Final Instructions to the Disciples

Jesu focused on giving final instructions to His twelve disciples prior to His death.

©1996 by James A. Fowler. All rights reserved.

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 Gospels in Harmony Series

   Knowing that the "count-down" was on, and that it was only a matter of days before He would be crucified by the collaboration of the Jews and the Romans, Jesus' restricted His ministry to the multitudes in Jerusalem in order to focus His time and attention on the final instructions that He wanted to give to His disciples.

(207) Prepare for Judgment - Matt. 24:1,2; Mk. 13:1,2; Lk. 21:5,6

   The extended preparatory statements of Jesus have been referred to as "the little apocalypse" and regarded as an amalgam of Jesus' teaching due to segmented interpretations. They can and should be taken as sequentially intact, but there is similar movement in this passage, as in the Revelation, from reference to God's judgment of the situation presenting itself at that particular time of historic statement and writing, to the ultimate and conclusive judgment of God.

   In like manner there is the similar use of figurative language in the Apocalypse and Jesus' warning to the disciples. Jesus had been speaking in metaphorical language in His parables and in other allusions to His kingdom, and continues to do so in these statements. It is impossible to interpret Matthew 24 and 25 without recognizing figurative language. Down through the centuries Christians have arrived at differing interpretations of these verses, not only due to various preconceived theological and eschatological grids, but also based on which portions of this passage they choose to interpret directly or literally, and which portions they choose to interpret figuratively or metaphorically.

   Different interpretive approaches develop divergent time-lines of chronology for interpretation. For example, the preterist interpretation views all of Matthew 24 fulfilled in the past at the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The arbitrary and subjective determinations of a segmented interpretation posit alternative references both to 70 A.D. and the end of time throughout the passage. The interpretive method sometimes called "prophetic perspective" fails to make a determination, allowing a double entendre wherein the same words can refer to both the events of 70 A.D. and the second coming of Jesus or the final judgment at the end of time, with the former a prefiguring or foreshadowing of the future, though sometimes positing primary or secondary reference to one or the other. The futurist method interprets the entire passage to refer to the parousia of Christ at the end of time. It must be questioned whether all of these event-oriented interpretations fail to recognize the intent of Jesus' words.

   Having been warned of the judgment of God upon the Jewish peoples which would not leave one stone upon another (Lk. 19:44), and perhaps remembering Jesus' words about the destruction of the temple (John 2:13-22), the disciples were nonplused to think that the magnificent structures of the temple and the city of Jerusalem which they were observing would be laid desolate (Matt. 23:38). The Jerusalem buildings were an architectural marvel that had been decades in construction. The Babylonian Talmud stated that "he that never saw the temple of Herod never saw a fine building." Still caught up in religious tangibility of structures and misunderstanding God's spiritual objectives, the disciples could not see why all of Jerusalem had to be destroyed, but Jesus reiterated that "it would all be torn down, with not one stone left upon another." Such was fulfilled a few decades later, for

"doubtless most would agree that the horrors of A.D. 70 when the Roman armies under Titus destroyed Jerusalem fulfilled these words. The destruction was so massive and extensive that the Tyropoeon Valley simply disappeared as it was filled in with the rubble of the city, the temple, and the temple mount. Yet even today one can see in Jerusalem at the Wailing Wall of the temple mount some of the very courses of Herodian foundation stones to which Jesus referred. Some stones even today remain upon each other!"1

"The prophecy's meaning was nevertheless clearly fulfilled in the destruction that befell Jerusalem in 70 A.D."2

   Josephus indicated that "Titus ordered the soldiers to dig up the foundation, both of all the city and the temple."3 Though a few stones remain to this day, Jesus was speaking figuratively of the utter and total destruction of Jerusalem, which certainly did occur. Beyond that there may have been a broader allusion to God's ultimate tearing down of all religion and its structures, physical, material and organizational. Religion always seems to centralize in structures, whereas Christianity is Christocentric.

(208) Labor Pains - Matt. 24:3-8; Mk. 13:3-8; Lk. 21:7-11

   Alarmed at Jesus' prophecies, the disciples inquired when these things, i.e. the killing of Christian prophets (Matt. 23:34), the desolation of the Jewish house (Matt. 23:38), and the razing of all temple stones (24:2) would occur. They also asked what would be the signs or signals of Jesus' coming in judgment (cf. Matt. 10:23; 16:27,28; Lk. 12:35-40; 17:30; 18:8; Jn. 21:22), and the end of the age and era of Jewish religion. Jesus explained that many false Messiahs, full of false religious promises, would arise, as can be Biblically attested (cf. Acts 5:36; 8:9,10). "Wars and rumors of wars" is verified by Josephus' report of "sedition and civil war throughout Judea"4. The end of the Jewish age and religion would still not have occurred in the destruction of Jerusalem, though. There would be insurrections of nation against nations and kingdom against kingdom, as verified by the historians of that time. Famines were widespread in the Mediterranean area and earthquakes occurred in Crete, Smyrna, Miletus, Samos, Laodicea, Hierapolis, Colossae, Rome and Pompeii. These would be but the beginning of the labor pains for the grave crisis that would come upon the Jewish peoples.

(209) Tribulation - Matt. 24:9-14; Mk. 13:9-13; Lk. 21:12-19

   Continuing His explanation of what was soon to happen, Jesus told the disciples that Christians would be delivered to tribulation (cf. Jn. 16:33), especially by religion which is so destructive and murderous in seeking to annihilate its opponents and adversaries (cf. Acts 4:5; 7:59; 8:1; 18:12). Peoples of many nations would hate Christians because of their identification with the name of Jesus (cf. Matt. 10:22). Religious false prophets would flourish (cf. II Cor. 11:13-15; II Tim. 2:17,18). Lawlessness and anarchy would set in as Jewish zealotism increased. The first love (Rev. 2:4) of many Christians would grow cold as they were drawn away by religion and succumbed to the social pressures that would even cause them to hate and betray fellow-Christians. To those Christians who endured (Matt. 10:22) to the end of the Jewish age, Jesus promised that they would be made safe to function as intended. The gospel would be preached to the whole of the known world (cf. Rom. 10:18; Col. 1:6,23), and then the end of the prototypical Jewish era would come to pass in the destruction of the Palestinian peoples and the Jewish religion.

(210) Abomination of Desolation - Matt. 24:15-28; Mk. 13:14-23; Lk. 21:20-24

   Becoming more specific, Jesus explained that when they saw the "abomination of desolation" referred to by Daniel (cf. Dan. 9:27; 11:31; 12:1), standing in the Jerusalem temple, those in Judea should flee to the mountains. The Roman army, representing idolatrous emperor worship, did indeed desecrate and destroy the Jewish temple. Not hindered by materialism, social relationships, or Sabbatarianism, most of the Christians of Judea escaped to Pella across the Jordan in the region of the Decapolis. Great tribulation and calamity then came upon the Jews of Jerusalem in the form of rape, murder, starvation, etc. Josephus laments that

"Our city was advanced to the highest felicity, and was thrust down again to the extremest misery; for if the misfortunes of all, from the beginning of the world, were compared with those of the Jews, they would appear much inferior upon the comparison."5

"No other city ever suffered such things, as no other generation from the beginning of the world was ever more fruitful of wickedness."6

   The Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. lasted five months, and were it not for God's providential care of the Christian "elect" (cf. Matt. 24:22,24,31), the Romans would have continued to pursue to their death even the Christians. Some of the Christian elect were indeed misled and deceived by religious impostors claiming to be prophets and the Messiah, but Jesus noted that His coming would be as obvious as the lightning which reveals in all directions (cf. Lk. 17:23). His coming in judgment would be as evident as vultures circling round the rotten carcass of Jewish religion.

(211) Cosmic Catastrophe - Matt. 24:29-31; Mk. 13:24-27; Lk. 21:25-28

   Jesus figuratively explained that immediately after the tribulation promised to Christians prior to 70 A.D., Jesus figuratively explains (cf. Isa. 13:10; 24:23; 34:4; Ezek. 32:7; Joel 2:10; Amos 5:20; 8:9; Zeph. 1:15; Rev. 6:12; 8:12) "the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of heaven will be shaken." According to C.E.B. Cranfield, "this is picture-language which we must not attempt to compress into a literal interpretation."7 Jesus was referring to an astronomical disruption and dissolution of the present order of things, a cosmic catastrophe to the known order of the Jewish world. Those with spiritual vision would see the Son of Man (cf. Dan. 7:13), the Messiah, coming before God the Father in the heavenly realm to vindicate and exalt God's power, authority and glory (cf. Matt. 16:27). All the tribes of Israel on earth would mourn (cf. Zech 12:10-14) that Jerusalem had been trodden down by Roman Gentiles, and that their Judaic religion had been destroyed. But God would send forth Christian messengers and missionaries to trumpet (cf. Isa. 27:13; Zech. 9:14; Rev. 8:2; 11:15), broadcast and announce the kingdom (cf. Isa. 61:1-3), gathering together the true Israel (Rom.; Gal. 6:15), the elect People of God (I Pet. 2:10), from all nations and peoples, assembled and united to receive the promises of God in Jesus Christ. Redemption draws near (Lk. 21:28) as the old covenant priesthood and sacrifices come to an end, and mankind is restored, both individually and collectively, in Jesus Christ.

(212) Watchfulness - Matt. 24:32-44; Mk. 13:28-37; Lk. 21:29-36

   The imminence of these climactic events was parabolically illustrated by a fig tree, whereupon the spring growth evidences that summer is near. When the perilous times and persecution come, the disciples should recognize that the Messianic judgment was near. Speaking directly to the disciples, Jesus clarified their question of timing by explicitly stating that "this generation will not pass away until these things take place" (cf. Matt. 10:23; 11:16; 12:41,42,45; 23:36). You can count on it because God is as good as His word, and neither God nor His words will pass away (cf. Matt. 5:18) or prove false.

   Jesus inculcated watchfulness for these events indicating that no man knew the exact day or hour of their occurrence. Jesus, the Son of Man, would come in judgment when people were unconcerned about the situation, preoccupied with making a living, and refusing to recognize the peril, just like in the days of Noah (cf. Lk. 17:26,27). In the midst of ordinary activities they would be taken by surprise when the Messianic Judge came suddenly and unannounced like a thief. Thus Christians were cautioned to be alert and watchful, not falling into careless neglect and inattention like the parabolic doorkeeper (Mk. 13:33-37).

(213) Parable of Faithful/Unfaithful Slave - Matt. 24:45-51

   In the midst of His discourse Jesus seems to transition from reference to the particular response and rejection of the Jewish religion and their judgment in 70 A.D., to the general response of religion and the conclusive judgment of God upon all religious rejection of God's activity in Christ. Judgment on Jerusalem was thus a precursor or type to the judgment of God on all religion. It is difficult to ascertain where this transition begins in the discourse. Some would identify Matt. 24:36 as the point of transition, others would select verse 42 or 45, or the chapter break between chapters 24 and 25. In this study we will place the transition point at vs. 45, noting that the transition is not so much a turn from a first century event to a future event, i.e. the Fall of Jerusalem to the coming Parousia, as it is a transition from a specified judgment on Jewish religion to a generalized judgment on all religion.

   In the parable of the faithful/unfaithful slave (cf. Lk. 12:42-46), Jesus points out that Christians are to be faithful, hopeful and expectant in the interim before He comes in judgment, and they are to be engaged in mutual nurturing and support of one another. They become evil slaves when they revert to religion which is unconcerned with Jesus' coming, abusive to others, and intoxicated with false factors of success. Such unfaithful religious hypocrites (cf. Matt. 23:13,14,15,23,25,27,28,29) will be surprised at Jesus' coming, judged by Christ, and assigned to hell.

(214) Parable of Ten Virgins - Matt. 25:1-13

   Continuing His parabolic explanation of the necessity of preparedness and readiness, Jesus told the parable of the ten virgins. Five of the virgins were wise with the wisdom of Christ (I Cor. 1:24,30), and prepared for the unexpected. Recognizing that faith is not presumption, nor passivistic quietism, they took extra oil. The five foolish virgins represent religious activity which so often calculates the odds and attempts to get by with as little as possible. When the Bridegroom came later than expected at the dawn of a new day the foolish and faithless religionists were unprepared, had to go buy additional oil, and were shut out of the wedding feast. Meanwhile those prepared with the wisdom of faith were participating in the celebration of grace in the kingdom. When the five foolish returned they begged, "Lord, Lord, open up," and Jesus seems to say, "If I was your Lord, you would have relied on My wisdom and been prepared. I do not know you, because you never knew Me by a faithful, dependent and receptive development of an intimate relationship." Not knowing the day or hour of Christ's coming in judgment, Christians are to be on the alert, prepared to participate in the consummation of Christ's activity by faithful reception of the finished work of Christ made available in the first advent.

(215) Parable of Talents - Matt. 25:14-30

   The parable of the talents has many similarities to the parable of the coins (Lk. 19:12-27). Jesus was about to go on a journey through death, resurrection, ascension, etc. He entrusts all that He has, Himself, to His servants in grace. Two of His servants are receptive to the availability of God's grace activity and allow His grace to enlarge and expand, grow and multiply through their endeavors. As good and faithful servants who have functioned as God intended, they enjoy the joy (chara) of participating in God's grace (charis), available to even greater expansion of such grace through their lives. Another servant is like the religionists who view God as an exacting and tyrannical bookkeeper, living in fearful expectation of a divine audit. They will not even allow for a minimal operation of grace, attempting instead to box and bundle God's activity in secure epistemological doctrines and creeds, or in moral and ritual activities. All they can do is dig up the archaeological remnants of historical and theological tenets. Such religious hoarders who cover up God's grace will have to face the judgment of Christ's coming and the consequences of hell.

(216) Ultimate Judgment - Matt. 25:31-46

   Indeed there will be an ultimate and determinative judgment when the Shepherd/King in the line of David, the Messianic Son of Man, comes in the triumph of His glory. All nations and peoples will be gathered before Him and separated as sheep or goats, to the right or to the left, judged already by their belief or unbelief (John 3:16-21). The sheep represent Christians who were receptive to the grace of God in Jesus, allowing divine compassion to be expressed to people in need, the lowly, the poor, the have-nots, those who recognize the do not have what it takes. Unaware of what God has done through them, they participate in the blessings of God (cf. Eph. 1:3), inheriting the kingdom and eternal life in perpetuity of union with the One who is King and Life. The goats, on the other hand, represent religionists who establish their own criteria of people's acceptability based on requirements and reciprocation. The poor, the lowly, the untaught, the unsuccessful do not usually measure up to their rules and regulations. Religionists always think that they will get the blessings of God, while others will get the cursings and judgment of God. Having kept records of all their self-righteousness, they will be aghast that they should be accursed and separated from God in eternal punishment and fire. In perpetuity of their spiritual connection with Satan, they will go to the place prepared and reserved for the devil and his messenger/agents.

(217) Religion Conspires Against Jesus - Matt. 26:1-5; Mk. 14:1,2; Lk. 22:1,2

   Two days prior to the Passover Jesus informed His disciples that He was going to be delivered up by the religious authorities in order to be crucified. At that very time the chief priests and the leaders of the Jewish Sanhedrin were assembling in the palace of the high priest, Caiaphas, to plot the death of Jesus. In a cunning conspiracy of religious intolerance and persecution they planned the details of their dastardly deed, careful to choose their timing in order to avoid a backlash of public opinion among their religious adherents.

(218) Mary's Memorial Act of Worship - Matt. 26:6-13; Mk. 14:3-9; Jn. 12:2-8

   While dining in the evening at the home of Simon, the former leper, in Bethany, along with Lazarus, Mary and Martha, Mary took a flash of expensive perfume and poured it over His head and feet, wiping His feet with her hair. The cost of the gift and the act of adoration were fit for a king. John identifies Judas Iscariot as the disciple who reacted most vehemently against this act of adoration, protesting on the pretense that the perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor. The other disciples joined him in criticism. Judas was not really concerned about the poor, though; his materialistic concern belied the fact that he was the treasurer of the band of disciples and was embezzling funds. Many have been the religious frauds who have posed a concern for the poor while siphoning the funds for themselves.

   Jesus explained that Mary's action was a genuinely good work of adoration and worship expressed in recognition of His true identity while He was still physically alive. The poor are always present in every society during every age, and the compassion of Christ will minister to them, but the physical Messiah would not always be present to be ministered unto. Mary's action could be viewed as a preparatory prefiguring of Jesus' anointing with spices for burial, in which case her act of worship would forever be a memorial of her recognition of the Messiah and the manner of His spiritual victory through death.

(219) Judas Sells Out - Matt. 26:14-16; Mk. 14:10,11; Lk. 22:3-6

   Feeling the rebuke of his mercenary motives, and recognizing that Jesus was never going to be the conquering Messiah-King that he had zealously sought, Judas submitted to the diabolic temptation to be the personified pawn of Satan to betray Jesus unto the religious authorities. Negotiating a payment of thirty pieces of silver in fulfillment of Zechariah 11:12, Judas conspired to treacherously deliver Jesus into the hands of the religionists at a time when the crowds were not present to react in tumult. Countless are the times religion has conspired with a willing dupe to betray the Lord Jesus Christ.

(220) Preparation for Passover - Matt. 26:17-19; Mk. 14:12-16; Lk. 22:7-13

   On the first day of unleavened bread during the Jewish Passover observance a lamb was to be sacrificed in the temple to commemorate the lamb slain by each Israelite family in Egypt allowing for the "passover" of the death angel (Exod. 12). Later, in the evening, portions of the slain animal would be served, along with unleavened bread and wine, in the Passover meal.

   Aware of the treachery of Judas to direct the authorities to Him, Jesus asked Peter and John to quietly make preparation for the Passover meal. In somewhat clandestine manner the two disciples encountered the social unconventionality of a male person carrying a pitcher, and they followed him to his house, requesting to use his guest-room. The unidentified man showed them a large upper room with adequate furnishing for such a meal. Peter and John probably arranged for the sacrifice of the lamb at the temple, purchased the necessary food items, and barbecued the meat. They then returned to Bethany to advise Jesus and the other disciples of the completed preparations, but Judas did not know where the feast would be observed in order to advise the authorities.

(221) Disputational Disciples - Matt. 26:20; Mk. 14:17; Lk. 22:14-16, 24-30

   Entering into Jerusalem at dusk without fanfare, Jesus and the twelve disciples went to the upper room that had been prepared. Though this was a most important Jewish religious observance the disciples evidenced their selfish fleshly tendencies by contending for positions closest to Jesus to indicate personal preference and honor. Religion cannot remedy the corrupt character of the selfish and sinful man.

   Jesus noted the solemnity of the occasion by expressing His personal deep-seated desire to eat the Passover meal with them before He suffered and died, knowing that He would serve as the sacrificial Paschal lamb allowing for the spiritual exodus of God's People from sin and death to life prior to His celebrating the fulfillment of the Passover meal again with the disciples within the kingdom in the form of the Lord's Supper.

   Within that Christian kingdom the egocentric aspirations for placement, position and prestige would be replaced by Christ's character of a servant-heart (cf. Matt. 20:26-28; Mk. 10:43-45). The way to lead others in the kingdom is to serve others. Though the guest is socially accounted as greater than the servant of the household, Jesus explained that He was present as a servant, having "emptied Himself, taken the form of a bond-servant" who would "humble Himself by becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:7,8).

   Despite their residue of Jewish nationalistic and religious conceptions of the kingdom, Jesus again assures the disciples that they will participate in His kingdom enjoying the intimacy of table-fellowship with Him and the memorial celebration of God's great deliverance of His People. Along with Him the disciples would sit on thrones (cf. Matt. 19:38) which were not physical or religious, but representative of the victorious reign of Christ as Lord in the spiritual kingdom of Christianity. By their submitted receptivity of Christ's Lordship they would judge the unbelief of Judaic Israel, who though they had the privileged heritage of God's activity in their midst rejected the Messiah.

(222) Serving by Washing - John 13:1-20

   Seeking to illustrate that the character of the kingdom was antithetical to all forms of pride and egocentricity, even those subtle forms of religious and spiritual pride, Jesus acted out His message of how divine love humbly serves others. "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve" (Matt. 20:28), and was willing to perform the function reserved for the lowest servant, that of washing the guests' feet.

   Fully cognizant of the betrayal plot of Judas (cf. Matt. 18:7; Lk. 22:22; Jn. 6:70), Jesus washed his feet in love, knowing that God's objective could not be thwarted.

   It was Peter who reacted to the perceived incongruity of the Messiah functioning as the lowest slave washing people's feet. In mock humility he refused to submit to Jesus' washing of his feet, failing to understand that Jesus was symbolically and parabolically acting out the humiliation of sacrificial serving of others which He would do even unto death, allowing for the spiritual "washing away of sins" (Acts 22:16) and the "washing of regeneration" (Titus 3:5). Like Peter, much of religion still fails to understand that God's exaltation comes via man's humiliation, rather than in arrogant and aggressive action. The attitude of Christ that led Him to the cross is to be perpetuated in Christians (cf. Phil. 2:5) as the living Lord Jesus continues to serve others through us.

   In response to Jesus' explanation of the essentiality of spiritual cleansing by way of humiliating servanthood, Peter impulsively goes to the opposite extreme of requesting a complete physical bath, still failing to recognize the spiritual implications of Jesus' comments. Jesus patiently points out that Peter and the other disciples are clean, physically and spiritually, with the exception of one in their midst who was not receptive to spiritual cleansing, namely Judas.

   The betrayal of Judas would fulfill the statement of the Psalmist David about a close friend who enjoyed the intimacy of table-fellowship with him and then kicked him in the face (Ps. 41:9). Wanting to avoid panic among the disciples when the betrayal occurred, Jesus told the disciples beforehand what was going to happen so that they would recognize that He was the divine Messiah, the I AM of Deity, the receptivity of Whom is the receptivity of God.

(223) Betrayer Identified and Dismissed - Matt. 26:21-25; Mk. 14:18-21; Lk. 22:21-23; Jn. 13:21-30

   "A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (Isa. 53:3), Jesus was deeply wounded by Judas' betrayal of Him. He was aware that this was part of God's determined plan (cf. Acts 2:23; 4:28) for man's redemption and restoration, but nevertheless Judas was responsible for exercising his freedom of choice to engage in the act of betrayal for which he would be judged.

   The other disciples were astonished at the announcement of personal betrayal, anxiously evaluating and examining themselves whether they were capable of such. Jesus indicated that indeed someone who was enjoying table-fellowship on that occasion would be the betrayer.

   Peter in some manner requested John, who was apparently closer to Jesus at the table, to ascertain from Jesus some inside information about who it was that Jesus was referring to as the betrayer. Jesus told John that the betrayer would be the one whom He would honor with a courtesy "toast," whereupon He dipped the bread and gave it to Judas.

   The die was cast! Judas became the functional pawn possessed by Satan, and was anxious to depart. Jesus seems to say to him, "You're dismissed. Discharge your demonic duty. Don't delay!" The other disciples did not understand these instructions to Judas, thinking that Jesus had made other arrangements for some activity for Judas. When he departed, Judas apparently went straight to the Jewish religious authorities to inform them of Jesus' location.

(224) A New Commandment - Jn. 13:31-38

   At Judas' departure, the events are set in motion so that the Son of Man will be glorified by the ultimate humiliation of death by crucifixion and the resurrection of life out of death in order to restore divine life to mankind and allow deity to function within humanity to manifest the all-glorious character of God in man's behavior to the glory of God. Religion seems to inevitably have a misunderstanding of what is glorifying to God.

   Jesus began to express His farewell to the remaining disciples, indicating that the time was short. In similarity to what He had earlier said to the Jewish religionists (Jn. 7:33,34; 8:21), Jesus told the disciples that they would seek His physical presence but would be unable to find Him. The journey He had to take, they could not take with Him, i.e. to the cross.

   Since the totality of His life and action were the expression of God's love, Jesus gives the disciples a new commandment to "love one another as I have loved you." This was not an inculcation to imitate the example of Jesus' love in a self-generated love that "loves like Jesus loved." Religion has failed to understand the dynamic of God's love in the Christian "poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rom. 5:5) and expressed as the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22). Only when God's divine love is expressed in our behavior do we evidence that we are disciples of Christ. The evidence of Christian discipleship is not in charismatic experiences, orthodox doctrinal positions, submission to various rites and rituals of the church, consistent ethical proprieties, or conformity to ecclesiastical expectation, but only when the character of God's love (I Jn. 4:8,16) is expressed in Christians.

(225) Arrogant Self-resolve - Matt. 26:31-35; Mk. 14:27-31; Lk. 22:31-34

   Explaining that His departure would leave them alarmed and offended, Jesus indicated that it would be a fulfillment of Zechariah 13:7: "Strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered." He promised them that after He was resurrected He would precede them into Galilee again.

   To Simon Peter specifically, Jesus revealed that Satan had requested the opportunity to sift him like wheat in temptation, but He had prayed that his faith would not fail, and that he would strengthen others after his lapse. Peter wanted to know where Jesus was going. "You cannot go where I am going now, Peter," Jesus replied, "but later you will take such a journey" to your own crucifixion. Impatient and persistent, Peter asked, "Why can I not go now? I will do anything for you regardless of the danger. I am willing to die for You." Religion still persists in fallaciously thinking that such dedication and commitment is faith, when in reality it is nothing but proud self-resolve. Such pride goes before a fall (cf. Prov. 16:18; I Cor. 10:12), as it did with Peter. Jesus told Peter that by 3:00 A.M. the next morning when the rooster crowed he would already have denied Him three times.

(226) Difficult Witness - Lk. 22:35-38

   Jesus went on to tell the eleven disciples that in contrast to the ease of ministry in Galilee (Lk. 10:1-9), they should now expect the worst, taking with them adequate baggage, clothing and even a sword for self-defense if they were attacked, a common occurrence among travelers in those days. Jesus would be treated violently as a criminal, in fulfillment of Isa. 53:12, and the disciples would likewise suffer such adverse treatment. Failing to understand Jesus' intent, the disciples were ludicrously ready to go on the offense and do battle with the two swords they located among them. "That's enough of such militaristic mind-set," Jesus seems to say. Though Jesus never advocated violence and aggression, much of religion throughout human history has engaged in militaristic conquest and advancement under the banner of an holy war, a just war, or revolution against oppressors. The kingdom that Jesus came to bring in His spiritual reign in Christian lives cannot be established or advanced by armed force.

(227) A New Memorial Meal - Matt. 26:26-39; Mk. 14:22-25; Lk. 22:17-20; I Cor. 11:2-26

   In the midst of the Passover meal, which commemorated the deliverance of Israel from Egypt in the Exodus, Jesus instituted a new memorial meal that celebrated God's greater deliverance of His People in an exodus from spiritual death to life. The Passover bread which had symbolized "the bread of affliction" (Deut. 16:3), was now to symbolize the affliction of Jesus' body in death. The Passover wine which had represented the shed blood of the Passover lamb would now represent the shed blood of the Messianic Passover Lamb. It would now be a memorial of the new covenant arrangement between God and man wherein the Son of God has taken the death consequences of man's sin in order to deliver man from the death sentence and restore God's life to man. Such a new covenant had been promised by the prophets (Jere. 31:31-34; 32:40; Ezek. 37:26; II Cor. 3:6; Heb. 8:8-12; 10:16,17), and was enacted in the shedding of blood in Christ's death. How regrettable that religion has allowed the memorial meal of the Lord's Supper to become a ritualized rite, sometimes regarded to have saving significance, sacramentally literalizing Jesus' words in conceptions of transubstantiation or consubstantiation. Jesus intended the new covenant community of the kingdom to remember Him in the memorial meal which is referred to as the "Lord's Supper." He indicated to the disciples at that initial transformed Passover meal that the next occasion of His celebrating with them at the table would be in the context of the kingdom after His death and resurrection, as indeed He did (Lk. 24:35; Acts 10:41).

(228) Not Left Alone - John 14:1-31

   While still in the upper room Jesus attempts to settle the unsettled hearts of the disciples after the foreboding news of His departure unto death. Since the antidote to fear is faith, they are encouraged to believe in Him, trust Him, and be receptive to all that He is.

   In returning to God's presence Jesus is not going to a physical building or a localized space/time place (cf. Isa. 66:1,2; Acts 7:49). The habitation of God has room enough for all who desire to settle in and be secure in Him. "I have not misled you," Jesus tells the disciples. "You are not going to miss out." By going through death, burial, resurrection, ascension and the Pentecostal outpouring, Jesus prepared a place "near to the heart of God" for those who would identify with Him and be reconciled to God. Religion is not content with the abstraction of dwelling in the spiritual presence of God, and is often preoccupied with physical places, even conceiving of heaven in mercenary and self-serving expectations of tangibilized "mansions."

   "We will not be separated, but will remain spiritually united," Jesus promises His disciples. "I will come again in Spirit form (cf. vss. 18, 23, 28) at Pentecost, to receive you as joint-heirs with Myself in the kingdom." "The way that I must take to get there, you already know," Jesus told them, for He had advised them of His coming crucifixion. Thomas expressed the befuddlement of the other disciples when he said, "We do not know the destination. How can we know the way?" Jesus seems to say, "All you have to know is Me. I am the way of God, the truth of God, the life of God." The disciples of Jesus do not have to know the procedures and techniques of an arduous religious way. Nor do they have to know the propositional statements of epistemological religious truth. Nor do they have to know the programmed principles of religious activity. The Christian kingdom is totally and exclusively Christocentric. It is not just one of many acceptable religious paths to God. Jesus is the "living way" (Heb. 10:20), and "through Him we have access in one Spirit to the Father" (Eph. 2:18).

   To know Jesus is to know God. This is not the religious knowledge of empirical observation or education in history or theology, but is the knowledge of personal spiritual intimacy. The disciple Philip wanted visible confirmation of God, substituting sight for faith as have many in religion who have sought visible manifestations of healings, miracles, and calculable success. In response Jesus reaffirms the ontological unity of Father and Son, indicating that through the activity of the Son one can see and know the Father. As the Messianic Son, Jesus did not function by His own independent prerogative, but derived all from the Father. How did Jesus do what He did and live the way He lived? He explained, "The Father abiding in Me does His works." Contrary to the alleged independent exercise and performance of religion, the Christian life is derived from God as His divine works are manifested in character and ministry in our lives, as we are receptive to His activity in faith. All prayer that seeks the sufficiency of God to manifest His character will be answered by divine supply.

   The Christian life is not a religious effort to generate and manufacture obedience to rules and regulations or commandments of conformitory conduct. Jesus Christ is the dynamic of His own demands. The dynamic of Christian life in the kingdom is provided by the Holy Spirit. We are not left on our own as orphans trying to provide for ourselves and do our best to turn out presentable, despite the fact that many churches are but religious orphanages of helpless spiritual babies who have never understood their provision in Jesus Christ. Jesus promised the disciples to send "Another" like unto Himself, of the same Being, for the Holy Spirit is Himself in Spirit-form, the Spirit of Christ. On Pentecost the Spirit of Christ was made available to indwell and abide in Christians as the Spirit of God was indwelling and abiding in the man, Christ Jesus. Jesus abides in us "by the Spirit whom He has given us" (I John 3:24). "God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts" (Gal. 4:6).

   Christ is our life (Col. 3:4), and lives in and through the Christian (Gal. 2:20). In the Christian kingdom we have spiritual union with the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit comes alongside to encourage and disclose Jesus to us. This is not a bombastic spectacular demonstration and disclosure as religion desires and expects, but is a personal, spiritual and intimate disclosure of Jesus. The encouraging Spirit of Christ teaches us all things that God wants us to know and brings spiritual understanding (cf. John 16:13; I John 2:27).

   Though the disciples of Jesus may be tempted to be fearful and unsettled by the inevitable conflict with the world and religion, they can have the "peace of Christ" (Col. 3:15) that "surpasses comprehension" (Phil. 4:7), by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit who is one with the "Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6). This does not mean that there will be a panacea that allows for the absence of all external conflict, but the presence and sufficiency of the Spirit of Christ for every situation.

   It was only in the physical departure of Jesus by death and ascension that the spiritual presence of Jesus Christ could be facilitated in the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost. Jesus tried to prepare His disciples to understand that His physical absence would not preclude His presence.

   Sensing that Judas, into whom Satan had entered with his spirit of deceit, would soon be leading the religious authorities, who were also the pawns of the "ruler of this world" (cf. Jn. 12:31; I Cor. 4:4), to the upper room, Jesus paused the instruction in that location, and indicated that they should depart. Though Satan had no stronghold of indwelling presence or patterning in Jesus, the diabolic adversary would soon utilize his religious and governmental agents to come against the Messiah in putting Him to death. Jesus had accepted such in loving submission.

(229) Spiritual Sufficiency - John 15:1-17

   Though the remainder of Jesus' instruction to the eleven disciples is often included in the designation of "the upper room discourse," these words were apparently uttered as Jesus led His disciples through Jerusalem after dark, perhaps even stopping in the temple area.

   A growing vine along the way may have prompted the analogy that Jesus made between the vine and the branch. The religion of Judaic Israel had brought forth only "sour grapes" of self-righteousness (cf. Isa. 5:1-7), but Jesus is the true vine with the substance of God's life. Like branches united to the vine, Christians are to be the conduits of His life. Apart from Jesus Christians can do nothing that manifests the character or activity of God. There may be much religious activity, but the fruit of God's character does not come from the self-generated manufacture of self-effort and human performance. Religion has a tendency to set up fruit stands to dispense the detached fruit of merit and rewards, falsely thinking that "fruit" is numerical success or behavior modification. Jesus was explaining to the disciples that everything in the Christian life is Christo-dynamic, to be derived from Him by the receptivity of faith. Out of an ontological spiritual union with the Spirit of Christ, the Christian maintains an abiding and settled receptivity that derives all from Him in order to bear (not produce) the fruit of God's character and activity in his or her behavior. The failure to remain in this relationship of derivative receptivity disallows the vital flow of Christ's life and necessarily severs the dynamic union and expression of the divine.

   As the Christian settles into the sufficiency of the expression of Christ in his life, his desires coincide with the intent of God. When the fruitfulness (cf. Gal. 5:22,23) of the all-glorious character of God is exhibited in Christian behavior God is glorified thereby, and Christians demonstrate that they are disciples of Christ willing to derive all from Him. Jesus serves as the dynamic of His own demands expressing divine love (cf. Rom. 5:5), and the Christian experiences the joy (chara) of the Lord realized only by the grace (charis) dynamic of God. In the intimacy of this receptive relationship Christians are not religious slaves engaged in mechanical obedience, but are friends of Christ who are "in on what God is up to," having the inner confidence of knowing God's will and direction.

(230) The Provision of the Holy Spirit - John 15:18 ­ 16:15

   Jesus was careful to explain to His disciples that the sufficiency of His Christo-dynamic grace would not forestall external conflict, antagonism, hostility and hatred. The religious ideal of a utopian environment which is cozy, rosy and sweet, with no problems, no trials, no buffetings and no discipline is contrary to the realistic appraisal that Jesus gave of functioning as a Christian in the world. He told His disciples not to be shocked (cf. I Pet. 4:12), surprised or scandalized at the opposition, hatred and mistreatment of the world of religion. The world-system of mankind and its religion hates Christians because the Satanic "god of this world" (II Cor. 4:4), the "ruler of this world" (John 12;31; 14:30) hates Jesus who has become the life of the Christian. Despite often affirming theistic belief, religion does not know God because they have not received Jesus. Religion is particularly persecutive of Christians because the work of Jesus makes them accountable for their sin, and the grace of God in Jesus Christ makes all their religious performance for naught. Jesus forewarned His disciples that those in the Jewish religion would hate them, ostracize them, persecute them, excommunicate them, and even kill them. They would do so with the perverse idea that they were serving God in so doing (cf. Acts 26:9-11), but in actuality they would be ignorant of God and His Messiah. Such hatred of the Jewish religion toward Jesus and His followers is a fulfillment of the prophecy of the Psalmist that "They hated Me without a cause" (Psalm 69:4). Jesus reminded His disciples, though, that they would not be left alone, for the Encourager, the divine Holy Spirit, would draw their attention back to Him and the sufficient dynamic of His grace.

   Despite His coming departure via death, burial and ascension which would produce sorrow in His disciples, it would be to their spiritual advantage because the encouraging Spirit of Christ would be made available to dwell within them. Contrary to the mealy-mouthed, sugar-coated nonjudgmentalism of religion, the Holy Spirit would convict the world through Christians of their sin of unbelief, that righteousness is derived only from God in Christ, and that divine judgment has been effected upon Satan and his religious adherents by the victory of Jesus on the cross (cf. Heb. 2:14; I John 3:8). Rather than propagandizing people with religious information and doctrinal data, the Holy Spirit would direct Christians into the Truth and Reality of God in Christ. Without speculating calculations of timetables the Holy Spirit would disclose what was to come. Not concentrating on Himself, the Holy Spirit would glorify Jesus and disclose Him to Christians. When Christians are dreary, discouraged and down in the mouth, they usually do not understand the Holy Spirit advantage.

(231) Sorrow Turned to Joy - John 16:16-33

   The disciples were perplexed when Jesus said, "Now you see Me; then you will not see Me; then again you will see Me." Jesus' additional explanation of how they would weep and mourn for the dead while the world rejoiced, but would then find their sorrow turned to joy, did not seem to make any more sense to the disciples. Employing a simile, Jesus illustrated how the same event that causes sorrow can produce joy, for just as the anguish of childbirth allows for the joy of a newborn child, the anguish of the cross would allow for the joy of spiritual new birth causing Christians to "glory in the cross" (Gal. 6:14). Though the disciples presently saw Him physically as He was teaching them, they would not see Him when He was dead and buried and/or ascended, but would see Him again physically after the resurrection and spiritually after the Pentecostal outpouring. The sorrow of seeing Jesus crucified would become the permanent and abiding joy of realizing that the cross was the remedial redemptive action necessary for the restorative action that allows God's life to dwell again in mankind. Then their questions would be answered; they could ask God for anything and He would supply their every need; and their joy would be made full.

   Admitting that He had used much figurative language, both for the purpose of teaching abstract concepts which needed to be simplified, and for the purpose of confusing the religionists, Jesus then explained to the disciples that the complete context of what God was doing in the Messiah would be made explicitly evident after He had departed. After Pentecost God's complete restorational intent for mankind was indeed made clear ­ the Spirit of Christ could indwell the spirit of man in order to live and function through man to the glory of God. This is not an indirect system of continually mediated and relayed requests, but a direct and immediate personal relationship that the Christian has with God the Father. When Jesus explicitly stated that He had come from God the Father to earth and would be returning to the Father, the disciples affirmed their belief in Him as the Messiah. Jesus knew, though, that the big test was coming in the crisis of the crucifixion, when the disciples would flee like scattered sheep (cf. Matt. 26:31), leaving Him alone on the human plane, but not abandoned by the Father. Despite their coming tribulation, Jesus wanted the disciples to know His peace, and to know that He was the triumphant victor over the world system and all of its religion.

(232) Jesus Prays for Himself and His Disciples - John 17:1-26

   In the assurance of His victory over Satan, Jesus solicits God the Father in personal prayer to implement the glorious purpose of His coming to earth, i.e. to restore divine eternal life to mankind in the intimacy of reconciled personal relationship. The character and activity of God was exemplified perfectly in the life and work of Jesus Christ on earth. Jesus accomplished and completed all that God wanted to do through Him, as was His previously stated intent (Jn. 4:34) and His subsequent cry of triumph (Jn. 19:30). The redemptive mission had been set in motion unto the inevitability of God's intent, and the Son of God was desirous of returning to the uncorrupted heavenly glory of God's presence that He had known in His pre-existence.

   Jesus regarded His disciples as having been divinely selected, not randomly recruited or picked on the basis of personality, scholarship or good looks as religion so often does. Praying particularly for His disciples, Jesus affirms that He had exhibited God's character in His behavior and taught the disciples as God had directed His thinking, so that they believed that He was the Messiah sent from God. As He prepares to physical depart from their presence, Jesus is desirous that the remaining disciples will be preserved by God's power, and that they will maintain their unity in love, like unto the spiritual unity of Father and Son. Religion inevitably breeds divisiveness and disputation (cf. Gal. 5:20), and then sets about to effect organizational unity in ecumenical ecclesiasticism. Jesus had preserved the unity of the disciples during His physical presence, and only Judas, the "son of perdition" had perished in fulfillment of prophecy (cf. Ps. 41:9).

   Jesus wanted His disciples to experience His joy, even though they would be devastated by His coming crucifixion and departure. Despite remaining in the world, they would not be deriving their identity and activity from the "god of this world" (II Cor. 4:4), and thus would be hated and despised by the world and its religion (cf. I Jn. 3:13). It would not serve God's purpose to have Christians isolated in escapism and separatism, but Jesus prayed that God would protect them from the Evil One (cf. II Thess 3:3; II Pet. 2:9; I John 5:18). He prayed that the disciples might be set apart to function as holy people (cf. I Thess. 5:23), willing Himself to be set apart to function dynamically and intercessorily on their behalf. On behalf of His disciples and all subsequent Christians in every age Jesus prayed that they would recognize and be preserved in spiritual unity that was indicative of divine unity. The visible unity of Christians serves as an unspoken proclamation of the unity of God and His love (cf. Col. 3:14) expressed in His people, whereas religious divisions only reflect divided loyalties of idolatry. Christian unity is not rigid uniformity or conformity of thought, opinion, doctrine, polity, practice or worship patterns, but entails being "united in spirit" (Phil. 2:2) and "preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3). As He anticipated His return to heavenly glory, Jesus also prayed that Christians might join Him in the timeless and unhindered glory of God's presence.

(233) Jesus' Anguishes in Prayer - Matt. 26:30, 36-46; Mk. 14:26, 32-42; Lk. 22:39-46; Jn. 18:1

   Jesus led His disciples through the Kedron Valley to a garden-grove on the Mount of Olives known as Gethsemane. Eight of the disciples were left on guard while Jesus took Peter, James and John with Him to pray. Jesus admitted to these three disciples the psychological anguish and sorrow of His soul. He then asked them to pray for Him as He went about a stone's throw away to pray. The disciples heard Him ask the Father if it were possible that the coming cup of suffering and spiritual death might be avoided, but not at the expense of thwarting God's will. Before they fell asleep in exhaustion they also saw that an angel ministered unto Jesus while He was sweating profusely.

   When Jesus came back to the three disciples He found them sleeping. He asked them, and particularly Peter, why they could not stay alert for just one hour to support Him in His agony. He knew that their spirit was willing but their flesh was weak, and encouraged them to pray that they not succumb to the temptation of inattention. Three times Jesus removed Himself to pray and returned to find the three disciples sleeping. On the third occasion He told the disciples to keep on sleeping. It did not matter any longer.

   Perhaps He saw the approaching lanterns of the religious authorities, being led by Judas to the familiar meeting place of Jesus and His disciples in the garden, after having failed to find Him in the upper room. "The time has come," Jesus said, "for the Son of Man to be betrayed into the hands of sinners." Religious authorities never like to be identified as "sinners," but such they are, perpetually involved in the betrayal of Jesus Christ.


1    Stein, Robert H., Difficult Sayings in the Gospels: Jesus' Use of Overstatement and Hyperbole. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. 1985. pg. 24.
2    Ibid., pg. 53.
3    Josephus, Flavius, The Wars of the Jews. Philadelphia: David McKay Pub. n.d. pg. 857.
4    Ibid. pg. 788.
5    Ibid. pg.
6.   Ibid., pg. 822.
   Cranfield, C.E.B., "Scottish Journal of Theology." Vol. 6. 1953. pgs. 301, 302.



 Gospels in Harmony Series