Christ of the Gospels as Seen in the Epistles

Nothing that touches the person of Christ, for good or evil, can be without interest to any heart that has learned His value. In view of this we may profitably look at the way in which He is presented by the Holy Ghost in the writings of the New Testament other than the Gospels, but in relation to them; that is to say, the Gospels' character of Christ as it is enshrined in the other books of the New Testament.
As might well be expected, these writings, emanating from the same Master-hand, contain many historical additions to the Gospel narrative of incalculable value, besides wonderfully beautiful touches that tend to heighten and complete the divine transcript.
In Acts 1 we learn, as nowhere else, the fact of the Lord's continuance on earth after His resurrection for forty days, during which He was seen of His disciples, making known to them His valedictory commands, and speaking to them of the kingdom of God. Also the special question which, when gathered together, they preferred before Him as to the time of the restoration of the kingdom again to Israel. This elicited that momentous word of His designed, without setting the kingdom aside, to direct their hearts to the coming in of the Holy Ghost—an unseen spiritual power—with all that it carried with it to faith, signifying that it was not Israel in revived glory and a Messiah in displayed power that He would set before their hearts, but a refused and departing Savior bringing in a time of testimony, in which the Holy Ghost and they were to be His witnesses, as also He had Himself said before He suffered. (John 15:26, 2726But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: 27And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26‑27).) Of the One bated without a cause the Holy Ghost and they were to be the witnesses; all this had faded from their minds, and the Lord's latest breath on earth was expended in re-enforcing it upon their souls (Acts 1:88But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:8)), expressing as it does the whole character of the period until He return. We all know that the first word with which He met His disciples in resurrection at the beginning of these forty days was, “Peace unto you,” expressing their portion in Him; and now, in the closing moment before He ascended, He clearly suggests that His portion would be in them (“Ye shall be witnesses unto me"), and the Holy Ghost's advent would be the incoming of power unto this specific end. Nor is it unimportant for us to see that it is as the refused One of men He is received up, and it is as associated with this refused Man, the Christ of that glory into which He has entered, that they go forth joint-witnesses with the Holy Ghost. And, indeed, we may fittingly go much further, for it is in fact the key-note of the whole period of His absence. He went away as the refused Man, and is that refused Man to-day. He constituted His disciples, in the presence and power of the Holy Ghost, His witnesses in the scene of His refusal, even unto the uttermost part of the earth, and it goes without saying that just such, if up to our calling, is what we are to Himself this day.
And then that wonderful attendant cloud, the mysterious indication of the divine presence and favor, received Him into its bosom, and He was taken up into glory!
Thus we clearly see man's new place. In heaven, as the risen and the exalted Man, He was received up into glory, out of sight, gone into the Father's house; we in Christ there. On earth, as His witnesses, we go forth in the unseen power of the Holy Ghost, as associated with the refused One; Christ in us here. Man's new place is thus defined both in heaven and on earth. There is also a further thing in the fact that, after His resurrection, it was through the Holy Ghost that He wrought and spoke (for it is safe to conclude that if He spake by the Holy Ghost as Acts 1:22Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: (Acts 1:2), so He wrought by Him as John 21) As pointed out by another, we may surely infer from this that the Holy Ghost will be the unhindered power of our service and our worship, of our communion and our enjoyment, in the glory itself. Oh how suggestive is it to our souls of the unlimited potentialities of the blessedness in store for the saints!
In like manner as He had gone away should He return; such is the brief but reassuring declaration which the two white-robed ones make to His bereaved disciples, and this closes Luke's personal testimony concerning the now glorified Nazarene.
In the next chapter, as also in chapters 3 and 10, we have the bold and courageous, no less than the noble and elevated, testimony of Peter. In Acts 2 how he identifies God with the Christ of the Gospels, a Man approved of God amongst them, whose wonders and miracles God did by Him. Equally by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God had He been delivered into their hands for death, out of which death God had raised Him, they being witnesses; by the right hand of God had He been exalted, and the same Jesus whom they had crucified God had constituted Lord and Christ. In chapter 3 how incisively does he charge home to their souls that they had denied the Holy One and the Just, and killed the Originator of life; but, as for God, He had shown by the mouth of all His prophets that Christ should so suffer, and so had He fulfilled it. But He had been fore-ordained for them, and God had raised up His servant Jesus, and unto them first had sent Him to bless them, in turning away every one of them from his iniquities. How beautiful and how precious such grace to the guilty nation. In chapter x. a few striking touches complete what we would point out in Peter's testimony in the Acts. He declares of “Jesus, who was of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power; who went through all quarters doing good, and healing all that were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” So much for His life in the flesh; as to His death, slain of the Jews, who hanged Him on a cross, “this Man God raised up the third day, and gave Him to be openly seen, not of all the people, but of witnesses who were chosen before of God,” who ate and drank with Him after He arose from among the dead. Finally, as to their testimony, “He it is who was determinately appointed of God to be judge of living and dead.” In the compass of five verses does the apostle, in rapid transition, bring to view these four things—His devoted service, His death of shame, His manifested resurrection, and His judicial title and appointment.
We turn now to Stephen (Acts 7): he accuses the Jews, his persecutors, of having betrayed and murdered the Just One. This they can bear, but when he adds that the law they had received by the disposition of angels they had not kept, their gnashing teeth declared how much more serious in their eyes was law breaking than shedding the blood of the Pretender of Nazareth, which, in their unequaled moral turpitude, they deemed Him to be. Stephen's shining face of angelic beauty, illumined by no created sun, but by a glory which reached him from beyond its orbit, is upturned of the Holy Ghost to heaven, looking steadfastly into which the martyr saw not only the glory of God, but Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Lo, I behold the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” It is enough; they stop their ears, clamoring for the life of him who had testified that their slaughtered Victim was standing at the right hand of God! That they had murdered Him stirred them not, that they had broken the law made them gnash their teeth, but that the One they had slain was in the glory of God, was the signal for his life to be forfeited, and, thirsting for his blood, with one accord they make the fatal rush which conveyed him into the presence of his Lord.
Passing by Philip, the character of whose testimony is summed up by the Holy Ghost in the one pregnant and unsurpassable word, “Jesus,” we come to Paul. At the very outset of his service the page of inspiration points out the apostle's predominating note, that Jesus is the Son of God. Eight or ten years later, at Antioch in Pisidia, in another synagogue, the burden of his testimony is still the same. Not only was that blessed One unknown to the habitués of Jerusalem, but so also were the voices of the prophets speaking of Him, though read every sabbath-day, and thus they became unwittingly the fulfillers of prophecy by their condemnation of Him. Desiring that He should be slain, and fulfilling all that was written, they took Him down from the tree, and laid Him in a sepulcher, God raising Him from the dead, and He seen for many days of them who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem.
But Paul then turns emphatically to the divine side of the picture. The former was what man had been doing; what had God? God had been fulfilling promises—wonderful thought! This Savior Jesus, of the seed of David, whom they had murderously slain, was the object of divine promise to the fathers, as well as of prophecy by the prophets. They had been fulfilling prophecy in their consummate wickedness, and God had been fulfilling promise in His abounding goodness! He had raised up Jesus in incarnation, according to Psa. 2, the Son of God begotten into the world in time, but He had been murdered! What then? Is it beyond all remedy? Shall God be defeated? Shall His eternal purposes be frustrated? No, God's resources of mercy were not exhausted. He had resurrection in reserve, and thus He had raised Him up again from the dead as the sure mercies of David, not seeing corruption, the Man of resurrection, an object for their faith By this Man was remission of sins afresh preached unto them. Marvelous grace! And now we close the Acts with that precious little revelation of hitherto-unrecorded utterance from the Master's lips—the words of the Lord Jesus, which He Himself said— “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
In the Romans we learn that He who was David's Son according to flesh was by resurrection demonstrated Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness present with Him: also that He was raised up from among the dead by the glory of the Father, and that God's not sparing Him, but delivering Him up for us all, is such a proof of God for us, that “all things” must needs follow in its wake. There, too, we have Him termed “Minister of the circumcision for the truth of God,” in which character He confirmed the promises of the fathers, and gave occasion, too, for the nations to glorify God for mercy.
In the Corinthians, as the crucified One, He was the burden of Paul's testimony among those polished Greeks, the only foundation which could be laid, the one Lord by whom all things, and we by Him. There we get the revelation He had made to Paul of the Supper on the night of His betrayal and desertion, with its touching reminiscences, the sacred and ever-recurring announcement of His death, to be perpetuated until He come. There also the apostle recapitulates the gospel he had preached—Christ's death according to the scriptures; His burial and resurrection according to the scriptures; and, further, His successive appearances before He ascended, in the course of which it is disclosed that on one occasion, probably by appointment with His Galilean disciples, He manifested Himself to a company of no less than five hundred brethren together. In the Second Epistle He is the Yea and Amen of all God's promises, who had been here reconciling the world unto God, not reckoning to them their offenses, but they would not; being rich, for our sakes had He become poor, that by His poverty we might be enriched, who was at length crucified in weakness, but lives by God's power.
Galatians states that He gave Himself for our sins to deliver us out of this present evil world, which was the will of God our Father; speaking personally, Paul says, “the Son of God, who has loved me, and given himself for me.” Ephesians, beginning with Him as dead, speaks of the transcendent power put forth by God, according to the working of the might of His strength (and which is to us-ward who believe) when He raised up Christ from the dead, and set Him down at His right hand in the heavenlies. It will be observed that here, in a remarkable way, we have resurrection and rapture into glory regarded as one combined and crowning act of the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory; not resurrection and ascension as distinct actions, with a forty days' interval between, but rather as the rehearsal and the pledge of that magnificent act of sovereign grace and divine power which shall in one mighty swoop lift every saint of God, whether buried in the grave or in the sea, or moving in the world, and deposit them in the Father's house, eternally attired in the beauty and perfection of Christ! The Cross comes before us, too, in a striking way in this epistle as the occasion of razing the Jewish wall of enclosure, annulling the enmity embodied in the law, and expressed in its ordinances, forming Jew and Gentile into one new man; He. who is our peace thus making peace, and Himself also the preacher of the glad tidings of peace, both to those afar off and to the nigh: moreover, as to the Cross, there comes out the love of Christ to the assembly, in that it is expressly stated He delivered up Himself for it.
Philippians, of all the epistolary writings, supplies the finest and fullest testimony to Christ in His humiliation, in the following incomparable verses: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus; who, subsisting in the form of God, did not esteem it an object of rapine to be on an equality with God, but emptied himself, taking a bondsman's form, taking his place in the likeness of men; and having been found in figure as a man, humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, and that the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and granted him a name, that which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of heavenly, and earthly, and infernal beings, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to God the Father's glory.”
Passing over Colossians, where it is rather the exalted Christ, Head over everything, and Thessalonians, occupied mainly with His return for His saints and His manifestation with them, all based, however, upon the alone foundation “that Jesus died and rose again,” we come to the apostle's letters to Timothy and Titus. Faithful is the word, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, giving Himself a ransom for all, having first witnessed before Pontius Pilate a good confession. God had manifested His purpose and grace by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who annulled death, and brought to light life and incorruptibility, being raised from the dead, of the seed of David, according to Paul's glad tidings. Thus had He given Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all lawlessness, and purify to Himself a peculiar people, zealous for good works.
Hebrews, in its wonderful combination of the earthly and heavenly glory of Christ, records His having by Himself made purification of sins, being made somewhat inferior to angels, on account of the suffering of death, which by the grace of God He tasted for everything, for it became God, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through suffering. The children being partakers of flesh and blood, He took part in the same, that through death Satan's power might be broken, and those who were a prey to the fear of death set free. For He had taken up no angels by the hand, but the seed of Abraham, having been made like unto His brethren, and having suffered and been tempted, that He might be to us all that He is. In the days of His flesh He had known the anguish of Gethsemane, when, however, He was heard (in contrast with the Cross, when He was not heard, Psa. 22:22O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent. (Psalm 22:2)), and was delivered when the time came, not from, but out of, the death into which He had gone. Thus had He obtained eternal redemption for us, in being once offered to bear the sins of many, and in the same at laid the basis on which, in another day, the sin of the world shall at length be taken away. To this end had He come, as written of in the volume of the book, to do God's will in the body of His preparing, through the offering up of that body once for all, which one sacrifice for sins allows of His sitting down in perpetuity, and of the Holy Ghost's witnessing to us that in perpetuity we are perfected. Leader and Finisher in the path of faith, He had endured the cross, despising the shame, undergoing the terrible contradiction of sinners against Himself, resisting unto blood, to sanctify the people by which He suffered without the gate.
Peter reminds us of the redemptive value of that “precious blood, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot, the blood of Christ, foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world, but who has been manifested at the end of the times for your sakes, who by him do believe in God, who has raised him up from among the dead, and given him glory, that your faith and hope should be in God.” Nor less beautifully does be present Him as our example: “For Christ also has suffered for you, leaving you a model that ye should follow in his steps; who did no sin, neither was guile found in his month; who when reviled, reviled not again; when suffering, threatened not; but gave himself over into the hands of him who judges righteously; who himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, in order that, being dead to sins, we may live to righteousness; by whose stripes ye have been healed.” Again, “For Christ indeed has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that be might bring us to God: being put to death in flesh, but made alive in the Spirit.” And in the Second Epistle, being an eye-witness of His majesty, he says, “He received from God the Father honor and glory, such a voice being uttered to Him by the excellent glory: This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight; and this voice we heard uttered from heaven, being with him on the holy mountain.”
John, in consonance with his personal intimacy with the Lord, says, “That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes; that which we contemplated, and our hands handled, concerning the word of life; (and the life has been manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and report to you the eternal life which was with the Father, and has been manifested to us) that which we have seen and heard we report to you, that ye also may have fellowship with us.” Again, “Hereby we have known love, because he has laid down his life for us: and we ought for the brethren to lay down our lives.” So also as to God's love, “Herein, as to us, has been manifested the love of God, that God has sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him—a propitiation for our sins.” Adding this also, “And we have seen, and testify, that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world.”
In Revelation He is the One “who loves us, and has washed us from our sins in his blood, and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father; to bins be the glory and the strength to the ages of ages. Amen.” Beautifully and fervently does this language breathe forth what He is to us now, while the scene in chapter v. reveals what He will be personally to us forever and forever; for however many the crowns which now or then shall bedeck His brow; whatever be the glories with which He is now invested, which He shall assume when the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, or which He shall resign when He delivers up the kingdom to God and the Father, those who have redemption through His blood, of whatever age be they, and of whatever clime, will have in everlasting remembrance that He glorified God on the earth, and finished the work He gave Him to do, since they will never cease to see in Him “the Lamb as it had been slain” —the Christ of the Gospels!
In concluding this review, we may remark how strikingly the Holy Ghost, in all these scriptures, reproduces the salient facts of the Lord's life and death and resurrection. Wonderful the variety of thought and of language employed, but without repetition and without monotony, the Spirit of God presents unweariedly before our hearts, in ever-renewed freshness and heavenly power, the Christ of the Gospels!
B.