John 18-21

John 18‑21  •  1.1 hr. read  •  grade level: 7
John 18-21
I have followed this Gospel in its order, down to the close of John 17, having distributed it so far into three principal sections: the first, introducing our Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Stranger from heaven, and giving us His action and reception in the world the second, exhibiting Him in His intercourses and controversies with Israel; the third, giving Him to us in the bosom of His elect, instructing them in the mysteries of the heavenly priesthood, and in their standing as the children of the Father. And now, we have to consider the fourth and closing section, which gives us what attended on His death and resurrection. May the entrance of the Lord’s words still give light, and bear with them to our souls a savor of that blessed One of Whom they speak!
But while, in labors like these, beloved, we seek to discover the order of the divine Word, and are led to wonder at its depths, or admire its beauty, we should remember that it is its truth we must chiefly consider. It is when the Word comes with “much assurance,” that it works effectually in us. It will not profit if not mixed with faith. Its power to gladden and to purify will depend on its being received as truth; and as we trace out, and present to one another, the beauties, the depths, and the wonders of the Word, we should often pause and say to our souls as the angel said to the overwhelmed apostle who had seen the lovely visions and heard the marvelous revelations, “These are the true sayings of God.”
The place in our Gospel to which I have now arrived, presents our Lord Jesus Christ in His sufferings. But I may notice that it is not His sufferings that occupy Him in this Gospel. Throughout it He appears to stand above the reproaches of the people, and the world’s rejection of Him. So that, when the last passover was approaching, though in the other Gospels we see Him with His mind full upon His being the Lamb that was chosen for it, and hear Him saying to His disciples, “Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of Man is betrayed to be crucified,” yet in our Gospel it is not so. He goes up to Jerusalem at the time; but it is to seat Himself in the midst of an elect household. (John 12:11Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. (John 12:1)). And so afterwards. When He is alone with His disciples, He stands above His sorrows and the world still— He does not tell them of the Jews betraying Him to the Gentiles, and of the Gentiles crucifying Him—He does not speak of His being mocked, and scourged, and spit upon, as in the other Gospels. All this is passed by. The many things which the Son of Man was to suffer at the hands of sinful men lie untold here. But, on the other hand, He assumes the hour of the power of darkness to be past; and as soon as we find Him alone with His elect, He takes His place beyond that hour (Chapter 13:1). Gethsemane and Calvary are behind Him, and He apprehends Himself as having reached the hour, not of the garden, or of the cross, but of the Mount of Olives, the hour of His ascension our evangelist saying, “Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father,” these words showing us plainly that His mind was not upon His suffering, but on the heaven of the Father that was beyond it. He spreads before them, not the memorials of His death here, but of His life in heaven, as we have seen; for He washes their feet after supper. And all His discourse with His beloved ones afterwards (John 14-16) savored of this. It all assumed that His sorrow was past—that He had finished His course—that He had stood against the prince of this world, and had conquered—that He continued in the Father’s love, and that all was ripe for His being glorified. His words to them assumed this; and, on the around of this, He strengthened them to conquer, as He had conquered. Instead of telling them of His sorrows, His object is to comfort them in theirs. He gave them peace and the promise of the Comforter, and of the glory that was to follow. And when, for a moment, as urged by their state of mind, He speaks of their all leaving Him alone in the coming hour, it was not without this assurance—“And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” And, in like manner, when He was separating Judas from the rest, we read that “He was troubled in spirit”; but, as soon as the traitor was gone, He rises to His own proper elevation, and says, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him.” Thus, if His soul pass through a groan or trouble, it is but for a moment, and just to lead Him into a fuller view of the glory that was beyond it all.
It is just the same as He descends into the deepest shades of His lonely way. Even here it is still strength that accompanies Him throughout, and glory that appears before Him throughout. And thus, whether in labor, in testimony, or in suffering, He is still, in this Gospel, in His elevation as Son of God. He walks on in the consciousness of His dignity; He takes the cup as from the Father’s hand, and lays down His life of Himself.
John 18-19
We may remember that, in John 17, we saw our Lord as the Advocate in the heavenly temple, making His requests. From that place He now comes down to meet the hour of the power of darkness. In that chapter His heart and His eye had been full of His Father’s glory, of His own glory, and that of the Church; and forth from all this, thus in spirit set before Him, He comes out to endure the cross.
In the other Gospels, He meets the cross after the strengthening that He had received from the angel in Gethsemane, but we have nothing of that scene here; for that was the passage of the Son of Man through the anticipation of His agony, His soul being exceeding sorrowful, even unto death, with the strength of God by an angel ministered to Him. But here it is the Son of God descending as from heaven to meet the cross; and His passage through the whole of the hour of the power of darkness is taken in the strength of the Son of God. He seeks no companionship. In the other Gospels, we see Him leading aside Peter, James, and John, if, perhaps, He might engage their sympathy to watch with Him for an hour. But here there is none of this. He passes all alone through the sorrow. The disciples, it is true, go with Him into the garden, but He knows them there only as needing His protection, and not as yielding Him any desired sympathy. “ seek Me, let these go their way.” As the angel does not strengthen Him in the garden, neither do His disciples stand with Him there for any cause of His. He comes down as the Son of God from His own place on high; to walk (as far as man was concerned) alone to Calvary. Though His present path lay to the cross, it was still a path of none less than the Son of God. The loneliness of the Stranger from heaven is marked here, as it had been all through this Gospel.
And let me add (a reflection that has occurred to me with much comfort), that there is a greatness in God, in the sense of which we should much exercise our hearts. There is no straitness in Him. The psalmist appears to give himself to this thought in Psalm 36. All that he there sees in God, he sees in its proper divine greatness and excellency. His mercy is in the heavens; His faithfulness unto the clouds; His righteousness is like the great mountains, and His judgments are like the deep; His preserving care is so perfect that the beasts as well as men are the objects of it; His loving-kindness so excellent, that the children of men hide themselves as under the shadow of His wings; His house is so stored with all good, that His people are abundantly satisfied with its fatness; and His pleasures for them are so full, that they drink of them as of a river. All this is the greatness and magnificence of God, not only in Himself, but in His ways and dealings with us. And, beloved, this is blessed truth to us. For our sins should be judged in the sense of this greatness. It is true, indeed, that sin is exceeding sinful. The least soil or stain upon God’s fair workmanship is full of horrid shapes, in the eye of faith that calculates duly on God’s glory. A little hole dug in the wall is enough to show a prophet great abominations. But when brought to stand, side by side, with the greatness of the grace that is in God our Saviour, how does it appear? Where was the crimson sin of the adulteress? where the sins that had, as it were, grown old in the Samaritan woman? They may be searched for, but they cannot be found. They disappear in the presence of the grace that was brought to shine beside them. The abounding grace rolled away the reproach forever. God Who takes up the isles as a very little thing, and measures the waters in the hollow of His hand, takes away our sins far off “to a land of separation” (Lev. 16:2222And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:22)).
“I hear the accuser roar
Of ills that I have done—
I know them well, and thousands more—
Jehovah findeth none.”
With these thoughts we may well encourage our hearts. Our God would have us know Him in His own greatness. Set sin alone, and the least speck of it is a monster. Set it beside His grace, and it vanishes. And all this expression of divine greatness breaks forth in Jesus throughout this Gospel. There is everywhere the tone and bearing of the Son of God in Him and about Him, though we see Him even in toil or in suffering.
But this only by the way. We have now followed our Lord over the brook Cedron; and the spot must have been one of sacred and affecting recollections to Him. For here it was that David had once stopped with Ittai his friend, and with Zadok and the ark, as he went forth from Jerusalem in the fear of Absalom. Over this very brook, and up this very ascent of Mount Olivet, the king of Israel had then gone weeping, his head covered and his feet bare, while Ahithophel, who had once been his counsellor, was betraying him to his enemies (2 Sam. 15). Jesus, we read, often resorted thither; no doubt with these recollections. But it is the Son of God we have here at the present time, rather than the Son of David. The brook is passed and the garden is entered, not with tears, and without the ark; but more than the ark in all its glory and strength are to be displayed now. The Lord comes forth to the band of cruel officers and soldiers, as they were, with this word, “Whom seek ye?”—thus addressing them, as in the repose of heaven, which was His. And He comes forth in the power of heaven, as well as in its repose—for on His afterwards saying to them, “I am He,” they go backward, and fall to the ground. No man could take His life from Him. He has even to show them their prey; for all their torches and lanterns would not otherwise have discovered Him to them. Every stage in the way was His own. He laid down His life of Himself. They that would eat up His flesh must stumble and fall. They that desired His hurt must be turned back, and put to confusion. The fire was ready to consume this captain and his fifty. (See 2 Kings 1). Had the Son of God pleased, there, on the ground, the enemy would still have lain. He had come, however, not to destroy men’s lives, but to save; and therefore He would lay down His own. It was just seen that the glory that might have confounded all the power of the adversary lay hid within the pitcher; but He was willing to hide it still.
Thus, as Son of God, He stood in this hour, and could have stood against hosts of them; but He would take the cup from His Father’s hand, and give His life for the Church. Those who were with Him become now, in their willfulness, an offence to Him. His kingdom was not as yet of this world; and therefore His servants might not fight. Peter draws his sword, and would have changed the scene into a mere trial of human strength. But this must not be. It is true, the Son of God could have stood. He might again have been the ark of God, with the power of the enemy falling before it; but how then should the Scripture be fulfilled? He rather leaves Himself in the hands of enemies. “Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound Him.”
Thus was it, so far, with the Lord. And as we still follow Him, we still trace the way of the Son of God, the Lord from heaven. Whether we listen to Him with the officers, or with the high priest, or before Pilate, it is still in the same tone of holy distance from all that was around Him. They may do to Him whatsoever they list—He is as a stranger to it. He is not careful to answer them in their matters. He would pass through all in loneliness. The daughters of Jerusalem do not here either yield Him their sympathy, or receive His; nor does a dying thief share that hour with Him. He is the lonely One all through that dreary way. Peter is found in the way of the ungodly, warming himself among them, as one who had only the resources which they had. Another (perhaps John himself) takes his place as the acquaintance of the high priest, and gets his advantage as such. But all this was a sinking down into mere nature, and leaving the Son of God alone— as He had said to them “Ye...shall leave Me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.”
And His path, I need not say, is without a stain. “Let God be true, but every man a liar.” So Jesus is without fault, though all beside fail. He was “justified in the Spirit.” He has no step to retrace, no word to recall. He could righteously vindicate Himself in everything, and even reprove His accuser, and say, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou Me?” But even Paul, in such a case, had to recall his word, and to say, “I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest.”
From the hand of the high priest the Lord passes into the hand of the Roman governor. And here a scene opens full of solemn warning to us all, beloved, as well as preserving before us still the full character of our Gospel.
It is very evident that, throughout this scene, Pilate was desirous to quiet the people, and deliver Jesus from the malice of the Jews. It appears, from the very first, that he was sensible of something peculiar in this Prisoner of theirs. His silence had such a character in it, that, as we read, “the governor marvelled greatly.” And what divine attractions (we may observe) must every little passage of His life, every path that He took among men, have had about it! And what must the condition of the eye and the ear and the heart of man have been, not to discern and allow all this! The governor’s first impression was strengthened by everything that happened as the scene proceeded; his wife’s dream, the evident malice of the Jews, and, above all, this righteous, guiltless Prisoner (though thus in shame and suffering) still persisting that He was the Son of God, all assailed his conscience. But the world in Pilate’s heart was too strong for these convictions in his conscience. They made a noise within him, it is true, but the voice of the world prevailed; and he went the way of the world, though thus convicted. Could he, however, have preserved the world for himself, he would willingly have preserved Jesus. He let the Jews fully understand that he was in no fear of Jesus; that He was not such a One as could create with him any alarm about the interests of his master, the emperor. But they still insisted that Jesus had been making Himself a king, and that if Pilate let this Man go, he could not be Caesar’s friend. And this prevailed.
How does all this lead us to see, that there is no security for the soul but in the possession of that faith which overcomes the world! Pilate had no desire for the blood of Jesus, as the Jews had; but the friendship of Caesar must not be hazarded. The rulers of Israel had once feared that, if they let this Man alone, the Romans would come and take away both their place and nation (John 11:4848If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. (John 11:48)); and Pilate now fears to lose the friendship of the same world in the person of the Roman emperor. And thus did the world bind him and the Jews together in the act of crucifying the Lord of glory! As it is written, “For of a truth, against Thy holy Child Jesus, Whom Thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together.”
Still, as I have observed, Pilate would have saved Jesus, could he, at the same time, have saved his own reputation as Caesar’s friend; and therefore it was that he now entered the judgment-hall, and put this inquiry to Jesus, “Art Thou the King of the Jews?” For, as the Jews had committed the Lord to him, upon a charge of having made Himself a king (Luke 23:22And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King. (Luke 23:2)), if he could but lead the Lord to retract His kingly claims, he might both save Him, and keep himself unharmed. With the design of doing so, he seems at this time to enter the judgment-hall. But the world in Pilate’s heart knew not Jesus; as it is written, “The world knew Him not” (John 1:1010He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. (John 1:10); 1 John 3:11Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. (1 John 3:1)). Pilate was now to find that the god of this world had nothing in the Lord. “Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of Me?” Our Lord by this would learn from Pilate himself where the source of the accusation against Him lay; whether His claim to be King of the Jews was challenged by Pilate as protector of the emperor’s rights in Judea, or merely upon a charge of the Jews.
Upon this, I may say, hung everything in the present juncture; and the wisdom and purpose of the Lord in giving the inquiry this direction is manifest. Should Pilate say that he had become apprehensive of Roman interests, the Lord could at once have referred him to the whole course of His life and ministry, to prove that, touching the king, innocency had been found in Him. He had taught the rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. He had withdrawn Himself, departing into a mountain alone, when He perceived that the multitude would have taken Him by force to make Him a king. His controversy was not with Rome. When He came, He found Caesar in Judea, and He never questioned his title to be there; He rather, at all times, allowed his title, and took the place of the nation, which, because of disobedience, had the image and the superscription of Caesar engraven, as it were, on their very land. It is true, that it was despite of the majesty of Jehovah that had made way for the Gentiles to enter Jerusalem; but Jerusalem was, for the present, the Gentiles’ place, and the Lord had no controversy with them because of this. Nothing but the restored faith and allegiance of Israel to God could rightfully cancel this title of the Gentiles. The Lord’s controversy was, therefore, not with Rome; and Pilate would have had his answer according to all this, had the challenge proceeded from himself as representative of the Roman power. But it did not. Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered Thee unto me: what hast Thou done?”
Now, this answer of Pilate conveyed the full proof of the guilt of Israel. In the mouth of him who represented the power of the world at that time the thing was established, that Israel had disclaimed their King, and sold themselves into the hand of another. This, for the present, was everything with Jesus. This at once carried Him beyond the earth, and out of the world. Israel had rejected Him; and His kingdom was, therefore, not from hence; for Zion is the appointed place for the King of the whole earth to sit and rule; and the unbelief of the daughter of Zion must keep the King of the earth away.
The Lord, then, as this rejected King, listening to this testimony from the lips of the Roman, could only recognize the present loss of His throne, “Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world; if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is My kingdom not from hence.” He had no weapons for war, if Israel refused Him. There was no threshing for His floor now, for Israel is His instrument to thresh the mountains (Isa. 41:1515Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff. (Isaiah 41:15); Micah 4:1313Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion: for I will make thine horn iron, and I will make thy hoofs brass: and thou shalt beat in pieces many people: and I will consecrate their gain unto the Lord, and their substance unto the Lord of the whole earth. (Micah 4:13); Jer. 51:2020Thou art my battle axe and weapons of war: for with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms; (Jeremiah 51:20)), and Israel was refusing Him. The house of Judah, and that only, is Messiah to make “His goodly horse in the battle” (Zech. 10:33Mine anger was kindled against the shepherds, and I punished the goats: for the Lord of hosts hath visited his flock the house of Judah, and hath made them as his goodly horse in the battle. (Zechariah 10:3)); and, therefore, in this unbelief of Judah, He had nothing wherewith to break the arrows of the bow, the shield, the sword, and the battle (Psa. 76). His kingdom could not be of this world — “it could not be from hence”; He had no servants who could fight, that He should not be delivered to His enemies.
This present loss of His kingdom, however, does not annul His title to it; for the Lord, while allowing His present loss of it, yet allows this in such terms as fully express His title to it, and led Pilate at once to say, “Art Thou a king, then?” And to this His good confession is witnessed. For Pilate would have had no cause to dread either the displeasure of his master or the tumult of the people; he might have fearlessly followed his will, and delivered his Prisoner, if the blessed Confessor would now alter the word that had gone out of His lips, and withdraw His claim to be a king. But Jesus answered, “Thou sayest that I am a king.” From this, His claim, there could be no retiring. Here was His good confession before Pontius Pilate (1 Tim. 6:1313I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; (1 Timothy 6:13)). Though His own received Him not, yet He was theirs; though the world knew Him not, yet it was made by Him. Though the husbandmen were casting Him out, yet He was the Heir of the vineyard. He was anointed to the throne in Zion, though His citizens were saying they would not have Him to reign over them; and He must by His “good confession” fully verify His claim to it, and stand to that claim before all the power of the world. It might arm all that power against Him, but it must be made. Herod, and all Jerusalem, had once been moved at hearing that He was born who was King of the Jews, and Herod had sought to slay the Child; but let the whole world be now moved, and arm its power against Him, yet He must declare God’s decree, “Yet have I set My King upon My holy hill of Zion” (Psa. 2). His right must be witnessed, though in the presence of the usurper, and in the very hour of his power.
But now we are led into other and further revelations. This “good confession” being thus witnessed, the Lord was prepared to unfold other parts of the divine counsels. When He had distinctly verified His title to the kingdom in the face of the world, He was prepared to testify His present character and ministry. “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth; everyone that is of the truth heareth My voice.” His possession of the kingdom was for a time hindered by the unbelief of His nation; but He shows that there had been no failure of the purpose of God by this, for He had come into the world for other present work than to take His throne in Zion. He had come to bear witness unto the truth; and our Gospel is especially the instrument for presenting the Lord in that ministry. As it is said of Him at the opening of it, “The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” He had come into the world that He might say, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.” He had come that He might give us an understanding to know Him that is true (1 John 5:2020And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. (1 John 5:20)). He had been manifesting the Father’s name to those who had been given Him out of the world, and this was the same as bearing witness to the truth (John 8:26-2726I have many things to say and to judge of you: but he that sent me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him. 27They understood not that he spake to them of the Father. (John 8:26‑27)). Every one that was of the truth, as He here speaks to Pilate, had been hearing His voice. His sheep had heard it, while others had believed not, because they were not His sheep. He that was of God had heard it, while others had heard it not, because they were not of God (John 8:4747He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God. (John 8:47)).
Such was the Lord’s present ministry, while Israel was in unbelief. Though King of the Jews, and, as such, King of the whole earth, He could not as yet take His kingdom, for His title had been denied by His nation. He must take up other ministry, and the character of that ministry He here reveals to Pilate, and had been presenting all through our Gospel.
Thus, this good confession before Pontius Pilate, recorded in this Gospel, still leads the Lord’s thoughts quite in the current of this Gospel. While standing to it, consenting for a while to answer for Himself, He still knows Himself in highest and holiest ministry; yea, I may say, His divine ministry, a ministry which none but the Only Begotten of the Father, none but He Who is in the bosom of the Father, and Who was full of grace and truth, could have fulfilled.
This is still striking; and as we follow Him on to the cross, we have the Son of God still. We see His title to the kingdom verified with all authority. The enemy would have had it blotted out, but he cannot prevail. Pilate, who before had despised the claims of Jesus, saying to the Jews, “Behold your King,” will now have them published in the chief languages of the earth, and it is not in the power of the Jews to change his mind now, as before. The cross shall be the Lord’s standard, and Jehovah will emblazon it with inscriptions of His royal dignity, be the earth never so angry.
But this is the only Gospel that gives us this conversation between Pilate and the Jews about the inscription on the cross; for it savored of the glory of Jesus. And so it is only our evangelist who notices the woven coat, which was something that the soldiers would not rend—a little circumstance in itself, but helping still to keep in view (in full harmony with this Gospel generally) the holy dignity of Him who was passing through this hour of darkness.
Here it is, also, that our Lord lays aside His human affections. He sees His mother and His beloved disciple near the cross; but it is only to commend them the one to the other; and thus to separate Himself from the place which He had once filled among them. Sweet indeed it is to see how faithfully He owned the affection up to the latest moment that He could listen to it. No sorrow of His own (though that was bitter enough, as we know) could make Him forget it, But He was not always to know it. The children of the resurrection neither marry, nor are given in marriage. They were not, henceforth, to know Him “after the flesh.” He must now form their knowledge of Him by other thoughts, for they are henceforth to be joined to Him as “one spirit”; for such are His blessed ways. If He take His distance from us, as not knowing us in “the flesh,” it is only that we may be united to Him in nearer affections and closer interests.
And, to look deeper than the circumstances of this hour, if we mark the Lord’s spirit on the cross, we shall still discern the Son of God. He thirsted—He tasted death, it is true—He knew the drought of that land where the living God was not. But His sense of this is still expressed in His own tone. It does not come forth in the cry, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” That is given us in its proper place. But here there is no such cry recorded; there is no amazement of spirit, nor horror of great darkness for three hours; neither is there a commending of Himself to the Father; but it is simply, “I thirst”; and when He had entered and passed through that thirst, He verifies the full accomplishment of all things, saying “It is finished.” He does not commend His work to the approval of God, but seals it with His own seal, attesting it as complete, and giving it the sufficient sanction of His own approval. And when He could thus sanction all as finished, He delivers up His life Himself.
These were strong touches of the mind in which He was passing through these hours; and these hours now end. The Son of God was now made perfect as the Author of eternal salvation to all that obey Him; and the fountain for sin and for uncleanness is opened. The water and the blood came forth to bear witness that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son (1 John 5:8-128And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. 9If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. 10He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. 11And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. (1 John 5:8‑12)). We have not here the centurion’s confession, “Truly this was the Son of God”; we have not Pilate’s wife, nor the convicted lips of Judas, bearing Him witness. Jesus does not here receive witness from men, but from God. The water and the blood are God’s witnesses to His Son, and to the life that sinners may find in Him. It was sin that pierced Him. The action of the soldier was a sample of man’s enmity. It was as the sullen shot of the defeated foe after the battle; the more loudly telling out the deep-seated hatred that there is in man’s heart to God and His Christ. But it only sets off the riches of that grace that met it, and abounded over it; for it was answered by the love of God. The point of the soldier’s spear was touched by the blood. The crimson flood came forth to roll away the crimson sin. The blood and the water issue through the wounded side of the Son of God. Now was the day of atonement fully come; and the water of separation, the ashes of the red heifer, were now sprinkled. This was the Lamb which Abel had offered. This was the blood which Noah had shed, and which gave free course to the unmingled grace of God’s heart towards sinners (Gen. 8:2121And the Lord smelled a sweet savor; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. (Genesis 8:21)). This was the ram of Mount Moriah. And this was the blood which daily flowed round the brazen altar in the temple. This was the blood which is the only ransom of the unnumbered thousands before the throne of God.
But though pierced, thus to be the fountain of the blood and the water, the Lord’s body may not be broken. The paschal Lamb may be killed, but not a bone of it is to be broken. It shall do all the purpose of divine love in sheltering the firstborn—but beyond that it is sacred; no rude hand may touch it. Jesus was to say, “All my bones shall say, LORD, who is like unto Thee, which deliverest the poor from him that is too strong for him, yea, the poor and the needy from him that spoileth him.” And the Church is His body. He is the Head, and we are the members; and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, and not a bone of that mystic body is to be wanting: all must come unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. For all, from of old, have been written in God’s book, and are to be fashioned and curiously wrought together, even every one of them (Psa. 139:1616Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:16)).
Thus was it with our Lord in our Gospel, while He was yet on the cross. In every feature we see the Son of God. And as we follow Him thence to the grave, it is the Son of God still. We do not there see Him numbered with the transgressors, and with the wicked in His death; but we do see His grave with the rich. Two honored sons of Israel come to own Him, and charge themselves with His body, to spend their perfumes and their labor upon it.
But in all this we have again something to notice.
When the Lord’s body was pierced, it not only, as I have observed, allowed God’s witnesses—the blood and the water— to be heard, but it gives occasion to that which was written, “They shall look on Him Whom they pierced.” And this word, which tells of Israel’s repentance in the latter day, introduces the action of Joseph and Nicodemus, and makes them the representatives of repentant Israel. They come last in the order of faith. They had been afraid of their unbelieving nation, afraid of the thunder of the synagogue, and had not continued with the Lord in His temptations, but were only secretly His disciples. They were slow of heart; nevertheless, in the end, they do own the Lord, and are brought to look on Him whom they pierced. They take the body from the cross, fresh with the piercing of the soldier’s spear; and, as they lowered it from the tree, surely they must have looked, and looked well, upon the hands, and feet, and wounded side. And they must have mourned as they looked, for their hearts had been already softened to take impression from the crucified One. And so will it be with Israel. They come last in the order of faith, and are slow of heart; but in the end, they will look on Him whom they have pierced, and mourn as one mourneth for his only son.
It is thus with Joseph and Nicodemus now, and thus will it be, by-and-by, with the inhabitants of Jerusalem. These two Israelites, as true children of Abraham, claim the body of the Lord, and consecrate it, as with the faith of the patriarch (Gen. 12, 26); and, as true subjects of the King of Israel, they also honor it with the honors of a son of David (2 Chron. 16:1414And they buried him in his own sepulchres, which he had made for himself in the city of David, and laid him in the bed which was filled with sweet odors and divers kinds of spices prepared by the apothecaries' art: and they made a very great burning for him. (2 Chronicles 16:14)). They spend large and costly perfumes upon it, and lay it up in the garden, in a new, untainted tomb, on which the smell of death had never yet passed.
Here all closes for the present; here, in the second garden, as I may call it, the Second Man is now laid in death. In the first, the first man had walked with access to the tree of life; but he had chosen death, in the error of his way. Here, in the second garden, death, the penalty, is met. Jesus, without having touched the tree of knowledge, suffers the death. In the first garden all manner of trees good for food and pleasant to the eyes were seen. But here, nothing appears but the tomb of Jesus. This was what man’s sin ended in, as far as man was concerned. But let us wait a little. By all this, the Son of God is soon to become the death of death, and hell’s destruction, to bring life and immortality to light, and to plant again in the garden, for man, the tree of life. Let but the third morning arise, and this garden, which now witnesses only Jesus in death, shall see the Son of God in resurrection and victory— in victorious life for sinners.
John 20
Accordingly, at the opening of this chapter, we so find it. Jesus has risen, the Bruiser of the serpent; becoming through death the Destroyer of him that had the power of death.
Here I may turn aside for a moment to observe with what force the Spirit of God, all through Scripture, unfolds the mysteries of life and death. He would impress our souls with a very deep sense of this, that we have lost life, and, as far as we can act, have lost it irrecoverably, but that we have regained it in Christ, and regained it in Him infallibly and forever.
God is “the living God.” As such He is acting in this scene of death. He has come into the midst of it as the living God. How could He have come otherwise? Surely we may say, to the glory of His name, He has not been here, if not in that character. And His victory as the living God in this scene of death is resurrection. If resurrection is denied, God is not known, and that the living God has been here, and interfered with the conditions of this ruined, death-stricken world, is denied.
It is blessed to see this; and yet it is a truth very sure and simple. Into Himself as the living God, into Himself, or the resources which His own glory or nature provided, He has retreated, and there acted apart from the world, and above the scene which has involved itself in death. If His creature have been untrue, His creature of highest dignity, set by Him over the works of His hands; if Adam have disappointed Him, so to speak, revolted from Him, and brought in death, God has (blessed to tell it!) looked to Himself, and drawn from Himself; and there, in His own resources, in the provisions which He Himself supplies, He finds the remedy. And this is, in His victory as the living God, which victory is resurrection, His own resource of life in despite of the conquests of sin and death, let these conquests take what form they may. This is what He has been doing in this world. Let death appear, let the judgment of sin be ready to be executed, He is seen providing atonement for sins, and bringing forth a living thing from under the righteous doom and judgment of death. The risen Jesus now seals all this to us.
This was the third, the appointed day—the day on which Abraham of old had received his son as from the dead—the day of promised revival to Israel (Hosea 6:22After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. (Hosea 6:2))—the day, also, on which Jonah was on dry land again.
But the disciples do not as yet know their Lord in resurrection. They know Him only “after the flesh”; and therefore Mary Magdalene is seen early at the sepulcher, seeking His body; and, in the same mind Peter and his companion run to the sepulcher shortly after her, their bodily strength merely, and not the intelligence of faith, carrying them there. And there they behold, not their Object, but the trophies of His victory over the power of death. There they see the gates of brass and the bars of iron cut in sunder. The linen clothes and the napkin which had been wrapped about the Lord’s head as though He were death’s prisoner were there seen like the spoils of the vanquished, as under the hand of death’s conqueror. The very armor of the strong man was made a show of in his own house; this telling loudly that He Who is the plague of death, and hell’s destruction, had been lately in that place, doing His glorious work. But, in spite of all this, the disciples understand not; they as yet know not the scripture, that He must rise from the dead; and they go away again to their own home.
Mary, however, lingers about the sacred spot, refusing to be comforted, because her Lord was not. She would willingly have taken sackcloth, and, like another, spread it for her on the rock, could she but find His body to watch and to keep it. She wept, and stooped down, and looked into the sepulcher, and saw the angels. But what were the angels to her? The sight of them does not terrify her, as it had the other women (Mark 16); she was too much occupied with other thoughts to be moved by them. They were, it is true, very illustrious, sitting there in white, and in heavenly state, too; one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. But what was all splendor to her? The dead body of her Lord was what she sought and desired alone; and she has only to turn from these heavenly glories, in further search of it; and then seeing, as she judged, the gardener, she says to him, “Sir, if thou have borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away.” She simply says, “If thou have borne Him hence,” not naming Jesus; for, fond woman as she was, she supposes that every one must be as full of her Lord as she was.
Well, beloved, this may have been but human passion and ignorant affection; still it was spent on Jesus. And would that something more of the temper of it were shed abroad in our hearts. Her affection sought a right object, though it sought it not wisely; and in the wonted kindness and grace of Him with whom she had to do, He gives her the fruit of it. To her who had, more was given. She had learned thoroughly the lesson of knowing Christ “after the flesh.” She was the truest of all to that; and her Lord will now lead her to richer knowledge of Himself. He will take her up to higher regions than as yet she thought of, to the “mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense” (Song of Sol. 4:66Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense. (Song of Solomon 4:6)).
To do this in all gentleness, He first answers her human affection, letting her once again hear her own name on His well-known voice. That was just the note which was in full unison with all that was then in her heart. It was the only note to which her soul could have responded. Had He appeared to her in heavenly glory He would still have been a Stranger to her. But this must be the last time she was to apprehend Him “after the flesh.” For He is now risen from the dead, and is on His way to the Father in heaven, and earth must no longer be the scene of their communion. “Touch Me not,” says He to her, for I am not yet ascended to My Father.”
I need not, perhaps, observe how fully characteristic of our Gospel all this is. In Matthew, on the contrary, we see the women, on their return from the sepulcher, meeting the Lord, and the Lord allowing them to hold His feet, and to worship Him; but here, it is to Mary, “Touch Me not.” For this Gospel tells us of the Son in the midst of the heavenly family, and not in His royalty in Israel and in His earthly glory. The resurrection, it is most true, pledges all that earthly glory and kingdom to Him (Acts 13:3434And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David. (Acts 13:34)); but it was also one stage to the heavenly places; and that is the feature of it which our Gospel gives us.
Mary, as we have seen, is entitled to be the first to learn these greater ways of His grace and love, and also to be the happy bearer of the same good tidings from this far and unknown country to the brethren. Jesus says to her, “Go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God.” (And here, again, I would notice another characteristic difference in the Gospels. In Matthew the message was, to meet Him in Galilee; and, accordingly, the disciples do so—but here He does not name any place on earth; He simply tells them that He was going to heaven, there in spirit to meet them, before His Father and their Father, His God and their God.)
Thus is she honored, and she goes to prepare the brethren for their Lord, while He prepares to meet them with a blessing beyond all which they had as yet attained. And her tidings seem to have got them all in readiness for Him; for on His seeing them, the evening of the same day, they are not amazed and in unbelief, as they are in Luke’s Gospel, but seem all to be waiting and in expectation. They are no longer scattered as before (vs. 10), but folded together as the family of God, and He, as the elder Brother, enters in, laden with the fruit of His holy travail for them.
This was a meeting indeed. It was a visit to the family of the heavenly Father by the Firstborn. It was in a place that lay beyond death, and outside the world. And such is the appointed place of meeting with our Lord. Those who in spirit stay in the world never meet Him. For He is the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of strangers and pilgrims. The world is a defiled place, and we must meet Him in resurrection, in the kingdom that is not of the world.
So was it here with the Lord and His brethren. He now, for the first time, really meets them, meets them in the appointed place outside the world, and meets them in no less character than that of His own brethren. Now it was that He began to pay His vows. He had made them on the cross (Psa. 22). First, that He would declare the Father’s name to the brethren; secondly, that in the midst of the Church He would sing His praise. The first of these He was now beginning to pay, and has been paying all through the present dispensation, making known to our souls the name of the Father through the Holy Spirit. And the second He will as certainly pay when the congregation of all the brethren is gathered, and when He leads their songs in resurrection joy forever.
Now also is the promised life actually imparted. “Yet a little while, and the world seeth Me no more; but ye see Me: because I live, ye shall live also.” The Son of God, having life in Himself, now comes with it to His saints. He breathes on them now, as of old He breathed into man’s nostrils (Gen. 2). Only this was the breath of the last Adam, the quickening Spirit, who had a life to impart that was won from the power of death, and which was therefore beyond its utmost reach. The brethren are now given to know the peace of the cross. He shows them His hands and His side. Their sorrow is turned into joy, for they were glad “when they saw the Lord.” He was revealing Himself to them as He does not unto the world. The world, in this little interview, was quite shut out; and the disciples, as hated of the world, are shut up within their own enclosure, just in the place to get a special manifestation of Himself to them, as He had said unto them (John 14:22-2422Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? 23Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. 24He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me. (John 14:22‑24)). In the world they were knowing tribulation, but in Him peace.
All this was theirs in this brief but blessed visit of “the Firstborn from the dead” to His brethren, imparting to them the blessing which belonged to them as children. And thus this little intercourse was a sample of the communion which we enjoy in this dispensation. Our communion with Christ does not change our condition in the world, or make us happy in mere circumstances. It leaves us in a place of trial; but we are happy in Himself, in the full sense of His presence and favor. We are taught to know our oneness with Christ; and, through our adoption, and fellowship with the Father, we enjoy settled peace; we are glad because of Him risen from the dead, and have life in the risen Lord imparted to us. As we lately saw the armor of the conquered enemy upon the distant field of battle, so here do we see the fruit of victory brought home to gladden and assure the kindred of the Conqueror. Poorly indeed some of us know all this.
And these fruits of the victory of the Son of God were now commanded to be carried about in holy triumph all the world over. “As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you,” says the Lord to His brethren. With a message, not of judgment, but of grace, had He Himself come forth from the Father. And with a commission of the same grace are the brethren sent forth. They are sent forth from the Lord of life and peace, and with such a ministry they test the condition of every living soul. The message they bear is from the Son of the Father, a message of peace and life secured in and by Himself; and the word then was, and still is, “He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life”—and the Lord adds, making them, in this, the test of the condition of every one, as having the Son or not, “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.”
Such was the Lord’s first interview with His disciples, after He had risen from the dead. It has set before us the saints, as the children of the Father, and their ministry as such, and given us a sample, or firstfruits, of that harvest in the Holy Spirit which they have been gathering ever since in this dispensation.
And though it may draw me aside for a little space, I cannot refuse noticing, that the ministry committed to the disciples by the Lord, after He rose from the dead, takes a distinct character in each of the Gospels. And as each of the Gospels has a distinct purpose (according to which all the narratives are selected and recorded), so the various language used by the Lord in each of the Gospels, in committing this ministry to His disciples, is to be accounted for, and interpreted by, the specific character of the Gospel itself.
In Matthew this commission runs thus:—“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Now, this commission was strictly to the apostles, who had been already ordained by the Lord, and associated with Him as Minister of the circumcision (Rom. 15:88Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: (Romans 15:8)). It contemplated them as in Jerusalem, and going forth from thence for the discipling of all nations, and for the keeping of them in the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. For it is the purpose of that Gospel to present the Lord in Jewish connection as the Hope of Israel, to whom the gathering of the nations was to be. And, accordingly, the conversion of nations, and the settlement of the whole world around Jerusalem as the center of worship, is assumed. A system of restored and obedient nations rejoicing with Israel will be exhibited by-and-by; and the risen Lord looks to that, when committing ministry to His apostles in the Gospel by Matthew. (I may observe, that Israel had not, as yet, fully shut the door of hope against themselves. The testimony of the Holy Spirit to the risen Jesus by the apostles at Jerusalem, had not as yet been rejected. The possibility of that testimony being received might be assumed; and the Lord seems to assume it in Matthew’s Gospel.)
But in Mark, this prospect of national conversion is a good deal qualified. The terms of the commission are these: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature: he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” It is not the discipling of nations that is contemplated, but universal testimony with partial acceptance. For Mark presents the Lord in service or ministry, and the case of some receiving the Word, and some receiving it not, is anticipated, because such are the results that have attended on all ministry of the Word; as it is said in one place, “Some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.”
In Luke the Lord, after interpreting Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms, and opening the understanding of the disciples to understand them, delivers ministry to them in this way: “Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of My Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” This commission does not appear to have been strictly to the eleven, but others were addressed by it. (See Luke 24:3333And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them, (Luke 24:33)). And their ministry was to begin with Jerusalem, and not from it. And they are not allowed to go forth in their ministry until they had received new power, thus allowing that what they had received from Jesus, while on earth, was not sufficient. And all this was a breaking away from mere earthly or Jewish order. This was, therefore, the commission with something of an altered character, suitable to this Gospel by Luke, which presents the Lord more abroad, and not strictly in Jewish association.
But now, in our Gospel by John, we do not get this commission at all, nor any mention of “power from on high.” (Indeed, the word “apostles” does not once occur in this Gospel; and this is still in character with it.) We simply get, as I have been noticing, the life of the risen Man imparted, and then the disciples, with that life in them, sent out to test, by virtue of it, the condition of every living soul. The Lord gives them their ministry as from heaven, and not from the mountain in Galilee. He sends them forth from the Father, and not from Jerusalem. For, in our Gospel, the Lord has left all recollections of Jerusalem behind, and has given up, for the present, all hope of restoring Israel and gathering the nations.
This variety in the terms of this commission and ministry is very striking; and considering the different purposes of each Gospel, it is exquisite and perfect. The mere reasoner may stumble at it, and the man who honors the Scripture, and would willingly preserve its fair reputation, may attempt many ways to show the literal consistency of these things. But the Word of God, beloved, does not ask for protection from man. It seeks for no apologies to be made for it, however well-intentioned. In all this there is no incongruity, but only variety; and that variety perfectly answering the divers purposes of the same Spirit. And, though thus various, every thought and every word in each are equally and altogether divine; and we have only to bless our God for the sureness, and comfort, and sufficiency of His own most perfect testimonies.
But this, brethren, by the way, desiring that the Lord may keep our minds in all our meditations, and in all the counsels of our hearts.
We left the Lord in company with His brethren. He was putting them into their condition as children of the Father, and raising them to heavenly places. But He has purposes touching Israel, as well as the Church. In the latter day He will call them to repentance and faith giving them their due standing and ministry also. And these things we shall have now in order unfolded before us.
Thomas, we read, was not with the brethren when the Lord visited them. He did not keep his first estate, but was absent, while the little gathering were holding themselves in readiness for their risen Lord; and now he refuses to believe his brethren, without the further testimony of his own hands and eyes. And the Jews, to this day, like Thomas then, are refusing the gospel or good tidings of the risen Lord.
All, however, was not to end thus. Thomas recovers his place, and “after eight days” is in company with the brethren again; and then Jesus presents Himself to him. For this second visit was for Thomas’s sake. And the unbelieving disciple is led to own Him as his Lord and his God. As by-and-by, “after eight days,” after a full week or dispensation has run its course, it will be said in the land of Israel, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.” Israel will own Immanuel then; and as the Lord here accepts Thomas, so will He then say to Israel, “Thou art My people.”
But here we are to notice something further significant. The Lord accepts Thomas, it is most true, but at the same time says to him, “Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” And so with Israel in the latter day. They shall know the peace of the cross, the full peace of the wounded hand and side of Jesus here shown to Thomas; but they shall take a blessing inferior to that of the Church. They shall get life from the Son of God; but they shall only walk on the footstool, while the Church will be sitting on the throne (Rev. 5).
Here the mystery of life, whether to the Church now, or to Israel by-and-by, closes, and our evangelist, accordingly, for a moment pauses. This was the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, whosoever believeth which has life in His name. Many other things might have been added, but these were enough to attest the Son, and thus to be the seed of life. The third witness from God had now been heard. The water and the blood had come forth from the crucified Son, and now the Spirit was given by the risen Son. The three that bear witness on earth had been heard, and the testimony from God, that He “hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son,” was therefore complete; and our evangelist just says, “These are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name.”
John 21
Thus have we seen life actually dispensed by the risen Lord to His brethren, and ministry committed to them as such; and we have seen life pledged to Israel in the person of Thomas. But this restored Thomas, or the Israel of God in the latter day, shall (like the Church now) get ministry as well as life, be used as well as quickened. And we get the pledge of this also now in due order.
In the opening of this chapter we see the apostles brought back to the condition in which the Lord at first met them. Peter and the sons of Zebedee are again at their fishing. Indeed, their former labor had come to nothing. Their nets had broken. The Lord had proposed to use them, but Israel in His hand had proved but a deceitful bow, a broken net. But now they are in their toil again, and the Lord appears again, and gives them a second draught. And on this, in company with the Lord Himself, they feast; and their nets remain unbroken.
Our evangelist notices that this was “the third time” that Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was risen from the dead. At the first, as we saw, He met the brethren to give them, as the heavenly family, their fellowship and ministry. At the second, He restored Thomas, the representative of Israel’s final conversion and life. And now, at the third, He gives the pledge of Israel’s ministry and fruitfulness unto God.
These three distinct visits give us, after this manner, the full view of the Church and of Israel. But I must particularly notice another acting of the consciousness of love, which is very sweet. Peter knew, in spite of all that had happened, that there was a link between him and the Lord; and Peter therefore is not afraid to be alone with Him. It is true that, when they had been together on a previous occasion Peter had denied Him; and the Lord had turned and looked upon him. But Peter knew that he loved his Lord notwithstanding; and now he is not afraid to cast himself into the sea, and reach Jesus alone, before the rest of them. And there is something truly blessed in this. Law could never have brought this about, nor, indeed, have warranted it. The rod of the law would have beaten him off, and made him keep his distance. Nothing but grace could allow this; nothing but the cords of love could have drawn denying Peter the nearest to his slighted Lord, after this manner. But there is more still.
The dinner, as we read, was now ended—the purpose of this third visit was now answered. But in order to close all in wondrous grace and glory, and in a way also most suitable to, and characteristic of our Gospel, the Lord turns to Peter, making him again his special object, and addressing him in such a way as could not, and does not, fail to call his sin to remembrance.
Here, however, again I would pause for a little moment.
The Lord had very much to do with Peter, beyond others of the disciples, while He was in the midst of them; and we find it the same after He had risen. Peter is the one who occupies the greater part of this twenty-first chapter of John. The Lord here carries on with him the gracious work that He had begun before He left him, and carries it on exactly from the point where He had left it.
Peter had betrayed self-confidence. Though all should be offended, yet would not he, he said; and though he should die with his Master, he would not deny Him. His Master had told him of the vanity of such boasts, but had told him also of His prayer for him, so that his faith should not fail. And when the boast is found to be indeed a vanity, and Peter denied his Lord even with an oath, his Lord looked on him, and this look had its blessed operation. The prayer and the look had availed. The prayer had kept his faith from failing, but the look had broken his heart. He did not “go away,” but he wept, and wept bitterly.
At the opening of this chapter we find Peter in this condition, the condition in which the prayer and look of his divine Master had put him. That his faith had not failed he is enabled to have very sweet proof, for as soon as he hears that it is his Lord Who is standing on the shore, he throws himself into the water to reach Him; not, however, as a penitent, as though he had not already wept, but as one who could trust himself in His presence, the presence of his once denied Master, in full assurance of heart.
The prayer and the look had thus already, as we now see, done their work with Peter, and they are not to be repeated. The Lord simply goes on with His work thus begun, to conduct it to perfection.
Accordingly the prayer and the look are now followed by the word. Restoration now follows conviction and tears. Peter is put into the place of strengthening his brethren, as his Lord had once said to him, and also into the place of glorifying God by his death, a privilege he had forfeited by his unbelief and denial. This was the word of restoration following the prayer which had already sustained Peter’s faith, and the look which had already broken his heart.
But further, as to this case, for it is one of deep interest to our souls.
In the day of John 13 the Lord had taught this same loved Peter that a washed man need not to be washed again, but only his feet. And exactly in this way He now deals with him. He does not again put him through the process of Luke 5, when the draught of fishes overwhelmed him, and he found out that he was a sinner; but He restores him, and puts him into his place again. That is, He washes Peter’s feet, as one whose body was washed already.
Perfect Master! we may say, as with worshipping admiration—the same to us yesterday, and today, and forever; the same in gracious skill of love, going on with the work He had before begun; as the risen Lord resuming the service which He had left unfinished when He was taken from them; and resuming it at the very point, knitting the past and the present service in the fullest grace and skill!
The three denials of his Lord seem to be quite brought to mind, when Jesus, the third time, says to him, “Lovest thou Me?” But the Lord, as we have been observing, was only fully restoring the soul, and leading His saint to richer blessing. He restores him to his ministry, for another was not to take his bishopric; and then pledges him strength to serve his Lord in it, without a second denial or failure. He constitutes him His witness and servant in the full power of a martyr’s faith. And having pledged this grace to him, that he should thus witness for Him faithfully even unto death, He says to him, “Follow Me.” (Jesus knew all things, and that was Peter’s comfort. Peter was sure that his Lord knew the depths as well as the surfaces of things, and thus that He knew what was in His poor servant’s heart, though his lips had so transgressed.)
This was a moment of sweetest interest. We know that if we suffer with Him, we shall reign with Him; and if we follow Him, where the Lord Himself is, there His servant shall be. Now, this call on Peter was a call to follow His Lord along the path of testimony and suffering, in the power of resurrection, to the rest in which that path ends, and to which that resurrection leads. Jesus had said to Peter before He left him, “Whither I go, thou canst not follow Me now, but thou shalt follow Me afterwards” (John 13). And the Lord, as we know, was then going to heaven and the Father through the cross. This present call was, in spirit, making good that promise to Peter. It was a call on him to follow the Lord, through death, up to the Father’s house. And, upon saying these words to him, the Lord rises from the place where they had been eating, and Peter, thus bidden, rises to follow Him.
John listens to this call, as though it had been addressed to him also, and, on seeing the Lord rise and Peter rise, he at once rises also. For he ever lay nearest the Lord. He leaned on His breast at supper, and was the disciple whom Jesus loved. He ever stood in the place of closest sympathy with Him—so, by a kind of necessity (blessed necessity!) on the Lord’s rising, he rises, though unbidden.
In such an attitude we now see them. The Son of God has risen, and is walking out of our sight, and Peter and John are following Him. All this is lovely and significant beyond expression. We do not see the end of their path, for while thus walking the Gospel closes. The cloud, as it were, receives them out of our sight. We gaze in vain after them, and the path of the disciples is just as far removed from us as that of their Lord. It was, in principle, the path that leads to the Father’s house, which we know is prepared for the Lord and His brethren, the presence of God in heaven.
Surely, we may say, the Bridegroom at our feast has kept the best wine until now. If our souls could enter into this, there is nothing like it. Mark, in his Gospel, tells us of the fact of the Lord being received up into heaven (Mark 16:1919So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. (Mark 16:19)); and Luke shows us the ascension itself, while the Lord was lifting up His hands, and blessing His disciples (Luke 24:5151And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. (Luke 24:51)). But all that sweet as it was, is not equal to what we get here. For all that left the disciples apart from their Lord. He was then going to heaven, and they were to return to Jerusalem; but here, they are following Him up to heaven. Their path does not stop short of the full end of His.
This is none other than the “gate of heaven” to which our Gospel conducts us, and whereat it leaves us. The Lord is in this place, in fullest grace to His chosen. The receiving of the brethren into the Father’s house is here pledged to us. In this, Peter and John are the representatives of us all, beloved. Some, like Peter, may glorify God by death; and others, as is intimated here to John, will be alive and remain until Jesus come; but all are to follow, whether Peter or John, Moses or Elias, whether dead in Christ or quick at His coming, all shall be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air, and be forever with Him. It will be to them like the ascension of Enoch before the flood. And being received unto Himself, they will go with Him into the prepared place in the Father’s house, as He has said unto us. (We must not assert that any individual will remain until the Lord come. That is condemned by verse 23. But the same verse allows us to assert that the Lord may come before our death, if He please.)
And I may observe this is the only view of our Lord’s ascension which our Gospel gives us. But it is that view of it which is strictly in character with the whole Gospel, which gives us, as has been observed, our Lord Jesus in connection with the Church as the family of the Father, the heavenly household.
For this ascension is not so properly to the right hand of God, or place of power, where He abides alone, but to the Father’s house, where the children are to dwell also. Their path in that direction reaches as far as His, through His boundless grace; as here, as I have already noticed, wherever it was that Jesus went (some spot unknown and untold as to this earth), there did Peter and John follow Him. He is here acting as though He had gone and prepared the promised place in the Father’s house, and had come again, and was now receiving them unto Himself, that where He is, there they might be also. And this will be really so at the resurrection of those who are Christ’s at His coming, when the brethren meet their Lord in the air. The Son of God was now, at the end, as He had done in the beginning, showing His own where He dwelt (see John 1:3939He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour. (John 1:39)); only, at the beginning, He was a Stranger on earth, and they abode with Him but one day; now He is returning to His proper heaven, and there they are to abide with Him forever. (We have no mention in this Gospel of “the coming of the Son of Man.” That is spoken of in Matthew and the others, for that expresses the Lord’s coming to the earth again, for judgment on the nations, and for deliverance to the remnant, and does not imply the rapture of the saints into the air.)
Our evangelist then just lets us hear the full response of the believing hearts of all God’s elect to those truths and wonders of grace which had now been told out. “We know that his testimony is true.” They set to their seal that God is true. And all this is then closed with a simple note of admiration—for such, in principle, I judge the last verse to be. And indeed this is all he could do. Was it not beyond his praise! What heart could conceive the full excellence of His ways whose name he had now been publishing?
Here the fourth section of our Gospel ends; and here the whole ends. And what a journey through it has that of the Son of God been! Having become flesh at the beginning, He walked on earth as the Stranger from heaven, save as He was occupied in ministering grace and healing to sinners. The prince of this world at length came to Him; but, finding nothing in Him, he cast Him out of the world. But this he could not do until, as the Saviour, the Son of God had accomplished the peace of all that trust in Him. Then He triumphantly broke the power of death; and, as the risen Lord, imparted the life which He had won for His people. And, finally, by a significant action, pledged to them that where He was going, thither they should follow Him, that they might be with Him where He was; and that, as we know, forever.
Our Gospel began with the descent of the Son, and closes with the ascent of the saints. And the time of this ascent, or being taken into the air, I judge is altogether uncertain. It may be tomorrow, and will be when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, when all the saints have been brought, in the unity of the faith, to a perfect man. It does not depend on a certain lapse of time. No prophecy which involves computation of time, I believe, belongs to it. Such belongs to the Lord’s return to the earth, and not to the taking of the saints into the air to meet Him. At that return of the Lord to the earth, the saints will be with Him; and this earth will then be prepared to be their common kingdom and inheritance. And that return, I grant, must await its prescribed time, and the full spending out of the days and years announced by the prophets. But no days or years measure out the interval from the ascension of the Lord to that of His saints. The Holy Spirit, it is most true, has given us moral characters of certain times, thus defining “the latter times,” and “the last days” (1 Tim. 4; 2 Tim. 3; and so forth); but He tells us also that even then, the last time had already come (1 John 2:1818Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. (1 John 2:18)). So that faith is entitled to look for her joy in meeting the Lord in the air every hour; with patience, meanwhile, to do the will of God. And the prophecies that compute time (as far as they are still future) will not (I merely give my judgment) begin to be applied, nor will the times they notice begin to run, until this rapture into the air take place. Then, indeed; the suffering remnant in Israel may begin to number out the days for their comfort and for food of hope; and in their deepest sorrow lift up their heads, as knowing that their salvation draweth nigh.
After all this, beloved, our God may well claim our confidence, and be our title to full holy liberty, and our sure and constant source of gladness. This is to honor Him as the Father. And if we have a thought of Him that leaves a sting behind it, it is the thought of foolishness and of unbelief. All is brightness to faith. Such is God our Father. And in the Son of His love we are accepted. “He’ll not live in glory, and leave us behind”—and the language of our hearts towards Him abidingly should be, “Come, Lord Jesus.” And this confidence of present adoption, and this joy of hope, we have through the Holy Spirit who dwelleth in us, our Companion by the way, our “other Comforter,” until the Bridegroom meet us.
To our gracious God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) be glory forever and ever! Amen.