"These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." (John 14:25-26)
Earlier this month (May 8), Anonymous commented on "Holy Ostracism," and a good part of his comment can be summed up in one question he asked: "I am wondering why Paul has any say in the matter at all? Why don't we seek Jesus and what he said and did as an example for all of us?" It seemed to Jailer and me that it might be profitable to begin a series of posts in response on subjects suggested by this. This post is intended to be part of that. (The portrait to the left is El Greco's of Paul.)
If we survey the Synoptic Gospels, one fact that should jump out at us is the emphasis they all place on our Lord's final journey to Jerusalem and what happened there: Mark's Gospel being the one that is the most "action-oriented", it's often used as the starting point for attempts to organize a narrative of events. This Gospel has 16 chapters. Chapter 10, verse 1 reads, "And he left there [Capernaum] and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan." As one continues in this chapter, it's clear that this is the final journey. (Verse 32 begins, "And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, ....") In Matthew's Gospel, which has 28 chapters, it's Chapter 19 where the final journey begins in verse 1, "Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan." Luke's Gospel has 24 chapters and Chapter 18 is clearly parallel to Mark 10. By Chapter 19, it's explicit that the final journey is in view. Summing up then, we can say that, in Mark's Gospel, the final journey and its aftermath occupies 7 of 16 chapters, in Matthew's Gospel, 10 of 28 chapters, and in Luke's Gospel, 7 of 24. (Much material having to do with His final journey in Luke's Gospel can actually be found in Chapter 9. But it seems best not to overstate things by saying that 16 of the 24 chapters are focused on the end of Our Lord's ministry here.)
John's Gospel is very different in tone from the others and it can be hard to match parts of it up with a narrative thread. (In the Eastern Church, John is referred to as "The Theologian".) Nonetheless, the account of the raising of Lazarus in Chapter 11 is clearly just before the final events in Jerusalem, and, by Chapter 12, we are explicitly in Jerusalem for the last time. So 11 of the 21 chapters are concerned with the end.
Why did He go? What did He come to do? He first announced this explicitly to his disciples shortly before the final journey. This announcement came immediately after Peter's confession of Him as the Christ (Mt. 16:13-20; Mk. 8:27-30; Lk. 9:18-21). In response, He taught them "... that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly." (Mk. 8:31,32a) THIS is why He went. THIS is why He came: "... the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mk. 10:45)
What was the response of the disciples? In response to this first announcement, "... Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him." (Mk. 8:32b) And how did Our Lord respond to that? "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." (Mk. 8:33b) The impression one gets here about the understanding of the disciples is reinforced by their response to two further announcements: In the first, just after His Transfiguration and before He began His final journey, the response of the disciples was shortly thereafter to get into an argument over which of them was the greatest. (Mk. 9:30-37) In the second, just before Jericho on the final journey, the response of the disciples was chagrin over a request by James and John to sit at His right hand in His Kingdom. (Mk. 10:32-45) So, taking all this together, it seems hardly unfair to the disciples to say that, "They just didn't get it at all!"
So Our Lord told His disciples WHAT He had come to do and, briefly, WHY. But, to put it mildly, His students were nowhere near being ready to receive extended teaching on the subject. That would have to wait until after Pentecost, and He explicitly told them what that event would do for their understanding: "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, ...." (John 16:13a)
Consider the difference that Pentecost would make: Just a short while before, after first hearing that Our Lord "must" go to Jerusalem and die, Peter had rebuked Him. Then, on the eve of Our Lord's death, Peter denied Him. (Mk. 14:66-72) But, on the day of Pentecost, he was able to proclaim, "This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you are seeing and hearing." (Acts 2:32,33) As for the effect that the passage of time, and the teaching of the Spirit would have on Peter's understanding, one has only to read his two letters in the New Testament to see that.
Paul, of course, was a special case: He not only "didn't get it", he had been "a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent." (1 Tim. 1:13a) How he was changed from that to a disciple of Christ is described in Acts 9, and most of us are probably familiar with what happened on "the road to Damascus". We may not be as familiar with what followed that: "For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ." (Gal. 1:11,12) And Paul's progress in instruction by Christ's Spirit was not an overnight matter: "I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas ...." (Gal. 1:16b-18a)
What these men were able to do through the preaching of the gospel and the work of Christ's Spirit was a wonderful fulfillment of His promise to His disciples just before His death: "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. .... And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever." (John 14:12, 16). The writings they left behind are a priceless treasure. We should view what we see there as Our Lord's post-Penteconstal message to us. At the beginning of Luke's "Acts of the Apostles", he told Theophilus that his Gospel had "dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach" (1:1b). The inference is that the Book of Acts has to do with what He continued to do and teach through His apostles.
Some of us may have heard Augustine's dictum in regard to the Old and New Testaments that, "The New is in the Old concealed, the Old is in the New revealed". I'd like to suggest an expansion of that to the relationship between what we find in the Gospels, especially the Synoptic Gospels, and what we find in the Apostolic writings of the New Testament: The full meaning of what Christ came to do is, for the most part, concealed in the Gospels, because His church was not yet empowered by His Spirit to understand it. It was left to the teaching of His Apostles after Pentecost to fully reveal it. That's pretty much the opposite of the view that was proposed by Anonymous, but I think it's the right one.