What Was The Joy That Was Before Him?
By Jonathan & Lynda Mitchell
Many have asked, "What was the 'joy' mentioned in the following verse?"
"Turning our eyes away from other things and fixing them into Jesus, the Inaugurator and Perfecter of the faith, trust, confidence and loyal allegiance, Who, instead of and in place of the JOY continuously lying before Him remained under a cross - despising shame - and has sat down and now continues seated, remaining in the right hand of God's throne." (Heb. 12:2, JMNT)
The text does not tell us directly, so we want to hear the voice of the Spirit. We want to see how Jesus has demonstrated Himself in regard to joy, and we want to perceive how the knowledge of His kingdom of joy, peace and righteousness came to earth. The Scriptures declare that Jesus had a joy and rejoicing within Him, even while being "a Man of sorrows, and a Person acquainted with grief." The Word also tells us His Kingdom consists of certain qualities - not natural, but spiritual:
"For you see, God's kingdom is not solid food and drink, but rather, fair and equitable dealing which brings justice and right relationship in the Way pointed out, peace and JOY within the Holy Spirit." - Rom. 14:17
Joy is defined as "rejoicing, goodness, loud cry, proclamation, singing, gladness, mirth, shout, shouting, grace, thankfulness; to leap, to shine, to break forth, to be glad, to exult, to see life." (Young's Analytical Concordance)
Joy is one of the vital components of His reign - "In thy presence is fullness of joy," declares the Psalmist. (Ps 16:11) This joy was within Him as He was contemplating the normal shame and dishonor of the cross.
Through successive generations, humanity has continued to nullify the immensity of God by way of religious thinking. Yet God, in His infinite wisdom, has overcome all of man's reasoning by reason of His Cross. The cross was the turning point in the scope of God's history with man:
"Behold the Lamb of God," announced John the Baptist, "Who takes away the sin (failure, [that brought death]) of the world." John 1:29
The cross signaled the coming of a new creation and the passing away of the old (covenant). From the beginning, Jesus was the One destined to do so. Recall, too, that His first miracle of turning water into wine was yet another prophetic "announcement" in the presence of those attending the wedding feast in Cana. (John 2:1-11) This manifested His glory and set His reputation in clear light. It was also a sign that the Messiah had arrived. The arrival of the new Messiah is "christened" by the new wine; thus we find many prophetic verses which reveal how the "fruit of the Vine" is associated with JOY and His kingdom:
Ps. 104:14-15, "... To bring forth Bread (Christ) from the earth (humanity; creation) and WINE that makes the heart of a mortal rejoice; to make the face lustrous with oil..."
Note the elements (bread, wine, oil) and their spiritual significance.
Judges 9:13, "But the Vine replied to them, Should I leave off my new wine which makes God and men rejoice...?"
Zech. 10:7, "... and their heart will rejoice as with wine..."
Joel. 3:18, "It will come in that day, the mountains shall drip with new wine.... And a spring from the House of Yahweh shall go forth..."
We are reminded of the promised son's (Isaac) blessing of Jacob in Gen. 27:28,
"May God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine."
Joy is lacking as
"The wine dries up, the vine languishes, all the merry-hearted sigh... There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine; all joy has reached its eventide; the gladness of the earth is banished" - Isa. 24:7-11.
We read in Jer. 48:33,
"Gladness and joy have been taken away... I have stopped the wine from the wine presses.... The shouting is not the shout of joy."
Isa. 24:6-7 tells us, "Therefore, a curse (death) devours the land....The wine dries up..."
In contrast, Isa. 25:6-9 promises,
"On this mountain Yahweh of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines.... He will swallow up death permanently.... Let us rejoice (express joy) in His salvation."
Note that drinking wine is associated with the joy of His deliverance - it is "joy in the Holy Ghost!"
"For Yahweh ransoms Jacob.... They will come and be jubilant on Zion's heights... over the grain (= the Bead of Life) and over the wine (= the joy of the kingdom) and over the oil (= the Spirit)..."
And closing our OT review, let us remember the type of the Chief Priest (Christ) of the new covenant, Melchizedek, who brought to Abraham "bread and wine" (Gen. 14:18).
In tracing out the symbolism of wine, our attention is drawn to the metaphor used by Jesus. He served something new; not out of the old skin (neither the 'old man' nor the old covenant), but rather a new vintage. This wine was brought forth, not through ordinary means - not of the natural earth, nor by the natural growth of the sun in a cultivated vineyard, nor by the natural fermentation process, nor by the dispersion of human means - but this new wine was brought forth by the Spirit! The spoken Word of Jesus, whose words are "spirit and "life!"
The old wineskin was the old covenant which contained the old wine (Law). The new wineskin is the new covenant that contains the new wine that Jesus brought to humanity. As we "rightly divide the word" of the New Covenant from the Old Covenant, we see the new wine of the Spirit is what transforms us into being new wineskins (the new covenant personified) - folks that carry His kingdom to the world.
Just as Jesus increased in favor with God and man, He ministered under an open heaven, continually bringing heaven to earth; bringing Spirit to mankind. He desired to share His Father's kingdom with those closest to Him - His disciples (His "firstfruits" of the new wine). He desired, foremost, that they would apprehend JOY; and most especially because He was going to the cross.
All through the scriptures there is an exhortation for joy and rejoicing and fullness of joy. Because He shares His glory with us, we are now partakers of the joy of His kingdom! The fulfilling of joy consists of the union of the wine and the wineskin - ONE SPIRIT. God in man, and man in God. This is the new creation realm of spirit and life. God's new dwelling place in the "New Man" is righteousness, peace and joy after the heart and image of Christ.
The New Creation, surpassing in excellence and glory and beauty, is what He accomplished through the finished work of the cross. As the scriptures have promised, He has given us" beauty for ashes." We are His joint-heirs.
Looking further into the meaning of our introductory verse, we will examine the Greek text for additional, critical insight. Recall that "we are fixing our eyes into Jesus...Who, instead of and in place of the joy, continuously lying before Him, remained under a cross..."
The preposition that comes directly before the phrase of our title ("the joy lying in the forefront, before Him") is "anti." The common translations render this "for the joy," and we get the sense of "for the sake of the joy," as it is rendered in the NRSV. But the NRSV rightly footnotes this rendering, giving, "or: who [referring to Jesus] instead of the joy." Now because the meaning of "anti" is "instead of; in place of; or, in the position on the opposite side from," I gave the following rendering of this clause:
"Who, instead of and in place of the joy (or: in the position on the opposite side from the happiness) continuously lying before Him (or: lying in the forefront within Him; lying ahead for Him), remained under a cross ..."
With this in mind, in my comments on this verse in "John, Judah, Paul & ?," I presented the following thoughts:
"It was what all of His followers wanted of, for and from Him: to take the throne of David and fulfill the prophecies in the natural, political way. It would have been the joy of calling 10,000 agents (literally: 12 legions - Matt. 26:53) to eject the priests, the Sanhedrin and the Romans and make Jerusalem the capital of the world. Many of His followers still wish for this, even today. They are like Peter, 'not in the habit of setting [their] mind on or having the attitude pertaining to the things of God, but instead, [continually having opinions which align with] the things of humans' (Matt. 16:23). Instead of doing as the flesh desired, He 'remained under a cross - despising shame (or: thinking nothing of [the] disgrace).'
"Keep in mind that He belonged to an honor/shame-based society. He thought nothing of the disgrace of being killed as a criminal in a shameful manner. Instead, He did what our author was encouraging his listeners to do: He remained under the Path of the cross. And we are called to do the same.
Read what Jesus continued to say in vss. 24-26, which followed his rebuttal to Peter in Matt. 23. As we look into the faces of those to whom we are giving aid, comfort, encouragement and admonition, we should be able to see Him 'seated, remaining in the right [hand] of (or: = in union with the place of receiving at; = at the place of power and honor, which is) God's throne,' within His home." (p 207) And that home is His temple, His called-out covenant community of followers.
Now this understanding of "the joy lying before Him" fits with the meaning of the preposition "anti" (in place of; instead of). But let us consider some of the alternate renderings, given above:
"in the position on the opposite side from the happiness lying in the forefront within Him..."
Jesus was "in the position" that was before the cross, and then on the cross (just prior to His death). That "position" was "on the opposite side from" the realm of resurrection and enthronement which followed His death and burial: the position of being the Second Human, the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45-47). Yet, while in that pre-death position, there was "the happiness (or: joy) lying in the forefront WITHIN Him."
As a normal part of kingdom living, Jacob (or: James) tells us in his epistle, 1:2-3;
"My brothers (= fellow Israelites, or, fellow believers; = My family), lead every rejoicing (or: lead the path of all JOY) whenever you may fall into - so as to be encompassed by - various trials (or: multi-faceted ordeals; [a tapestry of] tests and provings; or: experiments and attempts of varying hues), habitually knowing by intimate experience and insight that the thing by means of which your faith, trust and confidence is proved (tested and accepted) is continually producing (or: is progressively working down-in the results of) persistent patient endurance (a steadfast remaining and dwelling under some ordeal or situation; or: a holding up under sustained attacks; or: a relentless giving of sustaining support)."
In vs. 3, note that the association of joy, trials/ordeals and endurance/remaining-under are all associated, as with our opening verse in Heb. 12:2. In John 15:11 Jesus said to His apprentices;
"I have spoken these things to you to the end that My JOY would (or: can; should) remain and continuously exist within the midst of you people, and that your JOY may be filled full (or: fulfilled)."
And then in 16:20 He tells them;
"You yourselves will periodically be made sad and distressed with grief, but yet your sadness, grief and distress will repeatedly birth itself into JOY."
And does this not also bring to mind the "JOY lying in the forefront, before Him"? Think of it! The Joy (Christ; the Spirit) that is an expression of the kingdom and God's sovereign activities in our lives is repeatedly birthed out of the sadness, grief and distress that periodically environ us. Amazing!
Another connection with Rom. 14:17 and the phrase "joy within [the] Holy Spirit," is Paul's instruction to us that one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit, i.e., what is produced by God's Breath-effect, is JOY (Gal. 5:22). And the psalmist wrote,
"In your presence is fullness of JOY" (16:11). The Spirit of Yahweh anoints us to give us beauty for ashes (= resurrection life from Christ's sacrifice) and the oil (= Spirit) of JOY instead of mourning - cf Isa. 61:1-3.
Jesus gave an illustration of this in John 16:21;
"The woman, whenever she may be progressing in giving birth, is continuously having pain and distress (sorrow and grief), because her hour comes (or: came). Yet, whenever she may give birth to the little child (infant), she continues no longer calling to mind (remembering; bearing in mind) the pressure (the squeezing, anguish and tribulation) because of the JOY that a human being (a person) is born (or: was given birth) into the world (the system of culture; or: the universe)." He might have been referring to the Jerusalem which is above (Gal. 4:26) who is the mother of the New Being (the corporate Christ).
The Greek word for joy is "chara." Its cognate, "charis," is our word "grace" or "favor." The verb that connects these words is "chairo," which means "to rejoice" or, "to greet with favor."
Connecting the dots in this study, we can see that joy = grace = the Spirit that was given to create Christ's body = the kingdom, which is the reign, sovereign influence and activities of God.
No wonder there's JOY in the kingdom because the wineskins are pouring out NEW wine! And it is for this new wine of "the law of the Spirit of Life" that all of creation is groaning!
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