You Follow Me – The Conclusion of John’s Gospel

Tomorrow morning it is my aim to conclude a three year long study of the book of John. I leave the study with over 500 pages of notes, a few piles of books and commentaries on the gospel of John, and a mind and heart that have been changed for the better by studying these passages.

It is a very humbling thing to get to the end of such a large book and feel you’ve still got a lot to learn. The depth of John’s gospel is just astounding – it is made all the more astounding when you read how he ends it!

I hope you enjoy these final notes on the 4th Gospel.

PJW

You Follow Me

 Introduction to the End of John’s Gospel

In the final scenes of John’s gospel we find that the author does not follow a strict chronological timeline. John isn’t concerned to give an exact timeline of events in proper sequence, but to give a theological and spiritual conclusion to his book.

This makes sense when we remember that his aim was spelled out like this:

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 20:30-31)

The pleasure of reading this gospel has been that Jesus is front in center in John’s writing. John displays Jesus in such a way that His teachings speak for themselves. Yet John also adds editorial comments in here and there, guiding the reader toward a fuller understanding of both the circumstances and Jesus’ teaching.

This same modus operandi holds true for the final few verses of John’s gospel.

21:18-19 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.”

It seems that Jesus is speaking here to Peter about the fact that he will one day be crucified. It took quite a long time (3 decades) for this to materialize, but eventually Peter did die a martyr’s death just as Jesus had predicted (and ordained!).

Carson probably has the best explanation on this and says Bauer had it right long ago:

Bauer proposed long ago that this ‘stretching’ took place when a condemned prisoner was tied to his cross-member (the patibulum: cf. notes on 19:17) and forced to carry his ‘cross’ to the place of execution. The cross-member would be placed on the prisoner’s neck and shoulders, his arms tied to it, and then he would be led away to death. Despite the fact that many reject this explanation (Carson note on Schnackenburg), the most detailed study of crucifixion in the ancient world describes just such horrible variations on this grisly form of execution (Carson footnote on M. Hengel, Crucifixion).

21:20-22 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” [21] When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” [22] Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

Here Peter wants to know his end, and why it is that He should suffer a death that is horrific – why not someone else? What about the other guy?

The first thing of importance in this passage is that Jesus’ power and authority is made manifest when He says, “if it is my will.” Remember Christian that it is the will of this Man that rules the universe. The word of Jesus upholds the universe (Hebrews 1:1-3) and, like the Father, all that He wills to do comes to pass.

Job acknowledged this, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).

And certainly this puts the words of Isaiah in mind (these are what I first thought of when I read this):

“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ (Isaiah 46:8-10)

Therefore Jesus begins His response to Peter with a reminder of his own authority.

Secondly, He is blunt with Peter, in affect telling him to “butt out!”

I think that John Piper’s blog post on this is just terrific. Below is extended excerpt of his words:

Jesus’ blunt words—“None of your business, follow me”—are sweet to my ears. They are liberating from the depressing bondage of fatal comparing. Sometimes when I scan the ads in Christianity Today (all ten thousand of them), I get discouraged. Not as much as I used to twenty-five years ago. But still I find this avalanche of ministry suggestions oppressing.

Book after book, conference after conference, DVD after DVD—telling me how to succeed in ministry. And all of them quietly delivering the message that I am not making it. Worship could be better. Preaching could be better. Evangelism could be better. Pastoral care could be better. Youth ministry could be better. Missions could be better. And here is what works. Buy this. Go here. Go there. Do it this way. And adding to the burden—some of these books and conferences are mine!

So I was refreshed by Jesus’ blunt word to me (and you): “What is that to you? You follow me!” Peter had just heard a very hard word. You will die—painfully. His first thought was comparison. What about John? If I have to suffer, will he have to suffer? If my ministry ends like that, will his end like that? If I don’t get to live a long life of fruitful ministry, will he get to?

That’s the way we sinners are wired. Compare. Compare. Compare. We crave to know how we stack up in comparison to others. There is some kind of high if we can just find someone less effective than we are. Ouch. To this day, I recall the little note posted by my Resident Assistant in Elliot Hall my senior year at Wheaton: “To love is to stop comparing.” What is that to you, Piper? Follow me.

  • What is it to you that David Wells has such a comprehensive grasp of the pervasive effects of postmodernism? You follow me.
  • What is it to you that Voddie Baucham speaks the gospel so powerfully without notes? You follow me.
  • What is it to you that Tim Keller sees gospel connections with professional life so clearly? You follow me.
  • What is it to you that Mark Driscoll has the language and the folly of pop culture at his fingertips? You follow me.
  • What is it to you that Don Carson reads five hundred books a year and combines pastoral insight with the scholar’s depth and comprehensiveness? You follow me.

That word landed on me with great joy. Jesus will not judge me according to my superiority or inferiority over anybody. No preacher. No church. No ministry. These are not the standard. Jesus has a work for me to do (and a different one for you). It is not what he has given anyone else to do. There is a grace to do it. Will I trust him for that grace and do what he has given me to do? That is the question. O the liberty that comes when Jesus gets tough!

I hope you find encouragement and freedom today when you hear Jesus say to all your fretting comparisons: “What is that to you? You follow me!”

I find Piper’s analogy or paraphrase or what-have-you, to be perfect – especially in light of the fact that Driscoll just this week resigned in shame from his own church. We often put people on pedestals and puff them up in our minds, but they are just men. They are just as human as we are.

We could all no doubt substitute the names “driscoll or wells” for our own friends and contemporaries. For we often look at our Christian friends and see the grace God has bestowed on them and perhaps feel somewhat inadequate comparatively. Yet this is the very thing Jesus is correcting in Peter.

Carson says that Jesus’ reply to Peter is basically to say, “mind your own business.” Calvin says, “Christ intended to put his hand on his disciple, in order to keep him within the limits of his calling. ‘It is no concern of yours,’ says he, ‘and you leave that to my disposal’ think only about yourself, and prepare to follow where you are called.’”

Herman Ridderbos says, “What applies to both disciples is the call to follow Jesus, each with his own destiny. For Peter it means he will complete his life like the “good Shepherd” in self-offering for Jesus’ flock. For the beloved disciple this means his continuing witness until the coming of his Lord in glory.”

We who are God’s children are dealt with individually. In fact, this says something of the individuality of the Christian walk. We often rightly emphasize the need for corporate worship, corporate sermons, and fellowship. But there is also a part to Christianity that is very individual, very personal. That is what we are seeing between Peter and Jesus here.

Personal Reflection

It is not easy to leave this section without reflecting on God’s call on our own lives, and how often we find ourselves in comparative moments where perhaps we would rather be someone else. Yet God calls us each to walk our own individual walks, and endure our own trial, not coveting those without similar ordeals or circumstances.

But more than this is the great comfort that in our trials, and indeed in every circumstance, it is Jesus who wills these things. It is not left to us to guess whether or not Jesus is allowing this or that, or whether He knows of our trials. There is no room for that loose of an interpretation. Jesus is presented here (indeed He presents Himself by His own words) as the One who “wills” all that comes to pass.

Indeed as Paul has said:

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17)

21:23-24 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” [24] This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

Who is this “We”?

A quick textual note is necessary before beginning the final look at these verses. In verse 23 the author seems to be taking some corrective action in order to mitigate the misnomer that Jesus had meant the beloved disciple would not die. Rather, Jesus just said he would “remain” (meno), and in this context it didn’t mean he wouldn’t die, but that he would continue in his work on earth until he died in the way God had thought best.

Many scholars dispute the identity of who the “we” refers to in verse 24. Ridderbos thinks its people who made up those around John, but not John himself (or at least to include John and the apostles with him). But Carson goes through every option and notes that it must refer to John himself, the author and also the “beloved disciple” as included in this and as the one writing it.

Even though this seems awkward, it’s no more awkward than John referring to himself in the third person the entire time! I am convinced that this is the most likely reading of the passage, most especially because in 1:14 John is says, “We have seen his glory.” That seems to fit the same writing style/motif.

More can be read of the comparative views in Carson (pages 681-685).

The Purpose of This Gospel

All of this gets back to the reason John wrote this – to show the greatness of Jesus, and give those who read this book an opportunity to believe and find life – eternal life – with Him.

This is why the author has taken such pains to explain, comment, rebut, and go in-depth in many areas where the other gospel writers did not. John’s mission dominates his narrative and the choice of his excerpts from Jesus’ life and ministry.

21:25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. 

The Greatness of Jesus

To end his commentary on the gospel of John, D.A. Carson frames the last verse as containing matter related to “The Greatness of Jesus” – a very apt header. Carson says:

The Jesus to whom he (John) bears witness is not only the obedient Son and the risen Lord, he is the incarnate Word, the one through whom the universe was created. If all his deeds were described, the world would be a very small and inadequate library indeed.

It is as if John has identified himself (vs. 24), but is not content to focus on himself, not even on his veracity. He must close by saying his own work is only a minute part of all the honours (sic) due the Son.

John’s gospel is truly unique. It is a theological gospel – and perhaps no one captures that theological (and even philosophical) thrust better than Ridderbos in his own summary of the book:

What we are confronted with in this Gospel, as a matter of faith, is the salvific breaking down from above of the boundaries by which our thinking and acting are circumscribed (cf. 3:5). The confrontation, however, is not with a “higher reality” as such, one that would merely relativize our reality. The confrontation is with the entry into our reality of the glory (“the name,” 17:6, 26 etc.) of God and with the “signs” of the “life” for which God once created and still continues to destine the world (1:4) – just as he who was “in the bosom of the Father” revealed that name and that life to us by his words and deeds (1:18) so that “by believing in that name” we may have life (20:31).

Surely this is the case. The breakthrough, indeed the “invasion”, if you will, of the kingdom of God in the lives of mankind is significant in John’s gospel. It is the telling of the sovereign God breaking into our reality/our consciousness in a way He had not done to fore. He physically walked and dwelt among us. Not as a pillar of fire, a burning bush, an angelic vision, but as a man born of a virgin, growing up as a boy under the law, and coming to maturity as a human being.

The wonder of this increases ten-fold when we realize the goal of God was to save men. The lengths He went to do this, and the wonder we feel when these truths come into focus is the permeating reality that soaks every sentence, every graph, and every chapter of John’s gospel.

He began by ushering us into the presence and purpose of God:

The Word Became Flesh In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

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 bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:14-18)

And left us to worship:

Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25)

William Hendricksen ends his own commentary by quoting the familiar words written by a Jewish poet named Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai in 1050 A.D. and later put to music by F. M. Lehman:

Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made; Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade: To write the love of God above Would drain the ocean dry, Nor could the scroll contain the whole Though stretched from sky to sky.

Calvin says God used men to make a careful selection of the material from Jesus’ life in order that (He) “might make known to us all that God knew to be necessary for us, who alone is wise, and the only fountain of wisdom; to whom be praise and glory for ever. Amen.”

I hope your study of this gospel has been as profitable as mine. It has left me humbled, and appreciative of all God has given us in His word.

 

Study Notes 8-4-13: Beholding the Character of the Father in the Person and Work of Christ

12:44-45 And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. [45] And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.

I think there are probably several points within this paragraph that need examined closely, including justification by faith, Christ as the incarnate Word of God, Christ as the radiance of the character of God the Father, and the duel nature of Christ.

Justification by Faith

Christ begins by calling us to “believe” in Him in order to be saved. And therefore in His statement we find the solution to our eternal problems: believe! Have faith! This is nothing new to us in this study of John, it has been the message of Jesus from the get go. For example, if you look back to chapter 6, you’ll see that some people came up to Jesus and asked what they needed to be doing to be godly and be saved. How He responded must have astounded them:

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29 ESV)

This is justification by faith alone! All you need to do is believe. There is nothing added to it. There are no works of penance, there are no coins to add to the coffers, there are no meritorious pilgrimages, weddings, confirmations, good deeds, NOTHING of that kind is mentioned here by Jesus. Simply “believe in him who he has sent”!

As Paul states in several areas:

So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:16)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

So great is the promise of God, that our response of faith to the words of His Christ, Jesus, will save our souls for all time. By placing our faith in the words of Jesus and believing that He is indeed the Son of God, and died for our sins, we shall live forever with Him and no longer “remain in darkness.”

Most people I know would rather be in a room with light than one filled with darkness. Its hard to get anything meaningful accomplished in life if you don’t know the purpose for which you were created, and you’ll never know those deep and wonderful mysteries outside of the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is the confluence of all questions and all answers, and the meaning of life is hidden in His purposes and designs. He is the One for whom and through whom all things have been made – and that includes you!

Christ is the Radiance of the Glory of God

The glory and beauty of the attributes and nature of God are bound up in the person of Jesus Christ, and seen in His works.

This is what is meant by the statement He makes, “And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.” Jesus has labored hard to show us that He is the radiance of God’s glory and that all things He speaks are from God and all things HE does are from God, for He is God! As the author of Hebrews says:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Hebrews 1:1-3)

When we take this to heart, we realize that it makes all the sense in the world to place our faith on Christ. Listen to what John Calvin says on this passage:

“The reason why the stability of faith is firm and secure is, that it is stronger than the world, and is above the world. Now, when Christ is truly known, the glory of God shines in him, that we may be fully persuaded that the faith which we have in him does not depend on man, but that it is founded on the eternal God; for it rises from the flesh of Christ to his Divinity.”

The Two Natures of Christ

If I may, just dwell a bit here on what it means that when we see Jesus, we see God the Father. Paul says that, “…in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19), and Puritan Thomas Goodwin says, “If there were infinite worlds made of creatures loving, they would not have so much love in them as was in the heart of that man Christ Jesus.”

In emphasizing His brilliance and glory, I do not want to neglectfully state that He was also fully man. This simply is an assumed truth by Jesus to his listeners here in chapter 12. He isn’t working to show them that He is human, they already assume He is human. He displays all the characteristics of a human being. The task before Jesus here is to explain that He is also fully God.

And so we must keep these things in mind as we read His words, and understand that the mystery of the incarnation is not without difficulty for us. Christ was both fully God and fully man. As Dr. Joel Beeke has said, “The Western church has always distinguished between the two natures of Christ, who is both consubstantial (homoousios, “the same in substance”) with humanity and consubstantial with God.”

The reason it is important to distinguish between the two natures of Christ is because we must not mar God’s character in a way that brings the divine down to a place where it ought not to be. Both of Christ’s natures were distinct, and both were fully realized (that is to say, that Christ as man wasn’t sub-human, or more than human, He had a weakened post-fall body as we do – see the works of Puritan John Arrowsmith), and yet distinct.

One example why the distinction is important is given us by Goodwin who explains that the two natures, “could not be changed into the other, for God was immutable; and it was impossible that the Nature of Man should become the Nature of God, since the Essence of the Godhead is incommunicable.” Thus, as Joel Beeke points out with the help of Goodwin, “the perfections of Christ’s human nature come infinitely ‘short of the Attributes that are essential to the Godhead.’”

Nevertheless, it is Christ’s goal here to show how He is God, and that when we look upon Him, we are looking upon the second person of the Godhead. This has enormous consequences for how we read and digest His teaching, as well as His works in the gospels.

12:46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.

Christ is the Rescuer of Mankind

I love verse 46 because it so well encapsulates the mission of Jesus. He is the pure light, the Rescuer of all mankind, and He has come to save us from the darkness of our sin and sadness.

This is also how we ought to teach our children and others about Jesus – especially as we teach them the entire Bible from Genesis through Revelation. We must endevor to show how the entire story of Scripture is about Jesus and His rescue plan.

For example, when we read Genesis, we read about the fall and the promises of God, we must see those promises as fulfilled in Christ and teach that way. When we read Revelation, we must see how Christ is going to come back and fulfill the promises He made during His time here on earth. The entire story revolves around Him (2 Cor. 1:20).

Here are some examples of what I mean:

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head,

and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

Jesus is the Seed who will one day rescue mankind by bruising the head of the serpent, and freeing us from the domain of darkness, He will set us free from that slavery (Romans 6), and bring us into life everlasting.

And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:15-18)

One day there will come forth from Abraham’s body a line of descendents that will bear a king, and that king (Gen. 50) will “possess the gate of his enemies”, and the gospel of that King will bless all of the bless all the nations by bringing them into eternal life – that is the promise of Jesus to all who believe in Him, to the Jew first, and also to the gentile (Romans 1:16).

And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the statute of the Passover: no foreigner shall eat of it, but every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him. No foreigner or hired worker may eat of it. It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones. All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.” (Exodus 12:43-49)

Just as God instituted the Passover meal to help the Israelites remember His delivering them from the slavery of Egypt, so He has given us a Passover Lamb, which is Jesus, who was slaughtered for our sins, and has by His death, burial, and resurrection rescued us from the consequences of those sins and from the death we were to receive as their payment. Jesus has fulfilled once and for all the Passover. God gave the Passover as both a way of remembrance, and a look into the future as a shadow of things to come when He would deliver His people from their bondage permanently!

These are just a few examples of how to see Christ in the Old Testament. He is the center of all history, and has come as our Rescuer. So when we read here that He says He has come to the world as light, we remember John’s words that He is the light, and that light was the life of men! He was from the beginning, and that is why I have stated that the entirety of Scripture is about Him, it is His story.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

12:47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.

As I have mentioned in the past, the main mission of Jesus during His earthly ministry was not judgment but rather salvation. That being said, the very fact that He is the light of the world necessitates a kind of “judgment” because light is a separating force. You cannot have light and darkness co-existing in the same space. Therefore, the light, by nature of its being, will cause separation from the darkness and this separation is apparent to anyone who is an observer. And so it is that simply by His life and ministry and preaching of the kingdom of God, Jesus brought judgment into the world, even while still having the main mission of salvation.

In the story of Zacchaeus, Luke records Christ’s words for us which give a similar encapsulation of His ministry:

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:8-10)

Just as important as it is to understand what Jesus is saying about His mission to save, it is important to know that He is coming back again, and on that day there will be a separation between those who believed His words and those who did not…

12:48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.

His Words are Law

Now Jesus will one day come back and have another mission: the judge the world by what they did with His words. Christ’s mission was that of salvation during His earthly ministry 2,000 years ago, but when He comes back His mission will include the judgment of all who did not believe in His words.

Listen to the words of Christ that we studied earlier in chapter five:

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:21-24)

This is a fearful and awful thing to contemplate – especially in light of what the erroneous claim that Jesus was merely a “good teacher.” These are not the words of a man without authority. For one who is merely a teacher only, or a prophet only, does not have authority with which to judge the nations based on his words! Which leads us to verse 49…

12:49 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. [50] And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.

A Question of Authority…

When you look at the words here compared to those I quoted earlier from chapter five, there may seem to be some confusion as to whether Jesus is saying He has authority or does not have authority etc. Keep in mind though, it is not as though He is saying “I do not have authority”, but rather “I have not spoken on my own authority.” So first, at the outset, we must realize that He isn’t saying He has no authority, but rather is using that authority which has been vested in Him by the Father.

Therefore, He is not contradicting Himself here, but rather explaining to us (in the context of the nature of the Trinity) that his mission on earth (2,000 years ago) was to save the lost, to give the words of life (of the gospel of the kingdom), and to do so on the authority of the Father. Whereas His mission upon His return will be to bring those who are His into His consummated kingdom, and to judge the world based on what it did with His words. This will be a judgment based on authority that has been given over to Him – an authority that is His by right and by nature of His Being (it is an authority which inheres in Him by the fact of who He is ontologically – He is God, therefore He has all authority). In the future, upon His return, reigning from His heavenly throne, He will exercise authority as the second member of the Godhead.

It is perhaps difficult to understand why He would choose to express Himself in this way, because He never ceased to be fully God, and it seems like He should always have had authority necessarily simply because of who He is/was ontologically.

However, I think He chose to express Himself this way because He wanted to reveal something of the Trinitarian reality (and how the Godhead was and always is in full agreement with itself), as well as show us the specific connection between Himself and the Father. This would have been particularly helpful for the Jews who were listening to Him and saw Him as simply a man from Nazareth. Therefore, it is not as though He ever stopped being invested with the inherent right to judge, but rather that He chose not to exercise that authority at the time of His first incarnation. This was a voluntary act, and one that fit in accordance with His mission at the time (as stated in Phil. 2…for He moves from a state of humiliation to exaltation as most orthodox theologians have stated).

This passage in Philippians shows us how Christ momentarily set aside His rights in order to accomplish the mission at hand:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

Just Another Prophet?

As a sort of side note, I have asked myself this question: If Christ was simply another prophet (as the Muslims and others claim) would He have had the authority to speak the way He spoke here? Can you imagine a prophet or a teacher claiming that he would come back and judge the world by the authority of his words! Wouldn’t that be an amazing claim? These questions have prompted me to realize once again how very seriously we must take the words of Jesus. I cannot simply brush them under the rug as the warnings of another prophet or teacher; He is the Lord of all life and all life finds its source in Him (in a few chapters we’ll see Christ say that He is the “way the truth and the life”).

Beneficiaries of His Work

Lastly, this statement of Christ’s has very practical applications for us today. Look now at the sum of all that we have been studying. First, we see that Christ Himself is the radience of the glory of God, and that for us to behold Him we are beholding the Father. This truth adds heft to whatever it is that follows it. First Jesus has said: I am the ultimate authority in the universe. It therefore follows that whatever He says we must listen very very carefully!

And what is it that He has chosen to follow such statements of authority? The thing He has chosen to say is that which comes from God, the “commandment” as He calls it here. And that commandment is “eternal life!”

What an amazing thing, and this is why it is amazing. He has chosen to use all of the authority vested in Him as God of the universe to express something that is to the praise of His glory, and to the unique benefit of US, namely that we should have eternal life.

Christ has first had us dwelling on who He is, and now He expresses the reality of what we will gain by what He will do for us. All of this is bound up in Him, and that it includes us, and that we are the beneficiaries of His work, is beyond comprehension and very difficult to express adequately. This is why Peter writes as He does in his first epistle:

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)