The four gospels of the Bible give us amazing insight into the life of Jesus. We get to see the Son of God living among us as the Son of Man. He models perfectly what it means to love God and to love others. He also models perfect obedience that honors God. “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil 2:8). For all eternity we will marvel how God’s amazing love caused Him to make the ultimate sacrifice that restores us to right relationship with Him.
As believers we should give serious attention to studying the gospels and taking to heart the example and the teachings of Jesus that are recorded there. However, we are also called to engage in a right-now relationship with the risen Christ. For this relationship to be healthy we must not limit our perception of Jesus to only how he is portrayed in the gospels. If we freeze Jesus in time, and only see him as he was in the time of the gospels, this will have a negative effect on our present-day interaction with him.
When Jesus and his disciples got together for what is commonly referred to as the last supper, they enjoyed an atmosphere that was loving, relaxed, and very intimate. The custom of that time, when sharing a special meal together, was to recline at the table. Rather than sitting upright in chairs, they lounged on couches or cushions around a central table. Scripture says that John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him, and when he wanted to ask Jesus a question, he leaned back against him (John 13:23-25). What a warm and inviting scene this is!
The first chapter of the book of Revelation reveals a very different scene. We see John encountering Jesus again, but this time the interaction is radically different. John writes, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead”. In one instance John is reclining next to Jesus and even leaning against him as they talk, but in the other, he is so terrified that he collapses at Jesus’ feet like a dead man. Why are these encounters between John and Jesus so different and how should this affect our own relationship with the Lord?
During his time on earth, Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:28).
But now we are told, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:9-11).
During his time on earth, Jesus was described as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). He was the Lamb who willingly went to the slaughter.
But in the book of Revelation, we see people calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev 6:16). He is still the Lamb, but he is carrying out the wrath of God.
During his time on earth Jesus said, “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” (John 12:47).
But now we are told, “he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.” (Acts 10:42, also Acts 17:31, 2 Tim 4:1)
Scripture clearly proclaims that the lowly position Jesus assumed during his time on earth is very different from the exalted position he now holds. In the gospels, Jesus came for the purpose of dying, now he lives for the purpose of reigning.
For he [Jesus] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. (1 Corinthians 15:25)
In no way does this mean that the time of loving intimacy with Jesus is past. In Revelation 3:20 Jesus gives an amazing invitation, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me”. Most people would agree that hanging out and visiting over a meal is one of the most enjoyable and effective ways to connect and spend time together. While loving intimacy is intended to be an ongoing part of our relationship with Jesus, we must also discern the full nature of him that we are in relationship with.
When Jesus came to earth, he was on a mission, and his mission fell within specific and unique parameters (Heb 2:14,17). He came in humility; he came as a servant; he came as a lamb to the slaughter, laying down his life to free us from our sin. Understanding what Jesus did in the gospels is the very foundation of eternal life, and for all eternity we will marvel and worship him for what he did. But we are not saved just by knowing about what he did, we are saved by knowing him, by having an actual relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. We are called into a day-by-day, real-life relationship with a reigning king, who is exalted to the right hand of God, who has been given all authority in heaven and earth, who is appointed to judge the living and the dead, who is the head of the church, who disciplines those he loves and commands them to repent. If we want to experience the life that comes from living in right relationship with the Lord, then it is imperative that we have a full, balanced, and accurate view of who Jesus is.
Not only is Jesus in a very different position now than he was during the time of the gospels, so are we. In the gospels Jesus was interacting with people prior to the cross, prior to the amazing salvation that is now available. They were not new creations in Christ. They were not filled with the Holy Spirit. They were not living in the fulfillment of God’s promise to “put my laws in their mind and write them on their hearts” (Heb 8:10). As born-again believers, living in the spiritual riches of the New Covenant, we are radically different from the people Jesus was interacting with during his time on earth.
The Bible is crystal clear that we are saved by grace not by works. That means that no matter how we live or what we do, we will never earn or deserve right standing with God. We are made righteous (right with God) by faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is our justification before a holy God. However, it is a serious mistake to think that works do not matter to God. God’s salvation is not just a means of escaping punishment; it is God’s provision for us to live lives that honor him and serve his purposes.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2Peter 1:3-4)
God saved us at great cost, and he expects it to make a radical difference in our lives.
You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
From everyone who has been given much, much will be required (Luke 12:48)
God has invested in us and he fully expects a return on His investment. He has entrusted things to us, and he expects us to use them for his purposes. The following passage is rather long and may be familiar to you but please take time to read it carefully. Keep in mind that a “talent” is simply a measurement of money.
“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 25:14-30)
There are some positive aspects to this parable but there are also some parts that are downright scary. The parable says the master returned and “settled accounts” with each servant. That means we are personally accountable for what we do with what he has entrusted to us. The master expected an increase on what he had entrusted to his servants. Not only did he expect it, he demanded it! The master was very angry and pronounced severe judgement on the servant who didn’t invest and increase what was entrusted to him. Make no mistake, being saved by grace does not mean that there is nothing expected from us. God’s salvation is a rich salvation that fully equips us to be people who represent Jesus and serve his purposes (Acts 1:8). God expects us to be fully committed to utilizing what was purchased for us by the cross of Christ.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
In chapters 2-3 in the book of Revelation, there are seven letters written to seven churches. Although these are actual local churches, they represent a composite of the universal church of God, past, present, and future. These Epistles of Christ are a wonderful opportunity to hear Jesus’ own evaluation of his church; to see him interact with his people as he gives encouragements, exhortations and warnings.
Rather than getting into the details of what Jesus says to the churches, I want to focus on the general tone of these letters. One thing that jumps out is how straight forward the language is. These letters aren’t overflowing with warm-and-fuzzy sentiment. Instead, there is a mature, matter-of-fact tone to these letters. Many sermons, in many churches seem to focus primarily on assuring people just how much God loves them. Yet, when we see Jesus himself communicating with his church, that is not the focus at all. These letters cover two chapters and only twice does Jesus mention his love for them, and one of those times he says, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Rev 3:19). So much for warm and fuzzy.
These letters read like a report card; sometimes telling them “you have this in your favor”, sometimes telling them “I have this against you”. Imagine that! Jesus can have something against you and he’s not hesitant to tell you what it is. But many believers have been babied so much they can’t hear what he is saying. They have heard over and over that Jesus is never upset or disappointed with them, and this lie limits their ability to hear his voice of correction. In each letter Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”. That means that Jesus is speaking but we ultimately determine whether or not we will hear. That’s very serious. He calls five of the seven churches to repent, and it’s not a suggestion, it’s an ultimatum. He tells them to repent or they will suffer serious consequences.
Each letter includes a wonderful promise that will be fulfilled in eternity. But these promises come with a condition; they are made to those who overcome. He says, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (2:10). Jesus does not hand out “also-participated trophies”. He rewards those who overcome.
These Epistles of Christ reflect the high expectation that Jesus has for his church. This expectation is not based on confidence in us, but on his confidence in himself. He knows the amazing salvation he has provided. He knows the spiritual riches that belong to us trough the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. He knows the good work that he is committed to doing in us (Phil 1:6).
I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them— since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. (2 Corinthians 13:2-4)
Paul sensed that the Corinthians were underestimating Jesus’ work among them by relating to him as he was in the time of the gospels, instead of realizing his powerful position in their present relationship. He warned that although Christ operated in weakness when he was crucified, now he was no longer weak in dealing with them. Declaring Jesus to be “powerful among you” not only recognizes who Jesus is, but also his commitment to work righteousness among his people. Notice that as proof that Christ was speaking in him, Paul said he would not spare those who sinned.
Jesus’ love for his people cannot be overemphasized, but it can be misrepresented. When we think of love in action, we often filter it through our self-focused, limited understanding of what is actually best for us. Our perception of what love should look like is often based on how we want things to go, rather than on what helps us to be more like Christ. One of the greatest expressions of Jesus’ love for us is that he rebukes us when we come short of his expectations, and disciplines us in order to bring about the needed change. Praise God that Jesus came in weakness and was crucified. But let us live with a clear revelation of who he is now and what he expects of us as his redeemed people.
Two of the servants in the parable of the talents fully embraced the position of being accountable to the master and faithfully utilized what was entrusted to them. When the master settled accounts with them it was a joyful time for the servants as well as the master. I pray we will follow their example.
“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” Matthew 25:21
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