Rev. Koole is pastor of Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, Michigan.
In the first installment we suggested that in explaining the disciples’ rejection of Christ’s heavenly kingdom doctrine we must show sympathy to their perplexity. They had not the fullness of the Spirit, and they were on the wrong side of the cross to understand how it fulfilled the temple functions and spelled the defeat of God’s enemies. Christ’s resurrection is what sheds light on the cross and the kingdom.
In the second place, there is that which must be criticized in the disciples. There are aspects of their refusal to believe which must be reproved, as Jesus Himself did on more than one occasion.
Tied in with their understandable ignorance, there was also a pride and a prejudice. These two things are very important in bringing practical truths home to the student. These are two sins with which we all have to deal.
First we look at this matter of pride. This played a large part in the disciples’ refusal to exchange their carnal kingdom view for Christ’s heavenly, spiritual, invisible kingdom teaching. It did not appeal to their pride and earthly ambitions.
The disciples did not lack in ambitious pride (as we do not). How many times were not the disciples reprimanded for arguing about who would be greatest in the kingdom, meaning, who would have the highest administrative position! Each had his own place picked out. Judas Iscariot, for instance, did not care who sat right next to Christ in Jerusalem, just as long as he himself was “Chancellor of the Exchange,” that is, Secretary of the Treasury. For that he lived.
Interestingly, these earthly ambitions found their origin in the disciples’ home training. If you recall, it was James and John’s mother who requested of Jesus, “Lord, when your kingdom is established, will you see to it that my sons sit one on either side of you?” She wanted that supreme honor reserved for her boys!
The point is, there was nothing subtle about their kingdom ambitions. They were always jockeying for position. Their families encouraged this perspective. No one was going to outmaneuver them.
Well, it is an earthly kingdom that feeds and satisfies these ambitions. How can you attain to a high, visible profile in an invisible, spiritual kingdom? You can not. It is this personal ambition that stood between them and Christ’s conception.
Further, it became increasingly clear what Christ’s concept implied, namely, self-denial. He hammered this home. For instance, how many times did he not take a child, place it before them, and say that except they became as one of these, they could not enter the kingdom?
Finally, Christ made it clear in a painful way when He, on the night of His betrayal, stripped down, put a towel around His waist, and washed their feet. They were aghast. They were to do likewise? What a hammer blow to their self-serving ambitions. We can understand why this had little appeal to their nature.
I trust the relevance of this matter for teaching our children, with whom it is too often, “Me first!” is obvious to you all.
Secondly, there was this evil of prejudice. By prejudice I refer especially to what Scripture calls being a “respecter of persons.” One’s assessment of another is based on his social status or ethnic background.
The Jews, of course, detested the Gentiles. The disciples were no exception. The Gentiles were judged “unclean,” defiled. The promised kingdom would certainly be racially pure.
Yet Jesus indicated something different. That was obvious at the very outset. Think of the Samaritan woman. The apostle John, early in his gospel, devotes a whole chapter to this incident. It made upon him a deep impression. He recalled how scandalized he had been when Jesus had headed straight north through unclean Samaria, and then had proceeded to have contact with that woman and her relatives and, seemingly, enjoyed it. As he explains his original surprise, “For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 3:9).
And then there was Christ’s ongoing contact with publicans (the turncoats) and with harlots (the defiled). That did not make his disciples happy either. For one thing, they failed to see what these people could add to the kingdom (even their money was tainted), and for another, it made them unpopular with the people that counted in the nation, namely, the religious leaders.
We need mighty men of war, we need the wealthy, we need men of influence; we need to cut down our enemies, not pick them up out of ditches.
The disciples could understand and accept a kingdom that welcomed rich young rulers (the more, the merrier; such were contributors), but not one that drove them away, and focused on the common and the needy. They could not see such a kingdom as having a future. Christ’s kingdom agenda baffled them. You do not antagonize the wealthy, the influential, and the powerful. You court their favor. How else do you come to power?
And then there was the matter of those filthy Gentiles, and of those hated Roman soldiers. Christ healed their children and commended the faith of one of them as greatest in the land. The disciples wanted nothing to do with a kingdom that had room for such if they could help it. These people were unclean, uncircumcised, and probably liked grilled porkchops. Now how can you have fellowship with such “fiese” people?
A kingdom that would drive out the uncircumcised, defeat the pagan Gentiles in military fashion, and get back Jewish self-respect, that the disciples could live with. One that urged the conversion of pagans, and sought their incorporation into the kingdom, in order that they might share in Israel’s promised glory and victory? This had no appeal to the disciples. This was their pride, their sin, and it does much to explain why they wanted to dismiss Christ’s kingdom teaching.
I suggest that you show your students that side of the disciples, with its root, pride, and whack off its head. It is to be rebuked in strongest terms. It is Pharisaical. It is to be condemned when it shows itself in the lives of the disciples of Christ both back in the Gospel times and in our own lives as well.
And yet, for all the foregoing, the disciples must be distinguished from Judas Iscariot and from the Pharisees who sought Jesus’ death.
But how? – in light of the fact that they were just as unwilling to accept Christ’s statements concerning His kingdom as were the Pharisees.
The difference lies in their loyalty to and love for Jesus of Nazareth, as the Christ. Whatever their misconception concerning Christ’s kingdom, it can never be said that they hated Jesus, or did not want Him as the Christ. Even when the disciples tried to correct Christ, with statements like “Be it far from thee Lord,” they did so because they wanted him to be popular and to rule. It was loyalty misdirected, but it was still loyalty.
It was this way: you could have offered the Pharisees their kingdom conception, earthly, Jewish, etc. but with the one condition, namely, that Jesus had to be acknowledged as its rightful Lord and that they had to honor Him in submission, and they would have rejected the proposal forthwith even though it meant forfeiting the kingdom. They hated Him that much. They would have no kingdom at all rather than bow the knee to Jesus.
With the disciples, for all their weaknesses, it was just the opposite. They of course wanted both their earthly Kingdom conception and Jesus as the Christ; but, when all was said and done, the day after Jesus had died, if you had given them the choice between Jesus as their Lord and their earthly Kingdom concept, they would have exchanged the latter for Jesus in their midst. Without Him life was not worth living. It was that simple. They were like exasperating children, but still they were attached to His person.
The disciples had for Him a personal love and a faith which in Christ’s own eyes outweighed all their foolishness. “To whom else shall we go, Lord? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” And again, in the words of Peter, “Lord, thou knowest I love thee” – which is to say, “I may have been very foolish and weak, and not any different than many whom I once despised, but Lord, thou knowest I love thee.” That was the difference.
This explains Christ’s bearing with them in their pride and prejudice and in their childishness. They were still His friends, and before the face of God they knew they were sinful men. They knew they were saved by grace and not by their wonderful deeds and works.
When Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, they gnashed their teeth and hated Him as light.
When Jesus reproved His disciples, they became bewildered and ashamed. That’s the difference in heart.
They are to be judged in the end neither according to their deficient understanding, nor according to their hardheadedness; they are to be judged according to their willingness to be corrected without resenting Christ for rebuking them. They never doubted that Jesus was filled with the wisdom of God and that He was the only Savior. This is always the mark of true faith, be it misguided for a time.
Such children of God are teachable and correctable, though much patience may be required. In such light Christ viewed His lovable, but exasperating, childlike disciples. With patience He continued to teach them.
You see your students? Put the apron around your waist and go and do likewise.
There is one further matter to be touched on briefly, and that is this – what was God’s purpose in this display of these believers’ ignorance and in withholding insight? You read for instance that “these things… [were] hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken” (Luke 18:34). It has to do, I am convinced, God saw fit not to illuminate with God’s will to glorify His Son, the them during Christ’s ministry. Why?
It has to do, I am convinced, with God’s will to glorify His Son, the Lord Christ, as the great officebearer of the church; and here in particular, as the chief prophet. There was none, for instance, in Old Testament times who could grasp and set forth the truth of God as the Triune One. This honor of revelation befell the Son who came from the bosom of the Father. So it is with the truth of Christ’s kingdom according to its true “dimensions” and nature. The Christ had to come as King and perform His work as High-priest on the cross, and then interpret it for our understanding to be opened.
As well, the inability and unwillingness of the disciples to grasp the truth of the kingdom serves to magnify the glory and necessity of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ. He it is who searches the mind of God. Without Him there is a blindness about and resistance to spiritual things in even the best of men. The truth of the kingdom can be set in plainest terms right in front of one’s nose, but one still needs the Spirit of the crucified and risen Christ to enable one to “see” and believe.