Studies in his Life and Writings
By W. H. Griffith Thomas
As we proceed we cannot help noticing that the lessons taught by our Lord to his disciples were almost always twofold, about himself and about them. This is invariably true of the believer's life, for we need to learn more of Christ and to know more of ourselves. The two act and react upon one another. The more we know of Christ the more we become conscious of ourselves in contrast to him. And the more we become conscious of self, the more we are led to feel our need of Christ and his grace. If, therefore, the Apostle John was to be and do what his Master intended, he had to learn in an ever-increasing way some of the deeper truths about Christ and his purposes.
I. Before the Passover
When the time had come for the celebration of the last Passover before the Crucifixion, Peter and John were selected for the special work of preparation (Luke 22:8-13). The association of these two is interesting, and is found several times in the New Testament. It is pretty certain that they represent a blending of age and youth, or at least of maturity and youthfulness. There does not seem much doubt that Peter was approaching middle age, if he had not arrived there, while John was the youngest of the disciples, and, perhaps, as we have seen, not much more than a youth at this time. As we ponder this work of preparing the Passover, we must concentrate our attention on what it meant to those two disciples, and to the younger man in particular. The episode would doubtless convey very little at the time, but in the light of Pentecost it would shine forth as one of the occasions on which some of the truest and deepest lessons were taught.
1. The Master's Complete Knowledge. — When Peter and John asked where he wished the preparation made, he gave them clear directions. "Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water, follow him into the house where into he goeth" (v. 10). This detailed acquaintance with what would befall them is a striking instance of our Lord's foresight. Perhaps there was a special point in the man bearing the pitcher of water, since this was usually the work of a woman. It may be that this exceptional experience would enable them to know where to go as they followed him into the house. But be this as it may, the statement was a revelation of their Master's thorough and detailed knowledge of the situation. It is hardly possible to doubt that this knowledge impressed John, for it was so exact and complete. At any rate, the Gospel which bears John's name is pre-eminently marked by its emphasis on "knowledge," while the First Epistle of John has as its fundamental thought the various truths associated with the word "know." This complete knowledge of Christ is at once a comfort and a warning. It is an unspeakable satisfaction to realize that "He knows," and when the disciple is able to say with reverence and satisfaction, "Lord, thou knowest all things," he has experienced one of the deepest and most precious privileges of life. At the same time, this knowledge is a warning, for it is a reminder of what the Psalmist said, "He knoweth the secrets of the heart" (Psalm 44:21; cf. 94:11; 139:1, 2, 4). We are accustomed to quote "Thou God seest me" to our children to remind them of God's all-seeing eye, and although the original context of this passage was not intended for warning, but for comfort, it is well to realize that God's thorough knowledge of us is at once a joy and a reminder.
2. The Master's Absolute Authority. — Peter and John on entering the house were to say to the master of it, "The Teacher saith unto thee, Where is the guest-chamber where I shall eat the Passover with my disciples?" And he would show them a large, upper room, furnished, where they were to make ready (vs. 11, 12). It is clear that the master of the house was a follower of Jesus Christ, for the claim to be "the Teacher" and the assurance that the room would be placed at their disposal implies the authority of Christ. This lordship is in some respects the crown and culmination of the Divine purpose and plan, "that God may be all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28), and it can only be reached in one way, by the Lordship of Christ, "that in all things he might have the pre-eminence" (Col. 1:18). The result is that the New Testament makes very prominent the thoughts of Christ as Master and of ourselves as his servants. There are some eight words associated with Christ's lordship, each of which suggests some aspect of the truth.
(1) He is our Possessor. The Greek word rendered "Lord" occurs hundreds of times and implies ownership, and therefore perfect control (Rom. 14:9; Eph. 6:9). (2) He is our Leader. This comes only twice (Matt. 23:8, 10), and means a guide, one who goes in front, suggesting capability, and therefore our perfect acceptance of his wisdom. (3) He is our Prince. This is represented by two words, one of which is found four times (Acts 3:15; 5:31; Heb. 2:10; 12:2), and the other only once (Rev. 1:5). The thought is of primacy of position, for our Prince is our principal. (4) He is our Superintendent. This is expressed by a word found six times, and only in Luke (5:5; 8:24, 45; 9:33, 49; 17:13). It indicates overseership. one "standing over" us, giving close inspection and therefore calling for watchful obedience. (5) He is our Master. The word is used by Simeon (Luke 2:29), by the early Church (Acts 4:24), by the Saints (Rev. 6:10), and it is also associated with apostates (2 Pet. 2:1; Jude 4). It suggests absolute and uncontrolled power, unrestricted domination, with the necessity of unquestioning submission (Titus 2:9; 2 Tim. 2:21). (6) He is our King. The usage of this word in relation to Christ is important and striking (John 1:49; 19:19; Acts 17:7; 1 Tim. 1:17; Jas. 2:8; 1 Pet. 2:9). It declares his reign, rule, and glory with our corresponding position and duties. (7) He is our Potentate. This is found only once (1 Tim. 6:15), and involves ability as well as authority, power as well as position, and suggests both warning and comfort. (8) He is our Teacher. In the Gospels this is very frequently translated Master, and implies schoolmaster. He can only teach in so far as he is Master. And so this searching and dominating thought of Christ's absolute authority and lordship enters into every part of our life.
3. The Disciples' Perfect Obedience. — Peter and John at once went, and since they found everything exactly as their Master had told them, they made ready the Passover. This prompt and complete response to the orders of Christ is another element in the life of a true disciple. The Lord's Prayer is that his will may be done on earth "as it is in heaven," and just as there are eight words associated with Christ's lordship, so there are eight more expressive of our loyalty. (1) We are his bondservants. This word is found frequently, and may be said to be the Apostle Paul's favorite designation of himself as the "slave of Jesus Christ" (Rom. 1:1). It indicates that we are not free or independent, that we belong to him in everything, "a living chattel." It implies the devotedness and thoroughness of our service. (2) We are his ministering servants. This represents the Greek word from which we derive our ''deacon" (Matt. 20:26; 2 Cor. 6:4). The true "deacon" or "minister" is a servant. The derivation of the word is uncertain; it may come from a Greek word meaning to "pursue," and if so it suggests the activity and celerity of our service. A "deacon" is one who pursues his task. "The King's business requireth haste." (3) We are his household servants (Luke 16:13; Rom. 14:4). This seems to suggest the inwardness and homeliness of our service in the household of God (Gal. 6:10; Eph. 2:19; Acts 10:7; 1 Pet. 2:18). (4) We are his subordinate servants. The original word means under-rower (John 18:36; 1 Cor. 4:1). We are "underlings," and, like rowers, must work hard. In an orchestra there must be "second violins," and in a boat not every man can be "stroke" (Luke 1:2; Acts 13:5). Thus we see the subordination and strenuousness of our service. (5) We are his confidential servants. This is only used of Moses (Heb. 3:5), and is connected with medical service. It perhaps suggests tenderness and privilege. (6) We are his public servants. The word indicates duty done in some pubHc capacity (Acts 13:2; 2 Cor. 9:12; Phil. 2:17, 30). Our work for Christ extends in influence, and is not confined and contracted in sphere. Thus we see the value and importance of our service. (7) We are his temple servants. The word is used in connection with the tabernacle and temple (Luke 1:74; Heb. 9:1), and suggests the sacredness and dignity of our work for God. (8) We are his responsible servants. This is the thought of stewardship, for the "steward" is the head servant, responsible for the provisions and general life of the household (of. Skeat's Dictionary; Luke 12:42; 1 Cor. 4:1, 2; 1 Pet. 4:10). It points out the opportunity and faithfulness of our service.
As we contemplate these three thoughts of complete knowledge, absolute authority, and perfect obedience, we realize something of what it means to be a true follower of Christ. A class is said to have been asked how God's will is done in heaven, so that we may do it in the same way. A child responded that the angels do God's will "without asking any questions." This is one of the simple and yet searching secrets of everything that is worth knowing, having, and enjoying in the Christian life. In a cemetery there is an inscription on the tomb of a young girl of eighteen. " 'Who plucked this flower?' said the gardener. 'I/ said the Master. The gardener was silent."
II. At the Supper
When the work of preparation was over and the Lord and his disciples were assembled in the upper room, again we are reminded of the Apostle John (John 13:23-25). Limiting ourselves to him in relation to the Master we are able to see something of what subsequently he must have realized as a blessed truth and experience.
1. The Disciple's Special Position. — We are told that at the table "there was reclining in Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved." There is no doubt that the reference is to John, and it is probable that the absence of jealousy of the other disciples was due to his extreme youth. This emphasis on our Lord's love for him is particularly striking. It is found in five passages, four having one and one the other Greek word translated "love." The former word implies unselfish love, a love which does not seek for any return (John 13:23; 19:26; 21:7, 20), and in each case it is particularly interesting that the literal rendering is "whom Jesus kept on loving." His interest and affection for his young follower went out continually and showed itself in a variety of ways for the benefit of John. But the other passage has its own beautiful suggestion (20:2), for it gives us the idea of our Lord's perfect humanity in desiring the return of love from his follower. There was nothing unworthy in this yearning for a return of love, but everything that was pure and true in the desire to find himself loved by his disciple. Here, again, the reference is equally suggestive, "whom Jesus kept on loving" (with a clinging love). Years afterwards this Apostle was able to say "We love, because he first loved us."
2. The Disciple's Special Opportunity. — While he was reclining in the bosom of Jesus, the other disciples were in perplexity about our Lord's announcement that one of them would betray him, and they doubted of whom he spoke. Simon Peter at once thought that John would be able to discover the one to whom our Lord referred, and therefore asked him to find out. Then we are told that "he, leaning back, as he was, on Jesus' breast saith unto him, 'Lord, who is it?' " (v. 25, R. V.). It was this position of privilege that enabled him to ask the question. His nearness to Christ enabled him to have this opportunity of full knowledge. The nearer we are to Christ the more we know of his truth, "the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will show them his covenant" (Psalm 25:14). "The Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7; Gen. 18:17; Jer. 23:22; Dan. 9:22). If, then, we would know we must "abide," for those who are following afar off are never made partakers of the secrets of their Lord.
3. The Disciple's Special Privilege. — This position and opportunity at the Last Supper enables us to understand the New Testament truth of "fellowship." Perhaps it was this truth that more than anything else enabled John to say in his Epistle, "truly our fellowship is with the Father, and his Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3). Fellowship is the crown and culmination of everything in Christianity. We commence with sonship. We experience discipleship. We proceed to worship. We exercise stewardship. But beyond and above all we enjoy fellowship. The word always means "partnership" or joint possession, and it is interesting to observe that it is associated with each Person of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit (1 John 1:3; 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Cor. 13:14; Phil. 2:1). There is nothing higher than this, because we are made "partakers of the Divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4). Thus the Holy Communion is a remarkable expression of this fellowship, or partnership, especially as it is the occasion and opportunity of partnership in relation to our Lord's atoning sacrifice (1 Cor. 10:16).
As we look over these two occasions on which John stands out so prominently we see once again that the greatest need of the disciple is a fuller knowledge of his Master, and thereby a completer knowledge of himself. The more we know of Christ the better for our lives, and the more we know of self the more thorough will be our consciousness of the need of our Master. This mutual knowledge is only possible by means of close fellowship with Christ. "In thy light shall we see light." It has often been pointed out that sympathy is the gateway of knowledge. The scientific man like Darwin or Huxley must have sympathy with his subject if he is to learn. The student of literature will never enter into the depth of his authority unless he is, as the French say, en rapport with his author. In the same way, only those who are willing to enter into the closest possible oneness and friendship with Christ will ever learn his deepest truths and enjoy the most blessed experiences of his grace. There must be fellowship with Christ (Phil. 3:10; 1 Pet. 4:13) if we would know, enjoy, and practice the Will of God and realize his glory in our life.