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Resistance to Jesus


In John Milton’s classic epic poem Paradise Lost, Satan and his host are cast from heaven for their rebellion. Yet even in the face of such conditions, Satan remains resistant to God, declaring: “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n”.

Even in Jesus’ day some, like Milton’s Satan, refused to bow to the lordship of Christ. Three times in our chapter, the Pharisees resisted Jesus and rejected His claims. In verses 1 to 14, they applied a legalistic attitude to Scripture and resisted Jesus’ actions of eating and healing on the Sabbath. They would rather follow their own rules than yield to the “Lord of the Sabbath” Himself (v. 8). Jesus was none other than the servant figure promised in Isaiah, but because of their resistance, Jesus “withdrew from that place” (v. 15).

Later, in verses 22 to 32, they attributed to Satan what God’s Spirit was accomplishing through Jesus. Rather than recognize the work of God’s in-breaking kingdom, they blasphemed against God and rejected the work of Christ. Finally, in verses 38 to 42 the Pharisees disguised their opposition to Jesus by demanding miraculous signs. One greater than Jonah or Solomon had arrived, but they remained incredulous.

Why did the Pharisees so vehemently resist Jesus? Scripture explains: their outward resistance reflected the inner condition of their hearts, “for the mouth speaks . . . what the heart is full of” (v. 34). More concerned with their own legalism and ideas about what God’s Messiah should look like, they outwardly appeared “swept clean and put in order” (v. 44). But in reality they had rejected Christ and His Spirit, opening themselves to future spiritual attack and blindness. Jesus’ final words about His true family teach us that it is possible to be externally religious yet remain outside God’s kingdom.

Apply the Word

Today’s reading is a sober warning about the danger of resisting the claims of Christ in our life. We can be tempted to set our own rules above God’s grace and mercy. We can prefer to present an external appearance that is tidy and religious rather than undergo heart renovation. If God’s Spirit convicts you on any of these points, repent and accept His forgiveness.

BY Bryan Stewart

Bryan A. Stewart is associate professor of religion at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. His particular interests are the history of Christian thought and the way that early Christians interpreted the biblical canon. He is the editor of a volume on the Gospel of John in The Church’s Bible series (Eerdmans), and he has done extensive research on the ways that the early Church preached on this Gospel. He is an ordained minister. 

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