This study was part of the first edition (2009) of the book In the Heart of the Earth: the Secret Code that Reveals what is in the Heart of God. Due to the greater length of the second edition (2021), available on this website, this section was removed but is made available here.
The book proposes that Jesus being “in the heart of the earth” was a reference to his being within the will or control of man. It was the ultimate demonstration of how far God is willing to go to allow man to exercise His free will.
Especially during the few days before Jesus’ death, we learn something of what was in the hearts of the people involved. It is in a crisis that character is best revealed. So let’s look at some of the characters involved in this most critical period of Christ’s ministry – the last three days. Each person or group compared Jesus to what was most important in their lives; made a decision in regard to their relationship to Him and thus manifested, in their words and actions, what was in their hearts.
The Pharisees – Tradition, Power, Influence
Let’s start with the Pharisees since they are the ones disputing with Jesus in Matthew 12. The stage for confrontation was set in the opening verses, as they complained to Him about His disciples plucking and eating corn on the Sabbath. They were misinterpreting God’s law (as pointed out by Jesus’ reply) and thus, by extension, the character of God. Jesus then went into the synagogue and healed the man with the withered hand (v 9-13) which again illustrated the true character of God, and further inflamed the Pharisees hatred of Him. It says:
“Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.” (Matthew 12:14)
The Pharisees were the conservative party who ran the local synagogues.
The Sadducees were the more liberal group who dominated in the temple.
Understanding that the word here translated “destroy” does mean to physically kill, and is a different original word from the one Jesus used in reference to His body in John 2:19; helps us to understand that verse – see the section – Destroy This Temple, in chapter one of In the Heart of the Earth. He then performed a second miracle, healing the man who was possessed, blind and dumb (Matthew 12:22), which they accused Him of performing by the power of Satan. He showed the fault in their accusation and also pointed out that:
“… the tree is known by his fruit.” (Matthew 12:33)
He then said these significant words:
“… out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” (Matthew 12:34)
They answered, “… Master, we would see a sign from thee.” (Matthew 12:38). We examined this verse in its context at the beginning of this chapter. The Pharisees were mostly concerned about their position and influence over the people. Tradition was very important to them because this helped to maintain the status quo. For the Pharisees, tradition, power and influence were the important factors in their hearts and this left no place for Jesus.
Judas – Self-Seeking and Ambitious
Judas was more concerned about his own wealth and position than anything else. Of course, he “had the bag” (John 13:29), and it would seem that, perhaps, he dipped into it for his personal use. He, among the others, was looking for an earthly kingdom and was ambitious for an important position in it. Many of the apostles were probably disappointed that Jesus did not answer the request, “we would see a sign of thee,” with another miracle. They may have thought it a misjudgment on Jesus’ part. By the betrayal, Judas was possibly trying to force Jesus’ hand, to put Him in a position where He would have to show His authority. Judas, along with the other disciples, was looking for a position in the earthly kingdom he expected Jesus to set up. When he saw that it did not work, he repented of his act, attempting to reverse the betrayal:
“Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood …” (Matthew 27:3-4)
The repentance though, was more for the loss of his personal goals than for any conviction of moral wrong. The loss of what was most dear to his heart was so devastating to him that he took his own life:
“And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:5)
It seems that Judas’ heart was consumed with self. Ambition, position and personal gain were all-important to him. In spite of what he did, Jesus treated him with dignity and did not even openly expose him at the Passover meal.
Peter – a Fickle Friend
Peter thought he was a loyal-to-the-death friend of Jesus but he didn’t know his own heart. When he was questioned about his association with Jesus in a manner he saw as a possible threat, he quickly reacted in a way to defend himself, even at the denial of any relationship to Jesus. However, Peter had seen and been touched by the character of Jesus – Jesus had washed his feet. Peter saw clearly the condition of his own heart:
“And Peter went out, and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22:62)
Jesus had found a place in Peter’s heart because Peter had seen and appreciated the demonstration of the true character of God, and saw the contrast to his own. Jesus, early on, had demonstrated His concern for Peter and the other fishermen by working a miracle that had helped to meet their needs:
“When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8)
In a similar way, if we will behold the character of God, especially as revealed in the Biblical account of Jesus’ life on earth, He will find a place in our hearts.
Do we, like Peter, who said “yet will I not deny thee,”
still need to learn the condition of our own hearts?
Peter, while he had character faults, had observed Jesus day by day and been attracted to Him and was convicted that He was indeed who He claimed to be:
“From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” (John 6:66-69)
He could see no other option than to follow Jesus. This helped him recover from his failures and not give up as Judas had. By beholding Jesus, Peter’s heart had been changed.
After His resurrection, Jesus gave Peter an opportunity to make right his three-time denial by having him make a three-time affirmation of his love for his Master and gave him the responsibility to “feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17)
Pilate – Jesus Was in His Hand, not His Heart
Pilate had a unique position in that he had the authority no one else had – to either release Jesus or condemn Him to death:
“Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?” (John 19:10)
Being in the highest position of local authority he was free to decide either way. Once Jesus’ case caught his interest, he examined it more carefully, came to a conclusion and publicly announced his decision:
“Then said Pilate to the chief priests and to the people, I find no fault in this man.” (Luke 23:4)
He even “sought to release him.” (John 19:12) Possibly, there was even pity for Jesus in his heart as well as a sense of fairness. The Jews, sensing that Pilate would not condemn Jesus as readily as they had hoped, finally associated releasing Jesus with Pilate’s relation to Caesar:
“… If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.” (John 19:12)
He then felt threatened in regard to what was dear to his heart – his political position – and he decided to sacrifice Jesus rather than risk his own reputation and position. He clearly showed that his position and authority was more important to him, more dear to his heart than fairness or justice:
“Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away.” (John 19:16)
The Soldiers – Doing Their Duty
To the soldiers attending the crucifixion, Jesus was just part of a day’s work. They treated Him badly, as they would any other condemned person; only they had reason, because of His claims, to mock Him more than others. However, probably every person they had ever crucified had struggled and cursed. Jesus not only made no struggle, He prayed for their forgiveness as they were driving the nails through His flesh. This would have made a deep impression on them. What they did not have in their hearts was the personal malice that the Jewish leaders had towards Jesus. This made it easier for them to impartially observe the events. The centurion, “and they that were with him” (probably the rest of the company of soldiers), finally made a decision in their hearts about His character:
“Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:54)
The hearts of these outwardly-hardened soldiers were more open to receive the truth than many others who witnessed the scenes of that day. The soldiers, with nothing to lose and without that dangerous pride of position, were willing to acknowledge Him.
John – a Loyal Friend
John, in comparison to Peter, was more willing to stay close to Jesus. He referred to himself as “the one whom Jesus loved.” This was not to say Jesus didn’t love the others, but John had a very strong sense of Jesus’ love for him. He took a greater risk than Peter as he went into the palace after Jesus’ arrest, even though he was known by the high priest:
“And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known unto the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest.” (John 18:15)
There is no record of Peter having been present at the cross. John, however, was right there. John, formerly characterized as one of the sons of thunder, had become a son of God. Jesus greatly honored John by asking him to care for His mother:
“When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.” (John 19:26-27)
John had room in his heart for Jesus and, when asked by Jesus, also made room in his heart and his home for Jesus’ mother. John was a good example of how a receptive heart can be changed. This change was brought about by his close association with Jesus, by daily beholding Jesus’ character. If we will regularly behold the glory or character of the Lord, it will change us too, to become more like Him:
Nicodemus – Had Truth in His Heart
Nicodemus was not a personal friend of Jesus; scripture only records that he had met Jesus once and he is always referred to as the one who “came to Jesus by night.” But Jesus had shared a most fundamental truth with him. Evidently, this truth had made a deep impression on him and was planted in his heart:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
Nicodemus, a Pharisee in trouble with his peers, is only mentioned in John’s
gospel written much later than the synoptics and likely after his death.
Nicodemus was well-educated and knew the law. A Pharisee himself, he said to the Pharisees who had sent officers to take Jesus prisoner:
Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?” (John 7:51)
With an honest heart himself, he would have understood the law and how it should be lived. When he witnessed the events surrounding Jesus’ death and saw Jesus’ character tested to the utmost, the truth in his heart grew. As a witness to the crucifixion, when the cross was lifted into place with Jesus on it, he would have recalled the words of Jesus during his night-time interview:
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:” (John 3:14)
This would have had the effect on him as related in other words of Jesus:
“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” (John 12:32)
Jesus foresaw what was going to happen and had planted a seed in Nicodemus’ heart beforehand. That seed bore fruit, and when the crisis came of dealing with Jesus’ dead body before Sabbath, he could only do the right thing regardless of any risk to himself. He then, as shared earlier, took a leading role in doing what he could for the One who now had first place his heart.
What About You? What is in Your Heart?
We each need to become informed, to become knowledgeable of Jesus and make the right decision, in our hearts, with regard to Him. Don’t be like the majority of the people who were just blind followers of their leadership. When confronted with a decision they cried out:
“His blood be on us, and on our children.” (Matthew 27:25)
Ironically, Jesus’ blood applied to them was exactly what they needed.
However, they were claiming responsibility for, not the merits of His blood.
The sign from the Son of Man is a call for each of us to carefully examine our own heart to see what is there. What is in your heart? What kind of fruit? How do you treat your enemies? How do you react when you are mistreated? The most important question about your heart and mine is: does Jesus have first place there?
Jesus, in a sense, puts Himself within your control as far as what He will do in regard to you:
If you tell Him to go away and leave you alone, He will do it. He never forces His presence on anyone.
If you ignore Him, He has to keep His distance because He will not come uninvited.
If you will sincerely invite Him into your heart, He will come in. He has to because He has promised, and He keeps His promises.
If you ask Him to bless you, He will; as far as your actions, governed by your free will, allow Him to.
So whenever in the future, you hear that phrase, “In the Heart of the Earth,” think about its deeper significance. It is referring not to being in the grave but to how Jesus was treated by man, how He allowed Himself to be under the control of man. Chapter Six of In the Heart of the Earth shows that God does not force the will of man but will always allow him to make his own choices. And the most important choice for you is what you will do in your heart as far as Jesus is concerned. Will you invite Him in? Is the soil or earth of your heart fertile ground to receive the truth and allow it to germinate and grow?