The Best is Yet to Come

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” John 14:15-21 ESV

Jesus has just assured His confused and shell-shocked disciples that they will do “greater works” than He has done. But this amazing promise is only for those who believe in Him and will only be available after He has returned to His Father (John 14:12). And Jesus further assures then that when that day comes, they will be able to ask Him anything “in His name” and He will do it (John 14:14). The ability to do greater things and the promised of answered prayer. Those two promises were meant to encourage the disciples but, like so many of His other statements, they went right over their heads. All throughout His time with them, Jesus had fielded all kinds of questions from these men. They had constantly bombarded Him with requests about everything from the nature of the kingdom to the meaning of His parables. They were naturally curious and filled with childlike inquisitiveness, anxious to know more about who Jesus was and what He had come to do. But the closer He got to the cross, the less they seemed to comprehend His true identity and purpose.

But Jesus is letting them know that things are about to change, and not just for Him. While His life will end in death, it will be followed by His miraculous resurrection. Then, when Jesus has returned to His Father’s side, their lives will be forever changed. They will end up doing “greater things” than He has done. But what does this mean? Is this a promise that they will raise the dead just as He did? Will followers of Jesus have the capacity to walk on water or turn water into wine? While some believe that is exactly what Jesus is promising, the context seems to indicate something far different. While the “great things” that Jesus did had amazed His onlookers, what truly made them great was that they were done in the power of God, according to the will of God, and for the glory of God. They were intended to be signs of who Jesus was and were meant to bring glory to the one who had sent Him. And Jesus is telling His disciples that the same will be true for them. They will do “greater things” because they will be greater in number. And their numbers will grow. But the point of emphasis is not the nature of things they will do, but the power in which they will do it and the fact that what they do will be done in God’s power and for His glory.

And they will still be able to make requests of Jesus, but now they will ask in His name and according to His will. They will no longer be driven by selfish concerns but will pray according to the will of God and in keeping with the character of Jesus Himself. Their motivations will shift from self-gratification and personal pleasure to asking for those things that will bring glory to God.

But how will the death and resurrection of Jesus make all this possible? How will His departure bring about such radical transformations in the lives of His disciples? The answer is found in verses 14-31. Jesus introduces His disciples to the secret that will allow them to do greater things and pray in His name.

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth.” – John 14:16 ESV

Jesus informs His dispirited disciples that His departure will be followed by the Spirit’s arrival. This “helper” or “advocate” will be the Spirit of truth. The Greek word is paraklētos, and it refers to “one who comes alongside.” This word has been translated as counselor, helper, assistant, and intercessor. But Jesus is referring to the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Yet Jesus is not insinuating that the Holy Spirit’s arrival will be the first time He has come to earth. He is letting the disciples know that the Spirit, who has been with them all along, will take up residence in them.

You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” – John 14:17 ESV

Their relationship with the Spirit will change. As long as Jesus was with them, He served as their helper or advocate. But with His departure, they would need “another helper,” one who would step in and guide the followers of Jesus in His absence. The Spirit of God would play a more integral and intimate role in their lives. He would not only be with them, but he would also come to dwell within them. And once again, the full weight of this news escaped the disciples. They had no way of understanding what Jesus was talking about. But it would be the Holy Spirit’s presence within them that would empower them to do the greater things that Jesus promised.

And this power would only be available to those who believe in Jesus – those who love Him and keep His commandments. But what are the commandments to which Jesus is referring? It would seem that, based on the context, Jesus is referring back to His two earlier statements concerning belief.

“Believe in God; believe also in me.” – John 14:1 ESV

“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” – John 14:11 ESV

The greatest expression of their love for Jesus would be their willingness to believe in who He was – all the way to the end. Notice that Jesus provided them with a conditional statement:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper…” – John 14:15-16 ESV

The conjunction, kai can also be translated as “then,” and it would seem that Jesus is letting them know that their love for Him will allow them to believe in Him, in spite of all that is about to happen. And their belief will not be in vain. He will rise from the dead, ascend to His Father, and send the Holy Spirit to comfort, guide, and empower them for future service for God.

Knowing exactly what is going through His disciples’ minds, Jesus assures them that He is not going to leave them to live in the world like abandoned children. While His death will seem like the end of the world to them, He lets them know that they will see Him again. The world, referring to all those who refused to believe in Him, would never see Jesus again. The Pharisees would assume that their adversary was permanently gone. The Jews who had followed Jesus would return to their old lives and, in time, would forget that Jesus ever existed. But after His resurrection, Jesus would appear to hundreds of His followers – those who loved Him and had continued to believe in Him.

And Jesus provides His disciples with a powerful message of encouragement.

“Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” – John 14:19 ESV

His resurrection would be life-changing for them. And it would fulfill what He had said to Martha just prior to raising her dead brother back to life.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” – John 11:25-26 ESV

With His resurrection and the subsequent coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the disciples would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus and the Father were one. And they would know it because they would experience unity with the Father and the Son through the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God.

Jesus is encouraging His disciples to keep believing. He knows they are struggling with doubt and fear. They are confused by all that He has been saying and are finding it difficult to understand how any of this could be in the will of God. And as the events unfold in the hours ahead, it will only appear to get worse. But Jesus assures them:

“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” – John 14:21 ESV

While the disciples would continue to display fear and doubt, even abandoning Jesus at His moment of greatest need, they would never stop loving Him. And even in their weakness and filled with all kinds of questions, they would continue to believe in Him. And their belief would not be disappointed. Their love and belief would be rewarded by the love of the Father, expressed in the gracious gift of His Son as the payment for their sin debt. And when Jesus had fulfilled His mission, God would raise Him to life again, guaranteeing the hope of eternal life to all those who loved and believed in His Son.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

You Have No Idea!

25 Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, “Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? 26 And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ? 27 But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.” 28 So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I come from. But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you do not know. 29 I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.” 30 So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. 31 Yet many of the people believed in him. They said, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?”John 7:25-31 ESV

The confusion and consternation over Jesus continues. This itinerant Rabbi from Galilee was walking enigma. Because of His reputation for performing miraculous signs and wonders, He attracted large crowds wherever He went. But no one was quite sure who He was or what to make of Him. There had been ongoing debates regarding His identity, with some speculating that He was the prophet Moses had spoken about. Others questioned whether He might be the Messiah. And while many considered Him to be a good man, there were others who had concluded that He was a deceiver who was not to be trusted. And then there were the religious leaders who viewed Him as a deadly threat to the social fabric of the nation and so, they had implemented plans to have Him put to death.

The high priest and the other members of the Sanhedrin had intended for their plot against Jesus to remain a secret, but the news of their clandestine plan had leaked out. Yet, not everyone was aware of the growing conspiracy against Jesus. In fact, when He had announced that there was a plot to murder Him, the crowd had rejected His accusation, writing off His paranoia to demon possession.

The crowd replied, “You’re demon possessed! Who’s trying to kill you?”– John 7:20 NLT

Yet, for those who were aware of the Sanhedrin’s sinister plan to have Jesus killed, they couldn’t understand why these powerful men had taken no action. It was not as if they lacked the opportunity. Jesus had spent the day teaching in the temple courtyard and the Jewish religious leaders had done nothing to silence Him. He had even reiterated His blasphemous claim of having been been sent by God.

My message is not my own; it comes from God who sent me. Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own. – John 7:16-17 NLT

Confused by the inaction of the religious leaders, some in the crowd began to speculate whether they had changed their minds.

“Could our leaders possibly believe that he is the Messiah?” – John 7:26 NLT

But they quickly discounted this idea because, in their minds, Jesus did not fit the criteria for being the Messiah. According to their understanding, the Messiah would simply show up on the scene, unannounced and with no indication as to His point of origin.

When the Messiah comes, he will simply appear; no one will know where he comes from. – John 7:27 NLT

This belief was common among the Jews but was ill-founded and in contradiction to the Scriptures. The prophet, Micah, had clearly indicated that the Messiah would hail from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). In fact, just a few verses later, John records a debate that took place among the people concerning the birthplace of the Messiah. Some were arguing that Jesus could not be the Messiah because He was from the city of Nazareth in Galilee. Yet, the Scriptures had indicated that the Messiah would hail from Bethlehem, the birthplace of King David.

“For the Scriptures clearly state that the Messiah will be born of the royal line of David, in Bethlehem, the village where King David was born.” – John 7:42 NLT

They were unaware of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and simply assumed that He had been born in the same place where He had been raised: Nazareth in Galilee. As a result, they ruled out the possibility that He might be the Messiah.

But while the people were busy debating the birthplace of the Messiah, Jesus took the opportunity to reveal that they had a much greater problem. He accused them of not knowing God.

“Yes, you know me, and you know where I come from. But I’m not here on my own. The one who sent me is true, and you don’t know him. But I know him because I come from him, and he sent me to you.” – John 7:28-29 NLT

This bold statement by Jesus was meant to have an impact. He was standing in the temple courtyard, surrounded by faithful Jews, and accusing them of lacking knowledge of Yahweh, their God. They thought they knew who Jesus was and where He came from, but they were sorely mistaken. And it was all because they had a less-than-vibrant relationship with their Heavenly Father. Because they were ignorant of God, they were unable to recognize the Son of God.

Jesus knew that the people were the byproduct of their religious leaders. These men had failed to instill in the people a love for God and His Word. As a result, the common Jew suffered from a lack of biblical knowledge that made intimacy with God virtually impossible. That is why Jesus had been so harsh in His assessment of the Pharisees and teachers of religious law.

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:7-9 NLT

This had been a long-standing problem among the people of God, as is evidenced by Jesus quoting the words of His own Father, recorded by the prophet Isaiah hundreds of years earlier. Over the centuries, the people of Israel had made a habit of going through the motions when it came to their relationship with Yahweh. They put a lot of effort into keeping His laws but their hearts weren’t in it. Their obedience was motivated by fear rather than love.

And in time, they failed to recognize that the Scriptures, the sacrificial system, and the Mosaic law had all been meant to develop their knowledge of and love for God. But Jesus revealed that they had missed the point altogether and, as a result, had missed out on knowing Him.

“…the Father who sent Me has Himself testified about Me. You have never heard His voice nor seen His form, nor does His word abide in you, because you do not believe the One He sent.

You pore over the Scriptures because you presume that by them you possess eternal life. These are the very words that testify about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me to have life.” – John 5:37-40 BSB

The failure of the people to recognize Jesus as their Messiah was due to their lack of a vibrant relationship with God. They revered His written Word. They placed a high priority on trying to keep His commandments. They viewed the temple as a sign of God’s abiding presence but lived as if God was nowhere to be found. So, when the Messiah showed up, they had a difficult time seeing the resemblance between the Father and the Son.

One of the things that John has stressed throughout his gospel is the role Jesus played in manifesting or revealing His Heavenly Father. John the Baptist had testified, “No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us” (John 1:18 NLT).

Later on in his gospel, John records the words that Jesus spoke the crowds who followed Him:

“…when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me.” – John 12:45 NLT

And Jesus would announce to Phillip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!” (John 14:9 NLT). The apostle Paul explained how this could be true when he wrote, “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT). Jesus came to make God known and knowable. That is why He later declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” (John 14:6-7 NLT).

The people were in a bind. They didn’t know God, so they lacked an understanding of the written word of God. And because they failed to comprehend God’s word, they were unable to recognize the Living Word when He showed up. It was their inability to recognize Jesus as the Messiah that prevented them from seeing the Father in all His glory. That is prompted Jesus to declare, “Since you don’t know who I am, you don’t know who my Father is. If you knew me, you would also know my Father” (John 8:19 NLT).

The results of this conversation were somewhat predictable. The religious leaders were incensed and increased their efforts to kill Jesus. And the people continued to debate the identity of Jesus, with some reaching the conclusion that He must be the Messiah because of the miracles He performed.

Many among the crowds at the Temple believed in him. “After all,” they said, “would you expect the Messiah to do more miraculous signs than this man has done?” – John 7:31 NLT

It wasn’t the testimony of God as revealed in the Scriptures that convinced them. It was the supernatural nature of Jesus’ miracles that led them to believe. But this would prove to be an inadequate basis for believing faith. In time, the miracles would stop. The outward signs of power that so appealed to them would be replaced by an outward display of weakness, as Jesus hung on the cross as a common criminal. His crucifixion would be the deal-breaker for his former followers. They never expected their Messiah to die. So, with His death, Jesus had proven His claims to be nothing but a lie. Or so they thought.

 English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Holy One of God

67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him. John 6:60-66 ESV

Jesus’ discourse in the synagogue at Capernaum had left His listeners confused, disturbed, and even angry. And John indicates that when Jesus had finished “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:59 ESV). This comment by John regarding Jesus’ disciples is not a reference to the 12 men Jesus had chosen to follow Him. This was how John differentiated between the people who followed Jesus because of His miracles and “the Jews” who refused to believe that Jesus was anyone special.

The first group believed Jesus had supernatural powers, just as the Old Testament prophets had. Which is why some thought he might be a prophet sent from God. Others strongly considered the possibility that He might be the long-awaited Messiah. But none of them would have believed that He was God in human flesh. Yet, throughout His brief, but impactful, speech in the synagogue, Jesus had repeatedly claimed to have been sent to earth by God, His Father.

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” – John 6:38 ESV

While Jesus’ invitation to eat His flesh and drink His blood had left the people scratching their heads in confusion, it was His claim to have God as His Father that turned many of them from followers into scoffers.

“As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.” – John 6:57 ESV

He was boldly claiming to be divine, having been sent by God, and in possession of the key to eternal life. This was too much for some of His followers to handle. So, they walked away. But none of this surprised Him. Before they made their decision to leave, Jesus informed them that He already knew their state of unbelief.

“But there are some of you who do not believe.” – John 6:64 ESV

And John adds the note: “For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him” (John 6:64 ESV). Jesus knew who His true disciples were. And as John indicates, Jesus even knew that there was one among the 12 disciples who would prove to be a betrayer and not a believer.

Anyone could follow Jesus, but only those who were called by God and empowered by the Spirit of God would see Jesus for who He truly was. That is why Jesus had said, “The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63 ESV). Without the regenerating work of the Spirit, no one could understand and accept the words coming from the lips of Jesus.

Jesus had come to offer Himself as the bread of life, destined to provide spiritual nourishment to those with a hunger for righteousness. He came to pour out His blood so that those who thirsted for righteousness might be satisfied. Many in the crowd that day had come to see a miracle. They had hoped Jesus would provide them with another free meal. Their minds were stuck on material things. Their hopes were focused on worldly matters. If they believed Jesus to be the Messiah, it was only because they were longing that He might set them free from Roman oppression. They were looking for a human savior who would provide them with temporal relief from their physical suffering, whether that meant subjugation to Rome, hunger, disease, illness, or poverty.

But Jesus had come to offer them eternal life. He had made that point perfectly clear.

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” – John 6:27 ESV

For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” – John 6:33 ESV

“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life…” – John 6:40 ESV

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. – John 6:47 ESV

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. – John 6:51 ESV

But the crowds could not understand what Jesus was saying. His offer of eternal life made no sense to them because they refused to believe that He was the Son of God. It was His divinity that made His offer of eternity possible. It was because He was the Son of God that He could make the offer of eternal life because He was the author of life.

He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. – John 1:2-4 ESV

John began his gospel with the presentation of Jesus as the Son of God and the co-creator of the world. As part of the Godhead, Jesus had played an integral role in the creation of all life on earth. So now, Jesus was claiming to be God and in full possession of the divine power to not only bestow temporal life but eternal life on all those whom God gives Him. In the preceding chapter, Jesus made the bold claim:

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” – John 6:21 ESV

The Jews believed that God had the power to raise the dead. But only God possessed that kind of supernatural power. And yet, here was Jesus claiming to have the very same capacity to bestow life, not just on the physically dead, but on the spiritually dead. And this claim was more than some of His followers could handle, so they walked away.

But as the crowds dispersed, Jesus turned to His 12 disciples and asked them a probing question: “Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:67 ESV). The structure of the sentence in the Greek reveals that Jesus was not in doubt about their commitment, but that He was seeking their confirmation of that commitment. He wanted to hear from their own lips what He knew to be true in their hearts. And Peter spoke for the group when he said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69 ESV).

With these words, Peter was acknowledging that he and his fellow disciples believed all that Jesus had said concerning Himself. They had heard what He had said concerning eternal life and believed His words to be true. He was the Holy One of God, having been sent from heaven with the words of eternal life. But there was still much that Peter and his companions did not understand concerning Jesus. In fact, it would be some time before Peter made a second confession regarding Jesus. On that occasion, Jesus asked His disciples who the people considered Him to be, and they had responded, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:14 ESV). But when Jesus had asked them “But who do you say that I am?”, Peter had spoken up and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). 

At that moment, Peter had expressed his belief that Jesus was the Messiah and, not only that, the Son of God. And Jesus revealed that this epiphany on Peter’s part had been made possible by God.

“For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 16:17 ESV

The truth is, the disciples were on a journey of discovery. Their understanding of who Jesus was would continue to expand with each passing day. But they would tend to view Jesus through their own particular lens of understanding. They couldn’t help but bring their own personal perspectives and longings to bear. While they recognized and believed that Jesus had “words of eternal life,” they were still longing for Him to set up His kingdom in this life. They were hanging their hopes on Him being the Messiah and that He would one day reveal Himself to the world and restore Israel to its former glory. That is what would later prompt James and John to approach Jesus and ask Him to do them a favor.

“When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” – Mark 10:37 NLT

They were looking for places of honor in what they believed would be His earthly kingdom. But Jesus warned them that He would have to drink the “bitter cup of suffering” before His kingdom could be established. He would have to die before He could reign. He would need to suffer before He could be glorified. And Jesus foreshadowed their own suffering, which would take place after His ascension and they began their ministry on His behalf.

“You will indeed drink from my bitter cup and be baptized with my baptism of suffering” – Mark 10:39 NLT 

There was much that would have to happen before the Kingdom would come in all its glory. And Jesus warned that even among the 12, there was one who did not share Peter’s belief that He was the Holy One of God.

“Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him. – John 6:70-71 ESV

Little did Peter know that Jesus would have to be betrayed. The Holy One of God would have to be brutally crucified. In order for the Son of God to be the Savior of the world, He would have to allow His body to be broken and His blood to be spilled, so that some may have eternal life.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Fairweather Followers

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” 

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.John 6:60-66 ESV

The message Jesus delivered in the synagogue regarding “the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:57 ESV) had made an impression on His audience. His bizarre comments about eating His flesh and drinking His blood had not gone unnoticed. His offer of eternal life definitely piqued their interest. But there appears to be no one who heard Jesus speak who grasped the meaning behind all that He said.

When Jesus had attempted to tell Nicodemus about the need for a new birth “from above” in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, the well-educated Pharisee had responded, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9 ESV). And Jesus answered with a question of His own: “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12 ESV).

Nicodemus had been unable to grasp the spiritual nature of Jesus’ words. His mind was stuck on an earthly plane, limiting his ability to hear the wonderful news that Jesus was conveying in His message. And he had walked away confused, but not converted.

The same was true for those who heard Jesus speak in the synagogue in Capernaum. John has made it clear that a good portion of the audience “grumbled about him, because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven’” (John 6:41 ESV). They saw Jesus as a man from Nazareth, not some divine being who had descended from the sky. And when they heard Jesus claim that eating His flesh would result in eternal life, they had “disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” (John 6:52 ESV).

If one were to judge the effectiveness of Jesus’ communication skills based on the peoples’ response, the conclusion would have to be that He failed miserably. His sermon appears to have produced no converts. No one asked to receive the bread that He offered. No one came forward eager to drink His blood. Instead, they disputed, grumbled, and struggled to understand what Jesus was talking about. John even indicates that even those who considered themselves followers of Jesus were having a difficult time taking in all that He had said.

These “disciples” as John describes them were made up of those who had traveled all the way from Bethsaida, eager to see Jesus perform another miracle. They had eaten the bread and fish He had multiplied and had shown up in Capernaum hoping to receive more of the same. Others had heard the rumors about His miracles and were anxious to see Him perform a sign with their own eyes. In the gospels, the term “disciple” is used to refer to all those who followed Jesus. It does not necessarily mean that these people were believers. In fact, John will make it clear that many of these disciples or followers of Jesus ended up abandoning Him as a result of His message in the synagogue.

“…many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” – John 6:66 ESV

They had been attracted by His miraculous works but repulsed by His words. They proved to be fairweather followers who chose to walk away from Jesus when they didn’t get what they wanted from Him.

When Jesus overheard the grumbling among His followers, He responded, “Does this offend you? Then what will you think if you see the Son of Man ascend to heaven again?” (John 6:61-62 NLT). Here Jesus reveals the true nature of their contention. It was not so much that He had offered His body and blood as food, but that He had claimed to be the Son of God sent from heaven.

This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” – John 6:29 ESV

the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven…” –John 6:33 ESV

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” – John 6:38 ESV

“I am the bread that came down from heaven.” – John 6:41 ESV

“This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” – John 6:50-51 ESV

Jesus reveals that this was the crux of the matter. They just couldn’t bring themselves to believe that He was divine. They could possibly accept the fact that He was a prophet sent from God or even the Messiah. But in either case, He would have been a mere man, and not God in human flesh.

But as difficult as it was to accept that Jesus had come down from heaven, He prophetically reveals that the day will come when He returns. Once again, Jesus was speaking rather cryptically, using language that left His audience scratching their heads in confusion. But there was a small contingent within the crowd who would one day understand the full import of His words. The men who would later become His apostles and the emissaries of His message would be eyewitnesses to His future ascension. 

So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs. – Mark 16:19-20 ESV

But Jesus’ mention of His ascension most likely included a veiled reference to His crucifixion. He had told Nicodemus, And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15 ESV). John also records Jesus restating this claim and adds an important note of clarification.

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. – John 12:32-33 ESV

Jesus’ return to heaven would be preceded by His sacrificial death. He had come to die so that others might live. His death had been the sole purpose behind His coming. He had been sent from heaven to offer His life as a ransom for many so that they might be restored to a right relationship with God. His body would be broken and His blood would be poured out for the sins of many. And one day, His true followers would fully comprehend the meaning of His words. Luke records that when His disciples saw Him ascend into heaven, “they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24:52-53 ESV).

But that day in the synagogue in Capernaum, there was no one who comprehended the meaning behind Jesus’ words. And there were none who rejoiced at what they heard. And Jesus revealed that their inability to understand His words was because they lacked insight from the Spirit of God.

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” – John 6:63 ESV

Not only were they unable to comprehend His words, but they were also incapable of achieving eternal life. Without the Spirit’s help, they would remain blind to the reality of what Jesus was saying. It was just as Jesus had told Nicodemus:

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” – John 3:6 ESV

There were some in Jesus’ audience who would eventually end up understanding the words of Jesus and believing His claim to be the Son of God. But as Jesus revealed, there were others who would not and could not believe. And John adds further proof of Jesus’ deity by stating that He “knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him” (John 6:64 ESV).

The crowd that followed Jesus was about to grow smaller. And Jesus revealed that following after Him was not the same as coming to Him. Anyone could join the crowds that lined up to see Him work miracles. But only those called by God and empowered by the Spirit of God could become true disciples of the Son of God. And Jesus reiterated His earlier claim.

“no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” – John 6:65 ESV

Many would follow, but not all would believe. Miracles may attract a crowd, but they don’t transform a sinner into a saint. Only the Spirit of God can do that. he opens the eyes of those blinded by sin so they can see the truth of Gospel:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Hardened Hearts

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going. – John 6:16-21 ESV

According to the gospel accounts of Matthew and Mark, after Jesus performed the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, He told the disciples to travel by boat to the city of Bethsaida, located on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. He told Him He would join them there after he had dismissed the crowds. But Jesus delayed His departure until that evening because He went needed time alone with His Heavenly Father.

So, once again, the scene is set for yet another display of His divine glory. The disciples had just witnessed the power and authority of Jesus as He miraculously transformed five loaves of bread and two small fish into a feast that fed 5,000 men, plus their wives and children. Everyone ate as much as they liked and yet, the disciples collected 12 baskets full of uneaten leftovers.

This incredible demonstration of Jesus’ power brings to mind the words of Paul, written to the church in Ephesus.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV

God’s power is unlimited and He had displayed that power through the hands of His own Son. Jesus had taken the bread and fish, miraculously multiplying what had been deemed insufficient by the disciples and turning it into abundantly more than anyone in the crowd could have ever imagined. In doing so, Jesus demonstrated the kind of power at His disposal. But His actions were also meant to encourage the disciples and let them know that, as His followers, they would have access to that same divine power.

It seems that the disciples had followed Jesus’ instructions and had sailed to Bethsaida. But when Jesus failed to show up, they decided to sail on the Capernaum, assuming that Jesus would meet them there. But Matthew indicates that things did not go well for them. By the time Jesus arrived in Bethsaida, it was somewhere between 3:00 and 6:00 o’clock in the morning, and the disciples were caught in a storm.

…but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. – Matthew 14:24 ESV

Due to the strong wind, the disciples had only made it about three miles, and they were struggling to make any further headway. There is no indication that they were in fear for their lives. Many of the disciples were seasoned fishermen and they would have been very familiar with these kinds of storms, which were a common occurrence on the Sea of Galilee. But they would have rarely traveled by boat after dark. It seems likely that they were tired, having just recently returned from the mission Jesus had sent them on, and from the long day of feeding the 5,000. They were probably a bit put out with Jesus for having delayed their departure by not showing up when He said He would.

So, in the midst of their difficulties on the lake, they were shocked to see what looked like a ghost, walking on the water towards them. Matthew indicates that “they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’” (Matthew 14:26 ESV). And Mark adds that “they all saw him and were terrified” (Mark 6:50 ESV). Whether it was due to the darkness or the wind and the blowing mist, they were unable to recognize Jesus. This boat-full of grown men responded like a group of frightened adolescent girls.

But despite the roar of the wind and the cries of the disciples, Jesus spoke and they were able to hear Him.

“It is I; do not be afraid.” – John 6:20 ESV

Once again, this scene brings to mind the 23rd Psalm. The feeding of the 5,000 was a demonstration of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, caring for His helpless sheep.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
   He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
   He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake. – Psalm 23:1-3 ESV

Jesus had demonstrated His compassion for the people by meeting their physical need for food. He had restored their physical stamina by feeding their bodies. But He had come to do so much more.

And now, we see His disciples, caught in a storm and struggling to make their way to safety. They were expending great amounts of energy but were making little progress. And there were probably a few of the disciples who wondered if they would make it Capernaum at all. And this is where David’s psalm comes in.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me. – Psalm 23:4 ESV

Jesus spoke into the chaos of their situation, and He simply stated, “It is I.” But Jesus was doing so much more than announcing Himself to His disciples. In a sense, He was indicating to His disciples that the entire circumstance in which they found themselves was His doing. It was all part of His plan for further demonstrating to them His divine power and authority. In spite of what they saw and were experiencing, He was still Jesus, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world.

And Mark indicates that as soon as Jesus spoke to them, He got into the boat, and the wind immediately ceased. His very presence calmed the storm. And then Mark adds, “and they were utterly astounded” (Mark 6:51 ESV).

If you recall, the disciples had displayed no reaction to Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the 5,000. None of the gospels indicate any kind of response on the part of the disciples after having witnessed this incredible demonstration of Jesus’ power and authority. The crowd had reacted with awe and wonder, declaring their belief that Jesus must be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy spoken by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15 ESV).

“This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” – John 6:14 ESV

But the disciples appeared to remain strangely silent. And Mark provides some insight into what was going on.

And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. – Mark 6:51-52 ESV

These men were completely blown away by what they had just witnessed. They had just witnessed Jesus doing the impossible, by walking on water and defying the laws of nature. But Mark indicates that their astonishment was due to the fact that they had not understood what Jesus had done earlier that day. In His miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus had already demonstrated His power over nature. As the Son of God and the co-creator of the universe, Jesus held absolute authority over the entire creative order.

And what is amazing about this entire story is that the disciples had already been eyewitnesses to Jesus’ power over the wind and waves. Mark and Matthew both record an earlier occasion in which Jesus and the disciples were caught in a severe storm on the Sea of Galilee. As the storm raged, Jesus slept. But the disciples, in fear for their lives, had awakened Jesus, demanding that He do something to save them. And He had responded to their fear by rebuking the winds and waves and calming the storm. And the disciples, awed by what they had just witnessed, stated, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:27 ESV).

And yet, here they were on the same sea, facing similar circumstances, and they still could not understand what sort of man Jesus truly was. Mark indicates that their hearts were hardened. They were not yet capable of seeing and understanding the true nature of Jesus’ identity. Yes, they had seen Him turn water into wine. They had witnessed Him perform signs and wonders. They had watched Him feed more than 10,000 people with nothing more than five loaves of bread and two small fish. Now, they had just seen Him walk on water. But while they were shocked by all that they had seen, their hearts were still hardened by disbelief. They just couldn’t bring themselves to see Jesus for who He truly was.

John indicates that they were simply relieved to have Jesus back in the boat with them.

…they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going. – John 6:21 ESV

With Jesus in the boat, things were back to normal. The wind had died down and they found themselves back in the safe and more familiar surroundings of Capernaum. But little did they know that their lessons were far from over. Jesus was far from done when it came to teaching His disciples about His identity and preparing them for their ultimate role as His apostles. They had much to learn and Jesus was going to continue softening their hearts and enlightening their minds so that they would be ready for the task that lie ahead.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Not Enough

1 After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. – John 6:1-15 ESV

After recording Jesus’ less-than-flattering address to the religious leaders, John picks up the story with Jesus leaving Jerusalem and traveling back to the region of Galilee. As is clear from a reading of the other gospels, John chooses to skip a lot of other important events in Jesus’ life and picks up his narrative with the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. It was not that John was unaware of these other details of Jesus’ life because he would have been an eyewitness to all of them. It is that he was purposefully piecing together key events that provided further evidence to support his theme of Jesus’ deity. For John, the whole point of his gospel was to prove that Jesus was the Word of God made flesh.

the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14 ESV

Throughout his gospel, John concentrates his attention on those events surrounding the life of Jesus that help support his thesis. He intentionally chooses the stories that he feels best illustrate the point he is trying to make. John is not so much interested in providing a day-by-day account of the life of Jesus as he is in demonstrating and proving the deity of Jesus.

So, he picks up the story with Jesus arriving at “the other side of the Sea of Galilee” (John 6:1 ESV). We know from Luke’s gospel that the scene for this miracle was near a town called Bethsaida, located on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee (Luke 9:10). According to Matthew’s account, upon hearing the news of John the Baptist’s beheading by Herod, Jesus “withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matthew 14:13 ESV). But when He returned to shore, Jesus found a large crowd had gathered to see Him. Mark adds that Jesus viewed the crowd as “sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34 ESV) and His compassion led Him to heal many of those who were sick among them. According to John, Jesus’ actions attracted an even larger crowd, filled with people from the neighboring towns who were anxious to see this miracle worker for themselves. 

John describes Jesus gathering His 12 disciples and taking them to the crest of a local hillside. They had just returned from their first official missionary assignment (Mark 6:30-32; Luke 9:10) and Jesus knew they needed rest and a time to debrief from their experience.

The scene is set. John the Baptist is dead. The disciples of Jesus have returned from their assignment, tired and hungry, but anxious to share about all the miracles they had performed (Luke 9:6). A large crowd has gathered, drawn by news of the miracles of Jesus. And John adds the somewhat random note that the Feast of the Passover was just around the corner. That reference will become more important as his story unfolds.

John, in his recollection of the day’s events, describes Jesus as turning to Philip and asking, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (John 6:5 ESV). None of the other gospel accounts include this conversation between Jesus and Philip. It may be that John was the only one of the disciples who overheard this exchange. It is significant because Philip was the only disciple who was from Bethsaida (John 1:44). He would have had firsthand knowledge of the area and known where bread could be purchased. But John indicates that Jesus’ question was really just a test.

Philip and his companions had just returned from the assignment given to them by Jesus, and Luke provides the instructions they had received.

One day Jesus called together his twelve disciples and gave them power and authority to cast out all demons and to heal all diseases. Then he sent them out to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick. “Take nothing for your journey,” he instructed them. “Don’t take a walking stick, a traveler’s bag, food, money, or even a change of clothes. Wherever you go, stay in the same house until you leave town. And if a town refuses to welcome you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate.”– Luke 9:1-5 ESV

And Luke adds that they had followed Jesus’ instructions, traveling from village to village, “preaching the Good News and healing the sick” (Luke 9:6 ESV). These men had been given “power and authority” by Jesus so that they had been able to cast out demons and heal the sick, just as He did. And when they returned to Jesus, they told Him all that they had done.

Now, Jesus gave His disciples a test. He wanted to see how they were going to handle this particular moment in time. Had their faith been strengthened by their recent experience? Did they believe that the power and authority given to them by Jesus was enough to handle any circumstance they might encounter?  Jesus wasn’t interested in knowing whether Philip had a source for the purchase of bread. He wanted to know if His disciples were convinced that He was the source of all things. He had given them power and authority, and they had seen it in action. But now, when faced with what appeared to be an overwhelming physical problem, would their faith fail them?

Philip’s response to Jesus’ question provides the answer:

“Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” – John 6:7 ESV

From Philip’s perspective, the problem was greater than their capacity to solve it. There were just too many people to feed. And Andrew reveals just how dire the situation really was: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” (John 6:9 ESV). The other gospel writers indicate that the disciples concluded that the best solution was to let the people fend for themselves.

“…send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” – Matthew 14:15 ESV

“Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” – Mark 6:36 ESVC

“Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” – Luke 9:12 ESV

They failed the test. Their personal experience wielding the power and authority given to them by Jesus had been real, but its effect had been shortlived. They were unable to look at their current situation and see that the solution was well within their reach. But Jesus knew that nothing was impossible. So, He instructed the disciples to gather the crowd (the sheep without a shepherd) and seat them on the grassy hillside. Then John records that Jesus “took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted” (John 6:11 ESV).

Jesus, with the power and authority given to Him by God the Father, fed the sheep. He shepherded the flock of God, miraculously meeting their need in full. This amazing event should bring to mind the 23rd Psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake. – Psalm 23:1-3 ESV

John points out that the people “ate their fill.” They were completely satisfied. No one went without and there was no one who failed to have their need fully met. The Shepherd fully satisfied the needs of His flock. In fact, there were 12 baskets of leftovers gathered by the disciples. Each of them held in his hands a basket full of tangible proof that with the Lord as their shepherd, they would never have a single unmet need.

But it is interesting to note that John describes the reaction of the people, but not of the disciples.

“This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” – John 6:14 ESV

The people were amazed by what they had seen and experienced. But John portrays the disciples as strangely silent. Jesus had just displayed His divine power and authority yet again, yet the disciples had nothing to say. But the people were ready to crown Jesus as their king. And John concludes the story with a telling comment:

Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. – John 6:15 ESV

Jesus withdrew. He left the crowds and His disciples behind, choosing instead to seek time alone. And Mark tells us that Jesus went up on the mountain to pray” (Mark 6:46 ESV). Escaping the craving crowds and His disconcerted disciples, Jesus sought the companionship of His Heavenly Father. The Son of God returned to the source of His power and authority, seeking to hear from the one who knew Him best.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Not What They Expected

27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” – John 4:27-38 ESV

The Samaritan woman had come to the well to draw water. The disciples had gone to a nearby town to find food. John’s emphasis on the contrast between the physical and the spiritual is all over this section of his gospel. With his depiction of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman, John accentuates the stark contrast between earthly and the heavenly, the temporal and the eternal. The woman’s life depicts mankind’s obsession with meeting physical needs. The water was a symbol of her insatiable need to satisfy her earthly desires. Jesus’ revelation concerning her five failed marriages speaks volumes about her neediness, insecurity, and susceptibility to her own passions and desires. That she was living with yet another man, outside the bonds of marriage, reveals her deep-seated desire for acceptance and love. She had tremendous physical, emotional, and psychological needs. Yet, she was blind to the fact that her greatest need was spiritual in nature.

All the while Jesus had been attempting to quench this woman’s spiritual thirst, His disciples had been in search for food. And John points out their shock when they returned to find Jesus speaking to a woman, and a Samaritan woman at that. This was unacceptable behavior for someone like Jesus. The disciples, as Jews, would have been appalled that their teacher had been willing to risk becoming ceremonially unclean through interaction with a Samaritan. And while they were dying to know what had prompted Jesus’ actions, they kept their questions to themselves.

Meanwhile, the woman had made her way back into town, anxious to share the exciting news of her unexpected encounter with Jesus.

The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?” – John 4:28-29 NLT

John’s mention of the water jar is an important part of the story that can be easily overlooked. That jar was an essential part of her daily routine. It was the key to her drawing water from the well, which, as she had told Jesus, was deep. Without the jar, she would have no means of satisfying her thirst. But her willingness to leave it behind is a subtle statement by John that she had found something far more important and significant. It is reminiscent of the words of Jesus, spoken during His sermon on the mount.

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:31-33 NLT

Jesus would later reiterate this same thought to His disciples, telling them, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing.” (Luke 12:22-23 NLT). And He would add a further note of instruction:

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.” – Luke 12:31-32 NLT

By leaving her water jar behind, the Samaritan woman was putting the teaching of Jesus into action. She was illustrating what it means to seek the Kingdom of God above all else. Suddenly, the earthly things that had meant so much to her, lost their value and appeal. She had discovered something of far greater worth.

Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?” – John 4:29 NLT

Her interest was piqued. She was curiously intrigued by all Jesus had said to her. And her excitement was contagious because she eventually returned with a crowd of her fellow townspeople in tow.

But John returns our attention to the contrast between the physical and the spiritual by describing the disciples’ attempt to get Jesus to eat. They had gone out of their way to get food, even risking their own purity by entering into a Samaritan town to purchase it, and now they expected Jesus to satisfy His physical hunger with it. But Jesus refused their offer, informing them instead that He had “food to eat that you do not know about” (John 4:32 ESV). This admission confused them because they could not imagine where Jesus had found anything to eat. And what Jesus said next did little to clear up their confusion.

“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. – John 4:34 ESV

And just a few chapters later, John records the words of Jesus as He declares His resolute determination to accomplish His Father’s will.

“For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.” – John 6:38-40 NLT

The disciples were focused on the physical, while Jesus had His eyes set on accomplishing the spiritual and eternal will of His Heavenly Father. And, interestingly enough, just before Jesus made that statement to His disciples, He had told them:

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But you haven’t believed in me even though you have seen me. However, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them.” – John 6:35-37 NLT

Hunger and thirst. Jesus had come to meet a need the disciples didn’t yet know they had. They were more concerned about a physical meal and the coming of the Messiah’s physical kingdom. But Jesus was on a mission from God to satisfy man’s spiritual hunger and provide a means by which sinners could gain access to the kingdom of God.

This entire exchange between Jesus and His disciples was meant to refocus their attention. They were obsessed with physical and temporal matters. Their attention was focused on their own needs and their own self-centered understanding of the kingdom. Here they were, standing in the middle of Samaria, surrounded by people they believed to be unclean and unworthy of God’s attention. And yet, Jesus said to them:

“You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest. The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike!” – John 4:35-36 NLT

It seems likely that, as Jesus spoke these words, the Samaritan woman and the townspeople had come into sight. And His mention of eternal life in conjunction with a crowd of Samaritans would have shocked His disciples. But He wants them to wake up and understand the unique nature of the moment. They were standing in the presence of the Messiah, the Son of God, who had come to do the will of His Father. And the need He had come to meet was spiritual in nature, not physical. Even the physical differences between the Jews and the Samaritans were insignificant in light of God’s plan to bring redemption to all mankind through His Son’s death and resurrection.

And Jesus wants His reluctant disciples to understand that they are going to play a significant part in the coming harvest of souls.

“You know the saying, ‘One plants and another harvests.’ And it’s true. I sent you to harvest where you didn’t plant; others had already done the work, and now you will get to gather the harvest.” – John 4:37-38 NLT

Jesus had come sowing the good news of salvation that He had come to offer. He would plant the seeds, but the disciples would reap the harvest. But they would have to be willing to reap wherever the seeds had been sown – even if that meant returning to the “fields” of Samaria.

This was a head-scratching, paradigm-shifting scene for the disciples. And while John does not give us their response to Jesus’ words, it doesn’t take much imagination to think of them staring at one another in equal parts confusion and consternation. Everything about this scenario was distasteful to them. They were in a place they didn’t want to be. They were soon to be surrounded by Samaritans whom they considered unclean and unworthy of God’s mercy and grace. And yet, their Rabbi and teacher was inferring that these very same people would be included in the kingdom of God.

Whether they realized it or not, the disciples were slowly discovering that God’s will stood in stark contrast to their own. His plans for the world looked nothing like what they were expecting or hoping. And this would be just the first in a series of eye-opening, expectation-shattering lessons they would receive from the lips of Jesus.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Come and You Will See

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” – John 1:35-51 ESV

As has already been states, one of the things the apostle John is attempting is to establish and support the deity of Jesus. To do so, he has used the testimony of John the Baptist, who referred to Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). He also shared that he had been witness to the moment when the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove. This had happened exactly the way God had told him it would happen. And it had been accompanied by a voice from heaven declaring, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy” (Matthew 3:17 NLT).

But one of the most convincing comments to come from the lips of John the Baptist was his confession “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34 ESV). At no point does John the Baptist refer to Jesus as the Christ or Messiah. The only time he used the Greek word “Christ” was when he answered the question from the Jewish religious leaders, asking whether that was who he was. He simply told them, “I am not the Christ” (John 1:20 ESV).

But when speaking of Jesus, John the Baptist referred to Him as the Lamb and the Son of God. To the average Jews, the term “Christ” or “Messiah” had come to mean a human savior who would appear on the scene much like David had. He would be a military and political leader who would rescue Israel from their subjugation to Rome and reestablish them as a formidable power in the Middle East. In their minds, the Messiah would be a man sent by God, but they had no suspicion or expectation that he would be God. So, when John the Baptist refers to Jesus as the Son of God, he is boldly proclaiming His divinity. This supports the claim made earlier by John.

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. – John 1:18 NLT

But John is not done establishing the deity of Jesus. He picks up the story by describing the events that took place the very next day. Jesus, having been baptized and anointed by the Holy Spirit, began His earthly ministry. The scene John describes most likely took place somewhere in the Judean wilderness, near the shore of the Jordan River where Jesus had been baptized. John the Baptist, standing with two of his followers, spots Jesus walking by and repeats his earlier claim: “Behold, the Lamb of God!”

Hearing these words, the two disciples of John the Baptist decided to follow Jesus. They were intrigued. They wanted to know more. And when Jesus saw them, He asked them, “What are you seeking?” (John 1:38 ESV). Basically, Jesus is asking them what it is they want. He is requiring that they state their intentions. But, interestingly enough, rather than answer His question, the two men ask Jesus where He is staying. They address Jesus as “Rabbi,” a term of respect that clearly reflects their understanding that Jesus was some sort of teacher. Their inquiry into where Jesus lived was most likely their way of asking where He did His teaching. They were signaling their interest in becoming His disciples. But at this point, these two men show no awareness that Jesus was the Messiah. And it does not appear that they understood Him to be divine. All they knew was that their teacher had proclaimed Jesus to be his superior.

among you stands one you do not know, he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” – John 1:26-27 ESV

They probably understood Jesus to be their Rabbi’s teacher and now they wanted to become His disciples as well.

In response to their question, Jesus stated, “Come and you will see” (John 1:39 ESV). His words feature an invitation and a promise. They think they’re about to get a tour of Jesus’ place of residence, but He is signaling something far more significant. Their decision to follow Him is going to open their eyes to things they have never seen before. They end up spending the rest of the day with Jesus and during that time, they begin to grow in their awareness of who He was. John states that one of the men, who he identifies as Andrew, went to search for his brother, Simon. We know from the other gospel accounts that these two brothers were fishermen. Upon finding Simon, Andrew excitedly announced, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ)” (John 1:41 ESV).

During his time with Jesus, something had opened the eyes of Andrew so that he was able to see who Jesus truly was. He had become convinced that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. But, unlike his former Rabbi, John the Baptist, Andrew is not yet convinced of Jesus’ deity.

Intrigued by his brother’s announcement, Simon followed him to where Jesus was staying. And upon meeting Simon, Jesus does something a bit strange. He immediately changes Simon’s name to Cephas, an Aramaic word that means “rock.” In Greek, it translates into “Peter.”

John provides no explanation for why Jesus did what He did. But there is some irony in this scene. As the gospel narratives unfold, they reveal that Peter was a hotheaded, impulsive, and opinionated man who was quick to speak and rash by nature. He would prove to be a loose cannon whose propensity to put the mouth in gear before the mind was engaged would end up getting him into hot water. And yet, it would be this very same man who would later testify of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV).

And Jesus would respond to Peter’s testimony by pronouncing a blessing upon him.

“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” – Matthew 16:17-18 ESV

John continues the narrative by describing Jesus’ departure for the region of Galilee, in the north. There He found Philip, who lived in Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Simon Peter. Philip quickly accepted the invitation from Jesus to follow Him. Perhaps he had already been informed about Jesus by Andrew and Simon Peter. But whatever the case, he was fully convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, telling his friend, Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45 ESV). 

Philip was familiar with the Old Testament prophecies concerning the promised Messiah and believed Jesus to be the fulfillment of them. But he was also fully aware that Jesus was the son of Joseph, from the unimpressive town of Nazareth. You can sense the common disdain for Jesus’ hometown by Nathanael’s reaction: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46 ESV).

But Philip challenges his friend to “Come and see” for himself. And Nathanael was not disappointed. As Jesus saw Nathanael, He declared, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:47 ESV). Nathanael is taken aback by Jesus’ words, somehow sensing that Jesus knew him intimately. They had never met before, but Jesus revealed things about Nathanael that were personal and private. And then, Jesus blew Nathanael away by announcing, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you” (John 1:48 ESV).

The fact that Nathanael saw Jesus’ words as proof of supernatural power is reflected in his response: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49 ESV).

In a sense, Jesus tells Nathanael, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” There was going to be far more convincing proof of who Jesus was and it would be confirmed by supernatural signs and wonders.

you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” – John 1:51 ESV

This imagery is reminiscent of the experience the Old Testament patriarch, Jacob had when he dreamed of a ladder descending from heaven.

And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! – Genesis 28:12 ESV

And Jacob was given an interpretation of that dream that assured him, “in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 28:15 ESV). Jesus was announcing that He was the fulfillment of that promise. It would be through Him that all the families of the earth would be blessed. In time, Nathanael and the rest of the disciples of Jesus would have ample proof that He truly was the Son of God, the King of Israel. Jesus had invited these men to “come and see.” By following Him they would be given an opportunity to see the heavens opened and the power of God revealed on earth as never before.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Holy Calling

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, 12 which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. 2 Timothy 1:8-12 ESV

Paul’s letter to Timothy, while personal in nature, is global in its scope and impact. Originally written with Timothy in mind, Paul’s words are applicable and appropriate for any child of God who understands their calling as an ambassador and servant of Christ. The decision by the early church fathers to include this letter in the canon of Scripture is evidence of their belief that it was Spirit-inspired and, therefore, its message was intended for a larger audience than one.

In a way, Timothy serves as a model or representative for the rest of the body of Christ. He was a relatively new believer who was privileged to have the apostle Paul as his personal mentor and spiritual guide. And although it seems clear that Timothy was commissioned for the gospel ministry and had received spiritual gifts commensurate with that responsibility, the instructions he received from Paul apply to each and every Christ-follower.

If we read this letter with the perspective that we’re eavesdropping on a personal conversation between two close friends, we will the vital truths contained in it. Paul’s admonitions and instructions, while directed at Timothy, have a much broader application intended for a much larger audience. They span the boundaries of time and continue to speak to all those who share Timothy’s “sincere faith” (2 Timothy 1:5 ESV) and who desire to “fan into flame the gift of God” (2 Timothy 1:6 ESV).

Paul issued the same challenge to all Christ-followers: “imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NLT). He intended his life to be a model of Christlikeness and he expected every believer to be mentored by his example. So, when Paul declares himself to be an ambassador for Christ entrusted with “the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19 ESV), there is a sense in which he expects all followers of Christ to share in that responsibility. When he tells the Corinthian believers, “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20 ESV), he is including them as fellow ambassadors whom he expected to share the same divine invitation: “be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20 ESV).

There is a sense in which all believers are being mentored by Paul as they read his letters and allow the Holy Spirit to apply God’s truth to their hearts. We are to read Paul’s words to Timothy with an eager expectation that we will discover personal applications that will radically alter the spiritual trajectory of our lives.

So, when Paul tells Timothy, “do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord” (2 Timothy 1:8 ESV), his words apply to us. As believers, we should never find ourselves ashamed to tell others about God’s message of reconciliation made possible through faith in Christ. Paul knew that Timothy was having a difficult time reconciling the imprisonment of his mentor. He was probably having to field difficult questions from the believers in Ephesus who wondered what they could expect if the apostle Paul had been imprisoned for his faith. How could that be part of God’s divine plan? Would they be next? And Paul knew that Timothy was probably embarrassed by his mentor’s untimely and inexplicable confinement and struggling to explain what was going on.

But rather than making excuses for his predicament, Paul invited Timothy to “share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8 ESV). Paul wasn’t ashamed of his imprisonment. He viewed it as a privilege and something to be understood as good rather than bad.

I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:10 NLT

And Paul saw his life as exemplary rather than as some kind of anomaly. He even pleaded with the believers in Corinth to see every aspect of his life as worthy of emulation – highlighting the good along with the seemingly bad.

…we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. – 2 Corinthians 6:4-10 ESV

And, in his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul reminded them that suffering for Christ was to be expected because they were all caught up in a spiritual war.

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. – Philippians 1:29-30 ESV

And the apostle Peter shared Paul’s recognition that suffering was a non-negotiable aspect of the Christian life.

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.

In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. – 1 Peter 5:8-10 NLT

So, Paul reminds Timothy (and by extension, us) that he had been saved and “to a holy calling” (2 Timothy 1:9 ESV). Timothy had been set apart by God for a divine purpose and, like Paul, had a responsibility to live up to his calling. Paul acknowledged his own appointment as “a preacher and apostle and teacher” (2 Timothy 1:11 ESV). And he knew that calling was the reason for his imprisonment. That’s why he could “take pleasure” in it. He knew he was doing exactly what he had been commissioned to do and if his faithful carrying out of his job resulted in suffering, he saw himself as sharing in the sufferings of Christ. He was simply getting a small taste of what His Savior endured on his behalf.

And Paul found no shame in his imprisonment. In fact, he boldly proclaimed, “I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Timothy 1:12 ESV). Despite his less-than-ideal circumstances, Paul remained confident in the faith he had placed in Christ. The presence of difficulties had not caused his faith to waver or his trust in Jesus’ saving work to diminish. Paul was not looking for heaven on earth. He didn’t expect his belief in Christ to result in a trouble-free life marked by health, wealth, and prosperity.

He knew that the salvation Christ died to provide was eternal in nature, not temporal. Jesus had not sacrificed Himself so that Paul could live a comfortable, pain-free life in the here-and-now. He died so that Paul, Timothy, and every other individual who placed their faith in Him could one day experience an eternity free from sin, pain, suffering, and sorrow.  As Jesus Himself said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

I Am With You Always

11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:11-20 ESV

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Of all the gospel authors, Matthew provides us with the most abbreviated version of the events surrounding Jesus’ last hours on earth. For whatever reason, he chose to leave out all the appearances Jesus made after His resurrection. We know from the accounts penned by John, Luke, and Mark, that Jesus appeared to His followers repeatedly during the hours between His resurrection and His ascension. There was the occasion when He had walked alongside the two distraught disciples on the road to Emmaus as they discussed the recent death of their master (Luke 24:13-32). Initially, they had been unable to recognize Jesus. But when they eventually realized they were talking with the resurrected Lord, they made a beeline to the room where the 10 disciples were gathered together, informing them of their encounter with Jesus.  And as they were sharing the exciting news, Jesus suddenly appeared among them (Luke 24:33-40).

John records that Thomas had not been in the room that day, and when his fellow disciples told him what had happened, he expressed his reservations. So, eight days later, Jesus revealed Himself to Thomas, telling him, “Do not disbelieve but believe” (John 20:27).

The apostle Paul provides a succinct summary of all of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances.

He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. – 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 NLT

But Matthew chose to leave out all of this. Not only that, He doesn’t even mention the ascension of Jesus. Dr. Stanley Toussaint provides us with a compelling explanation for Matthew’s decision to leave out this seemingly vital part of the narrative.

The reason for Matthew’s diligence in approaching the resurrection in such an apologetic manner is evident since so much is dependent upon the resurrection of the Messiah. It authenticated His person. To the nation of Israel, His resurrection was the sign of the prophet Jonah (Matthew 12:38-49) attesting the fact that Jesus was the Messiah. The reason Matthew says nothing about the ascension is bound up in this point. If Jesus is the Messiah, then an account of the ascension is both unnecessary and self-evident to the Israelite. He would yet come in clouds of glory. What mattered to Matthew was that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah and the resurrection proved that fact; therefore he goes no further. – Toussaint, Stanley D. Behold the King: A Study of Matthew. Portland, Oreg.: Multnomah Press, 1980.

For Matthew, the resurrection said it all. If Jesus had been raised from the dead, which Matthew clearly believed, then His ascension would have been an undisputed fact. Matthew’s primary point was to prove the Messiahship of Jesus. That’s because, as a Jew, Matthew had written his gospel with a Jewish audience in mind. He had been out to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. And, for him, the resurrection was clear evidence and conclusive proof of that claim.

The tomb was empty, and news of that reality had already begun to spread. In fact, the temple guards who had been tasked with protecting the tomb had already delivered their report of the missing body to Caiaphas, the high priest, and his father-in-law. The Jewish high council had placed these guards at the tomb of Jesus in order to prevent the disciples from stealing His body. The members of the Sanhedrin had been informed of Jesus’ bold and blasphemous claim that He would rise from the dead. So, they assumed His fanatical disciples, in a pathetic attempt to keep their little revolution alive, would try to steal the body of Jesus and declare Him to be alive.  Much to their surprise and chagrin, that is essentially what the guards reported. And Matthew records that the guards told the high priest “all that had taken place.” That would have included exactly what Matthew had reported.

…there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. – Matthew 28:2-4 ESV

These guards would have feared for their lives. They had failed in their assignment. The body they had been instructed to guard was no longer there. If anything, these men could have fabricated a lie that provided them with a plausible alibi. But instead, they told the truth – as crazy as it may have sounded. Not only had they failed to secure the tomb, but they had also fallen asleep on the job. So, they most likely told their bosses exactly what had happened in great detail.

But Matthew records that Caiaphas, after having heard the unwelcome news, assembled the rest of the high council. Amazingly, Caiaphas determined that the best strategy was to pay off the guards and spread the rumor that the disciples had stolen the body – the very thing he had hoped to prevent. It seems evident that he knew something else had taken place, and this decision was nothing more than a poor attempt at a coverup. The last thing he wanted was a rumor of Jesus’ resurrection spreading throughout the city.

And yet, that fact was Matthew’s primary point. Jesus was alive. He had risen from the dead, just as He had promised. He was the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world. Matthew had opened up his gospel with the encounter between Joseph and the angel.

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:20-21 ESV

Matthew had followed that story with the one involving the arrival of the wise men, who had come in search of “he who has been born king of the Jews?(Matthew 2:2 ESV).

Next, Matthew recorded Herod’s attempt to eliminate the infant Jesus as a threat by having all the male babies executed. He reported Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist and the divine pronouncement from God, stating, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 ESV).

Matthew had been out to prove that Jesus was Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23 ESV). And the resurrection of Jesus was the final, conclusive piece of evidence.

Jesus had directed His disciples to meet Him at a mountain in Galilee. We are not told which mountain, but it may have been the very place where Jesus had given His sermon on the mount recorded in Matthew 5-7. But regardless of the exact location of their place of rendezvous, Jesus appeared yet again to His followers. Matthew reports that while all 11 of the disciples worshiped Him, some still harbored doubts. He doesn’t explain what he meant by this. Did they doubt Jesus’ resurrection? That seems hard to imagine, based on the fact that He was standing right in front of them. Did they doubt that He was the Messiah? Perhaps. It could be that they were still harboring hopes that He would reveal Himself to be the King they had long hoped for.

The Greek word translated as “doubted” is edistasan, and it refers to a spirit of hesitation. It is likely that they were uncertain and fearful of all that was going on around them. They probably harbored concerns about the future. They were in unchartered waters. The events of the last few days were not what they had expected, and they had no idea what was going to happen next. What were Jesus’ plans? What would happen to them? The Sanhedrin had already proven just how far they would go to eliminate Jesus as a threat, and they were not going to give up easily.

But Jesus attempted to calm their fears and doubts by telling them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18 ESV). This statement was meant to assure His wavering, fear-focused disciples that He was in complete control of the situation. The very fact that He was standing before them, alive and well, was proof that He had authority from God Almighty. He had done what no other man had ever done before – He had conquered death and the grave. And they had no reason to fear.

But they did have work to do. And Jesus, according to His God-given authority, commissioned His followers to continue His work in His absence.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20 ESV

No more hiding. No more fearing. They were to boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus’ Messiahship. He was the Son of God. He was Immanuel, God with us. He was the King of the Jews and the Savior of the world. And that remarkable news was to be proclaimed throughout the world. While the temple guards and the Sanhedrin were busy spreading lies, the disciples were to spread the truth about the death-defeating, sin-forgiving power of the resurrected Savior.

And Jesus assured His followers that, though He was leaving, He would still be with them. This promise was fulfilled when the Holy Spirit came to dwell in them on the day of Pentecost. The Spirit would be their constant companion and source of divine power. And, while Jesus would soon depart and return to His Father’s side in heaven, the Spirit of God would remain with them all the days of their lives. And He will remain with all those who make up the body of Christ, the Church, until the end of the age.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson