A Dreaded and Difficult Conversation

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” John 21:15-19 ESV

The moment Peter had been dreading finally arrived. Ever since he had peered into the empty tomb, he must have experienced a growing sense of irrepressible joy at the thought that Jesus was alive and he might get see Him again. But his excitement was tempered by a nagging sense of guilt over his public denials of Jesus. On that night in the upper room, when Jesus had announced that one of the 12 would betray Him, Peter had boldly proclaimed, “I will lay down my life for you!” (John 13:37 ESV). But Jesus had responded with an equally bold statement of His own:

“Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times. – John 13:38 ESV

And that very same night, as Jesus was being interrogated by the high priest and the members of Sanhedrin, Peter fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy.

The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.”  – John 18:17 ESV

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” – John 18:25 ESV

One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.  – John 18:26-27 ESV

Three separate times, Peter had been asked about his personal relationship with Jesus. Three different individuals asked him to confirm his identity as a disciple or follower of Jesus, and three times he vehemently denied any knowledge of or relationship with Jesus.

Now, standing on the shore of the sea of Galilee, Peter’s worst fear was realized. He found himself alone with Jesus. Peter had been avoiding the inevitable. The weight of his guilty conscience must have become unbearable, preventing him from fully experiencing the joy of being with Jesus. Every time Peter looked at Jesus’ face or caught a fleeting glimpse of the nail prints in His hands and feet, a sense of shame and self-loathing must have welled up within him. It is difficult to imagine just how tortured Peter must have felt each time he looked on his resurrected Master and friend.

And now, Jesus approached him one on one. There is no way of knowing what was going through Peter’s mind at that moment, but one would expect that Peter had been rehearsing the apology he would need for just such a moment. Yet, mercifully, Jesus broke the awkward silence by speaking first. And what Jesus had to say to Peter speaks volumes. One might have expected Jesus to say something like, “I told you so” or “Well, what have you got to say for yourself?” But instead, Jesus asked Peter a series of three questions.

“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” – John 21:15 ESV

“Simon, son of John, do you love me? – John 21:16 ESV

“Simon, son of John, do you love me? – John 21:17 ESV

Actually, it was one question asked three different times. That night in the garden, Peter’s inquisitors wanted him to confirm his relationship with Jesus, and three times he had denied having one. But now, Peter is being asked to publicly confess and confirm his love for Jesus. And this time, the one asking the questions is the very one Peter had denied.

Peter’s brash and impulsive nature had finally caught up with him. Over the years he had been with Jesus, he had made a habit of speaking his mind and trying to set himself apart from the rest of the disciples. He was naturally competitive and driven to do whatever it took to stand out from the crowd. All three of the Synoptic gospels record his pride-filled response when Jesus had declared, “You will all fall away because of me this night” (Matthew 26:31 ESV). Peter had boldly proclaimed, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away” (John 26:33 ESV). He was declaring himself to be better than the rest. He was made of better stuff. But little did Peter know that his bold claim was going to be put to the test and he would end up failing miserably.

But at the heart of Jesus’ questions is the issue of love. The very first iteration of Jesus’ question compared Peter’s love with that of the other disciples. When Jesus asked, “do you love me more than these?,” He was not asking if Peter’s love for the other disciples was greater than his love for Him. This was a question designed to expose whether Peter still harbored feelings of superiority, and considered himself to be more committed to Jesus than his fellow disciples.

Remember, Peter had accused the rest of the disciples of a lack of commitment. He had predicted that they would all fall away at the first hint of trouble. But he was different. He would stay the course and remain by Jesus’ side through thick or thin. Or so he had thought.

But standing face to face with Jesus, all Peter could say was “Lord; you know that I love you” (John 21:15 ESV). No comparison. No competition. He was not willing to speak for or compare himself with the other disciples. All he could do was confirm his own love for his friend.

Over the years, much emphasis has been placed on the two Greek words for “love” that appear in this passage. One is the word agapaō and the other is phileō. The first is said to be a description of divine love – a selfless, sacrificial love expressed by God to men. While the latter was more commonly used to refer to a lower, earthly form of love – the love between two human beings. And while there is some truth to this distinction, it is also true that these two words were often used interchangeably in the Greek language. Yet, John seems to establish a clear pattern in this passage. He records that Jesus repeatedly used the word agapaō, while Peter responded by using the word phileō. There is a subtle, yet important, point of clarification being made as Jesus discusses the nature of Peter’s love. Does Peter love Jesus in the same way that Jesus loved him?

Jesus had laid down His life for Peter. He had personally demonstrated the very definition of love He had given to the disciples.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13 ESV

Jesus had faithfully fulfilled His role as the Good Shepherd.

“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.” – John 10:11-12 ESV

By his actions that night in the courtyard, Peter had proven himself to be a hired hand. The wolf had come and he had fled. But now, Jesus was offering Peter an opportunity to prove his love. With each successive query, Jesus responded to Peter’s answer with a directive.

“Feed my lambs.” – John 21:15 ESV

“Tend my sheep.” – John 21:16 ESV

“Feed my sheep. – John 21:17 ESV

In essence, Jesus is demanding that Peter prove his love for Him by loving those for whom He died. Jesus had told the disciples, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16 ESV). And now, Jesus was turning the care and feeding of the flock over to Peter and his companions. If Peter wanted to prove his love for Jesus, he was going to love and care for those whom Jesus gave His life.

In His teaching on the Good Shepherd, Jesus had stated, “he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:4 ESV). In a sense, Jesus was turning over to Peter the responsibility for shepherding and leading His flock. Peter and the other disciples would become under-shepherds, commissioned by the Good Shepherd to feed and tend His sheep. These men could express no greater love for Jesus than to care for His sheep. Jesus was leaving and He was going to turn over the care and protection of His flock to His disciples.

And then Jesus reveals to Peter that his shepherding of the sheep will be costly. Peter too will end up laying down his life for the sheep. This impulsive, self-assertive man will one day find himself being led by others. But as a sheep to the slaughter. This somewhat poetic-sounding prophecy by Jesus was meant to reveal to Peter “by what kind of death he was to glorify God” (John 21:19 ESV).

“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” – John 21:18 NLT

Peter’s life was going to be dramatically different from this point forward. No longer would he live the self-willed, ego-driven life he had known up until that day. He will live a long life, but one that will be dedicated the the flock of Jesus Christ and end in him laying down his own life for the sheep – just as Jesus did. And according to the early church father, Eusubius, Peter was crucified in the midsixties A.D. during the purges of the Roman emperor, Nero.

But when Jesus had completed His one-on-one conversation with Peter, He ended it the same words He had used when they first met: “Follow me.” But this time, Jesus wasn’t asking Peter to become His disciples. He was inviting Peter to follow His example of selfless, sacrificial love for the sheep. And one day, when Peter had fully followed Jesus’ example, he would follow Jesus to heaven.

“When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” – John 14:3 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

Jesus Revealed Himself

1 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. John 21:1-4 ESV

This concluding chapter of John’s gospel has bothered biblical scholars for centuries. Many have viewed chapter 21 as out of place and incongruent with the rest of the book. It does seem rather odd that John provides a conclusion to his gospel with the two closing verses of chapter 20, only to recount yet another appearance by Jesus to His disciples. This has led some to suggest that this chapter was added later, either by John or one of his disciples.

But just because the final chapter appears somewhat out of sync with the rest of the narrative it does not prove its inauthenticity. John’s entire gospel is unique in its style and content. He chose not follow the pattern established by the Synoptic gospels, but instead, charted a distincinctly different course in his effort to reveal the deity and humanity of Jesus. And he summarized his efforts by telling his audience:

…these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name. – John 20:30-31 ESV

For 20 chapters, John provided evidence that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. And his purpose in doing so was that his readers would continue to believe the Gospel message concerning Jesus’ incarnation, life, death, and resurrection.

But long before John began his defense of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God and the Savior of the world, he opened his gospel with a prologue, in which he introduced Jesus as the Word.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. – John 1:1-2 ESV

With these opening verses, John meant to clearly establish the deity of Jesus. He was the creator-God, the eternal one who existed from the beginning with God the Father and was instrumental in creation of all life, including mankind. But John added that the eternal Word chose to manifest Himself in human form.

…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

The Word became flesh. God became a man. That is the theme of John’s entire gospel: Jesus the God-man. And he supports that theme for 21 chapters, including the final chapter of the book.

It is important to note that John concluded his prologue with the statement:

No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. – John 1:18 ESV

With His incarnation, Jesus made the invisible God visible (Colossians 1:15). The purely spiritual Son of God took on the physical body of a man so that humanity might perceive deity “in the flesh.” And for over three years, Jesus lived side-by-side with the very ones He had created. He lived with them and as one of them. He ate, drank, walked, talked, slept, cried, grew hungry, loved, and exhibited godliness as no man had ever done before. And the apostle Paul reminds us of the divine purpose behind the incarnation of Jesus.

He [God] sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. – Romans 8:3 NLT

And with the opening verses of chapter 21, John reveals the resurrected Son of God making one more appearance to His disciples. He had accomplished His Father’s will and sacrificed His life on the cross as payment for the sins of mankind. And three days later God raised His Son from the dead through the power of the Holy Spirit. The dead human body of Jesus was miraculously restored to life and rejoined with His spirit. And He made repeated appearances to His doubting and fearful disciples, assuring them that He had risen from the dead just as He said He would.

It helps if we understand chapter 21 to be the epilogue to John’s gospel. With it, he provides a fitting bookend that completes his narrative. In verse one, John states, “After this….” This is most likely a reference to the content found in chapter 20, but it also includes all that John has recorded in the rest of his gospel. It is a summarizing statement.

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. – John 21:1 ESV

The Greek word that is translated as “revealed” is phaneroō and it is used throughout John’s gospel. It means “to make manifest, to show one’s self, to reveal, or make known.” John used it repeatedly to refer to Jesus revealing His deity and glory.

This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested [phaneroō] his glory. And his disciples believed in him. – John 2:11 ESV

“I have manifested [phaneroō] your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. – John 17:6 ESV

Now, in the final chapter, John uses the same word to describe Jesus revealing or manifesting Himself to His disciples one last time. What is significant is that Jesus is the Word made flesh but His flesh has been resurrected. While it looks the same and still bears the holes made by the nails and the scar created by the spear that pierced His side, it has been dramatically altered. In His resurrected state, Jesus was able to pass through walls and enter locked rooms. His body had been glorified and made fit for eternity. And the apostle Paul assures us that, one day, we will have a glorified body just like Jesus had.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 NLT

Our earthly bodies are not made for eternity. They are temporary dwelling places that have limited shelf lives. They are susceptible to sickness and disease. They are designed to wear out, grow old, and, eventually, to stop working. But in one of his later letters, John provides us with the good news that a day is coming when we will be like Jesus. We too will be given glorified bodies that are designed to last for eternity.

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. – 1 John 3:2 NLT

But in chapter 21, John recounts the scene when Jesus, the resurrected, glorified Son of God, revealed Himself to seven of His disciples, who were still stuck in their temporal, earth-bound bodies. The Word of God, who was in the beginning with God and was God, was going to manifest His glory one more time. He was going to reveal Himself in a practical and personal way that was meant to reinforce for His disciples the ongoing reality of His identity as the God-man. Nothing had changed. He was still God in the flesh. Fully deity and fully humanity.

And this scene is burned into the mind of John because he was one of the disciples who witnessed it. He was accompanied by his brother James, as well as Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, and two other unnamed disciples. Influenced by the ever-impulsive Peter, they had decided to spend the day fishing. One might ask what they were doing in Galilee. According to the angel who spoke to the women at the tomb, that was exactly where they were supposed to go.

“But go, tell his disciples, even Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” –Mark 16:7 NLT

But while they waited for Jesus to show up, they decided to occupy their time with some fishing. This doesn’t indicate that they were giving up on their new vocation as ambassadors of the gospel, but that they were simply bored. Most of them had been professional fishermen when Jesus had called them, and they were doing what came naturally – fishing.

This is reminiscent of another scene recorded by Matthew. It too involved the Word made flesh, the Sea of Galilee, and a few men who were occupied with fishing.

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” – Matthew 4:18-19 ESV

More than three years later, John describes Jesus walking on the shore of the Sea of Galilee as Peter and his companions fish. But John adds the not-so-subtle insight: “They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing” (John 21:3 ESV). Despite their combined years of fishing experience, they were totally unsuccessful. And it seems likely that John had in mind the words that Jesus had earlier spoken to His disciples.

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:4-5 NLT

Jesus was alive. He had been resurrected and had even revealed Himself to them. But now they found themselves alone and operating on their own initiative and according to their own agenda. And their efforts proved fruitless. They had spent the entire night casting for fish but had come up empty handed.

And then John adds the one line that dramatically alters the entire scenario.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. – John 21:4 ESV

As the rays of the sun began to penetrate the darkness of the night, the Light of the world (John 8:12) appeared on the scene and would soon illuminate the hearts and minds of the distracted and unsuccessful disciples.

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

Do Not Disbelieve, But Believe

24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 20:24-31 ESV

From beginning to end, the Gospel of John is filled with admonitions regarding belief. In the very first chapter, John records the initial encounter between Jesus and Nathanael, who would become of His disciples. When Jesus spoke to Nathanael as if He knew him, Nathanael was surprised. And when Jesus said, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you” (John 1:48 ESV), Nathanael believed what Philip had told him about Jesus: “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote” (John 1:45 ESV). And he expressed his belief by exclaiming, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49 ESV). 

But Jesus responded to Nathanael’s declaration of faith with a mild rebuke:

“Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” – John 1:50 ESV

Belief would become a central theme of Jesus’ ministry and message. For the next three years, He would teach, preach, perform miracles, and tell parables, in order to help His disciples grow in their understanding of who He was and the purpose behind His coming. But Jesus did not reserve His lessons on belief for the disciples alone. When He had His light-night encounter with Nicodemus, the Pharisee, Jesus had told him, “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).

In a later conversation with an adulterous Samaritan woman, Jesus shared with her that He was the Messiah and she had believed His words. She even ran and told her neighbors, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:29 ESV). And John reports, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39 ESV). But then they had met Jesus for themselves, their belief became fully convinced as to His identity and mission.

They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” – John 4:42 ESV

Chapter after chapter, John has provided illustrations and proof of the deity of Jesus. He has displayed the authority of Jesus over demons, disease, and even the natural elements. He has recorded the words of Jesus boldly claiming to be the bread from heaven and the source of living water. He has repeatedly emphasized Jesus’ unique relationship with God the Father, declaring their unity and the God-ordained nature of Jesus’ mission. John has made it clear that Jesus was sent by God and was faithfully accomplishing the will of God.

But the religious leaders refused to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, choosing instead to accuse Him of blasphemy. And Jesus had responded to their attacks by declaring that His miraculous works provided more than enough evidence to prove His claim.

“…why do you call it blasphemy when I say, ‘I am the Son of God’? After all, the Father set me apart and sent me into the world. Don’t believe me unless I carry out my Father’s work. But if I do his work, believe in the evidence of the miraculous works I have done, even if you don’t believe me. Then you will know and understand that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father.” – John 10:36-38 NLT

And now, after His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus began to appear to His still disbelieving and doubtful disciples. Even though He had told them He would rise again from the dead, they had refused to believe. And when the women had gone to the tomb early Sunday morning to anoint the body of Jesus, they had been shocked to find an empty tomb and two angels, who told them, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day” (Luke 24:5-7 NLT). 

Luke tells us that they ran to tell the disciples the exciting news they had received. But their words were received by the disciples with doubt and derision.

It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened. But the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it. – Luke 24:10-11 NLT

When Jesus later appeared to them, “he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen him resurrected” (Mark 16:14 NLT).

“Why are your hearts filled with doubt? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” – Luke 24:38-39 NLT

His resurrection should have been the final proof of His identity. Jesus had told Nathanael that he would see “greater things” and now they were all witnessing the greatest evidence that Jesus was the Son of God and the Savior of the world. And the proof was in His nail-scarred hands and feet. He was not a ghost or an apparition. He was the resurrected, fully restored, and miraculously revived Son of God. And He still the Word of God in human flesh. He challenged them to touch and examine Him. And then He ate a meal with them.

Still they stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder. Then he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he ate it as they watched. – Luke 24:41-43 NLT

The author of Hebrews records a statement that Jesus made.

…when Christ came into the world, he said to God,

“You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings.
    But you have given me a body to offer.
You were not pleased with burnt offerings
    or other offerings for sin.
Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God—
    as is written about me in the Scriptures.’” – Hebrews 10:5-7 NLT

Jesus had become a man so that He might offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice to atone or pay for the sins of humanity. It was through the selfless sacrifice of His unblemished life that the just judgment of God was satisfied and all those who believed in Jesus would become set apart as the children of God.

For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. – Hebrews 10:10 NLT

But to enjoy our new status as the children of God we must believe in the Son of God.

But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. – John 1:12-13 NLT

Which brings us to today’s passage. Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples, had been absent when Jesus had made His unexpected appearance to His doubt-filled and fear-ridden followers as they cowered behind locked doors. And when his fellow disciples excitedly informed Thomas that they had seen Jesus, he responded with sarcastic and stubborn disbelief.

“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” – John 20:25 ESV

His incredulous statement recalls the words of Jesus: “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” (John 4:48 ESV). Thomas’ demand for tangible, touchable proof gives evidence of his own lingering doubt. He really did not expect to have his demands met, because he did not believe Jesus to be alive. But he was in for a big surprise. Eight days later, Jesus made a second impromptu appearance to His disciples as they gathered behind locked doors yet again. This time, Thomas was with them. And Jesus made a beeline to His doubting disciple, inviting him to dispel any further disbelief.

Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” – John 20:27 ESV

Jesus was graciously granting Thomas’ request. But Thomas had seen enough. He required no further proof. In a split second, his doubt turned to belief, and he declared, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28 ESV). With that statement, Thomas expressed his firm belief in the deity of Jesus. Whether he realized it or not, Thomas was committing blasphemy. He was declaring a man to be God. Here he was hiding behind locked doors out of fear of the religious leaders and yet, upon seeing Jesus in His resurrected state, Thomas was willing to risk everything to declare His belief that Jesus was exactly who He had always claimed to be.

And Jesus responded to Thomas with a powerful reminder that true belief requires no signs. While Thomas had been given the privilege of seeing the resurrection Messiah, millions upon millions of others would come to faith in Him without ever having had the joy of seeing Him.

“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” – John 20:29 ESV

And John closes this chapter by addressing some of the very people to whom Jesus referred. He has written his gospel so that those who have never seen Jesus with their eyes, might be encouraged to believe by reading about all that Jesus said and did.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. – John 20:30-31 ESV

It all comes down to believing. Thomas demanded evidence before he would believe. And John, anticipating the doubts of those who would later hear about Jesus, provides them with an entire gospel filled with proofs and personal insights into the deity and humanity 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

One More Thing to Do

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. John 20:11-18 ESV

John indicates that he and Peter left the empty tomb and “went back to their homes” (John 20:10 ESV). The Greek phrase eis ta idia can also be translated as “to their own.” and since it is unlikely that either of these men had private homes in Jerusalem, it seems more plausible that John is saying that they rejoined the other disciples. But he also indicates that Mary Magdalene lingered at the graveside. She had returned with the two disciples after she had told them about the empty tomb and the missing body of Jesus.

Left by herself, Mary Magdalene stood outside the tomb weeping. She was overcome with sadness and grief at this second blow to her hopes and dreams. Not only was Jesus dead, but now His body was missing as well. Could things get any worse? But she decided to take one last look into the empty tomb.

And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. – John 20:12 ESV

Imagine the shock and surprise she must have felt at this unexpected sight. While John describes these two individuals as angels, there is no indication that Mary Magdalene recognized them as divine beings. When one of them asked the reason for her tears, she responded rather matter-of-factly, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:13 ESV). Her answer reveals her lingering sorrow over the loss of her friend, the one who had miraculously cast seven demons from her (Luke 8:2). Jesus had freed her from demonic possession and she had hoped that He was Israel’s Messiah, who would free them from their subjugation to Rome. 

But how does John’s narrative fit in with that of Mark’s? In his gospel, Mark indicates that Mary went to the tomb with Mary the mother of James and Salome, in order to anoint the body of Jesus with spices (Mark 16:1). Finding the stone that sealed the tomb had been rolled away, they entered, and “saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed” (Mark 16:5 NET).

This “young man,” who was actually an angel, told them, “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has been raised! He is not here. Look, there is the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples, even Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you” (Mark 16:6-7 NET). Despite the angel’s words, “they went out and ran from the tomb, terror and bewilderment had seized them. And they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (Mark 16:8 NET).

But what about Mary Magdalene? Why does John describe her as being at the tomb alone and encountering two angels, not one? It would seem that Mary Magdalene and the other two women had traveled together to the tomb that morning, but that she was the first to arrive and find the tomb empty. She immediately left and ran to tell Peter and John. In the meantime, the other two women arrived and encountered the angel. In shock and terror, they ran from the scene but told no one what they had heard and seen. But Mary Magdalene had leter returned with Peter and John. When the two men had entered the tomb, they had seen nothing but the discarded burial cloth. But when Mary Magdalene had entered on her own, she had been greeted by the two angels.

Most likely, she believed these two men to be groundskeepers or gardeners, so John indicates that, having found the tomb empty, she turned to leave. And when she did, she found herself staring into the face of the risen Jesus. But she failed to recognize Him. John provides no explanation for her inability to recognize Jesus. Perhaps she was suffering from shock. But she would not be the only one who would encounter the risen Jesus and fail to recognize Him. Luke describes two unnamed followers of Jesus who were traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus, having just witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus. They were discussing all that had happened in Jerusalem when, suddenly, they found themselves joined by a “stranger.”

Jesus himself approached and began to accompany them (but their eyes were kept from recognizing him). – Luke 24:15-16 NET

They too failed to recognize Jesus. And the text seems to indicate that they were miraculously prevented from doing so. This could have been the case with Mary as well. But whatever the reason for her memory lapse, when this third man spoke to her, she just assumed he was a gardener. He asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?,” and she sadly responded, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away” (John 20:15 ESV).

She had come to the tomb expecting to find the lifeless body of her friend and healer, and she had found nothing. At no point does she show any signs that she believed Jesus might be alive. There are no indications that she considered His resurrection as a possible explanation to the empty tomb. She was still hoping to find a body. And her failure to believe what Jesus had said about rising again is made all the more glaring by the fact that He was standing right in front of her.

But when He addressed her by name, everything changed.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”). – John 20:16 NLT

She was not even looking at Him when He spoke. She was too busy grieving over her loss and wondering what she was going to do next. But as soon as she heard Jesus speak her name, she turned abruptly and immediately recognized the one whom she had thought to be dead. Her grief was replaced by overwhelming joy and she impulsively wrapped her arms around Jesus, refusing to let Him go. But Jesus lovingly rebuked her, saying, “Don’t cling to me, for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17 NLT).

For Mary Magdalene, the sudden reappearance of Jesus was more than she could have ever dreamed or imagined. He was alive! In a split second, her sorrow had been turned to joy. It must have been similar to the overwhelming sense of freedom and relief she had felt when Jesus released her from the control of the seven demons. But Jesus wanted Mary Magdalene to know that His reappearance would be short-lived. He would not be staying. And He knew that the vice-like grip with which she held Him revealed her desire that He never leave her again.

But there was more for Him to do. He had risen from the dead so that He might return to His Father’s side. His work was done. He had finished what He had come to do. And He had told the disciples that His departure would be necessary and for their own good.

But now I am going away to the one who sent me…But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you.” – John 16:6, 7 NLT

And Jesus gave Mary Magdalene an important assignment. She was to find the disciples and give them a message.

“But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” – John 20:18 NLT

Notice the nature of Jesus’ message for the disciples. He didn’t instruct her to tell them that He was risen or alive. He wanted her to let them know that He was ascending to His Father, whom He described as “my God and your God.” Jesus was returning to His rightful place at His Father’s side. This was something Jesus had repeatedly told His disciples was going to happen.

“I will be with you only a little longer. Then I will return to the one who sent me. – John 7:33 NLT

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. – John 14:12 NLT

“Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am.” – John 14:28 NLT

“But now I am going away to the one who sent me…” – John 16:5 NLT

“Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more.” – John 16:10 NLT

“Yes, I came from the Father into the world, and now I will leave the world and return to the Father.” – John 16:28 NLT

As vital as the crucifixion and resurrection were to God’s redemptive plan, the ascension of Jesus was absolutely crucial. With Jesus’ departure, the Spirit of God would come to take up residence within each and every one of His followers. They would receive “power from on high” (Luke 24:49 ESV), enabling them to “do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father” (John 14:12 NLT).

And Mary Magdalene faithfully followed His instructions, finding the disciples and telling them that Jesus was alive and well, and passing on to them the news that He would soon be ascending to the Father.

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

Empty Hopes and An Empty Tomb

1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes. John 20:1-10 ESV

Joseph and Nicodemus, two members of the Jewish high council, had discretely removed the body of Jesus from the cross and carefully cleaned it, anointed it with burial spices, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and placed it in a tomb. And there it remained for three days, while the disciples remained in a state of mourning.

Their friend and teacher was gone. The one they had believed to be their long-awaited Messiah was no longer with them. And as they gathered together during those dark days, they must have discussed the words that Jesus had spoken to them.

“Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die. Then they will hand him over to the Romans to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.” – Matthew 20:18-19 NLT

Everything had happened just as He said it would – down to the last detail. And this had not been the first time they had heard Jesus make prophetic statements concerning His death. Earlier in his gospel, Matthew records another occasion when Jesus divulged to His disciples the fate that lay in store for Him.

Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead. – Matthew 16:21 NLT

And Peter had responded with outrage, even rebuking Jesus for saying such things.

“Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” – Matthew 16:22 NLT

The outcome Jesus had described was unacceptable to Peter. He was unwilling to entertain thoughts of the death of his friend, teacher, and Messiah. The fact that Jesus had also declared He would rise again on the third day seems to have escaped him. And Jesus’ response reveals the true nature of Peter’s refusal to accept what was clearly God’s will.

“Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” – Matthew 16:23 NLT

Peter and his companions had always wrestled with viewing Jesus from their limited earthly perspective. They believed Him to be the Messiah, but those beliefs were weighed down with all kinds of faulty interpretations and personal expectations. They had high hopes that Jesus was going to reverse the centuries of abuse and subjugation that their people had been forced to suffer under Gentile nations like the Romans. And because they had been among the first to follow Jesus, these men had lofty expectations that they would be rewarded with positions in His administration when He set up His Kingdom.

But now that Jesus was dead, Peter, John, and the rest of the disciples were in hiding. We have no idea what they were doing or the nature of the conversations they were having during those three days. But all of the gospel writers tell us that it was the female followers of Jesus who made the first attempt to visit His tomb. Mark reveals that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses had seen where Joseph and Nicodemus had buried the body of Jesus (Mark 15:47). And Luke adds that, because the Sabbath was about to begin, “they returned and prepared aromatic spices and perfumes” (Luke 23:56 ESV). They had every intention of returning after the Sabbath in order to anoint the body of Jesus.

Luke reports that “on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared” (Luke 24:1 ESV). Matthew provides the identities of these women: 

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. – Matthew 28:1 ESV

Mark adds the name of Salome to the list of women who visited the tomb that morning (Mark 16:1). But regardless of how many women went to the tomb, Luke makes it clear that none of them had gone there looking for a resurrected Jesus. The burial spices they carried gave evidence that they fully expected to find a dead body, not a living one.  

In his typical, abbreviated style, John only mentions Mary Magdalene. This might be because she was the one who would return to the disciples and share the good news regarding Jesus’ resurrection. He also leaves out any mention of the earthquake and the appearance of the angel that Matthew includes. And he chose not to include the words spoken by the angel.

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” – Luke 24:5-7 ESV

It may be that John felt that all of these details had been adequately covered by the other gospel writers and were unnecessary for him to include. But John’s account seems to provide some missing details to the resurrection chronology. According to his version of the morning’s events, Mary Magdalene made her way to the tomb with the other women, but she was the first one to arrive. She found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. John adds that he and Peter were the first two disciples to whom Mary Magdalene revealed this news.

…she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” – John 20:2 ESV

At this point, she was unaware that Jesus was alive. Meanwhile, the other women had made it to the tomb, only to make the same shocking discovery.

And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” – Mark 16:4-7 ESV

As these women ran to tell the good news to the disciples, Peter and John were already on their way to the tomb. The report that the tomb was empty and the body of Jesus was gone had shocked them out of their state of mourning and energized them into action.

Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. – John 20:3-7 NLT

It is important to remember that John, the one writing this gospel, was “the other disciple.” He admits that he was the first to arrive at the tomb because he outran Peter. John peered into the tomb but refused to go inside. Yet, the always impulsive Peter, arriving a few seconds later, barged into the tomb, only to discover the discarded burial cloth. The body was gone, just as Mary Magdalene had said.

But John adds a personal word of testimony.

…the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed… – John 20:8 ESV

Emboldened by Peter’s actions, John entered the tomb to have a closer look. And what he saw convinced him that Jesus was alive. He believed. And he admits that, until that moment, the disciples had not understood what the Scriptures revealed about the death and resurrection of the Messiah. The words of King David, recorded in Psalm 16, were a prophetic statement regarding the death and resurrection of the Messiah.

For you will not leave my soul among the dead
    or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.
You will show me the way of life,
    granting me the joy of your presence
    and the pleasures of living with you forever. – Psalm 16:10-11 NLT

And John admits that he and his companions had never understood these Old Testament passages to be applicable to Jesus. Not only that, they had not comprehended Jesus’ own words concerning His death and resurrection. But now, John saw and believed.

But he seems to speak only for himself. He doesn’t indicate whether Peter believed. Luke tells us only that, upon seeing the empty tomb, Peter “went home marveling at what had happened” (Luke 24:12 ESV). And John gives the impression that there was a bit of unbelief still lingering among the disciples. He simply states that “the disciples went back to their homes” (John 20:10 ESV).

John and Peter left the tomb as they had found it: Empty and abandoned. But they had yet to see the resurrected Jesus. The same was not true of the women. As they had made their way from the tomb, with the words of the angel echoing in their ears, “Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’” (Matthew 28:9 ESV). And Matthew adds that “they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me’” (Matthew 28:9-10 ESV).

The good news was about to get better. Soon, John would not be the only one of the 11 who believed. The rest of his confused and disheartened brothers would soon find themselves face to face with their risen Lord and Savior.

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

Unity and Glory

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:20-26 ESV

The 11 disciples are being given the privilege of listening in as Jesus prays to the Father on their behalf. Overhearing this “private” conversation was providing them with a glimpse into the intimate relationship shared between Jesus and His Heavenly Father. But it also seems clear that Jesus meant for them to hear His prayer because He wanted to encourage them. He knew they were full of fear and struggling with doubt. The thought of losing their teacher and friend, whom they had believed to be their long-awaited Messiah, had left them confused. So, Jesus allowed them to eavesdrop in on His prayer so they would better understand what was about to happen.

The Good Shepherd was preparing to lay down His life for the sheep (John 10:11), but He was turning over the care of the flock to His Father. In His absence, they would find themselves in the highly capable hands of God Almighty. And Jesus requests the Father to “keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15 ESV) and that He “sanctify them in the truth” (John 17:16 ESV). When Jesus left, they would remain behind, but they would not find themselves alone and unprotected. Their sorrow would be turned to joy. Their devasted hope would be renewed as they witnessed Jesus in His resurrected state. And their confidence would soar as they experienced the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

Thanks to John, who recorded this prayer under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, generations of believers have been allowed to listen in as Jesus prayed to His Father on behalf of His disciples. And Jesus made sure that these future followers would also receive encouragement and insight from His private petition to the Father.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…” – John 17:20 ESV

Even before He has gone to the cross, Jesus prophetically proclaims the effectiveness of His mission. He will sacrifice His life on behalf of the sheep and His faithful undershepherds will carry the good news of His death, burial, and resurrection to the world. And the result will be the “ransom of many” (Matthew 20:28).

Jesus was fully confident that His sacrificial death would result in the salvation of all those who had been given to Him by His Heavenly Father. His death would be, as the theologians like to put it, efficacious or effective. Not a single drop of His atoning blood would go to waste. As the author of Hebrews puts it, the sacrifice of Jesus’ life would not be in vain.

Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. – Hebrews 9:28 NLT

His seemingly wasteful and meaningless death would end up producing a rich and bountiful harvest, just as He had told His disciples.

“…unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” – John 12:24 NLT

And as Jesus looks into the future, He prays on behalf of all those who would place their faith in His sacrificial, substitutionary death on their behalf. His desire is that they experience the joy of unity and the hope of future glorification.

His first request is for a spirit of unity among all of His followers. And He is very specific as to what He means.

“I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” – John 17:21 NLT

Jesus is not describing some kind of monochromatic homogeneity where all believers look and sound the same. He is expressing that His followers reflect the same kind of unity that He shares with the Father. They are unified by their love for one another and by their commitment to redeem and restore the world they have made. They share a common mission to recreate and renovate what sin has marred. And Jesus, out of love for His Father, has faithfully carried out His commission and will soon complete the final task given to Him, setting in motion the final phase of God’s divine redemptive plan. And Jesus’ greatest desire is that His followers would share in that undistracted and unwavering commitment to the divine mission. And this request of Jesus would be fulfilled by the coming of the Holy Spirit, who by indwelling each believer would permanently unite them to God the Father and God the Son.

And it is this spiritual union with the Godhead that provides the proof or evidence of the effectiveness of Jesus’ sacrificial death. The ability of Jesus’ followers to live in unity, despite their many differences, will reflect the life-transforming nature of the Gospel.

Back in chapter 13, John recorded a message Jesus gave to His disciples.

“I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” – John 1334-35 NLT

But their ability to carry out this command would not be possible until Jesus had sent the Holy Spirit. It would be the indwelling and empowering presence of the Spirit of God that made mutual love and unity achievable among the increasingly diverse and disparate followers of Jesus. The unity for which Jesus prayed would come about through the work of God’s Spirit. And the result would be a miraculous ingathering and unifying of people from all walks of life and every conceivable background.

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:26-28 NLT

Jesus explains that this supernatural unity has been made possible because He has faithfully shared the glory given to Him by God.

“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one.” – John 17:22 NLT

But what does this mean? How did Jesus share God’s glory and what does this have to do with the unity of His followers? Well, to understand what Jesus means we have to go all the way back to chapter one, where John describes the incarnation of Jesus.

And 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

By taking on human flesh, the Son of God made the glory of God visible. Through His miracles and messages, Jesus revealed Himself to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He made the glory of God known to men and, for all those who believed Him to be who He claimed to be, they were united to God through faith in Him. Their acceptance of Jesus as the manifested glory of the invisible God resulted in their restoration to a right relationship with God. And, as Jesus puts it, this reunion with God the Father is what makes it possible for His followers to live in unity and so prove to be His disciples.

“I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” – John 17:23 NLT

The lives of the disciples would end up bringing glory to God on earth. And all those who would come to faith in Christ through their ministry and message would do the same. But Jesus fast-forwards and expresses His desire that all His disciples experience the future glorification that will result in their reuniting with Him in heaven.

Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began! – John 17:24 NLT

The ultimate goal behind Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross was the justification of sinful men and women so that they might be restored to a right relationship with God the Father. But this wonderful truth will not be fully fulfilled until Jesus returns again and makes possible the future glorification of our mortal bodies so that we might spend eternity with He and the Father. The apostle Paul expresses this hope in clear and compelling terms.

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. – Philippians 3:20-21 NLT

Jesus had His eyes fixed on the far-distant future. His ability to face death was made possible by His understanding of its ultimate outcome. And the author of Hebrews used Jesus’ example of confident hope as an inspiration to all those who follow in His steps, so that we might remain steadfast to the end.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:2-3 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

A Prayer of Encouragement

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” John 17:6-19 ESV

From the surrounding context, it would appear that Jesus is praying this prayer audibly, and in the hearing of His disciples. His words are directed to His Heavenly Father but for the benefit of His disciples. Jesus wants them to hear this conversation because it contains vital information concerning their relationship with God that should provide them with further encouragement to face what lies ahead.

He begins by stating, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world” (John 17:6 ESV). As John revealed in the opening chapter of his gospel, with His incarnation, Jesus made God known (John 1:18). As the Son of God, Jesus manifested the glory of God on earth. He was “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT) and “the exact likeness of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT).

Jesus manifested or made known the name of God by revealing the divine nature of God through His life and ministry. His miracles displayed the power and authority of God. His words were spoken on behalf of God. And His death on the cross would be the ultimate expression of the love of God. For the last three years, He had been providing His disciples with an earned theology degree on the nature of God. These were “the people” given to Him by God to instruct and prepare for their future roles in the ongoing redemptive plan. They belonged to God because He had chosen them and then given them to His Son to train up as the future ambassadors of the Gospel.

Jesus reveals that these men, whom God had given Him, had remained faithful. They were still with Him, in spite of all the disturbing news He had just shared with them. While they didn’t understand everything Jesus had said, they still believed He was sent from God. And they were still walking with Him even as the darkness around them seemed to grow increasingly more intense. Their continued presence was proof of their commitment. All that they had seen and heard over the last three years had left them convinced that Jesus was the Son of God.

“I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.” – John 17:8 NLT

And Jesus audibly states that His prayer was on their behalf.

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. – John 17:9 ESV

It seems doubtful that Jesus would have made this clarification for God’s benefit. The more likely explanation is that His words were aimed at His disciples. As they listened in on Jesus’ prayer to His Father, they would have realized He was speaking not only about them but to them. He wanted them to know that, because of their relationship with Him, they were no longer of this world but were united to God. They belonged to Him.

All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. – John 17:10 NLT

The disciples were going to share in the unity that exists between Jesus and His Father. God had given them to Jesus and now Jesus was giving them back to God. He had prepared them and was now presenting them to His Father for use in His divine plan for redeeming a lost and dying world. Jesus was leaving but they would be staying. And He makes that point clear.

I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. – John 17:11 ESV

This is a somewhat strange statement for Jesus to make because He was still standing in front of His disciples. But it reflects His attitude at that moment. His earthly ministry was over. He had one last task to perform and that was to offer His life as a ransom for many. Jesus was fully committed to completing His God-given assignment and His mind was fixed on the glory that awaited Him. The author of Hebrews explains the motivation behind Jesus’ single-minded focus.

Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. – Hebrews 12:2 NLT

But as Jesus makes clear, His disciples would remain behind. Yet He wanted them to know that while they would be in the world, they were not to be of the world.

“…they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” – John 17:14-15 ESV

Yes, He was leaving them behind, but He was not leaving them alone or on their own. He was asking His Father to protect them. Again, it seems unlikely that Jesus is attempting to remind God to take care of His own. But this prayer would have revealed to His disciples that their future was going to be marked by spiritual warfare. Yet they could rest assured that their Heavenly Father would be caring for them every step of the way. As Jesus prepared to leave, He was turning over the daily care of these men to God. He had faithfully and successfully protected them for the last three years.

“While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction…” – John 17:12 ESV

But now, in anticipation of His return to His rightful place at His Father’s side in heaven, Jesus was placing His disciples in His Father’s all-powerful hands.

Verse 13 strongly suggests that Jesus was praying within the hearing of His disciples.

“I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” – John 17:13 ESV

He spoke so that they could hear and, in due time, they would recall His words and be filled with joy in knowing that His prayer had been answered. They would experience the joy of seeing Jesus in His resurrected state. They would watch Him ascend into heaven and then, just days later, receive the promised Holy Spirit and know the joy of having indwelling presence of God to guide and protect them.

Once again, Jesus stresses that the disciples were no longer of this world. And, as He had told them earlier, they would be hated by the world just as He had been.

“The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” – John 15:19 NLT

This “in it, but not of it” relationship the disciples would have with the world was not going to be easy. Jesus had come into the world and been rejected by it, so the disciples could expect to experience the same fate. And Jesus makes it clear that their presence in this sin-filled and hateful world was part of the divine plan.

“As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” – John 17:18 ESV

Just as Jesus had been commissioned to bring God’s plan of redemption to stubborn and rebellious world, the disciples would received their marching orders from Jesus to carry on His work after He was gone.

“And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 NLT

And Jesus asks the Father to continue to provide these men with the one thing they will need to accomplish their mission: The truth.

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” – John 17:17 ESV

To sanctify simply means to set apart for service. The disciples were going to need a constant and steady flow of truth. Up until this point, Jesus had been their sole source of truth. As He had told them, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6 NLT). But now, they were going to receive truth directly from God through the indwelling presence of His Spirit. They would experience the reality of what Jesus had foretold.

“When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” – Matthew 10:19-20 NLT

But for this to happen, Jesus was going to have to complete His assignment. The Spirit would not come until Jesus had died, been resurrected, and returned to His Father’s side. That’s why Jesus states, “And I set myself apart on their behalf, so that they too may be truly set apart” (John 17:19 NET). His death was going to make possible their ongoing exposure to the truth of God through the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. – John 16:13 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

Do You Now Believe?

25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”

29 His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:25-33 ESV

Jesus continues to stress the radical change that is about to take place in the lives of the disciples. While their current circumstances and the news of His pending death have left them distressed, Jesus wants them to know that will improve – dramatically.

But He admits that His words have been veiled in secrecy and symbolic language, such as His analogy of the woman in childbirth. He had used this naturally occurring process in an attempt to explain the spiritually-based transformation that awaited them. Yet, despite His efforts to inform and encourage them, they remained just as confused and perplexed as ever. All His talk about a woman giving birth and her sorrow being turned to joy had escaped them. They had more questions for Him than ever but were afraid to ask them.

So, Jesus makes them a promise.

The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. – John 16:25 ESV

He brings up the issue of time again. Having already used the phrase “a little while” seven different times to emphasize the imminent nature of His death and resurrection, Jesus now assures them “the hour” (hōra) is near at hand. The end is closer than they realize and it will bring about a series of unexpected and unprecedented changes.

This is not the first time Jesus has used this term. John recorded a number of instances where Jesus spoke of this future hour or moment in time. The first instance was at the wedding in Cana when Jesus had stated to His mother:

“Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour [hōra] has not yet come.” – John 2:4 ESV

Later on, in His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus had informed her:

“Woman, believe me, the hour [hōra] is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” – John 4:21 ESV

“…the hour [hōra] is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” – John 4:23 ESV

In one of His confrontations with the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus brought up this matter again.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour [hōra] is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. – John 5:25 ESV

“Do not marvel at this, for an hour [hōra] is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice…” – John 5:28 ESV

The religious leaders had not been impressed by Jesus’ claims, but instead, they had become angered by His apparent arrogance and boastful assertions. Rather than acknowledge Him as their Messiah, they had sought to arrest Him.

So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour [hōra] had not yet come. – John 7:30 ESV

In another encounter with these men, Jesus had claimed to be the light of the world, and their response had been the same. They had wanted to arrest Him so that they might silence Him. But their plans were foiled because His time had not yet come.

These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour [hōra] had not yet come. – John 8:20 ESV

Sometime later, after Jesus had made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, He had told His disciples, “The hour [hōra] has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23 ESV). And Jesus would inform His disciples that this “hour” or time was the sole reason behind His incarnation. It was why He had come to earth in the first place.

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour [hōra]’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour [hōra]. – John 12:27 ESV

In the very next chapter, John points out that, even before His final Passover meal with His disciples, Jesus “knew that his hour [hōra] had come to depart out of this world to the Father” (John 13:1 ESV). And He later told them, “I have said these things to you, that when their hour [hōra] comes you may remember that I told them to you” (John 16:4 ESV).

The very moment to which Jesus had been referring was closer than ever. The climax to His earthly ministry and the focal point of His entire incarnation was right around the corner, and it was going to result in unfathomable changes in the lives of His disciples. His death was going to set into motion a chain of unprecedented events that would have truly life-altering implications for His followers.

Jesus tells them that the long-expected “hour” was going to bring about “that day” – another point in time when they would experience remarkable changes in their relationship with Him and with His Heavenly Father.

“In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” – John 16:26-27 ESV

With this statement, Jesus is informing His disciples that, because of their relationship with Him, they will have direct access to the Father. They will be able to go to God, in the name of Jesus, and receive answers to their prayers. Their love for Jesus will ensure the Father’s love for them and guarantee their access into His presence and His answers to their petitions. It would be just as He had told His disciples:

“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 whole purpose behind His coming had been to provide sinners with a means of experiencing a restored relationship with God. Their sinful state had left them separated from God and with no means to remedy the problem. But Jesus had come to make atonement for their sins by offering His sinless life as the sacrificial substitute or payment for their sin debt.

And the hour was fast approaching when Jesus would fulfill His God-ordained assignment to serve as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 ESV). He would faithfully accomplish the will of His Father and offer His life as the ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). And when He had done what He had come to do, Jesus would be raised back to life and return to His Father’s side in heaven.

“I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” – John 16:28 ESV

It was all part of the Father’s plan. He had come to die, but HIs death would be followed by His resurrection and ascension. And upon His return to heaven, Jesus would send the Holy Spirit. In time, every single facet of God’s redemptive plan would be unveiled and revealed to be a vital aspect of the long-awaited “hour” Jesus had told them about. The cross would not be the end, but it would only be the beginning. It would set in motion a series of momentous, earth-shattering events that would radically transform the disciples and revolutionize the world.

But in the meantime, the disciples reveal their eagerness to understand what Jesus is saying, but their words make it clear that they remain just as ignorant as ever.

“Now we understand that you know everything, and there’s no need to question you. From this we believe that you came from God.” – John 16:30 NLT

They meant well, but their words reveal the insufficiency of their understanding. They were sincere when they stated their belief that Jesus had come from God, but they had no real concept of what that meant. They clearly did not understand the part about Him returning to God. It seems that the disciples were still expecting Jesus to meet the criteria they had established for the Messiah by setting up His Kingdom on earth. They believed Him to be the Son of God who had been sent by God, and they were still hoping He would establish Himself as the King of Israel and re-establish the Kingdom of God on earth. But Jesus bursts their bubble and brings them back down to earth.

“Do you finally believe? But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.” – John 16:31-32 NLT

This revelation must have been a blow to their egos and served as a final wake-up call, putting to bed once and for all any lingering expectations they might have about an earthly kingdom. Jesus let them know that their self-proclaimed belief in Him would turn into fear and result in their abandoning Him.

But, once again, Jesus lets them know that these things are to be expected. They were all part of “the hour” that was fast approaching. Jesus knew these things would happen because they were all part of His Father’s plan. He wasn’t shocked, disappointed, or surprised. And He wanted His disciples to know that their desertion of Him would not be the end. He would die, but He would soon be back. They would desert Him, but they would eventually return. And they could take heart because His mission was as good as done. The will of His Father would be done and the victory would be theirs to share.

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. 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

Sorrow Turned to Joy

19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. 23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. John 16:19-24 ESV

Seven times in just four verses, John records Jesus using the phrase, “a little while.” It is the Greek word mikron, and it refers to a small or brief space of time. Jesus basically told His disciples that it would not be much longer before He would be gone. But then He followed up that bit of bad news by assuring them that, in no time at all, they would see Him again. Rather than finding Jesus’ words encouraging, the disciples became further confused and increasingly anxious. They had no idea what He was talking about. He seemed to be speaking in riddles that left them with more questions than answers. And, while Jesus had so much more He wanted to share with them, He knew they lacked the mental and emotional bandwidth to handle it.

Jesus, always alert and aware of what was going on in His disciples’ hearts, heard them discussing among themselves.

“What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” – John 16:18 ESV

They were afraid to admit their ignorance to Jesus, so they polled one another, hoping that one of them might have a clue as to what He was talking about. But Jesus, knowing that they were dying for an explanation, graciously answered the question they were too scared to ask.

Their confusion revolved around that little Greek word, mikron. They wanted to know just how long “a little while” was going to be. In other words, they were focused on the length of time, rather than on the events themselves and their subsequent outcome. How long would it be before they could no longer see Jesus? How much time did they have left? And then, how long would they have to wait before they could see Him again?

These men were stuck on an earthly plane, unable to see behind the veil and incapable of understanding the spiritual dimension of the moment. Jesus had already told them all that was going to take place in Jerusalem, but they had failed to grasp the significance of His words.

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” – Matthew 20:18-19 ESV

Just two days before the Passover Festival was to begin, Jesus had reiterated the details concerning His fate to His disciples.

“You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” – Matthew 26:2 ESV

And later, on the Mount of Olives, just outside of the walls of Jerusalem, Jesus would add another new twist to the pending proceedings.

“You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” – Matthew 26:31-32 ESV

Jesus had spoken to them about His death and resurrection, but the news appears to have gone in one ear and out the other. It had never fully registered with them. In fact, Matthew provides powerful proof that the disciples had failed to comprehend what Jesus had told them. It seems that immediately after Jesus had announced He would be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, condemned to death, mocked, flogged, crucified, and raised on the third day, the mother of James and John approached Jesus with a request.

“Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” – Matthew 20:21 ESV

And the text reveals that these two brothers were standing right next to their mother when she made this request on their behalf. They were hoping for positions of power and prominence in Jesus’ earthly kingdom. They believed Him to be the Messiah and were fully expecting Him to rule as the King of Israel from David’s throne in Jerusalem. Nothing of what Jesus had said to them about His death and resurrection had sunk in. And now, as He revealed to them that time was running out and His death was at hand, they were still unable to get their minds around the epic nature of what was happening around them.

And Jesus breaks the news to them that things were going to get worse before they got better.

I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. – John 16:20 NLT

The unbelieving world, comprised of the Jewish religious leaders and all those former followers of Jesus who had turned their backs on Him, would rejoice over His death. But all those who believed Him to be the Messiah would weep and mourn because His death would be proof that they had been wrong. Their hopes would be dashed. Their eager anticipation that their Savior had come would die alongside Jesus as He hung on the cross.

But Jesus gives them the good news: “You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy” (John 16:21 NLT). Their sorrow will be real, but it will also be brief. It will only last “a little while.” Just when everything appears dark and grim, something remarkable will take place. And the words of Jesus will be fulfilled. 

“…the Son of Man…will be raised on the third day.” – Matthew 20:19 NLT

Just three days after being placed in a grave and written off as a failure and a fraud, Jesus will appear to His disciples. They will see Him again. And while the period of time is significant, it pales in comparison to the reality of the resurrection. For the disciples, those three days will feel like an eternity. They will be days filled with fear, sorrow, confusion, and a growing sense of despair. All will look lost. The future will appear bleak. But then, the impossible will take place. And their sorrow will be turned into joy. They will discover the truth of the psalm written by King David.

Weeping may last through the night,
    but joy comes with the morning. – Psalm 30:5 NLT

Jesus doesn’t diminish the reality of their sorrow and suffering. Instead, He puts it into perspective by comparing it to a woman in labor. In the midst of giving birth, she suffers very real and intense pain. It is overwhelming and all-consuming. And while her labor may seem to last an eternity, it will all be over in “a little while.” And all the suffering will turn to overwhelming joy because it has resulted in the birth of a child.

“…her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world.” – John 16:21 NLT

And Jesus lets His disciples know that what they are experiencing is natural and normal, and to be expected. But like the birth of a child, their suffering and sorrow will be turned into joy and celebration when they see the miracle of “new birth” that God will bring about through the resurrection of His Son.

“So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy.” – John 16:22 NLT

Not only will they witness the supernatural transformation of Jesus from death to life, but they will also experience a spectacular alteration in their relationship with God. Things will be radically different. With Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the disciples will find themselves experiencing an intimacy with God the Father that they have never known before. With the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit, they will be able to communicate directly with God. And Jesus informs them that even the nature of their questions will change.

“In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” – John 16:23 ESV

Up until this point, the disciples had aimed all kinds of questions at Jesus. And most of their inquiries had to do with points of clarification and explanation. They rarely, if ever, petitioned Jesus for anything. Unless you include the request made by the mother of James and John. Jesus seems to be saying that the very nature of their questions is going to change. They will be less self-focused and motivated by ignorance. With the Spirit’s assistance, their questions will fall in line with God’s will and guarantee His gracious answer.

The disciples had been great at asking questions like, “when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to be fulfilled?” (Mark 13:4 ESV). They asked questions because they were looking for answers. But Jesus wants them to know that, in the future, their questions will become less focused on receiving information and more desirous of asking for God’s will to be done. The Holy Spirit will provide them with all the insight and information they will need. So, they won’t have to focus their questions on things they need to know. Instead, they can ask God for things that will further their task of making Him known.

And Jesus points out the key difference between their current line of questioning and how they will ask in the future.

“Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” – John 16:24 ESV

They will ask in His name. This means that they will ask according to the very character and nature of Jesus as the Son of God. They will make requests of God in the same way that Jesus did, in keeping with the will of God. And John wrote of this Christlike attitude of petitioning the Father in a later letter he penned.

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. – 1 John 5:14-15 NLT

All of their questions will be answered. All their requests will be in keeping with God’s will and guaranteed to come to fruition. And all their sorrow will be turned to joy.

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

Give God Time

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

16 “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” 18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” John 16:12-18 ESV

Verse 12 almost sounds as if Jesus is feeling pressed for time. He has so much He wants to tell His disciples, but with His death just hours away, He won’t be able to. Yet, that is not what John is trying to convey. Jesus is not running out of time. His disciples have run out of capacity. They can’t handle any more information because their brains and emotions are on overload.

For three years, Jesus had been revealing Himself to His disciples. By means of His messages and miracles, He had displayed His glory “as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV). Everything He had said and done had been intended to reveal His identity as the Son of God and to help bolster the disciples’ belief in Him. But even though His death was imminent, Jesus wanted them to know that His self-revelation was not coming to an end. There was so much more they needed to know about Him, but they were not yet ready to receive it.

That led Jesus to return to His discussion of the Holy Spirit. His own death and eventual departure would pave the way for the Spirit’s coming. And Jesus assures them that “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13 ESV). Jesus does not promise His disciples that the Spirit will give them an encyclopedic knowledge of all things. He lets them know that, with the Spirit’s divine assistance, they will know the truth about the Son and the Father. All their questions regarding the Kingdom of God will be answered. Their confusion about Jesus’ identity will be cleared up. Because the Spirit will pick up where Jesus left off, revealing the glory of the Son “by telling you whatever he receives from me” (John 16:14 NLT).

One of the primary roles of the Spirit of God is to reveal the truth concerning the Son of God. Because it is only through the Son that we can know the Father. And the apostle Paul reminds us that the indwelling Spirit of God makes it possible for believers to grasp the deep truths concerning the will and the ways of God, including the redemptive plan made possible through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
    and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared
    for those who love him.”

But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. – 1 Corinthians 2:9-11 NLT

And Jesus attempts to comfort His disillusioned and dispirited disciples with the same reassuring news concerning the Spirit.

“All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’” – John 16:15 NLT

All the while Jesus had been with them, He had been speaking the words of God. Every word He had spoken to them had come directly from the Father.

“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 7:12-16 NLT

“I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it.” – John 12:49 NLT

“…remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me.” – John 14:24 NLT

Ultimately, Jesus had come to reveal God to mankind. He was “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT). His incarnation had been intended to make the unseen God seeable and knowable.

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

The author of Hebrews states that, in His incarnation, Jesus revealed the very glory and character of God. But when His work was done, He returned to His Father’s side.

…in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. – Hebrews 1:2-3 NLT

But Jesus wanted His disciples to know that when He returned to heaven, He would be sending them special assistance in the form of the Holy Spirit. And, as He had told them earlier, the Spirit would not just be with them, He would take up residence within them (John 14:17). And in Jesus’ absence, the Holy Spirit will take over the role as the revealer of all truth. He will provide the disciples with divine insight into everything, including the deep thoughts of God. For the first time, they will be able to discern the truth behind all that Jesus had said during His time with them. They will recall His miracles and messages and, for the first time, comprehend the deep truths they contained. And, as a result, their faith in Him will increase all the more.

Sadly, these words of comfort went over the heads of the disciples. They were still struggling to take in all that Jesus was telling them. And His words continued to leave them confused and conflicted. And the somewhat cryptic manner in which Jesus spoke didn’t make things any easier for them.

“In a little while you won’t see me anymore. But a little while after that, you will see me again.” – John 16:16 NLT

This statement would have sounded like a riddle to them. Was He leaving and then returning? Was He really going away? Had all the talk about His death been some kind of metaphor or analogy?

John had been there that evening, so he knew from personal experience just how perplexed the disciples had been by Jesus’ words. And he records exactly what they were thinking at that moment.

Some of the disciples asked each other, “What does he mean when he says, ‘In a little while you won’t see me, but then you will see me,’ and ‘I am going to the Father’? And what does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand.” – John 16:17-18 NLT

“We don’t understand!” That just about sums it up. They were literally and figuratively “in the dark.” They were most likely standing somewhere outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem, on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane. They were tired and confused. Their minds were reeling from the tsunami of information Jesus had dumped on them over the last few hours. Their hearts were heavy as they thought about the possibility of their friend dying. And to make matters worse, with His death, all their hopes that He was their long-awaited Messiah would disappear.

None of this was what they had expected. Their concept of the Messiah had not included His suffering and death. The triumphal entry had been the highlight of their time with Jesus. The shouts of the crowds, the victory parade, the pomp and circumstance surrounding Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem had raised their hopes to an all-new high. In those glorious moments, they had assumed that Jesus was about to set up His Kingdom on earth. But in no time, their hopes had been turned to despair. Their joy had given way to sorrow. And there they stood, in the darkness of night in the company of the Light of the world, wondering what had happened to their hopes and dreams. But little did they know that their gloom would soon be replaced by gladness. Their confusion would be replaced by a Spirit-inspired clarity and confidence. Their sorrow would be transformed into unspeakable joy. And their fear would give way to unshakeable faith.

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