His Questions

Luke 12; Matthew 18-19
Luke 12; Matthew 17; Matthew 19
In nothing is simplicity more evidenced than in a question. The number of questions which Peter put to the Lord, and which are recorded by the Holy Spirit, is very noticeable and instructive. He was evidently an exceedingly simple man. This the character of his queries evince, while, at the same time, they show what an observant listener he was to the discourses of his blessed Master, and how his mind pondered on the heavenly ministry he was daily getting. That this ministry was beyond his then comprehension seems often apparent; but the abrupt way in which he propounded some question which was exercising his mind, and which had always a distinct connection with the subject of the Lord’s foregoing instruction, betoken an activity, as well as a reflective condition of mind, which the impulsive character of the man scarcely prepares us for. Of these queries many are related, and to them we owe much valuable instruction from the lips of the Lord. We will look at them in the order of their occurrence, so far as I can gather their sequence from the gospel narratives.
Responsibility And Recompense.
Question 1. “Then Peter said unto him, Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even to all?” (Luke 12:41). We may here well inquire, What is a parable? In Scripture it is often “a thing darkly or figuratively expressed” (Imp. Dict.). Thus, “I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp” (Psa. 49:44I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp. (Psalm 49:4)); “I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old” (Psa. 78:22I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: (Psalm 78:2)), said the sweet Psalmist of Israel, and from his language we gather that a “parable” and a “dark saying” were synonymous. That Peter regarded the lovely instructions of Luke 12 as a “dark saying” is pretty clear from his question, but how he could regard such plain and simple ministry as having anything of the nature of a parable about it is difficult to see, save on the ground that the Holy Spirit had not yet come down, and did not indwell the disciples. Let us glance at the chapter, and profit by the so-called parable, the beauty of which is very great.
Luke always groups his facts to form a moral picture. Neither chronological nor dispensational truth is his special point. Matthew gives us the latter, and Mark evidently is the chronological evangelist. In Luke 11 Christ has been definitively rejected by the nation of Israel. Chapter 12 therefore supposes His absence from earth, and His disciples set in the place of testimony on it in the power of the Holy Spirit (to come when He went on high), and the world in opposition to them. The snares and the resources of His own, during His absence, and the attitude they should occupy till His return, are the main points of the passage. 1st, Hypocrisy — want of reality — is avoided by the light of God. All will be revealed (vss. 1-3). 2nd, The fear of man is cast out by a greater fear — the fear of God, while the heart is filled with the sense of His protection — the hairs of their head being actually counted (vss. 4-7). Third, faithfulness to Christ would be acknowledged (vss. 8-11). 4th, The Holy Spirit would help them as to what to say if arraigned before synagogues (vss. 11-12). What motives and encouragements are here given! God’s light, God’s care, Christ’s reward, and the Holy Spirit’s power!
The Lord then, as rejected, refuses to be a judge; and, from the circumstance brought before Him, bids His own “beware of covetousness.” Here He really speaks a parable concerning the rich man. Alas! what became of his soul? The remedy for the disease that afflicted him — covetousness — is being “rich toward God” (vss. 13-21). The great practical principles that are to mark His own are then unfolded. They are not to think of tomorrow, but to trust in God. “Your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things” is a lovely word indeed. If God’s kingdom were sought, all else would be added. Precious instruction for our anxious hearts (vss. 22-31). Thus fear, covetousness, and care, three terrible foxes that spoil the grapes in God’s vintage, are disposed of: the fear of man, by the fear of God; covetousness, by being rich toward God; and care, by the care of God. Thus does the blessed Lord set the heart free from earth, to enter into what is heavenly, and be occupied with Himself, while waiting for His return.
But there is more than this: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Our hearts might fear lest we had not a crust for tomorrow; His heart shows itself by giving us the kingdom. The knowledge of this lifts the saint up. He becomes practically a pilgrim, and a stranger. He can part with things here, for he has a treasure in heaven; and “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (vss. 33-34). The world’s motto is “Slave, and gather.” The Lord’s injunction to His own is “Sell, and give.” What a difference! But this the saint never will do until he has a treasure in heaven — even Jesus Himself. Do I hear you say I “I am trying to make Him my treasure.” You will never manage it that way; but when you learn that He has a treasure on earth, and that you are that treasure, then, without an effort, you will make Him your treasure. “We love Him because He first loved us.” Moth, rust, and thieves sooner or later sweep away all we set our hearts on here. How good to have “a treasure in the heavens that faileth not”!
Notice that here three things influence the heart — the Father giving the kingdom, the prized treasure in heaven, and the expectation of the Lord’s return. “Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that, when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord, when he cometh, shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.... Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not” (vss. 35-40). Until the Lord comes they were to wait and watch, the lamps burning, and all ready; the whole position expressive of expectation, while devoted service marked the waiting hours. When He returned, He would bring them into the Father’s house, gird Himself, make them sit down to meat, and serve them. This, I take it, alludes to His ever remaining in manhood, in which He has already served us in love. Love it was that led to His incarnation, and to His death; and when He has His own in glory, He will yet serve them, for He will never cease to love. Love delights to serve; selfishness likes to be served. How great the contrast between Jesus and us oftentimes!
Now the teaching of this chapter seems plain enough, though confessedly it be difficult always to walk up to it; but evidently Peter was dubious as to its application, and so says, “Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even to all?” The Lord’s answer is plain enough, as He says, “Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath” (vss. 42-48). Responsibility is the point here, connected with profession. All who profess the name of the Lord are clearly comprehended here. Whether true or false is not the question, although the issue to the false is sad in the extreme.
Two things are to mark Christ’s disciples — 1. They are to wait and watch for Him; 2. They are to serve Him till He return. “Occupy till I come” is the Master’s word, and the loving laborer’s motto. The true-hearted watcher, that waits with girded loins for His return, labors patiently till He arrive, and then finds his reward and rest in being with His Lord, is feasted by Him — joy and happiness being ministered to him by the Lord Himself — while his faithfulness in service gets its recompense by his being set over what belongs to His Lord. If there be professed servants, without reality, the end of such is detailed to Peter (vss. 45-48) in a way that I doubt not left its mark upon his soul, a mark that reappears clearly in his Epistles — especially the second — as we shall see in a future chapter. God requires of men according to their advantages. If this be so, who will be so guilty as those who, while professing to be the servants of the Lord, neither do His will, nor wait His return? All Christ’s professed servants would do well to carefully heed the Lord’s reply to our apostle’s earliest recorded query.
How To Forgive.
Question 2. “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times. Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). This query flowed very naturally out of what precedes it in the chapter, which contains principles of immense importance for the child of God. Matthew 18 supposes Christ to be absent, having been rejected, as chapter 16 foretold, and the glory of chapter 17 not yet come. It connects itself with chapter 16, in which, it will be remembered, two subjects are treated of by the Lord — the Church, a new thing which He was about to build; and the kingdom of heaven, a well-known subject, the keys of which He promises d to give to Peter. These two subjects the Lord again speaks of in chapter 18, unfolding the spirit which is to mark His followers, as suitable to His kingdom, and then the place which the 11 church was to occupy on earth, in discipline, and in prayer.
The meekness of a little child, unable to assert, its rights in a world that ignores it — the spirit of humility and dependence — alone befitted the kingdom (vss. 1-4). Carefulness not to offend these little ones is enjoined, combined with the most stringent severity as to self. To be a stumbling-block, or a snare, to one of the little ones that believed in Christ, was to ensure terrible judgment. Tender care for the weakest, and severe self-judgment, was to be the rule of the kingdom. If this existed, no stumbling-block would offend the least, and no snare entangle the disciple (vss. 5-9). Further, the Father thought of these little ones. They were the objects of His favor. He did not despise them, but admitted them to His presence, lowly as they were; and His Son — the Son of man — had “come to save that which was lost” (vss. 10-14). Moreover, if offense arose, if a brother trespassed; the fullest grace in forgiveness was to obtain. This is the spirit of the kingdom; it is the spirit of grace. On the one hand, the disciples were to be like little children in dependence and humility; and on the other, they were to imitate the Father, to be thus morally like Him, and thus to be truly children of the kingdom.
Christ having gone on high, the Church was to represent Him, and really to occupy His place on earth. Did a brother offend, the disciple was to gain his brother. Human pride would wait for him to humble himself; divine love goes after the evil-doer. This is just what God has done. When ruined, and far from God, what met our case? Did God wait till we did right? No! He sent His Son after the lost one. This is the principle on which the child of God is to act. God has so acted, and His children must follow Him. You belong to Clod, you are His child? Yes. What will you do if your brother wrongs you? Go after him, and set him right. It is love in activity. Love ever seeks the good even of the one who has gone wrong. Love is bent on gaining the erring brother.
It therefore goes quickly after him. “If he shall hear thee, thou hest gained thy brother.” Observe, it is not the offender, the trespasser, that is before the mind of the one who thus walks in Christ’s steps. It is thy brother.
If he hearkened, the matter would be buried in the heart of the one who had been offended. Should he despise this grace, two or three witnesses were to go, to endeavor to reach his conscience. If all this were unavailing, the matter was to be told to the Church; and should he refuse to hear the Church, “let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” This is not the public discipline of the assembly, but the spirit in which Christians are to walk (vss. 15-18). Heaven would ratify that which the assembly bound on earth; and further, if two or three agreed on earth to ask, anything, the Father would hear and answer, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” says the Lord (vss. 19- 20). What could be more solemn, and withal more sweet and encouraging? Whether for discipline, or prayers, the Lord lays down the immense principle, that if only two or three be really gathered unto His Name, He is in the midst of them. Whether therefore for decisions or prayers, they were as Christ on the earth, for Christ Himself was there with them.
The immensity of the truths thus unfolded evidently penetrated Peter’s soul as he heard them, and the desire to clearly know the extent of the responsibility of acting in grace, where a brother was in question, led to his query, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” The largest idea of grace that Peter had was “till seven times.” That certainly was beyond the day of law — which demanded righteousness, and knew naught of forgiveness — and may be beyond the practical state of many of our souls, but it will not do for Christ. Peter’s question was this: Suppose my brother sins against me, over and over again, how often am I to forgive him? The Lord’s answer was: “I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven.” Under the reign of law forgiveness was unknown, it was “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”; but in the kingdom of heaven, and under the rule of a rejected, a heavenly Christ, forgiveness takes its character from Him, and is to be unlimited. The Lord insists that practically there is to be no limit to it. It is to flow out constantly. It is the reflection of God’s own ways with man.
It must be remembered that this is a question of sin against us, not against the Lord. The Church cannot forgive any sin against the Lord until He has forgiven it, and He only forgives on the confession of sin. But, as believers, we are to forgive each other unlimitedly. “Till seventy times seven” is to be the Christian’s motto in this respect. This is really divine. God will not be outdone in forgiveness; but even a man on earth — a saint, of course — is called on to forgive after this heavenly pattern. May we all learn so to walk. If we only did so walk, what joy would fill our own souls, and what happy assemblies of saints would be everywhere found. Alas! we are very few of us up even to Peter’s “seven times.” We think we do well if we forgive once or twice; anything beyond that could not reasonably be expected of us. Peter’s question, however, reveals an altogether different line of conduct to be the command of our Lord. May we each one heed it.
Devotedness And Reward.
Question 3. “Then answered Peter, and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?” (Matthew 19:2727Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? (Matthew 19:27)). Peter is painfully natural here, and his query robbed his devotedness of its value, for it showed that he valued it, and that he had not really counted all things but loss for Christ. Such is the flesh. It appears in one form in the young ruler, in another in Peter. The ruler had inquired, “What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (vs. 16). He had not learned that he was “lost,” so would fain “do” to gain life. The Lord takes him up on his own ground, saying, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother; and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (vss. 17-19). The Lord quotes the second table of the law. “The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?” What ignorance of himself, and of his own need! He really lacked everything worth having, and what he possessed on earth was the greatest hindrance to his getting God’s richest blessing. “Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” (vs. 21). The teat of his reality was presented to him. Did he prize more, eternal life, or his possessions? “When the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.” These he loved better than Jesus. Alas I for man, the advantages of the flesh are absolute hindrances to the Spirit. Jesus knew his heart, and all his surroundings, and put His finger on the covetousness that really governed him, and was fed by the riches he possessed.
Riches are a hindrance when God’s kingdom is in question. This the Lord distinctly declares, saying, “Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly (that is with difficulty) enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of Clod” (vss. 23-24). It is beyond nature either for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, or a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. “When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?” (vs. 25). The Lord’s answer is absolutely perfect: “Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (vs. 26). As far as man was concerned it was impossible; a profoundly solemn truth as regards his condition. If it be a question of man doing anything to get into the kingdom, riches are only a hindrance, for he would like to take them with him, as well as anything else that makes something of himself. All that is of man, however, is only an impediment to his reaching the kingdom — nay more, it makes it impossible, as far as he himself is concerned. With God, however, all things are possible, and it is only by the actings of His grace that man does reach the kingdom.
Another has well said of men: “They cannot overcome the desires of the flesh. Morally, and as to his will and his affections, these desires are the man. One cannot make a negro white, or take his spots from the leopard: that which they exhibit is in their nature. But to God, blessed be His name! all things are possible.” His hand is not limited, and, no matter what the difficulties, He can and does work. Hence we find a rich Zaccheus blessed, and a rich Joseph claiming the body of Jesus. Again, in His sovereign love, He called some from Herod’s house, and converted some in Comes palace; while the surrendered lands of a Barnabas showed what grace could do in his case, as well as in the devoted life of a Saul of Tarsus.
It was these instructions with regard to riches that gave rise to Peter’s question, “Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?” (vs. 27). What is to be the portion of those who have renounced all for Thee, Lord? He had heard how hard it was for the rich to be saved, and thought he might now ask what they were to get who had become poor, that they might follow Jesus. The Lord’s answer to Peter is tantamount to this — You have done very well by following Me. He says, “Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last first” (vss. 28-30).
Sorrowful as it was, and manifesting as it did how the carnal mind may mix itself with the life of grace in the believer’s history, Peter’s question leads to instruction of a most blessed and cheering nature. Everyone who has renounced anything for Jesus’ sake will assuredly receive a hundredfold here, and inherit everlasting life, but, further, each will have his own place in the kingdom. The twelve apostles will have the first place in the administration of the earthly kingdom, when, under the reign of the Son of Man, there shall be an entirely new state of things, here called the regeneration. Each will have a reward answering to what the pathway has been for Christ here. The doctrine of reward is very clearly taught in the New Testament, not indeed as a motive — that Christ Himself alone can be — but as an encouragement. Reward, in Scripture, is always an encouragement to those who, having from higher motives entered into God’s way, are suffering shame and persecution therefore. It is the call of Christ that leads the soul out. He had called Peter and his fellow-disciples, and therefore says, “Ye which have followed me... shall sit,” &c. They had found their motive in Himself — and they would find their reward according to their devotedness.
We must never confound the doctrine of grace with that of reward. Grace pardons our sins; and gives us a place in heaven; our ways practically will determine our place in Christ’s kingdom. The doctrine of grace must never be used to deny that of rewards, but Christ Himself must always be the motive for the daily, hourly walk of the saint. Nevertheless we shall receive of the Lord according to that which we have done, whether good or bad (see 2 Cor. 5:1010For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10)). It is, however, good always to bear in mind the Lord’s word, “But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” This Peter needed to hear as he brings his devotedness under the Lord’s eye. It was indeed a plain hint to Peter to be careful. May we each profit by the lesson which his all too fleshly remark brought forth.
Prayer And Forgiveness.
Question 4. “And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he (Jesus) was hungry: and seeing a fig tree afar off, having leaves, he came, if haply he might find anything thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves: for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter forever. And his disciples heard it. And in the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter, calling to remembrance, said unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.” (Mark 11:12-14,21-2212And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: 13And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. 14And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it. (Mark 11:12‑14)
21And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away. 22And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. (Mark 11:21‑22)
). Now this remark of Peter’s, although not put in the form of a question, would appear to have much of an interrogative character about it. This we gather from the Lord’s reply. While Simon only said, “Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away I” the Lord interpreted His servant’s remark to mean, “Lord, what is the lesson we are to learn from this remarkable judicial dealing?” The Lord’s reply is most instructive, both from a dispensational, and a moral point of view.
“And Jesus, answering, saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily, I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that these things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any; that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses” (vss. 22-26).
The dispensational lesson is plain. Israel, as a nation, was represented by the fig tree. The curse about to fall on the nation is exhibited in this remarkable figure. Israel was the fig tree of Jehovah; covered with leaves, but bringing forth no fruit, it cumbered the ground. The fig tree, condemned of the Lord, immediately withered away. So was it to be with the nation. Possessed of every advantage which man in the flesh could enjoy, this unhappy nation, spite of all the divine Husbandman’s care and culture, brought forth no fruit for Him.
Of Israel it is written, “To whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen!” (Rom. 9:4-54Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; 5Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. (Romans 9:4‑5)). Spite of all these privileges, they bore no fruit to God, though the leaves — all the outward forms of religion — were abundantly manifest. But man in the flesh — man under the old covenant — in responsibility to bring forth fruit, never has yielded, and never can yield fruit. The ultimate evidence of this was the rejection of Jesus, and, in refusing Him, Israel signed their own death-warrant. The fig tree, then, is Israel as they were, man in the flesh, cultivated by God to the very uttermost, but all in vain. No fruit was apparent. Man’s history is really over.
Some have found a difficulty in this passage from the expression, “for the time of figs was not yet,” and therefore said, “How could the Lord expect to find them at such a time?” The inference drawn is that His judgment of the tree savors of injustice. Far be the thought I If the nature of the fig tree in its native soil is borne in mind, this difficulty at once disappears. A. peculiarity of the fig tree is that it bears two crops of ripe fruit during the year, and, while one crop is ripening, another is just developing. Thus, no matter what time of year the eye rested on it, there should always have been some fruit; whether ripe or not, is not the question. It had no fruit. “Nothing but leaves” was its state. Hence the ground of its judgment.
The Lord’s word to His disciples regarding the mountain being removed, and being cast into the sea — although it be a great general principle for faith — I doubt not refers to that which would happen to Israel through their ministry. Israel was the great hindrance to the gospel going out. It was the mountain of obstruction. Faith would remove it. As a fact, looked at corporately as a nation on earth, it was to disappear, and be lost in the sea of nations — the Gentiles — among whom it now is lost.
But there is more than this dispensational prediction in the Lord’s reply, namely, the moral point, which we should carefully note. He assures His disciples that whatever they asked in faith should be accomplished, but that to ensure this they must walk and act in grace, if they would enjoy this privilege. If praying for a thing to be done, there must be forgiveness “if ye have ought against any.” Now, I doubt not that the reason why we so frequently do not get replies to our prayers, is that our hearts are not really right before God in this respect. Some old grudge is kept up, instead of being forever dismissed. To enjoy grace, and to utilize the privilege of prayer, we must ‘constantly act in grace towards all men. This was quite an unlooked for outcome of Peter’s remark on the withered fig tree. The Lord grant us grace to heed this now lesson.
Watching And Working.
Question 5. “And as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be loft one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as He sat upon the mount of Olives, over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked Him privately, Tell us, when shall those things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled” (Mark 13:1-41And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! 2And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. 3And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled? (Mark 13:1‑4)). In the question which this passage records, it is observable that Peter is associated with others. His name heads the list, and there is little doubt, from the peculiarly prominent place he has, as a questioner in the gospel narratives, that he was again the spokesman on this occasion. Be that as it may, the occasion was momentous, and to the query here put the Lord gives an immensely full reply, embracing a view of the early and later history of the Jews, the calling and the character of the Church, and finally the blessing and judgment of the Gentiles. The detail of this is more fully given in Matthew 24-25, than in the passage above quoted from Mark, wherein Peter’s name occurs. Matthew gives the development of the dispensation, and the ways of God with respect to the kingdom. Mark, on the other hand — true to the character of his gospel — takes up the service of the apostles in the circumstances that would surround them. This service the disciples would accomplish in the midst of Israel. They were to render a testimony against all persecuting authorities, and preach the gospel among all nations before the end came. They were really to take the Lord’s place as a witness here amongst Israel, and as preachers to render a distinct testimony, not only to that nation, but to all nations, and then He would return in power and glory.
Of the hour and day of that coming no one knew, hence the special injunction given is, “Take ye heed, watch and pray; for ye know not when the time is” (vs. 33). This command is followed by specific instructions to the servants, which are of general application, and of immense moral value to everyone who loves the Lord. Let us quote them. “For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who loft his hour..1, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning; lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you, I say unto all, WATCH” (vss. 33-37).
Two salient points are to be observed. While watching is the attitude of the servant, working is his characteristic. How sweet to notice that the Lord has given “to every man his work.” There is room for all, place for all, and work for all, that love Him. No two have the same work, nor can another really do that which is allotted to each. Therefore to know one’s work, and then to stick to it, is of prime importance. Were we each to get really hold of this divinely important principle, how it would foster the work of the Lord. What a cure would it be for the little petty jealousies that, alas! often spring up amongst the Lord’s servants, and hinder His work. It is a happy moment in the soul’s history when it can say: “I have my little bit of work from the Lord to do; I can do no one else’s little bit, and no one can do mine.” Coupled with the diligence and responsibility of service, how sweetly is here intertwined the call on the affections to “watch.” Blessed Master, help us all to watch unremittingly for Thy coming; and, till Thou comest back, to work unweariedly in Thy harvest field!
Intimacy and Its Results.
Question 6. “When Jesus had thus said, He was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, That one of you shall betray Me. Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom He spake. Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter then beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom He spake. He then lying on Jesus’ breast saith unto Him, Lord, who is it? Jesus answered, He it is to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when He had dipped the sop, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon” (John 13:21-2621When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. 22Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake. 23Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. 24Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake. 25He then lying on Jesus' breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it? 26Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. (John 13:21‑26)).
We have here reached the close of the Lord’s earthly pathway, when the question that revealed the traitor is put. The last supper, with all its attendant ministry of love, was in course, when the Lord’s evident distress of spirit touched Peter to the quick. “One of you shall betray me,” was surely enough to arouse every genuine heart; and, persuaded by the truth of His words, all the disciples looked one upon another, with the sincerity of innocence, save in one case. Nor is this all, for we read in another gospel that each, including even Judas, said, “Lord, is it I?” (Matt. 26:22-2522And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I? 23And he answered and said, He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me. 24The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born. 25Then Judas, which betrayed him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said. (Matthew 26:22‑25)). The Lord, although knowing who it was, evidently was slow in indicating the guilty one; and Peter, always ardent, thereupon beckoned to John “that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake.”
Now we may well inquire, Why did not Peter put this question himself direct to the Lord? The answer seems pretty clear. John was near the Lord, Peter was not He lacked that which John had, a concentration of spirit, and constant occupation of heart with Jesus, that kept him near His beloved Person. John did not place himself near the Lord in order to get this communication; but he received it, because at the moment when such nearness was a necessity, to get the secrets of the Lord’s mind, he was, according to the habit of his heart, near Jesus. He ever speaks of himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Counting on that love liking to have him near, he had laid his head on the bosom of Jesus, was conscious of the heavings of that breast, in a moment of such sorrow to the Lord, and, therefore, was just where he could receive the Lord’s communication. The love which Jesus bore to him formed John’s heart, and molded his life. It gave him beautiful constancy of affection for the Lord, and childlike confidingness in His delight to have His loved disciple near Himself. It was no other motive that put him so near the Lord, a nearness that others might have had, but did not take. Being thus near, he could receive communications from Jesus, but it was not in order to receive them that he placed himself close to Him. He was near the Lord because he loved to be near Him, and was assured that Jesus delighted in having Him near.
This place of nearness we too may know, where the heart enjoys the affections of the precious Saviour, and where He can communicate to us what is in His heart. If we would have these communications, we must be near Him too. Nearness to Christ is the secret of all spiritual progress and power. It is after this sort, thank God, that we may yet learn to know Christ. The more we know His love to us, the more shall we delight in getting and keeping near to Him.
That Peter knew that the Lord loved him there can be no manner of doubt, and that Peter also loved the Lord is certain, but there was as yet, however, too much of Peter for intimacy, such as this scene unfolds. Later on, when he became a broken and self-emptied vessel, God might and did use him in service most blessedly; but to learn intimacy with Jesus, one naturally turns to John — and finds it — rather than to Peter.
Self-Confidence and Its End.
Question 7. “Therefore, when he (Judas) was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God be glorified in Him, God shall also glorify Him in himself, and shall straightway glorify Him. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek Me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say unto you.... Simon Peter said unto Him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow Me now; but thou shalt follow Me afterward. Peter said unto Him, Lord, why cannot I follow Thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake. Jesus answered him, Wilt, thou lay down thy life for My sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied Me thrice” (John 13:31-3831Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him. 33Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you. 34A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. 36Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards. 37Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake. 38Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice. (John 13:31‑38)).
The scene of this question is the same as the last — the supper table. Judas, detected, receives the sop, and the covetousness which governed his heart gained the day. Satan using this to his destruction, hardens his heart against all feelings of common humanity, and of man towards the man of his acquaintance, against every amiable sentiment of nature. Nearness to Jesus, if unaccompanied by faith, and if the heart be not influenced by His presence, only hardens in a terrible manner. Satan enters into that heart to yet further harden it, leads him to do the basest act conceivable — to betray an intimate companion while covering him with kisses — and finally abandons him to despair in the presence of God.
Morally all was over when Judas went out, and in the Lord’s heart all the import of this unspeakably solemn moment is present to His spirit. “Now is the Son of man glorified,” He declares. His soul views all that lay before Him on God’s side — not on that of His own wounded affection. He rises to the thoughts of God as regards the issue of Judas’s perfidy. The base act of the latter was to be the means of introducing a crisis — the cross — which stands alone in the history of eternity, and on which all blessing from God to man depends, alike from the moment of man’s fall to the introduction of a new heaven and a new earth. Holiness and love are both demonstrated and reconciled in the cross — the holiness that must judge sin, and the love that can save the sinner. God having been there glorified by the Son of Man, straightway glorifies Him at His own right hand. But though the end of the path was glory, the pathway was through the cross — no one could there follow Him. Who but He could pass through death, the power of Satan, the forsaking of God, as being made sin, the judgment of God, the billows of His wrath, the grave, and yet finally beyond all these pass into glory? Peter, not comprehending the unfathomable purport of His Lord’s words, says, “Lord, whither goest thou?” The Lord answers, “Whither I go thou cannot follow Me now; but thou shalt follow Me afterward.” Implying, as it did, his own martyrdom, this should have sufficed him; but, ever ardent, as well as self-confident, he continues to query, saying, “Why cannot I follow thee now?” and without waiting for the Lord’s reply, insists, “I will lay down my life for thy sake.” Everyone will see the gravity of the Lord’s reply to Peter. It was an absolute statement as to the impossibility of his, or any one’s following Him then. It should have sufficed Peter to be thus told of the Lord that he could not follow Him, but ever full of himself, though really attached to the Lord too, he is betrayed by his natural fervor into the asseveration of devotedness which the Lord can only read as being the energy of flesh, and not the power of the Spirit. To have heard that he could not then follow should have sufficed him, instead of prompting to bold declarations of devotedness. Boasting is always easy, but ever sad work. The Lord rebukes him by sadly announcing his fall. What a lesson to us all to walk softly!