LAST WITNESSES TO THE PROMISES
Jesus prayer was, “My prayer is not only for them alone (disciples). I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me? I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they might be one as we are one, I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (Jn. 17:20-23).
Paul, who regarded himself as the least of the apostles and more than five hundred preceded him, was the most important witness. He depended on the Old Testament and what he learned about Jesus from someone other than the apostles (Gal. 1:15-24; Ac. 9:10-19). Paul believed that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and learning how to do what is right, so that a man of God is fit and prepared for every good work” (II Tim. 3:16-17). He better than any one understood the reason for Jesus’ sacrificial death. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who had fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (I Cor. 15:20-22). Adam by being disobedient to the will of God brought death on all men. In contrast, Jesus by being obedient to God’s will brought men back to life. Jesus did not reveal himself to Paul as to the other believers. His was a supernatural encounter with a blinding light and a commanding voice with irresistible orders. That, however, was not how redemption began. It is curious that the flesh had to be healed before the soul could be saved. The new man had to be without spot or wrinkle, free of sin and perfect like a lamb without blemish (I Pe. 1:19).
A virgin, untouched by a man, would bring the man without sin into the world. Mary was the first witness and her fiancée Joseph was the second. Elizabeth may have been the third and Zachariah the fourth witnesses. Then there were the innkeeper and family, the wise men, the shepherd, Simeon Anna, the priest and many others that were not mentioned. We are not told that Mary and Joseph went public with their secret regarding how she became pregnant of the Holy Spirit until long after the leaders of the Jesus’ movement realized that they had to put things in writing for others to learn what had taken place while they had been with Jesus. Jesus’ life and ministry came in pieces of a puzzle and could only be assembled after the last piece was made. Mary’s induced pregnancy by heaven was the first puzzle. Jesus, at the age of twelve, taking on the wise and hinting to his parents only that he had to be in his Father’s house was another puzzle. Then John the Baptist broke eighteen years of silence by introducing Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” The next three years Jesus provides all the missing puzzles. There was a complete picture in the Old Testament, but writers had to have all the pieces of the picture to identify the face of Jesus as the Christ or the Messiah. Even then, the Risen Jesus and the Holy Spirit had to assist the writers in completing the redemptive picture for us (Jn. 14:26).
Simon Peter, whom Jesus put in charge of his flock (Jn. 21:15-19) and before the Gospels were written, felt obligated to keep the memory of Jesus alive. He was aware of Paul’s writing and some other unidentified Scriptures (II Pe. 3:15-16). He left us an amazing summation. “So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me (Jn. 21:19). And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.” Peter’s memory was put into writing by his spiritual son, John Mark (I Pe. 5:13). “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with whom I am pleased’” (II Pe. 1:12-17).
“We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shinning in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of men, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (II Pe. 1:18-21). The other man that was on the sacred mountain was James Zebedee. King Herod took his life before he could share his memory (Ac. 12:2). His brother John wrote for all of the disciples.
Jesus to John was the “Word (Logos) and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” “The Word became flesh (took on a human body) and lived for a while among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:I; 1:14). With that in mind, John Zebedee began his letter, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of Life. The Life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and proclaim to you the Eternal Life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make your joy complete” (I Jn. 1:1-4).
The Gospels were written during dangerous times and writers did not feel save to attach their names. The men, whoever they were, were the greatest witnesses of all. Without their work, we would not have learned about Jesus the Christ and Savior of man. It is very likely that not even their fellow Christians knew who was compiling an account of Jesus. Tradition assigned editor’s names to the gospels after the writers died. Even recipients of the Gospels remained concealed, except for the Gospel of Luke that has a fictitious person in mind, one “most excellent Theophilus.” The “most excellent” suggests some one with authority and standing. The name “Theophilus” means “friend of God” and it also could be a synonym for one that was friendly to Christ but did not show it in public, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Some one already had taught him about the Christ and he wanted to know whether it was true. The writer appears to have been indebted to Theophilus and shared his study with him. “Many have undertaken to compile an account of the events that have happened among us, based on those who were from the beginning eyewitness and servants of the word that passed the events on to us. I too was challenged to investigate thoroughly all the events from the beginning and present you, most excellent Theophilus, a verified account of what really happened, so that the things you were taught actually took place” (Lk. 1:1-4).
The same author of the Third Gospel had more to share about Jesus with Theophilus. “In the first report, Dear Theophilus, I wrote of all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven. Before he was taken up, he instructed through the Holy Spirit the apostles whom he had chosen. He showed himself to these men after his death, and gave ample proof that he was alive. Over a period of forty days, he taught them about the kingdom of God. During that time, he told his disciples not to leave Jerusalem; but ‘wait for the promise made by my Father, about which you have heard me speak: John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit, in a few days from now’”(Ac. 1:1-5; Lk. 24:13-53). “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will bear witness about me in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and then to the very ends of the earth” (Ac. 1:8; Mt. 28:18-20). It was with the coming of the Holy Spirit that Jesus’ prayer reached us who have come to believe in their witnessing through their writings about Jesus (Jn 17:20).