"Do you now believe?" (John 16:31)

What does Jesus mean by 'believe'?

This simple statement by Jesus to his closest disciples near the end of his lecture after the last supper is profoundly deeper than portrayed by many.

The key word here is the word "believe." Did Jesus really mean "believe" which means, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

1. a : to have a firm religious faith b : to accept something as true, genuine, or real

Yet this very word reflects the many efforts of some to convince people or even force people to "believe" in Jesus by attending their churches and paying their salaries. In fact, when we examine the history of ecclesiastical churches through today (from about 300 A.D. - when the teacher-disciple system gave way to politically appointed church leaders - through today), a good 75% of that time Christianity was the exclusive territory of the Roman Catholic Church.

And during most of this period, "believing" in Jesus meant being practically forced to worship Jesus according to the methods and rituals approved by the Church. And to reject "believing" in Jesus as dictated by the Church for many centuries in many countries in Europe and the Middle East meant certain imprisonment and possibly even death by burning at the stake.

As a result of this history, "believing" in Jesus has taken on a completely different meaning than originally intended by Jesus. Even today among some institutions, "believing" in Jesus means accepting that Jesus is God and that he died for my sins. "Believing" of course has also included becoming a member of some or another particular sect.

Is this what Jesus meant as he spoke these words?

First of all, when he spoke these words he was standing in front of an audience of his students. He did not need them to believe that he existed, because he was standing right in front of them. He also did not need for them to believe he was great or could perform miracles: They were his dedicated disciples and they had seen his miracles.

And he was not referring to dying for their sins because his physical body had not yet been murdered.

And he did not mean for them to believe he was God because in his previous statement he had just said that he was returning to the Supreme Being:
"now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father." (John 16:28)
To return to someone means being separated from them. Jesus' statement means he had been separated from God. If he was God how could he have become separated from himself?

Do Jesus' teachings indicate he was God?

Such a philosophy that Jesus is God is contradicted by all of Jesus' teachings. The only statement Jesus made that sounds remotely like Jesus is God is the statement:
"I and the Father are one." (John 10:30)
Which doesn't mean Jesus is the Supreme Being. If he were, he would not have said this. He would have said, "I am the Father."

But to say someone has a oneness with someone else means they have the same purpose. The same goals. The same intentions. There is a oneness between them. It doesn't mean they are the same person.

A husband and wife can have a oneness in this way. They don't become each other. But because they have a loving relationship that results in their sharing the same goals and purpose, they can execute each other's intentions. When one signs a document, they are both committed because they share the same intention.

This is what Jesus was doing. He is executing God's intentions. He is God's loving servant. He is God's representative. He is one with the Supreme Being in love. In purpose. He is carrying out God's directives.

So what was Jesus referring to when he said "Do you now believe?"

The word "believe" is being translated from the Greek word πιστεύω (pisteuō).

This Greek word means "to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in" as well as "conviction and trust to which a man is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative and law of soul" according to the lexicon.

What is trust?

This means that the better English translation of πιστεύω (pisteuō) would be "trust."

To "trust" someone is completely different than "believing" in someone.

A person may believe in someone - believe that they may be who they say they are, for example. But to trust in them is a completely different emotion. To trust in someone means to rely upon them.

In this context, of Jesus talking to his disciples, Jesus is asking his disciples to trust in his teachings: To rely upon his teachings and his instructions.

In this world, we rely and trust in so many things that should not be relied upon. We rely on people as though they will never let us down. We rely on our family as though our family members will never die or leave us. We rely on our job as though the money will keep rolling in and we will never be laid off or have to retire. We rely on our house thinking it will stand forever and never be flooded or ripped apart by a tornado or hurricane. We rely on our mind as though our mind can figure everything out. And we rely on our physical body as though it will stay healthy and alive forever.

Yet none of these things we rely upon are reliable. All of these things of the physical world will change, erode, die, become sick, get knocked down, become destroyed or otherwise go away. The physical world is a place of unreliability. The things of this world are all temporary for us. Our body will get sick and die. 

Our mind will play tricks on us. Our house will fall apart by disaster or age. We'll get laid off or have to retire from our job. Our workmates or so-called friends will one day let us down. Our family members will leave us and one day get sick and die. We will eventually lose everything we rely upon within the physical world.

But we can rely on Jesus' teachings. We can rely upon God. We can rely on our position as God's family member: God's child and loving servant.

And we can rely upon the Supreme Being being there for us and taking care of us. Always. Eternally. God is not subject to death. God never died on the cross or anywhere else. God never dies. God is eternal. And He is completely reliable.

This is why Jesus asked his students to rely upon the Supreme Being - he asked them to give their hearts to God:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'" (Matt. 22:37-38)