On the Gospel of John

J. N. Darby.

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John 18

We have been through the wonderful chapter, in which is presented to us the touching development of the communion of the Son with the Father with regard to the object of their common interest, the children, believers put into relationship with the Father by His revelation in the Son. The more we think of it, the more we feel how marvellous it is to be admitted to hear such communications.

But let us continue our study of the Gospel. That which follows, is the account of the last events of the life of Christ, as also of His death, of His resurrection and all that belongs to them. The sufferings of Christ are not the subject of John's Gospel, but His divine Person, and this character is found again here. We do not find suffering either in Gethsemane or upon the cross, but a direct testimony borne to His divinity, as to His perfect human obedience. There is another element less important, but which comes out in a clear light; it is, the moral setting aside of the Jews, a subject of sorrow for the Saviour Himself and for us, for which the sovereign grace of God will provide a remedy; but here they fall into marked contempt, even from the Gentiles.

The sufferings of Christ not being related, there is far less detail. It is great principles, great facts, that are put in the foreground in the account, or at least spring out of it. I hope it will not be hazarding too much for souls, to pass in review the different accounts found in the Gospels of what took place in Gethsemane and upon the cross.

In Matthew, Christ is the Victim; there is neither comforter nor consolation, but the sleep of His own, and betrayal with kisses in Gethsemane; and upon the cross: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Mark gives very much the same facts in this respect. In John, we shall soon see, it is not a question of sufferings, either in Gethsemane, or upon the cross; it is the Son of God who gives Himself. In Luke we have more human anguish in Gethsemane, but none upon the cross. We will speak further on of what is related in John's Gospel. In Matthew's Gospel it is simple: it is the Lamb led to the slaughter, the Lamb that opened not His mouth, except to own Himself such, and forsaken of God for us. In Luke, I see the Son of man, and each circumstance answers to the character of the Gospel. Thus, as Man, His genealogy goes up to Adam; He is the Man who is always praying; in Gethsemane, in sight of the terrible cup that He had to drink, He is the Man realising beforehand that which He would have to suffer, as being made sin. He was in an agony (which is in Luke alone) but that only served to shew His perfection; He prayed the more earnestly; He was as a man with God; He went through all the anguish in His soul. Upon the cross, no sufferings at all. All the rest (that which we see in the other Gospels) remains true, but it is seen from another side; it is in another aspect that the precious Saviour is presented. The sufferings are past; He asks forgiveness for the Jews; He promises paradise to the thief; then, when all is finished, He gives up His spirit to His Father. It is grace and peace in His soul, when He has realised all. The forsaking of God had taken place, but this is not the side of the history that Luke presents.

292 It is well to remark too, that the three other Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) relate His controversy with the different classes of the Jews at His last entrance into Jerusalem, the unbelief of whom is set in clear light. In John, when this unbelief as to His word (chap. 8), as to His works (chap. 9), has been made manifest, and He has declared that He is come to seek His sheep, Jews or Gentiles, and God has borne witness to Him as being Son of God, Son of David, and Son of man (but as such He must die), then it is not controversy with the Jews, a matter already settled, but communications to His disciples about the privileges and the position they should enjoy when He would be away. This brings us back to the history.

The few verses that tell us of Gethsemane, present to us the Saviour in His divine power, then giving Himself for His own, and finally perfect in obedience as man. Nothing is said of what passed before the arrival of Judas. but then the whole band, upon His voluntary avowal that He was Jesus of Nazareth, fall to the earth, confounded by the divine power which was revealed in Him. He could go away, to escape from them; but He was not come for that, and declaring again that He was the One whom they sought, He adds: "If therefore ye seek me, let these go their way"; that that word, so precious for us also, might be fulfilled: "Of those whom thou hast given me, I have lost none." He puts Himself in the breach, that His own may be sheltered from harm.

293 Peter draws his sword, strikes the servant of the high priest, and cuts off his ear. Jesus heals him, but saying these words: "The cup which my Father hath given me to drink, shall I not drink it?" Perfect submission to His Father's will, while shewing that by a word from Him they were rendered powerless, and He free.

In that which follows, we find, it seems to me, that Jesus hardly takes account of the high priest. He does not give account of His teaching to him, but refers him to those who had heard Him: what He had spoken was in public. In the other Gospels, we see indeed that Jesus replied, when He was asked who He was. But here the high priest's authority disappeared.

Peter's fall is stated carefully, then left. In the examination that he makes Him undergo, Pilate receives a fuller answer from Him. His reticence before the high priest is not found here, which is striking. With Caiaphas, He refers to what he could have known from the multitude who had heard Him. With Pilate, He enters into conversation; He recognises the governor's authority, but the Jews are set aside, placed in the position of false accusers, and, when their enmity is rendered evident, He explains to Pilate, that, King though He was, His kingdom was not of this world, and never will be, even when it shall be established here below. The heavens shall reign; the world will acknowledge it; Dan. 4:26.

Pilate would have liked to have left the matter to the Jews; he saw well that it was only envy and hatred without cause; but the Jews were to be the instrument of Christ's being treated as a malefactor, and not even stoned as a blasphemer, as Stephen was. In God's wonderful counsels, His Son was to be put to death as a malefactor among the Gentiles - cast out of the vineyard, but the guilty ones, those who were the authors of it, were the Jews (v. 29-32, 35). What terrible blindness was theirs! They did not want to defile themselves that they might eat the passover (ver. 28), at the very moment that they were giving up the true Passover Lamb to be sacrificed. Scruples are not conscience. We must not violate scruples, if we have them, but conscience looks to God and to His word. Conscience did not prevent the Jews buying the blood of Jesus for thirty pieces of silver; but a scruple forbade their putting into the treasury of God in the temple, the money rejected by Judas, because it was the price of blood. (Compare Rom. 14.)

294 Pilate asks Jesus if He was the King of the Jews. The Lord explains that His kingdom is not of this world, otherwise He would have made good His claims as the world does. But in every sense, His kingdom, at this moment, was not established in this world as a kingdom of the world. His presence as accused before Pilate was the proof of it. Jesus does not fail to confess openly that He is King, when Pilate asks Him He will establish, later on, a power which nothing will be able to resist, but the time was not yet come. According to the truth, He was King, and He bears witness to the truth. According to the work of God in that moment, He was numbered amongst the transgressors. For Pilate, an infidel and a rationalist, what was truth? He was very guilty in yielding to the urgent demands of the Jews, but it was the Jews who were the instigators of the death of Jesus. They were accomplishing, without knowing it, the counsels of God, and Jesus was there in His perfect obedience. We have before us the truth, the King, the propitiatory Victim, accomplishing a work far deeper and more important than even royalty; we see there also the head of the Gentiles, representing the emperor, then the furious hatred of this poor people against God manifested in goodness, their Saviour. Everything assumes its true character, God's counsels are accomplished, and every actor in this scene takes his true place. But the actors, Jews and Gentiles, are to disappear condemned, but for grace; and the condemned malefactor, who, humanly speaking, disappears, leaves the scene to be Lord over all, to sit upon the Father's throne.

Thus things go on even on a small scale, in this world. It is striking to see these poor Jews make use of, at the cross, the very words that, in their own scriptures, are put into the mouths of atheists and of the enemies of God. (Compare Psalm 22 and Matthew 27.) But wisdom is justified of her children.

295 Every one's position is clearly established. Pilate, the judge, convinced of the Lord's innocence, wished to rid himself of the Jews' importunity, and to avoid enmity without profit. The Jews are enraged against the Son of God come in grace into this world, and prefer to Him a robber guilty of murder. Jesus submits to everything: condemned on His own testimony, He was to be cast out of the camp, and undergo the kind of death of which He had spoken, and the Gentiles were to be guilty of it. But the acts of Pilate and of the Jews were to bring out still more in relief the spirit that animated them. Pilate without conscience; the Jews full of hatred - they wished, at all cost, to put Him to death. This is what follows, and that we find at the beginning of chapter 19.

John 19

In reality the judgment of the Saviour has been pronounced. He had been give up to the outrages of the Roman soldiers. The details of this part of the history are found in Matthew 26:24-31. The Jews, notwithstanding Pilate's timid resistance, had chosen Barabbas the robber and rejected the Son of God; and Pilate, yielding to their solicitation, had given up in an unprecedented way his position as judge, to please a turbulent people.

But he was not easy. The majesty of the ways of Jesus gave the accused ascendency over the judge. There was in Christ something superhuman that made Pilate afraid; besides, we know that he had received warnings that God had sent to him in a way such as a Gentile could receive them; Matt. 27:19. But the relations of the Jews, not with Christ - that is found more clearly and in a more terrible manner in Matthew - but with Gentiles, and those of the Gentiles with God, were to be manifested with more evidence. Pilate brings Jesus back, and He is presented to us hated and rejected of the Jews, and condemned solely by Pilate upon words known to all: "Behold the Man."

It is God who presents Him to us thus. There was the Son of God as He was in this world. The world did not know Him, although it had seen Him, and His own received Him not. He was the despised and the rejected of men

Pilate, ill at ease from a mingling of fear and of a bad conscience, and at the same time full of a feverish anxiety to maintain his authority, and to throw upon the Jews the guilt of the condemnation of Jesus, presents Him again to the Jews to tell them that he finds no fault in Him. This excites the Jews to demand with loud cries His crucifixion. Pilate wishes them to do it, as he finds no fault in Him. Then the Jews, to whom the Romans had left their own laws (except the right of putting to death), insist that Jesus deserved death because He made Himself the Son of God, which increases Pilate's uneasiness.

296 He goes again into the judgment-hall and asks Jesus whence He was. Where was now the judge? Jesus does not answer him, Pilate having publicly owned that Jesus was not guilty. It was not a question of instructing Pilate; who, moreover, did not seek instruction, and who, in presence of the silence of Jesus, appeals to his authority and to his power over Him. Jesus declares to Pilate that he would have none if it had not been given him from above - for the crucifixion of the Saviour was in the counsels of God, and Jesus was now giving Himself to accomplish them; but that only increased the sin of Judas, who, witness of the divine power of Christ, had delivered Him up, as though there were none.

From that moment, Pilate seeks to deliver Jesus; but to avoid a tumult amongst the Jews who reproach him with being unfaithful to Caesar, since Jesus called Himself King, he resists no longer, but irritated, he derides the Jews whom he despised, and not concerning himself as to either the truth or as to Jesus, says, "Shall I crucify your King?" - hiding thus his uneasiness, his vexation, his weakness, and want of conscience. This is the occasion of the public apostasy of the Jews, who declare, "We have no king but Caesar!" The counsels of God are being fulfilled; Pilate's hands are stained with the blood of the Son of God; the Gentiles who had the authority, are guilty of His death; the Jews abandon all the privileges that they had from God, and Jesus, with His innocence judicially owned, occupies alone the place of truth and faithfulness, and gives Himself up (for He might have escaped as in the garden, or indeed at any moment) to fulfil the counsels of grace. The Gentiles are compromised without resource, the Jews lost for ever upon the ground of their own responsibility, and that not only as to the law, but as having renounced all right to the enjoyment of the promises; and if God fulfil them later on for His own glory, they will be compelled to receive the enjoyment of them as poor lost sinners from among the Gentiles. Jesus, condemned purely and simply for the testimony that He bore to the truth, as had also been the case before the high priest, stands alone in His dignity and integrity in the midst of a world that ruined itself in running counter to Him, to the grace and truth come from God by Him who was in His bosom.

297 Here, Jesus recognises no authority among the Jews - they were adversaries - nor in the head of the Gentiles, except for the accomplishment of God's counsels. He explains to him first the position, but denies his power, if it is not for that. To see His condemnation by the Jews we must go to the other evangelists, as Matthew 26:63-66, where we see Him condemned for the witness He had borne that He was the Son of God; and Luke 22 where they take upon themselves the terrible responsibility of His blood. Here, in the Gospel of John, it is only the adversaries that the Lord does not recognise. Jews and Gentiles, they disappear in the darkness of hatred, and of an act of injustice proceeding from feebleness of soul and want of conscience, and Jesus is there, having borne witness to the truth, alone, accepting the consequences from God, in order to accomplish the unspeakable work of divine love for the one and the other. Oh! that we may know better how to meditate on and realise these things!

In the history of the crucifixion of Jesus, as we have seen in Gethsemane, the sufferings are not found. If He is placed between the malefactors, it is to throw contempt on the poor Jews. But if Pilate had yielded without conscience to their violence, he by no means concerned himself with the honour of their nation, and he insolently maintains what he has written. The will of God was, that this testimony should be borne to the state of the Jews and to the rights of His Son, rejected of the people, but King of the Jews. Prophecy is accomplished with regard to them in the smallest details.

After that, we find One who has completed His blessed course; it is the Son of God. During His service here below, He did not recognise His mother. In reality His human relationships were not in question; He was the bearer of the divine word in this world, the expression of this word in His Person, and nothing else; separated from everything for this. Now that His divine ministry is ended, He recognises this relationship, not as a link with the Jews, this was over, but as human affection. He commits her to John, the disciple He loved. To have always repelled her was not a lack of natural affection, but faithfulness, whether in His position outside the Jews (Matt. 12:46), or in absolute devotedness. Now that His service is finished, His affection is free, and He shews it.

298 Then, the last little circumstance which was to be found in His death, according to the Scriptures, being accomplished, in perfect peace declaring that all was finished, He gives up His spirit Himself. No one takes it from Him; it is He Himself who gives it up. A divine act: after having suffered everything in His soul by the forsaking of God, in perfect calmness He owns that all is accomplished; He Himself separates His spirit from His body, and gives it up to God, His Father; a divine act that He had the power to accomplish. In Luke's Gospel, we have the human side of man's faith: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." Here it is the divine side, where He lays down His human life.

The Jews, full of zeal for the ordinances, whilst neglecting the mercy, righteousness, and love of God, desire that the bodies may not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, and a centurion is sent to put the crucified ones to death. He breaks the legs of the two malefactors; but Jesus was dead already; not one of His bones was to be broken; but to assure himself that he was not mistaken, and that (although he understood nothing of it) the world had got rid of the Son of God, he pierces His side with a spear. It was the last outrage the world inflicted upon Him, to make sure that they had done with the Son of God. The answer of grace was the water and the blood that purifies and saves. Man and God met; the insolence and indifference of hatred, and sovereign grace that rises above all the sin of man. Wonderful scene, wonderful testimony! There, where sin abounded, grace has much more abounded. The thrust of the soldier's spear brought out the divine testimony of salvation and of life.

Notice also how opportune this circumstance was. If they had pierced Jesus before His death, and had killed Him, He would not Himself have given up His spirit: if they had pierced Him without putting Him to death, His blood shed thus would not have had the value of His death. But He gives His life Himself; He is dead, and all the value of His death, in its two aspects of purification and expiation, was manifested, when His side was pierced and the water and the blood came forth; 1 John 5.

299 How little the outside of what goes on in the world corresponds with the reality! Scruples and brutality hasten to take away the life of the thieves: they little thought that thus they were sending the poor believer straight into paradise! The Scriptures were being accomplished on every point. Not one of the bones of Jesus was broken, but His side had been pierced, and now God provides the rich man with whom Jesus was to be in His death. Joseph of Arimathea has obtained the Saviour's body from Pilate, and he and Nicodemus place it with aromatic spices in a new sepulchre that had never been used for an interment. The sabbath being about to begin (at six o'clock in the evening), they placed the body there, so as to arrange everything becomingly when the sabbath should be passed. What a solemn moment when the earth received the dead body of the Son of God, and the world had no more of Him down here!

Remark here, in passing, how iniquity carried out to its full height, leads the weak to shew themselves faithful. These two men who believed in Jesus, but whose position and riches hindered them from shewing themselves openly, or only allowed one of them to do so, but in a timid and indirect way - now that all are afraid, except a few women - come out boldly. This evil in the midst of the Jews had become intolerable to them, and their position was of real service to them in their devotedness. It was the patient grace of God and His providence that brought out the rich at this moment for this service.

In the invisible world, Jesus was in paradise; as to this world, an interrupted funeral, that was all He had. Sin, death, Satan, the judgment of God, had done all that they severally could do: His earthly life was ended, and with it all His relations with this world, and with man as belonging to this world. Death reigned outwardly, even over the Son of God; serious souls who were aware of it were perplexed. But the world went on just the same; the Passover was celebrated with its usual ceremonies; Jerusalem was what it had been before. They had got rid of the two thieves; what had become of them, one or the other, did not concern society. Its selfishness was delivered from them, and from Another that troubled it by telling too much about it. But it is not the outside of things that is the truth. One of the thieves was in paradise with Christ; the other, far away from all hope; the soul at least of the Third was in the repose of perfect blessing, in the bosom of the Deity. And as to the world, it had lost its Saviour, and was to see Him again no more.

300 But it was impossible, on account of His Person, that Jesus could remain under the power of death, although He submitted to it for us. On account of divine righteousness He was not to remain there. True Son of God, the Father's glory was concerned in His not being holden by it; He could not suffer His Holy One to see corruption. The absolute darkness that had come down upon the world, spoke on God's part of the dawn of a new and eternal day that was going to rise beyond death, for God's glory, upon those who, attached to Jesus, saw in Him the Sun of Righteousness. Sorrow, where there is faith, may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. For the righteous, light arises in the midst of darkness. Man has to be condemned, but God is sovereign in grace, glorious in righteousness. Christ, a man, had to die, according to that grace, and according to righteousness against sin; but He had to be raised according to the unfailing righteousness of God. It is the basis of the truth as regards Christ's work, but it is the principle of all God's ways with us. We must die with Him and rise with Him. If we always appropriate to ourselves this truth, for it is our privilege (Col. 2, 3) we enjoy a life that is not in this world, bearing about always in our body the dying of the Lord Jesus. If, in anything, this life of the flesh is not mortified, death must be applied to it: we experience this in the ways of God. It is the history of our Christian life down here. As to the efficacious accomplishment of the thing, it was done, once for all, on the cross.

John 20

In this chapter, the history of the resurrection, or rather of the manifestations of the Lord to His own, is full of interest and of important principles. The first person who is presented to us is not even the Christ: it is those who were to surround Him spiritually, and who had in fact surrounded Him down here. It was good and suitable that the state of their affections - and affections nourish faith - that this state, I say, as confidence in Him and attachment to His Person should be manifested, and that then He, revealed in resurrection, should be the answer to this state, and should lead them on further.

301 The first person that presents herself, and whose history is of profound and touching interest, is Mary Magdalene. Her name has become the expression of a bad life, or at least that of a woman come out of licentiousness, but there is nothing to justify the tradition. But that she had been completely under the power of the demon is no tradition; the Lord had cast seven demons out of her. Her state therefore had been most miserable, and she loved much. We find her with a woman constantly called "the other Mary" (Matt. 23:1), accompanying the Lord with others, and rendering Him the assiduous services of a devoted affection. But sincere as the affection of these women was for the Saviour, it was more so for the heart of Mary Magdalene than for all the others. They were fully prepared, buying aromatic spices and perfumes to embalm Him, to do all that was necessary to honour their Master; but Mary Magdalene thought of Him. They waited therefore the suitable time, and arrived at the sepulchre at sunrise. But Mary Magdalene's heart was devoid of everything save the grief of having lost Him whom she loved so much, and she was at the sepulchre whilst it was still night.

The Lord was already risen, and the great stone rolled away from before the entrance into the sepulchre. She did not seize the import of what she saw, but went to Peter and John. These, to see what had happened, ran to the sepulchre that was supposed to be carefully guarded. John looks into the sepulchre and sees the linen clothes in which Jesus had been wrapped, left there upon the ground. Peter, arriving directly after, enters in and sees the linen clothes also, and the napkin in which the Lord's head had been wrapped, folded apart. All bespoke tranquillity; nothing indicated haste or precipitation. It seems that Peter was astonished at what he saw (Luke 24:12), and hardly knew what to think of it. Then John, in his turn, entered; he saw and believed, but his faith rested upon what he saw, and not upon the word. They knew not the scriptures which declared that thus it must be. Alas! Jesus did not possess their heart, nor the word their understanding. They go to their own home; they look no further; they are astonished, John at least convinced; divine intelligence did not enlighten them, affection for Christ did not move them: they went to their own home.

302 It is not thus with Mary Magdalene. For her without Jesus the whole world was nothing but an empty sepulchre; her heart was more empty still. She stays there at the sepulchre, where the Lord whom she loved had been. As it is said of Rachel; she could not be comforted, because He was no more. Stooping down into the sepulchre hewn in the rock, she sees two angels, who ask her: "Why weepest thou?" God allows the full expression of this strong affection. It is no longer, "They have taken away the Lord," as she said to the apostles, but, "They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him." But Jesus was not far from a heart thus attached to His Person. Mary hears someone moving behind her. She turns and sees a man whom she takes for the gardener. He asks again: "Why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?" Then we see the affection that appropriates to itself the lost Saviour, as if He belonged to her, and that does not imagine that the gardener can think of any other object than that which occupies it. "Lord," she says, "if thou hast borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away." If I had a sick friend, I should ask at his house, "How is he?" and all would understand what I meant, of whom I was speaking. Mary supposes that everybody thinks of the Lord, as she does herself, and that her affection gives her full right to dispose of Him. It was not intelligence; He had said that He would rise again, and she sought among the dead Him who was living. But the Lord was everything for her heart. It is what Jesus seeks, and He makes Himself found as living. He acts in His divine and human affection, and calls His sheep by her name; "Mary," He says. This was enough, and a single word from a satisfied heart answers to the call. His sheep hears His voice, and mistakes it not. "Rabboni!" she says. That was all; Mary had found Him, and found Him living, and He had brought out in Mary's heart all the affection which His love would satisfy.

Now intelligence comes, and it is Mary, she who sought the living among the dead, but with a heart that belonged to Him, a heart attached to His Person, she it is whom the Lord employs to communicate to the apostles themselves the knowledge of the highest privileges that belong to Christians. We see clearly the importance of this devotedness. It was not knowledge that characterised Mary, but her affection brought her spiritually near to the Lord, and made her the fitting vessel for communicating what He Himself had in His heart. She possessed, as a vessel, this knowledge, but better still, she possessed the Lord.

303 As to her position, Mary Magdalene represented the Jewish remnant attached to the Person of the Lord, but ignorant of the glorious counsels of God. She thought to have found Jesus again, risen no doubt, but come again into this world to take the place that was due to Him, and satisfy the affections of those who had left everything for Him in the days of His humiliation, despised of the world, and denied by His people. But she could not have Him thus now. A glory far more excellent, of far greater extent, was in the thoughts of God, and blessing for us far more precious. In receiving Christ, she could not rightly receive Him, but according to the thoughts of God with regard to the Saviour. Only her attachment to the Lord opened this blessed path to her. "Touch me not," the Lord says, "for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren and say to them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God." She could not have the Lord, even when risen, as come again as Messiah upon earth. He must first of all ascend to His Father and receive the kingdom, then return: but there was much more. A work had been accomplished that placed Him, as Man and Son always, with the Father in glory, Man in this blessed relationship; but it was a work of redemption that set His own, redeemed according to the value of that work, in the same glory and in the same relationships as Himself. And this was based upon the sure foundation of that work, in which God Himself and the Father had been fully glorified, and had made themselves known according to all their perfections. (Compare John 13:31, 32 and chap. 17:4, 5.) According to these perfections, the disciples are introduced into the position and according to the relationship of Jesus Himself with God. This was the necessary fruit of the work of Jesus; without this, He would not have seen of the travail of His soul.

For the first time Christ calls His disciples His brethren, and places them thus in His own relationships with God His Father. Judaism has disappeared for the moment, and as far as the old covenant is concerned; and the full effect of Christ's work, according to the settled purpose of grace, is revealed; believers are placed there by faith, and we possess the knowledge and power of it by the Holy Ghost which has been given to us, consequent upon Jesus having entered personally, as Son of Man, into the glory that resulted from His work.

304 The resurrection of Jesus has left behind man, death, sin, the power of Satan, and the judgment of God, and has brought heavenly glory into view; although, in order to bear witness to the reality of His resurrection, Jesus did not yet Himself enter into this glory. But as far as concerns the basis of the thing, that is to say, the relationship, it was established and revealed. The Jewish remnant, attached to Christ, becomes the company of the Son associated with Him in the power of the privileges into which He has entered, as risen from amongst the dead.

Mary having communicated these things to the apostles, the course of the outward development founded upon this revelation, is related. The disciples met that same day in the evening, and Jesus, the doors being shut because of their fear of the Jews, appeared personally, but in a spiritual body, in their midst, bringing them the peace that He had made by His blood. Divine peace, the gathering together, and the presence of the Lord, characterised their meeting. The apostles were to be eye-witnesses, and He shews them His hands and His side, irrefutable evidence that it was truly the same Jesus they had known, and they rejoice when they see Him. Then they were to be His missionaries or apostles (sent ones), and He lays down divine peace as the point of departure: "Peace be to you," He says to them; "as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you." Then, as God breathed into Adam's nostrils the breath of life, the divine Son, the same God - here a risen Man - breathes upon them, communicating to them the Holy Ghost. Although symbolising the gift of the Holy Ghost, He was not yet sent, for Jesus was not yet ascended on high; but He was communicated as power of life by the risen Saviour, divine life - life according to the position in which He was, and which was its power. They lived by the divine life of the Saviour, and according to the state He had taken in rising. The Holy Ghost, descended from heaven, was to reveal to them the objects of faith, and lead them. Here, that which they receive is the spiritual and subjective capacity to enjoy them, making them personally capable of running the race in which the Holy Ghost was to lead them. They were fit for the service of their mission: He who should guide them was the Holy Ghost, who was going to descend from heaven.

305 This difference is found in Romans 8. Up to verse 11, the Holy Ghost in the believer, is the spirit of life and of liberty, of moral power in Christ. After that (from verse 11) it is the Holy Ghost personally, acting as a divine Person. This goes on to verse 27.

Nevertheless, in this picture, which is the summing-up of the whole position, this fact (the Lord breathing on them) points to the gift of the Holy Ghost. Now their mission, the salvation that Jesus had just accomplished, was characterised in its first application by the remission of sins, the first need of the sinner, if he is to be reconciled with God; Luke 1:77; Matt. 9:2. It is not here the eternal efficacy of Christ's work in itself, but the application of its efficacy here below, as a present, actual thing. In examining the bearing of this work, we find that the worshippers, once purged, have no more conscience of sins; but here it is the present application in this purification. The eternal efficacy of the work is not the subject of John's Gospel, which does not speak of it; but it is its administrative application.

Verses 19-23 of our chapter resume the position of service, in which the Lord places His disciples, as well as the gathering together of the children of God. Notice here that He said, in His life upon earth before resurrection, "Fear not": and if, as Immanuel, the Messiah, He disposed of everything in favour of His own when He sent out His disciples, here, on the contrary, they fear the Jews, and the Lord does not take away that fear, but replaces the power of His presence as Emmanuel the Messiah, by His presence in their midst, and by the peace He had made and that He conferred.

Thomas was not there. Eight days after, that is to say, on the following Lord's day, Thomas was with the others, and Jesus came into their midst. Responding to the doubts that Thomas had expressed before Jesus came, the Lord convinced him, by shewing him and making him touch His hands and His side. Thomas's doubts disappear. It is the expression, in this remarkable resume or sketch of the dispensations of God, of the position of the Jewish remnant in the last days. They will believe when they see Him, and Jesus makes the difference between believers who have not seen Him - our position - and those who will believe when they see Him. The blessing rests upon us. Thomas's confession, true and just as it was, shews, it seems to me, the Jewish position. It is not the glorified Son of man, Jesus on high, but it is what the Jews will own when He returns; that is to say, that the Jesus whom they had rejected was their Lord and their God, their Deliverer and Saviour, the Jehovah who was to deliver them. The testimony of the others will not have convinced them. They will see and look upon Him whom they have pierced. Thus we find, in this chapter, besides the resurrection of Jesus, the epitome of the dispensation of grace from that event up to the Saviour's return: first of all the Jewish remnant, represented by Mary Magdalene, but introduced by a risen Christ into the knowledge of the Christian position and privileges - privileges that she announces to the disciples. Following upon this communication, the assembled disciples find the Lord Jesus in their midst, pronouncing upon them the peace that He had just made: then He sends them forth, founding their mission on the peace given, and putting in their hands the administration of the forgiveness of sins, communicating the Holy Ghost to them. Finally, the Jewish remnant at the end, which believes when it sees, but which does not enjoy the same privileges as those who believe during His absence, at a time when we do not see. Thomas (the remnant) would not receive the testimony that had been borne to him of the resurrection of Jesus.

306 John 21

This last chapter is purposely mysterious, and it presents to us what will take place when Jesus returns; but besides, the restoration of Peter's soul after his fall. Verses 1-14 shew what follows the return of Jesus, the third time He shews Himself. The first time is the day of His resurrection; the second time, a week after, when Thomas was there; these two occasions present the remnant become the church, and the remnant at the end. Here, in this chapter, it is what is called the millennium. It is the third time that Jesus shews Himself to them, when they are together; in figure it was first of all for Christians, then for the Jewish remnant, and finally for the Gentile world. This is why Jesus had already here some fish on the fire, that is to say, the Jewish remnant. But, throwing the net into the sea of nations, the disciples gather together a mass of fish, without however, the net breaking. In the beginning (Luke 5) they had taken a mass of people, but then the net gets broken. The administrative order that contained the fish could not keep them according to that order, but here the presence of the risen Saviour changes everything. Nothing breaks, and He is again associated with His own, and in the power of the fruit of His work.

307 After this mysterious scene, He restores Peter, but it is by probing his heart, in making him known to himself. This is what the Lord always does. Peter had said, that if all denied Him, he would not. The Saviour asks him if he loved Him more than the others loved Him. Peter appeals to the knowledge that the Saviour had; Jesus confides His lambs to him. Once humbled, and having lost all confidence in ourselves, the Lord can confide to us that which is most dear to His heart: "Feed my lambs," He says to him. Note well that Jesus does not reproach Peter with anything that he had done, but that He goes, for his good, lo the very bottom of his soul, even to that false confidence in himself that had brought about his fall. Then, repeating His question even to the third time, which should have recalled to Peter his denial, three times repeated, He widens the sphere of His confidence, and says to him, "Take care of my sheep." Peter had strengthened the expression of his affection,* saying, "Thou knowest that thou art dear to me." The Lord takes up the word, and says, "Am I dear to thee?" Peter was troubled because the Lord again called in question his affection, and said to Him: "Thou knowest all things, thou knowest that thou art dear to me." He appeals to that knowledge that sounds all hearts, but this was to confess that it needed that in order to know it; for, according to all appearances, when put to the proof, he shewed himself unfaithful at the moment that demanded devotedness on his part, and men might have said that Peter had proved a hypocrite. But, thank God, notwithstanding all our weaknesses, there is One who knows what He Himself has put at the bottom of our hearts, and if He searches us and compels us to know both ourselves, and the root of evil in us, He recognises still deeper down that which He has created there; blessed be His name; and He overwhelms with grace that which His grace has put there, and trusts, once we are humbled enough, this grace in us, maintained, however, by the continual flow of His grace.

{*The two first times, Jesus says to Peter: "Lovest thou me?" using the Greek word agapao. Peter answers always, using the word phileo: "Thou art dear to me"; and the latter is the word that Jesus employs the third time.}

308 We see further in this passage, how dear His sheep are to Jesus. It is of them He thinks in going away, to provide their food and the care they need. But there is more in His grace towards poor Peter. He had lost the fine opportunity he had had. To save his life he had denied the Saviour, and that which the want of faith had lost is not always given back, even if something better be given us. If we cross the Jordan,* we cannot go up the mountain of the Amorites any more, we wander in the barren desert. Only, God accomplishes His counsels. But here, the strength of Peter's will having been proved to be weakness before the power of the enemy, the immense blessing of suffering and even of dying for the Lord is granted to him; and that should take place, when it should no longer be a question of his will, but of submission to the power of others, where his faithfulness should be set in a clear light. Another should bind him, and carry him whither he would not. He should die, after all, for the Lord. It is then, when there is no more will of our own, no more strength, that we can follow the Lord.

{*Read and compare Numbers 13 and Deuteronomy 1.}

Afterwards, in terms purposely mysterious, John's ministry and work are stated. The lambs and sheep of Jesus were the Jewish believers confided thus to Peter. The testimony was to be rejected by the nation, and terminated by Peter's death. But it should be otherwise with that of John. Peter, who sees him also following Jesus, asks the Lord what would happen to him. "If I will," says the Saviour, "that he remain till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me!" He did not say, as was supposed, that he would not die; but in fact his ministry makes known the ways of God to the end. All is left in suspense after him, until Jesus come, whilst the sphere of Peter's ministry has disappeared from off the earth.

Remark, too, that it is no question here of Paul's ministry. Peter had the ministry of the circumcision; the earth was the scene of it, and the promises its object, leading at the same time individually to heaven. John, whilst revealing the Person of the Son and eternal life come down from heaven, occupies himself also with that which is upon earth, then with the government and the judgment of God at the Saviour's manifestation down here. Paul treats of God's counsels in Christ, and of His work, to introduce us into the same heavenly glory, like Him before the Father, His brethren already down here. This is not the subject of our Gospel.