Accordingly, at the opening of this chapter, we so find it. Jesus has risen, the Bruiser of the serpent; becoming through death the Destroyer of him that had the power of death.
Here I may turn aside for a moment to observe with what force the Spirit of God, all through Scripture, unfolds the mysteries of life and death. He would impress our souls with a very deep sense of this, that we have lost life, and, as far as we can act, have lost it irrecoverably, but that we have regained it in Christ, and regained it in Him infallibly and for ever.
God is "the living God." As such He is acting in this scene of death. He has come into the midst of it as the living God. How could He have come otherwise? Surely we may say, to the glory of His name, He has not been here, if not in that character. And His victory as the living God in this scene of death is resurrection. If resurrection be denied, God is not known, and that the living God has been here, and interfered with the conditions of this ruined, death-stricken world, is denied.
It is blessed to see this; and yet it is a truth very sure and simple. Into Himself as the living God, into Himself, or the resources which His own glory or nature provided, He has retreated, and there acted apart from the world, and above the scene which has involved itself in death. If His creature have been untrue, His creature of highest dignity, set by Him over the works of His hands; if Adam have disappointed Him, so to speak, revolted from Him, and brought in death, God has (blessed to tell it!) looked to Himself, and drawn from Himself; and there, in His own resources, in the provisions which He Himself supplies, He finds the remedy. And this is, in His victory as the living God, which victory is resurrection, His own resource of life in despite of the conquests of sin and death, let these conquests take what form they may. This is what He has been doing in this world. Let death appear, let the judgment of sin be ready to be executed, He is seen providing atonement for sins, and bringing forth a living thing from under the righteous doom and judgment of death. The risen Jesus now seals all this to us.
This was the third, the appointed day--the day on which Abraham of old had received his son as from the dead--the day of promised revival to Israel (Hosea 6: 2)--the day, also, on which Jonah was on dry land again.
But the disciples do not as yet know their Lord in resurrection They know Him only "after the flesh;" and therefore Mary Magdalene is seen early at the sepulchre, seeking His body; and, in the same mind Peter and his companion run to the sepulchre shortly after her, their bodily strength. merely, and not the intelligence of faith, carrying them there. And there they behold, not their Object, but the trophies of His victory over the power of death. There they see the gates of brass and the bars of iron cut in sunder. The linen clothes and the napkin which had been wrapped about the Lord's head as though He were death's prisoner were there seen like the spoils of the vanquished, as under the hand of death's conqueror. The very armour of the strong man was made a show of in his own house; this telling loudly that He Who is the plague of death, and hell's destruction, had been lately in that place, doing His glorious work. But, in spite of all this, the disciples understand not; they as yet know not the scripture, that He must rise from the dead; and they go away again to their own home.
Mary, however, lingers about the sacred spot, refusing to be comforted, because her Lord was not. She would fain have taken sackcloth, and, like another, spread it for her on the rock, could she but find His body to watch and to keep it. She wept, and stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, and saw the angels. But what were the angels to her? The sight of them does not terrify her, as it had the other women (Mark 16); she was too much occupied with other thoughts to be moved by them. They were, it is true, very illustrious, sitting there in white, and in heavenly state, too; one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. But what was all splendour to her? The dead body of her Lord was what she sought and desired alone; and she has only to turn from these heavenly glories, in further search of it; and then seeing, as she judged, the gardener, she says to him, "Sir, if thou have borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away." She simply says, "If thou have borne Him hence," not naming Jesus; for, fond woman as she was, she supposes that every one must be as full of her Lord as she was.
Well, beloved, this may have been but human passion and ignorant affection; still it was spent on Jesus. And would that something more of the temper of it were shed abroad in our hearts. Her affection sought a right object, though it sought it not wisely; and in the wonted kindness and grace of Him with Whom she had to do, He gives her the fruit of it. To her who had, more was given. She had learnt thoroughly the lesson of knowing Christ "after the flesh." She was the truest of all to that; and her Lord will now lead her to richer knowledge of Himself. He will take her up to higher regions than as yet she thought of, to the "mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense." Cant. 4: 6.
To do this in all gentleness, He first answers her human affection, letting her once again hear her own name on His well-known voice. That was just the note which was in full unison with all that was then in her heart. It was the only note to which her soul could have responded. Had He appeared to her in heavenly glory He would still have been a Stranger to her. But this must be the last time she was to apprehend Him "after the flesh." For He is now risen from the dead, and is on His way to the Father in heaven, and earth must no longer be the scene of their communion. "Touch Me not," says He to her, for I am not yet ascended to My Father."
I need not, perhaps, observe how fully characteristic of our Gospel all this is. In Matthew, on the contrary, we see the women, on their return from the sepulchre, meeting the Lord, and the Lord allowing them to hold His feet, and to worship Him; but here, it is to Mary, "Touch Me not." For this Gospel tells us of the Son in the midst of the heavenly family, and not in His royalty in Israel and in His earthly glory. The resurrection, it is most true, pledges all that earthly glory and kingdom to Him (Acts 13: 34); but it was also one stage to the heavenly places; and that is the feature of it which our Gospel gives us.
Mary, as we have seen, is entitled to be the first to learn these greater ways of His grace and love, and also to be the happy bearer of the same good tidings from this far and unknown country to the brethren. Jesus says to her, "Go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God."*
*And here, again, I would notice another characteristic difference in the Gospels. In Matthew the message was, to meet Him in Galilee; and, accordingly, the disciples do so--but here He does not name any place on earth; He simply tells them that He was going to heaven, there in spirit to meet them, before His Father and their Father, His God and their God.
Thus is she honoured, and she goes to prepare the brethren for their Lord, while He prepares to meet them with a blessing beyond all which they had as yet attained. And her tidings seem to have got them all in readiness for Him; for on His seeing them, the evening of the same day, they are not amazed and in unbelief, as they are in Luke's Gospel, but seem all to be waiting and in expectation. They are no longer scattered as before (v. 10), but folded together as the family of God, and He, as the elder Brother, enters in, laden with the fruit of His holy travail for them.
This was a meeting indeed. It was a visit to the family of the heavenly Father by the First-born. It was in a place that lay beyond death, and outside the world. And such is the appointed place of meeting with our Lord. Those who in spirit stay in the world never meet Him. For He is the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of strangers and pilgrims. The world is a defiled place, and we must meet Him in resurrection, in the kingdom that is not of the world.
So was it here with the Lord and His brethren. He now, for the first time, really meets them, meets them in the appointed place outside the world, and meets them in no less character than that of His own brethren. Now it was that He began to pay His vows. He had made them on the cross. Ps. 22. First, that He would declare the Father's name to the brethren; secondly, that in the midst of the Church He would sing His praise. The first of these He was now beginning to pay, and has been paying all through the present dispensation, making known to our souls the name of the Father through the Holy Ghost. And the second He will as certainly pay when the congregation of all the brethren is gathered, and when He leads their songs in resurrection joy for ever.
Now also is the promised life actually imparted. "Yet a little while, and the world seeth Me no more; but ye see Me: because I live, ye shall live also." The Son of God, having life in Himself, now comes with it to His saints. He breathes on them now, as of old He breathed into man's nostrils. Gen. 2. Only this was the breath of the last Adam, the quickening Spirit, Who had a life to impart that was won from the power of death, and which was therefore beyond its utmost reach. The brethren are now given to know the peace of the cross. He shows them His hands and His side. Their sorrow is turned into joy, for they were glad "when they saw the Lord." He was revealing Himself to them as He does not unto the world. The world, in this little interview, was quite shut out; and the disciples, as hated of the world, are shut up within their own enclosure, just in the place to get a special manifestation of Himself to them, as He had said unto them. John 14: 22-24. In the world they were knowing tribulation, but in Him peace.
All this was theirs in this brief but blessed visit of "the Firstborn from the dead" to His brethren, imparting to them the blessing which belonged to them as children. And thus this little intercourse was a sample of the communion which we enjoy in this dispensation. Our communion with Christ does not change our condition in the world, or make us happy in mere circumstances. It leaves us in a place of trial; but we are happy in Himself, in the full sense of His presence and favour. We are taught to know our oneness with Christ; and, through our adoption, and fellowship with the Father, we enjoy settled peace; we are glad because of Him risen from the dead, and have life in the risen Lord imparted to us. As we lately saw the armour of the conquered enemy upon the distant field of battle, so here do we see the fruit of victory brought home to gladden and assure the kindred of the Conqueror. Poorly indeed some of us know all this.
And these fruits of the victory of the Son of God were now commanded to be carried about in holy triumph all the world over. "As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you," says the Lord to His brethren. With a message, not of judgment, but of grace, had He Himself come forth from the Father. And with a commission of the same grace are the brethren sent forth. They are sent forth from the Lord of life and peace, and with such a ministry they test the condition of every living soul. The message they bear is from the Son of the Father, a message of peace and life secured in and by Himself; and the word then was, and still is, "He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life"--and the Lord adds, making them, in this, the test of the condition of every one, as having the Son or not, "Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained."
Such was the Lord's first interview with His disciples, after He had risen from the dead. It has set before us the saints, as the children of the Father, and their ministry as such, and given us a sample, or firstfruits, of that harvest in the Holy Ghost which they have been gathering ever since in this dispensation.
And though it may draw me aside for a little space, I cannot refuse noticing, that the ministry committed to the disciples by the Lord, after He rose from the dead, takes a distinct character in each of the Gospels. And as each of the Gospels has a distinct purpose (according to which all the narratives are selected and recorded), so the various language used by the Lord in each of the Gospels, in committing this ministry to His disciples, is to be accounted for, and interpreted by, the specific character of the Gospel itself.
In Matthew this commission runs thus:--"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." Now, this commission was strictly to the apostles, who had been already ordained by the Lord, and associated with Him as Minister of the circumcision. Rom. 15: 8. It contemplated them as in Jerusalem, and going forth from thence for the discipling of all nations, and for the keeping of them in the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. For it is the purpose of that Gospel to present the Lord in Jewish connection as the Hope of Israel, to Whom the gathering of the nations was to be. And, accordingly, the conversion of nations, and the settlement of the whole world around Jerusalem as the centre of worship, is assumed. A system of restored and obedient nations rejoicing with Israel will be exhibited by-and-by; and the risen Lord looks to that, when committing ministry to His apostles in the Gospel by Matthew.*
*I may observe, that Israel had not, as yet, fully shut the door of hope against themselves. The testimony of the Holy Ghost to the risen Jesus by the apostles at Jerusalem, had not as yet been rejected. The possibility of that testimony being received might be assumed; and the Lord seems to assume it in Matthew's Gospel.
But in Mark, this prospect of national conversion is a good deal qualified. The terms of the commission are these: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature: he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." It is not the discipling of nations that is contemplated, but universal testimony with partial acceptance. For Mark presents the Lord in service or ministry, and the case of some receiving the Word, and some receiving it not, is anticipated, because such are the results that have attended on all ministry of the Word; as it is said in one place, "Some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not."
In Luke the Lord, after interpreting Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms, and opening the understanding of the disciples to understand them, delivers ministry to them in this way: "Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of My Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high." This commission does not appear to have been strictly to the eleven, but others were addressed by it. See Luke 24: 33. And their ministry was to begin with Jerusalem, and not from it. And they are not allowed to go forth in their ministry till they had received new power, thus allowing that what they had received from Jesus, while on earth, was not sufficient. And all this was a breaking away from mere earthly or Jewish order. This was, therefore, the commission with something of an altered character, suitable to this Gospel by Luke, which presents the Lord more abroad, and not strictly in Jewish association.
But now, in our Gospel by John, we do not get this commission at all, nor any mention of "power from on high."* We simply get, as I have been noticing, the life of the risen Man imparted, and then the disciples, with that life in them, sent out to test, by virtue of it, the condition of every living soul. The Lord gives them their ministry as from heaven, and not from the mountain in Galilee. He sends them forth from the Father, and not from Jerusalem. For, in our Gospel, the Lord has left all recollections of Jerusalem behind, and has given up, for the present, all hope of restoring Israel and gathering the nations.
*Indeed, the word "apostles" does not once occur in this Gospel; and this is still in character with it.
This variety in the terms of this commission and ministry is very striking; and, considering the different purposes of each Gospel, it is exquisite and perfect. The mere reasoner may stumble at it, and the man who honours the Scripture, and would fain preserve its fair reputation, may attempt many ways to show the literal consistency of these things. But the Word of God, beloved, does not ask for protection from man. It seeks for no apologies to be made for it, however well-intentioned. In all this there is no incongruity, but only variety; and that variety perfectly answering the divers purposes of the same Spirit. And, though thus various, every thought and every word in each are equally and altogether divine; and we have only to bless our God for the sureness, and comfort, and sufficiency of His own most perfect testimonies.
But this, brethren, by the way, desiring that the Lord may keep our minds in all our meditations, and in all the counsels of our hearts.
We left the Lord in company with His brethren. He was putting them into their condition as children of the Father, and raising them to heavenly places. But He has purposes touching Israel, as well as the Church. In the latter day He will call them to repentance and faith giving them their due standing and ministry also. And these things we shall have now in order unfolded before us.
Thomas, we read, was not with the brethren when the Lord visited them. He did not keep his first estate, but was absent, while the little gathering were holding themselves in readiness for their risen Lord; and now he refuses to believe his brethren, without the further testimony of his own hands and eyes. And the Jews, to this day, like Thomas then, are refusing the gospel or good tidings of the risen Lord.
All, however, was not to end thus. Thomas recovers his place, and "after eight days" is in company with the brethren again; and then Jesus presents Himself to him. For this second visit was for Thomas's sake. And the unbelieving disciple is led to own Him as his Lord and his God. As by-and-by, "after eight days," after a full week or dispensation has run its course, it will be said in the land of Israel, "Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation." Israel will own Immanuel then; and as the Lord here accepts Thomas, so will He then say to Israel, "Thou art My people."
But here we are to notice something further significant. The Lord accepts Thomas, it is most true, but at the same time says to him, "Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." And so with Israel in the latter day. They shall know the peace of the cross, the full peace of the wounded hand and side of Jesus here shown to Thomas; but they shall take a blessing inferior to that of the Church. They shall get life from the Son of God; but they shall only walk on the footstool, while the Church will be sitting on the throne. Rev. 5.
Here the mystery of life, whether to the Church now, or to Israel by-and-by, closes, and our evangelist, accordingly, for a moment pauses. This was the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, whosoever believeth which has life in His name. Many other things might have been added, but these were enough to attest the Son, and thus to be the seed of life. The third witness from God had now been heard. The water and the blood had come forth from the crucified Son, and now the Spirit was given by the risen Son. The three that bear witness on earth had been heard, and the testimony from God, that He "hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son," was therefore complete; and our evangelist just says, "These are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name."