The Doors were Shut.

John 20:19: Acts 21:30.

A meditation on the two occasions in the New Testament where the above phrase occurs yields refreshment and divine instruction to those who seek to be devoted to Christ in a day of widespread confusion in the religious world. In John 20:19 we read, "Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you;" and in Acts 21:30 it is recorded that "they took Paul and drew him out of the Temple; and forthwith the doors were shut." A comparison of these two incidents, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, cannot fail to give us food for our souls, and light for our minds and steps. There is teaching for us in relation to our gathering together in the first Scripture, whilst the second has its application to us as servants of the Lord.

Three things of particular interest are found in the first Scripture: firstly, it was the evening of "the first day of the week;" this in contrast to the Sabbath, the seventh day; and clearly shows that a new dispensation and testimony are in view — Christianity. Secondly, it was "where the disciples were assembled;" indicating what is connected with the Lord's people in a collective way. Thirdly, there was "fear of the Jews." In John's Gospel, the Jews are the inhabitants of Judea, who united with the rulers of the people in bitter hostility to the Lord Jesus. In them is expressed the earthly, religious man, who is opposed to all that is heavenly: the instrument for Satan's designs and attacks upon the blessed Lord, His testimony and His people. This is abundantly clear from our Lord's words to the Jews in John 8:44, "Ye are of your father the devil; and also from verse 41. "Ye do the deeds of your father." Here we find their spiritual origin and moral character.

John, in his Gospel, gives prominence to the blessed Lord's divinity and heavenly origin: He is eternal in His being and Person (John 1:1-3), and yet " The Son of Man which is in heaven" (John 3:13). Throughout the Gospel we see Him as the Son, the Sent One of the Father, a divine Person with a heavenly mission on earth. But this part of Scripture shows that to oppose the Lord and His heavenly work on earth, the devil can use those who boast in religious ancestry and privileges, and who are marked by religious pretension, for we read in John 5:16 "The Jews persecuted Jesus," and in verse 18 "The Jew's sought the more to kill Him." Again in John 6:41, "The Jews therefore murmured about Him:" in John 7:1 "The Jews sought to kill Him;" in John 8:48, they insult Him, and accuse Him of having a demon: in John 9 they revile one of His disciples and cast him out (verses 18-34); in John 18 they cried "all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas" (verses 31, 40); and in John 19:15, the depth of their moral degradation is evident by their unanimous cry, "Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him." Thus we see that not only is the work of the blessed Lord opposed, but that He Himself is refused and put to death by "The Jews," showing that those born and nurtured in earthly religion, can be hostile to the last degree to what is of Christ. This being so, it is easy to see the reason for the statement, "the doors were shut … for fear of the Jews." Christ having risen from the dead, meets "His own" on truly Christian ground, where everything is of a new order, heavenly in character. The disciples, being assembled, foreshadow the assembly, of which they were indeed the nucleus and representative. This is what the devil seeks to corrupt and destroy, but the doors being shut indicate the complete separation of the new company and testimony from the earthly religious order represented by "The Jews." One has said, in commenting on another portion of Scripture, "There is an enemy behind who can take advantage of the mind no less than of the body, and whose artifice it is to array falsehood with a fairer garb than the truth, and so not only to gain admission for what is false, but thereby also to expel or undermine what is true." The Spirit of God forewarned the saints of the danger of infiltration of the principles of earthly religion into the Christian testimony (2 Cor. 11:14).

But if the closed doors excluded all that would harm the new company with its precious testimony, how sweet was the holy communion between the Lord and His own. In the place of separation. And such sweet and holy communion can be ours today, if in faithfulness to the Lord we keep the doors shut to all that would defile, to all that is inconsistent with the holiness of His Name. Standing in their midst, the Lord says to them, "Peace unto you," for only in His company can true peace be known. Then He reminds them of His sufferings and death, and so enlightens them as to the greatness of His love. With the peace of His presence, and the knowledge of His love, it is not surprising that we read, "Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord." He next commissions them for service, saying, "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you." Finally He gives them the Spirit of life, by which they were associated with Him in His own life as the risen Man, in the new sphere into which He now brought them. What a sweet, happy and profitable experience must have been that first interview between the blessed Lord and His disciples behind the doors that were shut.

The comparison of the lovely scene just considered with the state of the church in Rev. 3:14-20 manifests what has been lost. In John 20 the closed doors separate the Lord with His own from the evil without; in the Apocalypse the closed door separates the Lord from those who, professing His Name, are corrupted by the evil that should have been kept out. Again, in John, the Lord gives to His own a precious manifestation of Himself in the intimacy of love but in Revelation 3, the professing church is about to be spued out of His mouth, the penultimate and reluctant act of rejected love. What has reduced the professing church to the squalor and religious pride manifested in Laodicea? Is it not failure to keep the door shut to the principles of earthly religion set forth in "The Jews?" The church having left its first love (Rev. 2:4), has lost the sense of its heavenly calling. As a consequence spirituality and the ability to judge evil have been lost, and evil has been given easy access. The Jews, at the time of their rejection of Christ, were marked by great religious pretension, self-sufficiency, and low moral condition: and these same things characterise the professing church in the last days, for the flesh on which the devil works is the same in Gentile and Jew.

Has all this no voice for us? Many local gatherings, that have sought to maintain the truth of the assembly, have eventually been lost in the confusion of Christendom because they failed to maintain the separation taught by Scripture. Opening the doors a little at first to permit the entrance of some idea, apparently unimportant and innocent, but be-longing to the religious world, the thin edge of the wedge has entered slowly but surely to accomplish the desires of the enemy. May we therefore, in our various localities, seek to maintain the testimony of the Lord in its purity, so as to enjoy the sweet communion of our blessed risen Lord, which was the blessed portion of His own on the first resurrection evening; and when we gather to His Name we shall indeed "worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness" (Psalm 29:2).

But if the precious portion in John's Gospel speaks to us in connection with the Christian testimony in its collective aspect, the incident in Acts 21:30 gives us as individuals a grave warning. The beloved Apostle, after years of devoted, energetic and faithful service to the blessed Lord, on the advice of prominent brethren, enters the Temple in association with men who had a vow; which results in the people drawing him out of the Temple, "and forthwith the doors were shut; " as though God was indicating that His people should be clean outside all connected with the religion of man after the flesh. It was doubtless his great love for his brethren after the flesh that had brought Paul into such circumstances, but the place for the Christian in regard to all connected with Judaism, and all earthly religion, has been clearly stated in the epistle to the Hebrews, "Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach" (Heb. 13:13). This exhortation proves beyond controversy, firstly, that the blessed Lord is now outside of Judaism (see also John 10:3, 16); and secondly, that the believing Jews who originally had a rightful place there — are urged to leave it. Judaism could rightly claim to be a divine institution: but the same divine authority that introduced it has set it aside. If then the Lord has thus dealt with Judaism, He can have no pleasure in the various imitations of Judaism with which Christendom abounds. Consequently, those who are Christ's, united to Him, according to Acts 9:5, should be with Him, outside of all that which is the practical denial of the truths of His Headship and of the assembly.

Of the Philadelphians it could be said that, though possessing "a little strength" they had kept the word of the Lord, and had not denied His Name; that is they were not associated with anything inconsistent with the profession of His Name. For this faithful company the Lord had "an open door" which no man could shut (Rev. 3:8); a door into all the precious truth revealed in His word. The Lord still delights to maintain this open door for the faithful, so that they may still hear His voice clearly and distinctly above all the multitudinous voices around them that clamour for attention. May we therefore be prepared to practise true separation to Christ, and so be able to avail ourselves of His "open door."
Leonard Steeds.