Rapture,” in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, ed. David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Beck (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 1111. Logos Bible Software.

What It Means to Have Eternal Life

When I was growing up, if you asked me what it means to have eternal life, I would have said something like “being in heaven with Jesus.” I think this illustrates how a lot of Christians in America think about eternal life—it is a future experience reserved for us in heaven.

This idea is generally true. As the Bible says, God has raised us and made us to sit with Christ in heaven (Eph 2:6); we are individually citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20); as members of the body of Christ, our names are registered in heaven (Heb 12:22); and there is an incorruptible, undefiled inheritance awaiting us in heaven (1 Pet 1:4).

But when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, His prayer put a different emphasis on the meaning of eternal life. As He prayed in John 17:3,

And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.

Notice what Jesus said—eternal life means knowing God the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ.

Following Christ is not primarily about getting to heaven, although that is part of the promise. It also is not about obeying a moral code, being a good citizen, or contributing to a better society, although God does instruct us to do these things. At its core, following Christ is about living in relationship with God and experiencing His loving presence in our lives.

This knowing God and experiencing His presence is captured in John 15. As Jesus says,

As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. (John 15:9)

Abiding is the idea of remaining and resting in Christ. All relationships require time, energy, and effort to grow in closeness and depth. Our relationship with God is no different. It requires a commitment to spending time speaking with Him, listening to Him, and living with our hearts and minds oriented toward Him on a regular basis.

In America it is easy to fall into the trap building earthly wealth and neglecting our relationship with God. 21st century America is like 1st century Laodicea in this regard. But Christ rebuked the Laodiceans for storing up earthly riches for themselves. And He invited them instead to store up heavenly riches for themselves by recommitting to their relationship with Him,

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. (Revelation 3:20)

Following Christ centers around our relationship with God. This means opening our hearts to His loving, abiding presence. Yes, when we pass from this life to the next, our experience of His presence will be fully realized. But even now we can begin to experience eternal life by prioritizing our relationship with God and orienting our hearts and minds toward Him.

The Only Way to God Is Jesus

There is an old proverb, “all roads lead to Rome.” Tracing back to the 12th century, it refers to the ancient Roman practice of measuring distances from the monument Milliarium Aureum, which translates as “golden milestone.” The proverb means that, for any specific goal, all possible options ultimately lead to that goal.[1]

In America’s increasingly post-truth culture, many hold a similar idea about God and religion. There’s a popular saying, “all religions lead to the same God.” Likewise, there is a growing idea of spirituality that has a more generalized belief in a higher power. This view says that all beliefs in any gods are more or less true and equally valid regarding our eternal destinies.

That is not what Jesus taught.

The Gospel of Matthew records a time during Jesus’ earthly ministry when He went up a mountain to teach. At one point in the teaching He said,

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7:13–14)

Jesus is saying not all paths of faith lead to eternal life. Not all religions worship the same God. Not all belief systems lead to heaven. There is only one way to eternal life with God—it is difficult, unpopular, and many people will choose against it.

What is this way? The Gospel of John records the last meal Jesus ate with His disciples before His crucifixion. One of the disciples asked Jesus about the way to God. Jesus answered,

I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6)

Jesus is saying that the only way to God is through Jesus Himself. As sinners, we deserve death—eternal separation from God. We need a Savior. Jesus is that Savior. As Acts 4:12 says,

There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

Jesus taught that the only way to eternal life with God is through Jesus Himself. This is an exclusive claim that rules out other faith systems. Such claims are unpopular today, but this is what Jesus taught. Eternal life with God requires salvation from sin and death. This salvation is a gift of God that we receive when we believe in Jesus Christ.


[1] Charles Leavitt, “All Roads Lead to Rome: New acquisitions relating to the Eternal City,” News & Events, University of Notre Dame Center for Italian Studies, September 14, 2011, https://italianstudies.nd.edu/news-events/news/all-roads-lead-to-rome-new-acquisitions-relating-to-the-eternal-city/.

What It Takes to Get to Heaven

In America, the common hope of many people after we die is to go to heaven. There is also a common belief that, if someone is a good enough person, then heaven is the afterlife they deserve. Likewise, if someone is a bad person, instead, hell is their eternal destiny.

There is some truth in these ideas—good people go to heaven and bad (sinful) people deserve to go to hell. The problem is the issue of being a good person. A lot of people think that, if their misdeeds are minor and they try not to harm others, then they are good enough to go to heaven.

That is not what Jesus taught.

Three of the four Gospels record a moment when a wealthy young ruler approached Jesus and asked Him what he needed to do to get to heaven. Mark 10:17–18 records the young ruler’s initial question and Jesus’ initial response as follows:

Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”

So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.”

Notice what Jesus says, “No one is good but One, that is, God.” This statement is very important for two reasons. First, Jesus does not reject the title, He receives it. However, He does correct the young ruler’s assumption that people can be good enough to get to heaven.

It is important to understand that God, not human beings, sets the standard of what is good. That standard is perfect alignment of our hearts and actions with God’s character. But, from the moment that Adam and Eve sinned against God in the Garden, all people have inherited a sin nature. This means all our thoughts and actions are polluted by sin. As Ecclesiastes 7:20 says,

For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin.

And Romans 3:23 further clarifies,

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

As sinners, every person who ever lives deserves hell. But, if that is true, how can anyone get heaven? In Mark 10:26, Jesus’ disciples asked a similar question, and Jesus answered,

“With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.” (Mark 10:27)

No one can be good enough to earn their way to heaven. Everything we think and do is polluted by sin and falls short of God’s standard of goodness. So, how can anyone get to heaven? Jesus answers—what we cannot earn, God gives freely to all who believe in Jesus Christ.

What It Means to Be a ‘Christian’

Image by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Ask a dozen people at random what it means to be a Christian and you are likely to get nearly as many different answers. Some of the most popular responses include having Christian parents, going to church, having certain moral or political views, or living in a certain area.

Clearly, much confusion exists in America today about what it means to be a Christian. Yes, there are many shared traits among Christians living in America. Any of these mentioned above, as well as many others, might describe shared experiences among any number of individual Christians. But none of these really gets to the heart of what Christians throughout history have traditionally held to be the essentials of our common faith.

The word ‘Christian’ traces back to the middle of the 1st century. The word itself comes from ancient Roman convention. It was common to name a group of followers or slaves using a combination of their leader’s or master’s name with the ending -ianus (Latin) or -ianos (Greek). This is how ‘Christian’ became the popular designation for followers of Christ.[1]

In the Bible, the word ‘Christian’ first occurs in Acts 11:26, which says, “And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” It is noteworthy that the term was not initially adopted from within the church, but instead was the common label others gave to those who followed Christ.

The word ‘Christian’ only occurs two other times in the Bible, once as a term of derision (Acts 26:28) and once associated with suffering (1 Peter 4:16). It is important to understand that, in the 1st and 2nd centuries, identifying as Christian was a death sentence. A Christian was seen as someone who worshipped a foreign god instead of the Roman emperor. It was not until the 2nd century when ‘Christian’ became a popular designation within the church, first referring to those who suffered martyrdom for their faith.[2]

The origins of the name ‘Christian’ illustrate the core meaning of the name. The heart of what it means to be a Christian is to identify as a follower of Jesus Christ. It means embracing a distinctly different way of thinking and living from those of other worldviews, a way centering on the person, teachings and works of Christ.

In a secularized culture where truth is often thought to be relative and the goal of life tends toward the pursuit of self-satisfaction, it is easy to lose sight of what it means to be a Christian. That is why it is important for Christians to remind ourselves of the essence of our faith—to reorient our minds and hearts to the centrality of Christ and seek to live out this reality as a testimony of God’s goodness and glory to the world in which we live.


[1] Robert S. Rayburn, “Christian,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 234. Logos Bible Software.

[2] Michael J. Wilkins, “Christian,” in Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1:925. Logos Bible Software.

Is the Sabbath for Today?

Image: Bethesda by Jan van ‘t Hoff on Gospel Images

Introduction

One question a lot of Christians have is how to understand the biblical commands about the Sabbath and apply them in their lives. The Ten Commandments tell us that God expected Israel to keep the Sabbath day holy, do no work of any kind and dedicate the day to rest and remembering Him. Is that command in force today? What does the Bible say about applying the Sabbath in light of Christ’s coming? This study aims to answer these questions by looking at the command and how the Bible relates the Sabbath to Christ.

Remember the Sabbath Day

The Sabbath command is the fifth of the Ten Commandments. Christians often remember the part that says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). But is there is more to the command. The entire Fifth Commandment reads:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it. (Exodus 20:8–11)

There are several details to observe, including:

1. The Sabbath is to be remembered and be regarded as holy
2. The Sabbath is an entire day of rest at the end of the seven-day week
3. The Sabbath is an entire day of rest for everyone in the household
4. The Sabbath as a day of rest points back to God’s creation of the world

Many Christians place emphasis on points 1 and 3. Some remember point 4. But point 2 says the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week—Saturday—whereas many Christians transfer it to Sunday, the first day of the week when they gather to worship with their local church. It is clear that many modern Christians do not observe all the details of the command. This reveals an important underlying idea—if and how the Sabbath command is fulfilled in Christ.

Commandment and Fulfillment

The issue of fulfillment is particularly controversial in modern Christianity. Matthew 5:17 speaks to the idea of fulfillment, as Christ says,

Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.

This verse says Christ did not come to completely get rid of the Old Testament commandments. Instead, He came to fulfill them. In the Bible, when something is fulfilled, that means it is brought to completion. So, to answer our questions about keeping the Sabbath, we need to consider how the Old Testament commandments are fulfilled, or completed, in Christ.

The Law Leads to Hope in Christ

When it comes to the authority of the Old Testament Law, the Bible teaches that the Law’s authority was temporary. This is addressed in Galatians chapters 3–4. The gentile Galatian Christians were being told by some people that they had to become circumcised and submit to certain Old Testament regulations to keep their salvation and fellowship with the church (Galatians 1:6–10, 4:21). But, Galatians 3 argues, salvation comes by faith and is marked by receiving the Holy Spirit. As Galatians 3:1–3 says,

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?—Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?

As Paul continues, the Law clarified many ways that people order their lives against God. The Law exposed sin in the lives of people and showed them their need for a Savior. This pointed people to a believing hope for the future coming of the Christ:

What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; … before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, … the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. (Galatians 3:19, 23–25)

So, the Law was a teacher for God’s people until Christ came. But when Christ came, there was no longer a need for the teacher. After Christ completed His work on the cross, when the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost, this function of the Law came to an end. Observance of Old Testament Law was no longer evidence of saving faith; the presence of indwelling Holy Spirit became that evidence (see Ephesians 2).

This does not mean that the Law is entirely obsolete; rather, in Christ, it has been fulfilled and its authority is no longer in force. However, the Law is still a reflection of God’s heart for our wellbeing. It teaches us about God’s character and God’s thoughts on man’s ways, which helps us know God’s heart and make godly decisions in our lives.

Jesus As Lord of the Sabbath

The next question is if and how the Sabbath has been fulfilled in Christ. Mark 2:23–3:5 records two incidents about how Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. In both incidents—plucking grain to eat a miraculous healing—the Jewish religious leaders accused the Twelve and Jesus of breaking the Law. In the first incident, Jesus counters their accusations, saying,

The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27–28)

The idea is that Jesus, as the Son of God, is the author of the Sabbath command. As the author of the command, Jesus has authority to give its true interpretation and to declare its fulfillment.

The second incident, the healing of a man on the Sabbath, hints at the true interpretation of the command. As Jesus asks the religious leaders in Mark 3:4,

Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?

So, when the issue is life and death, or good or evil toward others, a right application of the Sabbath law always aligns with God’s heart of love toward people (John 3:16; 1 John 3:16).

Jesus As Our Sabbath Rest

Although the Sabbath commandment is not in force today, it does reflect God’s heart of love for people. God made us to regularly rest from other life activities to remember and worship Him.

This idea of finding rest is applied to Christ in Hebrews 4. Hebrews 4 references how the first generation of Israelites rebelled in their hearts against God and, therefore, they were not permitted to enter the Promised Land (see Numbers 14). Based on this negative example, the writer of Hebrews is calling us to hold on to our hope in Christ and not give in to the temptation to turn our hearts from following Him. Hebrews 4:14–16 highlight this idea,

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

So, in practice, resting in Christ means in every area of life where we experience weakness, we turn to Christ. Whenever we have any need—provision, protection, illness, infirmity, etc.—we come to Christ in prayer, giving our habits, hurts, and heartaches over to Him (Hebrews 7:25).

Conclusion

So, is the Sabbath for today? No and yes. The authority of the commandment is not in force. The Law has been fulfilled in Christ, Lord of the Sabbath, our Sabbath rest. Many Christians set aside Sundays as a day of worship and rest, committing to regular church attendance and spending the rest of the day in family activities. This is a good habit and a great example of personal application. But it is not a universal requirement.

But God it also is true has created us with the need to regularly take breaks from life activities and find rest in Christ. This allows Christ to refresh our hearts and give us the spiritual strength to keep living for and hoping in Him. Strict Sabbath observance is not a universal rule for life, but prayerfully applying the idea of rest is vital to maintaining a healthy relationship with Christ.

Who Is the Holy Spirit?

Image: The Baptism of Jesus by Jan van ‘t Hoff on Gospel Images

Introduction

Many Christians have a lot of questions about the Holy Spirit. Who is He? What does He do? How do I relate to Him? The Bible has answers to many of our questions about the Holy Spirit. The goal of this brief study is to begin to answer these questions by looking at what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit—who He is, what He does, and how we relate to Him in our lives.

Who or What Is the Holy Spirit?[1]

The first question, “who is the Holy Spirit,” is a question about His nature and identity. Traditional Christianity holds to the idea that the Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity. He is a ‘he’ and not an ‘it’ because He is a Person and not some kind of impersonal spiritual attribute, force, or influence.

There are many verses in the Bible showing that the Holy Spirit is a Person. For example, the Holy Spirit possesses knowledge, a mind, and a will (1 Corinthians 2:10–11; Romans 8:27; 1 Corinthians 12:11). He can be blasphemed, lied to, resisted, and grieved (Matthew 12:31–32; Acts 5:1–3; 7:51; Ephesians 4:30). He undertakes many activities, such as convicting, guiding, speaking, and glorifying Christ (John 16:8, 13). These are not traits and activities of impersonal attributes, forces, or influences. These are the kinds of things that describe what a person is and does. These examples show that the Holy Spirit is a Person.

The Holy Spirit is fully God. That He is God is seen in passages like Acts 28:25–27 and Hebrews 10:15–17, where the New Testament attributes to the Holy Spirit what the Old Testament attributes to God (see Isaiah 6:3; Jeremiah 33:33).

However, the Holy Spirit is distinct from the Father and the Son. For example, at the baptism of Christ (the Son), the Father speaks from heaven as the Spirit descends on Christ, who is in the Jordan (Matthew 3:16). This shows all three Persons active at the same moment in history. Similarly, that the Holy Spirit is sent by the Son and proceeds from the Father also shows how they are distinct Persons (John 15:26).

In summary, the Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity. He is fully God—having the very same nature shared completely with the Father and the Son. But He is His own distinct Person in the Godhead—with His own activities, knowledge, will, etc.—alongside the Father and the Son.

What Does the Holy Spirit Do?[2]

The second question, “what does the Holy Spirit do,” is a question about His activities and ministries. There are many different activities and ministries of the Holy Spirit and a few of these are mentioned below.

One foundational ministry of the Holy Spirit in the world of humankind is convicting hearts of sin. Jesus mentions this ministry in John 16:8–11, which includes convicting the world “of sin, because they do not believe in Me [Christ]” (v. 9).

One foundational ministry of the Holy Spirit toward Christians is the impartation of new spiritual life. Many passages speak to this ministry, such as John 3:5–8; 4:10–14; and 7:37–39. As Romans 8:11 clarifies, the Spirit is the intermediary agent through whom the Father imparts new life to us, which is provided as a primary benefit of the Spirit’s indwelling us.

The Holy Spirit has many other ministries toward Christians as well. For example, the Holy Spirit’s sealing ministry serves as a promise of our future eternal life (Ephesians 1:13–14).

Baptism in the Spirit is one of the Holy Spirit’s more controversial ministries. The biblical idea of baptism in the Spirit is found in 1 Corinthians 12:13, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” In other words, baptism in the Spirit refers to the Christian’s inclusion as members of Christ’s body, which is the church (Colossians 1:18).

For some Christian traditions, baptism in the Spirit refers instead to the impartation of spiritual gifts to Christians. The Bible refers to these as ‘gifts’ or ‘manifestations’ (1 Corinthians 12:4, 7). As 1 Corinthians 12:7 explains, these spiritual endowments are to be used “for the profit of all” to strengthen the faith of the saints and the unity of the church (1 Corinthians 14:12).

The Holy Spirit also empowers Christians to live as witnesses for Christ. As Acts 1:8 says, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” This empowerment to witness for Christ is one of the ways the Spirit glorifies Christ (John 16:14).

One often-overlooked ministry of the Holy Spirit is His authorship of Scripture. This is a ministry that ended with the completion of the Bible but has ongoing benefits in the world and in our lives. We can think of the Bible like this—the Holy Spirit is our teacher (John 14:26) and the Bible is the training manual He wrote for us (2 Peter 1:19–21). As we commit to taking in God’s Word, the Spirit brings His Word to life in our hearts and minds to equip, guide and empower us to apply it in our lives (1 Timothy 3:17; Galatians 5:16).

How Do We Relate to the Holy Spirit?[3]

The third question, “how do we relate to the Holy Spirit,” is a question about interacting with the Holy Spirit on a personal level in our lives. The ministries of the Holy Spirit describe many of the activities the Holy Spirit works in and through us. Our relationship with the Holy Spirit can also be described by the three positions He takes in our lives.

The first position the Holy Spirit takes with any person is His presence with them. As Jesus says in John 14:16, “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever” (italics added). Before a person believes in Christ, the Holy Spirit is with them, convicting them of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8–11).

The second position the Holy Spirit takes with Christians is His presence in us. This is His indwelling presence, which bestows many benefits toward Christians. This begins the very moment we believe in Christ. As Romans 8:9 clarifies, “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” This includes the filling of the Spirit, which involves a voluntary ongoing yielding of our will to His (Ephesians 5:18).

The third position the Holy Spirit takes with Christians is His presence upon us. This is His empowering or overflowing presence. This is a dynamic spiritual power that makes us able to live as witnesses for Christ and, as the Spirit wills, includes gifts and manifestations of the Spirit that are to be used for strengthening the faith of the saints and the unity of the church (Acts 1:8; 1 Corinthians 12:7).

A final note of relating to the Spirit concerns our response to His presence. The Spirit’s position with the unbelieving world and upon Christians are entirely at His discretion. He is always active among the unbelieving, drawing them toward faith in Christ. And He sovereignly empowers us with gifts and manifestations for moments of evangelism and ministry. However, His position in us begins when we believe in Christ, so this position depends on having believed in Christ. Similarly, His filling us and growing spiritual fruit in our lives depends on our being yielded to His will in our lives (Ephesians 5:18; Galatians 5:22–25).

Conclusion

When we have questions about the Holy Spirit, we can look to the Bible for answers. The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity—fully God, but distinct from the Father and the Son. He is active in the unbelieving world and the lives of Christians in many ways, including convicting the world of sin, indwelling Christians, and empowering Christians to live as witnesses for Christ. And for the Christian, yielding our hearts to His will is vital to enjoying His infilling presence and seeing His fruit in our lives.


[1] For a more detailed introduction to the nature and identity of the Holy Spirit, see Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Chicago: Moody, 1999), 395–398.

[2] For a more detailed introduction to the ministries of the Holy Spirit, see Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Chicago: Moody, 1999), 409–443.

[3] For a more detailed discussion of the three positions of the Holy Spirit, see Chuck Smith, Calvary Chapel Distinctives (Costa Mesa, CA: The Word for Today: 2000), 31–36.